The Winner's Crown

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Chapter 21

The guards take me to the dungeon. I am to be hanged tomorrow. But then I will be gone with Kenneth. We shall face death together. I will not be alone in this. And then the pain, the suffering, will stop. I don't mean to be selfish, I know that the people still living will still pay the price of life in this kingdom. But I can't help but already feel at peace with my end. I will die, but I will then be put to rest. All the suffering that I have endured all my life, will finally leave me all at once.

Sitting in the corner of the all too familiar cell, I glance at my brother beside me. He is fearless most of the time, but right this second he does not seem so. He looks scared, and not at all at peace with our end as I am. I reach over and take Kenneth's hand in mine.

"It will be alright." I reassure him, squeezing his hand tightly in my own. My fingers aren't even close to being as tall as his. He has massive hands compared to mine. Every day, long ago, he used to make fun of this. But he says nothing now, looking away from my line of sight. Just as always, he does not want me to see himself in fright.

I do not know what the plan Carolyn said about freeing Kenneth, is all about. Maybe she was just lying in order to make me feel better. Or maybe she was lying for different reasons...I shake the thought away, not daring to believe that the girl I'd known for so long, could be so despicable as to lead me into believing things would somehow turn alright, when she was really dropping me into a trap made specifically for me. If this is true, I can't imagine why. Why does Carolyn hate me so much? What had I ever done to her?

Or maybe she really is just misunderstood. Maybe I am overcalculating her and her motives towards me. I know I do this sometimes, overexaggerate situations. But I have this gut feeling that Carolyn might actually not like me. She fooled me for a second, but I am prepared to except the truth. That she is just like the King. Selfish, relentless, and up to no good.

Kenneth wipes something from his eyes. Tears, I realize, and looks at me a second later. He tries his best to smile at me, but he ends up breaking down. More tears stream from his eyes, and I hold him tight. I don't ever want to let go. I fear that if I do, he might be gone from me forever.

Looking around us, I brush a hand past the bars that hold us inside this cell. It is just a tiny space in between them. There is no way either of us could fit through to the other side, not even with the fat amount of weight I had lost after the competition. I can tell that Kenneth has not been treated well either. Before, during, and after the competition however. Unlike what had happened to me after being brought to the palace.

I wish that I could reverse all time and go back to the moment I'd arrived here. I wish I could find Kenneth and get out of here. But I know it would not be an easy task. It would be dangerous, and either way, here in the present, or back in the past, we would most likely die. There is no escaping the palace once you get inside.

