Hi…guys…this is natasha back again with an update…..ty sooo much for ur support guys it means a lot to me……..kk enough of my bak bak’s…on to the epi…
Not proof read
Link 4 this ff’s previous epi’s:
I was shocked.
The windowless room was covered with shelves full of what appeared to be ancient books. Two of the shelves contained books that had curious red slashes on the bindings, and I saw a massive atlas against one wall, opened to a page that held the shape of some country I couldn’t name. In the middle was a table with a handful of books on it, looking as if they’d been handled recently and left out for quick recovery. And finally, embedded in one wall was a wide screen that looked like a TV.
“What do the red slashes mean?” I asked in wonder.
“Those are banned books. As far as we know, they may be the only copies that still exist in all of Illéa.”
I turned to him, asking with my eyes what I didn’t dare say out loud.
“Yes, you can look at them,” he said in a manner that implied I was putting him out but with an expression that said he had been hoping I’d ask.
I lifted one of the books carefully, terrified that I might accidentally destroy a one-of-a-kind treasure. I flipped through the pages but ended up setting it back down almost immediately. I was simply too awestruck.
I turned around to find Maxon typing on something that looked like a flat typewriter attached to the TV screen.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“A computer. Have you never seen one?” I shook my head, and Maxon didn’t seem too surprised. “Not many people have them anymore. This one is specifically for the information held in this room. If anything about your Holi exists, this will tell us where it is.”
I wasn’t fully sure of what he was saying, but I didn’t ask him to clarify. In a few seconds his hunt produced a three-bullet list on the screen.
“Oh, excellent!” he exclaimed. “Wait right there.”
I stood by the table as Maxon found the three books that would reveal what Holi was. I hoped it wasn’t something stupid and that I hadn’t made him go through all this effort for nothing.
The first book defined Holi as a Celtic festival that marked the beginning of spring. Not wanting to slow us, I didn’t bother mentioning I had no idea what a Celtic was. It said that, holi was one of the major festivals of south asia,mainly in India, Holi is celebrated with enthusiasm and gaiety on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun which is the month of March as per the Gregorian calendar.
Holi festival may be celebrated with various names and people of different states might be following different traditions. But, what makes Holi so unique and special is the spirit of it which remains the same throughout the country and even across the globe, wherever it is celebrated.
The second book defined it as something similar,It said holi was an ancient Hindu religious festival which has become popular with non-Hindus in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other communities outside Asia.It also said that,In recent years the festival has spread to parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love, frolic, and colours.
“This will be the interesting one,” Maxon claimed, flipping through a book that was much thinner than the others and handwritten.
“How so?” I asked, coming around to get a better look.
“This, Lady Swara, is one of the volumes of Gregory Illéa’s personal diaries.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “Can I touch it?”
“Let me find the page we’re searching for first. Look, it even has a picture!”
And there, like an apparition, an image from an unknown past showed Gregory Illéa with a tight expression on his face, his suit crisp and his stance tall. It was bizarre how much of the king and Maxon I could see in the way he stood. Beside him, a woman was giving the camera a halfhearted smile. There was something to her face that hinted she was once very lovely, but the luster had gone out of her eyes. She seemed tired.
Surrounding the couple were three figures. The first was a teenage girl, beautiful and vibrant, grinning widely and wearing a simple white day dress which was full of colurs….infact she was totally covered with different colurs…… And then there were two boys, one slightly taller than the other and both dressed which looked something like a long top with some loose pant both were in white but they were also covered with colours…. They looked like they were on the verge of mischief. Below the image was an entry, amazingly enough, in Gregory Illéa’s own hand.
THE CHILDREN CELEBRATED HOLI THIS YEAR WITH A PARTY. I SUPPOSE IT’S ONE WAY TO FORGET WHAT’S GOING ON AROUND THEM, BUT TO ME IT FEELS FRIVOLOUS. WE’RE ONE OF THE FEW FAMILIES REMAINING WHO HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO DO SOMETHING FESTIVE, BUT THIS CHILD’S PLAY SEEMS WASTEFUL.
“Do you think that’s why we don’t celebrate anymore? Because it’s wasteful?” I asked.
“Could be. If the date’s any indication, this was right after the American State of China started fighting back, just before the Fourth World War. At that point, most people had nothing—picture an entire nation of Sevens with a handful of Twos.”
“Wow.” I tried to imagine the landscape of our country like that, blown apart by war, then fighting to pull itself back together. It was amazing.
“How many of these diaries are there?” I asked.
Maxon pointed to a shelf with a row of journals similar to the one we held. “About a dozen or so.”
I couldn’t believe it! All this history right in one room.
“Thank you,” I said. “This is something I would never even have dreamed of seeing. I can’t believe all this exists.”
