Chapter no 13

The Selection (The Selection, #1)

DIDN’T REALLY HAVE THAT much time to feel ashamed or worried, all things considered. When my maids dressed me the next morning without a hint of worry, I assumed my presence downstairs would be welcome. Even allowing me to come down to breakfast showed a hint of kindness in Maxon I hadn’t been expecting: I got a last meal, a last moment as one of the beautiful Selected.

We were halfway through breakfast before Kriss worked up the courage to ask me about our date.

“How was it?” she asked quietly, the way we were meant to speak at mealtimes. But those three small words made ears all up and down the table perk up, and everyone within hearing distance was paying attention.

I took a breath. “Indescribable.”

The girls looked at one another, clearly hoping for more. “How did he act?” Tiny asked.

“Umm.” I tried to choose my words carefully. “Not at all how I expected he would.” This time, little murmurs went down the table.

“Are you being like that on purpose?” Zoe interjected. “If you are, it’s awfully mean.” I shook my head. How could I explain this? “No, it’s just that—”

But I was spared trying to form an answer by the confusing noises coming down the hallway.

The shouts were strange. In my very short time at the palace, not a single sound had registered as anything close to loud. Beyond that, there was a kind of music to the click of the guards’ shoes on the floor, the massive doors opening and closing, the forks touching the plates. This was complete and absolute mayhem.

The royal family seemed to understand it before the rest of us.

“To the back of the room, ladies!” King Clarkson yelled, and ran over to a window.

Girls, confused but not wanting to disobey, slowly moved toward the head table. The king was pulling down a shade, but it wasn’t the typical light-filtering kind. It was metal and squealed into place. Beside him Maxon came and drew down another. And beside Maxon the lovely and delicate queen was racing to pull down the next.

That was when the wave of guards made it into the dining hall. I saw a number of them lining up outside the room just before the monstrous doors were closed, bolted, and secured with bars.

“They’re inside the walls, Majesty, but we’re holding them back. The ladies should leave, but we’re so close to the door—”

“Understood, Markson,” the king replied, cutting off the sentence.

It didn’t take more than that for me to comprehend. There were rebels inside the grounds.

I’d figured it would come. This many guests in the palace, so many preparations going on. Surely someone would miss something somewhere and let our safety slip. And even if there were no easy way in, this would be an excellent time to mount a protest. At its barest of bones, the Selection was kind of disturbing. I was sure the rebels hated it along with everything else about Illéa.

But whatever their opinion, I wasn’t going down quietly.

I pushed my chair back so quickly it fell over, and I ran to the closest window to pull down the metal shade. A few other girls who understood how threatened we were did the same.

It took me only a moment to get the thing down, but locking it into place was a little more difficult. I had just managed to get the latch right when something crashed into the metal plate from outside the palace, sending me screaming backward until I tripped over my fallen chair and tumbled to the ground.

Maxon appeared immediately. “Are you hurt?”

I did a quick evaluation. I’d probably have a bruise on my hip, and I was scared, but that was the worst of it.

“No, I’m fine.”

“To the back of the room. Now!” he ordered as he helped me off the ground. He raced down the hall, snatching up girls who had begun to freeze up in fear and ushering them to the back corner.

I obeyed, running to the back of the room, toward the clusters of girls huddled together. Some of them were weeping; others were staring into space in shock. Tiny had fainted. The most reassuring sight was King Clarkson talking intently to a guard along the back wall, just far away enough that the girls wouldn’t hear. He had one arm wrapped protectively around the queen, who stood quietly and proudly beside him.

How many times had she survived attacks now? We got reports that these happened several times a year. That had to be unnerving. The odds were getting slimmer and slimmer for her … and her husband … and her only child. Surely, eventually, the rebels would figure out the right alignment of circumstances to get what they wanted. Yet she stood there, her chin set, her still face wearing a quiet calm.

I surveyed the girls. Did any of them have the strength it would take to be the queen? Tiny was still unconscious in someone’s arms. Celeste and Bariel were making conversation. I knew what Celeste looked like at ease, and this wasn’t it. Still, compared to the others, she hid her emotions well. Others were near hysterics, whimpering on their knees. Some had mentally shut down, blocking out the entire ordeal. Their faces were blank, and they absently wrung their hands, waiting for it to end.

Marlee was crying a little, but not so much that she looked like a wreck. I grabbed her arm and pulled her upright.

“Dry your eyes and stand up straight,” I barked into her ear. “What?” she squeaked.

“Trust me, do it.”

