Disclaimer: I do not own anything in the Hunger Games universe. All names, characters, and places belong to their respective owners. Certain sections of this chapter were modeled after scenes from the books. This was not intended as copyright infringement.
The impact with the hard wooden floors of the bedroom knocks the wind out of me. My layers of skirts do little to soften the blow. Fortunately I slide between the wall and the bed, sparing my body the pain and certain death that would result from crashing into the headboard. The bedroom still shakes with explosions. I can't really hear them. I can't hear anything at the moment. But the explosion couldn't have only been aimed at us, because I can still feel the fury of raining debris crashing into the building. I manage to shield my face with my arms as shattered bits of matter, some of it burning, rain down around me through the dash in the bedroom wall. An acrid smoke fills the air, which is not the best remedy for someone trying to regain the ability to breathe.
It's must have been a hand grenade, crudely ineffective in the way the homemade devices tend to be. Even though I'm still struggling to breathe, I can't help but be thankful to the poor design that saved me from death.
But I don't have time to worry about my ear, I barely have time to think about Peeta, because I can still hear the rhythmic exchange of bullets and screams from around me. My worst fears have come true, it's a full waged attack, not just the actions of one misguided peasant.
After about a minute of lying there unresponsive, the floor stops vibrating and some sound returns to my ears. I can just faintly hear his voice calling to me from the other side of the bed.
"Katniss, Katniss, Katniss," he screams at me in desperation.
"Peeta," I flatten myself against the floor and peer at him from under the bed, "what's going on?"
Peeta slides against the carpeting, "Rebels, barbarians, probably a mix," he says, "nobody expected it to happen this soon."
I hold back my questions, whatever was going on at the moment didn't matter, "We're sitting ducks in here," I whisper to him, clutching my damaged ear as the assault of guns continues, "Somebody will be coming for us eventually and if they find us both of our heads will end up on stakes. We both know-"
I pause, my instincts perking up as I hear steps moving through the hallway, another victim being flung against the wall that separates our bedroom from the hallway. It's a girl, I can tell by the pleading, the agonizing scream that follows. Then there's laughter and congratulations from several voices. Someone cries out, "Another one dead," which gets a round of appreciative hoots.
"Three," Peeta murmurs against the floorboards, breaking our trance, "on the count of three, we race for the tunnels. I want you to follow me, and no matter what, don't look back."
"Okay," I affirm.
Peeta slides his foot from under the bed, "One, two, three!" he says, and at his mark we both leap from under the bed and race into my quarters, barely taking a second glance at the bloodied bodies of our guards that lay inside.
Peeta leads me to the door in my quarters, the one that my attendants use to quickly guide me through the palace. It takes him a moment to pry it open, and that pause is just enough for me to make the mistake of looking behind me. There's the girl, the dark skinned servant who sits in my quarters, lying underneath a section of debris.
"Don't, Katniss," Peeta pleads as he pops the door open, "don't look at her, whatever you do, keep on moving."
Peeta goes down the stairs first. With no lantern or candle to light our way, the only thing that breaks through the darkness is the sporadic boom that allows a moment of light to seep into the hallway.
When I feel the warm fresh blood seeping on to the front of my jacket, I place a hand to my left ear, the one that was turned toward the blast, and it comes away bloody.
"Peeta," I tap his shoulder, "my ear."
He doesn't stop or even respond, he just hands me his balled up handkerchief and keeps walking down the stairs. We're further down than I have ever gone before, a lot further, and I can't help but wonder where exactly are we going?
"How far down are we going?" I ask him, my voice low even though I'm certain nobody is listening.
"Not much father," he says, finally stopping at a rusty iron door that he proceeds to pull open.
The hallway we enter is dank and nearly pitch black until Peeta retrieves a torch from the hook along the hallway. The walls are a dark grey stone and the floors are nothing but dirt, I can't help but see the resemblance to one of those dungeons they have in older castles.
From what I can see, there seem to be an endless amount of possible directions to take, but Peeta moves swiftly and surely through the floor, making a dizzying amount of turns in what could only be compared to a labyrinth.
Our destination is nothing more than a large, solid stone bunker with a bolted steel door enclosing it. We're not the only people here either, twenty or so higher nobles and a few of their servants have filled the bunker by the time we are several guards down here too, one passed out against the wall, the others uniformly standing guard at the door, presumably waiting for Peeta's arrival.