He was beaming. “Would you like to read the rest of it?” He motioned to the diary.
“Yes, of course!” I practically shouted before my duties came back to me. “But I can’t stay; I have to finish studying that terrible report. And you have to get back to work.”
“True. Well, how about this? You can take the book and keep it for a few days.”
“Am I allowed to do that?” I asked in awe.
“No.” He smiled.
I hesitated, afraid of what I held. What if I lost it? What if I ruined it? Surely he had to be thinking the same thing. But I would never have an opportunity like this again. I could be careful enough for the sake of this gift.
“Okay. Just a night or two and then I’ll give it straight back.”
“Hide it well.”
“And Swara i need tell u something very important..but this is not the right time….i’ll tell you once you finish reading this dairy…”
“Hmmm..” i replied.
And we both parted our ways with it…
Maxon had told to hide the dairy And I did. This was more than a book; it was Maxon’s trust. I tucked it inside my piano stool under a pile of sheet music—a place my maids never cleaned. The only hands that would touch it would be mine.
“I’M HOPELESS!” RAGINI COMPLAINED.
“No, no, you’re doing great,” I lied.
I’d been giving Ragini piano lessons nearly every day for more than a week, and it genuinely sounded like she was getting worse. For goodness’ sake, we were still working on scales. She hit another sour note, and I couldn’t help but wince.
“Oh, look at your face!” she exclaimed. “I’m terrible. I might as well be playing with my elbows.”
“We should try that. Maybe your elbows are more accurate.”
She sighed. “I give up. Sorry, Swara, you’ve been so patient, but I hate hearing myself play. It sounds like the piano is sick.”
“More like it’s dying, actually.”
Ragini collapsed into laughter, and I joined her. Little did I know that when she’d asked for piano lessons, my ears would be in for such painful—but hilarious—torture.
“Maybe you’d be better at the violin? Violins make very beautiful music,” I offered.
“I don’t think so. With my luck, I’d destroy it.” Ragini rose and went over to my little table, where the papers we were supposed to be reading were pushed to one side and my sweet maids had left tea and cookies for us.
“Oh, well, that’s fine. The one here belongs to the palace anyway. You could throw it at Celeste’s head if you wanted.”
“Don’t tempt me,” she said, pouring us both some tea. “I’m so going to miss you, America. I don’t know what I’ll do when we don’t get to see each other every day.”
“Well, Maxon’s very indecisive, so you don’t have to worry about that just yet.”
“I don’t know,” she said, turning serious. “He hasn’t come right out and said it, but I know that I’m here because the public likes me. With the majority of the girls gone, it won’t be long before their opinions change and they have a new favorite, and then he’ll let me go.”
I was careful with my words, hoping she’d explain the reason for the distance she’d put between the two of them but not wanting her to shut down on me again. “Are you okay with that? With not getting Maxon, I mean?”
She gave a small shrug. “He’s just not the one. I’m fine with being out of the competition, but I really don’t want to leave,” she clarified. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to end up with a man who’s in love with someone else.”
I sat bolt upright. “Who is he—”
The look in Ragini’s eyes was triumphant, and the smile hiding behind her cup of tea said Gotcha!
In a split second, I realized that the thought of Maxon being in love with someone else made me so jealous I couldn’t stand it. And the moment after that—the understanding that she meant me—was infinitely reassuring.
I’d put up wall after wall, making jokes at Maxon’s expense and talking up the merits of the other girls; but in a single sentence, she found her way behind all that.
“Why haven’t you ended this, America?” she asked sweetly. “You know he loves you.”
“He never said that,” I promised, and that was true.
“Of course he hasn’t,” she said, as if this would be obvious. “He’s trying so hard to catch you, and every time he gets close you push him away. Why do you do that?”
Could I tell her? Could I confess that while my feelings for Maxon went deep—deeper than I knew, apparently?
“I’m just … not sure, I guess.” I trusted Ragini; I really did. But it was safer for us both if she didn’t know.
She nodded. It looked like she could tell there was more to it than that, but she didn’t press me. It was almost comforting, this mutual acceptance of our secrets.
“Find a way to be sure. Soon. Just because he’s not the one for me doesn’t mean Maxon’s not a great guy. I’d hate for you to lose him because you were afraid.”
She was right again. I was afraid. Afraid that Maxon’s feelings weren’t as genuine as they seemed, afraid of what being a princess might mean for me, afraid of losing Aspen.
“On a lighter note,” she said, setting down her cup of tea, “all that talk about weddings yesterday made me think of something.”
“Would you want to, you know, be my maid of honor? If I get married someday?”
“Oh, Ragini, of course I would! Would you be mine?” I reached to grab her hands, and she took them happily.
