1 The ball (1)

"Just pick one and get it over with." 

"They are not shoes, Edgar. They are women, and if I have to spend the rest of my life with one, it has to be someone I can stomach," said Tobias Castro, current prince of the Castro kingdom. "My father dragged me back from war just so I could attend a ball. The old man has lost his mind."

Edgar Collins, the best friend of the prince, resisted the urge to yawn due to the boring ball. He was not picking a wife, but somehow, he was forced to attend the ball. He was forced by the king to help drag Tobias to the palace so he could not run away from picking a wife again. "The sooner you find a wife, the sooner these balls will end and I don't have to be dragging your ass-"

"Boys," said Tabitha Castro, the queen. "I preferred when the two of you stood not saying a word. Edgar, your mother would be pleased to hear you have danced with a young lady. It is not only Tobias who should be looking for a wife. You two have caused nothing but headaches by waiting so long to marry."

"It would have been better if Edgar were born a woman. It would have made the pick for queen easier," Tobias said, placing his right arm on Edgar's shoulder.

"Off before I break it," Edgar warned. Only Tobias would think of something so ridiculous. 

"It would have been good if there was a Collins young lady to add to the women you must choose from. You are to pick the future queen from the Green, Henson, or Wallace family," said the queen.

"If they are the families you wish for the future queen to come from, why have you invited all these other houses to the palace?" Tobias asked. He had already gone through the first group of women and now that the second group would be staying in the palace tomorrow.

"Because we must appear to be fair though the decision is almost made. We are only waiting for your pick of the three houses," Tabitha replied. 

"Well, I am sorry, but I will pick the queen that I like. It is a decision you will need to get used to," Tobias said, looking down at the crowd of young women where his future wife was hidden. 

While Prince Tobias looked around the ballroom full of women he needed to pick a bride from, two of the candidates for the next queen arrived. 

"We are finally here. Someone, please pinch me. Ow!" Helena Wallace whined, touching her arm where her sister was so cruel to pinch her.

"You were pleading with us to pinch you so I did it. Do not get angry with us when I have given you what you wanted," Hazel Wallace said, sticking out her tongue at her younger sister.

"Girls," their mother warned from behind them. "We are not at home for the two of you to act as you, please. We are in the palace for a special invitation. Please act to show that I have raised you right."

"Yes mother," Hazel answered along with her little sister. 

After a few days since the invitations were sent to their home, they were finally in the palace for the grand ball which would start off the season and from tomorrow, they would both stay in the palace to take part in the selection for the future queen. 

Only young women from reputable houses were selected to spend seven days in the palace and the few that managed to match well with the crown prince would stay in the palace for another week. At the end of that week, there would be the selection of the crown princess who would one day become queen.

"I heard that the prince was caught with his pants down with one of the young women from the first group. She will not be allowed to participate in the final round. That makes it much easier for me or you to become the next queen," Helena whispered.

It only made sense that with their family's ties to the palace, it was either her or Hazel to be picked to become queen. Their only competition was Linda, whose family controlled a large portion of the king's army. 

Helena saw it as great luck that Linda was Hazel's best friend and she already had her eyes on someone. The next queen would come from the Wallace family. 

"Mother, Linda is already here with her family. As fun as it is to walk around with all three of you, may I go with someone my age? I promise not to wander off too far and if anyone tries to ask for my hand I will send them away since I am supposed to give the crown prince my undivided attention even though he stands on the throne and it is impossible for me to reach him," Hazel said, looking at where prince Tobias stood with the king and queen. 

No one was able to approach the royals without their permission. 

The king and queen sat on their thrones while the prince stood behind them with young men around his age. The young princess Sofia was nowhere in sight. 

Renee Wallace, Hazel's mother, looked across the ballroom at where Linda stood with her brothers. The poor girl was pleading with her eyes to be freed from her overprotective brothers and father. 

"You may go to her but you must not go out of sight from her brothers. They shall act as your escort and do not accept a dance from any young man. You are to be competing for the prince's hand from tomorrow. You must not let any other young man get the wrong idea. Only if you do not make it to the next round will we start looking for another suitor. It is already two years for you," Renee sighed.

Renee was certain one of her daughters would be the one to become the next queen and if not for the prince being off at war, the queen selection would have started two years ago when Hazel had just debuted. Now two years had gone by and they took the risk of holding Hazel back just like every mother did so they would not miss the chance of their daughter marrying the prince.

Hazel frowned, finding the reminder to not be necessary. "Thank you for that mother. Is that what I need to hear now?"

"If they had just married you off, they would only need to focus on me marrying the prince. Trying to increase the chances of the queen coming from our household has placed Hazel in a terrible position. There will be a royal inspection to ensure the future queen is healthy to bear the next king and Hazel is already two years older than what they would like," said Helena.

"Helena," Nathan Wallace warned his daughter.

"What? I was not trying to be rude. I was only saying that they might question if she can give the kingdom a future king at the age of eighteen. The younger we marry and try for a child, the better. I was not trying to offend you, Hazel. It is something you must worry about when we enter the palace. They will question you," Helena said, worried about her sister.

She did not want to compete against Hazel, but it turned out that she had to. Helena had a feeling that since she was one of the younger girls, it would be her against Linda for the spot to become queen. When she was given the title of the crown princess, she would find Hazel the best man in the kingdom. A young Duke or a Lord who could spoil her sister. 

"I am aware, but I do not want to think about this right now. We should just have fun. I see your friends have arrived too, Helena. I am going to speak with Linda. Excuse me, mother. Father," Hazel curtsied and then excused herself.

Her eyes lingered on the throne for a moment. Regardless of her age, she had a good chance of one day sitting on the throne, and if she was not picked, she would still marry a good man.

Hazel sneaked up on Linda, placing a finger on her lips to make Linda's brother who already noticed she was coming, keep quiet about her sneak attack. He looked away, pretending to not notice her since she was not a threat, unlike the young men who wished to dance with Linda.

Hazel grabbed Linda's hand and said, "Linda!"

"Hazel!" Linda Henson jumped, touching her aching chest. "Must you always do this?"

Linda had looked away from Hazel's family for a moment and now here Hazel was scaring her. 

Hazel smiled, hooking her arm with Linda's. "I must when you are not paying attention to your best friend and eyeing the man of your dreams instead. He looks dashing," she commented on Edgar Collins who stood with the prince. "You just had to fall in love with the man who is sought-after right after the prince."

"I disagree," Linda replied, turning her attention back to Edgar. "He is more sought after than the prince. You are all fools to not notice it. Look at how handsome he is tonight," she said, biting her lip.

Hazel tapped Linda's mouth before her mother or father could catch her lusting after Edgar. "You are aware that we are to have our attention on the prince," she said, looking at Prince Tobias instead of Edgar. The prince looked much different since she last saw him.

"I intend to fail the rounds. The only reason I am excited to be in the palace is that Edgar visits often to be with the prince. This is how it should go when we enter the palace. I shall marry Edgar Collins and you become the future queen. Deal?" Linda asked, holding out her hand for Hazel to shake.

"Deal," Hazel jokingly agreed, shaking Linda's hand. 

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