Whispers of Prince Ariston’s return spread throughout the palace like a virus. Held in rebel captivity for years, he was finally free to walk the halls of his palace and to plan vengeance against his rebel captors. Quiet shrills escaped the lips of residents. The people were eager for their prince’s return.
All except Ian Ramos, Charles Burket, and myself. We were none other than rebel spies, socially camouflaged within these Royal Allegiant walls.
“We leave tomorrow,” Ian tapped his fingernail on the ceramic tabletop. His foreboding eyes gave me a cautious warning, “He’s returning.” He scratched a finger along his spiked brown hair.
I stretched my hand across the table and leaned toward Ian. My lips brushed against his ear. “My guess is that Prince Ariston knows who you are, doesn’t he?” I sat back, assured no one overheard me. We were sitting in the grand hall. It was overly crowded at this hour, filled with the deafening chatter of Royal Allegiants.
Chances were that no one could hear our conversation, but I could not take the risk. We had been undercover, living within these palace walls for several months. To lose all the intel we gained for our rebellion because of one simple question? Not a chance.
Ian gave a curt nod, “It seems our time is up.” He was a fierce rebel warrior who almost never expressed emotion. While I was distracted by the thought of Prince Ariston returning, it did not seem to phase Ian. He was one of our best rebel fighters, which was exactly why he was chosen for this mission.
Charles, on the other hand, was chosen because of his ability to create friendships. His flashing white smile was contagious. With his toned body and mesmerizing green eyes he easily made all the girls swoon. He even caught the attention of Princess Fanny, Ariston’s sister. It went without saying that he was doing very well as a spy. It suited him.
Then there was me. I was chosen because I was expendable.
Keeping my voice low, and my face leaned inward, I asked, “How does he know you? Will our cover actually be ruined when he returns next week?”
Ian looked around the bright hall before speaking again. “I was involved in his capture five years back. I worked near the dungeons he was held in until I was assigned this mission. He knows me.”
Assigned this mission. Of course he accepted the task of working within Allegiant walls. Even though we were assigned to be servants, the accommodations were pleasant, to say the least. Running water, electricity, and warm clothing were all available as an Allegiant. The caves we lived in back at the rebel base camp had none of those indulgences. Electricity was nothing other than a myth until I came here and saw it for myself.
My auburn hair was pinned in a tight bun, reminding me that even pins were a luxury for us. Over two hundred years ago, the rebels were forced to go into hiding and abandon their lives and the luxuries they once had. Now, coming across something as simple as a hair pin was nearly impossible.
My mother's stories of the past haunt my memories. I will never forget her warnings to me about those who are allegiant to the gods.
“The Gods, Zeus and Poseidon, wanted to rid the dying earth of overpopulation.” Ma would tell me. “So they chose a few who promised to pray to them daily. They were named the Allegiant, for they were allegiant to the gods. With the help of the gods, the Allegiant were able to kill off the rest of the human population. Those who survived, by hiding deep in mountains across the globe, were protected by the god…”
“Hades!” Five year old me jumped in. “Hades helped us!”
With twinkling hazel eyes, she poked my nose and grinned. “Yes. Hades helped those who hid from and survived Poseidon and Zeus’ wrath. He keeps us protected in the mountains. Over time, those who hid in the mountains began to band together and create a rebellion.
Now remember to always pray to Hades, dear. Without the power of our prayers, he will lose his power and fall into a deep sleep. We need him to remain powerful so he can continue to protect us. One day, Marylyn, we will take our world back. The world that has been taken from us long ago.”
“We will help everyone like Mikey does!” I clapped, knowing my older brother was a rebel warrior.
She chuckled and nodded.
We didn't know the pain Mike would one day bring upon our family.
Removing my mind from the past, I decided it was about time we left. “I think we have enough information. We can have Jarvis prepare his boat for us,” I said, mentioning the rebel captain who brought us to the island, King’s Land, several months back. “Then we can safely return to the rebel camp.” And hopefully return to my family. I had been separated from them for so many years. I believed once I left this place, I would be given the chance to see them again.
Hades, please, let me finally see my parents again. I missed the delicate voice of Ma, and the strong arms of my father, both protecting me from all the world’s dangers.
I took a moment to look around the bustling hall. The lavish decor, the chandeliers dangling from high ceilings, and the beautiful outfits worn by both men and women would soon be only a memory. I was quite alright with it being just that. A memory.
Of course I would refrain from admitting it to Ian, but Prince Ariston’s return was a blessing in disguise. Every day I feared for my life within these walls. Every person I spoke to, I lied to. I lived every day in the life of an imaginary person to spare my true identity of a rebel spy. Ian Ramos, Charles Burket, and I risked being exposed every day.
If we were exposed, there would be nowhere to run. This palace was built on the end of an island occupied by only Allegiants. We were outcasts surrounded by our enemies. If anyone knew our secrets, we would never escape.
“Ian, do you think my family will finally be freed after this mission is complete? I know it was cut short, but I feel we’ve gathered enough information to have the rebel leaders free my parents.” Ian’s eyes were solemn. It was no secret I was actively involved as a rebel warrior to keep my parents safe. When my brother betrayed the rebels, my family and I were punished. It was supposed to be a lesson to others. ‘Do Not Screw With Us’. It worked. I suffered for it.
He shrugged, “I’m not sure. Hopefully they’ll consider your debt paid. This was a difficult mission. We know the entire layout of this palace, anyway.”
“It’s only one royal palace of many spread throughout the globe, Ian.” I reminded him. The Allegiant had taken control over most of the livable world. We targeted this palace because it was the closest to our rebel base.
“But this is the royal palace they wanted. It’ll be fine when we return. You’ll see your family in no time.” With that Ian stood and instructed, “I’ll find Charles. Pack your things. Tell no one we plan on leaving. By no one, I mean your little friend Alice," he coldly warned, mentioning the girl I shared a room with. We both worked in the kitchen and had become very fond of one another. Regardless of the bond we had forged she only knew the person I had created. She did not understand who I was beneath the lies. She believed I was a faithful Allegiant. I was far from that.
"I’ll get in contact with our captain tomorrow.” Ian said.
I brought a firm hand to my head and saluted him, “Ay ay, captain. Whatever you say.”
He rolled his forbidding black eyes and walked away.
“Marylyn O’Conner,” I heard Fanny’s husky voice from behind me. Turning in my cotton covered chair, I looked her way. A smug smile was plastered along her porcelain face. “Have you heard the news?” she breathed, already knowing the answer. Her sense of entitlement, being the King’s daughter, was overpowering.
I gave a fake smile. I was never a fan of her, her lush red hair, her beautiful clothes, or her perfect figure. Perhaps I was a bit envious, could you blame me?
“Oh yes. I’m so excited your brother is returning!” No, I was not thrilled about his return in the slightest. “He should arrive by next week, correct?”
“Sooner.” She winked, shooting me a devious smile.
Masking my panic, I managed to feign indifference and asked, “Oh, how soon?” Hopefully my question appeared relaxed enough.
A dark haze shadowed her emerald eyes. She grinned, but her smile sent shivers down my spine. Her grin never reached her eyes. I knew that grin all too well, because it was the exact one I had been giving to everyone the last several months. My smiles, the ones that never reached my eyes, were fabricated to match the lie I lived .
Seeing a mirror of my own face in hers terrified me. Tonight, I feared Fanny knew something I did not.“Soon, I promise.” Her sinister smile remained unwavering as she turned and glided away.
In that moment I knew Ian, Charles, and I were in trouble.