Chapter no 10

The Heir (The Selection, 4)

WE MADE IT THROUGH THE first day, the first dinner, and the first evening without further incident. As the cameras circled the dining hall, I could hear the men working them sigh in boredom. I didn’t address anyone in the group, and the boys themselves seemed too nervous even to speak to one another.

I could hear Dad’s thoughts as clearly as if they were my own.

This is dull! No one will want to see this! How will this buy us a single second let alone three months?

He glanced over at me a few times, begging me with his eyes to do something, anything, to make this worth enduring. I was at war with myself. I didn’t want to fail him, but any warmth on my part today would set a bad precedent. They needed to know that I wasn’t going to fawn over them.

‌I told myself not to worry. In the morning everything would change.

The following day the boys were dressed in their best, ready for the parade. An army of people swarmed on the front lawn, ready to prep us to go beyond the gates.

Dad was proud of this idea, my biggest contribution to the Selection so far. I thought it would be exciting to have a short parade, something never done before. I felt certain this would give everyone something to talk about.

“Good morning, Your Highness,” one of the boys greeted. I remembered Ean in an instant, and after yesterday it was no surprise he was the first one to speak to me.

“And to you.” I walked on, not slowing, though many of the others bowed or called my name. I only stopped to be briefed by one of the guards heading up the process.

“It’s a short loop, Your Highness. At under ten miles an hour, it should take twenty to thirty minutes to make our way around. Guards are lining the route for good measure, but everyone is so excited, it should be a very fun event.”

I clasped my hands calmly in front of me. “Thank you, officer. I appreciate your work to make this happen.”

He pressed his lips together, attempting to hide his proud smile. “Anything for you, Your Highness.”

He went to walk away, but I called him back. The officer puffed out his

chest, so pleased to be needed again. I looked around at the swarm of young men, dazed by their number, trying to make the smartest choice.

‌I saw Henri’s wild hair blowing in the wind and smiled to myself. He stood on the outside of a group, listening to what they were saying and nodding, though I was sure he couldn’t understand anything going on around him. I didn’t see his translator and wondered if Henri had banished him for the day.

I searched again, hunting . . . and found one boy who really knew how to wear a suit. It wasn’t that he looked like a model but more like he understood the fine art of tailoring and had set his butler to work immediately on his choice for the day. Also, I couldn’t get over his two-toned shoes. Thank goodness I remembered his name.

“When I’m up there, I’d like Mr. Garner on one side and Mr. Jaakoppi on the other, please.”

“Certainly, Your Highness. I’ll take care of it.”

I turned and looked at the float. They’d taken the frame of one of the Christmas floats and adorned it with thousands of summer blooms. It was festive and beautiful, and the scent of the flowers permeated the air. I inhaled, and the clean, sweet smell soothed every piece of me.

Over the walls I could hear the shouts of people who had lined up for this moment. Whatever ways I’d failed last night would be more than forgotten today.

“All right, gentlemen.” General Leger’s voice boomed over the din. “I need you all to line up along the path, and we’ll get you up safely.”

‌Mom was in the back with Dad, who had picked up a few stray flowers that had blown off the float and stuck them in her hair. She looked at him with absolute adoration as he stepped away with his camera.

He circled the group, snapping pictures. He got plenty of the boys, some of the fountain, and a couple of me.

“Dad!” I whispered, a little embarrassed.

He winked and backed away, still taking shots but in a less obvious way. “Your Highness,” General Leger said, placing a hand on my back. “We’re

going to send you up last. I heard you wanted Henri and Hale beside you, is that right?”


“Good picks. They’re polite ones. Okay, we’ll be ready to go in a moment.”

He walked over to my mother and relayed something to her. She seemed uneasy, but General Leger made motions with his hands, attempting to reassure her. Dad was a little harder to read from here. Either he wasn’t

bothered at all, or he was hiding it very well.

The boys were led up the hidden ladder, and I paced as I waited for my turn. Along the wall, mixed in with a few guards and guests, I noticed Henri’s translator standing, arms crossed, watching the scene. He bit at a fingernail, and I shook my head, walking over.

“Don’t do that,” I started, trying to be firm without being rude. “You don’t want the cameras to catch you with your fingers in your mouth, do you?”

‌He whipped his hand down immediately. “I’m sorry, Your Highness.” “Not going up there?” I nodded toward the massive float.

He smiled. “No, Your Highness. I think Henri can wave without interpretation.” Still, I felt the nerves buzzing around him.

“He’ll be right beside me,” I assured him. “I’ll try to make sure he knows what’s going on.”

The translator let out a massive sigh. “That makes this far less distressing.

And he’s going to be so excited. He talks about you every waking moment.” I laughed. “Well, it’s hardly been a day. I’m sure it’ll pass.”

“I don’t think so. He’s in awe of you, of everything, really. The experience alone is big for him. His family has worked hard to establish themselves, and that he finds himself in a place where he can have even a second of your attention . . . he’s so happy.”

I looked up at Henri, straightening his tie as he waited on the front of the float. “Is that what he told you?”

