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In Plain Sight
My father always insisted that knives were the best forms of torture. Well. I’m sure he was never forced to don a whalebone corset layered with a tight, scratchy bodice and a skirt that you would most definitely drown in. Assuming you are swimming in one.
“Duchess, be still.”
I scowled at my so-called “translator,” speaking in my own tongue instead of attempting to speak that garbled language coming from her frog lips. “You don’t have to talk to me in Faherian. You know I’m not really the duchess, right?”
Abelle scowled and turned to stare out the window, switching to Parvian, “It’s fun to pretend.”
“Don’t patronize me, Abelle,” I hissed, tired of the complaint in her voice. For the past week we had been training for this moment, she had been acting as though she really was a translator for the Duchess of Faheria.
Who was me. But not me.
“I’m not, Lena.”
“Hush. I have a headache.” At that moment, my forehead gave a sickening pound, and I clutched my head.
Suddenly, Abelle switched from haughty translator to worried ally, “Do you need your medication?”
I waved her away with my other hand. “No. I’m fine. Really.”
She leaned back in her seat, fluffing out her skirts for the fortieth time, “Your father said that you have to.”
“Is my father here, Abelle?” I snapped.
She ignored me and returned to looking out the window, while I suffered through the headache, bracing myself for the bumps on the road.
I had to remember that the Duchess was unencumbered by my bouts of illness. I had to ignore it.
But with whalebones digging into my lungs and a woman I hated sitting across from me, it was very hard to ignore the pulsing behind my eyes.
“Agh! I can see the palace!” Abelle lurched her whole body to the left side, nose squished against the window.
“Abelle!” I clutched my head again, but couldn’t help moving beside her. Just over the next hill, rose twin spires rounded with gold at the top.
My heartbeat quickened, and I recited my father’s words in my head.
“Strike hard, strike true.”
“Angle up with your dagger, straight through the heart.”
I shut my eyes, letting it all pass through my head, until when I again opened them, the palace was in full view.
“Hurry, Abelle, fix my hair!” I angled my head of frizzy blond hair towards her, and she quickly wrangled it into submission, tying it tight in a circlet of braids and gems.
“There! Now do me!”
I shoved her head aside when she turned for me to fix her hair and watched the palace draw closer. Already I could feel my lungs expanding rapidly against my corset, my breaths heavy with anxiety.
“Chrysanthemum. Wolfsbane. Daffodil.” I continued to recite plants in my head to calm myself, like I knew Violetta must have done before our assassins killed her so I could take her place.
The thought of the dark-haired beauty made my chest ache.
I blamed it on the whalebone.
“Lena, I’m frightened! What if Prince Henry falls in love with me and asks me to be his bride? I could not refuse, no matter what your father says about them!”
“I doubt that will happen, Abelle. Now how do you say ‘shut up’ in Faherian?”
Oblivious to my mocking tone, she answered in Faherian, sounding like spit was lodged in her throat and she was trying to hack it up.
I curled my tongue inside my mouth. “That sounded disgusting. Clear the spit in your mouth before we exit the carriage, all right?”
She shut her eyes, no doubt counting to ten in her head, and I chuckled under my breath.
“We’re here,” the guard, a fellow rebel simply dressed as one, riding next to the carriage, leaned down from his horse to poke his head inside.
As soon as the words left his mouth, the carriage came to a halt, making my head pound against the sudden lurching.
“Abelle, quickly get my medicine!”
She rolled her eyes. “First you don’t want it, now you do?”
“Just give it to me!” I hissed.
Abelle silently reached into the pouch on her hip and pulled out a vial filled with yellow liquid.
I snatched it out of her hand and uncorked it with my fingernails. In one swift move, the vial was empty.
I tossed the empty bottle at her as the door swung open and the rebel guard held out his hand. I took it with a strained smile; the medicine would take a moment to kick in and my head was still pounding.
“Good luck,” the guard whispered.
I dipped my chin and turned my attention to the palace looming before me. It was dripping with vines and had Eden Roses climbing up the sides.
I imagined what my father would say as I gazed at the windows and the vines reaching them.
“A good entry point into the king’s chambers.”
I swallowed, noting the windows facing me and marking them in my head.
I blinked and focused on the man now standing in front of me. He was small, balding, and big-eyed.
I almost laughed at how much he was sweating.
“Asaliama deleme, Ducles?”
I frowned, peering back at my “translator.”
“What’s he saying?” I asked in my shaky Faherian.
“He’s asking you how the trip went.”
“Oh. Tell him it was very painful. I’m sure my ribs are bruised.”
Her lips twitched in a near-scowl, but she forced herself to brighten at the man. “Javienta!”
Perfect. Okay. I knew that. I could do this.
“Can we see the king? Where’s the king?”
“Patience, Duchess,” Abelle said, kicking me lightly in the shin.
I forced myself not to tackle her as I smiled wide at the man.
“Afice dorbre gile Kongle?”
I looked at Abelle.
“He wants to know if you want to see the king.”
I nodded enthusiastically and smiled ever wider.
The man nodded too, looking more excited than I thought possible, and turned to the palace. I took Abelle’s arm, trying not to make it obvious that most of my weight was pressing down on her.
Through the front door we went, both of our hearts pounding. This was it.
We were about to meet the king.
“Calm your mind. Remember what you are there to do.”
I was there to kill the king.
I took a deep breath; the whalebone digging into my ribs, and tried to keep track of where we were going. Two lefts. A right. Straight ahead. Through a golden and silver door. Past a⎯
“What are those?” Abelle asked me, shaking me from my tracking.
