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The Princess's Competition

Novel By: ReLies
Fantasy



I've always loved stories about backstabbing and treacherous court life and am fascinated by the politics of the Absolutism age. This is the start of my attempt to mirror that life in a world where magic, at least some magic, is possible. Please, please, please leave critiques and advice. It's painful right now, and I need help. Thanks! View table of contents...


Chapters:

1 2 3 4

Submitted:Jun 30, 2012    Reads: 12    Comments: 1    Likes: 0   


The Princess disappeared when she was six years old. It has been ten years since she vanished, ten years since the Queen imposed a period of mourning to be lifted only on her return. She has not returned.

Her birthday was in a month. And every year a month before the Princess's birthday, the Queen hosts the Competition. The winner becomes the Queen's substitute princess, but no one knows what happens to the rest of the entries.

The Queen invites certain, randomly chosen girls from ages six to sixteen to join her at a ball. They don't have a choice to attend or not: some desperate girls attempt to flee to the Ku Mountains and cross the border to West Ponthor, but border patrols almost always catch them. They don't even have a chance at winning the Competition then. They just disappear.

I am sixteen this year, but the Queen doesn't know I exist.

I live in Darkside, the foulest borough in Marchland, the foulest city in Freemartin. The Queen's patrols don't even enter here, the dastardly corner of her sickeningly perfect kingdom. The corner where starving mothers suffocate their children and penniless beggars can be hired to kill anyone you please.

I, Alyss Rikkone, being sound of mind and body, will not win the Competition. Or be forced into entering. I will not disappear like all the others. I will not enter or be found and roped into entering the psychotic event, because everyone believes me to be dead. The patrols here believed my father strangled me as a baby, but in reality, he falsely confessed to killing me to hide me from the Queen's patrol the year she hosted the first Competition and surveyed the land to discover all the girls appropriate for her perverted tournament.

He spent his life in prison and died there, arranging for an elderly woman looking for money like everyone else to take care of me, in return for all his possessions. I should feel grateful to him, but I never met him. I take his gift for granted.

The woman who was supposed to be taking care of me died when I was six. I hardly recall her; instead, I remember being evicted from her apartment by a ruthless slumlord and being picked up by Charlie Rooster's street gang, a group of orphaned kids who slept underneath Rockwell Bridge. I remember being wet and cold every night, and begging for coins on the curb by Thane Street. Charlie called me Angel-Face Alyss, because by seven I'd mastered the art of forcing tears to get the passerby to pity me enough to toss me a halfpenny. When I was eight, Charlie took sick and died. I remember him coughing and coughing under the bridge, and counting the seconds between each cough. I was out begging when he died under Rockwell Bridge, but I saw the surgeon's men taking him away. I wondered who would be next.

Eleven years old and I'd gotten a job assisting a washerwoman, posing as her daughter and carting around a basket door to door to collect the clothes. I ran away from her when she tried to turn me in to the Queen for the Competition. I was fourteen and I threatened to kill her if she told anyone I wasn't registered. I was fourteen.

Now, I don't work. I steal and I hide to survive. I am sixteen, my name is Alyss Rikkone, I have black hair and green eyes, I will not enter the Competition, and I will live on.

If I could manage this.

I balanced deftly on the narrow ledge outside Darkside's Chief Jewelry Office. Every borough in Freemartin, my kingdom, has Chief Jewelry, Music, Art, Dance, Poise, Cloth, and Trade Offices, as well as a building for the patrol. These are home to our borough's finest specimens of each aspect, and classes for each. No one in Darkside takes those classes. Why waste money on learning how to sing or dance when you need that money for food? And why place all of the most valuable items in a region under one roof? You're just inviting people like me.

It was night, and drizzling slightly, making it easier for me to slip but harder for dogs to find me if I got caught. A fair trade-off.

I hoisted myself up onto the flat roof of the building, locating the mark I'd placed there earlier in the day on a scouting mission undercover as a woman desperate to know how to facet precious stones for some reason. The mark notated the location of a weak point in the building's design: a point I could exploit.

The small chalk X was placed above a chandelier. If I cut through exactly right, the chandelier would fall, and I estimated I'd have about thirty seconds to get in through an open door and out again while the inhabitants of the building were distracted.

I took the knife out of my boot and scratched at the rotting wooden roof, feeling slivers of wood bend and shear. Soon I had a rough circle gouged out, further compromising the structure of the chandelier. I punched the circle, and heard a snap and a slightly delayed shatter, as well as excited voices. A door banged open and I leapt down to the pavement: I had thirty seconds.

