Raised by her Enemies

Failing the Foxtrot

Marcus taps his foot silently. He looks over his shoulder at the doors of the hall, hoping for them to open. There is no movement and the doors remain closed. He turns his head to the Queen. She searches through the line of girls waiting for the judgment of the Matchmaker. Her eyes snap to Marcus, catching his gaze. There is an intense glare in her eyes. He quickly averts his gaze as his eyes fall to the pale cement floor.

The Matchmakers voice rings through the hall as she calls one of the girls to the front. He wipes the small beads of sweat on his forehead with the back of his hand. Why is he nervous? He is not the one who did not show up.

”Relax, she will be here in a minute, ” Kaz whispers, trying to calm Marcuss nerves. Marcus looks at Kaz with worry clear in his dark brown eyes.

”I hope so, but you never know with her, ” he says and he looks over his shoulder again. With a sigh, he focuses on the Matchmaker. She better show up.

Coming to a halt at the bottom of the stairs, Amara puts her hands on her knees. Her chest feels tight as she takes in rapid breaths, trying to calm her racing heartbeat. She comes up and places her hands behind her head, taking deep breaths. She is already late, she will have to rest once she is inside. She might have been on time if the Village Hall were closer to the castle. Why does everything have to be so far apart?

With a shake of her head and one more deep breath, she heads up the stairs. A groan escapes her lips as she can already imagine what the Queen is going to say. She finally reaches the top and looks at the massive wooden doors. Two guards are stationed next to the doors.

”Good afternoon, ” she greets them with a curtsy. They bow in response. She hesitates for a moment. Should she even bother?

Her hands rest on the doors as she thinks this through. No, she cannot miss it again. The Queen had made it very clear that there will be grave consequences if she misses it again. She wished that the hall had a back door. It would have been a lot easier to sneak in.

She gently pushes one of the doors open just wide enough to slip through. On her way to the line of girls, she passes a window. When she sees her reflection, she nearly gives herself a heart attack.

Her light brown hair is disheveled which caused her hair to knot. The Queen cannot see her like this. In her fixation to fix her hair, she bumps into the girl at the back of the line.

”Apologies, ” Amara mumbles and continues to struggle with her hair. The girl turns to face Amara and she starts to giggle softly.

”You look . . . ” the girl looks at her with a hint of amusement. ”Like a mess, allow me to help you. ” Amara removes her hands and the girl starts to fix her hair. Amara looks at the girl as she pulls strands of her hair back into a less messy bun.

She is quite beautiful. Blue eyes and honey-blonde hair, exactly what the Matchmaker is looking for. She will probably be named the fairest maiden in the kingdom.

Amara scans through the group of girls that are already sitting, but she cannot see them properly due to the poor lighting. The girl takes a step back to see how Amaras hair looks. She nods her head in approval.

”Zehra, Lady of Broadburg, ” the girl curtsies slightly. She flashes a smile at Amara.

”Amara, Princess of . . . ” before Amara could finish, Zehra interrupts her.

”Oh my goodness, ” Zehra says a bit too loud, which earns her a shush from the girl in front of her. ”Forgive me. ” Zehra curtsies properly this time, but Amara pulls her up.

”There is no need for that. Thank you for fixing, ” Amara gestures to her hair, ” this. ” Zehra giggles and bows her head. She turns to the front to listen to the Matchmaker and realizes that only one girl is left before it is her turn. She turns her head sideways to talk to Amara.

”Why are you late? And why is there mud on your dress? ” Zehra whispers and gestures to Amaras dress. Amara looks down and sees that the edge of her dress has a huge brown spot.

”I overslept, ” Amara whispers loudly as she bends down and tries to get rid of the stain. Zehra frowns and turns to Amara.

”How? Did the servants not wake you? ” Amara chuckles.

”Oh, I didn sleep in the castle, ” Amara says, struggling with the spot on her dress. Zehra only nods and turns to the front. The Matchmaker calls the girl in front of Zehra. Zehra feels the muscles in her shoulders tense.

Amara shoots up and leans forward, whispering in a voice that imitates the Matchmakers.

”You are the fairest maiden in the kingdom. You are bewitching and you will have many suitors, ” Zehras hands move to cover the blush on her face.

”I wish, ” Zehra whispers over her shoulder. If the Matchmaker says that, it would be dream come true.

”Trust me, this is not my first time. I know what the Matchmaker is looking for and what she is going to say. ” Amara pats Zehras shoulder. Zehra giggles and inhales shakily.

