A/N So I decided to continue! Thank you all for such a wonderful turn out of support and amazingness. Otherwise, I wound never pick up such a big endeavor (and its big guys haha).
Just a few notes before you get started: This is a little exposition heavy and I know there are a lot of things to notice/see/remember so I created a handy dandy guide on my profile. Most of the other chapters will not just dump this much information on you. Though this one and the next one probably will so be prepared "Exposition is coming"
And just to be clear you in no way need to have read Game of Thrones to read this. It's not an exact crossover. I do make references that I think the readers will enjoy but you don't lose anything from the story by not knowing them.
Throne of Panem – Chapter 2
I miss the bright colors. Not so much for myself, but the others. Prim's face is drawn in sorrow and the black turns her pale skin to porcelain, easily staining her white face with the angry red streaks of tears. My skin must stay like steel, unbroken, unblemished, with no sadness or emotion to break it. I am the Queen. The ruler of an entire kingdom if only for a short time and I will not have someone questioning my strength or using this as an excuse to seek power or control that my family has held for centuries.
Prim will have to cry for our father for the both of us. She sniffles and releases my hand to wipe her sleeve across her runny nose. Madge, a pale blonde ghost sheathed in black, walking a few paces ahead misses the action. Otherwise, she would scold such behavior from a princess, especially with such a nice gown. I hold up a finger to my lips, to hide our little secret and Prim gives the barest flash of a smile.
She reaches back down to grab my hand, through the overreaching fabric of her sleeves that hang down the length of her body. Her dress is embroidered with blackened pearls and opals making it sparkle in the sunlight and chime together in a happy sound when she walks. The dress is perfect for her, something that made her smile in the darkest time and makes her look as beautiful in black as someone who is made for brightness can be. The Royal Designer, Cinna, created it and I tried not to think how long ago he had made it, that all he had to do was readjust the size.
My dress is much simpler. Black and elegant, with two feet of long silk train that is the only allowance made for fashion. My hair is wrapped up in black lace, which if I needed to I could have pulled down to cover my face. In case I couldn't hold back the tears, and the only option left was to hide them. But I didn't need it. I know what was necessary and I needed to be strong for Prim and for the people of Panem.
Father died less than two days ago. I slept on the sofa in suite and when the sun broke and I tried to wake him, he never did. I asked to be left alone, and cried over his body until the bells began to ring. The entire city echoing, practically rumbling, as every bell in the city cried out the loss of their king. I started to scream because it shouldn't have gotten out yet. Those bells weren't supposed to be the announcement of our father's death to Prim. It should have come from me.
I ran through the castle to get to her, rushing up the stairs of the Virgin's Keep, a name I always hated, where both mine and Prim's bedrooms are kept and every other unwed princess since the castle was built. It's the farthest possible away from the Guest Keep, so as to deter late night visitors from ruining anyone's honor.
There was Prim in her nightshirt and her hair still in tangles from sleep laying her head in Madge's lap as the older girl whispered kind and sweet words to her. Prim cried out when she saw me, ran over and collapsed into the skirts around my legs, sobbing into the fabric. I leaned down and wrapped her in my arms, she still felt so small, despite almost being a woman grown. Madge got up with a short nod, her eyes filled with their own sorrow. She has been in this castle since Prim was born and everyone loved father. I nodded back from Prim's grasp as Madge left the room. We cried there for hours, and then I had to stop.
The doctor who told the world of my father's death is now locked in a dungeon. I will be the one to rule out the sentencing but for his false medicines and letting Prim find out to the sounds of bells that our father died, it will be harsh. He will never work as a doctor again to say the least.
The funeral lasted the entirety of the next day and through the night as someone stood guard over my father's body to make sure no one disturbs him as he travels into the afterlife. For more hours than not, that person was me. Kneeling, unmoving, on the steps below where my father lays in the Grand Hall, the only room that could fit all the people saying their last goodbyes. I wonder how I will ever eat here, dance here, or see anything but my father's body but, I suppose I managed after my mother's body was laid here as well. I will have to deal with it either way. This hall cannot be avoided, especially for a queen.
Sometimes people would kick me out, send me to bed, and I would lie in bed and try to sleep but fail and walk back into the hall. Some of them would curse me then, call me a fool, but all left me be. It is catching up with me now. We had to wake early and attend the final funeral precession for my father where everyone was allowed entrance into the castle, peasants, low born, and servants to pay their respects. On my command, each family was given bread. They did not need to come here, and while most I suspect were coming out of curiosity and to see the castle, they still stayed somber and respectful.
Lord Crane mentioned something about emptying our storage bins for peasants and I made sure that he was the one who had to greet every single person at the door; he had to hand people the bread himself as they left. I had hoped it would let him see their happiness, maybe soften him, show him that our people were people who depended on us, but instead he just looked like he wanted to bathe.