A strange light illuminated the building as I sprinted in. Everyone filed out onto the street outside, and they were shouting and staring not up at the roof where the noise had obviously come from, but rather inside the building. One of the jeweler's apprentices sprinted off towards the patrol office.

Twenty three, twenty two, twenty one.

I entered the display room, and snatched as many of the precious stones as I could.

Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen.

I heard a strange, snapping and popping. Was someone still in the building?

Thirteen, twelve, eleven.

Crossing the threshold into the room I'd knocked the chandelier down in, I saw what had caused the noise.

Eight, seven, six.

The candles on the chandelier were lit when it fell. The room was on fire.

Five. Four. Three.

I tried to run, I tried to scream, but there was nowhere I could go.

Two. One. Zero.

"…she's not registered!" came a voice, high-pitched but still male. "And you don't know who she is?"

"No," said a different voice, lower and more refined. "Never seen her before."

"Hmm. Take her away," said the higher voice, and I opened my eyes. Someone had lifted me and I was bouncing helplessly in his arms.

"What's going on?" I asked, groggy and confused. I couldn't focus on anything. Everything hurt. Like a burn.

"You tell me. You were in a fire. Who are you?" asked the man with the high voice, following behind the man carrying me.

"Set me down! Where are we going? Set me down, I can walk on my own!" I was confused, and my eyes followed a well-dressed man walking away from us, towards a near utterly burnt-down building.

"I'm afraid we can't set you down. Your legs are pretty much unusable, you were burnt pretty severely."

"What?"

Oh. The chandelier. Oh. No. What did he mean; my legs weren't "usable"? And wasn't he wearing a Queen's Patrol uniform? Oh. No. I didn't have a registration tattoo. He will check if he hasn't already and know I'm not registered for the Competition, even though I'm clearly the proper age. But my legs? My legs were burnt? He had to be kidding.

"The chandelier in Darkside's Chief Jewelry Office fell while lit and burnt down the building; you were inside. No one involved with the building seems to know who you are, and you don't have a registration tattoo. It's possible you were the catalyst behind the building's collapse, so we placed you under arrest. What is your name?" he explained coolly as the man carrying me laid me down in a black carriage. "Oh, and you might never walk again. The fire seared your legs, and even the Queen's mages might not be able to do anything for you."

Oh no. Oh, no. How could I survive if I couldn't walk? How could I do anything? I was in shock; it took me too long to realize what he had just said. I didn't have a tattoo. By default, I was going to be in the Competition. And I had no legs to dance with, or even to walk with. Heck, I didn't even know how to dance. I would disappear just like everyone else who lost the Competition. Oh no. Oh, no.

I tried to sit. I couldn't. I couldn't move my legs. Why couldn't I move my legs? Why couldn't I move my legs?

I, Alyss Rikkone, was going to lose the Competition.

I had been staring up at the ceiling of the black carriage for so long I memorized every crack and every pattern in it. It wasn't terribly well made; definitely Darkside. Why didn't the agent who arrested me have his own carriage? He must have been low-ranking, then. There was a chance I could escape.

Oh. Wait. There was no way I could escape without being able to walk. And a girl dressed like me in Sangsay, the legendary capitol of Freemartin, wouldn't go unnoticed.

I was kind of in denial, stewing in my own terror and apprehension and grief. Surely, I told myself, this was all some sort of sick joke. They must have injected some magic numbing solution into me so I couldn't escape. My mind chased every possible explanation, but reached a dead end each time, unavoidably. I wouldn't, couldn't face the facts, and seized every possible distraction. No. No. No, no, no. I couldn't even feel my legs. If they had truly been burnt, wouldn't I feel something? Pain? And why just my legs? Why not my entire body? Nothing made sense. Nothing, nothing, nothing made sense.

"Look," came the excited voice from the forward compartment of the carriage. "There it is: the Queen's palace!" Definitely low-ranking. Anyone else wouldn't have been so awestruck; they would've been used to the sight by now. I wondered if I was his first recruit. A unique one, then, to warrant a trip back to the palace. Come to think of it, why was he in Darkside in the first place? We never get agents down there, except that first year when they came down registering people. Even if something burns down; this was a relatively common experience in Marchland. Why was he taking me personally all the way back to Sangsay? It didn't quite add up. But my brain was still reeling from the shock. Maybe I had missed something.

