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Chapter One

Yay. Happy birthday to me. Damn I hated my birthday. Why couldn't we do something simple, just the six of us? But no. We had to have cousins, and aunts and uncles, and a lot of people I didn't know.

"Good evening, Sir. Yes, thank you very much!" Who was that? Whatever. I just plastered a smile on my face, making sure mother and father thought I was happy with their party for me. After all, turning twenty is a big thing, right?

I checked around the room for Rodrick. It was his first party where he could drink. I wondered how that was turning out for him. I slalomed around the guests, nodding and smiling, saying my thank yous, and letting everyone think I was pleased. I couldn't find him. But I found Jaiden.

"Hey, buddy! How's it going?"

"Alright..." he shrugged.

"Boring, huh?" I smiled.

His eyes lit up. "Yeah!"

"Same here. Hey listen. Do you know where Rod is?"

He chuckled. "You sure you want to know?"

Confused, I said I would.

"Follow me!"

I followed, and he stopped in front of the wine and spirit table, but I didn't see Rodrick. Jaiden lifted the white floorlength table cloth and revealed our brother seeming to be sleeping peacefully, oblivious to the party going on around him. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I squatted and made sure he was still alive. Thank goodness he was. He was just passed out. He wasn't used to alcohol, yet, and I wondered how many glasses went down.

"We'll leave him sleep here for now."

I stood and continued my rounds, shaking hands and saying "good evening" and "thank you." Man I wished I could be in my bed right now. It was almost dawn, and I had a lot to do tomorrow. Tomorrow? More like in a few hours. Jeeze, how time flies when you're bored.

I wondered what it would feel like to pass out. Never had the opportunity. If father saw me drinking more than a glass or two, I would be good for a beating. And what would it feel like to die? Not by somedoby killing you, but by a natural death? Like drowning, or choking without oxygen? Did it hurt? I suddenly wanted to try.

I saw mother waving at me. She had no idea what went on in my head. At least I had that privacy. Every single event of my life was filmed for the whole country to see, so I had learned to hide my emotions and feelings, and show other ones, ones that were expected of me. Being crown Prince of Illéa had its drawbacks. And lots of them. People thought I was pampered and cherished, and that I could have and do whatever I wanted. Well they were wrong.

What if I wanted to be a doctor? Or a teacher? Even a lawyer? What about a horsman, or a guard or a plantation worker? But nooo. I had to be the Prince, and that was the end of it. Illéans were unhappy because the castes were confining them to a certain path of life, and they thought we didn't. Well guess what? Ones are also confined in a path. I was. Not my brothers, though. As Crown Prince, I had to be King after my father. The others could do whatever they wanted. They had the best part.

And speaking of filming, I saw a Camera come to me, but it was too late to dodge it.

"Your Majesty, Happy Birthday!"

I plastered my Prince Smile. "Thank you very much!"

"Tell me : What is it like to be twenty?"

Still smiling, I supressed a yawn. "I feel exactly the same as I did yesterday and the day before, I'm afraid."

"Oh." I think that took him aback, but he quickly recovered. "And are you excited for your upcoming Selection?"

Damn! I had totally forgotten that! That part of my life, too, would be filmed, for everyone to see. I guess it was entertaining to see a Prince date 35 girls and eventually fall in love. Ugh. But my smile only faltered a split second, and I hoped he didn't see it. "Yes very! It will be a change around here, since the only lady here is my mother."

"Did you already learn all the names? The girls are coming in two days, so..."

"Not yet, no. I want to have a clean start with all of them, and if I start looking at their files, I'm afraid I'll read things I don't want to know yet." Pfiou... that was a close one. Of course I hadn't learned their names yet : I had totally forgotten about the whole event! It's a good thing a have a well trained repartee, thanks to father.

"I think the ladies will be very happy to hear that, Your Majesty." The camera went off, and I nodded and left before he could say anything.

Why did Palace parties always last until dawn? People seemed to enjoy it, but not me. It could all have ended at midnight, it would have been enough for me. I really needed a few hours of sleep before the coming day. I found my way to mother.

"I'm sorry to interupt, mother, but I'm retiring. A few hours of sleep before starting work with father will do me good."

She smiled and held a hand to my cheek. "Of course, dear. And you need to be fit and ready for when the Selected arrive."

"Exactly. Thank you, mother." I kissed her soft cheek and discreetly headed for the door, hoping father wouldn't see me.

I managed to get there unnoticed. I didn't even bother to change and just kicked my shoes of. I let myself fall on my bed and I think I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow. No dreams came during my three hour nap, and when I woke up, I didn't have time to go running. I stripped, leaving everything on the floor for Jacob to pick up and slipped in the shower.

I let the water drain averything from my body and mind and scrubbed away my deadly thoughts of a few hours ago. What was I thinking? I can't just kill myself, that would be so selfish. Rodrick never trained to be King, Matty is too soft for that and Jaiden is still my baby brother, even though he turned thirteen a couple months ago. No, I was the only one fit for the task. And I had to find myself a wife in a pack a wild, loud, skinny, excited girls.

I think I've never dreaded an event as much as this one. Think of having to fall in love in front of the whole world, and especially in front of your parents! That's scary enough to deny it completely from one's memory.

I was really scared. I didn't even know how to talk to a woman! The only women I talked to was my mother and the maids around the Palace. I had no problem talking to a crowd, but talking on one-on-one? No thank you. I alway tried to avoid that. Unfortunately I had to do that with 35 different girls, and each time I had to start over again. I was such terrible at small talk.

Before going to breakfast, I jotted down a few safe questions to ask the girls on the first day. Yeah, I had to see all of them the first day for like five minutes. What was there to do or say under five minutes? I had absolutely no idea.

My belly grumbled and I snapped back to my next task : breakfast. I decided to do one thing at a time until the ladies arrived, so as not to get mixed up and overwhelmed at the prospect of no privacy – even less than now – for the next few months. And I needed to find time during the day to go run a few miles, too.

When I entered the dining room, father started lecturing me about leaving before everybody else at the party. I looked at mother for help.

"Markus, dear. Give your son some rest. The next few days with be full and overwhelming. Don't you remember your own Selection?"

Father's eyes soften as he looked at mother. I've never seen those eyes on me before. I wasn't even sure father could soften up. But around mother he sometimes did. I wanted to ask how their Selection had happened, but forced myself to keep to myself. I would never ask father for help. Never.

Rodrick was here, and I had to give him credit for that, but he looked awful. He was holding his head with his two hands and grunting for us to shut up and turn the light off. I chuckled. I almost wanted to be in his situation. Almost.

Father stood and I followed him in his office. We had a lot of work to do, but I couldn't concentrate.

"What is wrong with you, Logan?!"

I jumped and straightened my back, coming back to his desk.

"I'm sorry, father. I was just thinking about the Selection."

"Well stop daydreaming! You have work to do." admonished father in his unhappy voice I knew too well.

God knows I wasn't daydreaming. It was more like trying not to puke.