Ruined (Ruined, #1)(6)

Written By: Amy Tintera

A maid is a potential spy, her mother used to say.

Davina held up the tray. “I brought your breakfast, Your Highness. And the queen has requested your presence.” She put the tray on the table in the corner and turned back to Em, a smile on her young, pretty face. There was one knife on the tray, and Em studied it, trying to judge how sharp it was. Three quick steps across the room and she could reach around Davina for the knife to jab it in her throat before she knew what was happening. Five seconds, tops.

Em shook the thought away. She didn’t need to kill her maid at the moment. “Requested my presence for what?”

“The wedding dress fitting, Your Highness.”

“Oh. Right.” She tried not to look like the thought of her wedding dress made her want to throw up.

“And the Union Battle is this afternoon,” Davina said. “The queen wants to do the fitting first.”

Was she supposed to know what the Union Battle was? It didn’t sound good, whatever it was.

“Of course,” Em said. “I’ll get ready quickly.”

Davina made a move like she was going to stay and help, and Em shook her head.

“I’m fine for now. I’ll call you in when I’m almost ready?”

Davina hesitated, then walked to the door. “I’ll wait right outside?”

“Yes, please,” Em said.

Em sighed as Davina disappeared through the door. The maid had left tea and a thick slice of oddly colored bread on the tray. Em broke off a chunk and popped it in her mouth. It was sweet and delicious, and she quickly finished the whole piece. She hadn’t had much good food for the past year.

She looked around her room. She’d rarely even had a bed for the past year, and now she had a sitting room, an office, and a bedroom. The large window on one wall showed off a lovely view of the gardens. The room had been decorated in blue, Lera’s official color. The chair in the corner was blue, the tapestry on the wall was blue, and the sheets on the bed were blue.

It was all pristine and beautiful, and Em wanted to rip it to shreds. They lived like this while the Ruined were forced out of their homes and had to move camp every few days just to stay alive?

She’d have to make sure to burn down the castle before she was done. She could still smell the smoke from the day the king had burned her home to the ground, killed her mother, and taken her sister. It was only right to repay the favor.

She drained her tea and pulled out a hideous pink dress of Mary’s. The weather in Vallos was much cooler than Lera, and the people were often completely covered from neck to toe. Mary’s dresses were long-sleeved, stiff, and made more for function than fashion. They were wildly depressing.

Like the dress she’d worn yesterday, this one felt too short and tight as she pulled it on. But the fullness of the skirt hid the ill fit well enough.

Her necklace hung in the center of her chest, and she closed her fingers around it for a moment. The silver O was for Olivia, and she’d considered leaving it behind when she became Mary. But she’d worn the necklace every day since returning to the remains of her castle and finding it among the rubble. If she ever found Olivia, she would return it to her.

When she found Olivia. She didn’t know why the king had taken her sister instead of simply killing her, but nothing would stop her from figuring it out and rescuing Olivia.

She let go of the necklace, the pendant falling against her chest. If anyone asked, she could simply say it was a circle. A gift from her parents.

She pulled her hair back, looping it into a simple knot behind her head. Davina returned and buttoned the back of the dress, then escorted her out of her rooms.

Aren stood near her door with two guards, outfitted in a blue-and-white Lera guard uniform. She had to resist the urge to rush over to him. Aren had been by her side constantly for the past year, and she felt as though she’d lost a limb without him nearby.

Em wanted to ask him how he was settling in, if he’d found out anything, if anyone suspected something odd, but Davina quickly brushed past him and the other guards. The maid did take a quick glance over her shoulder at Aren, a blush creeping over her cheeks when he smiled at them. Em suppressed a laugh. The list of girls blushing over Aren never ended.

Em and Davina rounded several corners, and Em immediately lost track of where they were. The hallways were all the same except for the vibrant colors on the walls that changed each time they turned. The castle was laid out in a square, so at least it was a comfort to know that when she inevitably got lost, she could keep turning corners and end up back where she started.

Deep blue rugs ran down the center of the floors, and light spilled across the floors from the large windows. The windows were open and faced the east, so the ocean was barely visible. A cool, salty breeze blew through the hallways. Lera was much warmer than Vallos or Ruina, the sky completely cloudless. She could see why the people of Lera had forced out the Ruined generations ago so that they could remain. She wouldn’t want to leave this place either.

Davina stopped and rapped on a large wooden door. It was quickly opened by a young woman, and the maid scurried away.

The woman escorted Em inside. The queen stood in the center of the room, her bright-red gown in contrast to the cream-colored outfits the two women next to her wore.

The large room featured racks of dresses, pants, blouses, and a wall entirely of shoes. The queen’s closet. She couldn’t help but hope that she’d get to experience that kind of wardrobe during her stay. If she had to deal with these people, she could at least wear some beautiful clothes while doing it.

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