“But you have sisters; won’t they mind?”
“They’ll understand. Please?”
“Absolutely! I wouldn’t miss your wedding for the world.” Her tone implied that my wedding would be the event of the century.
“Promise me that even if I get married to a nobody Eight in an alley somewhere, you’ll be there.”
She gave me a disbelieving look, positive that no such thing could ever happen. “Even if that’s the case. I promise.”
She didn’t ask me to make a similar vow for her, which made me wonder as I had in the past if there was another Four back home who she had her heart set on. I wouldn’t press her though. It was clear we both had secrets; but Marlee was my best friend, and I would do anything for her.
That night I was hoping to spend some time with Maxon.Ragini had me questioning a lot of my actions. And thoughts. And feelings.
After dinner, as we all stood to leave the Dining Room, I caught Maxon’s eye and tugged my ear. It was our secret sign to ask for time together, and it was rare to pass up an invitation. But tonight Maxon’s expression was disappointed as he mouthed the word “work” to me. I gave him a mock pout and a tiny wave before leaving for the night.
Perhaps it was for the best anyway. I really needed to think on some things where Maxon was concerned.
It was impossible. I had to belive love again….and then fall in love with Maxon.
I comforted myself with the thought that I still had time. I still had time.
“SO, LADY CELESTE, YOU’RE SAYING that the quantities aren’t sufficient, and you feel the number of men taken in the next draft should be raised?” Gavril Fadaye, the moderator of discussions on the Illéa Capital Report and the only person who ever interviewed the royals, asked.
Our debates on the Report were tests, and we knew it. Even though Maxon didn’t have a timeline, the public was aching for the field to narrow; and I sensed the king, queen, and their advisers were, too. If we wanted to stay, we had to perform, whenever and wherever they said. I was glad I’d made it through that awful report about the soldiers. I remembered some of the statistics, so I stood a decent chance of making a good impression tonight.
“Exactly, Gavril. The war in New Asia has been going on for years. I think one or two rounds of inflated drafts would give us the numbers we need to end it.”
I really couldn’t stand Celeste. She’d gotten one girl kicked out, ruined Kriss’s birthday party last month, and literally tried to rip a dress off my back. Her status as a Two made her consider herself a cut above the rest of us. To be honest, I didn’t have an opinion about the number of soldiers Illéa had, but now that I knew Celeste’s, I was unwaveringly opposed.
“I disagree,” I said in as ladylike a tone as I could manage. Celeste turned my way, her dark hair whipping over her shoulder in the process. With her back to the camera, she felt perfectly comfortable blatantly glaring at me.
“Ah, Lady America, you think increasing the numbers is a bad idea?” Gavril asked.
I felt the heat of a blush on my cheeks. “Twos can afford to pay their way out of the draft, so I’m sure Lady Celeste has never seen what it does when families lose their only sons. Taking more would be devastating, particularly for the lowest castes, who tend to have larger families and need every member to work in order to survive.”
Ragini, beside me, gave me a friendly nudge.
Celeste took over. “Well, then what should we do? Certainly you aren’t suggesting that we sit back and let these wars drag on?”
“No, no. Of course I want Illéa to be done with the war.” I paused to gather my thoughts and looked across at Maxon for some sort of support. Next to him, the king looked peeved.
I needed to switch directions, so I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “What if it was voluntary?”
“Voluntary?” Gavril asked.
Celeste and Natalie chuckled, which made it worse. But then I thought about it. Was it such a terrible idea?
Yes. I’m sure there would need to be certain requirements, but perhaps we’d get more out of an army of men who wanted to be soldiers as opposed to boys who were only doing what it took to stay alive and get back to the life they left behind.”
A hush of consideration fell on the studio. Apparently, I’d made a point.
“That’s a good idea,” Elise chimed in. “Then we’d also be sending out new soldiers every month or two as people sign up. It might be invigorating to the men who’ve been serving awhile.”
“I agree,” Ragini added, which was usually the extent of her comments. She clearly wasn’t comfortable in debate situations.
“Well, I know this might sound a little modern, but what if it was open to women?” Kriss commented.
Celeste laughed aloud. “Who do you think would sign up? Would you be heading into the battlefield?” Her voice dripped with an insulting disbelief.
Kriss kept her head together. “No, I’m not soldier material. But,” she continued, to Gavril, “if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being in the Selection, it’s that some girls have a frightening killer instinct. Don’t let the ball gowns fool you,” she finished with a smile.
Back in my room, I allowed my maids to stay a little later than usual to help me get the pile of pins out of my hair.
“I liked your idea of the army being voluntary,” Mary said, her nimble fingers hard at work.
