Ruined (Ruined, #1)(11)
Written By: Amy Tintera
“One for Mary,” the king said, a hint of surprise in his tone. The crowd cheered.
One. The first one. Em bounced on the balls of her feet. She’d needed to be first.
Jovita’s amused expression had faded when she whirled around. She had clearly decided to take Em seriously, and a thrill of excitement ran down Em’s spine.
She blocked Jovita’s next attack, the crowd roaring as the women circled around, barely blocking each other’s blades. When Jovita faked right, Em fell for it, and the girl jabbed her sword into Em’s chest.
“One for Jovita.”
Em barely had time to take a breath before Jovita was coming for her again. The faces and noise around her started to fade away, her focus entirely on the girl in front of her. Her mother had made her practice different types of combat every day when she was younger, and she found fighting almost comforting.
You were born useless, but you don’t have to be helpless, her mother used to say.
Em saw an opening and poked her sword straight at Jovita’s stomach, narrowly missing getting a jab in the neck.
“Two for Mary,” the king said.
She took a step back, darting away from Jovita. She skirted around the edge of the floor until Jovita growled in frustration. Em darted back into the fight. Sometimes a moment to clear her head was helpful.
Jovita came at her so quickly she barely saw the movement. The blade was pointed straight at her forehead.
“Two for Jovita.”
So much for clearing her head.
She spun around, getting a better place on the floor so Jovita wouldn’t be able to back her into a corner. She was breathing a bit heavily now, but she was more relaxed than she’d been since her arrival yesterday. She’d have to find someone to spar with every day, or she might lose her mind in this castle.
Em blocked Jovita’s sword once, twice, three times. Em ducked and dodged, suddenly feeling better than when she’d begun to fight. She darted around the floor, a smile starting to appear on her face.
When she saw the opening, she used one quick well-placed kick to the legs to bring Jovita down to her knees. Em jumped in front of her, aiming her blade directly at Jovita’s neck. Cheers and applause erupted around the room.
“Mary wins,” the king yelled over the noise.
Em kept her sword at Jovita’s neck a beat longer than was necessary. She couldn’t kill her with this sword, but she pictured it for a moment.
Em swallowed, stepping back and lowering her sword. Jovita got to her feet, a hint of amusement on her face.
“I suppose it serves me right for underestimating you?”
Em laughed, pretending to be good-natured about it. She turned away from the girl.
“Yes, it does,” she muttered under her breath.
CAS WAS SWEATING under his suit. The windows to the Grand Hall were open and a cool ocean breeze blew through them, but he was stuck in the small, stuffy waiting room right next door with his parents. He thought he might melt before the wedding began.
“You look nervous,” his father said as he adjusted his son’s collar.
“I do not.”
“Well, you have no expression on your face at all, which means you’re nervous.”
Cas cocked an eyebrow. His father had a way of making everyone smile, and he tried not to give in too easily.
“I don’t think she likes you much,” the king said with a chuckle.
The queen let out an annoyed breath and patted her elaborate hairdo. Her dark hair was piled so high on her head, it must have been painful. “She likes him fine. Just yesterday she was asking if I thought he liked her.”
“And what did you say?” the king asked.
“I told her the truth. That I didn’t think he’d decided.”
His father took his mother’s arm. “That must have made her feel much better.”
It was not unlike his mother to be brutally honest, though she also knew the value of a well-timed lie. Cas was surprised she hadn’t reassured Em with a lie about how he’d been instantly taken with her and was too shy to say so.
But perhaps it didn’t matter if she knew the truth. They were getting married, regardless of whether or not he liked her.
Or whether or not she liked him. She’d looked at him like he was a bug under her shoe yesterday when he’d given her the tip about the Union Battle.
The priest opened the door, his bright-orange robes swinging around his ankles. “We’re ready to begin.”
Cas turned away from his parents and marched past the priest and into the Grand Hall. The room featured an impressive view of Lera all the way to the ocean through the floor-to-ceiling windows to his left, and flowers and sheer white ribbons lined each of the packed benches down the center.
He entered so suddenly that the rows of people all jumped to their feet at once, the wooden benches creaking and feet scrambling against the floor. He clasped his hand around his other arm and faced the aisle. He hoped she walked quickly.
His parents entered behind him and took their seats on the front bench, next to Jovita. All three of them had expressions on their faces like they were happy about something. Cas tried not to look at them.
The guests shuffled back into their seats, and Cas surveyed the room. Each guest held a cup of wine, which wasn’t customary, but his father must have thought the ceremony could use some livening up. He wasn’t wrong.