The last step was to watch them take our father away, down to the crypts where kings and queens, princes, and princesses of centuries past are buried. Father will be placed with our mother, a statue bearing his likeness to be sculpted. I know it won't really look like him, just as our mother doesn't look like the vague memories I have of her.
Now I walk to Prim's room, where my room used to be with her hand wrapped in mine. The ruler should move into the Royal Suite, but I can't bring myself to stay in the room my father just died in. I stay in one of the rooms below, made for the princes that haven't existed in this family for generations. Once my king is found I will have to move there, with whomever he is.
The tears I kept away for so long brim to the surface. We stop in front of Prim's door and she begins to cry again, "Can't you stay with me? Just for a little longer?" she grips harder on my hand.
"I'm sorry Little Bird, there is work I have to do," I tuck a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear. I smile up at Madge, "Madge will keep you company. Right, Madge?"
"Of course, Your Majesty," I balk a little at the term, especially from Madge, who stopped calling me anything but Katniss except around other company. The "Majesty" is still new and grating.
"Madge, call her Katniss," Prim whines and tugs on Madge's hand with the hand that isn't squeezing mine. Prim hates the titles coming from someone we love like Madge.
"There are going to be a lot of people in this castle soon and I think it best for us to properly address each other for the time being," Madge explains. I suck in my breath as much as I can in the tight bodice of my dress. There will be many people here and many of them will be looking for weaknesses and a servant addressing the Princess and Queen as equals could be seen as such.
Some of the Houses would jump on that kind of weakness like rabid dogs at a bone, tearing it apart so they can grab more power. The farthest Houses have always been grappling with us in the Capitol. House Trinket and House Mason had become less dependent on us, they had grown. Their lands and population are almost as much as we have but they have failed to become self-sustaining. All Houses depend on the products of the others. And while Trinket and Mason might have made the most money with their products, diamonds and stone working respectively, the other Houses provide what they need to survive and the Capitol remains in the center.
The Capitol joined the northern and southern portions through trade roads and peace agreements. Ending wars that lasted generations and killed thousands, providing food to the almost barren fields of the north and giving the south riches, building materials, and products mined and created in the north. Both became more successful in the process.
They are the Houses I fear when I think of this competition. They are trained, tournaments are very popular within their borders, often getting serious enough that Trinket and Mason find themselves at each other's throats, threatening war until the idea is crushed by soldiers from the south. They will be the most prepared for any kind of physical competition. Which is why I won't let that happen.
"Margaery is right, Prim, just for a little bit. I have to go now," I kiss her forehead and watch as her lips stick out in a little pout. I know she's about to ask me to stay again and my resolve feels like it's getting weaker, so I turn as quickly as possible and walk as fast as I can with the skirts wrapped around my legs.
The meeting hall is a room off of the Grand Hall; thankfully there is a back door that doesn't involve entering that room quite yet. The men look a little startled at my entrance, silencing their conversations and bowing their heads respectively, or holding them up in what could be interpreted as an act of defiance. I scowl hard at them until they crack and bow. I am not without strength.
The men are chosen to represent the Kingdom, the Capitol, the Houses, and the people within them. Lord Crane was chosen to represent the Capitol by the merchant families and Lords within the walls. I'm sure he was chosen with bribery and back alley promises.
Lord Boggs represented the everyday people within the walls. His family was once the Lord of another House but the thirteenth house was destroyed in war and all its surviving members and population moved into the Capitol. While having little riches or property, Boggs remained a Lord and managed to keep political power. He is highly intelligent and always seemed willing to listen to everyone. The people love him. He was also the closest in age to myself, only a year or two older.
Along with the King, or Queen in this case, they take care of the Capitol. Each House has a similar council for its own people. For problems in the Kingdom there are the Wardens of the North and South. Both represent the Houses of each side, chosen and agreed upon unanimously by the six Houses on either side.
Lord Snow was somehow chosen to represent the North. A despicable man, he rose to power through House Mason, doing something or other, that was never quite clear, eventually getting a Lordship but never getting any land. His hunger for power is obvious in his eyes. He always smells of disgusting perfumes that permeate the whole room and assault the senses. Even now, and I resist scrunching my nose.
Lord Plutarch Heavensbee represents the South and that, almost seems like a good choice at times. He knows everything that is going on within his Houses. He comes with reports of accidents and murders, food shortages or large stores to be sold. While his voice shows very little sympathy for the plights of the people, he always does something about them.
"Your Majesty," all the men address as I go through the room, grabbing my hand and kissing my fingers. I try not to gag, especially when Snow's perfume fills my nostrils. I sit in the chair at the head of the table, where my father used to sit, the men follow suit, sitting in the velvety chairs lined up at the elaborately carved mahogany table.
"We need to talk about this tournament, You Majesty," Snow speaks up first and then coughs heavily into a white silk clothe. I think I glance red, but he hides it too quickly.