”Zehra, Lady of Broadburg. The daughter of Duke Lanvin and Duchess Iza, ” a shrill voice calls out. Amara gives her a thumbs up, but Zehra is too focused to look back. Zehra walks with grace and poise while she focuses on her posture.

”Elegance, my dear. And don slouch, ” her mothers words echo through her head. She can feel everyones eyes on her as she makes her way to the front.

When she reaches the Matchmaker, the older woman holds her hands out. Zehra copies the movement. The Matchmaker takes Zehras hands and looks into her eyes. Zehra starts to feel uncomfortable and struggles to keep her gaze.

Suddenly the Matchmaker puts her hands on Zehras shoulders with a crooked smile on her face.

”This, ladies and gentlemen, is the fairest maiden in the kingdom. She is graceful and she is quite bewitching. She will have many suitors. ” Soft murmurs erupt from the crowd. The king taps his scepter on the ground to silence the crowd.

Amara grins. She was right, as usual. The Matchmaker ushers Zehra to the other girls. Zehra can barely contain her excitement as she sits down.

Now that is a hard act to follow. Amara laughs to herself and quickly glances down at her dress. Hopefully, the Queen will not see the stain. There are still whispers in the crowd and Amara feels her heart thumping in her chest.

The hall goes quiet as the Matchmaker calls out her name. Everyone looks back at her and small gasps can be heard in between the Matchmakers voice announcing Amaras title.

Amara looks at the Queen and sees the shock on her face. She smiles internally, knowing that everyone had expected her not to show up. Amara makes her way over to the Matchmaker, but far less graceful than Zehra. Zehra is exactly the type of girl the Queen would want as the princess.

”Look, she made it. ” Kaz taps Marcus and points to Amara. Marcus lets out a sigh of relief. He looks at Amara, but when he sees her dress and hair, he can barely control his laughter.

He should have known that if Amara were to show up, she would either be a mess or she would create one. Judging from the look that the Queen is giving her, she is doing both.

When Amara stops in front of the Matchmaker, she looks at the Matchmakers hands. She shudders at the sight of the old womans hands. It is so old and withered. The Matchmaker grabs her hands out of frustration. Amaras eyes never leave the Matchmakers hand.

Amara does not even bother to look into the Matchmakers eyes. She is aware that she should in order for the Matchmaker to predict her future, but staring into those judging eyes feels like staring into the abyss.

All this, the matchmaking ceremony and social season thing, is utter nonsense. And who gave this woman the power to decide how they should live their life? How does she know who will get a suitor or which suitor will fit the best with which girl?

If it were up to Amara, she would cancel the whole social season to allow the girls and boys to enjoy their youth. They can worry about all this when they are older.

The Matchmaker tries to look into Amaras eyes. The old woman shakes her head in disappointment. She opens her mouth to speak, but she closes it again, looking for the right words.

”You, ” the Matchmaker takes a deep breath, ” are not going to find any suitors this season. In fact, I believe that your journey will be a difficult and demanding one. ” There is a moment of silence before some of the girls snicker. Amara rolls her eyes.

Why does one persons opinion determine her whole future? The longer she participates in this, the more she realizes that it is foolish. That is perhaps why one should not participate in more than two social seasons.

”Thank you, oh wise one. ” Amara spits out sarcastically as she curtsies. She sits down next to Zehra and Zehra gently squeezes Amaras arm. Amara smiles at her and places her hand over Zehras hand on her arm.

The king announces that the ceremony is over and reminds everyone of the ball that is going to take place that night. As everyone is piling out of the hall, Amara is pulled back by the queen.

The Queen drags her away from the crowd to a corner of the hall. Amara yanks her arm from the queens death grip. She prepares herself mentally for what is about to come.

”Look at you! You are a disgrace, ” the Queen says through her teeth.

”At least I showed up. ” The Queen scoffs and looks Amara up and down.

”And what do you want? A congratulation and pat on the shoulder? ” She hisses and grabs a handful of Amaras hair. ”Look at this! ” She pushes Amaras head to the side with a forceful push. ”We will talk when we get back to the castle ” the Queen pushes past Amara.

Amara looks back to the doors and notices that everyone has already left, leaving her alone in the massive hall. She throws her head back and stares up at the ceiling. She looks around the hall.

Everything is pale, except for the endless wooden rows of seats. A cold shiver runs down her spine and she rushes out of the hall. Being in there alone is unsettling. She glances over her shoulder, feeling as if someone is looking at her. She shakes her head and falls in with the crowd as they make their way down the stairs.

