The Winner's Crown

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Chapter 6

I wrap the vines around my hands, giving myself extra protection in order to climb down the palace safely. I refuse to fall three stories down to my immediate death. Unlike the prince, it seems. He doesn’t look scared at all, and it suddenly crosses my mind that maybe he has done this before. Quickly though, I brush the thought away. It is his own darn fault if he slips down the vines and dies.

“Are you coming, or what?” The prince asks, staring at my still body. I haven’t even moved, I realize.

“Yes.” I say harshly. “But don’t feel obliged to help me down.” I add obnoxiously, as Desmond reaches the ground with a firm stomp of his feet. Yes, this is definitely not his first time scaling the palace walls. Of course, why he would need to do this while in his own home confuses me greatly.

“Oh, don’t tell me you are afraid of heights!” Desmond yell’s up to me all the way from the safe strong ground underneath him. And I feel the sudden urge to propel myself back up and over the balcony railing. It would be safer there, than where I am currently hanging by my hand’s so high above the grass.

“Of course not. It only makes me feel uncomfortable.” I shout down to him. The wind picks up speed, flowing my hair into my eyes and making it hard to see. I’d spent my whole life on a farm, and had spent hours a day in the safe apple tree I’d basically grown up in. And yet, this is completely different than that. This is scarier, not just because of the immense fall that would bring me to the end of life. But rather, the cause of such actions.

I have realized now, that my pride is much stronger than my head. And so I need to change such craziness. I need to build a better brain, in order to have such an explanation for such a big ego. I think that is why Desmond is so interested in me, it seems. Because men are always the one’s expected to carry such boldness, and never the women. We, ladies, are only expected for purposes such as chores and children. But not me.

I do not as much act like a man, than of a woman. I am feminine in my own weird way. But as a matter of interests, I don’t show off my clean new dresses. Or for that matter, flaunt over eligible men like the other girl’s in my village seem to do constantly. Instead, I read, write, learn, and keep a purpose to my uncontrolable life. A purpose that makes life seem’s so much greater than that is expected of a lady. And that is how I gained my confidence, that only men are supposed to have.

“Here, I will help you down if you are not capable of such excersice.” Desmond say’s, climbing up the palace wall’s with his words.

“I do not need your help. And for that matter, I will tell you that I have gone through many burdens in my life. Much more than you will ever understand possible.” I spit back, furious at his simple mind. He thinks that everything is so right with our world, and yet that is completely the opposite of how things really are. Our world is divided by a wall full of hatred. Hatred that was determined centuries ago, and that led to me losing my brother. That led, to the competition.

“Come on, and stop being such a nuisance then.” Desmond commands, dropping back to the ground and extending his arm’s in front of his body. “Now, when I tell you to let go, let go of the vines.” He explains to me, gently now.

“What? Do you think I am insane?” I shout aloud, laughter rattling my voice. “How stupid do you think I am?”

“Well I think you are all kinds of stupid Leontios. Why else do you think you are here right now? Because you trusted a stranger.” He raises his eyebrows, challenging me. But he has already won. I am stupid. Or at least I was, before I arrived here at the palace. My trust towards him got me here, in the position I am in right now. But my stupidity has also got me to a place where I am beginning to understand the Royal family, and most of all, Prince Desmond Williams.

“Fair enough. But still, how do I know you won’t move away as I fall. For all I know, this could be your plan all along.”

“And why would I want that? To kill you, I mean.” Desmond question’s my theory, poking holes in my head. And making me much too confused to choose a rational answer.

“Ok, but I am much too far up for you to catch me and for me to still live. I need to get a little farther down the wall before it is safe for me to risk such a move on my life.” I explain, and Desmond opens his mouth before deciding to close it again. “Impressed?” I ask as I slowly yet surely, move down the vines.

“By what? Your ability to comprehend mathematics?” He asks, scratching his head before glancing back up at me. “Yes, well the short answer to that would be yes. Your comprehension for a....” I interupt him before he has time to finish.

“For a woman?” I ask, my mouth hanging open in confusion. My brother was right. No man will ever be able to put a woman in an equal category as themselves.

“No, that is not what I was going to say. Be patient darling, I will finish my thought shortly.” Desmond tells me quickly. “What I was going to say was for an age so young as yourself. For many people, it takes years to perfect such skills. And yet at your age, you are talking as if you understand the world and how it works.” He finishes.

“You know, I am not that much younger than you.”

“Yes? I am 23. How old are you exactly?” He asks me, rotating his shoulders in a circular pattern to relax his tired musceles.

“Nineteen, and no. Four years is not that far from each other.” I shoot back, making Desmond smile.