"Yes, we do Lord Snow," I reply. It's insulting to my father, holding a tourney so close to his death but there was no way to avoid this and it will be done my way.
"We can send out the invitations to each of the Houses, to send their best unmarried Lord as soon as possible," Plutarch snaps at a servant standing in the corner. She had practically been invisible until she rushes to his side, her fox-like face alert and ready for the order.
"No. We have a few things to discuss first," I wave at Marissa Fawkes and almost laugh at how quickly she fades back into the background so that Plutarch looks around him surprised wondering where she went. I made sure that only my most trusted servants were here today. Marissa shared a small suite with Madge and Annie and would often join us for tea. She had the amazing ability to know everything that is going on in the castle and would inform me of plots and ploys, and trysts that would help me stay in power. It felt dirty, but it was something necessary.
"Do you want to choose the events, My Queen?" Boggs lets out a small smile. Choosing the tournament events that will decide my husband is probably all he thinks I can accomplish. I am trapped by being a woman, having limited power, but I have enough to control some of my fate.
"Yes, in fact, I do," I take in a deep breath, "There will be no tournament," I push through their gasps of shock and protest, "A king should not be chosen based on who is most skilled with a sword or bow or lance. It should be chosen based on character and the ability to rule. We will hold a series of test for these abilities."
"Your Highne…Your Majesty, that is absolutely preposterous. You want to bring together the Kingdom and interview the highest Lords to be the King?" Seneca looks nauseous.
"No, of course not," a small smile slips onto my lips as I get ready for their reactions, "I also want one average citizen from each House to be presented for the interviews." This was my father's idea. I have already met most of the Lords of the Kingdoms, they had been presented as potential husbands and Kings and none of them seemed even remotely capable of either. There were a few that have not been presented at court, but they are probably no better especially the sons of the northern Houses.
Seneca and Snow both look horrified, Plutarch almost looks bored, already writing out the plans on a piece of parchment. Boggs smiles behind a hidden hand and when Snow and Seneca look petrified at him, he lets out a small snort. "You think throwing away our Kingdom to a simple minded peasant is funny, Lord Boggs?" Snow growls.
"I think if our wonderful Lords of the Kingdom are worthy of being King then they should very easily defeat a commoner in any competition," Boggs replies. I smile at him and am glad I have someone on my side in this council.
"The people will not settle for this, Your Majesty. The merchants demand a tournament. Tournaments bring in crowds to sell products, a tournament will unite the Houses in friendly competition, bringing their own riches and stores, the people of the Capitol will not be happy with this decision," Seneca argues.
"You mean the merchants and the rich of the Capitol," I reply.
"They are still your people, My Queen," Lord Heavensbee pops up his head from writing, "I've created a series of events, one based on intelligence, one on strategy, one on character, and two average tourney events. With one commoner and one Lord from each House that makes twenty-four competitors. In each event the worst four competitors should be removed from further competition. In the end, leaving four. You may choose your king out of those remaining four based on whatever you like. You may choose the tourney events, as well." He passes Seneca the parchment and motions for me to take it.
Seneca tries to read it and I snap it away. Not very ladylike but I don't have time for his meddling. Five events, twenty-four suitors, one kingdom. "You think this will placate the merchants, Lord Crane?" I ask reading over the event.
"It, it is highly unorthodox, Your Highness," he stumbles.
"Will it placate them?" I repeat.
"Yes, it should" he sighs.
"Good. This plan is acceptable Lord Heavensbee. I would like the events to be," I try and think which events are more kingly and just see violence and stupidity so it's useless, "The events should be jousting and archery," The least violent and at least that means I know he can ride a horse and shoot a bow.
"Do we all agree?" I ask, ready to argue with anyone who doesn't.
"How will the commoners be chosen?" Boggs asks.
I hadn't considered that. There is no way for me to control the choices or choose myself from each House. "Let the Lords choose. If I find falsehoods or that anyone was mistreated, there will be severe punishments." I have spies within the Houses; they will tell me if things are kept fair.
"Excellent, My Queen. When shall I send out the invitations?" Plutarch purrs.
"Tomorrow," I want to put it off as far as possible, but it's as far as I can push without protest. This will give me time to make sure everything is in order as well.
"It starts at midnight then," Plutarch smiles, picks up the other parchments and walks out the room without another word. The man can be a dolt when he is lost in thought. Midnight was not what I meant. I dismiss the others and they leave with minimal grumbles. Boggs kisses my hand again on the way out. Seneca and Snow walk out together, whispering to each other as if I'm too stupid to know they are talking about me.
Once they leave, I motion to Marissa. She emerges from behind a pillar, her footsteps completely silent and with the usual sly smile on her face. She gives an over exaggerated curtsey with a perfectly mimicked high Capitol accent "Your Majesty," the smirk deepens and then drops when she remembers why we are here, why that is my title. "I'm sorry 'bout yer father," her voice drops back into the accent she was born in to, she grabs a handful of her drab skirts, ducking her head and letting her red hair fall into her face.
