Jamon enjoyed the early morning calm. The bird waking up always sounded joyful, and they were always the most excited at this time.
He liked to imagine their little friends waking each other up, excited that they were here for another day, living to see another sunrise.
Even after thirteen years, Jamon still thought of his family every morning. Every morning they didn't get to see since he fled Zahra. In Carolina, he typically spent the mornings walking to the beach from the hotel he and his brother owned, enjoying the start to another day. It was a habit he tried his best to keep up within the confines of the Illéan Palace walls.
He rounded a corner within the small hedge maze surrounding the main garden fountain that led to the exit. He typically mused his way through the maze and waited by the gargantuan redwood tree that stood solitarily past the gardens until his classes begin. Now that they were reduced, he had far more time to himself to pace in the mornings before he was expected to save face and greet his fellow Selected.
As he rounded the last corner he saw a female figure, gazing out past the tree. Her brown hair was gently blowing, as the morning breeze was beginning to burn away the dew. It took him a moment too long to realize it was the Princess. "Good morning, Endra," he said was a confident grin. "I didn't realize you would be deviating from your schedule today." He glanced her over. She was wearing a pair of dirty jeans, an oversized knit sweater, and was barefoot- her hair a mess of tangled chestnut waves. She looked like some of the Seven's he'd seen begging in his home Province.
He'd observed her morning run nearly every morning. She was punctual if nothing else. Endra whirled around to see Jamon approach. "Oh. Good morning."
"I take it, you didn't get much sleep last night," he offered her the opportunity to speak on the events of last night. He was sure the burning effigy of her father was one she'd never forget. Flashes of his home country's revolt flashed through his mind: the violence and ruin that had burned images into his skull.
"No," she said quietly, looking back at the tree. Jamon now stood at her side and looked over her face. Her eyes were distant, looking past the tree almost like they were lost in her own mind searching for some answer that wasn't clear. She noticed his gaze sweeping over her visage and looked down and away.
"I'm not here to flirt. I promise. You just happen to be standing in my spot."
"Oh, no it's fine. It's technically your spot, thins being your home and all. I've just grown used to standing there over the past couple weeks. I'm very fond of that spot." He hoped his lighthearted banter would perk her up a bit, but her face returned to looking out past the tree, her gray eyes clouded and stormy.
"Could I be honest with you Princess Endra?" Jamon couldn't believe he was about to admit to such a thing, "I don't think it's not obvious that I immigrated here at a young age, going by my accent." Endra tore her eyes away from whatever she was lost in thought looking through, to give him a long side-eye, a bored one. Jamon smiled anyway, it was a small victory to have her look upon him. "You may know of Zahra, a small New Asian nation that had some tumult over a decade ago? Most people don't. Anyway, I was born there." She still looked at him with a side-eye but it no longer looked irritated with boredom. She didn't want to show her interest but Jamon noticed it despite her efforts. "My grandfather was King. My family was very large, so there would never be a need for me to be involved in the politics or diplomacy, especially since I was only seven when we were overthrown." He swallowed, and it dawned on him that Endra was the first person other than his brother that he would have talked to about that time, and that made it feel less like a dream and more like reality. "My whole family, save for my older brother and I, was killed in that coup." He took a deep breath. "I only tell you this, because I want you to know if you need someone to talk to- about anything- I may be the only one outside of your family who knows what this feels like. I only pray that you will never have to feel the grief I hold onto," he said softly and then sighed, "ever."
He cleared his throat and put his hands into his pockets. "For now, enjoy your morning, Endra. I'll see you around the palace."
He had only taken a small handful of steps back towards the hedge maze when a meek "Thank you," escaped Endra's lips. She was still statuesque and stared out at the walls past the redwood, but he could tell it was heartfelt.
And it was worth it for him, to share that vulnerable part of himself to another soul. It was worth it to provide some sense of comfort to the young woman he was currently devoted to. He could have distracted her and flirted shamelessly to distract her from those intrusive thoughts, but this felt better. It was a step to making them both a little more whole.
The truth came easily to Cosima, even when it was shrouded in a lie.
Like the truth that Klara had seduced the King last night.
It wasn't an obvious truth, Cosima gave Klara that credit, but not much escaped her gaze. The lingering look from the King as he passed the trio of them in the hall late in the morning. Cosima had an inkling that Klara had done something as soon as they'd met that morning. She was too giddy, too blushed, too girlish. That demeanor flipped its switch as soon as His Majesty was within eyesight. While Mahina and herself bowed in respect, Cosima noted how the King slowed, and how Klara looked up through her lashes, her bow deeper than she'd ever offered to any of the Royal family since arriving at the palace. It didn't escape her that Klara's square neckline was tightly clutching her chest, giving ample support to her assets, either.
