The Winner's Crown

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Chapter 2

My hearts still beating violently, from the encounter with the odd man in the alleyway, but I somehow manage to collect my thought’s and maneuver my way to the front of the crowd. My family stand’s there, looking at the well in front of us. Standing to our left is Carolyn, and I fight the urge to strut up to her and say something improper, something that I might regret later.

The Royal family hasn’t yet arrived, and it’s almost as if we are waiting for something that will never appear. Almost like the myths such as mermaids or unicorn’s. But unlike those fantasies, this one is real, and in a matter of second’s, horses emerge from the forest, running up to where everyone is standing, waiting for the announcement that will maybe change our lives forever.

The king is first on his beautiful black stallion, and next comes the queen and finally, her son and two daughters. They are beautiful, the family, and it takes me a moment to realize they are real. I have only seen them twice before, since when I was 11 and my oldest brother came to the drawing, my mother thought it best that I should stay home and tend to the crops. But I personally think it true that she just thought I was too young to attend.

I can still remember clearly, the way she looked me in the eye, and told me these simple words, “We will be back, don’t you worry Lydia. Your brother will be fine. I promise you this.” It just seemed such a promise, that I almost thought she was lying, but of course, year after year after year, none of my brother’s were picked for the competition.

I already know though, my parent’s never entered any of their children for the competition to gain more riches. Because the one time I brought up the subject, they called me crazy for even considering such a horrid idea. They are not wicked people, I know that for sure. And besides, it is rare to volunteer yourself, or a baby for the competition. People know the stakes, and aren’t stupid enough to risk their lives over something many have died fighting for. But that is what make’s it even scarier. The drawing is completely random, and no one but the king and his advisor’s know and write who is on the list for the competition.

As the king approaches the well, dressed head to toe in blue, everyone around me fall’s into a bow on the dirt, and I am smart enough to remember the rules of etiquette my mother taught me so young. Sinking to the ground, my ragged dress touches the grass, covering it in large strands of green.

“You may rise.” The king announces his presence, as he dismounts his horse, and everyone get’s off the ground, slowly dusting themselves off, from dirt and animal droppings.

“This year, like always, the competition will be held in several stages. And like every year, they have changed from other stages presented in the past.” The king recites like always. “This year we present, Stage one, the Arena. Stage two, the wilderness. And stage three, the temptation. Whoever manages to survive each of these rounds, will be one step closer to the elixir of life. And whoever manages to screw up, know the rules.” The King clears his throat before continuing. “And now, my son, with the chosen few of the yellows.”

My thought's all jumbled in my head, I try to focus on the past competitions. Every year it seems, the Royal family tries to eliminate each competitor through the most extreme of ways. In fact, I wouldn't put it pass them to manipulate the competition in any way possible. Once, I even heard a rumor, that an orange talked bad about the Royal family. And for that, he was killed.

“Thank you father.” The young prince say’s, bringing me back from my thoughts. I can just make out a few ladies in the front of the crowd, blushing as he flexes his large muscles, before beginning his speech. “This year, the chosen four yellow’s are...” He trails off, looking at the paper in his hands that reveal the fate of four men here. But at least it is not as if my brother’s will be chosen. There are about 1,000 men here.

It would be a great surprise if one of us were chosen. But then again, one curse of a large family, of men especially, is that the men have a greater chance of being drawn. “Contestant one, Archer Brown. contestant two, Rhett Flores, contestant three, Grant Carter, and lastly, contestant four, Kenneth Moore." The Prince finishes. But my mind has gone blank. My oldest brother has been chosen.

He is alive, right beside me. And yet, I already know his fate.

He will be dead shortly.

A hand attaches against my arm, tight, strong. And yet, so warm and friendly. Kenneth pushes himself against me, hugging me as close as he can get. This is our final goodbye. I will never see my dear brother, not ever again, although when the competition start's, my family, along with everybody else, will be transported to watch as it take's place. But yet...I know something already, he will most likely die. Because, no matter how brave, no matter how powerful Kenneth can be, he is still a boy inside. He is afraid.

"Promise me something Lydia." He say's, pushing a strand of my hair back behind my ear. Nodding violently, I blink back the tears bursting their way out my eyes. "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 stares me straight in the eye.

"I promise. I promise you Kenneth." I agree, clutching him tighter. And as soon as the word's leave my mouth, he is bidding the rest of the family goodbye. Sharing hug's and joyous word's to his brother's, and finally kissing mother goodbye, and lastly, shaking father's hand steadily.

The four contestants, my brother included, walk to where the Royal family is waiting. And wasting no time, they are whisked away by horses, not even looking back at the village that they used to call home.

