Hi….guy…..Natasha back again with an update……sry for the late update dearies……got caught up with work…….dearies there is a reason 4 me using different names such as america and maxon………if i reveal the reason now…….then there will be no such element called as suprise…………and guys Swastika gadodia is only swara’s sister and swara calls her ladoo…….Ragini is also participating in the selection………. but the real reason 4 her doing so…….will be revealed later….,…….and pls….. give ur valuble comments guys……..and Ty…….VB,Turaifa Shafenaz ,Harani , Jenisha, Sheeba, anu, bresh, shreya 4 commenting……..Ty for reading my ff…….
This is the link of my new ff’s prologue and first epi:
Link 4 this ff’s previous epi’s:
Episode-8~SWASAN official meet.
“Well, that’s perfect.” Maxon looked off into the night and smiled at nothing in particular. Something in all this was amusing to him. “America, my dear, I do hope you find something in this cage worth fighting for. After all this, I can only imagine what it would be like to see you actually try.”
He came down from the bench to crouch beside me. He was too close. I couldn’t think right. Maybe I was a little star-struck or still feeling shaky from my crying episode. Either way I was too shocked to protest when he took my hand.
“If it would make you happy, I could let the staff know you prefer the garden. Then you can come out here at night without being manhandled by the guard. I would prefer if you had one nearby, though.”
I wanted that. Freedom of any kind sounded heavenly, but he needed to be absolutely sure of my feelings.
“I don’t… I don’t think I want anything from you.” I pulled my fingers from his loose grip.
He was a little taken aback, hurt. “As you wish.” I felt more regret. Just because I didn’t like the guy didn’t mean I wanted to hurt him. “Will you be heading inside soon?”
“Yes,” I breathed, looking at the ground.
“Then I’ll leave you with your thoughts. There will be a guard near the door waiting for you.”
“Thank you, um, Your Majesty.” I shook my head. How many times had I addressed him wrongly in this conversation?
“Dear America, will you do me a favor?” He took my hand again. He was persistent.
I squinted at him, not sure of what to say. “Maybe.”
His smile returned. “Don’t mention this to the others. Technically, I’m not supposed to meet you until tomorrow, and I don’t want anyone getting upset. Though I wouldn’t call you yelling at me anything close to a romantic tryst, would you?”
It was my turn to smile. “Not at all!” I took a deep breath. “I won’t tell.”
“Thank you.” He took the hand he was holding and lowered his lips to it. When he pulled away, he gently placed my hand in my lap. “Good night.”
I looked at the warm spot on my hand, stunned for a moment. Then I turned to watch Maxon as he walked away, giving me the privacy I’d wanted all day.
I was walking along the third floor, and I heard the musical laugh of two girls on the open stairwell of the second floor. A perky voice gushed, “Can you believe we’re here?” and they burst into giggles again.
I cursed aloud and ran into the closest room, because it had been stressed to me over and over again that I was to meet the girls all at once on Saturday. No one told me why it was so important, but I believed it had something to do with their makeovers. If a Five stepped into the palace without any sort of help, well, I couldn’t say she’d have much of a chance. Maybe it was to make everything fair. I discreetly left the room I’d ducked into and went back to my own, trying to forget the incident altogether.
But then a second time as I was walking to drop something off in Father’s office, I heard the floating voice of a girl I did not know, and it sent a jolt of anxiety through my entire being. I went back to my room and cleaned all of my camera lenses meticulously and reorganized all my equipment. I busied myself until nightfall, when I knew the girls would be in their rooms, and I could walk.
It was one of those traits that tended to get on Father’s nerves. He said it made him nervous that I moved around so much. What could I say? I thought better on my feet.
The palace was quiet. If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t have guessed that we had so much company. Maybe things wouldn’t be so different if I didn’t focus on the change.
As I made my way to the end of the hall, I was faced with all the what ifs that were plaguing me. What if none of the girls was someone I could love? What if none of them loved me? What if my soul mate was bypassed because someone more valuable was chosen from her province?
I sat down at the top of the stairs and put my head in my hands. How was I supposed to do this? How was I meant to find someone who I loved, who loved me, who my parents approved of, and the people adored? Not to mention someone who was smart, attractive, and accomplished, someone I could present to all the presidents and ambassadors who came our way.
I told myself to pull it together, to think about the positive what ifs. What if I had a spectacular time getting to know these ladies? What if they were all charming and funny and beautiful? What if the very girl I cared for the most would appease my father beyond any expectations either of us had? What if my perfect match was lying in her bed right now, hoping the best for me?
