Though she was small in stature, Nya was strong. By the time Rok had dragged her backstage, she’d managed to work one arm free, which she jabbed into his eye. The army officer growled in pain and let go to grasp his eye. Nya took the opportunity to jab her elbow into his gut and stomp on his foot. She whirled around, her arms ready to protect herself.

“What are you doing, you little bitch?” Rok barked at her. “I was only protecting you! You should know better than to hurl yourself at the king. There are troops stationed around the dais, ready to fend off an attack from anyone!”

Nya knew he was lying. He’d held her back because he’d wanted to, because he thought it was entertaining to hold her slight body against his when he knew how badly she wanted to get to her father to check that scrap of paper, the tiny scroll he’d shoved in his pocket, and loved to see her in such misery.

“Who are you calling a bitch?” she shouted back at him. “You’d better pray that I am never the ruler of Frindom, or else you will find your head overlooking the northeast gate!” 

His eyes narrowed as he took in what she was saying. “Don’t threaten me, Princess! You will never rule this kingdom, and if you were to be left in charge, you would run the entire land into the ground!”

Nya could only stare at him for a moment. She hated the man almost as much as she hated her own father at the moment. He had been the one to sentence Gavin to death after all. Realizing she was wasting valuable time, she took off, running for the king, who was disappearing down a corridor, his work here finished.

“Father!” she shouted, but he did not turn around. Her mother, who had hold of his arm, stopped, pulling on her husband. He dropped his head and shook it slowly as Nya came flying up behind them. 

“Oh, dear one,” Queen Shu said, letting go of her husband to wrap her arms around Nya. The princess hugged her mother quickly but then shook herself free. She needed to speak to her father, and she wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to sneak away while her mother distracted her.

“Father! I want to see that scroll!” Nya demanded

The king looked her in the eyes, his dark brows raised. “I know you are upset, Nya, but I do not take orders from you. Besides, I no longer have it. I have handed it off to one of the members of the army. It is all in their hands now.”

“I don’t believe you!” she shouted. She’d only been gone for a few moments. It was likely still in his pocket.

The king took a step toward his daughter, his expression shifting from sympathetic to angered. “Be careful, dearest daughter,” he said through clenched teeth. “It seems as if you are making accusations against your king. While I am willing to accept that your disappointment at losing your ...friend may have words coming out of your mouth you do not mean, I am not about to let you call me a liar or a cheat!”

Wasn’t that exactly what she was accusing him of, though? Didn’t she believe he had announced Gavin’s name when the scroll, if she were able to find it, would say something else? Somewhere, out in that crowd, was a young man or woman who should’ve been preparing to meet their faith with the dragon, but instead, that person was headed home with their family while Gavin was being escorted to a room to wait to see his parents, say goodbye, and then be taken off into the night to be eaten by the dragon.

None of it was fair!

Tears blinded her as she stared at her father, not sure what to do. The rage inside of her boiled up, and she didn’t care what became of her. She had to save her friend. “Send me instead!”

“Oh, Nya!” the queen said, reaching for her again. Nya shook her mother’s grip from her hand.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” The king turned back around and began to make his way down the hall again. “You are ineligible and even though there are moments when I wouldn’t mind feeding you to a dragon, it will not happen.”

“Then… I’ll go and fight him off!”

The king spun back to face her and closed the distance between them quickly. “If you do not stop your ridiculous fit right now, you will spend the rest of the night locked in the tower! Then, you will not get a chance to see your friend or say goodbye to him. Is that what you want?”

Nya took a step back, the tears that had threatened to fall from her eyes since she’d heard Gavin’s name called finally spilling over. She shook her head. She couldn’t imagine not getting a chance to say goodbye to him, to tell him she was sorry, to say she wished it had been her and not him.

The king shook his head slowly and then turned again, grabbing the queen by the armas he headed off, and dragging her a few steps before she broke her gaze where it lingered on her daughter’s tear streaked face, and headed down the hall.

Behind her, she heard weeping and spun to see Gavin’s mother making her way down the hall. She knew what room Gavin would be held in. She rushed off, thinking she’d go in with his family but stopped when Mrs. Cross’s icy eyes fell on her. His mother, Vera, had always been so kind to her, treating her like she was her own daughter. But now, she saw Nya as the enemy. And who could blame her? 

Nya stopped at the end of the hallway, thinking she’d give Gavin’s parents some time to see him. She would find a way to get inside of that room before he was taken away, though. She had to tell him how horrible she felt about the entire situation. Somehow, though she wasn’t sure exactly how, she felt to blame.

“This is all my fault,” she muttered, shaking her head, staring down at the floor, her satin slippers not even visible beneath the large, wide skirt.

“You’re right. It is.” 

Nya looked up to see her sister, Eru, standing next to her, her hands clasped in front of her. Shocked to hear anyone agree with her, Nya asked, “But why?”

“Because… Father thinks you’re in love with him. He wants Gavin out of the way.”

“In love?” Nya repeated. “But… we’re only friends.”

Eru shrugged. “It’s better for him to be safe than sorry.” She put her hand on Nya’s shoulder and patted her but then turned and walked away, not much more than a small trace of regret left behind with the unsympathetic touch.

Nya found herself blinded with tears again as she stared at the door before her. There had to be some way to stop this from happening, some way to save Gavin. He was her best friend in the world--but that was all. She had no romantic feelings for him whatsoever, and it was ridiculous for her father or anyone else to think that she did.

Determined to find a way to get him out of this predicament she had, apparently, put him in, Nya fisted her hands and moved to the door to the room where they were keeping him.

Each step carried her closer  to her objective, though she had no idea how in the world she could rescue Gavin when there were armed guards all over the hallway, and she was dressed like a pretty princess in a giant gown. She wished she had time to go to her room and change clothes, but she didn’t have a second to spare.

She’d almost reached the room. She was so close, she could hear the sobs of Gavin’s mother through the door, heard his father crying as well, quietly saying, “My son! My dear son!” Two guards stood outside of the room.

Swiping at her tears, Nya ordered them, “Open the door. Now.”

The two guards, dressed in the royal silver uniforms of her father’s guard, exchanged glances before one of them said, “Family only, Princess Nya.”

She opened her mouth to protest when she heard a deep voice behind her say, “Let her in.”

She turned to see Rok Phin standing behind her and almost struck him again before she realized what he had said. Her face softened. What had brought on this change? Why was he being so friendly? “Thank you,” she said.

His black eyes were narrowed. “King’s orders. But she does not exit that room until I say.”

Nya’s scowl returned as she realized what he was saying. He was letting her in to say goodbye because her father had ordered him to do so, but he would make sure she did not leave that room with Gavin. As the soldiers opened the door, and she stepped inside, she stilled herself, knowing she’d have to find a way to get Gavin out of harm’s way.

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