The rush is incredible, falling into an emptiness that can only be described as something of an immense, invisible feeling. This must be how the term “air,” was created. Because that is the only word that can describe me, as I free fall through the air, hitting the prince’s arm’s with a thud. He grips onto me tightly, and in the second we spend so close together, I can tell that he wouldn’t have tried to hurt me. At least not this time around.

My breath comes out heavy, as I realize how much could have gone wrong as I fell so far down. And yet, I am safe now. Back on the ground, or at least being carried so close to it.

“Are you alright?” Desmond asks me, and I nod quietly, my breathing still too hard for my liking. Of course, Desmond doesn’t seem to care at all, probably oblivious to the sound. Placing me softly, back on my feet, he motions me to follow him as he walk's on to the distance ahead.

For a second though, I stay still. It would be so easy just to abandon him, and try making my way home. I could hitch a ride on a transport wagon carrying milk, fruit, and other goods. And I would be home in a matter of day's, just how long it had taken for me to come here, to the palace? Two day's, I think it was.

I wonder if my family is thinking about where I went off to. Even if they are though, there is no way they will guess the truth of the matter. I am in the Royal palace walking with one of the prince's. One I didn't even know existed. That is, until earlier today.

I know exactly what my mother would say if I were little. "Now Lydia, you stay right there and live the life you were meant to. You are a princess after all, my little princess." After all, when I was young, I used to pretend such things. That I was a princess, ruling fair and just for all people. My brother's used to play with me. Sterling was always the noble steed, while Harvey and Wright chose to be common villagers, and Kenneth was always the brave knight.

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself one thing. "One day, you will be at the Royal palace. But don't let that fool you, always be on your guard. And remember to trust no one."

"Aren't you coming?" Desmond asks, looking back to see that I have not moved a muscele. All these thought's swirling through my mind, I decide to trust my instinct.

"Yes." I tell him, fidgeting with the crystal shard still hidden in my hand.

The garden's are beautiful, and alive with bee's and butterflies flying all around us, and as I follow Desmond deep into the lovely place, I can't help but stop and stare at some of the most unusual plants I have ever seen. Like always though, Desmond does not stop to accommodate me. And I have to move quickly so as to not be left behind.

I wonder what it is that Desmond seem's so frantic for me to see. If it is something disgusting such as death in it's finest, I do not honestly know if I will be able to forgive him. I have seen my share of disturbing sight's all throughout my life, and I am not willing to see any more of those grueling and disaster filled scenes. Of course, I have read fantasies filled with duels and deaths, but they are nothing compared to the real life experience. They are nothing compared to the real thing.

When I was a girl, about 10 I'd have to say. I was walking home from fetching water with my brother Sterling. He was teaching me to take over his usual chore of water carrier, while he'd start training as a significant farm hand on our fields and crops at home. I was never given the chance to become a farm hand like the men in my family, and instead was only allowed to do small chores such as water carrier, or basket weaver, or the most dreadful duty of all, food gatherer. A duty which required me to gather all my family's grown foods. Carrots, apples, corn, etc. Luckily, my mother was there to teach me the string's of each task. And to perform them with me, as she never had the chance to become a farm hand either.

Sterling and I had been walking through the village, on our way home from the well. But when we rounded the corner of the usual street on our way back to our farm, we were greeted not by the familiar cobblestone grounds, or the animal infested streets, but rather a terrifying sight which word's do not begin to describe. Laying on the street, was a man dressed all in red. But as we continued to approach the strange sight, we realized it was not red fabric he was dressed in. No, but rather blood.

It was dripping all around him, soaking his clothes. His face and neck were covered in large gaps of missing skin, and fly's had begun to spin all around his distorted body. I had looked away quickly, and Sterling tried his best to block the sight from me. But no matter what he did to try and make me forget about the bloody image of the man, I never did. I never could.

Desmond stops in front of me suddenly, and I screech to a stop right behind him, narrowly avoiding hitting him straight in the back again.

"Now, look if you think you are ready to see what I am about to show you." He tells me, pointing out in front of us.

I move forward slowly. We are at the farther end of the large, beautiful garden we'd just emerged from, seconds ago. If I look behind us, I can just make out the balcony we had been standing on before coming down here. And now we face towards a dip in the ground, which, instead of more fields of flower's to continue the garden, is replaced by a large cement center up ahead. But it is a strange sight. Because it is blocked by metal bar's, preventing us from moving any closer. Like a cage, of some kind. But for good reason.

Gasping out loud at what I see, I lunge forward. Nothing could have prepared me for what I see down below.

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