Of course I had missed something, them saying that I was okay, that my legs were fine, that I was fine, that I wouldn't be in the Competition, that I wouldn't disappear, and that I could just go on stealing and trying to survive, right? I mean, surely this was a nasty dream or a nightmare where I'd eventually just wake up and realize that everything was fine. The carriage bumped and jostled as it slowed to a halt, but in my slump of misery I didn't feel any of it. I was too numb with shock to care. I was going to die. Even if I miraculously escaped the competition, without the use of my legs I wouldn't be able to do anything in Darkside. I'd end up murdered or sold to the West Ponthor slave trade. Although the latter might be preferable to death.

I wasn't entirely certain how long we'd been in the carriage. We hadn't stopped, so I assumed not too long. Likely we were on the rode from Marchland to Sangsay, Freemartin's capitol. That was where the Competition was held every year. The girls selected met in the Oriental Ballroom, a grand and vast hall rumored to be larger than the entire Darkside. I didn't believe that myth: how could someone own anything that large? Surely even the Queen didn't command that much wealth. Maybe her palace was that grand, but not one lone ballroom.

The door to my compartment slammed open and a red-faced, angry looking man I hadn't seen before asked who I was. The nervous looking agent quickly jumped in.

"She doesn't have a registration tattoo, sir, and she won't tell us her name. Therefore she will be entered in the Competition. Likely a lost cause."

"What happened to her legs?" asked the man.

"Burnt in a fire."

"As opposed to "burnt in a pond?" Idiot," he mumbled. "All right, take her in. The ball is tomorrow; today the Queen meets the contestants. Better take her to the mages and the dressmakers if she is to make any sort of impression other than utter disgust."

"Will do, sir, but tell me, how do I get to either one?"

"Ha! I forgot you morons have no sense of direction. Page!" He snapped his fingers, and a flustered-looking boy ran to join him."Show this… man to the mages and then to the dressmakers. Probably the Blue Room after that."

"Yessir. Will do, sir."

I felt myself being dragged out of the carriage from behind and strained to turn around. I couldn't, but I assumed it was the man who had carried me before. I felt useless, utterly useless, and hopeless. I would die before I left this palace.

Seeing even the small section I could for the first time, I was stunned. A single marble stone from this could sell for hundreds in Darkside. The workmanship didn't even compare.

Spiraling minarets climbed towards the heavens and large but delicate walls ringed and invited as they protected and fortified. Everything was shining and incredible. But I was struck by the waste of it all. The waste! The effort put into building this could see the Princess safely back in the Queen's arms in no time. Or rebuild and reorganize Darkside, or even the entire Marchland city! Heck, the entire country of Freemartin could be beautified and renovated with the work that had gone into this monstrous misuse of power. Why did some people steal and scrimp for a living, and end up burning their legs beyond repair, when some people didn't work a day in their lives and live like this? It wasn't fair. It. Wasn't. Fair.

Why. Me.

We entered the complex through a gate of wrought iron, and proceeded down an open-air, tapestried hallway floored with what appeared to be glass. Indeed, it appeared we were floating above the cobblestones that paved beneath, a strange effect.

I was disoriented as we turned into another long, endless passageway, this time with walls frescoed with scenes of clashing armies and valiant soldiers, a troupe of horses pulling a chariot occupied by a woman who appeared to radiate a fierce intensity. Presumably the Queen.

A small, comparatively undecorated door opened as we neared it. No one appeared to have done anything. No one did.

"The mages," explained the page. "They enjoy shocking people new to the palace."

The now-jumpy agent entered, and waved the man carrying me into the room.

I was struck by the large glass window that occupied the side of the room directly opposite us. Sitting down on the left side of it was a small, wizened old man.

"Hmm?" He looked up, apparently startled by our presence. "What is it now?"

"Her," said the page. "Her legs are burnt. Can you do anything for her?"

"Hmm. It depends. Lay her down so I can see the specimen in question." I shuddered. I was a specimen? I was set on a wooden table, and the mage looked me over.

"Ooh. Not good. Not good at all." I froze.

"The fire damaged her core. I can't reverse this. Unless, of course, we swap the core damaged in the legs with healthy core from somewhere else. However, that would mean she'd lose ability somewhere else in her body. Why does she need her legs?"

"She's entering the Competition."

"Oh," said the man, simply. "What will it be, then, miss? Which sense can you afford to give up?" I didn't respond. "Can she speak?"

"Yes," said the agent. "Of course she can speak."