Maybe . . . maybe this could be everything I’d dreamed it would be, back before it became all too real. This was my chance to find a partner. For so long, Daphne was the only person I could confide in; no one else quite understood our lives. But now, I could welcome someone else into my world, and it would be better than anything I’d ever had before because . . . because she would be mine.
And I would be hers. We would be there for each other. She would be what my mother was to my father: a source of comfort, the calm that grounded him. And I could be her guide, her protector.
I stood and moved downstairs, feeling confident. I just had to hold on to this feeling. I told myself that this was what the Selection would really be for me. It was hope
By the time I hit the first floor, I was actually smiling. I wasn’t relaxed, exactly, but I was determined.
“ . . . outside,” someone gasped, the fragile voice echoing down the hallway. What was happening?
“Miss, you need to get back to your room now.” I squinted down the hall and saw in a patch of moonlight that a guard was blocking a girl—a girl!—from the doorway. It was dark, so I couldn’t make out much of her face, but she had brilliant red hair, like honey and roses and the sun all together.
“Please.” She was looking more and more distressed as she stood there shaking. I walked closer, trying to decide what to do.
The guard said something I couldn’t make out. I kept walking, trying to make sense of the scene.
“I . . . I can’t breathe,” she said, falling into the guard’s arms as he dropped his staff to catch her. He seemed kind of irritated about it.
“Let her go!” I ordered, finally getting to them. Rules be damned, I couldn’t let this girl be hurt.
“She collapsed, Your Majesty,” the guard explained. “She wanted to go outside.”
I knew the guards were just trying to keep us all safe, but what could I do? “Open the doors,” I commanded.
“But . . . Your Majesty . . .”
I fixed him with a serious gaze. “Open the doors and let her go. Now!”
“Right away, Your Highness.”
The guard by the door went to work opening the lock, and I watched the girl sway slightly in the other’s arms as she tried to stand. The moment the double doors opened, a rush of warm, sweet Angeles wind enveloped us. As soon as she felt it on her bare arms, she was moving.
I went to the door and watched as she staggered through the garden, her bare feet making dull sounds on the smoothed gravel. I’d never seen a girl in a nightgown before, and while this particular young lady wasn’t exactly graceful at the moment, it was still strangely inviting.
I realized the guards were watching her, too, and that bothered me.
“As you were,” I said in a low voice. They cleared their throats and turned back to face the hallway. “Stay here unless I call for you,” I instructed, and walked into the garden.
I had a hard time seeing her, but I could hear her. She was breathing heavily, and sounded almost like she was weeping. I hoped that wasn’t the case. Finally I saw her collapse in the grass with her arms and head resting on a stone bench.
She didn’t seem to notice that I’d approached, so I stood there a moment, waiting for her to look up. After a while I was starting to feel a little awkward. I figured she’d at least want to thank me, so I spoke.
“Are you all right, my dear?”
“I am not your dear,” she said angrily as she whipped her head to look at me. She was still hidden by shadows, but her hair flashed in the sliver of moonlight that made its way through the clouds.
Still, face lit or hidden, I got the full intention of her words. Where was the gratitude? “What have I done to offend you? Did I not just give you the very thing you asked for?”
She didn’t answer me, but turned away, back to her crying. Why did women have such a high inclination to tears? I didn’t want to be rude, but I had to ask.
“Excuse me, dear, are you going to keep crying?”
“Don’t call me that! I am no more dear to you than the thirty-four other strangers you have here in your cage.”
I smiled to myself. One of my many worries was that these girls would be in a constant state of presenting the best sides of themselves, trying to impress me. I kept dreading that I’d spend weeks getting to know someone, think she was the one, and then after the wedding, some new person would come to the surface who I couldn’t stand.
And here was one who didn’t care who I was. She was scolding me!
I circled her as I thought about what she said. I wondered if my habit of walking would bother her. If it did, would she say so?
“That is an unfair statement. You are all dear to me,” I said. Yes, I’d been avoiding anything having to do with the Selection, but that didn’t mean the girls weren’t precious in my eyes. “It is simply a matter of discovering who shall be the dearest.”
“Did you really just use the word shall?” she asked incredulously.
“I’m afraid I did,” I answered with a chuckle. “Forgive me, it’s a product of my education.” She muttered something unintelligible. “I’m sorry?”