Marlee wiped her face on the side of her gown and stood up a little taller. She touched her face in several places, checking for smudged makeup, I guessed. Then she turned and looked at me for approval.

“Good job. Sorry to be so bossy, but trust me on this one, okay?” I felt bad ordering her around in the middle of something so distressing, but she had to look as calm as Queen Amberly. Surely Maxon would want that in his queen, and Marlee had to win.

Marlee nodded her head. “No, you’re right. I mean, for the time being, everyone is safe.

I shouldn’t be so worried.”

I nodded back to her, though she was most assuredly wrong. Everyone was not safe.

Guards waited on edge by the massive doors as heavy things were thrown against wall and windows again and again. There wasn’t a clock in here. I had no idea how long this attack was lasting, and that only made me more anxious. How would we know if they got inside? Would it only be once they started banging on the doors? Were they already inside and we just didn’t know it?

I couldn’t take the worry. I stared at a vase of ornate flowers—none of which I knew the names of—and bit away at one of my perfectly manicured nails. I pretended that those flowers were all that mattered in the world.

Eventually Maxon came by to check on me, as he had with the others. He stood beside me and stared at the flowers, too. Neither of us really knew what to say.

“Are you doing all right?” he finally asked. “Yes,” I whispered.

He paused a moment. “You seem unwell.”

“What will happen to my maids?” I asked, voicing my greatest worry. I knew I was safe. Where were they? What if one of them had been walking down the hall as the rebels made their way in?

“Your maids?” he asked in a tone that implied I was an idiot.

“Yes, my maids.” I looked into his eyes, shaming him into acknowledging that only a choice minority of the throngs who lived in the palace were actually being protected. I was on the verge of tears. I didn’t want them to come, and I was breathing rapidly trying to keep my emotions at bay.

He looked into my eyes and seemed to understand that I was only one step up from being a maid myself. That wasn’t the reason for my worry, but it did seem strange that a lottery was the main difference between someone like Anne and me.

“They should be hiding by now. The help have their own places to wait. The guards are very good about getting around quickly and alerting everyone. They ought to be fine. We usually have an alarm system, but the last time they came through, the rebels thoroughly dismantled it. They’ve been working on fixing it, but…” Maxon sighed.

I looked at the floor, trying to quiet all the worries in my head. “America,” he begged.

I turned to Maxon.

“They’re fine. The rebels were slow, and everyone here knows what to do in an emergency.”

I nodded. We stood there quietly for a minute, and I could tell he was about to move on. “Maxon,” I whispered.

He turned back, a little surprised to be addressed so casually.

“About last night. Let me explain. When they came to prep us, to get us ready to come here, there was a man who told me that I was never to turn you down. No matter what you asked for. Not ever.”

He was dumbfounded. “What?”

“He made it sound like you might ask for certain things. And you said yourself that you hadn’t been around many women. After eighteen years … and then you sent the cameras away. I just got scared when you got that close to me.”

Maxon shook his head, trying to process all this. Humiliation, rage, and disbelief all played across his typically even-tempered face.

“Was everyone told this?” he asked, sounding appalled at the idea.

“I don’t know. I can’t imagine many girls would need such a warning. They’re probably waiting to pounce on you,” I noted, nodding my head toward the rest of the room.

He gave a dark chuckle. “But you’re not, so you had absolutely no qualms about kneeing me in the groin, right?”

“I hit your thigh!”

“Oh, please. A man doesn’t need that long to recover from a knee to the thigh,” he replied, his voice full of skepticism.

A laugh escaped me. Thankfully, Maxon joined in. Just then another mass hit the windows, and we stopped in unison. For a moment I had forgotten where I was.

“So how are you handling a roomful of crying women?” I asked.

There was a comical bewilderment in his expression. “Nothing in the world is more confusing!” he whispered urgently. “I haven’t the faintest clue how to stop it.”

This was the man who was going to lead our country: the guy rendered useless by tears.

It was too funny.

“Try patting them on the back or shoulder and telling them everything is going to be fine. Lots of times when girls cry, they don’t want you to fix the problem, they just want to be consoled,” I advised.

“Really?” “Pretty much.”

“It can’t possibly be that simple.” Intrigue and doubt played in his voice.

“I said most of the time, not all the time. But it would probably work for a lot of the girls here.”

He snorted. “I’m not so sure. Two have already asked if I’ll let them leave if this ever ends.”

“I thought we weren’t allowed to do that.” I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. If he had agreed to let me stay on as a friend, he couldn’t be too concerned with technicalities. “What are you going to do?”

