Octavia was sweeping the floors of Clarke's bedroom as the princess focused on putting pearl earrings in her ears
"He still thinks you're an empty-headed snob," Octavia said, pushing the dirt into a neat pile.
"It's not part of your job to convince him otherwise, Octavia. Let him think what he wants," Clarke said, standing from her chair to look over at her maid. "It's his life."
Over a month had passed since her first explosive meeting with the other Blake sibling, and the climate between Clarke and Bellamy had hardly improved. When Bellamy came to Clarke's room each week on his afternoon off to see Octavia, he never said a word to the Princess, just glared before moving past her to Clarke's inner chamber where they wouldn't be discovered. During that time, Collins would come to watch for any guards wondering why a Cadet would be coming to the Princess's chambers on a regular basis. Last week, Clarke asked why the Guards wouldn't be questioning Collins's coming to her rooms.
"I'm assigned to you, my lady," he had said with a shrug. Clarke knew she had her own guards, but she rarely left the castle—except for her regular stints into Coeur d'Arc in disguise, but those weren't approved and she certainly didn't have guards, only Octavia covering for her, if anyone asked—and had little cause to see her personal regiment.
Clarke and Guardsman Collins talked while the Blakes were together, and she quickly grew fond of the messy-haired guard. Sometimes he would look at her with something akin to desire on his face, but Clarke was nowhere near ready to breach that topic with him to say she wasn't interested. So they stayed on other topics, like the growing attacks on the border from Arc's neighbor, Terre d'Déformée, and how quickly Bellamy was rising in the ranks of the Guards. Much to Clarke's surprise, Bellamy not only excelled at the physical parts of his training, regularly beating veteran soldiers in archery and swordplay, but also in tactics and strategy.
"Soon, he'll be promoted from a Cadet to an actual Guard, and from there who knows. He's got Commander Shumway in the palm of his hand. He'd be the youngest captain in years." Collins said one day as they sat in Clarke's solar while Clarke worked on a needlepoint.
"Well that's great," Clarke said, weaving colored thread back and forth through the fabric.
"Not if he's reassigned elsewhere," Collins gave her a pointed look. "Like the border."
So Clarke had that to worry about too.
"Don't we have a meeting with your mother today, Clarke?" Octavia said, glancing at her pocket watch she kept tucked in her apron.
"Yes, yes let's go," Clarke said standing and inspecting herself in the vanity mirror one last time. Hair pinned back, dress smooth and wrinkle free, and gifted earrings in place. She followed Octavia out the door as they made their way down to the council chambers.
As much as she liked her mother taking her more seriously and beginning to trust her again, she detested Council meetings. They mainly consisted of various advisers trying to tell Queen Abby and Viceroy Jaha how to not spend money, and how the people who needed help were really just greedy fiends and didn't the adviser's themselves deserve higher pay? Once in a while, Clarke would try to interject with real issues, like the poverty within Coeur d'Arc and the many orphaned children left without homes, or how families were rarely notified when one of their own was arrested. Most of the time, Clarke was brushed away kindly or Commander Kane told her she was a little girl who didn't know what she was talking about.
Before long, Octavia was opening the thick wooden door to the Council chambers and Clarke entered the room, arriving last again. The room was smaller than the more formal throne room, with a circular table at the center and little to no furnishings on the stone walls, save a few torches to add light to the dreary surroundings. Attached was a small water closet and a storeroom with foodstuffs and blankets. If the keep was attacked, the council room is where the monarchy would wait it out.
"Come in, Clarke, we were just about to start," Abby said with a smile, gesturing for Clarke to take the chair beside hers.
Today, it was just her, the Queen, the Viceroy, and Commander Kane. A scribe sat in the corner, an inkpot and blotter, as well as several quills, situated on the edges of his tiny desk. The Princess met his eyes and smiled. A confused look crossed the small, wrinkled man's face as if to say, "Who? Me?" before smiling back. Clarke took the seat beside her mother, as far as she could get from Commander Kane and the Viceroy. Octavia went around the room in a circle, pouring wine in sturdy silver chalices, starting with Abby, then Clarke, and working her way around. Recognizing rank was important for servants, and a small glow of pride briefly overwhelmed the panic in Clarke's heart.
Once she was finished, Octavia moved to stand silently in the corner, giving Clarke a smile before the meeting began.
"To do away with formalities, let's begin. The attacks on the border have worsened," the Viceroy said, looking around the table. "There were losses this time, mainly of the 68th regiment. The border is under-guarded, but we already knew this. Thoughts?"
