Consider all the italics as mind voices, mostly Annabeth for this chapter.
Annabeth stood stunned as she looked at Estelle and then the camera.
Estelle was the last to select as she was the youngest. And therefore her polls were already decided. She put her entire head in to draw out the first card, hit her head while coming up and squirmed in the hands of the maid who was holding her by the waist.
Annabeth almost reached out to put her hand on top of Estelle's head to soothe her but she didn't want excess attention to herself and the maid had already started doing it anyways. Then suddenly Estelle turned towards Annabeth, "pick for me" she said innocently.
Annabeth wasn't sure if it was just her or if the royal families attention did indeed turn to her.
Her fears were confirmed when she found Percy staring at her.
"... Your highness?" Annabeth said not knowing what to do.
Royals were supposed to pick The Selected traditionally. To do anything else would be to disrespect the royals.
"I can't reach... I hit my head.. pick for me please"
Annabeth didn't know what to do.
"Okay sweetie, how about you tell which one you want to pick to your helper and she would do it for you?" Said the King.
"No" Estelle whined. "I want her to pick for me."
"Why?" Asked Prince Tyson almost as innocently as Princess Estelle.
"Because she is the best!" Said Estelle.
At this point Percy's expression was starting to get funny. Queen Sally was smiling all throughout the process and if Annabeth wasn't wrong, she took a quick glance at Percy and her smile seemed to get more genuine.
The King was at a loss of words but Percy, in his embarrassment, stepped out of the circle and walked steadily towards the 4s poll.
He gestured for the maid to give Estelle to her and the maid set Princess Estelle on her feet, close to the Prince. Percy swiftly picked her up and walked towards the next poll, Annabeth right on his heels.
If anyone had ever asked Annabeth to bow to Percy even as a gesture to her Prince, she wouldn't have done it. But standing so close to Percy in his perfect suit, carrying his sister with a flushed cheek and a small smile on his face...
Oh if I look now I can't look away. She reminds herself.
"Baby, can you show me which paper you want me to pick and I can pick it for you? Can you do that for me?" He asks sweetly.
Annabeth feels her cheeks heating up. He is using his baby voice and it is cute. Too cute.
Percy then stands next to the poll. He looks back to his family. "Is that alright dad?"
The King nods.
"But..but... I don't un.. i don't unstand" says Estelle, pronouncing understand wrongly.
"What do you not understand baby?" Percy asks.
"Why can't she pick?"
Percy steals a quick glance at Annabeth before saying "But she is holding the tray with both her hands isn't she? How can she pick for the baby.. hmm?" He reasons out, now really turning her towards Annabeth.
Annabeth bravely steals a glance. Kill me now.
"Um... Umm... She can't.." Princess Estelle pouts.
"Hmm.. then can you look inside and tell me which one I should pick?" He sweetly asks again.
"That one" she says as soon as Percy lifts her up to the box level, too soon for Percy to see it. She then brings her hand to her mouth and chews slowly on her knuckles.
Percy reaches in though. Already used to her games by now. "This one?"
"No.. hehe hehehe" she starts to giggle.
Percy mock smiles to her and tries again. "This one?"
She just giggles now her face completely turned to Percy, not even looking at the box. She gasps, chews her knuckles again, giggles and says "Nooooo"
Percy takes his hand out of the poll and mock stares at her. "Babyyy..." He says in mock anger.
Can somebody please tell Percy to stop saying baby?
That too this sweetly.
Estelle forms a O with her mouth before saying "that one!" so quickly there was no way Percy could have seen in time.
"Can you tell me again, sweetheart?"
Percy finally pulls out one and Estelle nods at him. He opens the card to read but Estelle squirms in his hands again.
"Lemme read lemme read" she says. Percy lets her open the card and waits patiently for her to read.
"Ca... Ka... Catty Garden" she says confidently. Percy almost snickers before he reads the paper himself. "Katie Gardner" he corrects. Then he puts the name into the jar Annabeth holds out for them.