I scowled at her, but followed her gaze. A pink vase was overflowing with strange vines, their leaves curling into little swirls of pink and blue.
“A plant, Abelle? Really?”
She stiffened, and lowered her voice, “Faherian, Duchess!”
I rolled my eyes and switched languages. It wasn’t Faherian, but it seemed to appease her. “Fine. But what scares you so much about those?” I gestured to yet another one sitting idly under a window, the sun pouring over it.
She shrugged, “I don't like them, is all.”
“You don't like leprechauns feeding you candy!”
Her eyes widened, “Duchess! I told you about that dream in strict confidence!”
I opened my mouth to retort, but the man ahead of us had stopped. “Vasivlue Garba.”
I raised my brows.
“He says to wait here,” Abelle grudgingly translated.
I nodded, and the man slipped through a glass door rimmed in metal shaped like leaves. They reminded me of the strange plants scattered about.
“Here,” Abelle subtly slipped a dagger into my hand and I pushed it up my sleeve, careful not to make the fabric ripple. I saw no guards, but father always said one could never be too careful.
I would leave nothing to chance.
“Remember the plan,” I hissed at her.
She scowled. “You remember the plan. Savie busodie.”
My anger flared. “No. I’d like to know what you said in your spit language.”
“Our spit language.”
“Oh, just spit it out!”
“I called you a pig’s⎯”
The door creaked open again, and we both straightened, stamping smiles on our faces. The man was back, his grin wider than ever.
“I knew that one.”
She huffed, smile wavering, “Just walk.”
I stepped past the man and into the room; it was some sort of library, but for botanical books, judging by the labels on the shelves. Even more of those plants were stacked about, too, in pink vases, of course. One can never have too many pink vases.
I scanned the room carefully, noting the wide windows pooling sunshine onto the floor, and several other escape points. A door near the back, glass like the one behind us, looked like it led into some sort of greenhouse in the palace. Another plant enthusiast.
I grimaced, skimming over it and then quickly looking back.
The king stood off to the left of the door, silently watching me assess the room.
I instantly dropped into a curtsy. “Your Majesty! I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you there.”
I peeked up through my lashes at him, dimly thinking of the fact that his salt-and-pepper beard would soon be crusted with blood.
I shook the thought off instantly, schooling my face into one of excitement.
“Go on and stand, Violetta.”
I blinked at Abelle, trying to stay calm. He knew Parvian!
“Your pronunciation is impeccable, Your Majesty,” I whispered, trying to sound as though the language wasn’t my first.
His eyes crinkled at the corners, “I heard from a soldier I sent ahead that you speak Parvian often. For practice, I assume?”
I felt my heartbeat quicken. “S-Soldier?”
“He came upon you in the night, while you were camped. He only heard you talking for a moment before a guard raised a sword to him!” He laughed at that, and I tried to chuckle too.
It was hard, with my lungs constricting in panic. At least my headache was gone. “Of course he left after explaining.”
I cursed the guard who had neglected to mention that to me. “What was I saying, exactly?” I asked as calmly as possible.
Abelle shifted next to me.
He moved closer, still smiling, “I don’t think he told me. But it’s good to know what language to speak. Isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I choked out, feeling trapped.
“Why don’t you wait outside?” He told Abelle, nodding at the rest of the staff half-hidden in shadow to follow her.
Her panicky eyes met mine before glass and wood cut her gaze off.
The king paced around the desk in the middle of the room. “Let’s not beat around the bush, Violetta.”
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
His smile widened, hitting his green eyes. “Forget that title. I hate being called Majesty. It’s so… uppity.”
I laughed with him, borrowing time.
“I invited you here because of my wife. The queen.”
I blinked again. “The queen? Of course. Right.” I shook my sleeve a little, feeling the cold weight of the dagger hit my palm.
“She told me about a thing she once had with a Duke. Someone unimportant, she said.” He shrugged. “I don’t care for details. She made a mistake while I was away. And I forgave her. That was that.”
I edged closer to him, trying to look calm. Sweet. Non lethal.
“But then it wasn’t.” He took off his crown and set it on the desk. Stared at it for a moment. “My wife had a baby with him. A little girl.”
My heart stuttered, “What?”
Violetta couldn’t be…
“I sent her to him to have the girl. He was fond of plants so he named her Violetta, after the flower.” He looked away from the crown to stare at me, “you probably know that she’s gone now…”
“Yes,” I whispered, “I know.” The dagger became heavy, almost dragging me to my knees. “I don’t…”
“Understand? It’s hard, isn’t it? To understand.”
“You don’t need to feel obligated to pretend to be happy,” he said hastily. “I just wanted you to know. That you’re part royalty.”
I looked down at my shoes, dressed in satin. Violetta was born out of wedlock. She was the queen’s daughter.
I felt sick.
I edged the blade out further until it was securely in my grip, both hands hidden behind my back. It didn’t matter that he was telling me this. Telling Violetta this. It didn’t matter that he was trying to do the right thing.
None of it did.
“I’m sorry, Your Majesty.”
He tilted his head, “Wh⎯?”
In one sharp motion, the blade of my dagger was angled up through his rib cage, secure in his chest.
His lips stopped moving, blood spurting from his mouth in rivers.
I realized I was shaking and released the hilt, heart pounding.
He fell back against his desk and then slid to the floor.
In seconds, he was dead.
I looked around in a panic, mouth dry. But I was alone now.
And the king was dead. I excpected to feel proud. Happy.
But I only felt empty.
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