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We made eye contact. He didn't break it. This will be my end.
His rooms were huge – windowed on some walls, rich fabric blanketing the entire surface, and the ceilings just as high as the ones in the halls right outside the door – and they all seemed to be connected, no doors to block any quarter from another. It was as if a huge current of air could tangle through the entire corridor and never get knotted between passage ways. When our party finally reached his sector of castle, we walked in the doors only to be met with a web of rooms as wide as the all the shacks of the peasants combined, some rooms requiring steps to get to the main landing floor.
I continued to train my gaze on the marble beneath my feet, determined not to look up at the blonde figure before me who tends to walk with a slight limp.
Prince Peeta Mellark Snow dismisses the servants that followed us when we step into the main sitting room.
"You are dismissed," he tells them, and I am surprised at how much his voice resembles that of silk. Not like Gale's, whose vocals always reminded me of hard cut stone or his own calloused fingers.
The Prince turns to me when they are out his door, which is not as magnificent as the throne room's.
But what, exactly, are you to say to the Prince of Panem? It isn't just as simple as small talk about the weather, or complimenting his rich wear. So we just stand and stare at each other, me finally bringing the courage to look him dead in the eyes. This goes on for moments, but it seems as if hours.
What is he thinking? I half expect him to lash out on me for our "incident" in the streets, and I remind myself to not fight back if he does, remembering that me retaliation would only result in earlier execution. But perhaps that would be better, wouldn't it?
I bore my sight into those icy pools, not willing to be the first to look away, to show my weakness, but I find that there is no bitterness in his expression. He almost seems… pitiful?
This only makes my blood boil more. How dare he pity me, when we both know he is the one who caused all this?!
We are quite for a split second more, until he breaks it with a long, heaving sigh.
"Umm… my servants, they will bathe you tonight, in case you were curious." He looks down, in what I can only assume is embarrassment.
Bath? Why would they bathe me before an execution. But nevertheless I nod, not wanting this conversation to continue, but my wishes never get granted it seems.
"And you will be given a new wardrobe, as well, along other supplies for your convenience here at the castle."
Questions are starting to pile high in my mind, but I keep my lips sealed. Anyways, my anger doesn't quell the longer he talks.
"I know you are probably very upset, but –"
That does it.
"Upset? You just took me from my family. You expect me to be upset?"
"I understand, but – "
"And how did you know to come to my house?" My blood is boiling but I try to keep my voice at an appropriate volume, to which I fail. I know I might be risking my life questioning him, but I cannot find it in me to really care.
"Katniss – "
"For Panem sake, we only looked at each other! And Prim –"
"I'm sorry!" He yells. This stops me short. Sorry? He's the prince of Panem. He does not apologize.
I scowl at him in confusion. He looks back at me with sincere regret in his eyes, but I remind myself not to get fooled.
"Please, Katniss Everdeen. Hear me out. My brother, Cato, he saw us look at each other during the ride back to castle. When we arrived, he pestered me about it and brought it up during the family meal. My father, he demanded you be sent here to me. I honestly meant no harm. I tried to deny him, but that is not exactly a very clever idea, if you have any brains at all."
I stare at him. He seems tired and somewhat discouraged. But this doesn't make sense.
"Then why? Why are you planning to pamper me before my execution?" I ask. I'm not hiding my spitting suspicious or my spiteful attitude.
At this the prince takes a step back.
"E-execution?" He repeats, seeming affronted, yet I don't miss the slight twinge of amusement that flashes across his face passes before he speaks again.
"My Lady, I don't think you understand. You are not here to be executed or punished. I wasn't offended at all about our looking in the streets, not at all," his face has taken on a softer look by now, which I recoil at. I do not like how he looks at me, or how it makes the pit of my stomach flop in an instant.
By now I have caught on. He does not have to continue, I already know what he is going to say.
"You are here," he continues, this time a blush consumes his face, "to be my wife."
I was 11 years old. We had just given up hope on my father ever coming back and my mother was already started to slip into insanity. Gale and I had not met, but I had an amount of other friends. I was out, tending our so-called "garden" (small patch of dirt and sprouts, 2 by 3 feet square) that hugs right on the rim of our shack. I was relentless, always insisting that Father was just taking his time coming home, or perhaps hurt his foot and had to rest at an inn for a while.
But I would never result in the thought of his death.
It was not until an official peacekeeper from the Kingdom by the name of Peter Cray started making rounds through the village that my enthusiastic hope started to wane. He traveled from house to house boring the heart-wrenching news of deaths of fathers, brothers, nephews. The fear that he would one day step through our door and tell us officially that Mr. Everdeen was deceased would not leave my mind, no matter how optimistic Prim and I tried to remain.
My mother, however, would just penetrate our hopeful states with her tragic breakdowns where she screamed and swore he was never coming back and that we were stupid for thinking he was going to in the first place.
He would not abandon us, I would think, he promised he would come back.
Peacekeeper Cray's bout seemed to expanse across the whole kingdom. He visited Thresh, Madge, Cecilia, Twill, Rue – fragile, innocent, and charming little Rue, who would never harm a fly – all got crushed and burdened with the news of their lost.
And when cold finger rapped on door with terrifying, sharp bites, I was reluctant to answer. Mother sat in the corner as Cray spouted out monotonous reasons and sham apologies, not even noticing our demolished hopes and helpless sobs. He walked away with uniform steps, onto the next heartbreak.
Prim and I cried together, away from our mother. I refused to look at her.
For weeks we scraped by with our leftover food and I eventually resulted in scavenging the streets for food – an alley scum. I was kicked to the side and denied help so many times Prim and I ended up eating raw grass that we managed from our garden patch. It was bitter and distasteful, but it got us along for a few more days.
