(brief, almost panic/anxiety attack towards the end of the chapter)


If there was one thing Hemlock hated, it was being tested before he'd had his morning iced coffee. He stared down at the three identical cups of iced coffees on the table in front of him, crossed his arms, and glared at his mother. Queen Calliopeia stared him down. He opened his mouth, but his mother beat him to the punch.

"You don't get coffee today if you don't choose from these three," she told him, raising a perfect brow that dared him to argue. Hemlock rolled his eyes.

"I feel like this is child abuse," he grumbled, mentally counting out eeny, meeny, miney, mo, and reaching for the middle cup. He watched Calliopeia's face carefully to watch for any minute reaction that would clue him into the status of poison/not-poison of the cup. Nothing.

He rolled his eyes and picked it up. If I die, I die, he thought, smirking. His mother would never let him drink a poisoned cup of coffee. She was too protective. He hesitated, though, before the straw touched his mouth. One time, when he was fourteen, and his brother and sister were eleven and nine respectively, she'd poisoned them all at breakfast, so they would know what it felt like, what it looked like, and tasted like. They'd spent the next two days in infirmary, where she lovingly cared for them all personally.

"Are you going to tell me if this one is poisoned?" Hemlock asked.

Calliopeia said nothing for just long enough for him to get nervous. Then,

"None of them were poisoned, Hemlock," she said, almost as if she was disappointed. Any traces of negative emotion wiped clean off her face, and she smiled at him. "You just need more practice. Come to the greenhouse after your lessons with your father."

"Yes, mother," Hemlock said around his straw as she kissed him on the forehead, and went back to her seat next to King Ferric.

Ferric had a newspaper spread on the table next to him, and two small holograms, one projecting the national news station, the other displaying what Hemlock could only call stats on the provinces scrolling by slowly. Occasionally, Ferric would put down his fork and make a few notes on the province hologram. Theoretically, Hemlock knew what he was doing. He'd been training to take over the throne from his father since he was born. He was probably making notes on population, or jobs, or even rebel activity.

Reports of rebel activity had been growing over the past few months. It angered Ferric, worried Calliopeia, and bothered Hemlock. He hadn't been on a province tour since he was 18, but he could only remember cheering faces in the crowd whenever they past, or when they walked the main streets. Sure, some of the lower castes were obviously poorer, but that's how the world worked. Besides, they had jobs, they had houses. What could they have to be angered about? What could the rebels possibly want besides stirring up the people into a frenzy that could only end in pointless deaths?

Hemlock hoped his father was going to talk to him about the rebels after breakfast. He felt a boat, unmoored and drifting out to ocean without any bearing. He was going to become king soon. He needed to be prepared to deal with possible troublemakers.

This was partially where his Selection came in.

They'd sprung it on him yesterday morning. Calliopeia, Ferric, and the advisors, along with the governors of the provinces all agreed it was time for Hemlock's selection. He was 21, now, had been for two months. Barely legally allowed to take a drink, and they already wanted him to get married.

Hemlock sighed into his iced coffee, and popped a strawberry slice in his mouth. He really shouldn't complain. HIs father had had his selection when he was twenty. His mother had killed seven other girls at twenty-one.

Here's the thing about the Selection: there is a secondary competition, one of killing. To win the Selection, you not only had to win the heart of the royal holding the competitions, you also had to be the last one standing alive. Murder of your opponents was not only allowed - it was part of the game. That's what Hemlock hated most about this. Inviting 35 people into his house and knowing that most of them would die. At least once they got to the Elite, if he knew who he was going to marry, he could announce their engagement and send the rest of the Selected home.

No unnecessary deaths.

Of course, Hemlock was sure there were people who thought the whole thing was unnecessary. He didn't even know how this tradition started. Maybe that's what some rebels were upset about, but they could just bring it to him when he became king.

There were rules though- it wasn't just mindless killing. Under no circumstances could a Selected be caught in the act of killing, or they would be disqualified, punished, and jailed. Under no circumstances could a Selected attack another Selected before they entered the castle, or they would be disqualified, punished, and jailed. Under no circumstances was a Selected to attack or kill a palace staff member, including advisors and other political figures, or, you guessed it, they would be disqualified, punished, and jailed. There was a fourth absolute rule that ended in public execution:

The attack and attempted murder of any member of the Royal Family.

This had only happened once in the history of these Selections, to Hemlock's great-grandmother. One of the Selected had tried to kill her father. That man was executed publicly, and his family was jailed.

The doors to the private dining room banged opening, abruptly jerking Hemlock out of his morbid trail of thoughts. His younger siblings barreled through the door, laughing, arms hooked together. Oleander was nineteen, much more brash and daring than Hemlock, who much preferred the solace of his library and archery range to the cigarettes and the racing track that began in the first basement level and opened out into a dirt track that sprawled across the extensive grounds. Belladonna, seventeen and too smart for her own good, always ended up tearing holes in her tights whenever she escaped from her lessons by climbing through the window and into the rose garden. Belladonna had no shame. It was something Calliopeia liked, and something Ferric constantly critiqued. Hemlock was pretty sure Belladonna was past the point of caring what either of her parents, or the media thought. She was only third in line for the throne, and had no interest in it. She wanted to take off and travel to the eastern hemisphere and poke around in ruins.

