The castle was huge, if Raven hadn’t been with me I would’ve gotten lost a few times. There were so many turns, so many hallways that looked the same. It was a maze within a maze and I had no idea how she got around without a map. Still it was nice to have her company, to hear her tell me stories about the people within these walls, the ones who worked for the king and now myself. I didn’t consider myself the queen, because I would only hold that title for a few more hours.
Then there would be someone else to take my place. Another man’s daughter would sleep in my bed, then wake up to face the rope tied around her neck.
“I’m not a spy,” Raven’s words surprised me. We had been walking in silence down the hallway that apparently lead to the gardens. She was pretty excited to take me out to see the beautiful flowers growing around the castle, “I won’t tell him anything you’ve told me. I promise. I want to be your friend, your handmaid, but I won’t abuse your trust.”
I smiled at her, taking her hand in mine and squeezing it gently, “my father always told me I had a good sense of judging people. When I woke up, I didn’t think you were one of the bad guys. In fact I honestly thought you were the first friendly face I’ve seen around here since I arrived. So thank you.”
She smiled, I hugged her from the side. We were almost to the end of the hallway when I heard the noises. There were people out there and we weren’t standing at the garden. It was a field where the guards were training. Raven put a hand out to stop me as I watched one of them lung towards the other, their swords were real. I gasped, the knife barely reaching his shirt before he pulled back.
“Dammit,” she whispered, “I took the wrong hallway again. This castle is too dark.”
I smiled, “it’s okay,” I said watching the men as they moved in sync with each other, “I actually like this better. Is the king out here too?”
She shrugged, “I’m not sure. But I do know he’s the best swordsman in the kingdom. He fought long and hard for that title too, had his cousin and uncle teach him day in and day out how to handle his weapon before he took the throne. He’s nothing if not stubborn and persistent.”
I looked at her surprised, “how long have you been here Raven?”
“I was born into this life,” her voice was small, “I grew up with your king and his cousin. They’re the same age as I am. He’s never treated me like a maid, always a friend. I know you think he’s a monster, but he has his reasons. If it were different circumstances, a different life, I would’ve volunteered to be his wife.”
I bit my lip, feeling a pang of jealousy as her eyes scanned the field for my husband. I hated myself for being jealous that she knew him before I did. It didn’t matter, I came here to find a way to end the monster, not develop feelings for him. I shook my head, turning back to look at the men and their game they were playing.
I jumped when someone appeared behind us, “enjoying the view ladies?”
We both turned around, Raven’s cheeks blushing as she looked at the boy standing there. He was the same age as Bellamy, his dark hair falling into his eyes. His voice wasn’t as deep, his skin wasn’t as tan. He wasn’t built the same way, but he stood up straight and held an air of importance around him. I watched as his blue eyes raked up my body, I shivered under his gaze. He gave me a smile, one that told me he flirted with all the girls.
“You must be the queen,” he didn’t move to bow, he just held out his hand, “I’m Finn, the king’s right hand man as well as his cousin.”
I looked at Raven and she shook her head, looking away from us. I took his hand, thinking he would shake it. But instead he brought it up to his lips and kissed it gently, making me blush now, “Clarke.”
“Oh I know your name,” he dropped my hand, just as I realized he was holding a sword in his other one. He must be getting ready to join them, “it’s not everyday that your cousin finally lets one of his brides live. Everyone knows your name by now. I just didn’t realize you were this beautiful.”
I sensed him before I saw his face. I looked behind Finn and met Bellamy’s gaze. He was staring at me, the circles around his eyes were darker. He cleared his throat, “alright Finn, stop hitting on my wife. Go practice, lord knows you need to handle your weapon better.”
Finn rolled his eyes, “yeah you say that after I taught you everything you know.”
He excused himself and walked into the field, choosing an opponent. Bellamy stood across from me, Raven looking at us and then turning away. I nodded my head, watching as his guards stood around us, “Clarke.”
