2. The Bakiraka and a Ball

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"Today we study poisons," the female Bakiraka spoke.

They refused to give their names and Marcella stopped asking. Was it fair that they gave her so little and knew so much of her? Midland's eldest princess, Princess Marcella, practically a ghost who had taken up residence in the Wyndham castle. She had long been cast aside as little more than a bargaining chip between Midland and some cruel kingdom, far away from here.

Yet the Bakiraka woman, Aniya, took a liking to this princess instantly when she arrived at Wyndham with the rest of her clan. She saw in her eyes the sadness and distrust the little princess held for those who surrounded her. Everyone but her sister, who was kept far away from her at the third Queen's orders.

She had been ostracized, just as the Bakiraka clan had been. It made it all the more fitting that she would marry their master, Prince Silat. And for that, the Bakiraka woman agreed to help Marcella when she approached the clan. Her pleas were soft and sweet. For the heart of the girl failed to match those disdainful eyes. She wanted to become strong and that was something Aniya admired greatly in the princess.

"I don't know why you don't just have us take care of him for you," Aniya asked as she slithered around Marcella.

"Too risky."

"Hmm, and this isn't?" Aniya said as she traced her finger across Marcella's petite jawline.

"What? You don't enjoy our visits? I'm offended," the princess said, placing her palm over heart and meeting the Bakiraka woman's eyes.

Aniya wished to take her right then and there, to tell the girl what her name was, to offer all the comfort and solace her sad eyes screamed for. But, Silat forbade it in the name of their clan's restoration. Aniya quickly withdrew her hand away from the princess and turned away, hardening her voice, "I only do this because you will wed my master one day."

"Won't you tell me what he is like?"

"Who?"

"Your master? The prince?"

"Prince Silat... he is... strong. He is quite fierce," she began, careful not to reveal that they weren't any better off than she was, "but, he has much to learn."

"Is he kind?"

"That's a dumb question," Aniya rolled her eyes, "He's a prince. And besides, the world hasn't been kind to him."

Aniya watched as Marcella's eyes widened. What was she imagining?

"Let us continue with the lesson, please," Marcella bowed her head.

Aniya clenched her teeth together, annoyed at the princess's politeness, "Viper venom..."

Marcella diligently memorized each vial and its contents, its purposes. Later she would pick what vial she could use to slip into Lord Julius's bed-time tea.

~~~

She couldn't stop shaking, so Marcella resolved herself to clasping her hands together and resting them snuggly against her tightly bound torso. Her pants and boots once again hidden under the layers of her ball gown. Strapped to her leg was the vial of poison the Bakiraka woman had given her, or rather, she bought.

Make an appearance, fall ill, run to Julius's manor while everyone is at the ball, kill the bastard.

She repeated the plan in her mind over and over, like a mantra.

The ball was overly extravagant and it disgusted her to the core. Marcella was taught it was unlady-like to scowl, rather her true thoughts were expressed through her eyes. It had always been this way. This was how she had slowly been cast out of the castle's main social circle and branded as a bitch. No suitors called upon her. Nearby kingdoms would consider a marriage proposal to the eldest princess an insult. It made her all the more terrified of her engagement to Prince Silat.

Marcella stood on the sidelines of the dance floor, her eyes glaring at any who dared to approach her. In truth, she was stuck in her own head. After the death of the second Queen, when Marcella was only a child, she realized that no matter what your status is, life isn't fair. Here she was in riches with three meals to count on each day, while their subjects were struggling in a war they didn't chose to enter. These nobles didn't step foot outside of the capital. The ugliness of medical wards didn't concern them. The overwhelming amount of women and children in the streets missing their husbands, their fathers, and brothers didn't concern them.

No. They all played dress up tonight, herself included, and came to fawn over the newest war toy the King had introduced – the Band of the Hawk leader, Griffith.

Marcella watched as Griffith glanced in Charlotte's direction about every two minutes or so. And she watched as Charlotte did the same.

Oh hell, Charlotte, not him.

Every inch of Marcella's being wished her sister's peace and happiness. She felt in her soul that Charlotte would not find that peace with this man. She wanted to see her nation return to peace, but how many warriors came before this Hawk promising the same outcome he did?

Her thoughts were interrupted when a low and catty voice pierced her ears, "I see you've managed to clean up for this occasion."

Marcella turned and curtsied, "Your majesty."

"Oh, stand up. I see you looking at him."

"Who?"

"Don't feign ignorance with me girl. If you want to pursue the common drabble, then so be it. But, heed my warning, that man will always be common. Do not give him false hope or I swear I will see to his demise."

"I would not care if that man fell dead right here and now. Perhaps, Your Majesty, this conversation would be better suited for your favorite child," Marcella said and nodded her head in Charlotte's direction.

The Queen turned her gaze to see Charlotte blushing and looking at Griffith who stood surrounded by women of the court. She didn't bother to look back at Marcella as she made a beeline towards Charlotte.

Marcella curtsied once more behind the Queen's back. Bitch. She turned to one of the King's hands, who stiffened at her approach, "I'm feeling ill. I will be in my chambers if anyone should need me."

"Yes Princess Marcella, feel better."

There was no offer of help. No sign of concern. Only words spoken out of fearful obligation. Marcella briefly wondered how silly she must have looked. A mere shadow within the palace excusing her absence to a man who wouldn't pass the word on to anyone else about the first princess's absence from the ball.

It made Marcella's dream of leaving all the more appealing and all the more possible.

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