“What else can I do? I won’t keep someone here against her will.” “Maybe they’ll change their minds,” I offered hopefully.

“Maybe.” He paused. “What about you? Have you been scared off yet?” he asked almost playfully.

“Honestly? I was convinced you were sending me home after breakfast anyway,” I admitted.

“Honestly? I had considered that myself.”

There was a quiet smile between us. Our friendship—if I could even call it that—was obviously awkward and flawed, but at least it was honest.

“You didn’t answer me. Do you want to leave?”

Another something hit the wall, and the idea sounded appealing. The worst attack I’d gotten at home was Gerad trying to steal my food. The girls here didn’t care for me, the clothes were stifling, people were trying to hurt me, and the whole thing felt uncomfortable. But it was good for my family and nice to be full. Maxon did seem a bit lost, and I’d get to stay away from him for a little bit longer. And who knew, maybe I could help pick out the next princess.

I looked Maxon in the eye. “If you’re not kicking me out, I’m not leaving.”

He smiled. “Good. You’ll need to tell me more tricks like this shoulder-patting thing.” I smiled back. Yes, it was all wrong, but some good would come out of this. “America, could you do me a favor?”

I nodded.

“As far as anyone knows, we spent a lot of time together yesterday evening. If anyone asks, could you please tell them that I’m not … that I wouldn’t…”

“Of course. And I really am sorry about everything.”

“I should have known that if any girl was going to disobey an order, it would be you.” A collection of heavy objects hit the wall at once, making a handful of girls scream. “Who are they? What do they want?” I asked.

“Who? The rebels?” I nodded.

“Depends on who you ask. And which group you’re talking about,” he answered.

“You mean there’s more than one?” That made the entire experience much worse. If this was one group, what could two or more do together? As far as I knew, a rebel was a rebel was a rebel, but Maxon made it sound like some could be worse than others. “How many are there?”

“Two generally, the Northerners and the Southerners. The Northerners attack much more frequently. They’re closer. They live in the rainy patch of Likely near Bellingham, just north of here. No one really wants to live there—it’s practically all ruins—so they’ve made it a home of sorts, though I guess they travel. The traveling is one theory of mine— one no one listens to. But they’re far less likely to break in, and when they do the results are … tame almost. I’d guess that this is a Northern job right now,” he said over the din.

“Why? What makes them so different from the Southerners?”

Maxon seemed to hesitate, unsure if this information was something I should know. He looked around to see if anyone could hear us. I looked around, too, and saw that several people were watching us. In particular, Celeste looked like she was trying to set me on fire with her eyes. I didn’t keep eye contact for long. Still, even with all the onlookers, no one was close enough to hear. When Maxon came to the same conclusion, he leaned in to whisper.

“Their attacks are much more … lethal.” I shivered. “Lethal?”

He nodded. “They only come about once or twice a year, as best I can tell from the aftermath. I think that everyone here is trying to protect me from the statistics, but I’m not stupid. People die when they come. The trouble is, both groups look alike to us—dingy, mostly men, lean but strong, no sort of emblem as far as we can tell—so we don’t know what we’re getting until it’s all over.”

I looked around the room. A lot of people were in danger if Maxon was wrong and they happened to be Southerners. I thought of my poor maids again.

“But I still don’t understand. What do they want?”

Maxon shrugged. “The Southerners appear to want us demolished. I don’t know why, but I’m guessing some dissatisfaction or another, tired of living on the fringes of society. I mean, they’re not even Eights technically, since they have no part in the social network. But the Northerners are a bit of a mystery. Father says they just want to bother us, disrupt our governing, but I don’t think so.” He looked rather proud for a moment. “I have another theory about that as well.”

“Do I get to know it?”

Maxon hesitated again. I guessed this time it wasn’t so much out of fear of scaring me, but perhaps not being taken seriously.

He came close again and whispered, “I think they’re looking for something.” “What?” I wondered.

“That I don’t know. But it’s always the same around here after the Northerners come. Guards are knocked out, injured, or tied up, but never killed. It’s like they just don’t want to be followed around. Though some people get taken with them, and that’s a bit disturbing. And then the rooms—well, all the ones they can get into—they’re a mess. Every drawer pulled out, shelves searched, carpet upturned. Lots of things get broken. You wouldn’t believe the number of cameras I’ve replaced over the years.”


“Oh,” he said bashfully. “I like photography. But despite all that, they don’t end up taking much. Father thinks my idea is rubbish, of course. What could a bunch of illiterate barbarians be looking for? Still, I think there must be something.”