“My lord,” I bowed slightly but he caught my wrist before I pulled my dress up.
“I told you not to call me that,” his deep voice sent shivers down my spine. Or maybe it was the fact that he was holding my wrist gently, his skin warm against mine. I gasped for a moment, before he released me, his eyes softening as I cleared my own throat this time.
I smiled, the same smile I gave him last night, “I’m sorry. Bellamy,” I raised an eyebrow as his guard looked at me, “I didn’t think I would see you today.”
His eyes swept over me, “well I didn’t know you would find your way here. What are you doing out here anyways? It’s not safe for you to watch the guards practice.”
Raven opened her mouth, but I grabbed her hand to stop her from speaking, “I asked to come here. I wanted to see how powerful these guards really are,” I smiled at him and the stood up straighter, “I wanted to learn how to hold my own weapon. After all I’ve only got a few more hours left.”
Bellamy’s jaw clenched, his eyes haunted, “a lady shouldn’t be handling the weapons. She should enjoy the gardens or the castle. Not swords.”
I laughed, the sound bouncing off the walls, “well see that’s where I’m different from most ladies,” the guard closet to me kept staring, his eyes were hard and cold, “I believe a woman should always be able to defend herself. Do you really want a queen who can’t protect herself? I’m not a damsel, I am just as capable of handling that sword as this guard who’s staring at me.”
Bellamy’s hands balled up into fists beside him as he looked at the guard. His eyes snapped away from me, “Murphy stop staring,” his voice was gruff, he was angry. He looked at me, his gaze still hard. I could see he wasn’t used to being spoken to like this, “alright. I’ll teach you.”
I smiled, little did he know I didn’t need teaching. Wells had taught me everything I had ever needed to know about holding a sword. I wouldn’t let him know that though, I would listen and I would learn his strategy. I would do it better than he could ever do it, and I would take him down. I smiled as he stood there sizing me up.
Bellamy picked a smaller sword, his shoulders moving easily as he threw it up in the air and then caught it easily. He looked at me, that smirk he tried to hide last night playing on the corner of his lips again. He closed the distance between us and handed me the weapon, “alright, princess, let’s see what you’ve got. Don’t worry I’ll go easy on you.”
I raised an eyebrow at him, following him out into the field. Everyone stopped sparring the moment Bellamy was visible. They put their weapons down and watched as he chose his court. I smiled, holding my shoulders square as I stood across from him in the grass of the center court. The sun was bright, I squinted as I looked up at him. I put my feet together, holding the sword upright. I knew that was all wrong, but I had to at least pretend I didn’t know how to properly murder someone with this pointy thing.
“Put your feet shoulder width apart,” his voice was deep and gruff, everyone watching us. Finn cleared his throat, Raven shaking her head at the king’s cousin. I could see something between them, he might flirt with me but there was clearly something between those two.
I did as I was told, Bellamy nodded, the smile fading from his lips, “good. Alright don’t hold it straight, hold it diagonal from you. Like you were going to strike me.”
My eyes went wide, my heart sunk as I thought about striking him. I was supposed to want to kill him, yet the words alone made me stop. It was like he read my mind, like he knew I was plotting his demise before he could decide on mine. I took in a breath and moved the sword, Finn sighing loudly.
“Bellamy I don’t think this is something you should be doing,” he sounded like a child, “I mean no queen should be fighting, let alone one that won’t have to defend herself.”
I looked at the dark haired boy, standing beside my hand maiden. She pulled her hand away from his as my eyes washed over him. I smiled, it wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t the polite smile of a queen, “what you’re saying is the king shouldn’t waste his time because this time tomorrow I’ll be dead, right?”
Finn’s face paled as he shook his head, stuttering, “no that’s, that’s not what I meant,” he ran his hand down his chin, I could tell I made him nervous, “I just don’t think this is something you two should be doing. What if someone gets hurt?”