“It’s ridiculous!” she yelled. My, she had a temper. Father must not know much about this one. Certainly, no girl with this disposition would have made it into the pool if he had. It was lucky for her that I was the one who came upon her in her distress, and not him. She would have been sent home about five minutes ago.
“What is?” I inquired, though I was sure she was referencing this very moment. I’d never experienced anything quite like this.
“This contest! The whole thing! Haven’t you ever loved anyone at all? Is this really how you want to pick a wife? Are you really so shallow?”
That stung. Shallow? I went to sit on the bench, so it would be easier to talk. I wanted this girl, whoever she was, to understand where I was coming from, what things looked like from my end. I tried not to get distracted by the curve of her waist and hip and leg, even the look of her bare foot.
“I can see how I would seem that way, how this whole thing could seem like it’s nothing more than cheap entertainment,” I said, nodding. “But in my world, I am very guarded. I don’t meet very many women. The ones I do are daughters of diplomats, and we usually have very little to discuss. And that’s when we manage to speak the same language.”
I smiled, thinking of the awkward moments when I had to sit through long dinners in silence next to young women who I was meant to entertain, and failing dismally because the translators were busy talking politics. I looked to the girl, expecting her to laugh along with me for my trouble. When her tight lips refused to smile, I cleared my throat and moved on.
“Circumstances being what they are,” I said, fidgeting with my hands, “I haven’t had the opportunity to fall in love.” She seemed to forget I wasn’t really allowed to until now. Then I was curious. Hoping I wasn’t alone, I voiced my most intimate question. “Have you?”
“Yes,” she said. She sounded both proud and sad in a single word.
“Then you have been quite lucky.”
I looked at the grass for a moment. I continued on, not wanting to linger on my rather embarrassing lack of experience.
“My mother and father were married this way and are quite happy. I hope to find happiness, too. To find a woman who all of Illéa can love, someone to be my companion and to help entertain the leaders of other nations. Someone who will befriend my friends and be my confidante. I’m ready to find my wife.”
Even I could hear the desperation, the hope, the longing. The doubt crept back in. What if no one here could love me?
No, I told myself, this will be a good thing.
I looked down at this girl, who seemed desperate in her own way. “Do you really feel like this is a cage?”
“Yes, I do,” she breathed. Then, a second later, “Your Majesty.”
I laughed. “I’ve felt that way more than once myself. But, you must admit, it is a very beautiful cage.”
“For you,” she shot back skeptically. “Fill your beautiful cage with thirty-four other men all fighting over the same thing. See how nice it is then.”
“Have there really been arguments over me? Don’t you all realize I’m the one doing the choosing?” I didn’t know whether to feel excited or worried, but it was interesting to think about. Maybe if someone really wanted me that much, I’d want them, too.
“Actually, that was unfair,” she added. “They’re fighting over two things. Some fight for you; others fight for the crown. And they all think they’ve already figured out what to say and do so your choice will be obvious.”
“Ah, yes. The man or the crown. I’m afraid some cannot tell the difference.” I shook my head and stared into the grass.
“Good luck there,” she said comically.
But there was nothing comical about it. Here was another one of my biggest fears being confirmed. Again my curiosity overwhelmed me, though I was sure she would lie.
“Which do you fight for?”
“Actually, I’m here by mistake.”
“Mistake?” How was that possible? If she put her name in, and it was drawn, and she willingly came here . . .
“Yes. I sort of—well, it’s a long story,” she said. I would have to learn what that was all about eventually. “And now . . . I’m here. And I’m not fighting. My plan is to enjoy the food until you kick me out.”
I couldn’t help myself. I burst out laughing. This girl was the antithesis of everything I’d been expecting. Waiting to be kicked out? Here for the food? I was, surprisingly, enjoying this. Maybe it would all be as simple as Mom said it would be, and I could get to know the candidates over time, like I did with Daphne.
“What are you?” I asked. She couldn’t be more than a Four if she was so excited about the food.
“I’m sorry?” she asked, not catching my meaning.
I didn’t want to be insulting, so I started high. “A Two? Three?”
So this was one of the Fives. I knew Father wouldn’t be thrilled about me being friendly with her, but after all, he was the one who let her in. “Ah, yes, then food would probably be good motivation to stay.” I chuckled again, and tried to find out the name of this entertaining young woman. “I’m sorry, I can’t read your pin in the dark.”
She gave a slight shake of her head. If she asked why I didn’t know her name yet I wondered which would sound better: a lie—that I had far too much work to do to put them to memory at the moment—or the truth—that I was so nervous about all this, I’d been putting it off until the last second.