Hemlock, personally, thought she should try taking up a diplomatic station, because she was much better at it than anyone gave her credit for. She didn't believe him though, no more than their father did.

Calliopeia gave her two younger children a disapproving once over.

"Where have you two been?" she asked. "Have you been smoking again?"

Oleander gave her a smile that could only be described as blithe.

"Why, Mother, I thought you knew about my nicotine addiction," he said as he and Donna sashayed over to the table, collapsing in a heap next to each other, only to scuffle over who got to eat the last blueberry muffin.

Ferric stood up abruptly, silencing all the chattering with the stormy expression on his face. Donna seemed to whither in her chair when he gazed at each of his three child for long enough they started to squirm. Hemlock didn't think he would never want to squirm under his father's gaze.

"Hemlock," Ferric said, in his deceptively quiet voice. "Come with me. We have work to do."

Hemlock stood up, downing the last of his iced coffee when his father turned his back to face the door. He wiped his hands on his pants and hurried after his father. As he passed Donna, she gave him a supportive little thumbs up. He touched her shoulder on his way out.

Ferric was there father. He was also the king, which meant he was more than just there father, which also meant he had more on his plate than your average father. He loved his children, Hemlock was sure. Of course he did. He just had to be strict.

Hemlock followed Ferric into his study, closing the door behind him when he entered after his father. Ferric swiped a hand through the open hologram on his desk, closing it, turned off the TV, and straightened a few papers on his desk. He sat down, then looked expectantly at Hemlock. Hurriedly, Hemlock took a seat.

"Your Selection is not a game," Ferric began. "You understand this, don't you, Hemlock?"

Hemlock nodded.

"Yes, of course, Father."

"Good." Ferric didn't say anything else for a moment. Then, "This isn't just about finding love. This isn't a fairytale, Hemlock. Love will be a pleasant side effect. You marry whoever is best for the future of Illea. I'm already letting you allow boys." The disdain in his voice was evident. Hemlock reminded himself it was because he wouldn't be able to continue the Schreave line if he married a boy. "I won't make any more concessions."

"Of course not, Father."

Ferric leaned his elbows on the desk top and steepled his fingers.

"If I don't approve of your choice, you marry mine."

Oh, Hemlock thought. Shit.

Ferric must have seen the shock flash across Hemlock's face, because he said,

"Just make the right choice."

"Of- of course, Father. I won't let you down."

Hemlock left the office with shaking hands. Nothing had changed from their regular lessons and meetings, but Hemlock still felt that looming dread hanging over his shoulder as he moved around his father's office helping him in his kingly duties. His father's threat - for that is what it was - did not go over Hemlock's head.

There was another factor in the Selection. Patronage.

If a Selected catches someone's eye, they can send help to that Selected, money, weapons, anything. The governor from their province might send aid. Their family might gather enough funds to send aid.

The king or queen might provide patronage if they so chose.

Hemlock himself could also aid a certain Selected, before they made if to the Elite. If they made it down to the Elite, and he knew who he was going to marry for certain, he could end the Selection then, and everyone else could go home. He didn't think his father would allow that, though.

Hemlock clenched his fists, and picked up the pace towards his mother's green house where she grew her poisonous plants. Father, allow. Hemlock was 21 years old. He was going to become king, and his father wouldn't even let him pick his future spouse? Would he not let him marry a man if he wanted?

Would Ferric kill Hemlock's choice if he didn't approve?

Hemlock was near tears when he burst into his mother's greenhouse. She was on him in an instant, trying to contain him. Several of her plants were poisonous to touch. Calliopeia was calling his name.

"Hemlock, Hemlock, what's wrong?"

She guided him out of the greenhouse and into the lean-to attached, full of shelves, small glass bottles, several leatherbound journals, and all kinds of equipment to make poisons.

"Father," Hemlock gasped out, still hating himself for being so afraid of his father at 21 years old. "Father, he- might kill-"

"Might kill your choice if he doesn't approve?" Calliopeia guessed. Hemlock stared at her. "Hemlock, did you expect anything less of him?"

She doesn't get an answer.

Hemlock ran out the door. He sprinted through the halls, channeling the feelings sitting heavy in his belly and pooling at his fingertips into something useful, like running, and headed for the roof, the only place he could get himself back under control. He hated this. He hated everything about this. There were solutions, of course, as there were to everything. But why was it always kill or be killed?

Hello! Welcome to Knives Among Roses, a sort of Selection/Hunger Games crossover! If you've made it this far, thank you! Below is more information about what Knives Among Roses actually is.

In this story, the selected not only have to learn how to be a royal, they are also planning how they are going to kill each other too. The Twos and Threes are a lot like careers from hunger games. they've been training for the eventuality of Hemlock's selection since they were kids and have the advantage in pretty much every way. their only disadvantage is underestimating the Fours, Fives, and Sixes, who for the most part are a lot tougher than the Twos and Threes. once inside the castle, the selected have the opportunityto form alliances but with the understanding that they will have to kill each other later. obviously there should be characters who don't want to fight, refuse to fight, and either keep their head down long enough to make it to the elite, or die within the first day. you know how it is. just don't get caught.


More information on the royal family and the form can be found on my profile. I hope to have the next chapter up within a few days to explain more about the selection and the terminations, which is the title of the secondary part of the selection. you know, the murder portion. I hope you consider submitting :)