Cosima had noted something was off about the girl when they'd arrived. She was used to caste-seekers; individuals who befriended those in higher castes than their own, and Klara absolutely fit that type, but there was always more beneath the surface. Cosima couldn't help herself, she was a sucker for the whole 'keep your friends close, and your enemies closer' schtick.
Cosima felt a surge of serotonin as she cracked the puzzle. This was her addiction- this is what made her great at being a Mellinger. In the casinos, it meant finding out who she could pair up to empty out the most pockets at one time. Here? It meant she was playing an elaborate game of chess all by herself.
The only thing that would make it more interesting would be a worthy opponent.
For now, Cosima stuck close to Klara, intrigued by how this would muddy the waters of the royal family.
"I really don't think she's interested at all," Mahina said to Klara and Cosima.
"Sorry, I was lost in thought for a moment. Who's not interested in who?" Cosima's head tilted up at the offering of fresh gossip.
"The Princess," Mahina continued, "she hasn't taken any of the boys out on a date since the first round." She was right, and Cosima had noticed this already. Pointing it out made her appraise the young men across the lounge room where they had gathered for breakfast. They looked antsy, bored, and frustrated. One or two had distracted themselves by staring at the grouping of ladies surrounding the trio Cosima was part of. The men and women weren't allowed to fully mingle, but it never stopped the glances. Especially from the men's side.
Tay was a clear favorite, earning Avon's first kiss of the selection- even if it was still technically a secret. Cosima had a hunch that some of the other girls had their goals to secure that second kiss, judging by the smitten visages on Persie and Evelyn.
Then there was Solange, who was trying to look occupied in a small book, but her face was flushed and she kept glancing over at the men's side.
Cosima guessed it was either at Pieter or Cyrus, as they were the only two making eyes at her. If Solange was smart, she'd keep her gaze on Cyrus, and if she was even smarter she'd look away altogether.
Cosima wouldn't tell on her little puppy-dog crush though; that's not what she was here for.
"They look ready to pounce," Klara laughed lightly.
"Can you blame her though?" Cosima defended, "The anonymous rebel attacks can't be good for her mental health."
Mahina smiled softly, "Well if that's the case, I'm glad Avon's handling it well. That's a good quality in a leader." She sounded dreamy. Oh gosh, Mahina's been trapped by his charm as well.
Cosima laughed at Mahina's lovestruck look. "Do you suppose there will be an elimination before the month is up?" Klara said, eying some of the girls behind them.
"It's hard to say," Cosima mused, "It's such a small selection, I think they're trying to take their time with it. At least Avon's enjoying himself."
"True," Klara grinned, eyes distant. Cosima made a mental note of that look and ticked off another reason why she was sure that her ambitions were no longer on the Prince. She wasn't interested in the conversation surrounding him- only on the one who wasn't present.
"Excuse me," Madame Ross entered the room, silencing all the Selected, "I would like to announce a televised picnic with the Royal family has been scheduled for this evening. It's short notice, so I'd suggest every prepare accordingly." She stood and waited, and as if scared of the judging eye of their Selection Coordinator, nearly every Selected stood and headed to their rooms to shower and prepare to be on TV.
"I guess they aren't taking their time at all," Mahina whispered jokingly to Cosima.
Cosima chuckled as she kept up with the crowd that was starting to ascend the grand staircase. "I guess not."
When she was alone in her room, she stripped down and took a brisk shower, speaking to her maids through the bathroom door. Part of her wanted to get to the picnic as early as possible, as to not miss anything.
"And I'd like my dress to be white, please. Something revealing but not skin-tight."
"Of course," her youngest maid pipped back to her.
She turned off the water and threw her hair into a towel before wrapping another one around her. She opened the bathroom door, steam escaping into her lavish suite, "and I'd also appreciate a glowing makeup look. Maybe a gold eyeshadow, with a brown smokey eye. I don't want anything too dark but I'd imagine this will be a dinner picnic. It's a delicate balance between formal and casual."
"Could I suggest a hairstyle for you?" Her maid that typically did her hair, Laurel, stepped forward.
"Yes," Cosima replied before Laurel removed the towel and began playing with her wet hair.