Which I suddenly realized I’d just passed.
“Well, that’s perfect,” I said with a laugh. Based on her name alone, I couldn’t believe she’d made the cut. That was the name of the old country, a stubborn and flawed land we rebuilt into something strong. Then again, maybe that was why Father let her in: to show he had no fear or worries about our past, even if the rebels clung to it foolishly.
For me, there was something musical about the word. “America, my dear, I do hope you find something in this cage worth fighting for. After all this, I can only imagine what it would be like to see you actually try.”
I left the bench and knelt beside her, taking her hand. She was looking at our fingers and not into my eyes, and thank goodness for that. If she were, she’d have seen how absolutely floored I was the first time I finally, truly saw her. The clouds moved at just the right moment, fully lighting her face by the moon. As if it weren’t enough that she was willing to stand up to me and clearly unafraid to be herself, she was dazzlingly beautiful.
Underneath thick lashes were eyes blue as ice, something cool to balance out the flames in her hair. Her cheeks were smooth and slightly blushed from crying. And her lips, soft and pink, slightly parted as she studied our hands.
I felt a strange flutter in my chest, like the glow of a fireplace or the warmth of the afternoon. It stayed there for a moment, playing with my pulse.
I mentally chastised myself. How typical to become so infatuated with the first girl I was ever allowed to actually have any sort of feelings for. It was foolish, too quick to be real, and I pushed the warmth away. All the same, I didn’t want to dismiss her. Time might prove that she was someone worth having in the running. America was clearly someone I’d need to win over, and that might take time. But I would start right now.
“If it would make you happy, I could let the staff know you prefer the garden. Then you can come out here at night without being manhandled by the guard. I would prefer if you had one nearby, though.” No need to worry her with just how often we were attacked. So long as a guard was close, she should be fine.
“I don’t . . . I don’t think I want anything from you.” She gently pulled her hand away and looked at the grass.
“As you wish.” I was a little disappointed. What horrible thing had I done to make her push me away? Maybe this girl was unwinnable. “Will you be heading inside soon?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Then I’ll leave you with your thoughts. There will be a guard near the door waiting for you.” I wanted her to take her time, but I dreaded some unexpected assault hurting any of the girls, even this girl who seemed to have developed a serious distaste for me.
“Thank you, um, Your Majesty.” I heard a sort of vulnerability in her voice, and realized that maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe she was just overwhelmed by everything that was happening to her. How could I blame her for that? I decided to risk rejection again.
“Dear America, will you do me a favor?” I took her hand once more, and she looked up to me with a skeptical face. There was something about those eyes on me, like she was searching for truth in mine and would have it at all costs.
Her tone gave me hope, and I grinned. “Don’t mention this to the others. Technically, I’m not supposed to meet you until tomorrow, and I don’t want anyone getting upset.” I gave a light snort, and I immediately wished I could take it back. Sometimes I had the worst laugh. “Though I wouldn’t call you yelling at me anything close to a romantic tryst, would you?”
Finally America gave me a playful smirk. “Not at all!” She paused and let out a breath. “I won’t tell.”
“Thank you.” I should have been happy enough with her smile, should have walked away at that. But something in me—perhaps being raised to always push forward, to succeed—urged me to take one step more. I pulled her hand to my lips and kissed it. “Good night.” I left before she had a chance to chastise me or I had an opportunity to do anything else stupid.
I wanted to look back and see her expression, but if it was something in the area of disgust, I didn’t think I could bear it. If Father could read my thoughts right now, he’d be less than pleased. By now, after everything, I ought to be tougher than this.
When I got to the doors, I turned to the guards. “She needs a moment. If she’s not in within half an hour, kindly urge her to come inside.” I met both of their eyes, making sure they grasped the concept. “It would also behoove you to refrain from mentioning this to anyone. Understood?
They nodded, and I made my way to the main stairwell. As I walked I heard one guard whisper, “What’s behoove?”
I rolled my eyes and continued up the stairs. Once I made it to the third floor, I practically ran to my room. I had a huge balcony that overlooked the gardens. I wasn’t going to step outside and let her know I was watching, but I did go to the window and pull back the curtain.
She stayed maybe ten minutes or so, seeming calmer by the minute. I watched as she wiped her face, brushed off her nightgown, and headed inside. I debated hopping into the hallway on the second floor so we could accidentally-on-purpose meet again. But I thought better of it. She was upset tonight, probably not herself. If I was going to have a chance at all, I’d have to wait until tomorrow.
