The Winner's Crown

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Chapter 14

We get up early, and I immediately remember why. Today is the final day of the competition. No one comes to my room so I have to figure out how to dress myself in the only dress that lays in my closet. It is plain grey with a single bow on the back of it. I could have sworn there were more gowns in here yesterday, but I do not care. I only need to see the competition. I need to know that Kenneth is ok.

Getting the black flats on my feet as fast as I can, I stumble out the door. And there I am greeted by three girls all dressed in the same exact gown as I am in. They are walking down the hallway, all in different directions, and we all startle to see each other, but I instantly recognize their faces. They are the girls from the kitchen. Vivian, Louisa, and Clara. But why are they here?

We only stare at each other, panic in all of our eyes.

“What happened to you? We all thought you were gone...” Vivian trails off as she looks at me, her eyes brimming to the top with tears threatening to spill at any second.

I know I should comfort her, but I cannot bring myself to do so, and instead I stand still, my hands anxiously patting down my dress.

“ you know what is happening? Where the competition is being held?” I ask Louisa, who looks the oldest one here. She shakes her head no, and I hold back in a curse.

“I’m going to figure this out.” I tell them. “You may come with me, or you can stay back if you’d like.” I finish, already staring off in the hall. All three girls follow me.

We continue walking along in complete silence. The only thing that can be heard within the palace, the sounds of our feet against the floor. I think many things while we walk. The most potent question in being, where is everyone? And not why isn’t anyone here, but rather why didn’t they come and get me out of my room like they always seem to do. They know...Desmond knows that I find this place a maze. He would never let me walk alone. He knows too well that I would get lost easily within these walls.

But then what happened to him? It must have something to do with the competition. Maybe he need’s to attend, but thought it best that I didn’t come with him. Maybe he thought I would get damaged by watching. And I guess that is fair. It will damage me. But I will need to just let it then. I will not stand by while knowing that my brother may be getting beat to death out where I cannot see him.

I do know one thing though. The royal family always come’s to every stage of the competition. Without fail. So that must be the answer to my question. They are already there. I look back at the girls walking slowly behind me., Louisa has a hand around Vivian’s waist, and Clara is looking nervously all around her. We emerge out into the garden and I remember the place that Desmond showed me. Maybe that is where the competition’s final stage is being held? I decide to try and locate it just in case it is. If it is not, then we will find another path to take.

We will figure this out.

“Do you know where we are? And more importantly, how to get there?” Clara asks, her voice shaking as she speaks. I don’t stop walking as I answer her question.

“Not quite. But I have an idea on where it could be.” Clara nods at my answer and I shiver as a strong breeze makes it’s way around us. The dress I have on does not have sleeves, much like most dresses. And if I am being truthful, I am surprised the royal family even has this type of gown. It is very plain, almost too plain. And nothing like the other dresses I have worn over the time I have spent at the palace.

There is only one accent of expression on this plain thing, and that is the low tied bow on the back of the dress, tying it in place so that it does not come loose. I know that none of the members of the royal family would be caught dead in this outfit. So why do I have it in my closet? And more interestingly, why do all four of us girls have on the exact same dress? It couldn’t be a coincidence. So what was it?

I am rounding the corner of the beautiful flower covered hedges when something stops my vision. I am petrified as the darkness of vision surrounds me, and I scream out to try and warn the others. But I am too late. We have walked right into a trap.

My mind finally comes back around and I open my eyes only slightly. The darkness continues to surround my vision. But this time it is not from the bag that must have been thrown over my head. This time it is from being in an actual dark place. And it is truly terrifying, because I have no idea where I am. I could be back in my home, in my village, and I wouldn’t even know it.

My hands fumble around and I realize that they are tied together with a tightly knotted rope. I am trapped in a place I don’t know. Of course this could happen! Of course this would happen! I am too much a fool to see the obvious. The royal family is evil. All of them, and they have led me as well as the other three girl’s that have no idea what is happening, all into a trap. Probably to our deaths I think to myself.

But I am not scared. If it is death that I need to face, I will do so without fear. I will not give them that satisfaction as to see my wide eyed expression as I die. I will even do so much as to fight. Not just for my life, but for Kenneth, for my family. For my village and every lower class, poor and beaten citizen that has ever lived.

