Ruined (Ruined, #1)(4)

Written By: Amy Tintera

“It’s definitely too dangerous,” Galo said.

“Casimir? CASIMIR!”

Cas turned at the sound of his mother’s voice from inside the castle. She swept out onto the patio of the second-floor library, the skirts of her light-blue dress swishing around her ankles. She planted her hands on her hips.

“She’s been spotted at the end of the road,” she said.

His heart dropped. “All right.”

“You could at least pretend to be excited.”

“I am simply alight with excitement and anticipation. I can hardly contain myself, really.” He flashed a big fake smile. “How was that?”

Galo covered a laugh with a cough. His mother let out a deeply annoyed sigh and strode back inside.

“I’d better go,” he said, grabbing his sword and handing it to Galo. He snatched his coat from the ground, shaking the dirt out.

“Good luck,” Galo said, then frowned. “Is that the appropriate thing to say in this situation?”

Cas lifted one shoulder. There wasn’t much to say to someone who was headed out to meet the woman he’d been ordered to marry. Try not to vomit might have been the best choice.

He gave Galo a tight smile and hopped up the steps, grabbing the handle of the tall wooden door. He threw it open, his eyes adjusting to the dim lighting in the staff dining room. To his left, a boy backed out of the kitchen door, the sound of clanging pans and yells drifting in from behind him. He held a tray of pastries, and he came to an abrupt stop when he spotted the prince.

Cas nodded at the boy, striding past him through the far door and into the hallway. Sunlight streamed in from the wide windows to his right, and the walls in this corridor were almost pink in the afternoon light. Later, they would look red. Every corridor was painted a different color, and when he turned a corner he found two staff members arranging bunches of yellow flowers against the bright-green walls.

The castle buzzed with noise as he walked into the foyer. More flowers lined the banister of the staircase, and a staff member was wrapping blue ribbons around them. The air was full of anticipation and excitement as the castle staff prepared for the arrival of the new princess. Their bright faces just filled Cas with more dread.

His mother and father stood in front of the door at the main entrance, and he stopped next to them.

“You’re all dirty,” his mother said, taking his jacket from him. She beat at it with her hand, trying to remove lingering dirt. “Did you have to spar with that guard before she arrived?”

The king clapped his son on the arm. “He’s just nervous. Working off some energy.”

“I am not.” Yes, he was.

Maybe nervous wasn’t the right word. Cas had always known he’d marry someone his parents chose. He’d known, yet he hadn’t quite prepared himself for how it would actually feel. Like his stomach was going to drop into his feet and his head would explode from the pounding.

What was the word for that?

“This is as good as it’s going to get,” his mother said, handing him his coat. He slipped it on.

“Try and talk to her?” the king said. “It makes people uncomfortable when you just stand there quietly.”

“I don’t always have something to say.”

“Then think of something,” his father said, exasperated.

The queen walked to the door, gesturing for them to follow. “Come on. Both of you.” She let the king slip past her and put a hand on Cas’s arm. “Don’t worry, Cas. I know she will be quite taken with you.”

He shook her hand off but tried to smile like he believed her. Quite taken with you. How ridiculous. It was a treaty marriage, and Mary knew as much about him as he did about her. Nothing.

They marched outside into the sunlight, Cas trailing behind his parents. About ten staff members and several members of Cas’s guard were waiting in two neat rows.

He walked down the castle steps and took his place next to his father as the gate began to open. He clasped his hands behind his back, then pulled on each finger of his left hand until he felt the knuckle crack. His heart was pounding so loudly it vibrated in his ears. He tried to fix his face into a neutral expression.

A dirt path ran from the castle to the front gate, flanked on either side by lush green grass and perfectly trimmed square hedges. Two guards pulled open the iron gate, scurrying out of the way as Lera’s royal escorts came through on their horses.

Behind them was a small carriage that had seen better days. Dirt and mud stuck to the wheels, though that was to be expected after the journey through the Lera jungle. The body was plain gray, with a glass window on either side. The windows were open, and the one closest to Cas looked like it might fall off its hinges at any moment. A curtain had been pulled over the open space, obscuring the inside from view.

A young man in a Vallos uniform sat on the seat at the front of the carriage, reins in hand. Cas expected several more guards to follow him, but he was the only one in Vallos yellow. Strange. Cas always took several guards with him when he traveled.

The Vallos guard pulled the horses to a stop and jumped off the carriage, tugging on the ends of his jacket. His hands were covered in scars, like he’d been burned, and Cas tried not to stare as the man opened the door to the carriage. He’d never seen flesh that mangled before.

A hand emerged from the carriage first, and the guard took it, stepping back as a dark head appeared.

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