Tomorrow . . . when thirty-four other girls would be placed before me. Oh, I was an idiot to wait so long. I went to my desk and dug out the stack of files about the girls, studying their pictures. I didn’t know whose idea it was to put the names on the back, but that was far less than helpful. I grabbed a pen and transcribed the names to the front. Hannah, Anna . . . how was I supposed to keep that straight? Jenna, Janelle, and Camille . . . seriously? That was going to be a disaster. I had to learn at least a few. Then I’d just rely on the pins until I got the names straight.
Because I could do this. I could do it well. I had to. I had to prove, finally, that I could lead, make decisions. How else would anyone trust me as their king? How would the king himself trust me at all?
I focused on standouts. Celeste . . . I remembered the name. One of my advisors had mentioned she was a model and showed me a picture of her in a bathing suit on the glossy pages of a magazine. She was probably the s*xiest candidate, and I certainly wouldn’t hold that against her. Lyssa jumped out at me, but not in a good way. Unless she had a winning personality, she wasn’t even in the running. Maybe that was a bit shallow, but was it so bad that I wanted someone attractive? Ah, Elise. Based on the exotic slant of her eyes, she was the girl Father had mentioned who had family in New Asia. She’d be in the running on that alone.
I studied her picture. Her smile was absolutely radiant.
What made her smile so brightly, then? Was it me? Had whatever she felt for me that day passed? She didn’t seem very happy to meet me. But . . . she did smile in the end.
Tomorrow I would have to start fresh with her. I wasn’t sure of what I was looking for, but so much of what seemed right was staring back at me in that photograph. Maybe it was her will or her honesty, maybe it was the soft skin on the back of her hand or her perfume . . . but I knew, with a singular clarity, that I wanted her to like me.
How exactly was I supposed to do that?
IN THE MORNING I WOKE not to the sound of the maids coming in—though they had—or my bath being drawn—though it was. I woke to the light coming through my window as Anne gently pulled back the rich, heavy curtains. She hummed a quiet song to herself, absolutely happy with her task.
I wasn’t ready to move. It had taken me a long time to come down from getting so worked up, and even more time to relax after I’d realized exactly what that conversation in the garden would mean for me. If I got a chance, I would apologize to Maxon. It would be a miracle if he let me get that far.
“Miss? Are you awake?”
“Noooo,” I moaned into the pillow. I hadn’t had nearly enough sleep, and the bed was far too comfortable. But Anne, Mary, and Lucy laughed at my groan, which was enough to make me smile and decide to start moving.
These girls would probably be the easiest for me to get along with in the palace. I wondered if they could become confidantes of some kind, or if training and protocol would render them completely unable to even share a cup of tea with me. Though I was a born Five, I was covered with Three-ness now. And if they were maids, that made them all Sixes. But that was fine with me. I did enjoy the company of Sixes.
I moved slowly into the monstrous bathroom, every step echoing against the vastness of tile and glass. In the long mirrors I saw Lucy eyeing the dirt stains on my nightgown. Then Anne’s careful eyes caught them. Then Mary’s. Thankfully, none of them asked any questions. Yesterday I thought they had been prying with all their inquiries, but I was wrong. They were obviously overly concerned with my comfort. Questions about what I was doing outside my room—let alone the palace—would only be awkward.
All they did was remove the gown with care and usher me toward the bath.
I wasn’t used to being naked around other people—not even mumma or ladoo—but there seemed to be no way around it. These three would be dressing me for as long as I was here, so I would have to bear it until I left. I wondered what would happen to them when I was gone. Would they get assigned to other girls who would need more attention as the competition drew on? Did they already have other jobs in the palace they were temporarily excused from? It seemed rude to ask what they used to do or imply that I was leaving soon, so I didn’t.
After my bath, Anne dried my hair, pulling half up with ribbons I’d brought from home. They were blue and just so happened to accent the flowers in one of the day dresses my maids had created for me, so that was what I wore. Mary did my makeup, which was just as light as the day before, and Lucy rubbed lotion into my arms and legs.
There was an array of jewelry to choose from, but I asked for my box instead. There was a tiny necklace with a songbird on it that my dad had given me, and it was silver so it matched my name pin. I did take a pair of earrings from the royal store, but they were probably the smallest ones in the collection.
