I turn back to the guard.
"Heath, you said my father is filming an address?"
Heath is very tall and broad shouldered, bigger than Leger and most of the other guards. He and Ean are the biggest guys I know. I hope Heath has brains to match his brawn. He looks too young to be second in command. Maybe a year or two older than me. How on earth is he the one in charge after Leger? I swallow my harsh judgement. I'm in charge after Dad, and I'm a literal mess.
Heath's eyes stay on mine and he angles his body to block me from the room's prying eyes.
"You Highness?" he prompts. "We have secured the castle and are working to clear the grounds. A team should be escorting your father back when he is finished. Your mother is well manned. Should I dismiss the remaining Selection boys back to their quarters?" He seems alert and tense to move if needed. I decide to trust that whomever put him in charge knew what they were doing.
"Does he need me? My dad?" I blurt out. I hate the childish hope I hear in my voice.
His mouth opens slightly and I can almost see his buzz cut hair bristling with unease. "Um, no, he, um, thought it'd be better if it was just him speaking to the people." Heath rubs his forehead and turns to the others grouped at the far side of the large anteroom. They are all listening to earpieces or ear buds or are huddled around a small speaker. Oh, his speech is happening right now.
Heath lowers his voice more and adds, "His Highness hopes to convince them to put down their arms and come to him in peace to make change."
"Make change?" I'm dumbfounded my father would say such a thing.
Heath apologetically says, "I only heard the beginning of the address, then you called me over."
Kadan appears at my elbow. "He wants to listen to their demands," he says. The way he says it makes me want to wince.
"Demands? With what leverage?" I bark. "They are his subjects, they will obey his judgement in every matter as he will always look out for their best interest." Wait, I think. Before saying anything else, wait.
"Can I have a minute with my sister?" Kadan asks Heath. Heath nods, presses his earpiece, and steps to the side, still blocking me from the others in the room.
Kadan gives me a look that means he's tolerating me even though I am not as smart as him. The look sears into me, but somehow I hold back snarking at him. He knows more than me right now. I need to suck it up and listen. Even if he is only fourteen. I arch an eyebrow. He proceeds to fill me in.
"Why listen? So they'll stop surging the castle, stealing our possessions, threatening our safety...that's powerful leverage, Eadlyn. The intruders left the castle, but the general populace is still reacting to the invasion. The fires, fights, and looting needs to stop. Now."
Fires. Fights. Looting. My Illea? What is happening?
"This is bigger than you realize. Then maybe even Dad realizes. It's time to listen to our people. Past time."
"We have been—" I begin. His look shuts me down.
"No, we haven't. Words are the beginning of a revolt. Then smaller hostilities, like the parade. Then riots, now an attempted coup, what's next? Revolution?"
I'm speechless with fear, blame, and guilt all rolled into an awful churning. I want to lash out at my little brother for knowing this. But I should be thanking him. Hugging him. For knowing it. For telling me and...
"How do you know this?" I ask in a crackling whisper. "Did you talk with Dad before the address?"
"I wrote the address," he says solemnly. "The violence needs to stop."
"Have people been hurt?"
"Yes. Not the intent maybe, but to get in they had to overpower the guards and our guards are loyal—they went down fighting."
"We've lost seven guards."
"They infiltrated the main rooms and the east wing. Stripped it of anything valuable. We held them off this wing, and called for reinforcements from every other nearby area. By the time reinforcements arrived, the insurgents left. They seemed to give up after they reached the royal apartments."
"Everyone is safe?"
"Not everyone is accounted for, but the royal family is fine." He flinches.
"Who?" I ask, an ominous dread rising up my throat.
"Your maid is missing."
He nods. "And several of the Selection are gone. We think they left of their own free will."
"They were part of it," Heath asserts. Okay, so he is not even hiding that he is eavesdropping.
"Maybe," Kadan says, and he bows his head.
"But the background checks—" I splutter.
"They were legit. Leger thinks that some were recruited while here, prime for the picking after being alienated or embarrassed by you." Kadan says this without guile, as if he's reporting well known facts.
Alienated? Embarrassed? My fault?
I need Ahren.
Or Kile. Where is he?
"Watch how you speak to our future Queen," Ean says, appearing out of nowhere. His bulk and confidence bring me relief. He gives Kadan a stern look. Kadan ducks his head sheepishly.
"Sorry," Kadan mumbles, like he accidentally stepped on my heel. He goes to stand next to Heath. Now they both are blocking me from view of the rest of the room.
I turn and slide over to the window nearest to me. Outside, there is a mass of churning people, mouths open, signs waving. Signs that I can't read from here, but I think for that I am glad.
The anger in the air is almost visible, a chaotic swirl of unfocused hurt seeping up and out like dusty pollution.
My arm is tugged and then my shoulders clamped under Ean's arm. He pulls me away from the window.
"It's not safe to stand in the open like that right now, Your Highness." Ean presses me protectively against his side.