"Thank you, Marissa," I try to keep back the tears. I wish she would just smirk and act like everything is fine. "I want you to intercept any messages that leave the castle tonight. By man, or bird, do you think you can do this?"
"Aye, for the birds. I know the rookery folk well 'nough," she shifts, "I can't stop e'ry man leaving the castle though, if they want to pay someone, they can get 'em."
"That's fine, as long as the ravens are controlled," They are the fastest way to send messages. I don't want Snow or even Plutarch sending anything out except what I told them. "Did you hear what I said about the commoners and tournament?" I ask.
"I hear er'ything, Yer Majesty," she smirks again. I roll my eyes. She laughs. "Aye, aye. Only letters with what ye said allowed through," her voice magically switches again, "Anything else I may help you with, My Queen?"
"Can you do all the House accents?" I ask.
"Fairly well, I suppose," she chirped in the clear voice of House Trinket.
I smile, "When the other Houses come, I want you to watch them for me. Maybe get involved with their servants, do whatever it is that you do," I couldn't even begin to understand how she knows everything she does, "and report back to me."
"You are a silly Queen," she smiled this time with House Mason's rougher accent on her tongue, "To think I wasn't going to do that anyways." She laughs, closes the few steps between us and plants a large kiss on both cheeks before scampering off and disappearing. My father had always inspired loyalty in his people. I suppose I have my own few followers as well, a silent small army of the women who I grew up with.
I walk back to my room, wanting to change into something simpler before dinner with Prim. I smell perfume through the door and feel fear. I don't want to deal with Snow, but thankfully, it's not the scent of roses, but the more comforting smell of Lavender. I relax and open the door.
Effie stands pacing around the room, fixing and cleaning things that probably don't need fixing or cleaning. Annie sits unobtrusive in the corner, staring out the window with her hands laid properly in her lap. Effie's black dress puffy arms that make every gesture appear larger and more dramatic and she waves a lacey black fan in front of her face. Her hair is styled up at least four inches above her head and intertwined with black ribbon.
"Oh, Katniss!" she runs over and hugs me surprisingly hard for being so tiny and thin. Also it's surprising to hear her call me by my first name, which I had tried to get her to do for the longest time without success. "I'm so sorry, I had to be away. It was just a stupid wedding; I never should have gone," her accent perfectly matches the one that Marissa had impersonated earlier.
Effie was a distant cousin in the House Trinket. Some member of their expansive family was recently wed. "It's fine, Lady Ephara," I use her proper title because I know she will appreciate it, just as she knew I would appreciate my own name. "You could not have known when father would pass. He was sick for a very long time," I pat her awkwardly on the shoulder while she sobs into my collar.
"I should have been here," she chokes out. She steps away, covering her face with a handkerchief and then loudly blows her nose. She must have already been on her way back from the wedding, the trip from Diamondedge, the seat of House Trinket, is longer than two weeks, the furthest house from the Capitol. This is something that I am looking forward to since I would like to put off the competition for as long as possible.
"I'm so sorry, Katniss," she reaches back to hug me, "House Trinket is already on their way to pay their respects." I wince and try to hide it. I was hoping they would take a few days to plan but if the House is coming already then my time is getting cut shorter. The others might take their time though.
"That is very kind of them, Lady Effie," I smile softly at her, slipping back into her nickname, and watch as the energy drains out of her. She walks over and, as lady like as possible, plops herself down onto the sofa. Effie wasn't a true relative of House Trinket and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Every member of House Trinket I have ever met was atrocious, Effie is annoying but heartfelt. She is a bastard, but was made legitimate by her father, being the only daughter he had. But the other Trinkets didn't like a bastard in their midst and he decided to send her to the Capitol instead, hoping she could get a good match.
So far, she has only been matched with me. She came at a time when Father was discovering that Annie wasn't enough of a tutor and fashion expert to make his daughter into a proper princess. Effie had all the skills necessary and became my, and by extension Prim's, tutor in all things necessary of a lady. She has been with us since I was eleven. I once asked Father why he hadn't matched her yet. He told me had, but she had turned everyone down because she wanted to stay with Prim and I. That memory makes me go over and hug Effie's sniffling form again.
I nod at Annie, who seems content to stare out the window while I deal with Effie. She only gives a slight nod back before glancing back out and fiddling with her long brown hair, half pinned up and half left to fall down her shoulders. Her slightly far set green eyes look vacant and I know that's how she deals with sadness, by tuning it out.
Effie lets out a few more sniffles and then announces that she has to go clean up and walks out of the room, her head still in her hands. Annie gets up silently and gives me a hug. Her dress is simple, a regular servant outfit dyed to match the solemn occasion. I wonder how she didn't get her own dress. She has less money than Madge, since she doesn't have parents to support her as well, but we still provide for her.