Anne, Mary, and Lucy looked me over and smiled at the results. I took that as a sign I was decent enough to leave for breakfast. With bows and smiles, they wished me well as I went to leave. Lucy’s hands were trembling again.
I went into the upstairs foyer where we had all met yesterday. I was the first one there, so I took to a small sofa to wait for the rest. Slowly, others started to trickle in. I quickly noticed a theme. Every one of the girls looked phenomenal. They had their hair pulled up in intricate braids or curls, away from their faces. The makeup was meticulously done, dresses pressed to perfection.
I had probably chosen my plainest dress for the first day, and everyone else’s had something sparkly on it. I saw two girls walk into the foyer and realize they were wearing almost the exact same dress. They both turned back around to change. Everyone wanted to stand out, and they all did in their own ways. Even me.
Everyone here looked like a One. I looked like a Five in a nice dress.
I thought it had taken me a long time to get ready, but it took the other girls much, much longer. Even when Silvia came to escort us downstairs, we still had to wait for Celeste and Tiny, who, true to her name, had to have her dress taken in.
Once we were all assembled, everyone started to move toward the stairs. There was a gilded mirror on the wall, and we all turned to take one last peek as we descended. I caught a glimpse of myself next to Ragini and Tiny. I looked positively plain.
But at least I looked like me, and that was a minor consolation.
We went downstairs expecting to be taken into the dining room, where we had been told we would be eating. But instead we were taken into the Great Room, where individual tables and chairs had been set up in rows, all with plates, glasses, and silverware. There wasn’t any food, though. Not even a hopeful smell. In the front corner, tucked away in a small nook, I noticed a small set of couches. A few cameramen, stationed around the room, filmed our arrival.
We filed in, sitting wherever we wanted as there were no place cards here. Ragini was in the row in front of me, and Ashley sat to my right. I didn’t bother to take in anyone else. It seemed like several people had made at least one ally, just as I had in Ragini. Ashley had chosen her seat beside me, so I assumed she wanted my company. Still, she didn’t speak. Maybe she was upset over the news reports last night. Then again, she was quiet when we met. Maybe it was just her nature. I figured the worst she could do was not answer back, so I decided to at least acknowledge her.
“Ashley, you look lovely.”
“Oh, thank you,” she said quietly. We both checked to make sure the camera crews were far away. Not that this was private, but who wanted them around for everything? “Isn’t it fun to wear all this jewelry?where’s yours?”
“Umm, it was too heavy for me. I decided to go light instead.”
“It is heavy! I feel like I have twenty pounds on my head. Still, I couldn’t pass it up. Who knows how long any of us will stay?”
That was funny. Ashley had seemed quietly confident from the very beginning. With the way she looked and carried herself, she was prime princess material. It seemed strange that she would doubt herself.
“But don’t you think you’ll win?” I asked.
“Of course,” she whispered. “But it’s rude to say so!” She winked at me, which made me giggle.
Yet another mistake on my part. That giggle caught the attention of Silvia, who was walking in the door.
“Tsk-tsk. A lady never raises her voice above a gentle whisper.”
Every murmur hushed. I wondered if the cameras had caught my mistake, and my cheeks filled with warmth.
“Hello again, ladies. I hope you all had a restful first night in the palace, because now our work begins. Today I will begin to instruct you on conduct and protocol, a process that will continue for the duration of your stay. Please know that I will be reporting any missteps on your part to the royal family.
“I know it sounds harsh, but this isn’t a game to be taken lightly. Someone in this room will be the next princess of Illéa. It is no small task. You must endeavor to elevate yourselves, no matter your previous station. You will become ladies from the ground up. And this very morning, you will receive your first lesson.
“Table manners are very important, and before you can eat in front of the royal family, you must be aware of certain etiquette. The faster we get through this little lesson, the sooner you get to have your breakfasts, so faces forward, please.”
She began explaining how we would be served from the right, which glass was for what beverage, and to never, ever reach for a pastry with our hands. Always use the tongs. Hands were to rest in our lap when not in use, napkin draped underneath. We weren’t to speak unless spoken to. Of course, we could talk quietly to our neighbors, but always at a level befitting the palace. She eyed me seriously as she gave that last note.
Silvia went on and on in her elegant tone, taunting my stomach. Even if they were small, I was used to getting my three meals at home. I needed food. I was getting a bit grumpy when we heard a knock at the door. Two guards stepped away, and in came Prince Maxon.
“Good morning, ladies,” he called.