“Me, too,” Lucy added. “I remember watching my neighbors struggle when their oldest sons were taken. It was almost unbearable when so many didn’t come home.” I could see a dozen memories flash before her eyes. I had some of my own.
Miriam Carrier was widowed young; but she and her son, Aiden, managed all right, just the two of them. When the soldiers had shown up at her door with a letter and a flag and their meaningless condolences, she’d caved in on herself. She couldn’t make it on her own. Even if she had the ability, she didn’t have the heart.
Sometimes I saw her begging as an Eight in the same square where I had said my good-byes to Carolina. But it wasn’t as if I had anything to give her.
“I know,” I said to Lucy’s reflection.
“I thought Kriss went a bit too far,” Anne commented. “Women in battle sounds like a terrible idea.”
I smiled at her prim face as she focused intently on my hair. “According to my dad, women used to—”
A short burst of knocks came at the door, startling all of us.
“I had a thought,” Maxon announced, walking in without waiting for an answer. It appeared we had a standing date Friday nights after the Report.
“Your Majesty,” they said together, Mary dropping pins as she sank into her curtsy.
“Let me help you,” Maxon offered, coming to Mary’s aid.
“It’s all right,” she insisted, blushing fiercely and backing out of the room. Far less subtly than I’m sure she intended, she made wide eyes at Lucy and Anne, begging them to leave with her.
“Oh, um, goodnight, miss,” Lucy said, tugging on the hem of Anne’s uniform to get her to follow.
Once they were gone, Maxon and I both broke down into laughter. I turned to the mirror and continued to work the pins out of my hair.
“They’re a funny lot,” Maxon commented.
“It’s just that they admire you so much.”
Modestly, he waved the compliment away. “Sorry I interrupted,” he said to my reflection.
“It’s fine,” I answered, tugging out the last pin. I ran my fingers through my hair and draped it over my shoulder. “Do I look okay?”
Maxon nodded, staring a little longer than necessary. He came to his senses and spoke. “Anyway, this idea …”
“You remember that Holi…..thing?”
“Yes. Oh, I still haven’t read the diary. It’s well hidden though,” I promised.
“It’s fine. No one’s looking for it. Anyway, I was thinking. All those books said it fell in March, right?”
“It’s March now. Why don’t we have a Holi…. party?”
I spun around. “Really? Oh, Maxon, could we?”
“Would you like that?”
“I would love it!”
“I figure all the Selected girls could have appropriate dresses made. The off-duty guards couldalso join us……i suppose they would like some thing entertaining with all those nerve wreking work……And we could do some dancing lessons over the next week or two……so that we can dance to some of the indiana beats….You did say there wasn’t much to do during the days sometimes. colours and the ummm…the special drink they mentioned and some of the sweets and dishes….. We’ll have all those made and imported. You, my dear, will be stuffed by the end of the night. We’ll have to roll you off the floor.”
I was mesmerized.
“And we’ll make an announcement, tell the entire country to celebrate. Let all of them celebrate this holi….with happiness….with colours…..with music…and swara ur family is also from an indian background right……so will ur sister and family enjoy this…????”
“Of course she will! Everyone will!”
He deliberated a moment, pursing his lips. “How do you think she would like celebrating here, at the palace?”
I was stunned. “What?”
“At some point in the competition, I’m supposed to meet the parents of the Elite. Might as well have siblings come and do this around a festive time as opposed to waiting—”
His words were cut off by me barreling into his arms. I was so elated by the possibility of seeing Ladoo and my parents, I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm. He wrapped his arms around my waist and stared into my eyes, his own glittering with delight. How did this person—someone I’d imagined would be my polar opposite—always seem to find the things that would make me the happiest?
“Do you mean it? Can they really come?”
“Of course,” he answered. “I’ve been longing to meet them, and it’s part of the competition. Anyway, I think it would do all of you good to see your families.”
Once I was sure I wouldn’t cry, I whispered back, “Thank you.”
“You’re quite welcome …. I know you love them.”
He chuckled. “And it’s clear you’d do practically anything for them. After all, you stayed in the Selection for them.”
I jerked back, putting space between us so I could see his eyes. There was no judgment there, only shock at my abrupt movement. I couldn’t let this pass though. I had to be absolutely clear.
“Maxon, they were part of the reason I stayed in the beginning, but they’re not why I’m here now. You know that, right? I’m here because …”
I looked at Maxon, his adoring face so hopeful. Say it, Swara. Just tell him.
“Because?” he asked again, this time with an impish smile coming to his lips, which made me soften even more……
Tadaaa….ik that the shock was not at all a shock……sry for making u wait dearies…..and keep on pondering about wat will reply??????….will swara propose him?????
Keep on thinking….
Until friday…its bye from…
Luv ya all????❤❤