Regal

In a world full of princes and girls fighting for the crown, Fayre seems to finally have everything under control. She is going to win Regal Court and Prince Rhys' hand in marriage. Fayre knows she will become queen. But suddenly, everything comes crashing down as one of the princes is shot dead at the ball. In a battle between right and wrong, truth and lies, Fayre must uncover the truth that lead to the prince's death before another ends with the same fate. And that is easier said than done, because lies are more convincing coming from your allies.

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1. Chapter One

CHAPTER ONE

 

    The sounds of the aristocracy and the gentry buzzed inside my head as I made my way to the ballroom. Burgundy billows from my dress made it near impossible to put one foot in front of the other. But nonetheless, I managed to get to the grand entryway in time.

My dark hair was done up in complicated twists and loops that all came back into luxurious curls that bounced with every step. The maid had decided to add a shiny substance onto my face. It left a dewy look that I very much loved.

I was stunning. My skin happened to be the perfect shade of coffee, with the cream mixed in, of course. Many others told me so as often as they could. I would never admit that I knew, but I knew. It is hard not to believe something that is shoved down your throat whenever you open your mouth to speak.

Amara already stood next to the butler. Her dull brown hair was combed back into a perfectly shaped bun at the nape of her neck. The ivory ball gown she adorned showed just how pale she actually was. Amara’s plump lips sat in a frown. They curled into a small grin after her eyes met mine.

“Where were you?” she whispered even though there wasn’t any point in keeping quiet. Nobody would hear her over the chatter in the ballroom. “I was starting to worry you’d lost your way!”

I forced myself to give the poor girl a tight smile. “I’ve been in this castle far longer than you, dear. I know my way around better than most.”

Amara narrowed her eyes. “Living in the castle one year longer than the rest of us is barely an advantage. At least the rest of us don’t go around flaunting our looks at every waking moment!” she spat.

My ears grew warm and my toes tingled. I clenched my fists to remain calm. I could not make a fool of myself tonight. Or any night from here on out. I was now part of the Regal Court. There was no longer any room for mistakes. One wrong move and I would be docked points. Amara didn’t have nearly as many points as I did, but I couldn’t afford to lessen the gap that separated us.

Instead I glared at her and hissed under my breath. “It’s a wonder how you even managed to be in Prince Rhys’ Regal Court league.” She narrowed her crystal eyes even more as she let me finish my thought. “I would’ve much rather went up against Tarren. She won’t last another week here!”

Amara’s cheeks flushed red and her body tensed. I waited for the hit that never came. The butler cleared his throat, drawing my attention away from her.

“My ladies,” he said with a polite bow. “It is time.”

A gentle hand appeared on my bare shoulder. A wave of tingles rushed down to my toes. “Fayre, Amara,” Prince Rhys’ soft voice filled the awkward silence. I bent my head to look at his fingers that still lingered on my skin. I glanced up into his dark eyes. He quickly removed his hand as though just realizing where it was. Prince Rhys’ gaze drifted between Amara and me. His lips drew into a smile revealing perfect teeth. “You both certainly look gorgeous tonight. It is for sure a complete different look on you than I’m used to.”

Amara opened her mouth to respond but the butler spoke first. “It is time, my ladies, your majesty. You will be announced and then you must walk out. There isn’t any time to chit chat.” I squared my shoulders as the giant doors were pulled open by the guards on the other side. Prince Rhys linked his arms into mine and Amara’s as we took the steps into the ballroom.

“Announcing his majesty, Prince Rhys and the Regal Court of Rhys, Ladies Fayre and Amara!” the herald’s voice boomed throughout the ballroom, silencing everyone. Our shoes clicked on the white marble floor as we progressed into the center. The aristocracy and gentry gave a mannerly applause at our presence. Only once we made our way to the middle did the prince drop his arms. The three of us turned to face the doors where Prince Caden and his Regal Court would be entering.