"Did they actually cross the border? Or did they only attack the outposts?" Kane asked earnestly.
"Does it matter? They've killed our own now, Marcus. We can't just do nothing," the Queen said.
"Of course it matters, my lady. We are not allowed to invade or respond in kind unless they actually cross the border. These are the terms your husband set with King Tristan when you met years ago with Terre d'Déformée. Breaking that agreement now could prove deadly," Kane said matter-of-factly.
"More deadly than it is now?" Abby said. "We've done nothing for too long, and I refuse to keep letting my people die. We need to mobilize the Guard. Now."
Clarke nearly lost herself in the quick back and forth between her mother and Kane. As they argued their points, the princess began to form an idea. "Well why are they attacking us? I thought we settled all the past issues with the accords years ago."
Kane paused and looked incredulously at Clarke. "What?"
"Well," Clarke cleared her throat. She chanced a look at Octavia and saw her nodding encouragingly. "They're attacking the border, but why? Have we committed a breach?"
Jaha thought for a moment before responding, "I don't believe so, no."
"Clarke, there's no reasoning with them," Abby began.
"Obviously there is, since we signed accords with them. Have we sent an emissary to enquire about that attacks? Maybe it isn't Terre d'Déformée at all, but someone else," Clarke said. She was nervous to talk at all. Relations with their neighbors was never a topic she excelled at, but she couldn't take the bickering anymore.
"That's a great idea, Princess Clarke," Jaha said after a moment of silence.
"Yes, but hadn't we done that already?" Kane said. Clarke bit her lip to keep from shouting at him. Why couldn't he ever take her seriously?
"No, because you said we couldn't spare the man-power for an envoy," Abby said, and took Clarke's hand. "But I'm making the executive decision here and now. Thelonius, send out an envoy at first light for Terre d'Déformée. We'll get to the bottom of this before further action."
Clarke felt aglow on the inside. Finally, finally she had said something that might just help. Soon thereafter, the council disbanded and Clarke was set free to do as she wished with the rest of her day. Kane left in a huff, as usual, and Jaha smiled kindly at Clarke before taking his exit. Even the scribe filtered out, rolling up the parchment with the instructions and documentation for the envoy before handing it to the queen with a bow. Abby took it, and bid the scribe leave before turning to Clarke.
"Good job today, sweet. I don't say it enough, but I really am proud of you," Abby said and gave Clarke a hug and kissed her forehead before going to take care of more mundane business.
As Octavia and Clarke were taking the back staircases to her chambers Clarke couldn't stop smiling. They rounded a bend in the hall and Clarke dove into a small alcove where a bust of a King long-dead was placed. She immediately started jumping up and down.
"There listened to me, they actually listened," Clarke said, grinning.
"Great job in there today, Clarke. It was great to see you stand up to the Commander," Octavia said and squeezed Clarke's hand.
"Thanks," Clarke said. "It just feels good to actually do something for once. I feel so superfluous in council meetings." Then, she took a deep breath, smoothed her skirts and tried to calm herself. She was a princess. When she became Queen, it would be a regular thing for her decisions to be law with the council, so she'd best act like it.
Clarke smiled at the guards in the hall before entering her solar and Octavia shut the door securely behind them.
"Well, what do you want to do for the rest of the day? I could get your paints and we can go into the garden. I don't think there's anything else for us that we have to do," Octavia said.
"That would be great, Octavia, but maybe tomorrow," Clarke said. "Today, I'm going to see my people."
Octavia grinned after a moment, realizing what she meant. "I'll go get your cloak."
"Do I have to go?" Bellamy said as he followed Finn through the inner keep and toward the gate.
"Most of the other Guardsmen and Cadets think you're a snob because you never spend any time with them on your days off," Finn said, glancing back at Bellamy. Finn looked strange in plainclothes, like he had been born for the Guards' uniform. But they weren't allowed to wear the sigil of the Griffins beyond the keep's walls unless on official business, so they were resigned to regular clothes. Bellamy liked the feel of the soft linen shirt with a wool cloak overtop, but he was still growing accustomed to the richer fabrics afforded by Guardsman pay.
"Yeah, well, let them think whatever. I've got better things to do," Bellamy said, counting the days until he could see his sister again. He never showed it around anyone else, but he was almost grateful now for what happened to Octavia. Out on the streets, regular meals had been scarce, and though Bellamy did whatever odd jobs he could find, money was always an issue. Worn clothes and empty bellies were the norm. But in the keep, Octavia had clean, new clothes every day and square meals for breakfast, dinner, and supper. Hell, she even had a friend besides Bellamy.
