I felt so frustrated and angry for the rest of the morning. I ended up prowling the library, unable to sit down and focus my energy into something more productive.
Part of me wanted to go look for Lucian to tell him what my father had told me, but the other part knew he would be preparing for the tournament that afternoon and I didn’t want to risk the wrath of my father if I was caught with him. I didn’t know what to do and every time my brain seemed to come to a logical conclusion, I would change my mind and have to start all over again.
I still hadn’t worked out what to do by the time my sister found me, an hour before the start of the second challenge.
‘I’ve been looking for you everywhere,’ she said, standing next to me at the bookshelf. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Father isn’t very pleased with me,’ I said grumpily.
‘What has he said?’
‘He wants me to marry Markus, no matter how well the others do in the contest or who I really like. He’s forbidden me from speaking to Lucian again.’
‘He can’t do that! It’s not fair.’
‘He’s the King Helena, he can do what he wants.’ I turned away so I had my back to her. ‘I have to get out of here and if marrying Markus is the only way I can do that then so be it.’
‘Don’t say that,’ Helena said, spinning me around to face her, her hands clasping either side of my head. ‘I am not going to let you throw yourself away when you have a chance at happiness with someone.’
‘Even when that someone isn’t the best candidate?’
‘It doesn’t matter. Lucian likes you, that’s obvious, and if you like him too then you should hang onto that. Who knows where it will go. I didn’t have someone like that when I had to choose a husband. I want you to take this chance because I wasn’t lucky enough to have one.’
‘But if Father catches me, he’ll keep me here for the rest of my life. I can’t do that Helena. The fact that I am constantly being watched, by Mother’s spies, by Father’s spies, by the rest of the women at court, by the guards. I can’t handle it.’
‘Then we’ll just have to find a way to make it work without Father noticing.’
‘Are you kidding me? Didn’t you hear what I just said about being constantly watched by spies who are reporting back to our parents? Nothing about my life is private Helena.’
‘Don’t worry, I have a plan.’ Helena smiled one of those smiles that sends shivers down my spine and butterflies appear in my stomach.
‘What is it?’
‘I’ll tell you later,’ she whispered. ‘But now we have to get you down to the arena. You have to be sitting pretty for when the tournament begins and Father will have my head too if you are late.’ She linked her arm in mine and we walked sedately out of the library and down the grand staircase towards the training yards at the back of the palace.
The arena there was seldom used for anything other than training exercises and practice fights. Now it would be the centre stage in what was going to be the biggest decision of my life. A decision my father had already made for me.
There were already people milling around, taking seats around the ring so they could get a good view of the action. There were also some men in armour, checking out the arena and working on their strategies. My heart began to pound when I saw one of those men was Lucian.
‘Helena, he’s here. What am I meant to do? I can’t ignore him.’
‘Take some breaths Lili,’ Helena said soothingly. ‘I can sort this one out.’ Her arm slipped out of mine and she headed off in the direction of Lucian, who was looking confused as I hurried in the opposite direction. My eyes didn’t leave my sister as she talked in hushed tones to Lucien. He nodded and began patting himself down as if he was looking for something. He finally pulled something out of his pocket, a scrap of paper and a pencil and hastily began scribbling.
The seats were almost full now and people were beginning to stand right up against the bar of the arena, their arms resting on the wood. I was scared that at any moment my father would appear and see Helena and Lucian talking and guess what was happening.
Luckily for me, Helena had taken Lucian’s note and sat down next to me before my father arrived.
‘Here,’ she whispered, putting the piece of paper into my hand secretively. ‘He says he understands and wanted me to give you this.’
‘Thank you,’ I breathed. ‘You have no idea how much this means.’
‘I can guess,’ she said, smiling at me. ‘Well go on, read it before Father gets here.’
I hurriedly unfolded the note, keeping it hidden in the folds of my skirt as I read it.
Sorry to hear what your father said to you. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble.
There are some things I have to say to you, if I don’t I think I might explode, or go crazy, or both. Meet me in the stables after the tournament.
Your humble servant,