The Regal Court of Caden was fair enough. Camilla and Maire could hold their own. I wasn’t sure who would win the hand of Prince Caden. But that was the game of the Regal Court, to keep guessing at who would become the future queen and princesses.

The doors opened as the herald spoke again. “Announcing Prince Caden and the Regal Court of Caden, Ladies Camilla and Maire!” The same applause was given for the next court.

Camilla was in a navy blue ball gown that complemented her blonde hair and light skin. Maire had on an evergreen dress with mesh that went down her chocolate arms. She was only slightly lighter than me. Prince Caden wore a black coat accented with gold buttons on the front. Swirls of gold stitching outlined the seams. His pants were of the same black, heavy material and golden stitching. Prince Caden’s brown hair was slicked back and shiny. Only then did I notice Prince Rhys had on the same outfit. The only difference between the brother’s appearances was that Prince Rhys had simply left his dark hair naturally messy. It suited him.

The Regal Court of Caden swiftly waltzed up to the left of me, keeping a few feet between me and Maire. I was glad for those few feet. It wasn’t that I disliked Maire. She simply was an airhead at the best of times.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw her move her head to face me. Maire smiled, showing her teeth. I refused to look and smile back. Right now wasn’t the time for greetings. It was the time for showing off to the noble class. Not that she would understand that or anything. As I said, she was an airhead.

We turned our attention to the last set of doors. The last of the princes, Prince Gael, would be next to join us. I almost felt bad for him. His Regal Court consisted of the weakest girls I’ve ever laid eyes on. Tarren and Evelyn. What a sorry excuse for a Regal Court. At least Prince Gael was the youngest of the brothers. He would not have to live in fear of being married to a weak queen. Prince Gael would forever remain a prince and his future wife a princess.

“Announcing Prince Gael and his Regal Court, Ladies Tarren and Evelyn!” Prince Gael wore the same suit as his brothers. His lighter brown hair was a mix of messy and put together. I internally laughed at how the three princes’ hair represented their personalities. Prince Rhys was always frazzled, Prince Caden lived life to a very organized schedule, and Prince Gael went with the flow of things.

With Tarren on his left and Evelyn on his right, Prince Gael looked like a young boy pretending to have his own court. The Regal Court of Gael was a mess. Although beautiful, the two girls were dumb as a doornail. They were awkward and clumsy. I was awfully surprised when I heard that they were the official members of Prince Gael’s Regal Court. Normally Regal Courts consisted of strong, smart, beautiful, and cunning women. This instance showed just how wrong I was in thinking that was true.

The Regal Court of Gael made their way onto the center of the ballroom, taking a place next to the other courts. Tarren’s long brown hair had nothing done to it other than having some soft curls. Her bloodshot eyes popped with her pasty complexion. She wore a simple floor length gown made of cream fabric. It was very form-fitting and looked alright on Tarren. Personally, I would never be caught dead looking like she did, but that was Tarren for you. Dumb, uncultured.

Evelyn’s ginger hair stood out from the sea of browns and blacks. It was braided into a magnificent crown, wrapping around her skull. Her purple dress was puffy and extra. Sequins covered her bodice that shimmered as her feet moved forward. In Evelyn’s eyes I saw fright. I made a mental note to use that to my advantage.

“Princes Rhys, Caden, and Gael shall now lead their number one ranking court members in the opening dance!” The herald continued after Prince Gael and his court reach us.

The number one ranking court members, me, Camilla, and somehow, Tarren. Amara, Maire, and Evelyn stepped back from their respected prince and curtsied. It took us all two weeks of practice to get that little detail correct. It was no wonder they were second ranking. In response, the princes bowed back, all three of them tucking one arm in their chests and the other over their backs. The three girls held their heads high while they strolled to the crowd surrounding us.