“Promise me something Lydia. You will stay the most bold, courageous, and adventurous lady there has ever been. Promise me this, not because I want you to be independent and a well suited maiden to any man, but because those same men, well they won’t know what hit them.” Kenneth's last words to me ring out inside my head, making me strain against my restraints to try and get out of here. But I know it is of no use.

I try my hardest to hear something, but to no avail. If there is anything on the other side of this place, this thing that I am inside, I have no idea.

My brain seems to go numb and all I can think about it what Kenneth is doing right this moment. The competition has no started yet. It is always set to begin at noon exactly, and I woke up at six. However, I could have been passed out for longer than I realize now, so I do assume it is possible for the competition to have started just about now.

"Oh Kenneth. Please, please, please. Only remember what father taught you. That is what will get you out of this." I murmur, the sound filling the empty space that is around me. Our father taught us all many things. But above everything else, he taught my brothers the key, the secret in getting out of the competition alive. You need to have the brains more than you need to have the brawn. Of course, Kenneth has the brawn. But he certainly has the brains just as well. He is brilliant, and if I couldn't believe in anyone winning the competition more than I believe he will figure a way out.

He will be alright. I really hope he will be alright.

Closing my eyes, I try to talk to anyone who will listen. My dead ancestors perhaps is who I am trying to reach, but I don't even know. All I know is that I am alone, but not quite afraid. At least now yet. Maybe when something starts to happen and I am about to die, I will be fearful for my short lived 19 years of life. But Kenneth is young enough as well, he is 25 years of age, and I don't think that he is afraid. He's always put on this metal-like shield that censors him from the outside world. And he has tried to teach me how to put that shield on. But it never worked for me.

Suddenly there is a sound. It sounds like a hundred gunshots all ringing out at the exact same second. That is how loud it is. And right after, I can hear the noises of some kind of crowd roaring and clapping. It is coming from outside, and I startle. I would rather be alone than to be surrounded by so many people that are right outside.

Then there is the sound of a door opening in the corner of the strange space I am engulfed in darkness in, and a bright light shines through with it. I hear someone shove another person down to the ground, tying them up and pushing them back to the ground. Then the door closes again. The person doesn't get up. They can't since the ropes are restraining them in a way that makes it almost impossible to move, much less get up off the ground.

The person struggles still, trying their hardest to wiggle their way out. It would look amusing if I didn't think that I was in danger for my life, the person thrashing out on the ground like a fish out of water. But then the person looks at me, and everything I'd ever thought in my life, every single thing, seemed to disappear in an instant. Staring back at me, dirt covering his face and hands, is my brother.

"Kenneth?" I scream, and his eyes widen as he realizes who I am. I look at my brother, studying every inch of him. He looks so tired, I see. Head to toe in dirt and sweat, and dressed only in a grey shirt and pants, matching the exact color as my dress. It is ripped though, and I realize he is bleeding underneath it, where the holes show his chest.

A large gash right in the middle of his chest. But it does not bleed through the shirt. And that is when I realize it must be dried blood. That gash must have happened days ago! And he hasn't received treatment for it! But what did I expect honestly? Him to look completely fine? Dressed in a suit and top hat just like Desmond sometimes has on? No. I should have been expecting this, maybe even something worse. The royal family truly did wonders on brainwashing me into thinking that everything was fine within the competition. But that is far from the truth.

Kenneth is dying! Well, he will be if he doesn't get some kind of medical treatment soon. And this would be one of the worst ways to die, of an infection or a wound. I bet it hurts real bad too, and I want so bad to wrap my arms around him and tell him that everything will be alright. Just like he used to do to me. But I can't get out of my wooden chair as I try to pull off the ropes tied around my hands fiercely. Kenneth looks up at me, his eyes bloodshot. He hasn't slept in so long!

Tears rise in my eyes and I curse myself for being weak in this moment. Kenneth opens his mouth, ready to tell me something, and I listen intently. Ready for anything that may come my way.

"Lydia, the competition...stage three, the temptation. I didn't put it together, not until now. But the temptation is you. At least for me it's you. And the temptation, it's about sacrifice." Kenneth breathes heavily as he explains this to me. But I can only think one thing.

I was not ready for that answer.

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