It was still wet when she said, "Something like this? We'd slick it back with gel, to give a sexy wet look to it." Cosima smiled. Laurel was her favorite, always giving her great ideas and never holding back. Truly though, it was her personality that Cosima enjoyed. She knew her place as a maid, but never let that make her small- never let it diminish her talent.
"That sounds absolutely perfect."
Nearly three hours later, Cosima appraised her look in the mirror. Her hair was an inky black slick, pulled all the way back, and the brown liner was pulled long and high, giving her eyes the appearance of being much more cat-like, but straight enough to be a dagger. The gold that encircled her eyes in all directions was delicate and expertly placed, and it all complimented the floor-length goddess dress that she wore. It was stark white against her tanned skin, and the halter neckline advertised her strong shoulders while the double slits on both sides allowed her legs to be visible from all sides. Powerful and sexy.
"Thank you ladies, I look fantastic," Cosima gushed at her maids who beamed in response.
She took a steadying breath and opened her door, and noticed Klara's opened almost seconds after her.
"Oh!" Klara appraised Cosima and then smiled.
"Oh." Cosima didn't hide her judgment. At least it wasn't the same dress, but Klara also wore white, and being nearly as tanned as Cosima, it looked just as good on her.
The main difference was that Klara held nothing back. Her dress was hardly any bigger than a dinner napkin. The straight neckline was held up by two threads that Cosima hardly considered straps, and it was backless to nearly her hips. Not like it matters because those were revealed as well. The short length of the silky fabric was slit up the side to mid-cheek on her hip.
There wasn't a secret curve to Klara's body.
"You look nice," Cosima smiled, matching Klara's. It was likely a fake grin from the girl, but Cosima matched it nonetheless.
"You as well, you look stunning." Klara complimented as she led the way down the staircase, Cosima a step behind her.
Oh, Klara was absolutely fucking the King.
As they went into the gardens, a refreshing breeze wound its way through the hedges. The day was still warm, though the sun had started to fall lower, and would likely be gone in an hour or two, leaving them all in a slight chill.
When they cleared the gardens, they found an elaborate set-up of large blankets and pillows, and short tables to sitting on the floor all arranged pseudo-haphazardly. Music was softly pouring out from hidden speakers, not loud enough to hinder any conversation. Two men and another woman had already arrived. Solange, Cyrus, and Riven all sat casually. Solange's hands were carefully placed in her lap, but Cyrus leaned heavily toward her, unabashedly making her blush. Riven looked relieved to see more people arrive, making him no longer the third wheel.
"Ladies," Riven crooned, eying Klara first up and down, "You look beautiful!"
Klara giggled, "Thank you! You look handsome as well."
Cosima nodded in agreement, before taking a seat on a fluffy oversize pillow. Some small snacks had already been placed on the tables, small cakes and such, but Cosima didn't touch them yet. If the royal family would be attending then the rules of dining presumably applied, and they shouldn't eat before they did.
Not that it took long. Within ten minutes nearly every other Selected arrived. The last girl was Persie, who wore a delicate cream-colored floral dress that looked like she'd stepped out of a period piece film. Not a moment after she'd taken her seat Madame Ross appeared, followed by four guards, and the music went from a lilting guitar to a louder piece with violins. This was the announcement for their arrival, and Cosima got to her feet.
Everyone else picked up on that after her, and followed her lead, standing in their spot. As the royal family appeared everyone curtsied or bowed. The King and Queen were first, her arm through his as they slowly approached the blankets. She was wearing a gorgeous mauve tea-length gown, with sheer peasant sleeves that her dark hair fell in ringlets around, and the King in his typical white shirt and khakis, as if that was the most casual thing he could wear.
He walked her over to the tables before she placed her free hand on his in a kind dismissal. They parted arms, and she gracefully took a seat on a pillow- right next to Cosima and Klara. Mahina, who was across the table from them, went white as a ghost, trying to conceal her smile of eagerness to be so close to the Queen. She widened her eyes at Cosima, as if to say, You're so lucky!
Everyone at the table sat where they stood, nowhere near as gracefully as her. "Good evening, ladies," her voice soft but full of self-assured confidence.
"Good evening, Your Majesty," everyone replied in classroom-like unison.
