I paced the floor, trying to walk the anxiety out of my body. When the Selection was something in the distance - a possibility for my future - it sounded thrilling. But now? Well, I wasn’t so sure.
The census had been compiled, the figured checked multiple times. The palace staff was becoming reallocated, wardrobe preparations were being made, and rooms were being readied for our new guests. The momentum was building, exciting and terrifying in one fell swoop.
For the girls, the process started once they filled out the forms - thousands must have done so by this point. For me, it started tonight.
I was nineteen. Now, I was eligible.
Stopping in front of my mirror, I checked my tie again there would be more eyes watching me than usual tonight, and I needed to look like the self-confident prince everyone was expecting. Finding no fault, I left for my father’s study.
I nodded at advisors and familiar guards along the way. It was hard to imagine that in less than two weeks, these halls would be flooded with girls. My knock was firm, a request made by Father himself. It seemed there was always a lesson for me to learn.
Knock with authority, Maxon.
Stop pacing all the time, Maxon.
Be faster, smarter, better, Maxon.
I entered the study, and Father briefly moved his eyes from his reflection to acknowledge me. “Ah, there you are. Your mother will be along shortly. Are you ready?”
”Of course,” I replied. There was no other acceptable answer.
He reached over and grabbed a small box, placing it in front of me on his desk. “Happy birthday.”
I pulled back the silvery paper, revealing a black box. Inside were new cuff links. He was probably too consumed to remember that he’d gotten me cuff links for Christmas. Perhaps that was part of the job. Maybe I’d accidentally get my son the same gift twice when I was king. Of course, to get that far I’d need a wife first.
Wife. I let the word play on my lips without actually saying it aloud. It felt too foreign.
”Thank you, sir. I’ll wear them now.”
”You’ll want to be at your best tonight,” he said, tearing himself away from the mirror. “The Selection will be on everyone’s thoughts.”
I gave him a tight smile. “Mine included.” I debated telling him how anxious I was. He’d been through this, after all. He must have had his own doubts once upon a time.
Evidently, my nerves read on my face.
”Be positive, Maxon, This is meant to be exciting,” he urged.
”It is. I’m just a bit shocked at how fast it’s all happening.” I focused on lacing the metal through the holes on my sleeves.
He laughed. “It seems fast to you, but i’s been years in the making on my end.”
I narrowed my eyes, looking up from my task. “What do you mean?”
The door opened then, and my mother walked in. In typical fashion, Father lit up for her. “Amberly, you look stunning,” he said, going to greet her.
She smiled in that way she always did, as if she couldn’t believe anyone would notice her, and embraced my father. “Not too stunning, I hope. I wouldn’t want to steal attention.” Letting Father go, she came and held me tight. “Happy birthday, son.”
”Your gift is coming,” she whispered, then turned back to Father. “Are we all ready, then?”
“Indeed we are.” He held out an arm, she took it, and I walked in their shadows. As always.
“About how much longer is it, Your Majesty?” one reporter asked. The light of the video cameras was hot in my face.
”The names are drawn this Friday, and the girls will actually arrive the Friday after that,” I answered.
”Are you nervous, sir?” a new voice called.
”About marrying a girl I haven’t met yet? All in a day’s work.” I winked, and the watching crowd chuckled.
”Doesn’t it set you on edge at all, Your Majesty?”
I gave up trying to align the question with a face. I just answered in the general direction it came from, hoping to get it right.
”On the contrary, I’m very excited.” Sort of.
”We know you’ll make an excellent choice, sir.” A camera flash blinded me.
”Hear, hear!” others called.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Any girl who settles for me can’t possible be a sane woman.”
They laughed again, and I took that as a good stopping point. “Forgive me, I have family visiting, and I don’t wish to be rude.”
Turning my back to the reporters and photographers, I took a deep breath. Was the whole evening going to be like this?
I looked around the Great Room - the tables covered in dark blue cloths, the lights burning brightly to show the splendour - and I saw there wasn’t much of an escape for me. Dignitaries in one corner, reporters in another - no pace I could just be quiet and still. Considering the fact I was the person being celebrated, one would think I could choose the way in which it happened. I never seemed to work out that way.
No sooner had I escaped the crowd than my father’s arm came swooping across my back and gripped my shoulder. The pressure and sudden attention made me tense.
”Smile,” he ordered beneath his breath, and I obeyed as he dipped his head in the direction of some of his special guests.
I caught the eye of Daphne, here from France with her father. It was lucky that the timing of the party lined up with our fathers needing to discuss the ongoing trade agreement. As the French king’s daughter, our paths had crossed time and time again, and she was perhaps the only person I knew outside of my family with any degree of consistency. I was nice to have one familiar face in the room.
I gave her a nod, and she raised her glass of champagne.
”You can’t answer everything so sarcastically. You’re the crowned prince. They need you to lead.” His hand on my shoulder was tighter than necessary.
”I’m sorry, sir. It’s a party, I thought -“
”Well, you thought wrong. By the Report, I expect to see you taking this seriously.”
He stopped walking and faced me, his eyes gray and steady.
I smiled again, knowing he’d want that for the sake of the crowd. “Of course, sir. A temporary lapse in judgment.”
He let his arm drop and pulled his glass of champagne to his lips. “You tend to have a lot of those.”
I risked a peek at Daphne and rolled my eyes, at which she laughed, knowing all too well what I was feeling. Father’s gaze followed my eyes across the room.
”Always a pretty one, that girl. Too bad she couldn’t be in the lottery.”
I shrugged. “She’s nice. I never had feelings for her, though.”
The Prince by Kiera Cass will be released on 5th March 2013 in eBook version only