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Insomnia by Pea

Like the other 40,000 or so young girls in the province of Fervennia, I grew up wanting to marry a prince. Specifically, Prince Melwyn.




One humid day in June, when I was only the tender age of eight, he came marching down the streets in an extravagant parade, riding on an ivory stallion. I took one look into his piercing ocean-blue eyes and knew that I was a goner.




In my excitement, I hadn’t noticed his younger brother Prince Jedyn trailing behind the silver horse, holding a metal rake—evidently on excrement duty. I began running towards Prince Melwyn and promptly crashed into Prince Jedyn, sending his rake flying into the horse’s flank. Prince Jedyn tried to straighten me up, as was the custom for gentlemen, but instead he pulled both us of down straight into the muck. The horse bucked in terror and Prince Melwyn was thrown off.




Prince Melwyn stood up, dusting his now-wrinkled royal garments off, and cast me a disdainful glare.




Even though nine years have passed, I’ve never forgotten that glower, that stamp of disapproval from him.




Jedyn, however, had grinned at me and given me a thumbs-up. “Thanks for irritating my brother, it made my day,” he whispered to me, seeming to not even care that his trousers were now caked with horse feces.




Everyone in the kingdom of Krumpett knew that Melwyn was betrothed to the daughter of the duke and duchess of the providence of Lovanis, Averil. However, two months before the wedding, Averil died of sickness. That’s when one of the king’s advisors thought of the idea to hold a competition, open to any maiden in the kingdom between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.






So here I am, stuffed in between a voluptuous blonde fifteen-year-old named Rosella and an auburn-haired twenty-year-old named Victoirine pretending she’s eighteen, bumping along in one of the three-seater carriages the prince provided for the maidens in the competition. They’ve been chatting non-stop about gowns and jewelry the entire ride. While I love dresses and necklaces as much as any other girl, nausea prevents me from gossiping with them, and I’m sure they think I’m missing a roof in my palace, or at least somewhat dim-witted.




“Adelaide! Victoirine! Look, I can see the palace up ahead!” Rosella cries, opening the lacy white curtain and poking her head out the window. She smiles and begins blowing kisses, even though we must still be far from any kind of noblemen or royalty.




Victoirine fumbles with the latch that opens the curtain, and eventually just rips the ivory cloth off in frustration. “You’re right, sweet, look at the palace! Oh, I can feel that emerald-and-pearl tiara on my head already!”




“No! It’s mine!” Rosella shrieks.




And this is why we—the hundreds, no, thousands, of young ladies across the country participating in the competition—can never truly be friends. We’ll always all have one goal in mind—Prince Melwyn.




“Oh, really?” Victoirine lunges at Rosella, and I scoot out of the way of her two-inch long nails.




Rosella aims a scratch at the side of Victoirine’s porcelain cheek. “You wish you had it like me!”




Victoirine grabs Rosella’s stiletto heel and yanks it off of her foot. Rosella’s foot odor instantly clouds the carriage and I pinch my nose in disgust.




“Give me back my shoe!” Rosella cries.




Victoirine raises the hot-pink stiletto above her head like it’s a sword or ax. She brings it down on Rosella’s acne-peppered face repeatedly, drawing blood.




I can’t stand this anymore. “Stop!” I grab Victoirine’s bony arm. She glares at me.




“Stay out of this, Adelaide!” they both scream.




I grab the shoe out of Victoirine’s hands and toss it out the window.




“Hey! Now I have no shoe!” Rosella shouts.




“Would you rather your face be completely mangled?” I snap, rolling my eyes and turning my attention back to the loose thread on my gown.






“Okay! According to the roster, there are one thousand and sixty-three of you here!” the king’s first advisor, Theophilus, shouts. I’m cramped in the Room for Lectures and Tirades with hundreds of others, and the girl next to me reeks of rose and cinnamon perfume. I lean away, trying to mentally direct the smell away from my nose.




“You will be all sleeping in the Rooms for Sleeping and Dreaming. By tomorrow morning, we should know who Prince Melwyn is marrying!”




What? The contest is that quick? Mumuring spreads through the crowd.




“What do we have to do to win the competition?” someone in the back hollers.




“That, I’m afraid, is classified information.”




Handmaids with candles come in and usher us to our rooms. I am assigned to the Lilac Room of Sleeping and Dreaming, and to my relief, Rosella and Victoirine are led off the Tulip Room instead.




When I see the beds, it’s all I can do to suppress my gasp. They are piled high with feather mattresses—why, there must be at least twenty—and are swathed in velvet blankets and satin sheets.




“Maybe they want us to get a really good night’s sleep,” a girl in front of me suggests.




I scoff silently, staring at the beds.





Since I was young, I have suffered from insomnia. I find it extremely hard to fall asleep, and I wake up often at night. Unfortunately, this condition does not magically disappear when presented with satin sheets and swan-feather mattresses. In fact, I daresay it increases in severity, or maybe that was just because I’m worrying so much about the competition tomorrow.




What if we are tested on physique? Oh, I can’t run the length of the grand hall without getting a stitch in my side! What about law? Why wasn’t I paying attention during school, I know absolutely nothing about history or international affairs!




I don’t know how much time has passed by when another girl across the room from me gets up out of her bed and begins removing the mattresses one-by-one. Eventually, she removes the last mattress. Something small—I squint into the darkness in a futile attempt to identify it—lies in the middle of the bedframe. She picks it up, rubs her back as if in pain, and then begins painstakingly stacking up the mattresses again.





That morning, I learn that her name is Sylvie, a sixteen-year-old from the providence of Aria. Theophilus has us all line up by room and begins inspecting us. At the end, he has Sylvie and I follow him into a separate room—the Room of Inspection and Review, according to the plaque on the door.




“You!” He jabs his finger at me. “What’s your name?”




“Adelaide,” I reply, wondering where this could be heading.




“Adelaide, did you have a good night’s sleep last night?”




“No, I suffer from insomnia.”




He nods and turns to Sylvie. “What’s your name?”




“Sylvie, and I could’ve had a good night’s sleep, if it weren’t for the pea under those mattresses! Is this the chambermaids’ idea of a joke?” There’s an edge to her lilting soprano voice.




Theophilus nods and motions for me to leave.





“Ladies!” King Aldric booms, and we all look up to see him standing on a high stage. The room quiets down and I lower myself into a kneel along with the others, wincing as my knee hits the cold stone ground.




“We have chosen a compatible bride for Prince Melwyn,” he continues proudly, puffing out his chest. “Princess Sylvie, please step forward.”




Sylvie enters from a hidden entrance. A white wedding gown enhances her figure and diamonds adorn her ears. Her honey-colored hair is swept into an elegant bun with braids intricately woven across.




I’m surprised she’s not melting from the fire of the glares she’s attracting.




Why her? Why not me? I was in that Inspection room too. What compelled them to choose her and not me?




I run out, ripping my ice-blue satin gown on the corner of a statue.




“Hey!”




I whirl around, expecting to see a guard. Instead, a boy of sixteen or seventeen grins at me. He shakes his sandy blonde hair out of his sky-blue eyes. “I know you!” he exclaims.




Of all the people I expected to see, somehow Prince Jedyn didn’t cross my mind.




But as I stared into those unwavering eyes, that easy grin, Prince Melwyn vanished from my thoughts.




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