"Sorry, about the dress. I didn't buy one early enough so they were all gone, I had to trade my green one for this," She pulls at the bad fabric.
I scoff, "Annie! You loved that dress; you didn't need to give it away."
"I can get a new dress, Your Majesty. I needed a black one for today," She smiles a little and looks back outside. I decide to ask Marissa to find who she traded with and get the dress back. That dress is important. That dress helped her fall in love.
"Did you hear anything about the tournament? I ask her. I'm happy to focus on Annie. Taking care of other people lets me not look at myself. Not overthink what's happening and why and what it means. If I look back I am lost, if I look forward I am terrified. So I look at Annie.
She shakes her head. "There will be a competition for my hand," I dramatically put out the hand that will hold my wedding ring, "and I think one competitor won't really be trying." Annie looks confused for a moment and then smiles.
"Really? He will be coming?" I nod and her smile brightens. Its not like Lord Finnick has agreed yet, or sent word but he is the only bachelor lord of House Odair and would give any excuse to come to the Capitol to visit Annie. Their story is like a fairy tale even if they haven't gotten their happy ending yet.
Annie and Madge were both allowed to come to the events within the castle. Father thought that a person who was helping raise his daughters like ladies should be treated like ladies. On my ten and sixth name day, a large party with all the houses and marriageable men attended. Annie and Madge were given free range of my mother's old dresses that my father hadn't let anyone touched in years and smiled at the joy on their faces as the explored the room sized closet of dresses. Annie's choice was a beautiful green dress with emeralds that sparkled like her eyes, Madge a much more simple midnight blue that made her look like something otherworldly.
I remember being jealous of their beauty for a moment, until I realized they were drawing away attention from me from the mostly awful Lords. Annie drew the attention of Finnick Odair, and they danced together more than was proper, but looked so beautiful together that no one interrupted. Madge drew the attention of both the highest Lords of House Trinket and Mason, but both took back their marriage proposals when they discovered her status. Finnick didn't propose, but they stayed on the terrace talking all night.
He visits whenever he can, but he has his own lands to control. I wondered why he didn't marry her. Finnick was one of the least annoying Lords, not snobby, if a little overly flirtatious and loud. Maybe I would have even considered him, if it wasn't clear where his feelings fell. It became clear though, through my spies in the South. House Odair was desolate, broke. A series of storms had destroyed a lot of their fishing boats and homes, and his father had gambled away their money before drinking himself to death.
Lord Finnick is stuck. He plays the handsome flirty bachelor Lord and woos women to gain money to keep his people afloat. When he comes to the Capitol he doesn't just visit Annie and that crushes them both, but they aren't children and this is how it has to be. He has people to care for. Annie whispered all this to me when I asked the simple question of when she would be wed. She still cried when he had to leave though, back to his home or to another woman.
"That will be nice. I will tell him to try though. I would rather share him with you than anyone else,"
"Annie, you shouldn't have to share him with anyone. We will find a way for the both of you," Something will happen. I'm a Queen aren't I? It would be much easier to help if Finnick admitted he needed the help, but he never will. I can't just throw money at House Odair withou reason.
"Thank you, Your Majesty. I think it's time to start with titles."
"They won't be here for a while," it's almost a pout. I know I will be giving up every liberty I have once they begin to arrive and once they leave again, I will be wed.
"Most of the Houses started here at the news of your father's death, Your Majesty. Some will be arriving very shortly." I scoff but, I know it's true. The poorer Houses are within a two days ride. Lord Haymitch and others could be arriving tomorrow.
"Very well, Alysanne, will you help me with my dress?" I turn around and show the ties at the back. She helps me change and I leave to go out to dinner.
"Alysanne, can you tell Jo…Lady Johanna that I would very much love if she could accompany me on a ride tomorrow morning?" I ask.
Annie balks a little, "Do you think that is a good idea, Your Highness?"
"It might be my last chance," I resist shrugging my shoulders. I know even Annie will scold me for not being very Queen-like. But she doesn't and simply lifts her shoulders in a motion of reluctant acceptance.
"I will tell her," she finishes. I kiss her on both cheeks and then head to Prim's quarters. I don't feel hungry, despite not eating anything all day.
The next morning feels grim. Birds sing happily outside of my window, but that doesn't stop the sadness from welling up inside before I even open my eyes. In my half asleep state, I fell like it's a physical weight on my chest, crushing, making me unable to move. Until I fully wake up and realize there is an actual weight on my chest.
Johanna lays sideways across the bed with her legs propped across my chest. I shove them off and she laughs, "I thought you would be asleep all mornin'." I wonder vaguely if Marissa can mimic the drawl of House Umber and figure that she can fairly easily. I look at Johanna and realize she is already dressed for our ride, wearing boots, loose pants, and a simple white shirt that we managed to steal from the laundry workers. The boots she stole from the boys in the stable, she would never tell me how she got them.