Once the Queen and the King had both found spots to sit, the King among a group of men on the opposite side, there were two more guards, and Avon and Endra both entered. They did not walk arm in arm, and instead walked like the other one was not there. Avon was quite attractive in a honey pale yellow dress shirt that was unbuttoned one too many, and cream-colored slacks. Endra was a vision from the past, her dress an elegant vintage cut. The sweetheart neckline met in the middle where buttons trailed all the way down to her tea-length hem, while her puff sleeves ended in a charming ruffle. It didn't match her expression though. Endra looked like she would vomit from disgust and irritation from having to be here at all, which made Cosima raise an eyebrow.
They took seats, Endra amongst her suitor and Avon amongst his. Mahina no longer looked happy to be at the Queen's table as she looked over her shoulder at Avon.
"Well, ladies," The Queen crooned as a servant appeared over her shoulder to fill a chardonnay glass for her, "Tell me about yourselves, please." It wasn't an order. It was said softly like a mother was asking about her children's day at school.
"Well," Klara started, "I'm a Prima Ballerina for the Royal Ballet Company."
The Queen looked impressed, earning a blush from Klara. "That's quite impressive. I wonder if I've seen any of your shows."
"You have," Klara said eagerly, before looking down in slight embarrassment for speaking too quickly. Cosima wondered if that was a ruse as well. "I meant to say, I've performed for the Royal Family a couple of times in the past. Our company director always tells us who our VIPs are before we start the show."
"That's wonderful. Well then, I must say you are quite talented." The Queen turned her attention to Mahina. "What about you dear?" Mahina smiled at the attention.
"I'm just a small-time actor. I'm sure you haven't seen anything I'm in." Her blush made her look down to her green dress with small white wildflowers dotting its fabric and began picking at a non-existent loose thread. Cosima's eye caught Klara's face as she looked slightly over her shoulder. Klara looked back at the table of men who were speaking with the King. As Klara peered over, she saw all the confirmation she'd ever need. The King, alerted by her movement from the corner of his own eye, shifted his gaze to her. His lips parted and his eyes lowered, appraising her wholly. A flirty smirk turned up on Klara's face as she looked back toward the girls, arching her back more.
Cosima's eyes were still locked onto Klara when she turned her attention to her. Her smirk dropped ever-so-slightly at witnessing Cosima's gaze on her. Cosima's knowing gaze. There was a flash of threat in Klara's eyes that Cosima did not miss, but continued to hold the stare.
"-and Emerson, my twin brother," Mahina was still talking. Thank goodness she was though because she was distracting the Queen from the two of them.
"That's quite lovely, Mahina. I expect you'll do very well in your field, you seem quite personable," the Queen smiled broadly. "And you, my dear?" The Queen's attention shifted to Cosima and she was forced to look away from Klara.
Cosima took a centering breath, "My name is Cosima Mellinger, your Majesty. My family runs a group of casinos in New Vega."
"Ah, Mellinger. I do believe I've heard of you all." The Queen smiled as she raised an eyebrow. The family scandal was likely running through the Queen's mind if she was up to date on the news.
"Oh, goodness," Cosima breathed through a smile while her fingertips trailed under her jaw bone. "All good things I hope."
"Nothing that I would take issue with, unless there's more to it, of course." The Queen chuckled lightly, glancing around at the trio of girls. "Oh my, did they not bring any of you beverages?" She scoffed elegantly and lifted up a gentle hand to signal a servant.
Once their glasses had been passed out, the Queen turned back to Cosima. "I'm impressed by the business of your family, especially how your mother has been able to keep pace in a man's world."
"She's quite formidable. Beautifully elegant in the face of adversity," Cosima said, biting back what she really wanted to reply. A man's world, the world echoed in Cosima's head, angering her. Outwardly, however, she remained cool in the face.
"Much like her Majesty," Klara chimed in behind the Queen.
The Queen let out a please chuckle or surprise. "Well thank you, my dear. I certainly try my best for my people." The Queen looked over her shoulder to Klara. "You know, you remind me much of myself."
"That's quite the compliment, your Majesty," Klara gushed in a songbird voice. "Thank you."
The Queen smiled slightly, eyes narrowing with her cheeks. "Now, I'm famished, how about you ladies?" She said before raising her fingertips to give another signal to the waitstaff, and dinner was being served.
I hope you all enjoyed this chapter! I was feeling like I have this wonderful character for the Queen and I never even get the chance to use her much, so I hoped you enjoyed the little you all saw! Let me know if you picked up on any of the small details I hid in this chapter that has a bigger meaning (some have bigger meanings than others!).
Thank you everyone for reading! Don't forget to review on Fanfiction or on Discord! I love hearing everyone's thoughts!