Home > Champion (Legend #3)(11)

Champion (Legend #3)(11)
Marie Lu

I spend several minutes walking the ballroom in vain, greeting various Senators and their families as I go. Where is Day? I try to hear snatches of conversations, or notice where clusters of people might be gathering. Day is a celebrity. He must be attracting attention if he already arrived. I’m about to make my way across the other half of the ballroom when I’m interrupted by the loudspeakers. The pledge. I sigh, then turn back to where Anden has already taken his place on the front stage, flanked on both sides by soldiers holding up Republic flags.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Republic of America . . .”

Day. There he is.

He’s standing about fifty feet away, his back partially turned to me so that I can only see a tiny sliver of his profile, his hair loose and thick and perfectly straight, and on his arm is a girl in a shining gold dress. When I observe him more closely, I notice that his mouth isn’t moving at all. He stays silent throughout the entire pledge. I turn my attention back to the front as applause fills the chamber and Anden begins his prepared speech. From the corner of my eye, I see Day turn to look over his shoulder. My hands tremble at this momentary glimpse of his face—have I really forgotten how beautiful he is, how his eyes reflect something wild and untamed, free even in the midst of all this order and elegance?

When the speech ends, I head straight in Day’s direction. He’s dressed in a perfectly tailored black military jacket and suit. Is he also thinner? He looks to have lost a good ten pounds since the last time I saw him. He’s been ill recently. As I get closer, Day catches sight of me and pauses in his conversation with his date. His eyes widen a little. I can feel the heat rising on my cheeks, but force it down. This will be our first face-to-face meeting in months, and I refuse to make a fool of myself.

I stop a few feet away. My eyes wander to his date, a girl whom I recognize as Faline, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Senator Fedelma.

Faline and I exchange a quick nod. She grins. “Hi, June,” she says. “You look gorgeous tonight.”

She makes a genuine smile escape from me, a relief after all the practiced smiles I’ve been giving the other Princeps-Elects. “So do you,” I reply.

Faline doesn’t waste a single awkward second—she catches the slight blush on my cheeks and curtsies to both of us. Then she heads back into the crowd, leaving Day and me alone in the sea of people.

For a second, we just stare at each other. I break the silence before it stretches on for too long. “Hi,” I say. I take in his face, refreshing my memory with every little detail. “It’s good to see you.”

Day smiles back and bows, but his eyes never leave me. The way he stares sends rivers of heat racing through my chest. “Thanks for the invite.” Hearing his voice in person again . . . I take a deep breath, reminding myself of why I invited him here. His eyes dance across my face and to my dress—he seems ready to comment on it, but then decides against it and waves his hand at the room. “Nice little party you have here.”

“It’s never quite as fun as it looks,” I reply in a hushed voice, so that the others can’t hear me. “I think some of these Senators might burst from being forced to talk to people they don’t like.”

My teasing brings a small smile of relief to Day’s lips. “Glad I’m not the only unhappy one.”

Anden has already left the stage, and Day’s comment reminds me that I should be escorting him to the banquet soon. The thought sobers me. “It’s almost time,” I say, motioning for Day to follow me. “The banquet is very private. You, me, the other Princeps-Elects, and the Elector.”

“What’s going on?” Day asks as he falls into step beside me. His arm brushes once against mine, sending shivers dancing across my skin. I struggle to catch my breath. Focus, June. “You weren’t exactly specific in our last conversation. I hope I’m putting up with all of these snobby Congress trots for a good reason.”

I can’t help my amusement at the way Day refers to the Senators. “You’ll find out when we get there. And keep your insults to a minimum.” I look away from him and toward the small corridor we’re heading for, Jasper Chamber, a discreet hall branching away from the main ballroom.

“I’m not going to like this, am I?” Day mutters close to my ear.

Guilt rises in me. “Probably not.”

We settle down in the private banquet room (a small, rectangular cherrywood table with seven seats), and after a while, Serge and Mariana filter in. They each take a seat on either side of Anden’s reserved chair. I stay next to Day, as Anden had wished. Two servers go around the table, placing dainty plates of watermelon and pork salad before each seat. Serge and Mariana make polite small talk, but neither Day nor I says another word. Now and then, I manage to steal a glance at him. He’s eyeing the lines of forks, spoons, and knives at his place setting with an uncomfortable frown, trying to figure them out without asking for help. Oh, Day. I don’t know why this gives me a painful, fluttering feeling in my stomach, or why it pulls my heart to him. I’d forgotten how his long lashes catch the light.

“What’s this?” he whispers to me, holding up one of his utensils.

“A butter knife.”

Day scowls at it, running a finger along its blunt, rounded edge. “This,” he mutters, “is not a knife.”

Beside him, Serge notices his hesitation too. “I take it you’re not accustomed to forks and knives where you’re from?” he says coolly to him.

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