As much as he may hate the snobbish Killer Princess, Octavia adored the golden-haired girl, talking about Clarke this and Clarke that during their afternoons together. He tried not to be jealous. The bond between him and Octavia was stronger than anything his sister and the useless monarch shared. Having another girl to talk to was good for her, so Bellamy swallowed his well-founded prejudice against the royals and left Octavia in the service of Princess Clarke.
Finn whistled as they walked down the hard-packed dirt road into the center of the city. Wooden buildings surrounded them on every side, blacksmiths, taverns, booksellers, seamstresses, all the makings of a city filled with thousands. Sounds bounced back and forth in the crowded streets, birds chirping, storekeepers shouting, people muttering. It was hard to focus at the best of times, but now it was overwhelming after being out of it for so long. Not to mention the smell. People emptied their chamber pots out the window, often leading to excrement being dropped on people's heads and into the streets, leading to a cloud of stink that permeated the entire city.
"You don't have better things to do today," Finn said, grinning at Bellamy. "'S not your afternoon off, it's our afternoon off, the whole 100th regiment."
Bellamy tucked his fingers beneath the leather of his sword-belt, surreptitiously checking if his coin purse was still there. As they got further and further into the city proper, more people were milling around. Stalls were set up on the edges of the street, their owners hawking goods. Citizens walked around, barely paying attention to their surroundings as they went about their business. Bellamy had never worried about cutpurses because he'd never had money before. Now, he couldn't stop checking. "I still don't understand why I couldn't have taken this as another time to see Octavia instead of spending time with a bunch of sweaty, drunken Guards."
Finn help up two fingers. "Two reasons. First, when the whole regiment gets a day off, they go out for drinks. You want to blend in and not have people question what you're doing? Then you have to do this. I'm willing to cover for you normally, but not doing this would be a stupid risk. The men would notice and start asking questions. Before you know it, Shumway would realize you have other things on your mind than protecting the royal family and kick you out of the Guard before you could blink."
"I still don't understand why Octavia being a criminal within the keep is such a big deal anyway. Plenty of men in the Guard were criminals," Bellamy said, sidestepping a puddle in the road.
"It's not the fact she's a criminal that's the issue. It's that she's in the keep. Having a girl outside the wall is no issue, but within the keep, your mind is supposed to be focused on your assignment, not your sister," Finn said. Bellamy sighed. "Secondly, she does have other duties to attend to if she wants to keep the spot she's in, like serving the Princess and doing what needs to be done. There was a council meeting today; Octavia had to be there, not spending the afternoon with you."
"Fine," Bellamy said. "But that doesn't mean I have to enjoy myself."
Finn grinned, winking at a pretty girl carrying a basket of fruit as she walked by. "Then don't. I for one, love getting out in the city."
Was it weird that he had gotten used to the clean, almost floral scented air of the keep, especially that of the Princess's chambers, so much so that now, returning to where he had grown up, filled him with revulsion? The air was getting to his head now, the scent of shit and unwashed bodies almost making him gag. Had he really been gone that long?
"Here we are," Finn said and wove between the masses and into the door of a bar called The Station. Bellamy followed him in. The interior was dark, windows covered in a thick layer of dirt and grease. Behind the bar, a busty black-haired barmaid twirled around, getting pint after pint of beer, sometimes stopping to pour something a little stronger or to bring food to one of the men sitting at the counter. Thrushes crunched beneath his feet, and Bellamy didn't want to think about the vomit beneath his boots. He had worked at a tavern before, and knew how disgusting they could be.
At a corner table sat a bunch of Guardsmen from the keep, all of whom Bellamy barely recognized. There was Pearson and Carlson, the two other Cadets promoted with him. He gave them nods, which they returned.
"Collins, you finally decided to show," a man from the middle of the table called.
"Of course I showed," Finn said, taking someone's cup and took a deep swig of beer. "I just had to drag this stick-in-the-mud along."
"Cadets, always so fucking uptight," the man responded, and it wasn't until Bellamy looked closer that he saw it was Guardsman Dodds, much drunker than last he'd seen him. "Well c'mon let's get everyone some drinks. Hey, Rhysa how about some drinks?!"
