Home > The Favorite (The Selection #2.6)(4)

The Favorite (The Selection #2.6)(4)
Kiera Cass

My prayers went unanswered.

I knew Maxon was too kind to do this. If he had tried to get me out of this punishment altogether, then it couldn’t have been his idea to make my mom and dad watch it firsthand. I didn’t want anger to take up any room in my heart, but I knew who was responsible for this, and an ember of hatred burned inside me for the king.

Suddenly Maxon’s coat was ripped from my shoulders, and I was pushed to my knees in front of a wooden block. The metal shackles were removed, and my wrists were bound with leather straps.

“This is a crime punishable by death!” someone called. “But in his mercy, Prince Maxon is going to spare these two traitors their lives. Long live Prince Maxon!”

The straps on my wrists made everything very real. Fear surged through me, and I started crying. I looked at my smooth hands, wanting to remember them as they were now, wishing I could use them to wipe away my tears. Then I turned to Carter.

Even though the thing he was strapped to was in the way, he craned his neck so he could see me. I focused on him. I wasn’t alone. We had each other. The pain would last temporarily, but on the other side of it I had Carter forever. My love, forever.

Even though I could feel myself shaking with fear, I was also strangely proud. It wasn’t as if I would ever brag about being caned for falling in love, but I realized there were some people who would never know how special it was to have someone. I did. I had a soul mate. And I would do anything for him.

“I love you, Marlee. We’re going to be okay,” Carter vowed over the din of the crowd. “It’ll be okay, I promise.”

My throat was dry. I couldn’t answer him. I nodded, so he would know I had heard, but I was disappointed in myself for not being able to tell him that I loved him, too.

“Marlee Tames and Carter Woodwork!” I turned at the sound of our names. “You are both hereby stripped of your castes. You are the lowest of the low. You are Eights!”

The people cheered, enjoying our humiliation.

“And to inflict upon you the shame and pain you have brought upon His Majesty, you will be publicly caned fifteen strikes. May your scars remind you of your many sins!”

He stepped aside, raising his arms to the audience for one last cheer. I watched as the masked men who had bound Carter and me reached into a tall bucket and pulled out long, soaking rods. The time for speeches had ended, and the show was about to start.

Of all the things I could have thought of, at that very moment I remembered an English lesson on idioms from years ago. We had discussed the phrase “rule of thumb,” and I remembered our tutor mentioning that the term might have originated with a husband being allowed to beat his wife, but only with a stick no bigger around than his thumb.

The rod we were faced with wouldn’t pass that test.

As they whipped the canes around, warming up, I averted my eyes. Carter took a few deep breaths, then swallowed once and brought his focus back to me. Again my heart swelled with love. The caning would be much worse for him—he might not even be able to walk after it was over—but he was worried about me.

“One!”

I wasn’t at all braced for the hit, and I cried out from the sting. It actually ebbed for a moment, and I thought this might not be so awful. Then, without warning, my skin began burning. The burning grew and grew until—

“Two!”

They timed the strikes perfectly. Just as the pain hit its peak, a new wave added to it. I called out pathetically, watching my hands shake from the agony.

“We’ll be okay!” Carter insisted, bearing his own torture while trying to ease mine.

“Three!”

After that hit I made the mistake of balling up my hands, thinking it would somehow ease the pain. Instead, the pressure made it a dozen times worse, and I let out some strange, guttural sound.

“Four!”

Was that blood?

“Five!”

It was definitely blood.

“It’ll be over soon,” Carter promised. He sounded so weak. I wished he’d save his strength.

“Six!”

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make it anymore. There was no way to tolerate more pain than this. Any more pain would certainly mean death.

“Love . . . you.”

I waited for the next strike to come, but there seemed to be a hiccup in the proceedings.

I heard someone screaming my name—it almost sounded as if they were coming to my rescue. I tried to look around, and that was a mistake.

“Seven!”

I outright screamed. While waiting for the strikes was nearly unbearable, being completely blindsided by them was much worse. My hands were torn into pulpy, swollen messes; and as the cane came down again, my body gave up, and thankfully the world turned black and I could return to my dreams of the past. . . .

The halls felt so empty. With only six of us left, the palace was starting to feel too big. But small at the same time. How did Queen Amberly live like this? This life must get so isolating. Sometimes I had the urge to scream just to hear something.

A light trill of laughter caught me, and I turned to see America and Maxon in the garden. He had his arms tucked behind him, and she was walking backward, hands moving in the air as if she was telling him a story. She made a point, exaggerating it with her gestures, and Maxon bent forward, laughing and squinting his eyes. It seemed as if he was holding his hands behind him because, if he didn’t hold himself back, he’d scoop her up right then and there. He seemed to know a move like that would be too much too fast, and she might panic. I admired his patience and was happy to see he was on the path to making the best possible choice for himself.

Maybe it shouldn’t have made me so happy to lose, but I couldn’t help it. They were too good together. He was control to her chaos; she was levity to his seriousness.

I kept watching, thinking that it wasn’t so long ago that she and I were in that same spot, and I had nearly made a confession of my own. But I had held my tongue. Confused as I was, I knew I shouldn’t say anything.

“Lovely day.”

I jumped a little at the words, but as my brain registered his voice, a dozen other reactions followed. I blushed, my heart started racing, and I felt absolutely foolish at how pleased I was to see him.

One side of his lips quirked up in a half smile, and I melted.

“It is,” I said. “How are you?”

“All right,” he answered. But his smile fell a little and his eyebrows furrowed.

“What’s wrong?” I asked quietly.

He swallowed as he thought. Then, checking behind us to make sure we were alone, he leaned in close. “Is there a time today when your maids will all be gone?” he whispered. “When I could maybe come talk to you?”

It was embarrassingly loud, the rhythm my heart was making as I thought of being alone with him.

“Yes. They leave for lunch together around one.”

“I’ll see you a little after one then.” His smile still seemed sad as he walked away. Perhaps I should have been more concerned, more worried about whatever he was going through. But all I could think of was how happy I was that I would see him again so soon.

I gazed out the window, watching America with Maxon. They were walking side by side now, and she held a flower loosely in her hand, swinging it back and forth. Maxon tentatively released one of his arms and went to put it around her, then, pausing, brought it back.

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