The bunker was established in the dark days, when attacks from rebelling citizens and foreign countries were more prevalent, Peeta tells me. Very few nobles, a handpicked group of the most important people in the country and a few guards, actually know the directions to the room. Originally, the bunker was only meant for the immediate royal family, and there were only two entrances, the one located in our bedroom and another in the royal nursery, but eventually somebody decided to build a more accessible entrance and invited a few more nobles in on the secret.
The place seems unable to decide if it's utilitarian or ostentatious. Certain areas of the walls are rough stone, while white plaster and gilded moldings decorate others. Sleeping bunks are hewn right into the rock walls. Stacks of supplies fill the room, blankets, food staples, a small medical station. This place was designed for an extended stay.
The war continues to wage above us, even after hours in the bunker we still feel the occasional aftershock of a bomb. I end up playing cards with the small group of women in my age range, servants and nobles alike. Nobody has time to differentiate between the classes when there are so few of us and we are all equally starved for some sort of distracting entertainment.
I'm playing a round of bouillotte when Countess Johanna arrives, a distraught, weeping Annie in tow.
"God, Johanna, we assumed you were dead," Peeta exclaims as the two of them collapse into the room. Annie's dress is a little dirty naturally, with a thin layer of dusty debris covering the , but Johanna is completely disheveled. Her dark hair, which is usually pinned up in the latest fashion, sticks up from all directions, and her deep red gown is torn in more than a few places. Her appearance in comparison to Annie makes me question what exactly she has been up to in the past hours.
"Well, I couldn't just leave her," Johanna says with a shrug, motioning towards Annie slumped body.
Peeta relaxes a bit, "I know, Jo. I'm just worried about Finnick. If he's not here now," he trails off.
Johanna glances at Annie, "Finnick is strong, he'll take care of himself, he has know we will never get her back if anything happens," Johanna says, motioning towards Annie.
"You're right," he says with a sigh, "We won't."
After informing Peeta, in hushed tones no less, of the status above ground, Johanna plops down right next to me and joins the little card game the rest of us are playing.
"So, Princess," Countess Johanna says with a sarcastic air, "you any good at cards?"
Back in Seam playing cards weren't as big of an event, in the Capitol it seemed like it was the ladies ever did. I was good at some different games, the ones that involved strategy and pulling a blank face, but I never managed to do well at the ones that involved lying.
I shrug, "I suppose I'm decent."
Johanna scoots in a little closer, pulling a handful of cards from the pile, "Well, do you want to play for stakes? If anything is left over after this debacle, that is."
I lean in a little closer, "Are things that bad out there?"
She gives a sigh of defeat, "No, it's all candy and dandelions," she remarks with a guffaw, "What do you think it's like out there, Princess?"
I try to ignore her blatant distaste for me, slightly pleased that somebody wasn't bothering to kiss up to me, "And Duchess Anne?" I ask.
Johanna drops the sarcastic tone of her voice, "I found her like this, shaking and terrified, huddled up in some closet."
"But you saved her."
She glances downward, "With everything that has happened to her, I figured she would be holed up somewhere. I wasn't going to led some rebel tear her in two."
"What happened to her?" I ask, curious. Until now the Duchess had always seems like a normal, albeit a little skittish, lady of Panem.
One of the nameless ladies sitting across from us steps in, "You don't know? Oh, it was a topic of gossip for years! A while ago, when dear Anne was only a child, a few vagrant peasants who worked her parents' land stormed the family home. Killed both of her parents, her brother too, Anne only escaped because she had the sense to hide in her play closet. They say she didn't speak a single word for years. Surely you understand, Your Majesty, since you have lost both of your own."
I try to imagine what it would be like. To lose your entire family all at once and then have to live through another, very similar, attack.
"Why did they kill her parents? The peasants?" I ask. I had always imagined everybody in Panem was well clothed and fed, what reasons did they have to go after Annie's parents those years ago, or even us, now?
The woman shakes her head, "Oh, they felt were complaining about fairness, something silly. I don't keep track of those meaningless details."
Johanna gives a light laugh under her breath, "Well, that's one way to tell it. Until Finnick came around Annie wasn't exactly the sanest person in the world," she gives a shake of her head, "Who knows how scrambled her brain will end up this time around?"
After nearly eight hours spent in the bunker, we all turn in for the night. The men take shifts, one or two of them switching out with the guards every so often in order to ensure our safety.
Peeta and I get the largest bed. It's semi secluded, tucked away in the corner with curtains that we pull around so that we can have some quiet moments.