I can't look away though, not even when mother start's crying, not even when father lead's her away from the well, not even when my brother's start to trudge their way back to our house. I just stand there, feet digging into the dirt floor. My brother's word's ringing round my head, like a drum that has been beat too loud. "They won't know what hit them, they won't know what hit them, they won't know what hit them."

The sun begin's to set, and finally I begin to move home. But the word's never leave my mind. Kenneth was always the best at making thing's stick to my mind. Like that one time, when I was real little, and had made a mess of spilling apples, from the basket mother had carried home from work that same day. He had just knelt down and said, "Lydia, you know mom spent hours and hours picking those apples. And when you spill them like that, well...the time it took to pick those apples. It's time that can never be reversed."

Picking my feet up, one by one. Stomping them up and then down on the hard earth, I begin to jog my way home. Night is almost here, and I need to stay safe of the animals that make their way out when it's dark. Picking up my skirts, I start to run faster. Faster even, until I am sprinting. Leaving everything, every event of my very busy day, behind me. If I am to live out my life's promise to Kenneth...well, I better start now.

I am a bold, courageous, and adventurous person, just like Kenneth said.

"There you are. I was beginning to worry." Mother say's as I walk through into the house.

Straight through the house I walk, until I am outside yet again. The apple tree my mother was working on earlier stands tall, and I hoist myself up and over the large branches. I will sleep here tonight as I watch the sun set, and let the calming breeze soothe me to sleep. Sometimes I come up here, and when I do, nobody ever bother's me. It's kind of like a sanctuary. My home right outside my actual house. Whenever I need to think something through, it's always been here for me.

Closing my eyes, I let the dark sink around me, and the howls and hoot's of animals signal the start of true night. My favorite part of the day. Mysterious, mad, and yet so lonely and calm. Kind of like me. I guess that's why it connects with me so much. It is more to me than just thinking it is a nice time of day, it is a much more personal level of confidence the night has brought me. It has brought me intelligence, from staying up late reading book's I was never allowed to study, since ladies could not attend school, and yet my brother's always explained to me each word, each sentence, each chapter, as if I was a student of their own.

That is why, at my delicate nineteen years of life, I can write, read, and do math and science as if I was a man. Because I am. I am a woman.

Fairness is not presented in my world. No respect for the studies of woman, none for the respect of peace, and none for the respect of human dignity. The competition is living proof of such things, along with the divided section's of the kingdom, marking such an unfair system of power:

(Blue) The Royal Family - The most power (Excellent) They have no tattoos

(Pink) Upper Class - Second most power (A life of luxury indeed/Great power) A pink diamond tattoo

(Purple) Comfortable - Third power (Good power) Purple triangle tattoo

(Green) Average - Fourth power (Some power) Green circle tattoo

(Orange) Poor - Fifth Power (Little power) Orange arrow tattoo

(Yellow) Inferior - (Almost no power) A yellow x tattoo

Of course, I was born a yellow. And so, unless I marry someone above my color (a rarity), I am stuck the inferior girl living a life of poverty and filth unlike the Blue's, pinks, and purples that sit above us all. They get a life worth living. While the rest of us slum away, actually working, and for what? A penny a day?

Something grab's me by the shoulders, throwing me over the branch I was safely laying on a second ago, and I crash down to the grass, my vision going blurry. I can feel my forehead start to throb again, and a sticky red liquid begins to flow from my once cleaned wound. But the pain stop's short as I finally descend into a black blank nothing.

I wake distorted, with a fuzzy memory, and a strong sense of fear lingering over me. But even though I am again conscious, I don't dare move. I can sense people with me, and I know we are on some type of wagon since something underneath me keeps moving at a rapid pace, and when I hear the sound of horses in the front, my theory is suddenly confirmed.
"So...who do you think will win the competition?" I hear a deep voice ask, and I have to resist the urge to shout out loud. They are basically betting on who will die during the competition. Something many people of the upper class seem to do during these times. For them, our pain is merely a game. But for the Greens all the way down to the Yellows, it is life or death. The loyal follower's of the Royal family may have the better lives, but one thing none of them seem to carry, is just plain human decency.
What they do have however, is ignorance.
"So far, I'm betting on the Archer guy. He sure seem's like the man for the job." Another man responds, and deep laughter seem's to make it's way down a large circle of men.
"Guys, shhh! She could wake at any moment." Another guy say's, and everything is silent for a split second before they realize they don't care, and they start to talk again.
Trying hard not to move, I rest my head gently against the wooden floor of the wagon, listening to the bumps of the road underneath it, which is why I don't hear the man, as he scoots towards me. But I do however, feel a gentle hand against my forehead, making me breathe in a gasp of air before I even know what it is that I am doing.
"I thought I told you to watch that head of yours." A familiar voice speaks to me softly. And I can't keep back a second gasp, as I realize who one of my captor's is.
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