"I don't know," I told him, my voice shaky.

"Fine. A tough question, I will admit," said the man. "What's your name? Mine's Erlenmeyer. But call me Earl."

"My name is Alyss Rikkone. I am from Darkside in Marchland."

"Ah. I pity you, miss. A Darksider and now no legs. What a life to lead."

"I think I should like to lose my vision, then," I said abruptly, realizing I could afford this. I needed my voice to sing, I needed my fingers to paint and sew. I couldn't lose anything else. I needed to get over this, and if I had any chance, I needed to do well in the Competition. That was the only hope I had left. Maybe I could play the pity vote. Maybe I could get the Queen to believe I had a chance. I was finally starting to think logically. If I could get my legs back, I could attempt to attempt to attempt the Competition. This was a perverted and terrifying world. But I was used to that. I could get around in the pitch black nights of Darkside; could darkness here at the palace be any different?

"Okay, then. I can easily reverse this, of course. If you ever need to see again, visit me here and I will restore your vision, although of course for that duration you won't be able to walk."

That surprised me. This wasn't permanent, then. That made things easier.

"Make me blind, Erlenmeyer. Do it now before I change my mind."

He laughed, which caught me off guard. "Close your eyes."

I did.

I couldn't open them again, but suddenly I felt my legs tingle back to life. I smiled slightly, nervously, and swung them off the table. This wasn't so hard. I could manage this. After a life in Darkside, I could handle anything. I laughed. The shock was gone, and since I had made this choice to be blind, I could deal with it. I, Alyss Rikkone, being sound in mind but not in body, would win the Competition. I would survive.

The page, whose name was Alecks, held my hand and directed us towards the dressmakers. I felt peculiar, slightly concerned, slightly apprehensive, but cautiously and strangely optimistic, a feeling I wasn't used to. He labeled all the important features of the passageways we were traipsing through, such as shrines to the missing Princess and candlelit hallways we were never to enter. He left us outside our destination, but pressed something, presumably a note, into my hand. "Find someone to read this to you," he said. "Someone you trust." I was confused. I'd been in the palace little over an hour.

I walked cautiously through a door, careful not to trip on the threshold. Someone exclaimed.

"Get out of here, you rat!" I felt someone slap my hand. What?

"No, no, she's an entry in the Competition. She needs a dress for her audience with the Queen."

"Prove it," said a resentful voice, presumably belonging to the woman who had called me a rat. "She is wearing rags, she can't be a contestant. And why are her eyes closed?"

"She's blind. She's from Darkside. She wasn't registered so she clearly is entering the Competition whether she likes it or not. My name is Reginald F. Grubody; I am a First-Year Registration Agent for the Queen. Here is my badge. Now give her a dress." His voice had a pompous, self-assured tone I hadn't heard before; he was confident he ranked higher than this dressmaker.

"As if she has a chance," grumbled the resentful woman. "Come here, gerbil," she said, I assumed, to me. She grabbed me by the shoulder and spun me clumsily around. "Straighten up. Better. You'll have to work on that. Hmm. You do have a nice face. Clean her up!" she shouted to someone I obviously couldn't see. I felt myself led by the elbow somewhere else, and I felt someone tear my clothes off my body like they were paper.

"Hey!" I shouted.

"Relax," came a kinder voice, with a joking undertone. "We're just cleaning you up. If you want to even try to succeed in this convoluted performance, you need to at least look attractive. My name's Elizabeth. I'm an apprentice dressmaker. What's yours?"

"My name is Alyss. I know nothing about anything I have to do in the Competition. Please at least make me look pleasant, since I have nothing else going for me. I don't want to disappear."

"Forgive me for asking, but what happened to your eyes?"

"The mage made me blind in return for restoring my ability to walk. My legs were burnt in a fire in Darkside. I knew I needed my legs for the Competition, so I chose to be blind."

"You're brave," she said simply, after a moment's hesitation.

I was doused in cold water, and my "cleaning" began.

I was plucked, shaved, trimmed, primped, and rinsed, and spun into the arms of someone who rapidly started measuring and pinning things around me.

"Hmm. Green, definitely green," mumbled the man. "What color are your eyes?" he asked, and it took me a second to realize he was talking to me.

"Green," I replied.

He responded quizzically. "Interesting."

He pleated and folded and sewed and pinned, and a whirlwind of fabric later, he called in a legion of other people who all began sewing fabric around me. I wasn't permitted to move.

