Harper was dead. My best friend, my cousin, gone. We all knew this would happened, the moment the king summoned her to become his bride she started to count down the days. I just didn't realize how quickly it would happen. I didn't realize how hard it would be to breathe when the word finally reached us. She was gone, she would never come home. I would never hear her laughter or see her smile at my stupid jokes.
The one person who had always been there for me was gone. My uncle would never get to walk his daughter down the aisle and watch her become a wife. He would never have grandchildren, my children will never have cousins. All because this monster had decided she was his next victim. There was no pattern to his madness, he chose each girl without warning or reason. He just needed a wife, there were plenty of young girls to choose from down here.
I knew what I had to do. I stepped up and volunteered to become his next wife. Harper wouldn't die for no reason. I would find out his secrets, I could kill the son of a bitch for taking away my family. I would ensure that my little sister would never have to fear the reaper that was our king.
The maids dressed me in their finest silk gown. It was white, but not ceremonial white. It was a creamy color, that made my bright blue eyes pop out. They were the only colored accessory I had one. The dress clinched at the waist, tied together with a cold chain. The gown reached my feet, they were bare. Apparently the king hated shoes, my feet would be bare for the ceremony. My stomach was in knots as I watched the brown haired girl do my hair. She pulled it up into a bun, her eyes avoiding mine in the mirror.
I guess they knew they couldn't get close. I wasn't supposed to live past dawn.
I bit my lip, pushing away the tears. I wouldn't cry, I had made this choice. I would make the king pay for Harper and all the other innocent lives he took. No one understood why he killed his wives, but I would find out. I would find a way to make his monster stop.
Even if I did it with my last breath.
"Clarke," my dad’s voice shook me as I heard the door open. I fought off even more tears, when I saw him enter the room. I wanted to do this alone, I hadn't wanted anyone to follow me. I shouldn’t have been surprised he didn’t listen. I got my hard headiness from him, "what are you doing?”
My hair was finished and I turned around to face him, "dad I told you not to follow me.”
The maid walked away from my chair as my dad came to hug me. I stood up, feeling the lump in my throat as his strong arms pulled me close. My dad was always there, he had chased away every single monster. He was the one person who always promised me things would be okay. He couldn’t chase away this monster, it had gotten too powerful.
There were tears in my eyes, sparkling as I tried to speak to him in an even tone, "I have to do this. I have to make things right, Harper—”
My voice broke as he nodded. Harper was his niece, he knew how broken his brother was losing his only daughter. Now he was facing the same fate. He didn’t realize I had a plan, "I know sweetheart. She didn't deserve to meet her end that way. But neither do you. You don't deserve to die at the hands of a monster. Please reconsider this Clarke.”
I shook my head, "I won't let Octavia grow up fearing him. I won't let her wonder if she's his next bride, his next victim. This has to stop.”
My dad put his hand against my cheek, his eyes soft as he sighed, "you're so much like your mother sometimes it kills me. You've got her fight, her spirit. She would be so proud of you.”
I smiled for a brief moment, hoping he was right, “dad.”
I didn’t know what else to say. There was so much we were leaving unsaid, so many things we were supposed to have done together. He was my dad, he held me when I was born. He wasn’t supposed to see me die, I wasn’t supposed to be buried before he was. I closed my eyes as he pressed his lips against my forehead.
He knew exactly what I was thinking, “I can't lose you too, Clarke.”
I was doing this for my mom, for the fight that had taken her away from us. She was so strong, so beautiful even in her last few hours. I missed her, I knew she would understand why I had to do this. She always understood me.
A tear slipped down his cheek as I hugged him tightly, "you won't lose me. I promise. I will survive him," I pressed my lips against his cheek and pulled away, "just keep Octavia safe. Wells will take you out of the city.”
He nodded as a knock sounded, the maid who had done my hair cleared her throat, "it is time my lady.”
I nodded, "I love you," I whispered letting his hand go before he pulled me out of the room with him.
"May we meet again," he whispered, his hand over his lips as they opened the door and I made my way towards my king. My heart was pounding, my feet barely made a sound against the floor as I walked. I thought about running, not that I would get far. I’m sure there were guards station all around this place. They would all laugh at me, why would I run when I was the one who asked for this? I volunteered, of course I knew the price of becoming his bride.
I let out a slow breath, feeling the butterflies in my stomach as I got ready to give myself away. I was about to become a wife, the man who I married was a stranger. Worse he was a monster.
I couldn't lose my nerve. I took in a deep breath as we stood there for another second. Then the maid put a veil over my face, and then two large doors opened.
He stood at the end of the aisle, there was an audience already gathered. His guards, family, I'm sure. Of course my family wasn't invited. A part of me was glad that my family wasn’t here to see me walk towards my death. The other part was sad, because they would never get to see me walk down the aisle towards the man I would marry. Maybe it was for the best, maybe they didn’t need to see this moment.
They should remember me for the girl I was, the girl who kept them laughing and always thought on her feet. I wanted them to remember my laughter, my drive. The same way we remembered my mother.
I swallowed the lump as I held onto the flowers, my hands shaking. I started to walk slowly, his back was towards me. I kept my eyes on him, wondering if he was numb to this experience now. He had to have been through so many ceremonies it wasn’t like this was the most important day of his life. Not like it was supposed to be, not like it was for me. This was the biggest thing I had ever done.
Even if the man at the end of the aisle was a stranger.
He didn't turn around, his shaggy hair the only feature I could make out. He was wearing black pants and a jacket, his sword hanging low on his belt. He was tall, taller than I expected. The muscles pulled against his jacket, if this had been another time another place, I would’ve found him attractive. I had never seen our king up close before. I only heard rumors. He was young, handsome, but a monster hid behind his guise.