Fifteen minutes, two and a half more more struggles, and twenty "babyy"s later, Percy picks up the last card as per Estelle's direction. By this time percy has Estelle's back firmly pressed to his left chest and shoulders to allow them both to see the box at the same time and hence reduce Estelle's mischief.
Before Percy could put the card on the jar however, Estelle takes it from his hand and almost jumps on Annabeth to give her the card.
The motion drags Percy and Annabeth unnecessarily close because Annabeth reached out to Estelle out of habit before recomposing herself and the jar. Percy clears his throat.
"I wanna do that again! " She shouts before jumping again but Percy has a tight hold on her this time. Percy laughs and walks back towards the royal family.
Annabeth follows him but stands short of the circle.
As she looks back at them and the guards, she wonders if she can ever outlive this embarrassment. The guards who for a fact are actually Jason, Leo, Grover and her brother Malcom are openly showing their amusement. Tyson is laughing too. The King looks amused. King's mother, and her brother shortly snicker like this is an everyday event.
And oh.. Queen Sally looks over the moon. When Annabeth gains enough courage to look at her, Sally winks at her and Annabeth goes red all over again.
It is over now though.
She wasn't in the Selected.
Maybe it wasn't meant to be.
After The Selected are all announced one more time, the press questions each member of the royal family. Annabeth got her revenge for all that embarrassment when she sees Percy very uncomfortably answering questions like "Which one appeals to you Prince?" , "Any first minute crushes?".
The Selected then arrive one by one but Percy or any royal weren't going to meet them for another week.
It was one of those traditions again, Prince was supposed to meet them all only during their introduction ceremony.
On Wednesday night with selection starting on Friday morning; Percy, Grover, Tyson, Jason, Malcom, Charles, Silena, Hazel, Leo, and Will all sit on huge diner (originally arranged for the selected and the royal family). That is when someone knocks on the door.
Annabeth wasn't with them yet and Percy wondered why.
See... something like this couldn't be done regularly. It was already a feat breaking the rules by letting Annabeth, Grover, Malcom and Jason sit with the royal family during some meals. Actually letting the Prince have soft drinks seated as equals with a few 4s and 5s?Forget it. While it was easy to get permission from the royal family, it was a real feat to keep guards, maids and guests away. (Oh now the Selected too)
Jason still doesn't understand how they got through Paul's mom Miranda for this. Grover shouted something about testing seats before running towards the dinner gates and Hazel called in on a race. Percy just shrugged at his grandmother and ran while Jason actually stayed back to ask if it was alright.
Tyson hurried to open the door and let the guard inside, who looked a little taken back at seeing a Prince open and hold the door for him.
Jason was sure the guard looked like he was going to curse at Percy for sitting on the King's seat if the King hadn't come in himself just after, seemingly not minding Percy's actions. (And of course because, technically, he cannot curse a Prince)
Percy rubs his neck and slides to the next seat as his parents occupy their respective seats.
"Your highness we have an issue at hand. Could you please request all your acquaintances to wait outside?" A guard asks.
Before Percy gets a chance to reply Sally budges in saying "Mischelle Andrews, a three from whites, hasn't arrived yet"
Everyone except Percy looks around to silently excuse themselves.
"Nonsense. You guys can stay. Percy would just tell you everything right away anyway" She turns to Tyson "Tyson dear, could you please go to your room and tuck Estelle to sleep?"
"Huh what? I want to stay too!"
"Yes honey but she especially asked for her brother. We will tell everything once things are confirmed okay?"
Tyson grumpily nods and goes out.
"I don't see the problem mom. The Selection doesn't start till Friday" Percy says.
"Yes highness it doesn't but we were shocked when we contacted her parents and they said that she had left to the palace already" a guard spoke up.
Another one chirruped in, "We investigated the matter and found out that she had ran away with a lover, a man named Harry, and that she only participated in The Selection due to pressure from her parents"
"But isn't consent asked to every participant... personally?" Leo interrupts.
"Yes and she admits to the lie. It is not just that..." The guard seems to hesitate looking at Percy's friends.