Marcus sees Kaz standing between a boy and a girl on the grass. He squints his eyes as they are standing some distance from the stairs. He recognizes the girl instantly. She was named the fairest maiden in the kingdom. He keeps his eyes on her as he walks down the stairs. She deserves the title.

”Marcus! ” Kaz calls and Marcus weaves through the people as he hurries down the stairs. When he reaches them, they all bow in unison.

”Marcus, this is my brother, Lord Wylan. ” Wylan shakes Marcus hand. Before Kaz can introduce Zehra, Marcus turns to her and takes her hand. He places a kiss on her hand and grins up at her.

”Lady Zehra, it is an honor, ” Marcus lets her hand go and she curtsies. Kaz slightly steps between them and side-eyes Marcus.

”Zehra, this is Prince Marcus, ” Kaz says, still looking at Marcus.

”It is a pleasure to meet you, ” Zehra says softly as she feels heat rushing to her cheeks. Before Marcus could compliment her, he is interrupted by Amaras voice booming through the crowd.

He looks up to see Amara bumping into people as she runs down the stairs. She halts to a stop when she sees Wylan. She tilts her head with a wide smile.

”Wylan? ” Amara asks as she runs to him, pulling him into a tight hug. ”It has been so long since I last saw you. Look at you, you
e all grown up. How long has it been? It feels like ages. I can believe it. ” She lets him go.

”Probably eight years, ” he laughs and hugs her again. They are still laughing when they let each other go. Amara looks over at Zehra and winks. Zehra smiles to herself. Amara was right after all.

”Amara, this is my brother, Marquess Kaz. ” Zehra gestures to the man next to her. He is quite attractive. You would not say that they are brother and sister since he has darker hair, almost black, and his skin is tanned. She sees him staring at the stain on her dress and she curtsies to try to distract him. He bows slightly.

”It is an honor to meet you, Your Grace, ” Kaz says, but Amara can hear from the tone in his voice that he is just being courteous. She forces a small smile.

”We should probably get ready for the ball, ” Marcus says. Amara sighs loudly and puts her hand on her side.

”You sound like your mother, ” she says and dodges a hit to her arm. She pulls a face to mock Marcus.

”I know, but we still have many girls to woo with our dancing abilities. ” Marcus chuckles and claps Kazs shoulder. Kaz rolls his eyes and shakes his head.

”See you tonight, ” he says and bows to them. Amara gives a small and he starts to walk, but he pauses to look back at Amara. She is strange. He continues to walk away. Wylan bows quickly and follows Kaz. Zehra curtsies and Marcus keeps his eyes on her. She blushes and spins on her heels, joining her brothers. They walk away, leaving Amara and Marcus alone.

”What is up with him? ” Amara asks, gesturing to Kaz. Marcus smiles and watches them walk away from the hall towards their cabin.

”When we were still learning how to dance, he constantly stepped on the other girls feet. Now, whenever I make a joke about his dancing abilities, it gets on his nerves. ” She glances at them. Marcus hooks his arm through Amaras as they start to walk to the palace.

”How do you know Wylan? ” he asks.

”Don you remember when he had to stay with us for a while? I was about nine. ” Marcus bites his lip while he tries to remember.

”Why did he come to stay with us? ”

”His parents passed away and their parents, ” Amara gestures to Kaz and Zehra over his shoulder, ”had to make arrangements before he could go and live with them. So he stayed with us for a bit. ” Marcus frown deepens. ”We always got into so much trouble. ” Marcus nods his head instantly and laughs as he remembers all the pranks they pulled. They also got him into trouble even when he did not do anything.

They continue towards the palace. When they reach the entrance, Amara greets the guards and they bow to her and Marcus.

Once inside, Amara sprints down the hallway and balances herself as she glides along with the hardwood floors. They were recently polished, so they are slippery. Amara, being the reckless one, discovered that it is the perfect opportunity to have some fun when she was younger. Ever since she always glides around the castle whenever the floors were polished.

”Don forget about the ball tonight! ” Marcus says as she turns around the corner. He shakes his head and makes his way to his room.

As Wylan, Kaz and Zehra walk toward the cluster of cabins, Wylan throws his arm around Zehra.

”How does it feel? Being the fairest and all, ” Wylan asks and Zehra smiles brighter.

”I cannot even begin to describe how I feel. It still feels like a fever dream. I am so excited. Do you know how many suitors I will have? Mother will be so proud. She will be proud of all of us. ” She puts her arm around Wylans waist to give him a side hug. Wylan hugs her back.

Zehra wants to pull Kaz into the hug, but he breaks free from her grip. He scoffs.