I jump out of bed, still in my silken nightgown and run to my dresser. I pull out the third drawer from the top and reach behind for my matching outfit. In my room before I had found a lose floorboard and created a hiding place for everything I didn't want Effie, or anyone really, to find. I will have to find a new place but it's silly even to bother making a new place in this room. Most everything still remains in that hole in the floor.
I go into the other room to change. The clothes feel better, more natural, and as a final touch I slip on a leathered coat that I traded for a buck we brought down. I braid my hair, and then tie it on top of my head, hiding it all under a simple cap. I walk back out and Johanna gives a slow clap. She doesn't need to hide as much, she is less recognizable. Her long hair also has continued to get into a series of accidents that involve cutting most of it off into shorter styles. I think this last time it caught on fire.
"How did you know how to get in here?" She had to have used the hidden passageways in almost every room, but even I don't know where the one in here is yet.
"Rissa showed me," she shrugs. I should have known the foxlike girl would know. Johanna leans into the empty fireplace and opens a door in the side, "You should know the escape routes anyways, Majesty," she crawled through the space.
"What if there is a fire?" I ask.
"I dunno, put it out, or burn," she jokes, poking fun at my family words. "Burn with Us," it was rumored that in the past our family could control fire and use to wear it like blanket, coating us in flames, but never breaking our skin. It isn't true now, and I do still wonder how I am supposed to use an escape in a fireplace if a fire is lit.
"Your language is getting horrible," she is obviously picking up slang from the other squires.
"So is your ass, but you don't hear me sayin' anythin' about it," I roll my eyes. Lady Johanna has been the worst behaved Lady since, well since me. Her father sent her here from the Umber's House at Timbred to hopefully straighten her out. Father knew it wasn't going to work as soon as he met Johanna and instead decided to ask her what she wanted to do.
Johanna is training to be one of the first female knights in the Kingdom, the others only being talked of in legend. She has a legacy now, maybe not the one her father wanted, but a legacy none the less. Of course I was drawn to the freest woman I know and after she discovered that I wasn't a normal proper princess she was happy to take me out of the castle sometimes.
The tunnel is dark, Johanna grabs a torch from the wall that she must have left coming up, and I swat away the spider webs that stick to my face. We take so many twists and turns, it takes a lot of concentration to remember the path but after a while we approach a small wooden ladder, with a square of light breaking through the top. Johanna puts out the torch in the dirt and climbs, throwing open the trap door and crawling out.
I let my eyes adjust to the flood of light and crawl out behind her. We're behind the stables. Marissa sits with a mug of steaming drink that she sips at slowly and two saddled and ready horses. The horses aren't our own. We couldn't take them for fear of someone noticing. Marissa smiles at Johanna and I, "They're good beasts. They'll give ye a good ride."
"I wouldn't expect anythin' less," Johanna laughs and pulls herself easily into the saddle. I can't ride as much, and haven't for so long that I have to embarrass myself and ask Marissa for a lift. Neither of them say anything, despite their normal penchant for teasing. They know why I haven't been able to ride.
"The guards at the back gate will let ye through, no questions," we nod and break the horses into a trot. Marissa waves us off. We get through the gate with no problem, guards looking as if they don't even notice us. Once beyond it, we turn off the slightly more crowded road and then onto the trails that have been carved out by years of hunters, thieves, and myself.
We trot through forest, and gallop through fields. I missed the smell of the forests, the sound of the animals scattering or calling out at our presence, the feel of a strong horse that isn't just a show pony between my legs, the power, the freedom, the strength. I spur the horse into going faster, running through the fields of wildflowers and dandelions, and rip the cap off my head, letting my braid fall and fly in the breeze.
I hear Johanna's horse close behind. I let out a small bubble of laughter; this is the best I have felt in weeks. I stop when we approach the familiar rock. A large stone that is possible for two to sit on and overlook the fields and forest. I jump off the horse, no longer feeling unnatural in the saddle and tie the reins to a rusted loop that I don't know who put into the ground. I jog over to a fallen log, just beyond the rock at the edge of the forest and reach inside it.
Past a few cob webs, and moss, I wrap my hands around carved wood and pull out the bow. It's as long as over half my body, perfectly shaped, made of the finest wood, engraved with a the image of a mockingjay holding an arrow in its beak. The string perfectly taut, I pull a little to make sure it hasn't fallen to disrepair from lack of use and smile as it pulls back perfectly. The string bites into my fingers, and I know I will have blisters I will have to make up an explanation for by the end of the day.
I reach back into the log and pull out my quiver. There are only 16 arrows. I wish I had brought more. Johanna is already setting up the target for practice. On my best days, I didn't need practice. Before father got sick and I could leave the castle at least once a week, I could shot a squirrel in the eye from a distance that even Johanna admitted was impressive.