“Not in so many words. He’s aware of how fortunate he is, and he sees so many good things in you. He goes on and on.”

I smiled sadly. It would have been nice if he could say as much to me. “Were you born in Swendway, too?”

He shook his head. “No. First generation to be born in Illéa. But my parents are trying to hold on to our old customs and things, so we live in a small Swendish community in Kent.”

“Like Henri?”

‌“Yes. They’re becoming more and more common. When Henri was Selected, his family put out a call for a reliable translator, and I submitted my résumé, flew to Sota, and now I have a new job.”

“So you’ve only known Henri for . . . ?”

“A week. But we’ve already spent so much time together and get along so well, I feel like I’ve known him for years.” He spoke with a sweet affection, brotherly in a way.

“I feel so rude—I don’t even know your name.” He bowed. “I’m Erik.”



“Huh. I expected something a bit different.”

He shrugged. “Well, that’s the closest translation.”

“Your Highness?” General Leger called, and that was my cue. “I’ll watch out for him,” I promised, scurrying over to the float.

The ladder was a challenge. I had to conquer it while wearing heels and holding my dress with one hand, which meant I had to let go of one rung before grabbing the next, and I was particularly proud of myself for managing that on my own.

I brushed back my hair as I went to take my place. Henri turned to me immediately.

“Hello today, Your Highness.” His blond curls were lifted by the breeze, and he smiled brightly.

‌I touched his shoulder. “Good morning, Henri. Call me Eadlyn.” He scrunched his face, a little confused. “Say to you Eadlyn?” “Yes.”

He gave me a thumbs-up, and I patted myself on the back for putting him beside me. In seconds he left me smiling. I leaned behind Henri, looking between the others to find Erik on the ground and gave him a thumbs-up, too. He smiled and put a hand over his heart like he was relieved.

I faced Hale. “How are you today?”

“Good,” he said tentatively. “Listen, I wanted to apologize again for yesterday. I didn’t mean to—”

I waved my hand, stopping him. “No, no. As I’m sure you can imagine, this is a bit stressful for me.”

“Yes. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.”

“I would want to be in yours!” I exclaimed, looking down. “I love these!” “Thank you. Do they work all right with the tie? I like to experiment, but

I’m starting to second-guess.” “No. You make it all work.”

Hale beamed, thrilled to be past his first impression and on to the second. “So, it was you who said you’d prove yourself to me each day, yes?” “Indeed it was.” He seemed pleased I remembered.

“And how will you do that today?”

He considered. “If you feel the slightest bit unsteady, my hand is here for you. And I promise not to let you fall.”

“I like that one. You think you’ve got it bad, try this in heels.” “We’re opening the gates!” someone called. “Hold on!”

‌I waved good-bye to Mom and Dad, then grabbed on to the bar surrounding the top of the float. It wasn’t too far of a drop if someone fell, but

for the five of us across the front, there was a chance we’d get flattened by the float if we did. Hale and Henri were steady, just as I’d hoped, but plenty of the others clapped or shouted out self-encouragements. Burke, for one, kept yelling “We’ve got this!” even though all he really had to do was stand and wave.

The moment the gates opened, the cheering erupted. As we rounded the corner, I could see the first camp of cameras filming every second. Some people had signs supporting their favorite Selected boy or were waving the Illéan flag.

“Henri, look!” I said, leaning into him and pointing to a sign with his name on it.

He took a moment to understand. Then when he finally saw his name, he gasped. “Hey!” He was so excited, he lifted my hand off his shoulder and kissed it. Had anyone else done that it might have been unwelcome, but from him, the gesture felt so innocent, I wasn’t bothered at all.

“We love you, Princess Eadlyn,” someone called, and I waved in the direction of the sound.

“Long live the king!” “Bless you, Princess!”

‌I mouthed my thanks to them for their support, and I felt encouraged. It wasn’t every day that I saw my people face-to-face, heard their voices, and sensed how they needed us. I knew they loved me, of course. I was going to be their queen. But typically, when I did leave the palace, the focus was on Mom or Dad. It felt amazing to have so much of the affection finally centered on me. Maybe I could be as beloved as my father.

The parade went on, with people calling our names and throwing flowers. It was turning out to be the spectacle I’d hoped. I couldn’t have asked for anything better, until we reached the final stretch of the route.

Something hit me that was clearly not a flower. I looked to see a runny egg dripping down my dress and onto my bare legs. After that, half a tomato hit me, then something else I couldn’t identify.

I dropped down, covering myself with my arms. “We need jobs!” someone shrieked.

“The castes still live!”

I peeked out and saw a cluster of people protesting and hurling their rotten food at the float. Some held angry signs they must have hidden from the guards until now, and others threw disgusting words at me, calling me things that I’d never imagined even the worst of people saying.

Hale dropped down and lay in front of me, wrapping an arm around my shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.”

“I don’t understand,” I mumbled.

Henri got down on one knee, trying to hit anything that came near us, and Hale guarded me without wavering, even though I heard him grunt and felt him clench up when he was hit with something heavy.