My heart thumped in my chest. I wasn’t nervous, no, I was excited. Me being the girl to participate in the opening dance with Prince Rhys showed my superiority above all the others. Prince Rhys would be the one to take the crown once his father died. He would become king. And I would be his queen. Of course this wasn’t about love. It never was. Love was a mere vision that blinded the weak. This was about power. Power was for the strong, the ruthless. Me. I won the battle of the Regal Court. I would become queen. Not even Amara, Camilla, Maire, Tarren, or Evelyn would be able to take that power away from me. I was going to be queen. “Queen Fayre!” they would chant. The people would learn to love me.

A slow paced song started playing. The orchestra that sat in the corner of the room consisted of about ten commoners playing grand, beautiful instruments. The music flowed through my veins, filling me with confidence.

I curtsied to Prince Rhys as he bowed. He then put his hands around my small waist as I placed my arms atop his shoulders. He was very good looking, with a defined jawline, deep and dominant eyes, and strong, muscled arms. Prince Rhys was around a foot taller than me but it was clear that I had run the show.

We were told to stare into each others’ eyes as though we were madly in love. Our instructor told us it would bring inner peace to all that watched. The kingdom didn’t want another king and queen with a marriage like Prince Rhys’ parents. I could tell within a second that they despised one another. They only had children to keep the bloodline going. That was about all they had agreed on.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Prince Rhys, he was a nice enough boy, and a good friend. But I didn’t feel my body swaying at the thought of him. My heart didn’t flutter like a bird trapped in a cage when his eyes met mine. My head didn’t hurt at the sight of him. My palms didn’t sweat of nervousness when his touch lingered on me. I wasn’t kept up at night falling into the hole of love. Prince Rhys was just Prince Rhys, my soon to be betrothed. No love would be involved. Love was dangerous and deadly. I would not let it ruin my chance at power.

Prince Rhys and I danced to the beat of the music, remembering what our instructor had taught us. A simple one, two, three, one, two, three beat. Our feet moved in time to the song. I felt all eyes on us. Not on Prince Caden and Camilla, and especially not on Prince Gael and Tarren. I let myself continue to think that.

My eyes flickered up to the ballroom. The overly large room was sculpted out of white, pristine marble. Dark grey veining disrupted the clean, sharpness of the white. Tall, ornate pillars stood in all four corners of the ballroom as well as two on the outsides of all the entrances. A large, crystal chandelier light up the entire room. This room was crafted for royalty. And royalty we were.

My mind started floating down the river of memories. One in particular stuck out to me: the day I met Prince Rhys.

 

———————❖———————

 

My blood-red shawl was blowing around in the late November wind. The sky looked as though it would start crying icy tears at any moment. My short legs moved fast. I refused to caught in a snowstorm, at least not before reaching the castle.

My mother had sent a letter explaining how she wanted me to participate in the Regal Court and that I was ready to join the royal family at the castle.

I really wasn’t ready though. The Regal Court didn’t start for another year yet. The eldest son, Prince Rhys, was barely seventeen. He would have to be eighteen for the court to officially start. Not that my mother cared about rules. I was breed, born, and raised to become part of the Regal Court. I was born only six months after Prince Rhys. And even though she said she did, I knew my mother didn’t love me. To her, I was just her ticket to lifelong prosperity. My childhood was taken by her. She trained me for the Regal Court. To her, me winning was life or death. If I didn’t win, I was sure death awaited me.

They had sent back to her a beautiful, gold edged, handwritten letter. It stated that I could indeed come to the castle early, but that I would be docked points as soon as Regal Court started. It was not common to visit the castle and meet the princes before court formally began.

My black, leather boots clicked as I loitered up to the glorious gate. Black metalwork was curled and stretched into magnificent designs. The gate stood at around fifteen feet tall and completely enclosed the castle. I couldn’t imagine how many pounds of metal must have been used to surround the large castle.

The castle itself was unlike anything I had even seen before. Towers made of pale stone drew my gaze from the gate. The rest of the palace was constructed of the same material. I smiled at the sight. I had a feeling this new life would be much better than life with my mother.

