“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.
AS I PREDICTED, THE GIRLS who had asked to go home changed their minds once everything had settled down. None of us knew exactly who had wanted out, but there were some—Celeste in particular—who were determined to find out. For the time being we remained at twenty-seven girls.
The attack was so inconsequential, according to the king, that it barely warranted notice. However, since camera crews had been making their way in that morning, some of it was aired live. Apparently the king wasn’t pleased about that. It made me wonder just how many attacks the palace suffered through that we never heard about. Was it far less safe here than I’d thought?
Silvia explained that if the attack had been much worse, we would have all been able to call our families and tell them we were safe. As it was, we were instructed to write letters home instead.
I wrote that I was well and that the attack probably seemed worse than it was and that the king had us all kept safely tucked away. I urged them not to worry about me and told them that I missed them and handed the letter off to a helpful maid.
The day after the attack passed without incident. I had planned on going down to the Women’s Room to talk up Maxon to the others, but after seeing Lucy so shaken, I chose to keep to my room.
I didn’t know what my three maids busied themselves with while I was away, but when I was in the room, they played card games with me and let pieces of gossip slip into the conversation.
I learned that for every dozen people I saw in the palace, there were a hundred or more behind them. The cooks and laundresses I knew about, but there were also people whose sole job was to keep the windows clean. It took a solid week for the team to get them all done, by the end of which the dust would find its way past the palace walls and cling to the clean glass, and they’d have to be washed all over again. There were also jewelers hidden away, making pieces for the family and gifts for visitors, and teams of seamstresses and buyers keeping the royal family—and now us—immaculately clothed.
I learned other things, too. The guards they thought were the cutest and the horrid new design of a dress the head maid was making the staff wear for the holiday parties. How some in the palace were taking bets on which Selected girl might win and that I was in the top ten picks. A baby of one of the cooks was sick beyond hope, which made Anne tear up a bit. This girl happened to be a close friend of hers, and the couple had been waiting so long for a child.
Listening to them and joining in when I had something worth saying, I couldn’t imagine anything more entertaining happening downstairs and was glad to have such company. The mood in my room was a quiet and happy one.
The day had been so nice, I stayed up there the day after as well. This time, we kept the doors open to both the hallway and the balcony, and the warm air filtered in and wrapped itself around us. It seemed to do particularly wonderful things for Lucy, and I wondered how often she actually got to step outside.
Anne made a comment about how this was all inappropriate—me sitting with them, playing games with the doors open—but let it drop almost immediately. She was quickly getting over trying to make me the lady it seemed I ought to be.
We were in the middle of a game of cards when I noticed a figure out of the corner of my eye. It was Maxon, standing at the open door, looking amused. As our eyes met, I could see that his expression was clearly asking what in the world I was doing. I stood, smiling, and walked over to him.
“Oh, sweet Lord,” Anne muttered as she realized the prince was at the door. She immediately swept the cards into a sewing basket and stood, Mary and Lucy following suit.
“Ladies,” Maxon said.
“Your Majesty,” she said with a curtsy. “Such an honor, sir.”
“For me as well,” he answered with a smile.
The maids looked back and forth to one another, flattered. We were all silent for a moment, not quite sure what to do.
Mary suddenly piped up. “We were just leaving.”
“Yes! That’s right,” Lucy added. “We were—uh—just…” She looked to Anne for help.
“Going to finish Lady America’s dress for Friday,” Anne concluded.
“That’s right,” Mary said. “Only two days left.”