‌I recognized General Leger’s voice shouting at the Selected to get down. As soon as everyone was low and secure, the float sped up, moving faster than it was probably designed to. People who actually cared about the parade booed as we hurtled past them, stealing their opportunity to catch a glimpse of the whole entourage.

I heard the float hit the gravel of the palace driveway, and the instant we came to a stop I pulled back from Hale and jumped to my feet. I hurried to the ladder and worked my way down.

“Eadlyn!” Mom cried. “I’m fine.”

Dad stood in shock. “Love, what happened?”

“Hell if I know.” I stormed off, humiliated. As if the whole thing wasn’t embarrassing enough, the sad eyes of everyone around me made it even worse.

Poor thing, their expressions seemed to say. And I hated their pity more than I hated the people who thought this was acceptable.

I scurried through the palace, head down, hoping no one would stop me. It wasn’t my lucky day, of course, because as I rounded onto the landing of the second floor, Josie was there.

“Ew! What happened to you?”

I didn’t answer, moving even faster. Why? What had I done to deserve this?

Neena was cleaning when I walked in. “Miss?” “Help,” I whimpered before bursting into tears.

‌She came over and embraced me, getting my mess all over her pristine uniform. “Hush now. We’ll clean you up. You get undressed, and I’ll start the bath.”

“Why would they do this to me?” “Who did it?”

“My people!” I answered in pain. “My subjects. Why would they do this?”

Neena swallowed, disappointed for my sake. “I don’t know.”

I wiped at my face and makeup, and something green came off on my hand. The tears fell again.

“Let me start that bath.”

She scurried away, and I stood there, helpless.

I knew the water would get rid of the mess, and I knew it would take away the smell, but no amount of scrubbing would ever wash away this memory.

Hours later I was scrunched up on a chair in Dad’s sitting room, bundled in my coziest sweater. Despite the heat, my clothes were my only armor at the moment, and the layers made me feel safe. Mom and Dad were both drinking something a little stronger than wine—a rare occasion—though it didn’t appear to be doing much for their nerves.

Ahren knocked but came in before anyone answered the door. Our eyes met, and I rushed across the room, throwing my arms around him.

“Sorry, Eady,” he said, kissing my hair. “Thanks.”

‌“Glad you could come, Ahren.” Dad was looking at some of the stills from the parade that the photographers had provided him, stacking them on top of several of today’s papers.

“Of course.” He put his arm around my shoulder and walked me to my seat, going to stand with Dad while I curled back up into a ball.

“I still can’t believe this happened,” Mom said, reaching the bottom of her glass. I could see her weighing in her head whether or not to have another. She decided against it.

“Me either,” I mumbled, still suffering under the surge of hatred those people felt for me. “What did I do?”

“Nothing,” Mom assured me, coming to sit beside me. “They’re mad at the monarchy, not you. Today your face was the one they could see, and that’s the one they attacked. It could have been any of us.”

“I felt so certain a Selection would lift their mood. I thought they would delight in this.” Dad stared at the pictures, still shocked.

We sat silent for a while. He’d been so wrong.

“Well,” Ahren started. “They might have if it wasn’t Eadlyn.” We all gaped at him.

“Excuse me?” I nearly started crying all over again, pained by his cruel words. “Mom just said it could have been you or her or anyone. So why are you blaming me?”

‌He pursed his lips, looking around the room. “Fine. We’ll talk about this. If Eadlyn was a typical girl, one who wasn’t raised to be in control all the time, this would probably look different. But pick up any of those papers,” he said, gesturing to the pile. Dad did. “In general she comes across as distant, and every picture from last night’s dinner is uncomfortable to look at. You’re nearly scowling in some of them.”

“If you were in my shoes, you’d know how hard this is.”

Ahren rolled his eyes at me. More than anyone, he knew I wasn’t intending to pick a mate in the next few months.

Mom left me and peeked over Dad’s shoulder. “He’s right. On your own, you look like an island, and with the Selected there’s no chemistry, no romance.”

“Listen, I’m not performing for anyone. I refuse to act all dopey over a bunch of boys to entertain people.” I crossed my arms, determined.

Two days in and this was already a disaster. I knew it wouldn’t work, and now I was stuck in this humiliating situation. Could they dare ask me to sink further into shame for the sake of something that clearly wasn’t going to help? The room went silent, and, foolishly, I thought for a moment that I’d won. “Eadlyn.” I looked at Dad, trying not to be moved by the pleading in his eyes. “You promised me three months. We’re trying hard to brainstorm on our end, but we can’t extinguish that fire if we’re dealing with new ones. I need

you to try.”

In that moment I saw something I hadn’t really noticed before: his age. Dad wasn’t old by any stretch of the word, but he had done more in his lifetime than most people twice his age could even hope for. He was in a constant state of sacrifice—for Mom, for us, for his people—and he was exhausted.

‌I swallowed, knowing that I’d need to find a way to look like I cared about the Selection, if only for his sake. “I assume you know how to get in touch with the press?”

Dad nodded. “Yes. We have trusted photographers and journalists on call.”

“Get a few cameras in the Men’s Parlor tomorrow morning. I’ll take care of this.”

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