By the time they allowed me to relax, I was bored to tears and desired to sit. Only I couldn't. The enormous dress I had on prevented it.

Reginald F. Grubody informed me it was dark outside, and that the hour was getting close for me to go visit the queen.

He led me out back towards the entrance to the hallway, where the head dressmaker awaited to inspect us again.

"Oh," she said when we entered the room. "She has a chance in this thing." My heart leapt. I had a chance? I actually had a chance? Me, a girl from Darkside with no upbringing and no poise or posture, had a chance? "Wait a second," said the woman, and I felt her wrap something around my eyes. "A mask. It highlights your… uniqueness."

I thanked her and we left. Reginald called for a page. It wasn't Alecks. He led us to the Blue Room, and I asked him to accompany me inside. I couldn't see and I didn't know what it was like in there. He agreed, citing a lack of anything interesting to do and a desire not to report to the kitchen. I guessed he just wanted to see the Queen. Apparently she had that effect on many; a presence to be craved and not to be ignored.

Reginald told me to enter as the wide doors ground open. Terrified, I held tightly to the page's arm.

"Who is this?" crooned a soft, delicate voice, after a noticeable pause.

"My name is Alyss, your majesty," I replied, mustering as much confidence and serenity as I could muster.

"Thank you, dear. I would like to ask you a few questions. Please, sit."

"Honestly, I would prefer to stand. I'm not sure this dress is conducive to sitting." The page beside me drew breath sharply. Had I said something wrong? The room was silent.

Then the Queen laughed. "Your frankness is refreshing. Hasn't anyone told you not to refuse the queen? But I understand. Although it is customary to sit if the Queen is sitting, I will gladly stand with you for such a bold response.

"You see, many people are afraid of the power I wield, and grovel at the very sight of me. I do enjoy someone bold enough to defy me. But don't take it too far, Alyss. My first question for you is this; what do you fear most?" I heard a rustling of fabric as the Queen rose.

"I fear not being able to control my own life. Being lost in a maze of other people's biddings, and not being able to make my own choices." I felt my hand tremble and latched it tighter around the page's arm. I was more terrified than I had been ever before.

"Interesting." I was reminded of the tailor in the dressmaker's. Why? "My next question for you, then. I don't ask this to the usual contestants, but you seem… unusual. Why do you wear a bandage over your eyes?"

"My legs were burnt in a fire in Darkside. I was offered a choice between the ability to walk and the ability to see by a mage. I chose the ability to walk."

The Queen appeared to be taken aback. "You made that choice? Why? Be honest, Alyss. Ignore my warning, tell the truth."

I did. "I decided that I needed my legs to get anywhere in the Competition. I didn't need my eyes. "

"Brave. I commend you. Now. Tell me, what color were your eyes?" Her tone of voice had changed. She had glossed over my decision, reverted to her previous self.

"Green, your majesty."

Tension suddenly crackled in the air. I didn't know why.

"Alyss. Where did you grow up?"

"Darkside of Marchland."

"What were your parent's names?"

"I don't remember. They both died.

"Who brought you up?"

"A gang of children, led by a boy named Rooster Charlie. We slept under a bridge."

"Are you registered?"

"No."
She hesitated, halting her rapid-fire interrogation.

"That is all, Alyss. You may go. Scribes, do not take this down: Alyss. I admire you."

Fabric rustled as the Queen left the room.

The page, who had gone white as a sheet, led me out of the doors to the hallway.

"Miss? Where would you like to go next?" questioned the servant, trembling but trying to hide the tremor from his voice. Inside I felt the same. Something about the Queen's mannerisms scared me. Her changing personas, her alternations between admiration and …fear? Again, it didn't add up. Then I remembered Alecks's note, pressed into the folds of my dress.

"Take me to the mage."

"Not your quarters, then?"

"I have quarters? Where? Why?"

"All the contestants have rooms somewhere. Do you not know where yours are?"

"No. I don't."

"Hmm. I will take you to the mage."

Shortly we arrived at the door, which I heard grind open as we approached.

"Who is this?" asked the croaky voice or Erlenmeyer. "Page, who is this beauty?"

"Alyss Rikkone, sir."

"What? The girl I made blind?" He seemed surprised. "No. Surely not. This girl looks like… like a Princess." The page shuddered again, and tensed up.

"I will wait outside." The door swung shut after him.

"Sir, please restore my vision. I need to see something."

"As you wish, miss. It's not difficult to do so, but make sure you're sitting down." Because I'd fall. Because I'd lose control of my legs.

