The Selection (The Selection 1) - Page 63

“Thank you for delivering this girl. You can leave,” a guard said to my maids.

“No! They’re with me. They’re staying,” I said with authority.

“Miss, they have their own places to be,” he countered.

“Fine. They don’t go in, I don’t go in. I’m sure Prince Maxon will appreciate knowing that my absence is your doing. Let’s go, ladies.” I pulled on Mary and Lucy’s hands. Anne was shocked into stillness.

“Wait! Wait! Fine, go inside. But if anyone has an issue with it, it’s on your hands.”

“Not a problem,” I said. I turned the girls and walked into the safe room with my head held high.

There was a clamor of activity inside. Some girls were huddled together crying, others were in prayer. I saw the king and queen sitting alone, surrounded by more guards. Beside them, Maxon was holding Elayna’s hand. She looked a little shaken but obviously felt calmer with him touching her. I looked at the royal family’s position … so close to the door. I wondered if it was like a captain going down with his ship. They’d do everything to keep this place afloat, but if it went down, they’d be the first ones to drown.

Their little group saw my entrance and noted the company I was keeping. I took in the confused expressions on their faces, nodded once, and continued to walk with my head high. I figured so long as I looked sure of myself, no one would question me.

I was wrong.

I took three more steps and Silvia walked up. She looked incredibly calm. This was all obviously old news for her.

“Good. Some help. Girls, you will immediately get to the water stores in the back and begin serving refreshments to the royal family and the ladies. Get going, now,” she commanded.

“No.” I turned to Anne and gave her my first real order. “Anne, please take some refreshments to the king, queen, and prince and then come join me.” I faced Silvia. “The rest can fend for themselves. They chose to leave their maids alone, they can get their own damn water. Mine will be sitting with me. Come, ladies.”

I knew we were close enough to the royals that they would have heard me. In my quest to have a level of authority, I’d spoken a little too loudly. But I didn’t care if they thought I was rude. Lucy was more frightened than most of the people in this room. She was trembling head to foot, and there was no way I’d have her serving people half her equal in goodness in her state.

Perhaps it was all my years as a big sister, but I just had to keep these girls safe.

We found a little space in the back of the room. Whoever usually kept this place ready must not have been prepared for the influx the Selection would cause, because there weren’t nearly enough chairs in here. But I saw the stores of food and water and could tell they would get us through months down here, if the need arose.

It was a funny little array of people. Obviously, several officials had been up working through the night, and they were in suits. Maxon himself was still dressed. But nearly all the girls were in their thin nightgowns that helped you sleep in the warmth of the rooms upstairs. Not all of them had been able to get a robe on in their haste to leave. I was even a little chilly under mine.

Many of the girls had piled themselves toward the front of the room. Obviously, they’d be the first to die if someone got through the door. But if they didn’t, think of all the time spent right in front of Maxon! A few were closer to where we were, and most of them were in a similar state as Lucy—shaking, tearful, and petrified with worry.

I pulled Lucy under an arm and Mary cuddled her from the other side. There wasn’t anything to say about the situation that was pleasant, so we stayed quiet, listening to the clamor of the room. The jangle of voices reminded me of the first day here, when they were giving us makeovers. I closed my eyes and pictured that action with the sound in an attempt to make myself as calm as I appeared.

“Are you okay?”

I looked up and there was Aspen, glorious in his uniform. His tone was very official, and he didn’t seem shaken by the situation at all. I sighed.

“Yes, thank you.”

We were quiet for a moment, watching people get settled in the room. Mary had obviously been exhausted—she was already asleep and leaning heavily on Lucy’s side. Lucy was fairly calm, all things considered. She’d stopped crying and just sat there looking at Aspen with a kind of wonder in her eyes.

“It was good of you to bring your maids. Not everyone would be so kind to people considered beneath them,” he said.

“Castes never meant that much to me,” I said quietly. He gave me the smallest smile.

Lucy took in a breath like she was going to ask Aspen a question, but a loud yelling coursed through the chamber. A guard on the far end of the room was barking instructions for us to all silence ourselves.

Aspen walked away, which was good. I feared someone would be able to see something.

“That was the same guard from earlier, wasn’t it?” Lucy asked.

“Yes, it was.”

“I’ve seen him guarding your door lately. He’s awfully friendly,” she commented.

I was sure Aspen would speak to my maids as kindly as he spoke to me when they crossed his path. They were Sixes, after all.

“He’s very handsome,” she added.

I smiled and contemplated saying something, but that same guard instructed us to be quiet. After a few jagged edges of conversation dulled away, an eerie hush fell over the room.

The silence was worse than any sound. Without a single sense to guide me, my imagination took over, producing horrific scenes in my head: rooms demolished, a string of bodies, a merciless army only feet from the door. I found myself clutching the girls nearer to me, as if we could protect one another from whatever would come.

The only stirring was Maxon walking around to check on each of the girls. When he got to our corner, only Lucy was awake with me, and every once in a while, we’d have a quick conversation in breathed words, reading each other’s lips. As Maxon approached, he smiled at the pile of people leaning on me. In that moment, I could see no anger left from our argument, though I really wanted to resolve it. Instead, I saw his grateful smile, simply happy that I was okay. A wave of guilt went through me.... What had I gotten myself into?

“Are you well?” he asked.

I nodded. He looked at Lucy and leaned across me to speak to her. I inhaled. Maxon didn’t smell like anything that could be bottled. Not like cinnamon or vanilla or even, I remembered quickly, like homemade soap. He had his own smell, a mix of chemicals that burned out from him.

Tags: Kiera Cass The Selection Science Fiction
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