He was soulless, he proved that every dawn.
I stopped at the alter as the minister held his hand up. I was still behind him, his shoulders broad, his stance stiff. He stood so still, he didn't even try to turn and look at me. Of course he was used to this by now. He had been to more than fifty weddings at this point. He was only seventeen, the same age as me. He had more partners than someone my father’s age. It would’ve been comical if it wasn’t sad.
After a moment the music stopped and he turned to face me. I gasped, his big brown eyes were hard, but they were beautiful. His hair hung just above his eyes. There were more than a dozen freckles lining his handsome face. His jaw was clenched, his eyes searching mine for the answer to the question every single person in this room was asking.
Why did she volunteer? Surely she knows her fate.
He offered me his hand, the maid slipping in to take the flowers from me. I took his hand, surprised at the warmth it offered me. His big fingers curled around mine, his body turning back towards the minister. His features never faltered, no expression filled his eyes. He cleared his throat as I stepped forward and took my place beside him.
A place Harper had once stood, knowing exactly how she would end up. My hate for him was fueled by the grief I still held for my cousin, my best friend.
I looked over at him out of the corner of my eyes. His hand still held mine, his eyes were staring straight forward. His lip twitched, like he felt me watching him as the minister starting talking. I didn't listen, this was my last day on earth. I didn't know how I wanted to spend it, but I knew it wasn't with this swine.
Finally we bowed our heads in prayer. After he blessed us and our marriage, we said the vows every marriage ceremony ends with. The king faced me, his expression just as hard as it had been when he looked at me that day when I volunteered. I took in a deep breath, repeating after the minister slowly. His brown eyes held secrets he wasn't willing to share.
I knew a way to keep those secrets from getting me killed.
We didn't kiss. We did however drink from the same wine glass. Then we were ushered out of the church, the sun setting behind the big window of the castle. My new husband let go of my hand, my maids showing me to my room.
It was huge, glamorous and more than I could've ever dreamed to have. Except it didn't matter, because come morning this wouldn't belong to me anymore. I pulled off my veil, remembering back to when I was a child. I used to think my wedding night would be amazing, it would be as exciting as my wedding. Now here I was, in a castle far away from my friends and family, standing all alone in my wedding dress.
I was staring down the grim reaper, I wasn't sure I was really ready for this.
I sat on the bed, waiting for him. Every guy wants to claim their prize right? Even if he never has to see me again, surely he would consummate our marriage. I had to find his weakness, I had to find a way to take down the beast who had killed so many girls who were just like me.
He didn't come for a long time. The maids came and went, bringing food and wine. I didn't eat, I just stared at the table like it would all disappear if I tried hard enough to will it away. I wasn't hungry, facing death made me lose all desire to eat.
The moon was high in the sky, I looked at it through the doors that led to the balcony. I swallowed the pain, pushing away harpers memory. Maybe she sat here, wondering if she could make a run for it. Maybe she just accepted her fate and went to sleep. Either way it didn't matter, I would be his first bride to put up a fight. I wouldn't die easily.
My mom’s face entered my thoughts as I turned towards the door. It was strangely quiet in the castle, you would think a wedding called for a celebration. Of course this wedding would be followed by a funeral, no one wanted to celebrate those two things together. I closed my eyes, wondering what my mother would say if she could see me now.
Before the killings started my mom would bounce me on her knee and tell me someday I could marry the prince. Someday I would live in a castle and have lots of babies who would run around wearing their own little crowns. No one knew this monster would hide behind the walls. No one knew our friends, our daughters would start disappearing at the hands of the ruler we were supposed to follow.
"I'm sorry mama," I whispered to the empty hair, "I had no other choice.”
"You always have a choice my dear," her voice was soft in my ear, "you can take the easy way out or you can fight. You're my fighter, the spark within the flames.”
I wiped away a tear, scolding myself for crying. I couldn't show any weakness, not when I was so close to death. I took in a deep breath, praying that my family had made it out alive. I wanted Octavia to grow up with a chance at a life outside these walls. I wanted her and Lincoln to have babies with our blue eyes and his stubborn jaw. I wanted her to live, to become the woman I always knew she could be.
She was the reason I was doing this. She was the one thing that helped me through our mothers death, she held my hand and I made sure she had all the love our mother had given me growing up. She was my other best friend, the one I would never let him get his hands on.
I played with a thread from my dress, the minutes ticking by. The food had grown cold, the soft music stopped playing. Finally, when the clock struck half past midnight the knock came. I sat up straighter, my stomach filling with butterflies. This was it, my king had finally come.
The door opened and he stood there in all his glory. The same look on his face as he had during the wedding. He looked at me, his mouth forming a thin line. He closed the doors behind him, no one else followed him.
I bowed my head, "my lord.”
He didn't answer, instead he stepped forward and put his hand against my cheek. His other came to rest on my hip. His eyes were bright, they were hiding all the answers I wanted to know. My heart stopped as we stood there staring at each other.
"You have no idea what you've done," his voice was deep, it was hard. I would've jumped away from him if he hadn't been holding me so tightly.
I felt the air leave my lungs as he pushed me backwards, towards the bed. I was right, this was what he wanted after all. I swallowed my pride and my fear, his hands unzipping my dress. He didn't kiss me, for that I was glad. My hands were shaking as he laid me down on the mattress.
I closed my eyes, reminding myself again. I wouldn't suffer, I wouldn't die. I would see another sunset and another sunrise. This monster wouldn't be the death of me, neither would this dawn. I would beat him at his own game, no matter what it took.
This monster was done ruling our kingdom. He had no idea that he'd finally met his match. I might be little, but I was strong. I had been given everything I needed by the woman who raised me. I would prove them all wrong, I would see my family again. I would see them in this lifetime not the next.