I sat, and felt him remove the fabric from over my eyes. I could see again. It came as kind of a shock, color and light, after groping around in darkness for the entire afternoon. The entire afternoon… such a short time, so much had changed. So much, so very, very much.

I sat there and let my eyes adjust, tearing up at the brightness of few the candles in the room. Earl gave me a mirror and afraid of what I would see, I looked in it.

I dropped the mirror and screamed. Because I looked identical to the patron of the shrines set up for the lost Princess set up at every street corner.

Dear god, I looked like the Princess.

Older, yes, and definitely there were many differences, but the resemblance was definitely there. We both had the straight, jet black hair customary to the noble bloodline, but the clincher was the green eyes. Both she and I had bright green eyes. Hence the tailor's suspicion and Queen's reactions.

"Don't worry. As long as the Queen never sees your eyes, you'll be okay," said Earl, taking off his half-moon reading glasses and turning towards me.

"What do you mean? Isn't the point of the Competition to discover who is most like the Princess?"

"Of course it is! Why do you think all the girls disappear?"

"Because they lost! Because they don't look or act like the lost Princess!"

"Wrong. Exactly the opposite."

I hesitated. "What? I'm confused."

"Allow me to ask you this. Who is the Princess's father?"

"The dead King, Daedrigon. He committed suicide shortly before the Princess's disappearance."

"Correct, partially. He was murdered shortly before the Princess's disappearance. There were no other living relatives of the royal bloodline at the time… Alyss, the Queen wanted pure control. But she couldn't have it, not while a man was in charge."

"But what about the Princess? If this all really was the Queen's doings, why kill her, too? And it's dangerous to talk treason! I refuse to partake in this. I will turn you in, you know."
"And fail the Competition because the Queen sees your eyes and you can't even run away? Ha! I don't think so. This room is charmcasted, as well; no one can hear what goes on inside, even when the door is open. Don't worry. It's important that you know what you're getting in to. The Queen wasn't liked by her people; in fact, she was despised with a burning passion, even here in court. In the event of a regent's death, the court must elect a new, bloodline-related monarch. And it was clear that this would not be the Queen. It would, in fact, be the young and intelligent, bright-eyed and well liked six-year-old Princess."

"A six-year-old ruling the country? Ha! Even the court wouldn't vote for that."

"But they would. They hated the Queen so much that if they had to choose a monarch, they'd choose the Princess over her in a heartbeat. Of course, the Queen would likely become acting advisor, but she'd be removed from the dynasty and simply skipped over. Although she loved her child dearly, she loved power and control even more so. She sent a minor page off with the baby, and told him to return once he'd found a suitable caretaker: one who wouldn't squeal and who was so far away from court that it wouldn't matter if she did. No one knows where he went for certain, but rumors of Marchland and more specifically, Darkside, surfaced. I listened in on your conversation with the Queen earlier, and everything - everything you said - points to you being the-"

"Don't say it," I screamed. "Don't you dare say it. Don't, don't, don't you dare!"

"-Princess. Everything, except your eyes. Without your eyes to prove it, it's possible you're not her. As long as the Queen never sees your eyes, you might succeed in the Competition. The Queen doesn't want the Princess to return, because she fears the surely enraged Princess will usurp or murder her for the throne. So every year she gathers all the likely people and does away with the ones who might be the returned Princess. Instead, she chooses a random, well-brought-up and attractive girl who has no danger of bloodline relations to become the 'substitute Princess.'"

"Oh no. Oh, oh, no. I'm going to die. She's going to kill me, I'm going to die-"

"And she invites six-year-olds to make it look more like a tribute to the lost Princess instead of a perverted power play. At least the younger children don't die; they are given to West Ponthor nobility for them to raise as their own. Still horrendous, but better than murder."

I was speechless. The lovely Queen, the shining star in the face of Freemartin. A treacherous, lying, coward. Part of me refused to believe it. But the green-eyed, black-haired part of me knew that it was true. And that part also knew that I, Alyss Rikkone, was in fact Elan Kysrikos, the Princess of Freemartin, daughter of Onovi Kysrikos, Queen of Freemartin. I remembered the note Alecks had given me, and pulled it from the folds of my gown. I unfolded it, and with my vision restored, I read its simple words, repeating and confirming Earl's story. It added, however, that I could contact him if I needed help: just ask at the kitchens and they'd tell him to come.

I picked the mirror up of the floor and looked back into its depths.

"Make me blind."





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