It was intriguing. If I was penniless and knew how to break into the palace, I think I’d take every piece of jewelry I could find, anything I could sell. These rebels must have something in mind beyond a mere political statement or their day-to-day survival in mind when they came here.

“Do you think it’s silly?” Maxon asked, bringing me out of my wonderings. “No, not silly. Confusing, but not silly.”

We shared a small smile. I realized that if Maxon had simply been Maxon Schreave and not Maxon, future king of Illéa, he would be the kind of person I would have wanted to be my next-door neighbor, someone to talk to.

He cleared his throat. “I suppose I should finish my rounds.”

“Yes, I imagine there are quite a few ladies wondering what’s taking you so long.” “So, buddy, any suggestions as to whom I should speak with next?”

I smiled and looked behind me to make sure my candidate for princess was still holding it together. She was.

“See the blond girl over there in the pink? That’s Marlee. Sweetheart, very kind, loves movies. Go.”

Maxon chuckled and walked in her direction.

The time in the dining hall felt like an eternity, but the attack had only lasted a little over an hour. We found out later that no one had actually gotten inside the palace, just inside the grounds. The guards didn’t shoot at the rebels until they tried for the main doors, which accounted for the bricks—bricks that had been gouged out of the palace walls—and rotten food being thrown at the windows for so long.

In the end, two men got too close to the doors, shots were fired, and they all fled. If Maxon’s labels were correct, I would assume these were Northerners.

They kept us tucked away for a little while longer, searching the perimeter of the palace. When everything was as it should be, we were released to our rooms. I walked arm in arm with Marlee. Despite holding it together downstairs, the strain of the attack had exhausted me, and I was glad to have someone to distract me from it.

“He let you have the pants anyway?” she asked. I had started talking about Maxon as soon as I could, eager to know how their conversation had gone.

“Yeah. He was very generous about it all.”

“I think it’s charming that he’s a good winner.”

“He is a good winner. He’s even gracious when he’s gotten the raw end of things.” Like a knee to the royal jewels, for example.

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing.” I didn’t want to explain that one. “What did you two talk about today?” “Well, he asked me if I’d like to see him this week.” She blushed.

“Marlee! That’s great!”

“Hush!” she said, looking around, though the rest of the girls had already ascended the stairs. “I’m trying not to get my hopes up.”

We were quiet for a minute before she burst.

“Who am I kidding? I’m so excited I can barely stand it! I hope he won’t take too long to call on me.”

“If he’s already asked, I’m sure he’ll follow through soon. I mean, after he finishes running the country for the day, that is.”

She laughed. “I can’t believe this! I mean, I knew he was handsome, but I wasn’t sure how he’d behave. I was worried he’d be… I don’t know, stuffy or something.”

“Me, too. But he’s actually…” What was Maxon actually? He was sort of stuffy, but not in a way that was as off-putting as I’d imagined. Undeniably a prince, but still so … so… “Normal.”

Marlee wasn’t looking at me anymore. She’d lost herself in a daydream as we walked. I hoped that this image of Maxon that she was building was one he could deliver. And that she would be the kind of girl he wanted. I left her at her door with a small wave and went on to my room.

My thoughts of Marlee and Maxon flew out of my head as soon as I opened the door. Anne and Mary were crouched around a very distressed Lucy. Her face was red with tears

falling down her cheeks; her usual tiny trembles were full-on shakes, racking her entire body.

“Calm down now, Lucy, everything’s fine,” Anne was whispering as she stroked Lucy’s messy hair.

“Everything is over now. No one was hurt. You’re safe, dear,” Mary cooed, holding a twitching hand.

I was too shocked to speak. This moment was Lucy’s private struggle, not meant for my eyes. I went to back out of my room, but Lucy caught me before I could back away.

“S-s-sorry, Lady, Lady, Lady…,” she stammered. The others looked up with anxious expressions.

“Don’t trouble yourself. Are you all right?” I asked, closing the door so no one else would see.

Lucy tried to start again, but couldn’t form the words. Her tears and the shaking were overwhelming her little body.

“She’ll be fine, miss,” Anne interceded. “It takes a few hours, but she calms down once everything’s quiet. If it stays bad, we can take her to the hospital wing.” Anne dropped her voice. “Only Lucy doesn’t want that. If they think you’re unfit, they hide you down in the laundry rooms or the kitchen. Lucy likes being a maid.”

I didn’t know who Anne thought she was hiding her voice from. We were all surrounding Lucy, and she could hear those words clearly, even in her state.