I sit back against the brick wall, the jagged rocks pierce into my spine, but I still do not move. I do not want to be comfortable any longer. I would rather be in my home, the yellow's village, than be here in the palace any longer.
Kenneth is asleep in the corner, and I turn away, not wanting to watch his ragged breaths as he tries to fight his wounds which are growing worse and worse every second. It is infected, but I can do nothing about it. All I can do, is watch my brother as he sleeps, trying to make sure he is still breathing, still alive. If he wasn't, I honestly don't know what I would do.
But in a way, I kind of wish he'd die right now. Right here in this prison cell. That way he wouldn't have to go through the torture of being hanged. Of being murdered by the King for absolutely nothing wrong. All that Kenneth is being put to death over, is a stupid secret that the King does not want to spread. And I am dying over a foolish kiss and an interruption in a wedding. I still don't know if the wedding went on. I assume not after the chaos I'd started. But part of me still believes that Desmond is married to Carolyn. It could be either way, and the idea makes me sick to my stomach.
The King does not want his precious secret to get out. There is no elixir, the competition is for nothing, it is just a death sentence. But he still does not know that I am aware of this. Of course, he does not care. I have been too involved in all of this in so many different ways. The King will probably send his guards to hunt down Clara and Louisa as well. But I hope that they are too far gone now. They don't know as much as I do, but the King, I know, will take no chances in the competition's cover being revealed to the lower classes.
It startles me to think about this. So many people, right now, are living their lives in what they think is "normal." They have no idea of the mess here at the palace, of the competition's real purpose. My parents, my brothers... even they have no idea. And they may never know now. Kenneth wakes up with a startling yelp. I look at him, afraid of what he must have dreamed about. He will never tell me, but I wish he would. That way I could comfort him.
He has gone through so much more than I have. Things that I can only imagine, and I am beyond glad that I never faced myself. Kenneth has had to go through every stage of the competition. And he'd survived each one.
Kenneth turns to me, his eyes wide and new blood running down his forehead. I dash to his side, cleaning the blood with the fabric of my dress. It is soft enough, so I don't think it will irritate his skin too much.
"I need to tell you something before it's too late." Kenneth coughs. We haven't been in this cell for too long, but Kenneth has sensitive lungs, and there doesn't seem to be much air down here, of course though, dust is abundant. I nod quickly, needing to hear the information that Kenneth is about to give to me.
"The King told me something before I was taken here." Kenneth explains. But I am confused, I already know that.
"Yes, I told you that I already know that. The elixir isn't real." I remind him, but he shakes his head no, another cough escaping from his cracked and bleeding lips. I do not think that my brother has had water for a very long time. Come to think of it, I have not either. But I am too focused on hearing what Kenneth is telling me to care even in the slightest. I will die soon, and it won't be of dehydration.
"He told me." Kenneth coughs a third time, making me cringe and the crackly sound. "That this whole competition was rigged for the first time ever. Like a sort of experiment. Of course no one was to win in the end, but up until the temptation, they had already chosen in advance who was to die during the actual stages of the competition. I was one of the lucky ones. They didn't choose me." Kenneth finishes, breathing in as much air as he can manage, his chest rattling with a deep sound.
The words, the explanation Kenneth tells me makes sense. Why would I be brought here, to the palace, before the competition even began? The only explanation is that it was discussed in advance. They had been trying something completely new this year, and I was brought here specifically for the temptation. Kenneth was saying that he was one of the lucky ones, because he was not picked to die in the first two stages of the competition. The only stage of the competition that he'd truly had to fight for his life, was the final stage, with me.
So this year, everything was different. This year, instead of the competition being "fair," Or at least as fair as it comes, it had been rigged by the King. The King had chosen the people who would die up until the final stage of the competition. That is why Vivian, Louisa, Clara, and I were kidnapped right out of our lives and taken here while no other's were. I should have questioned all of this from the beginning, but I had never thought of the possibility that all of this, every single thing about this years competition, was different. Unfair, to say the least. And very much bigger.
This years competition must have been a test. To see whether or not to continue on with rigging the competition, to make it interactive or such, in order for people to possibly "vote" on a competitor being killed. But that is just a thought of something I know the King would do. I don't know if it is real, and if he really has those plans. But I wouldn't put it past him to make the competition that much worse.
Tears fall from my eyes as I realize that so many men had lost their lives this year. And that it was planned all from the start. They hadn't stood a chance, and without them even knowing it, they had been plucked off one by one intentionally.