But now my hands are soft, now my muscles strain from misuse as a pullback the string aiming the arrow. I let out a slow breath, and try to ignore my body screaming, and release the arrow, aiming at the bullseye. It falls short. I curse under my breath. I pull, harder this time, aim, breathe, shoot. Off to the left, curse. I use up all the arrows, only the very last few hitting the targets. I feel my fingers start to bleed through the gloves.
Johanna collects the arrows without speaking, while I wrap my hands in clothe and put my gloves back on, trying not to wince. I go through the quiver again. This time hitting half on the target. The next I get a bullseye, and most hit the target. A few more times, I calm my hands that feel like they might start to shake. The last time the red in the center is full of arrows. Not one missed the target though the last hit the edge when my arm started to shake.
Johanna claps and so does someone else. We both turn in shock. Johanna pulls out a knife from the small sheath at her side. I reach for an arrow that isn't there then drop the bow and pull out my own knife hidden in my boot. Smaller than Johanna's but no less sharp and I know how to throw it.
The man laughs and holds up his hands, "Whoa, there ladies, I meant no harm," his accent sounds Capitol but that doesn't mean much. The outlying Houses are also inclined to the same accent. He has olive skin, dark hair, and grey eyes that are laughing at us at the moment. His lanky build attempts to hide the muscle tone underneath his simple, almost matching outfits of ours. He is a hard worker, who maybe doesn't get a lot of food, a commoner and for all we know a thief, a murderer, or a raper.
"Well, then you won't mind turning around and going right back where you came from," Johanna snaps.
"I wouldn't mind it, no, but I'm curious, what are two high born ladies doing out in the middle of the woods and one being such a nice shot?" he gestures towards the target. I notice a bow and quiver slung across his own back.
"We ain't no highborn ladies, fool," Johanna's voice dropped a few octaves and picked up the same twang common to Marissa. The lowborn drawl of being uneducated.
"Nice try, I bet I could get a handsome ransom from both of you," his voice was smooth, almost educated, but still with a hint of improper. It was a confusing combination.
"Try and we cut your throat," I snap.
"I didn't say I was going to try, I just said I bet I could. Like I said, I was just wondering what two highborn ladies were doing out and about playing with weapons,"
"We ain't playin' and we ain't highborn," I give my best imitation.
He laughs, "That was awful, nice try though,"
"How do you know?" I ask.
He pauses for a second as if choosing whether to answer, "Your horses, those are palace horses if I have ever seen one. Well fed, the saddles are made of nice leather, and the colors of House Everdeen on the saddle blanket. Now I want to know what are two high born ladies doing out in the middle of the woods playing with weapons?"
"Why do you want to know?" Johanna hasn't loosened her grip on her knife but I have a little. If the man wanted to take us unaware he would have called to us with an arrow already pointed at our hearts. He made no move to harm, though every attempt to be annoying.
"I like to think its every man's duty to protect a highborn lass," he wiggles his eyebrows a little.
"Do lowborn lasses not deserve your attention?" Johanna asks.
He pauses caught in the words, "Well, alright good point, any lass shouldn't be out in these woods alone,"
"We aren't alone," Johanna gestures between both of us with her knife.
"You are going to save each other from rapers, kidnappers, and thieves?" He still smirks but his voice is getting more annoyed sounding. As if he were the one who was bothered, instead of us.
"If need be!" I shout, waving my own knife.
His smile is finally cracking, "Stupid, it's not safe out here, especially with all the unrest. I wasn't joking. A man could take you for ransom and who would know what he does with you before you are returned home," I shake my head confused. What unrest? The Kingdom has been at peace for years, the stores in every House are plentiful, trade is good and no foreigners dare to cause problems.
Johanna continues to speak, "We'll kill you if you try,"
"Did you not hear me before? I'm not going to. Do I look like a raper to you?" he makes a gesture to his body. I suppose implying that he is handsome enough to not need to rape. I can kind of see it, if I squint a little.
"Do you really want me to answer that?" He rolls his eyes at Johanna's gab and looks about to speak again. But I have my own questions.
"What unrest?" I ask. My arm and knife lay limply at my side. I just want to know what he's talking about.
He looks at me surprised and we hear the sounds of horses. He shakes his head, "You should get out of here."
"Is that your merry band of thieves?" Johanna jokes but she is already backing up towards the horses. I follow and realize I still have my bow. The man sees my dilemma and closes the gap between us in a few long strides. Johanna immediately comes closer holding her knife and I reach mine up as well.
"I'll put it away," he reaches a hand out slowly. "In the log over there, right?" He gestures to where I had pulled my bow out earlier.
"How long were you watching us?" he had to have seen me get it.
"Long enough to see you're a decent shot," he smiles, "for a woman."
"Why should I trust you?" I ignore the insult to my sex and focus on the bigger issue of his stealing my bow.