I raised my eyebrows at him. I shrugged my shoulders, “what if he ends up killing me? Then the deed has been done and no one has to worry about the mess in the morning.”
“Dammit Clarke,” he spit my name out hard, his eyes narrow, “stop putting words in my mouth. I am not your husband who apparently lets you speak that way to him. I’m trying to make you two see that this isn’t what a king and queen do on their down time.”
I opened my mouth to say something else, but Bellamy beat me, “enough,” he had his hands on his hips watching us, “if this is what Clarke wants, then I will teach her. She won’t even get a scratch on me, Finn. Don’t worry.”
I rolled my eyes, turning back around to face my opponent, who also happened to be my husband. It was strange to realize how twenty four hours ago my plan hadn’t taken action. Now I was married, I had survived the first night in the dragon’s layer. My entire life had changed in the course of twelve hours.
My form improved as I stood up taller, stepping into the circle towards Bellamy. He held his sword out to defend himself, watching my very slow movements, “care to make this interesting, my lord?”
His eyes were dark as the words left my lips, “what did you have in mind princess?”
I hated that word as much as he hated me calling him lord. I smiled, “if I win you tell me a secret. If you win I’ll tell you a secret.”
We both knew what the other wanted to know. He wanted answers as to why I volunteered, I wanted to know why they had to die. He looked at Finn who was still angry that we were sparring, then smiled at me. In my short time knowing him I learned it was rare to get a smile out of the king, “alright.”
I lunged for him before he realized we were starting our little game. I was fast, my size was my strength. I could move faster than Bellamy, his muscles would slow him down as I threw the sword towards him. I heard one of the guards telling Finn they didn’t like this, but he sighed and stayed quiet. I hit Bellamy’s shoulder, letting the point fall before it did any damage. He was smiling as I fought him.
Bellamy took a wrong step, his foot hitting a loose rock in the soil. He stumbled, I made my move. I lunged for him, pushing him back with my hands, grabbing his arm and twisting it around his back. I had my sword at his throat, one slice and he would be done. I could end this mission right here and now, he would live and I would be victorious. But the guards were watching, everyone was watching.
I couldn’t do it even without the audience.
“I see I underestimated you princess,” he words were strained against his throat as I held him hostage.
I laughed, “must people do,” I let out a breath, feeling pride course through my veins as I stood above him.
I was just about to hand him another smart comment, before his guard grabbed my waist and pulled me away. I screamed, surprised by the foreign hands touching me. I dropped the sword, it barely missed hitting his knee as he stood up, spinning around to see what the cause of my alarm was.
“Murphy,” he was angry, I could hear it in his voice and see it in his eyes, “don’t you touch her.”
“She was going to kill you, sir. My job is to keep you safe,” his hands were still on me, they were moving down my sides. I squirmed, trying not to let the disgust show in my face, but I hated the way his hands felt dirty against my skin.
Bellamy stepped closer, I pushed Murphy’s hands away as he looked at his king. I took in a deep breath, “I said let her go. She wasn’t going to hurt me.”
His hands fell down and I realized this monster thought I belonged to him. He looked at me like I was an object in this castle that he saw value in. Somewhere during this game he was playing he had decided I was his property, no one else was allowed to touch. Little did he realize I wasn’t his property, I was my own person. I wouldn’t let Wells defend me, I wouldn’t let this monster do it either.
“Are you okay?” whatever had changed my mind earlier about hurting him was gone. I was suddenly angry that he thought I wasn’t his wife, I was his property.
I pulled my hands away before he could touch me, “I’m fine,” I looked at him hard. He looked concerned, “I can take care of myself, my lord.”
He looked hurt, “Clarke.”
I shook my head, “I forgot I don’t matter here, sorry,” I bowed for him before he could see the tears in my eyes, “I won’t distract you again, my king.”
I spun away before he could watch the tears fall down my cheek. I wouldn’t let the monster see he had won this round. Because I was already calculating my next move, pretty soon the monster would be put down for good.