“P-p-please, miss. I don’t—I don’t—I…,” she tried.

“Hush. No one’s turning you in,” I told her. I looked to Anne and Mary. “Help me get her on the bed.”

With the three of us it should have been easy, but Lucy was writhing so that her arms and legs would slip from our hands. It took quite a bit of effort to get her settled. Once we tucked her under the covers, the comfort of the bed seemed to do more than our words could. Lucy’s shudders became slower, and she stared vacantly at the canopy above the bed.

Mary sat on the edge of the bed and started humming a tune, reminding me all too much of the way I would baby May when she was sick. I pulled Anne into a corner, far away from Lucy’s ears.

“What happened? Did someone get through?” I asked. I would expect to be told if that were the case.

“No, no,” Anne assured me. “Lucy always gets like this when the rebels come. Just talking about them will send her into a crying fit. She…”

Anne looked down to her polished black shoes, trying to decide if she should tell me something. I didn’t want to pry into Lucy’s life, but I did want to understand. She took a deep breath and started.

“Some of us were born here. Mary was born in the castle, and her parents are still here. I was an orphan, taken in because the palace needed staff.” She straightened her dress, as if she could rub off this piece of her history that seemed to bother her. “Lucy was sold to the palace.”

“Sold? How can that be? There aren’t slaves here.”

“Not technically, no, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Lucy’s family needed money for an operation for her mother. They gave their services over to a family of Threes in exchange for the money. Her mother never got better, they never made their way out of the debt, so Lucy and her father had been living with this family for ages. From what I understand, it wasn’t much better than living in a barn with the way they were kept.

“The son had taken a liking to Lucy, and I know sometimes it doesn’t matter what caste you’re in, but Six to Three is quite a jump. When his mother discovered his intentions for

Lucy, she sold her and her father to the palace. I remember when she came. Cried for days. They must have been terribly in love.”

I looked over at Lucy. At least in my case, one of us got to make the decision. She had no choice when it came to losing the man she loved.

“Lucy’s dad works in the stables. He’s not very fast or strong, but he’s incredibly dedicated. And Lucy is a maid. I know it might seem silly to you, but it’s an honor to be a maid in the palace. We are the front line. We are the ones deemed fit enough and smart enough and attractive enough to be seen by anyone who comes to call. We take our positions seriously, and with reason. If you screw up, you’re put in the kitchen, where your fingers are working all day, and the clothes are baggy. Or you chop firewood or rake the grounds. It’s no small thing to be a maid.”

I felt stupid. In my mind, they were all Sixes. But there were rankings even within that, statuses that I didn’t understand.

“Two years ago, there was an attack on the palace in the middle of the night. They got the guards’ uniforms, and everyone was confused. It was such disarray, no one knew who to attack or defend, and people slipped through holes in the lines … it was terrifying.”

I shuddered just thinking about it. The dark, the confusion, the wide expanse of the palace. Compared to this morning, it sounded like the work of Southerners.

“One of the rebels got ahold of Lucy.” Anne ducked her eyes for a minute. She spoke her next lines quietly. “I’m not sure they have very many women with them, if you catch my meaning.”


“I didn’t see this myself, but Lucy told me that this man was covered in grime. She said he kept licking her face.”

Anne cringed away from the thought. My stomach heaved, threatening to bring up my breakfast. It was positively revolting, and I could see how someone who’d already been as scarred as Lucy would break under that kind of attack.

“He was dragging her off somewhere, and she was screaming as loud as she could. In the commotion, it was hard to hear her cries. But another guard came around the corner, a real one. He took aim and fired a bullet right through the man’s head. The rebel fell to the ground, pinning Lucy. She was covered in blood.”

I covered my mouth. I couldn’t imagine delicate little Lucy going through all that. No wonder she reacted this way.

“She was treated for some cuts, but no one ever really saw to her mind. She’s a little jittery now but tries to hide it as best she can. And it’s not just for her sake, but her father’s. He’s so proud that his daughter is good enough to be a maid. She doesn’t want to let him down. We try to keep her calm, but every time the rebels come, she thinks it’s going to be worse. Someone’s going to take her this time, hurt her, kill her.

“She’s trying, miss, but I’m not sure how much more of this she can stand.”

I nodded, looking over to Lucy in the bed. She had closed her eyes and fallen asleep, even though it was still quite early.

I spent the rest of the day reading. Anne and Mary cleaned things that weren’t dirty. We all stayed quiet while Lucy recovered.

I promised myself that, if I could help it, Lucy wouldn’t have to go through that again.

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