"You don't really have another option," the sound horses and laughing men gets louder. I know even if they aren't thieves I cannot be seen out here like this and most likely I would be robbed blind before returning at best. I wouldn't like to think what worst. I will lose the bow either way. Its good quality and would be sold at a high price.
I hand him the bow and quiver, "Name's Gale," he stands looking at the bow, the engravin., "I would leave now," I don't need to be told twice and run to the horse. I don't need anything to help me up with the fear courses through me. I watch him, Gale, pick the arrows out of the target and lay it down. Before the horse completely gallops me out of view.
I only speak again when we get back to the stables. The guards letting us pass with a simple nod, "Was he a criminal?"
"Of course, he was a criminal. Why else would he be in the woods for no reason? He was sneaky, as well," Johanna shook her head as if knowing the next question that I would ask, the fate of my bow. There is no way of knowing if he stole it or put it back.
Johanna doesn't expand and I'm too nervous to ask. It was a family heirloom, my father gave it to me and the tears sting my eyes as we hand the horses off to some stable boys and I let them fall in the darkness of the secret tunnels. Johanna pretends not to hear.
I walk into the room and am surprised to find Annie waiting. She looks a little panicked between the both of us and then cries out and grabs at my wrapped hands and dirty clothes, "Annie, what's wrong?" She has seen me back from a trip before, she knows what happens sometimes. It is not something to be concerned about.
"We need to get you dressed," she snaps and begins to untie the laces of my boots. Johanna looks as confused as I and definitely, more surprised by a pushy Annie.
"What is going on?" I grip Annie's shoulder, not only to get her attention but also to keep my balance as she tears the shoe off my foot while I'm still standing.
"Lord Snow is holding court," as soon as she speaks, I start tearing off my own dirty clothes. Court is for the King. Where the King hears the people, their complaints, their needs, it is where they see who is in charge. I had commanded Court to be held three days after the funeral. Now Lord Snow openly defies me by holding it himself, the day after the funeral.
"Johanna, please grab me a dark gown," I don't think Johanna really understands the situations but she hears the panic and command in my voice. She runs to the closest and disappears, I stand in my undergarments, attempting to fix my hair into something presentable, while Annie takes a sponge to wipe the dirt off my face, neck, arms, and chest. Johanna brings out another Cinna design and I slip into it. Annie ties the back with an amazing quickness.
She swats my hands away and grabs a large mockingjay hairpin and manages to wrap it together into something beautiful and regal and hands me long grey silk gloves. They don't match the dress exactly, but I need to hide my hands and the mark from the bowstring on my arm.
She nods her head in triumph and I run out the door, holding my skirts in my hands and ignoring the guards or servants who look at me strangely, I even push one out of my way. In the rush and anger I don't even notice my entrance into the Grand Hall again. I just see him, sitting in my father's throne - where it is now my birthright to sit, if only for a few short weeks.
"Lord Snow," my voice is loud, and I'm proud to hear, commanding. I walk through the Grand Hall slowly. I do not want to disturb the people here asking for help. I smile with teeth, and his face seems to adopt a look of fear before becoming completely expressionless.
"Your Majesty," he stands up from the throne and bows deeply.
"Thank you for keeping my place, My Lord, but I can take it from here," I move slowly up the steps, my dress dragging and my eyes blazing with the fury I feel in my whole body.
"Of course, Your Grace," Snow bows. His tunic is a dark blood red and he holds his hand on an elaborately carved sword handle. I wish I were allowed a weapon in court. It would end badly for the old man.
He bows towards the people waiting in goodbye. They remain mostly silent. Some exchanging confused whispers, some staring at me or Lord Snow. He walks away and for a moment his steps are the only sound in the Hall. I lower myself into the throne I must accept.
The message has become clear. I must not leave my Kingdom. I cannot leave my place or I lose everything. And those who would take power and no doubt abuse it, wait for any mistake, any misstep to grab hold and destroy everything my family holds dear. I am a Queen and I am a prisoner.
A/N So yay! Remember to read and review! This is totally out of my regular work for me and I would love the feedback.
Just a few more after reading notes: I know its rapist. But in GRRM series and what I am kind of loosely basing my world in they use the term "raper" so….that's whats happening there.
This is an Everlark story and don't worry medieval Peeta is ready to make his appearance next chapter :)
I am not an expert on medieval times and I don't have the time to do as much research as it would take to get everything right. So if you see a mistake, please message me privately about it and I will see what I can do. Message me with any questions: my tumblr is at mellarks-hotbuns or just here at .
J – Thank you! I thought it was fun too : )
– your name doesn't suit you with being so nice! Thank you!
SamMellark – Done! Thank you : )
Guest 1 – Thank you!
Clarisse – Here is Gale! He is kind of awesome in this….but don't worry, so is Peeta.
Cool – Yay! I updated! Thank you so much : )