The black-haired barmaid yelled something indecipherable back and moments later, emerged from behind the bar with a platter filled with pints of beer. All the other Guards cheered, but Bellamy felt a little sick. He'd only been drunk once, and had woken up covered in his own vomit and sporting a black eye. Octavia had told him he'd been in a fight, and he had no desire to repeat the experience.
He sat there taking small sips of his drink, hating the hoppy, yeasty taste of the beer on his tongue as he watched his fellow Guardsmen grow sloppier and drunker with every passing moment. Hours dragged, and Bellamy noticed the light dimming, assuming the sun at set. It was only when someone mentioned prostitutes and a "Hell yes!" emerged from the mass of men that Bellamy decided it would be a good time for him to make his exit. He had come, shared a drink—or not, but the rest were far too gone to notice that his cup was still mostly full—and now he could go. Bellamy looked around for Finn, hoping to convince his roommate to leave with him, but he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe Finn had already left and Bellamy hadn't noticed. Or maybe he was passed out under the table. Either way, he decided not to wait and left The Station alone.
Being back in Coeur d'Arc made him nostalgic, and in a fit of spontaneity, Bellamy decided he would walk by his old house where he had lived with his parents until just after Octavia had been born. There were fewer people out and about now that the sun had sunk below the horizon and he was able to quickly navigate the twists and turns of the city. He tried to ignore groping couples in alleyways and distant screams. They weren't his problem, not right now. He had taken to guarding quickly, and it was hard to turn it off.
Bellamy turned a corner and saw the sagging front of his old home. The door hung off its hinges, shutters on the windows rotted away. He didn't bother going inside, knew everything had been looted long ago. But even then, looking at the face of his house brought back memories of laughing while his mother, Aurora bouncing him on her knees before dinner or him watching her mend one of his father's shirts before he had left for good. He swallowed thickly and made a conscious decision to walk quickly away, rubbing at his eyes until he saw stars. It had been years since his father left, and each time he thought of that bastard, it still brought tears to his eyes. How could he have left him? His mother? Octavia? She had just been a baby for God's sake.
It was then, with his hands over his eyes that he ran into a mass of children waiting outside one storefront. A little boy began crying when Bellamy had accidentally knocked him to the ground.
"Hey, wait your turn!" a little girl said, glaring up at Bellamy with a gap-toothed scowl on her face. A few other children of varying ages were all clustered there too, but most of them wouldn't even look at Bellamy and instead clustered toward the wall, keeping their eyes to the ground.
Bellamy crouched to help the crying child up, and pulled a handkerchief from his coin purse, rubbing at the dirt on his face. "Hey, I'm sorry. It'll be okay, don't cry."
The little boy sniffled and looked at Bellamy with watery blue eyes. He couldn't have been more than five years old. "That hurt."
"I know, and I'm sorry. Do you think you're going to be okay?" Bellamy said, sitting on the ground to be on the child's level. It was what had always worked with Octavia.
The boy nodded and Bellamy ruffled his hair, unable to stop the smile that spread across his face. He had been the one to take care of Octavia when she was little, and he had kind of missed it. Once he was certain the little guy would be okay, he turned to the girl whose glare was burning holes in the back of his head.
"What do you mean, wait my turn?" Bellamy asked, wondering why a bunch of children were here instead of in their beds.
"I mean wait your turn. We've been here all day," the girl crossed her arms. He tried not to smile. Bellamy had a feeling this little spitfire wouldn't like being laughed at.
"Waiting for what?"
Her blue eyes widened as if she couldn't believe Bellamy didn't already know. "The Giver."
Bellamy couldn't believe it. Of course he'd heard of the Giver. Everyone who lived in the slums had. The hooded woman who came and gave out food and medical care to those who needed it before disappearing was famous. Octavia said she'd been given an apple once, but as it was nowhere to be seen, Bellamy hadn't really believed her. Besides, being given things wouldn't make your life better. You had to work at it. But still, he had always halfway wondered who could have so much that they could give freely without waiting for so much as a thanks. "The Giver is in there?"
"Yes," the girl nodded. "Reese got sick, and the Giver went in to help. She said she'd give us some food as soon as she was done, which could be any second now. So wait your turn."
Bellamy was about to say something else when the door creaked open and a small figure darted out. The Giver was short, her head would maybe be level with his chest, but there wasn't much else he could garner about her. She wore a thick black cloak with the hood pulled far over her face, leaving it shrouded in darkness. Not even had the door closed than the children swarmed the Giver.