"I can't hide for much longer," Peeta tells me that night, his legs enwrapping mine as be both lay in dirty clothes we wore all day, "I'm a King, I can't play coward. Next morning, when the dust has settled and everybody has rested on today's actions, I will have to speak to the people, prepare my soldiers if necessary. We're not safe here forever."
And I don't respond, because all I can think about is the dead bodies, fathers and mothers, peasant and noble, that will be found in the morning.
There is no light when the day breaks the next morning, just the sound of shuffling feet as the guards prepare for Peeta's exit.
Johanna and I mess up Peeta's appearance a little bit. Dirt smudged on his cheeks, a button ripped from his jacket, little changes that make it seem like he did more than sit safely in an underground bunker while everybody else feared for their lives.
"Don't do anything stupid, Peeta," I catch his arm for a second, my mind internally begging him not to leave me here.
"I won't," he places his hand on mine, reassuring me, "I love you, alright. If something happens, please remember that."
Peeta leaves the safe house two hours after sunrise. Flanked by half of our guards he goes upground to do whatever he can to handle the situation.
Johanna and I play cards again, all of us do with the exception of Annie. Cards, cards, cards, the distraction becomes less and less effective when my own husband is the one up there risking his life.
"Why are they doing this?" I finally ask Johanna, my fingers fidgeting as I toss my cards to her in a round of defeat.
"You can't really be that simple? We all expected more from you, with your origins you were bound to be more than another frilly little girl living out the fantasy of queen. Quite a disappointment, if I do say so myself. Although I suppose you're more naive than simple, Peeta has surely done his best to shelter you," she gives a bitter laugh, "Everybody wants to keep the little Princess protected from the real world."
I flush with a mixture of embarrassment and confusion at her words. What was I missing, exactly?
"What do you mean?" I ask her.
"Oh Katniss," she says, not bothering to use my formal title,"Surely you have caught on by now? Your father's murder, that pretty cousin of yours visiting? Things are changing, people are getting tired of watching their oppressors live out their lives. Shouldn't you understand? I'm sure Seam still has some bitter feelings over the Dark Days."
I flush, "I'm not an idiot, I understand that the barbarians of the north are attacking, but the people of Panem? They are in prosperity, why would they want to harm those who have provided their wealth. I have ridden through their cities, been in their streets, and it's nothing like my homeland."
Johanna laughs, "You were protected, Princess, nobody let you see the worst of it. People aren't starving, not in the way they were in your country, but they are still angry, angry enough to join forces with the others," she shrugs, "Now don't get so worked up, hell was bound to fall on us eventually."
Peeta calms the people for a few days, gives a speech or something, allows his charming disposition to tide the majority over for a while. There are still riots, smaller though and not directed against the palace.
At the end of the day, sixty four nobles and thirty two commoners die in the attacks. Much to Annie's relief, Finnick is found alive, with nothing more than a few broken bones. The residence that Peeta and I shared suffers a tremendous amount of damage. They say that one of the supporting columns even collapsed, but I never get to verify the claim since I end up spending my hours in another safe room, far away from windows or outside light, for the sake of protection.
It's four solid days until I emerge from my prison of safety. For the sake of public appearances, I join Peeta on the forefront balcony as he gives a speech to the crowds.
The royal balcony is a large stone overhang that sits directly along the front side of the palace. We're not the only ones there, there are a few other nobles in our presence, even a handful of selected working class members are given spots for the sake of appearing 'unified'.
Overall, the speech that Peeta gives is mesmerizing. I had seen at him at work before, the way he crafted his words was almost an art, but today he's enchanting in a way that he had never demonstrated. He's more personal this time, he talks about the way his parents ruled, how he wants to change this nation for the better.
I don't take much notice to most of the actual words in Peeta's speech. Instead I take more notice to the rise in his voice as he speaks passionately to the crows. That is, until he mentions me.
"Although this is an unfortunate time for all of us, I am pleased to announce that there is a light of joy amongst the darkness of this time. My wife, your Queen, is with child. May your blessings fall upon our future heir."
Author's Note: Well, there is Chapter 19, I posted a day earlier than planned! Crazy as it may seem, I've been writing this story for over half a year now. What did you think about this chapter and the turn of events in this story?
As always, thank you to my wonderful beta, prisspanem. You can follow her on tumblr at prisspanem.
If you want to follow me on tumblr, you can find me at starveinsafety.
Historical Note: Bouillotte is a popular 18th century card game played during the French Revolution (which I thought was fitting).