Home > The Favorite (The Selection #2.6)(9)

The Favorite (The Selection #2.6)(9)
Kiera Cass

I trembled in his arms as the hours passed, terrified the rebels would find us and wondering if there was any way they would show us mercy. I kept asking Carter if we should have tried to escape from the palace grounds, but he was insistent that we were safer staying put.

“You didn’t see what I saw, Marlee. I don’t think we would have made it.”

So we’d waited, straining to hear the sounds of enemies and relieved when friends finally came down the hall, knocking on doors. It was a strange thing to think about, but when we’d gone into that room, Clarkson was the king, and when we came out, it was Maxon.

I hadn’t been alive the last time the crown was handed over to a new king. This seemed like such a natural change for the country. Maybe because I’d always been happy to follow Maxon anyway. And, of course, the work Carter and I needed to do around the palace didn’t slow, so there wasn’t much time to stop and think about a new ruler.

I was preparing lunch when a guard came into the kitchen and called my new name. The last time an escort came for me, America had been bleeding, so I was instantly on edge. And I wasn’t sure what it meant that Carter was already standing next to the guard, covered in sweat from being outside.

“Do you know what this is about?” I whispered to Carter as the guard took us upstairs.

“No. I can’t imagine we’re in trouble for anything, but the formality of being escorted by a guard is . . . off-putting.”

I laced my hand in his, my wedding band twisting a bit in the process and lodging the knot between our fingers.

The guard led us to the Throne Room, which was typically reserved for greeting guests or special ceremonies related to the crown. Maxon was sitting at the far end of the room, his crown affixed on his head. He looked so wise. My heart swelled to see America sitting on a smaller throne to his right, her hands folded in her lap. There was no crown for her yet—that would come on her wedding day—but she wore a comb in her hair that looked like a sunburst, and she was already so queenly.

Off to one side, a group of advisers sat at a table, reviewing stacks of papers and furiously scribbling notes.

We followed the guard down a blue carpet. He stopped right before King Maxon and bowed, then stepped aside, leaving Carter and me facing the thrones.

Carter quickly dipped his head. “Your Majesty.”

I followed with a curtsy.

“Carter and Marlee Woodwork,” he began with a smile. My heart wanted to burst from hearing my full, true married name. “In light of your service to the crown, I, your king, am taking the liberty of undoing past punishments inflicted upon you.”

Carter and I peeked at each other, unsure of what this meant.

“Of course, your physical punishment cannot be changed, but other stipulations may. Am I correct that you were both sentenced to be Eights?”

It was bizarre to hear him speak like this, but I supposed there were rules to follow. Carter spoke for both of us.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“And is it also correct that you have been living in the palace, doing the work of Sixes for the past two months?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Is it also true that you, Mrs. Woodwork, served the future queen when she was physically unwell?”

I smiled at America. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Is it also true that you, Mr. Woodwork, have loved and cherished Mrs. Woodwork, a former Elite, and therefore precious Daughter of Illéa, giving her the best she can possibly have under your circumstances?”

Carter looked down. It was as if I could see him questioning whether he’d given me enough.

I piped up again. “Yes, Your Majesty!”

I watched my husband as he blinked back tears. He was the one who told me that the life we had now wasn’t forever, the one who encouraged me when the days were too long. How could he ever think he wasn’t enough?

“In accordance with your service, I, King Maxon Schreave, am relieving you of your caste assignments. You are no longer Eights. Carter and Marlee Woodwork, you are the first citizens in Illéa to be casteless.”

I squinted at him. “Casteless, Your Majesty?” I chanced a look at America and saw her beaming at me, tears glistening in her eyes.

“Correct. You are now at liberty to make two choices. First, you must decide whether you would like to continue to call the palace your home. Second, you can tell me what profession you would like to have. Whatever you decide, my fiancée and I will happily provide you with lodging and assistance. But, even after that, you will still have no caste. You will simply be yourselves.”

I turned to Carter, completely gobsmacked.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“We owe him everything.”

“Agreed.” Carter drew himself up and turned to Maxon. “Your Majesty, my wife and I would be happy to stay in your home and serve you. I can’t speak for her, but I love my position as a groundskeeper. I’m happy to work outside, and I would do that for as long as I’m able. If the head position ever opens, I’d like to be considered for it, but I am otherwise content.”

Maxon nodded. “Very well. And Mrs. Woodwork?”

I looked at America. “If the future queen would have me, I’d love to be one of her ladies-in-waiting.”

America bounced in her seat a little and pulled her hands up to her heart.

Maxon looked at her as if she was the most adorable thing on the planet. “You might be able to tell that’s what she was hoping for.” He cleared his throat and sat up straighter, calling out to the men at the table. “Let it be recorded that Carter and Marlee Woodwork have been forgiven of their past crimes and now live under the protection of the palace. Let it further say that they have no caste and are above any such segregation.”

“So recorded!” one man shouted back.

As soon as he had finished speaking, Maxon stood and took off his crown, while America positively leaped out of her seat and ran down to throw her arms around me. “I hoped you would stay!” she sang. “I can’t do this without you!”

“Are you kidding? How lucky am I to serve the queen?”

Maxon joined us and gave Carter a firm handshake. “Are you sure about the groundskeeping? You could go back to guarding or even be an adviser if you like.”

“I’m sure. I’ve never had a head for that kind of thing. I was always good with my hands, and that kind of work makes me happy.”

“All right,” Maxon said. “If you ever change your mind, let me know.”

Carter nodded, wrapping an arm around me.

“Oh!” America galloped back to her throne. “I almost forgot!” Picking up a small box, she returned to us, beaming.

“What’s that?” I asked.

She smiled at Maxon. “I’d promised you I’d be at your wedding, and I wasn’t. And even though it’s a little late, I thought I could make up for it with a little present.”

America held out the box to us, and I bit my lip in anticipation. All the things I thought I’d have at my wedding—a beautiful dress, a fantastic party, a room full of flowers—had been missing. The only thing I did have on that day was an absolutely perfect groom, and I was happy enough about that to let everything else pass.

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