The lift in the room was tangible. Backs straightened, locks of hair were tossed over shoulders, and hems were rearranged. I looked not at Maxon, but Ashley, whose chest was moving fast. She stared in such a way that I felt embarrassed for noticing.
“Your Majesty,” Silvia said with a low curtsy.
“Hello, Silvia. If you don’t mind, I would like to introduce myself to these young women.”
“Of course.” She bowed again.
Prince Maxon surveyed the room and found me. Our eyes met for a moment, and he smiled. I wasn’t expecting that. I was thinking that he’d probably changed his opinion of how to act toward me in the night, and I’d be called out in front of everyone for my behavior. But maybe he wasn’t mad at all. Maybe he found me entertaining. He had to get incredibly bored around here. Whatever the reason, that brief smile led me to believe that maybe this wasn’t going to be such a terrible experience after all. I settled into the decision I couldn’t make last night and hoped Prince Maxon would hear out my apology.
“Ladies, if you don’t mind, one at a time I’ll be calling you over to meet with me. I’m sure you’re all eager to eat, as am I. So I won’t take up too much of your time. Do forgive me if I’m slow with names; there are quite a few of you.”
There was a low rumble of giggles. Quickly, he went over to the girl in the front row on the far right and escorted her over to the couches. They spoke for a few minutes, then both rose. He bowed to her, she curtsied back. She went back to her table, spoke to the girl beside her, and it happened all over again. These conversations lasted only a few minutes and were spoken in hushed voices. He was trying to get a feel for each girl in less than five minutes.
“I wonder what he wants to know,” Ragini turned and asked.
“Maybe he wants to know which actors you think are the most handsome. Keep your mental list ready,” I whispered back.Ragini and Ashley both chuckled at that.
We weren’t the only ones talking. Around the room voices lifted like gentle hums, as we tried to distract ourselves until it was our turn. Not to mention the cameramen were hopping around, asking girls about their first day in the palace, how they liked their maids, and things like that. When they stopped by Ashley and me, I let her do all the talking.
I kept looking over to the couches as each of the Selected were interviewed. Some were calm and ladylike, others fidgeted in excitement. Ragini blushed wildly as she walked over to Prince Maxon, and beamed when she walked back. Ashley straightened her dress several times, like a nervous little tic of her hands.
I was near sweating when she came back, meaning it was my turn to go. I took a deep breath and steadied myself. I was about to ask for a monumental favor.
He stood and went to read my pin as I approached. “America, is it?” he said, a smile playing on his lips.
“Yes, it is. And I know I’ve heard your name before, but could you remind me?” I wondered if opening with a joke was a bad idea, but Maxon laughed and motioned for me to sit.
He leaned in and whispered, “Did you sleep well, my dear?”
I didn’t know what my face looked like in response to that name, but Maxon’s eyes glittered with amusement.
“I am still not your dear,” I replied, but with a smile. “But yes. Once I calmed down, I slept very well. My maids had to pull me out of bed, I was so cozy.”
“I am glad you were comfortable, my… America,” he corrected himself.
“Thank you,” I said. I fidgeted with a piece of my dress for a moment, trying to think of how to say this right. “I’m very sorry I was mean to you. I realized as I was trying to fall asleep that even though this is a strange situation for me, I shouldn’t blame you. You’re not the reason I got swept up in all this, and the whole Selection thing isn’t even your idea. And then, when I was feeling miserable, you were nothing but nice to me, and I was, well, awful. You could have thrown me out last night, and you didn’t. Thank you.”
Maxon’s eyes were tender. I bet every girl before me had already melted because he’d given them a look like this. I would have been bothered that he looked at me that way, but it was obviously just part of his nature. He ducked his head for a moment. When he looked at me again, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as if he wanted me to understand the importance of what was coming next.
“America, you have been very up front with me so far. That is a quality that I deeply admire, and I’m going to ask you to be kind enough to answer one question for me.”
I nodded, a little afraid of what he wanted to know. He leaned in even closer to whisper. “You say you’re here by mistake, so I’m assuming you don’t want to be here. Is there any possibility of you having any sort of … of loving feelings toward me?”
I couldn’t help but fidget a little. I genuinely didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but I couldn’t beat around the bush on this.
“You are very kind, Your Majesty, and attractive, and thoughtful.” He smiled at that. In a low voice I added, “But for very valid reasons, I don’t think I could.”
“Would you explain?” His face hid it well, but I could hear the disappointment caused by my immediate rejection. I guessed he wasn’t used to that.
