Chapter Four

The garden had become my new favorite place, every night when my roommates had a fallen asleep I'd carefully adjust the window and wriggle my way out. It had become a habit that earned comments from Sasha about the size and darkness of the bags under my eyes.

"You do look tired, are you sleeping okay?" Poppy asked.

"I'm fine, don't worry about it."

It was an hour before dinner, we had finished classes and chores for the day; it was what Rachael described as our leisure time. After dinner, it was our job as the youngest members of the manor to clean up the dishes, not only from our floor, but from the two above us. We did all the chores in the manor, Poppy loved dishes duty because she would pick at the leftovers on the senior girls plates. They received far superior meals that consisted of fresh vegetables, and meat- while we had the same cheap mush every night. Poppy explained how she couldn't wait to graduate, to live upstairs in the lush suites and entertain guests, I told her to stop being stupid.

Most of the time, during our hour of leisure I would help Poppy with whatever she was struggling with- she didn't grasp things as quickly as the rest of us. But recently I had spent the hour sleeping, overwhelmed with exhaustion. Lucie, our other roommate was a nice girl, pretty, blonde with big blue eyes. She appeared almost angelic, and more or less acted the part too. I found her teaching Poppy how to pour tea properly when I awoke from my late afternoon nap.

"You need to be careful not to reach over the guest, you must remember to be graceful at all times. And if you make a mistake, try not to draw attention to it!" Lucie said with a small smile.

"But I always make mistakes."

"Everybody does. You just need to work on concealing yours a little better. It's easy if you don't think about it too much-"

Sasha scoffed, "I think that's precisely her problem- she doesn't think."

I was about to respond and defend her, but before I could frighten them all with my consciousness I saw Sasha move from her top bunk, sliding down beside Lucie and Poppy.

"This is how you do it," Sasha lightly grasped the handle of the make-shift kettle that was in reality a jar with a piece of wire attached to it.

"You have to hold the bottom so you have better control over the kettle, but make sure your touch is light because otherwise you will burn your fingers- not that, that will matter later on."

"Why?" Lucie and Poppy both asked in unison.

Sasha sighed, placing down the kettle. "You guys really are clueless… How many soldiers- or middle aged men do you know that indulge in tea?"

"My Father used to drink tea… but then that turned whisky after he lost his job." Lucie revealed.

Sasha raised her eyebrow, "Exactly. The only people that care about tea are people that don't have anything to worry about. You won't be serving tea, you'll be serving liquor… and sex and anything else that helps people escape from the world."

I wanted interrupt, to console them both, tell them it would be okay and that the world wasn't really as cruel as Sasha made it sound. But I pretended to still be asleep instead.

Before long there was a hard knock at the door and I jolted up, rubbing at my eyes as if I'd only just woken. Viktor's gruff voice could be heard before he heaved open the door. "Get ready for dinner," he said simply, observing the room intently, he scanned his one good eye over everything- making sure it was all in order. His gaze hovered over Poppy for a moment, I followed his gaze and noticed an unusually sad expression on her face.

"What's wrong with her?" He muttered.

Poppy breathed in and lifted up her head, shifting her features completely and smiling like nothing bad had ever happened to her.

"Nothing, sorry," she said sweetly.

Viktor grumbled something under his breath before repeating "get ready for dinner" as he left to knock on the door next to our room.

"What the hell was that?" Sasha asked.

"Huh?" Poppy asked.

Sasha chuckled, "I wasn't sure why you were put in carriage two. But now I am."

I imagined Poppy would have blushed if she would have only understood what Sasha was insinuating but she was sickly sweet and dripping in innocence- and that was the appeal.

I waited for the familiar sound of slumber that night, heavy breathing from Lucie, soft snores from Poppy and the mumbling of Sasha sleep talking. We all had strange habits, my roommates thought I scratched at my skin during the night because I would always wake with fresh cuts. They were however just a result of my late night scampering through the garden.

I pulled on my black leather flats and carried on down the track I knew all too well now. Kaiser has swiped an oil lamp from his neighbor's room and I could see it burning in the distance. It was a crime that earned his neighbor an overnight training session to teach him not to be so negligent.

I saw Kaiser as soon as I trudged into the clearing.

"Hey," I said, slumping down beside him.

"Hey," he replied, "I brought you something!" He said with a smile, reaching into the brown sack looking bag her carried with him every time he came to the garden. It was mostly filled with things he had stolen, like fruit or bread or fun gizmos that he found and pocketed.

He pulled out a thick book. It was bound with expensive looking leather and the title The Adventures of Lumiere De Parr was written in gold ink.

"Where the hell did you steal this? Rainier castle? This would cost more than…me."

Kaiser let out a chuckle.

"I didn't steal it."

I stared at him, my expression suggesting I didn't believe him in the slightest.

"You're telling me you own this book?"

He shook his head.

"No. I used to own it. Now it's yours."

"And how did you acquire such an expensive book?" I asked skeptically.

He sighed, "Does it really matter?"

"Yes! Of course it matters, I refuse to take it unless you disclose its origins."

I watched him shift uncomfortably, Kaiser was very rarely uncomfortable.

"My Father gave it to me."

"Did he steal it?"

"No. That's not a family trait- my Father wasn't a thief. He was a nobleman, which is ironically also not a family trait."

I stared at him, confused by this newly disclosed information. I had always assumed his rebellious nature had reflected a tough upbringing growing up on the streets, not a life of plush opulence.

"So… you're a free soldier?" I asked.

He shook his head. "No. I was sold, just like you. Only, my Father could afford to keep me- he just chose not to."

My hard gaze softened as I watched Kaiser struggle with what to say next.

"I'm really sorry," I mumbled pathetically. "I don't know why anybody would do that."

He gave me a sad smile, "I know why."

I was about to respond when suddenly I heard a rustle coming from the other side of the clearing.

"Who's that?" I asked.

"Don't worry, I invited one of my friends from the academy- I hope you don't mind."

It wasn't my garden, it was Kaiser's before I had ever discovered it but I guess I wanted it to remain our garden. It was selfish of me to feel annoyed, but that didn't change that that was how I felt.

I saw the shadowy figure emerge from behind the bushes, a young boy, shorter than Kaiser but taller than me with inky black hair that fell over his face.

"Stella this is Demetrius, De this is Stella."

"Nice to meet you," I said, managing a smile.

He replied by looking at me, smirking as he asked Kaiser "can she be trusted?"

I remember how angry I felt in that moment, the audacity of this stranger to come in and question my trust, when I had successfully kept this place a secret for months.

"Of course I can, the question is- can you?" I asked cocking an eyebrow as I let my anger get the better of me.

He laughed, "woah, keep her on a lead would you Kaiser, the dog bites."

It would have been easy to walk up to him and hit him in his smug face, it was, however, a lot harder to maintain composure.

I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms hoping this guy wouldn't be here every night to ruin the one place I felt safe.

"Don't be a jerk De," Kaiser sighed.

Demetrius shrugged, "I still dunno if we should trust her, I mean can she prove herself?"

I tried to stop the words from rolling out from my mouth, I really did but I was, albeit unsuccessful.

"Who even are you? I've been coming here for months and I haven't told a soul about-"

"Settle would you," Demetrius interrupted. "This isn't a land war. I couldn't give two shits about this garden, I just enjoy the privacy. But there are other private spots in the city. This just happens to be the most convenient. The question is, can you keep a secret?"

I looked to Kaiser nervously, and he nodded.

"Yeah?"

Demetrius smirked. "Good."