Only a minute passed before I saw a body from the other side running toward the gate. As they got closer I saw it was a boy about my age. The boy’s blond hair whipped around on his forehead. He had a strong build. Neglecting to put on any form of coat, he wrapped his arms around himself.  

“Hello,” he shouted over the wind. “Can I help you? I saw you standing there from my window.”

I leaned into the metal bars of the gate. “My name is Fayre Alby!” I didn’t realize how windy it really was. “The royal family sent a letter saying I could stay here before the Regal Court starts!” A look of confusion crossed his face for only a moment.

He drew his lips into a wide smile. “Oh, yes! Fayre, of course! Let me help you with the gate.”

He was only a foot away from me, separated by only a metal gate. His fingers fumbled with the lock. His eyebrows were furrowed in concentration. He looked up and locked eyes with me. “I’m Pierre, by the way.” The chains on the gate clanged as he wrestled them off. “These are always so difficult to get off,” Pierre chuckled.

Smiling a real smile, I murmured, “It’s so nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” his grin widened as the gate creaked open. He extended his hand and I graciously took it. “So,” Pierre slowly started. He was carefully choosing his words. “What brings you here so early. Court doesn’t start for another eleven months.” I dropped his hand and narrowed my eyes at him. Not in a mean way, but a way to show disgust.

“My mother,” were the words that escaped my mouth. Pierre parted his lips to say something, but thought better of it, for he quickly shut them again.

Sensing the tension, I broke the silence. “Are you related to the royal family?” He averted his eyes to the ground and pressed his lips into a tight line.

After a moment he replied. “No,” he paused. “My family are fifth generation servants. I… um… yeah,” he seemed to lose the words to tell me. I nodded my head, noting his discomfort.

“Are they here? The royal family, I mean.” I hoped this didn’t translate as rude, asking about the family his had served for generations.

“Um, yeah. I can bring you to them if you’d like?” It came out as a question so I answered.

“Thank you. That would be nice.”

“Okay, follow me.”

Pierre lead me into the ornate castle. We stepped into the most luxurious entryway I had ever laid eyes on. It was as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside. Only the interior used crisp, white marble instead of stone.

Seeing my astonishment, Pierre chuckled, “You get used to it after a while. Soon you’ll be wishing for more colors.”

Waving him off, I chided, “This beauty will never grow old to me. And as for the color, that’s what dresses are for!” Laughing, we progressed to a hallway. A grand hallway. At the end was a large wooden door. I was surprised to see how perfectly the wood fit in with the marble.

Pierre put his arm out to stop me. “I’m going to go in there and tell them you’re here. Then you’re theirs.” He gave me a sad smile. I hoped to see him again soon even though he was still standing in front of me.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

Nodding once, he snuck into the room where the royal family was. A minute later he returned.

“You may go in now.”

“Will I see you again?” I was hopeful. Pierre was nice. I felt a weight lift off of me the moment I saw him.

“A good servant is best to not be seen nor heard. So I’m afraid that it’s unlikely. But I will see you. From the shadows.” He shrugged. “It’s the way of the aristocracy. They only care about themselves. But Fayre, can you promise me something?” Pierre’s eyes had a hint of sadness in them, maybe fear.

“Yes?” I questioned.

“Promise the Regal Court won’t change you. I’ve heard stories about sweet girls that joined the court. They came out monsters.” His hand lifted to my arm. “Don’t become a monster, Fayre. I need some hope that there will be an angel as queen. That’s you, the angel.” But before I could promise, or not promise, anything, he shuffled away.

I stood rooted to the spot for a mere second before the door busted open in front of me.

“So there she is! Our early Regal Court member!” A group of five, all boys excluding one, stepped into the hallway surrounding me. On their faces were smiles and joy. They seemed truly happy that a stranger was among them.