Winter was almost over and by now Mother was a complete vacant. One day I was foraging the edge walls for food, perhaps a rotten potato or a different type of weed I could try to boil for dinner. Anything to feed Prim, whose cheeks were far beyond sunken.
I had strayed pretty far from the village, treading my way more towards the far corner of the walls. I made sure to keep my distance from the whore house that was tucked away in the crease of the corner, fearful that would be snatched up and sold somewhere far off. Not that I would care about leaving this god awful place, but I could never leave Prim here.
I noticed it, far away from any shack or stand or civil establishment, a miniature hole smashed in the floor-bottom of the brick wall, just big enough for me to shimmy under. I quickly looked around, nervous that someone saw me or would come over and attempt to patch up that small escape to freedom. My heart rate quickened with my pulse and I anxiously took a step toward the gap. My hands fiddled with the frayed ends of my braid that stayed knotted to my hair at all times, but it was then or never. Before anyone could stop me, I dropped to my stomach and slid myself under the wall.
My first look at the outside world was breathtaking. The sounds of the bird calls were somehow different than when you would hear them from inside the walls, more voluminous with gratis.
I stepped further into the vast greatness of the forest with a blossom of hope rooting itself in my stomach, my hunger pains long forgotten.
A mockingjay, gleaming with its glossy golden coat, perched itself on a nearby branch, boasting its chest with the pride of his sanctuary. Mockingjays were always Father's favorite bird; they would never pass up the opportunity to duplicate his beautiful voice without fail, even from inside the walls.
As I traveled deeper and deeper into the woods, the exquisiteness of it overwhelmed me, but the thought that possible food was not far away quickly erased its attractiveness with my raging hunger.
I ran around ravenously, even the likeness of the grass was appetizing; the farther I ran, the faster I became. I was beginning to become determined to live off these woods, run away and never come back, just become a forest kid and leap from tree to tree with no more hunger or worries or insane, demeaning mothers. These day dreams flooded my mind and quickened my pace until my lungs screamed.
And I sprinted right into a lake.
Water drowned my vision and I forced my eyes open under surface. A school of fish swam around me in unison, bubbling up the surrounding liquid. Fish! Oh, how I wished to bring Prim here, show her the possibility that was my newly discovered forest. When I felt myself running out of oxygen I pushed off the shallow bottom of the lake and gasped for air. The sun was blinding in the sky and the trees' green color was almost petrifying. I swam around, desperate for the hugging shore, and pulled myself onto land.
I looked around for something for someplace to dry in the sun, but instead my sights landed on a lone apple hanging in a on a branch. I could not get my legs to move fast enough, aching for the taste of that wondrous fruit.
I stopped at the trunk of the apple tree and looked up through the wooden arms to the apple. Propping myself onto a knot in the roots, I pushed up and stretched my arm in reach for the red-skinned refuge from my aching stomach.
But I couldn't reach. And that apple was my undoing.
I lost it when I my attempts to climb the tree failed due to my inexperience and weak limbs. So I sat in the grass and weeds and sobbed. I was going to die, Prim was going to die, and Mother wasn't even going to be sane enough to miss us. I probably would never get the courage to come back out to this paradise, or if I did, someone would have already patched up that hole and I would have lost my opportunity.
When I heard his laugh, I tensed in my fetal position in the grass. Horrifying thoughts seemed to jump from the lake like fish and swim for refuge in my mind. I am not alone, I am going to get killed or worse dragged back to Panem. I don't want to go back.
But when a curly blonde head peeked out from behind a near tree, my thoughts fled to defense. I figured I could easily get a few strikes in and flee if a fight occurred, but his grin did not seem exactly intimidating.
I stood up quickly, wiping away my tears with my shirt sleeve. He seemed to be about my age, but his luxurious clothing summed that he was from a family much, much higher than mine. But what would someone of high-stature be doing roaming the forest?
His attire had instantly made me self-conscious of my ratty tunic and trousers that were meant to be worn by a boy. I crossed my arms and straightened my back.
The boy did not seem to notice my withering confidence, but instead kept an easy smile painted on his face.
"You fell in the lake," he laughed, leaning back in hilarity.
"So?" I retorted defensively. "Be quiet."
But the boy did not stop chuckling, and eventually his infectious smile spread its way to my cheeks. Soon we were laughing together, me still soaking wet (which only made him laugh harder).
"In a bit of a rush, I figure?" he giggled. It was meant to be a harmless question, a gesture of conversation, but still my smile faded just a bit with the words.
"I guess you could say that."
The boy did not pick up on my dwindle in fervor, but instead looked up at the tree I was sat under. When his eyes found the apple, he asked, "Is that what you were trying to reach before? That apple?"
I nodded shyly, embarrassed by my failure, but he just shook his head good-naturedly, propped himself up on the root I was sat at, and easily plucked the fruit from its resting place on the branch. His height difference that overlooked mine made it where he didn't have to reach as far with as much trouble as I had.
He handed it to me meekly, a blush budding on his neck and ears. "Here you go, Miss."
I gingerly took it from him, wonder spreading on my face almost as bad as his blush had his.
"Th-thank you," I managed. When I looked up, I noticed for the first time his blue eyes but quickly averted my gaze, stuffing the apple into my sleeve.
And then I ran. Away from him, away from the lake, away from the forest. But that did not stop me from going back the next day, or the next, or the next. Each day I would find some new way to forage food and stay alive, but I never found the boy again.
A few days later I met Gale and after almost chopping each others' heads off we became friends. Turned out his father died as well in the battle against Coversell, and with my father's bows we became an inseparable team.
But I never forgot that boy by the lake, or the hope he handed over along with that apple.
We made eye contact. He didn't break it. This will be my end.