”She will be proud of you guys, ” he says as he points to them. ”The Matchmaker told me that I shouldn even bother with trying to find a wife this season. ” He inhales sharply and fastens his pace.

”Kaz, that is not what she said. ” Wylan tries to comfort him. Kaz scoffs and looks over his shoulder.

”Well, that is what it comes down to, ” he says harshly.

”On the bright side, you still have it better than Amara. ” Wylan chuckles and pats Kaz on the back. Kaz nods in agreement. That is true. He just won find someone this season, but she is never going to find a suitor.

”So, Marcus and Amara are siblings? ” Zehra asks.

”Half. They have the same father. ” Wylan answers as they reach their cabin.

”Didn the King have an affair? I remember mother constantly talking about it. ” Kaz looks at all the wooden cabins that are centered between the castle and the edge of the forest.

Every year, the King and Queen organize where the cabins should be stationed for the social season. Every single year they build all these cabins just for them to be torn down at the end of the season. And then they rebuild it somewhere new each season. Why can they just keep the cabins in the same place every year? It would be easier for everyone.

He still does not understand the absurdity of all of this. Luckily their cabin is not too far. They finally reach the steps that lead up to their cabin.

”Is Amara always so . . . ” Zehra trails off. She doesn know how to describe Amara without being offensive.

”All over the place? ” Wylan answers, laughing. The memories of how they were constantly in trouble flood his mind. Zehra giggles. She is not your typical princess, but she is entertaining. Once they are all inside, they head to their separate rooms.

Kaz slides the door open and enters his room. He slides the door closed again and turns to head to his bed. He is exhausted, but he has to get ready for the ball. A movement catches his attention.

The wooden floor creaks and before he can react, he feels a harsh blow to his head. He stumbles forward, grabbing onto one of the wooden pillars near his bed. He looks up and tries to gather his thoughts, but everything feels scattered. His vision starts to blur and his head spins.

”Mother, ” he mutters.

”Do you know how embarrassing it is to be your mother? Do you know how it felt to sit there and be judged by the other mothers because you could not make an impression on the Matchmaker? Of course not. You only think about yourself. Did you even try? ” She continued before he could answer. ”How am I going to explain this to your father? You cannot even perform and excel at the small things. You are supposed to follow in your fathers footsteps. You are to be the Duke of Broadburg. You will not be respected if you continue like this. I swear you are cursed. ” she hisses at him.

Another hit to his head and this time he falls over, hitting the ground with a thud.

”Mother, I can . . . ” he tries to apologize, but to no avail. He dodges another hit, but he instantly regrets it as he sees that look in his mothers eyes. There is a knock at the door.

”Not a sound! ” she tugs on his hair and forces him onto his feet. She pushes him into the corner nearest to them. She signals for him to keep his mouth shut before she opens the door.

”Wylan, what are you doing here? ” she asks him. Kaz hears Wylan asking her something, but he is too disorientated to make out the words. He tries to find his balance as he leans against the wall.

Wylans footsteps retreat down the hall. His mother slides the doors close again and smacks his arm.

”Get ready. And you better look your best tonight. I do not want to be placed in a position where the other women think that I failed as a mother because of you. ” She exits and slides the doors close with a loud slam. He stares at the door, trying to calm himself. He takes a deep breath and turns his back to the door.

He slowly walks to his window and stares at the trees surrounding their cabin on the left side. On the right side, the other participants are all scattering to find their cabins. The leaves rustle and he inhales the fresh air.

With a sigh, he slides down the wall next to the window. The wooden floor is of no comfort underneath him. As he looks up, a tear forms in his eye.

”Why? ” he asks quietly. He waits for a response, but all that can be heard are the whispers of the wind. Why does he even ask? There is never an answer.

With watery eyes, he gets up, but he does not allow the tears to fall. He is not weak. He will not prove to her that she is right. He is not weak. He will show everyone. He will show her.

In her room, Zehra dances while she hums softly. Her thoughts race to Marcus. She touches the place on her hand where he had placed the kiss. She blushes again and falls with a hopeful sigh on her bed.

She knows that she should probably focus on other suitors, but she cannot shake Marcus from her thoughts. She has always been a hopeless romantic. She has to look her absolute best if she wants to get his attention and on the bright side, she is the fairest maiden. She is the wife every suitor wants, so he will definitely be interested in her.

Then she suddenly realizes that he will probably have many other girls seeking his attention. She will have to catch his interest first by making an impression that will focus all his attention on her. Her stomach turns. She never had to fight for anyones attention before.

She tries to remain confident, but suddenly the thought of pursuing other suitors does not sound so bad.

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