Kenneth said it was just year. That this had begun this year. But I'm not so sure if that is true. Maybe it has been this way ever since those two people tied in the final stage of the competition. Maybe that is when they had this idea. Maybe they have been working on this "Solution," for awhile now. The two beginning stages being rigged by the King and possibly "votes" as well, and the last stage being bets on who would really win. I know my speculations must be right. They make too much sense to be false. Kenneth tells me everything that he was told, and my explanation for everything is confirmed.
The competition this year had been much bigger than just a game. It had been an experiment, a test run to what was to come. It had been worked on, perfected for years since the accidental tie, and was set to produce one victor after two stages of cheating on who would die.
There is a pound on the door and a jiggling of keys, and it is of no surprise when the King enters the prison. It is however, a surprise to see Desmond with him. The King has an arm around his shoulders, and he pushes him against the bars to our cell. Kenneth breathes slowly, but I cannot help but press myself against the bars as I look at Desmond fearfully at what the King is going to do.
"You wanted to see her again? The filthy yellow? Then here you go!" The King opens the cell's doors and his other hand connects with my neck, pulling me up off the ground and flinging me outside. I cannot run anywhere, I would be to slow, so I just stand there. The King locks the door again, and I look at Kenneth one more time before the King puts his hand back on my neck, and we disappear out the dungeon.
Desmond sneaks a glance at me, and I can see he has been beaten. His own father had beaten him?! There are bruises on his face and he has a black eye that only yellows seem to have. Seeing it on Desmond makes me think of him differently. He can get hurt too. All blues are still vulnerable. The King marches through the palace's halls and I feel empty inside, as we pass blank space after blank space. He knows where he is taking us though, so we reach the gardens in what seems like no time at all.
But that might just be because of the fear rising higher and higher inside of me, and the panic I can read clearly from Desmond's face as well. He knows what is going to happen, but I can't ask him while the King is dragging us both through the gardens.
In my gut I already know the answer. I always seem to know the answers for everything. Probably since Kenneth taught me everything he'd known after he'd come back from school. I remember the memory as the Kings grip on my neck tightens and I grimace at his long nails against my skin, bringing back deja vu.
The King nods to the guards surrounding a tall building, and two approach him just as fast as he'd called. The King shoves Desmond into the arms of one of them, and he is held back from me, as I am taken away to where the Royal family stands, right next to a tree. The other guard walks close by me, and the King passes me off to him in a rough motion of his hand. I glance at the blues standing in front of me. There is Carolyn and Richard, but the queen and Venus, along with Sara, are nowhere to be seen. I am happy about this. Sara is much too young to watch this.
The guard that has ahold of me positions me on a platform of wood, but does not let go of me as the King begins to talk from down below.
"Desmond, my son, you wanted to see her one last time? Then so be it." He walks back to his son, gesturing his arms out in front of him in a wicked way. Only the King can manage to make any normal thing seem evil.
Desmond struggles against the guard, his eyes on mine frantic as he tries to somehow escape the holds of his oppressor to save me. I try to send him a message with my eyes saying that it is alright, I will be fine, but like any other day, he doesn't get the hint.
The King motions towards the guard holding me firmly, and I close my eyes tight. I can feel myself being taken to where the rope is, I can feel the tightness being wrapped around my neck, and I brace for the abrupt motion forwards that will follow by the squeezing pain of being hanged. It seems to happen slowly, as I am pushed out of the way of the wooden platform. But I begin to choke as this happens, grasping at the rope to try and get it off of me. It is of no use. I open my eyes, straining to see the people in front of me.
If they are going to watch me die, I want them to see every moment, and I need to make sure that they are doing so. Richard and Carolyn watch me choke, and I wish that I could spit at everyone down below watching. My eyes latch onto Desmond's, and that is the exact second where he breaks free from the guards hold against him. He reaches behind himself, to where the guards sword hangs loose at his side. Desmond is full of anger, full of rage, but even as I notice this, I never would have expected anything like the next part, to happen.
Desmond, with a fire in his eyes, turn's towards his father quickly. The King has no idea that his son has broken free, and the sword plunges straight into his chest easily. Desmond does not close his eyes, watching his father fall to the ground. But it is all over soon. Richard screams a bloody curse into the sky, flinging himself to where his father lays dead on the ground. Carolyn follows him, her mouth open in a gasp.
But the only thing that I can truly focus on, is Desmond as he runs to where I am, slashing the sword, covered in the Kings blood, across the rope that attaches to the tree branch above me. And with that, I fall down to the ground, and Desmond helps me unravel the noose around my neck. He moves quickly, and as soon as he knows that I am saved, that I am alive, he pulls me against him. I feel his heartbeat racing against my chest, and I try to suppress the gag that I feel coming on, as I realize his hands are covered with blood.
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