It wasn’t something I wanted to share, but I didn’t think anything else would make him understand. In an even lower whisper than I’d used before, I told him the truth.
“I … I’m afraid my heart is elsewhere.” I could feel my eyes getting wet.
“Oh, please don’t cry!” Maxon’s whisper was marked with a genuine worry. “I never know what to do when women cry!”
That made me laugh, and any threat of tears retreated for the moment. The relief on his face was unmistakable.
“Would you like me to let you go home to your love today?” he asked. It was obvious that my preference for someone else bothered him, but instead of choosing to be angry, he showed compassion. The gesture made me trust him.
“That’s the thing…. I don’t want to go home.”
“Really?” He ran his fingers through his hair, and I had to laugh again at how lost he seemed.
“Could I be perfectly honest with you?”
“I need to be here. My family needs me to be here. Even if you could let me stay for a week, that would be a blessing for them.”
“You mean you need the money?”
“Yes.” I felt bad admitting it. It must have seemed like I was using him. In truth, I guess I was. But there was more to it. “And there are … certain people”—I looked up at him—“at home who I can’t bear to see right now.”
Maxon nodded his head in understanding but did not speak.
I hesitated. I guessed the worst that could happen now was being sent home anyway, so I continued. “If you would be willing to let me stay, even for a little while, I’d be willing to make a trade,” I offered.
His eyebrows shot up. “A trade?”
I bit my lip. “If you let me stay…” This was going to sound so stupid. “All right, well, look at you. You’re the prince. You’re busy all day, what with helping run a country and all, and you’re supposed to find time to narrow thirty-five, well, thirty-four girls, down to one? That’s a lot to ask, don’t you think?”
He nodded. I could see his genuine exhaustion at the thought.
“Wouldn’t it be much better for you if you had someone on the inside? Someone to help? Like, you know, a friend?”
“A friend?” he asked.
“Yes. Let me stay, and I’ll help you. I’ll be your friend.” He smiled at the words. “You don’t have to worry about pursuing me. You already know that I don’t have feelings for you. But you can talk to me anytime you like, and I’ll try and help. You said last night that you were looking for a confidante. Well, until you find one for good, I could be that person. If you want.”
His expression was affectionate but guarded. “I’ve met nearly every woman in this room, and I can’t think of one who would make a better friend. I’d be glad to have you stay.”
My relief was inexpressible.
“Do you think,” Maxon asked, “that I could still call you ‘my dear’?”
“Not a chance,” I whispered.
“I’ll keep trying. I don’t have it in me to give up.” And I believed him. It was annoying to think he’d press that issue.
“Did you call all of them that?” I nodded my head toward the rest of the room.
“Yes, and they all seemed to like it.”
“That is the exact reason why I don’t.” And I stood.
Maxon was chuckling as he rose with me. I would have scowled, but it actually was kind of funny. He bowed, I curtsied, and I went back to my seat.
I was so hungry that it felt like an eternity until he’d gone through the last rows. But finally the last girl was back in her seat, and I was eagerly anticipating my first breakfast at the palace.
Maxon walked to the center of the room. “If I have asked you to remain behind, please stay in your seats. If not, please proceed with Silvia here into the dining hall. I will join you shortly.”
Asked to stay? Was that a good thing?
I stood, as did most of the girls, and started walking. He must just want some special time with those girls. I saw that Ashley was one of them. No doubt she was special, a born princess by the looks of her. The rest were girls I hadn’t managed to meet. Not that they had wanted to meet me. The cameras lingered behind to capture whatever special moment was about to occur, and the rest of us moved on.
We walked into the banquet room and there, looking more majestic than even I could imagine, were King Clarkson and Queen Amberly. Also in the room, more camera crews swarmed to catch our first meeting. I hesitated, wondering if we should all go back to the door and be invited in. But most everyone else—if somewhat hesitantly—kept walking. I walked quickly to my chair, hoping I hadn’t drawn attention to myself.
Precap: Sanky’s P.O.V on official meet…… Swasan on a namesake Romantic date……..swasan new bond….
So…..how was it guys??????…..Swasan have become frns now..
…… but will love blossom????……….Ik i’m not doing justice to ragini and laksh’s character as i’m not giving important scenes for them right now……….but belive me guys they will gain importance as the story proceeds…………..i’m yawning heavily now……need to go and sleep……so bye dearies…………..one more thing pls do comment and let me know how was this epi guys………
Luv ya sweeties???❤❤❤
Credit to: ❤?Natasha?❤