I go dizzy with his meaning.
"To be safe," he says. "Stay out of sight."
A commotion sounds out behind me.
Dad walks in, his best men around him. General Leger is right there, at his side.
"Eadlyn!" he says in complete relief. He motions us to follow him into the smaller attached room where Mom is recovering.
Mom gives us a wan smile.
After darting his eyes over Mom from head to toe to see that she is okay, Dad opens his arms to me.
I stay where I am. Ean's arm falls from my side.
"Is it true? This is all about me? They don't want me to lead?" I choke out.
No one speaks. The room is stuffed to the brim with the sound of my mistakes, piled up, my selfishness, my cold scorn, my distance from everyone.
Then Dad lowers his arms. He moves to the bedside and draws Mom's hand into his and holds tight.
"Things are settling down," he says evenly. "We need to rest, and then recoup."
"After you brief me," I say coldly, annoyed that he's shutting me out. Anger is easier than guilt, by far. I don't deserve this. I've done everything they asked! Even allowed my marriage to be dictated by a game.
Dad looks at me and blinks for a long time. Then he rubs his face and gestures to Heath, who comes over and whispers to him. Dad nods, and then settles into a chair near Mom. Mom is barely awake; Lucy and Marlee hover on her other side.
"Let Heath escort you to your room, Eadlyn. Then let's meet in two hours for a briefing, in private." He sounds so very tired.
"Maybe when you have clothes on," Kadan says.
I look down at my body. I'm in a robe, my brother's old shirt, and my hair is a mess: unbrushed, bed head, the works. Bare feet. I'm freezing, I realize just then. I have never been seen even by castle staff looking so disheveled. I have never really looked this tousled—it's all from my melt down and then spending the night pressed against Kile's chest.
"I think you need to get some rest. I dismissed the boys out front and the rest of the staff. Please lie down for a bit." Dad runs his hands through his graying hair. I think it's him who needs the rest.
"Please," Mom says in a croak.
"Fine. May I use your room? Mine is trashed."
Dad sucks in a breath. His face loses what is left of its color.
"Yes, Leger is tallying up the damage. I want some time with your mom. Use our room. I'll wake you later for his report."
I trail out to the front room, sad and alone, full of desire to change but not enough energy to even run a brush through my hair.
I see Erik talking with a guard. I motion him over.
He approaches me carefully.
"Are you alright? Henri?"
He murmurs so softly that I have to lean in to hear him. "Yes, he is very shaken. This was a terrible violation. It feels unfinished somehow. Why did they leave when they had the advantage?"
I give him a blank look. I'm in an empty zone where I feel so much I can't feel anything.
He watches me for a full minute. I feel so empty.
"May I escort you to your room?" he asks.
"No, thank you. Heath will, along with some other guards, in a minute."
"I'm worried about you," Erik says in a trembling voice.
"Me? I'm okay. I'm sorry I worried everyone when they couldn't find me. Have you seen Kile?"
He shakes his head. "We all were so sure...that...they'd taken you."
"Me?" I say again.
"You were the only one missing."
"Aside from Neena, Kile, and..."
"Some of the other boys. But those of us left...we needed to see you with our own eyes. Then you came in like a— ghost—I'm not sure that is the right word. I've never been so scared. Kadan said you were unharmed...?"
"I didn't see any rebels. You mean everyone saw me when I ran in?" I think about how awful I look. How wide my eyes and mouth were when I was racing in. "Great."
"Yes. I've never seen you so...raw..."
"Well, yes, I'm a woman beneath the crown. My home is being ransacked."
"A woman who has had a fright. Anything, I will do anything. You need but to ask. I am your servant." He bows to me, with a look of pure devotion in his eyes.
"No, I need no servants," I say. I realize I need to prove this is true. "I need a friend. And you are that Eikko. Thank you."
He bows again.
"Have you seen Kile?" I ask again.
"No, Your Highness. Raoul, Harrison, and Winslow are gone, though. Raoul left a note, asking you to pardon his departure. Witnesses saw the other two leave. They either fled out of fear, or joined the rebels. It's unclear."
We stare at each other, both in shock I think.
After another shared moment of silence, I dismiss him with a nod.
Where is Kile? I need to find him. I also need to shower, get dressed, and maybe catch up on the state of the castle. But first? Just like Dad ordered: rest.
I tap my bare foot, waiting for Heath, who is very busy in some argument with a circle of guards. Hello? I'm the future Queen. Someone walk me to my room for a nap.
Ugh. I hear myself and I am sick of it all.
I need alone time anyway. I slip out of the room and down the hall toward my parent's room. I know I should not be about without guards, but I told my dad, my mom, and Erik where I was going.
Heath can catch up when he has a minute. Arrogant goon. No, I berate myself. He didn't do anything. It was me, all along it was me.
I get to their room and the pictures on their walls reduce me to tears. Curling up into a ball under their deluxe comforter, I immediately fall into an exhausted sleep.