Reluctantly, my eyes flickered to one of the boys, and stayed on him. He seemed to be around my age and certainly good looking. He had a defined jawline, deep and dominant eyes, muscular arms, and was around a foot taller than me.

“My lady,” he murmured, as he reached for my hand. He planted a delicate kiss on my flesh. The effortless gesture sent a surge of shivers through my body. A boy had never kissed me before, not even on the hand.

“I’m Prince Rhys,” he continued. “This is my mother, Queen Melanie, and my father, King Felix.” He went on naming the other princes, Prince Caleb and Prince Gael. But my attention was elsewhere. Prince Rhys, first born of King Felix and Queen Melanie. Prince Rhys, optimistically, my future betrothed.

 

———————❖———————

 

The song ended before I realized what was happening. Our dance was over. And I had spent it relishing on old memories. What had gotten into me? I must’ve been feeling flustered by all the people watching. It was so unlike me to relive the past.

Suddenly, I felt a pang of grief. I hadn’t thought of Pierre in over ten months. He would often be on my mind within the first few weeks of coming to the castle. But I soon got over my short lived crush. He had probably forgotten about me after a day or two of last seeing me.

The last time he saw me. His soft hand on my arm, the rush of adrenaline that came from his touch...

I shook off the feeling. Pierre was the past, and those thoughts and feelings needed to stay in the past. Prince Rhys was my present and almost positively my future.

We stepped back from each other and took a bow, or in my case, a curtsy. A rush of relief filled me. My first dance was over. Now I could sit back for a short time while the princes danced with the second ranking Regal Court members. Maybe I could even find some champagne. One of the servants would surely be carrying some on a tray.

As the crowd flooded into the dance floor, I escaped. I passed Amara, who was quickly heading to find Prince Rhys. Her eyes were distracted, she wouldn’t notice me. It would be so easy to just stick my foot in front of hers. She would surely fall…

I pinched my hand as hard as I could. A small yelp fell out of my mouth. It was quiet enough that nobody heard. My self inflicted wound would surely leave a mark on my otherwise flawless skin. I didn’t care. There was no excuse for me to have those thoughts. I would’ve been easily caught if I had followed through. Someone could have saw me trip Amara. I could not give in to the temptation. It was too risky.

A flash of pure white robes made me whip my head in the direction. Making my way through the crowd, I found the servant. On a silver platter he held chalices filled with a blood-red liquid. Not champagne, but wine. Wine would do. I flashed a quick smile at the boy as I grabbed one of the cups.

After a tiny sip, a warmth spread through me. I puckered my lips at the bitter taste but continued to take small sips. I had only ever had champagne, but the wine was better in my opinion. It wasn’t as royal. The wine didn’t make me feel special. It made me feel as though I was back in my childhood village. My mother would often stay up at night when she thought I was sleeping and have wine. She was much more rustic, though. She drank from the bottle. My mother was the only person I’ve seen do that. Normal people drank from cups.

As the second song finished, my cup began to empty. The warmth from the wine was felt to the bone. Though the ballroom was full of body heat, I welcomed it with open arms. The tension throughout my body lessened. I set my drained chalice on a passing servant’s platter. I couldn’t tell if the servant minded or not. It didn’t matter. They would take it where it was meant to go.

“Lady Fayre! What a pleasant surprise!” Marchioness Blaire and her husband, Marquess Nathaniel, approached me. Their names flashed in front of my eyes as my brain matched the face with the name. All of my childhood training had certainly paid off.

“Lady Blaire, Lord Nathaniel. How are you two this fine evening?” I responded through a forced smile. I hoped it looked convincing.

It was the marquess that spoke this time. “We are indeed quite well,” he chuckled. “This is such a nice ball, isn’t it, Lady Fayre?” He looked into my eyes searching for an answer. An answer to what, I did not know. The floor started to slowly sway beneath me.

“I must say, this is an exquisite ball. I, myself, have only been to a few, but this is the most grand out of them all.” The answer seemed to satisfy the lord, for he finished the conversation.