"Go on. It is alright. They're all green" says Percy. Lol
A few of the friends look around in confusion but no one asks anything.
"Your highness... I don't mean to be rude but... only three here are green" the guard hangs his head down in an unsaid apology.
"It is alright Ethan, tell us" Jason says, having authority as head guard.
"She.. she isn't a virgin" he tells.
Percy frowns. "Dad seriously... I thought we agreed on not doing this part. I told you it doesn't seem fair"
Quite a few eyebrows go up at his honesty.
"I'm sorry Percy, the council is very hard to budge, traditions and all." he replies.
"That means she clearly broke two signed rules. She also committed treason by seeing another man in the duration of the Selection" the guard said. "We have arranged an emergency Report for her trial tomorrow but as all offenses are directly committed to you, the council insists on your verdict"
Percy sighs and nods. What wrong really has she done?
He hasn't even met the girl yet.
"That is only half of the problem your highness. Traditionally we always went with 35 Selected. This has been the case for every nearby Kingdom too"
"Can't we select another from the polls?" Will asks.
Percy shakes his head. "The polls are destroyed two days after confirmation from the families. Data security reasons. That means they were destroyed on Monday"
"It would take forever to scrutinize or even find all the lost names. The foreign meets are also in another 6 months. If we deny the Selection now, we might as well have to postpone it after them, too many guests. The Selection is precisely planned now for you to at least bring the Selected to the Elite before the foreigners arrive" the King says.
Silena rises one hand up. Queen Sally looks at her skeptically before understanding her request. "Speak freely. All of you"
"Your majesty, Kingdom Iíléa held its Royal Selection almost 10 years ago and my cousin is friends with one of its Rejected. We never knew exactly why but two Selected were replaced with girls from the palace after the Selection started. It was released to public but soon the attention died because of the eliminations."
"It would be easier to scrutinize the palace girls and pick one too" added Charles.
Leo claps his hands in mock excitement but everyone ignores him.
"Most of the palace girls are 2s though, at least the poise pretty ones. Guards have 3s but they're all male. Maids are mostly 4s, maybe 5s, threes are really few... most of the 3s are older. It would look unfair to replace a three with a two" Hazel pointed out.
"Guys..." Says Leo.
Percy tries to remember the last Lady he met who isn't a 2 and tries to remember if there are any girls he knew among the guards.
"GUYS! Come on! Not all of you can be idiots at once! " Leo addresses the table.
Everyone looks at Leo like he grew a head before... " Oh I'm so so sorry your highness... No wait highnesses?.. I meant only these doofus-es oh and Percy too. See Percy is a royal idiot... Shit... I messed up again. Percy please don't demote me from green! "
"Calm down Leo, we'll pretend we never heard it. Tell us your point" says the King.
Leo shuts up and looks around at everyone in the room. "Wait are you telling me you still haven't figured this? How disappointing"
Annabeth arrives at the dinner doors in time to hear Leo say "We have to find someone who is a girl... AND a two..."
She hears someone (Jason) pushing him down to sit on his chair while everyone goes "Who is the doofus here?", "Yeah Repair boy, WE - GET - THAT - MUCH", "Just shut up will you?"
Annabeth just laughs and figures they are playing a cheating game of "Guess the word" again. She pushes open the dinner doors and goes in. "Woah" her smile goes wide seeing her friends "too much noise for a game isn't it?"
She sees the King and the Queen and wonders what all she really missed. "And yes Percy you really are a seaweed brain"
Percy looks frozen and Leo looks stunned. Everyone else look like they just forgot something obvious. Then suddenly Leo jumps up and walks towards Annabeth.
"Someone dare to tell me this isn't fate?" He asks.
"Annabeth does fit into the résumé" says Grover, smirking.
"Too perfectly" says Jason who is smirking too.
Leo is too excited. He takes one of Annabeth's hand and shakes it aggressively. "Congratulations Annabeth, Welcome to The Selected"
She looks at Percy who is avoiding her.
What the hades?
Guys thank you all for reading it and please comment. I'm waiting.
What do you think guys?