"Don't worry, there's enough for everyone," the Giver said, half-laughing as the children tugged at the hem of her dress. Bellamy paused for a moment. He recognized that voice. Carefully, he stood, brushing off his woolen cloak and stepping further in the alleyway where he was out of sight of the woman. A few minutes passed and soon the children were scattering, taking loaves of bread and hunks of cheese with them. The little boy who had fallen started to run away with his loot—a bag filled with apples and a large piece of salt beef—but turned and made his way to Bellamy. He held out the handkerchief Bellamy had given him.
"Thank you for helping me up," the boy said simply, and scurried away. He smiled, and tucked the handkerchief back into his purse. Bellamy loved kids, the simplicity of them, how tenacious and honest they were. Even now, when Bellamy knew they were all probably starving, each child only took their fair share before running back home. Soon, the Giver's bag was empty and she began to turn down the alley, going the opposite direction. Curious, he walked quickly behind her, taking silent steps like he had learned in basic training until he was close enough to grab the Giver's arm and flip down her hood.
"Hey!" the Giver said, moving to pull her hood back up, but not before Bellamy caught an eyeful of the long golden hair tucked beneath the black wool. "What do you think you're doing?"
"You—you're the—what?" Bellamy tried to make sense of all he was seeing. The indignant blue eyes of the one and only Princess Clarke Griffin, first of her name and next in line to the throne of Arc, glared at him. The Princess pulled up her hood, looking back and forth to see if anyone else had seen.
"Are you insane? Someone could have seen," the princess said, making sure all of her hair was tucked in.
Everything was still processing in his brain until he finally said, "Am I insane? You—you're the Giver!"
"Yes, I know," Clarke said. "Were you going to let me go any time soon?"
Bellamy hadn't realized he was still grasping her wrist, and let go as if she were on fire.
"I can't believe it," Bellamy said, shaking his head. "Snobby Killer Princess is the Giver."
"We've established that already. Now are you going to let me get back, or are you going to stand there with your mouth open like an idiot all night?" Clarke said.
The idea that the Princess, who had all the power in the world to help everyone here from the keep, but instead let her people starve in the streets and be treated like animals, was the Giver blew his mind. How could someone like that willingly go out and help sick children and give out food? No regular person would go out in the middle of the night and help strangers who had done nothing for them. People were too selfish for that.
Night. It was night. The Princess was here, in Coeur d'Arc, alone in the middle of the night.
"Are you crazy?" Bellamy said, looking around, assuming assassins would be pouring off every rooftop.
Clarke let out an exasperated sigh. "No, but I think you may be. What is your problem, Bellamy?"
"You are the Princess, alone on the streets in the middle of the night. You could have been killed, or robbed, or…" he didn't want to think about her being taken by the likes of the men he had been at the bar with. It wasn't hard to imagine them taking advantage of a woman alone at night.
"I'm fine, but I won't be if you don't let me get back soon," Clarke said simply.
"Alright, let's go." Bellamy put his hand on the hilt of his sword.
"Hey, wait," Clarke stepped away from him. "I didn't say anything about you coming back with me."
"You are a woman walking alone at night in Coeur d'Arc, not only that, but the Crown Princess. I'm escorting you back to the keep, only a complete bastard wouldn't," Bellamy said simply. Plus, Octavia would kill him if anything happened to her friend.
Clarke looked at him, face unreadable in the shadows of her hood. "Fine, but we need to take the secret way back so no one else finds out."
"Lead the way," Bellamy said, and began trailing the Princess. They walked quickly, and Bellamy stayed on guard, watching to make sure they weren't being followed. His mind was still racing with all he had learned. If someone had told him two weeks ago he'd respect Princess Clarke, he'd have called them a liar. But now, watching Clarke slip through side streets and alleyways as if she had been born to do this, to help people without asking for anything in return, Bellamy couldn't help but let grudging respect settle over his heart, knowing that Octavia was right. And that maybe, after all he had thought about royalty, there were still ones who cared.
A/n: Hello everyone! Thanks for all the wonderful support, firstly, and secondly, let me apologize for the long gap between chapters. My beta got really busy and yet was still able to find time to beta this chapter for me. Bless her soul. You rock Fish Wishes! Anyway, hopefully you all enjoyed. Things are starting pick up now, and I hope to continue updating this pretty regularly, though school starts really soon, so that will be a concern. Please let me know what you're thinking about this story. Every comment I get gives me more motivation to write.