“You make sure to have a good night now, dear. I can’t imagine how stressful it must be being a part of the Regal Court of Rhys!” His wife laughed along with him and I strained to follow their lead. Marquess Nathaniel strided away and his wife soon followed. I was once again left alone in a ballroom full of important people. Not that I was complaining.

I weaved through the crowd until I came to one the walls. My dark red dress stood out against the white marble walls. But at the same time, I strangely blended in. I was just another girl to most. I knew that Prince Rhys would probably soon be looking for me. I was suppose to stay with him for the majority of the night. Sighing, I stood straight up and started to search for the prince.

A boy my age stood with his back to me. He was wearing a black suit with gold stitched swirls all over it.

“Prince Rhys,” I singsonged. The small amount of wine I had was already getting into my head. I put my hand on his shoulder as I said his name again. He turned to face me.

This wasn’t Prince Rhys. It was his brother, Prince Caden. My hand slid off.

“Good evening, Lady Fayre,” he smirked. This was not how I normally acted. “The wine?” he asked.

It took me a second to register what he asked. Stupidly I slurred, “Not at all.”

He smiled. “If you’re looking for Rhys, I believe I saw him over by the desserts on the west side. You know how he enjoys his sweets.”

“Thanks,” I muttered.

Prince Caden’s eyes lit up as he laughed. “Go easy on the wine next time, okay?”

“I only had one glass!” I protested, but he had already moved on to the next person. “Whatever,” I grumbled to no one.

The crowd stepped out of the way for me as I hunted for Prince Rhys. I was acting so dumb! Surely, I was having points taken away for losing my mind after one drink of wine.

At least it was good wine, my brain argued.

Shut up! I hissed back to myself, hoping that it was in my head and not coming from my lips.

I found the prince right where his brother said he would be, at the dessert table. A man after my own heart, though that wasn’t the case here. He was reaching for a delicious looked pastry when I repeated the voice I had made to Prince Caden.

“Prince Rhys!”

He jumped, not expecting me but quickly regained his composure.

“Hello Fayre,” he said with his mouth half full. It was a wonder how he stayed in shape so well. I only ever saw him with his mouth half full of food, mostly sweets.

“The wine is really good,” I blurted out.

Prince Rhys put his hand on my shoulder. There was no rush of tingles this time. The wine made sure of that. “The fudge is superb!” his eyes lit up with all the sugar in his system. “You should really try some!”

“Yeah?” I questioned. He was going to have to work at getting me to eat the fudge. I was too stubborn.

“Oh, my god, yes! I’ve been drooling at the thought of it for weeks! And here it is! It’s my favorite!” Prince Rhys spoke so fast it made me certain he was on a servere sugar rush. He picked up a small piece and lifted it to my lips.

“Open up,” he singsonged, mocking me. I glared at Prince Rhys before parting my lips.

But I never got to try the fudge.

A loud bang echoed through the ballroom. A gunshot. Everyone fell to the ground covering their heads. My head was still fuzzy from the wine so I remained standing. Prince Rhys had enough sense to fall to the ground. But he wasn’t covering his head. And he somehow managed to rip my dress! He would never hear the end of this!

A bundle of white robes shoved me to the ground.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Pierre’s voice calmed me even though there was a harsh pang of sadness in it.  But I still didn’t know what was happening, or what was wrong.  All I heard now was screams and the sentinels shouting commands at one another.

My hand landed in something sticky.

Probably the smashed fudge, I thought.

I picked up my hand from the ground to see if I could get some of the fudge that Prince Rhys had so desperately wanted me to try.

“I’m going to try the fudge now, Prince Rhys,” I murmured.

My stomach churned at the sight of a thick, red goo that all over my hands. Prince Rhys wasn’t moving. He hadn’t ripped my dress. He didn’t drop to the ground to protect himself.

Prince Rhys had been shot.

 
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