Chapter 0:

The Last Wager

Glittering Jewels in the Starry Crown

“Gimme a smile?”Bookmark here

It wasn’t a surprise when he didn’t. A smile from the prince was about as rare as it came, even on a day as auspicious as this one. It hadn’t always been that way, but this wasn’t the time for nostalgia. She would have all night to contemplate the past and her future, and maybe dance a little besides, but for now-Bookmark here

She ruffled his curly hair, ignoring the stoic expression.Bookmark here

“Don’t be like that! You’re the one that insisted I was the one to fix up your makeup when anyone else in court could have done a more regal job.”Bookmark here

“I’d rather not deal with more regalness than I have to.”Bookmark here

To be fair, Merides hardly needed anything added to his face to look festival-ready. He was adorned by the very stars themselves, it was said, and how close that was to being fact was a story only he knew. But even he couldn’t refuse the Queen, her loving-yet-stubborn insistence on him looking like the heir that he was.Bookmark here

The only one.Bookmark here

She wanted to assure him that today wouldn’t be as troublesome as it was, but she was his retainer, not someone just around to lie to him. As royalty, he already had plenty of that.Bookmark here

Brisk, joyous music could be heard even here, blending in with the scents of tantalizing food to lull her into a happiness she couldn’t rest in yet. It felt a little wrong, looking forward to when the day was over, as if she was already leaving him behind…Bookmark here

Or perhaps it was the other way a- Bookmark here

Ugh, again with the thinking! She’d never been one to think this much, it never led to anything good. Shaking her head at herself, bouncing her pigtails with the movement, Staci let herself focus on the task at hand.Bookmark here

“Wanna bet on how many ladies are going to throw a fit about not being chosen?”Bookmark here

While he didn’t smile, she did get a scoff out of him with that one.Bookmark here

“Name your stakes, Eustacia.”Bookmark here

That was simple enough. There was only one thing in the world that she could want today.Bookmark here

“That last bit of juicy pork you had dear Cook save just for you, I know it’s still in the kitchen getting even more tender as we speak. ”The prince frowned at her then, though the uncharitable would call it more of a pout.Bookmark here

“Two. It’s the most I could tolerate.”Bookmark here

“Well, I’ll say seven... I've done quite a job with your face, you know.”Bookmark here

As they shook on it, neither of them could predict that in a few short hours, both of them would be proven wrong in the most dramatic of ways.Bookmark here

Nibir J. Barman
Joe Gold
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