Chapter 3

I tapped my fingers on my thighs, a nervous tick I had developed during my theatre days. My parents had the radio on some random station that only played the poppiest of pop songs. I heard Ariana Grande singing about women somewhere in the back of my mind, but nothing really came through.

Apparently, there was no need to fly me anywhere. A boat would be departing from a harbour not far from my house. I could have just taken the bus to it, but my parents insisted on driving me. They had gotten clingier and clingier to me with each passing day until finally, the day was here.

The boat would depart at ten, but we were told to be there by eight. I had already said goodbye to Faye and Anna, who both cried as though they would never see me again. I told them to cheer up, it's not like I'll actually win. It's just a free vacation.

So why couldn't I make myself believe that anymore?

We pulled up to the dock. The boat they had sent was enormous, though I am Dutch, so it wasn't the biggest boat I had ever seen. Much like with the airport, I had to go through security, which was where I had to say goodbye to my parents.

"I'll be in touch." I said as I hugged my dad. He was tall, like me. And could come across as a scary guy, but I knew he was cuddly on the inside. My mom looked like she was a nice, sweet person. But she was the one you should be scared of once you piss her off.

"Good luck." She said. I could tell she was holding back tears. I couldn't bear to see it, it would make me cry too. Instead, I just pulled Sean close and hugged him too, much to his annoyance.

"Get off me woman." He huffed, though I noticed he didn't immediately rub off the kiss I placed on his cheek. 

"Well," I said, taking one last look at my family before I would go on one of the scariest adventures of my life. "I'll see you guys in a few weeks I guess."

They waved me goodbye as I went to the security woman. She was Dutch, like me, and wasn't yet a part of the Medora ensemble. I could see them waiting for me after I got cleared with her. 

She checked my passport and my ticket and gave me a map of the ship. She was nice, and I couldn't help but think that she would be one of the last normal people I would see before going into unknown territory. Sure, other women got chosen to join too. But weren't they technically my competition?

Once I was done with her she wished me good luck as well and opened the gates for me. I was immediately greeted by the woman who I had done my interview with.

"Welcome and congratulations again." She said to me. I could hear a small accent when she spoke. I didn't even know they had their own language over there. I figured that they just spoke English because they used to be a part of the British empire. 

"Thank you." I shook her hand. She told me where to go and which room was mine. Afterwards, she informed me that there would be a meeting in the lounge area at nine, that I was required to go to. 

Though I had seen loads of ships, I never really went inside one. Thankfully for me, this one was by the looks of it used as a way to get from England to the Netherlands and back again, so there were many signs pointing me in the right direction.

I found my room, though it took me some time because reading maps had never really been a strong point of mine. It was a very small room, with a bunk bed on one side and a couch and TV on the other. I put my suitcase on the couch and checked the bathroom, which was thankfully equipped with a fully functioning shower. 

Being the social person that I am, I decided not to go outside until I absolutely need to, and laid down on the bottom bed. I felt bad for having to say goodbye to my parents. I felt bad for having taken that test without thinking of the consequences it could have.

At 8:50 I left my cabin, to find the lounge. Luckily for me, I did not need to look for very long. My cabin was nearby Gwen's, the woman that had done my interview. She didn't see me, so I just quietly followed her, praying that she was going for that direction as well. 

I was right, and we soon arrived at the lounge. There was nobody there yet, but when Gwen saw me she smiled and told me to sit down, so I did.

We had set out an hour ago, I felt the exact moment we did back when I was in my cabin. I could hear the engines roar in my room, though here they had calming classical music to play over it. I sat down near the window, though it was already pitch black outside and all I could see was water as we set out for Medora.

It took a few more minutes, but eventually the other girls also arrived. When Gwen announced that we would be starting, everyone was surprised. There were only five of us.

"Well yes," Gwen said when one of the other girls pointed it out to her. "Only you five seem to be the right fit for the prince."

"How many women from Medora are joining the competition?" The same girl asked. She had red, flaming hair and bold blue eyes. But the way she was already loudly talking when she walked in, and also by the fact that she had asked what I had been thinking but didn't dare to say out loud, I didn't get the idea that we had similar personalities. 

"Fifteen." She answered. I could see the hopes drop in some of the girls' faces. Apparently, they didn't share my view of a free vacation.

"So, welcome to our ship." Gwen finally started the official part of our meeting. It was only us five, Gwen and what looked like her bodyguards. "I bet you all have a lot of questions and I will be trying to answer most of them for you today." She smiled widely at us.

"There are two reasons why this contest was put in place." She said. "Number one is the more obvious one, Prince Sebastian needs a wife. However as you are all well aware of, Medora has not let in any visitors, immigrants or tourists. Ever." She looked each one of us in the eye. "Our current King and the Prince have decided that the time has come for Medora to step out on to the world's stage. This marriage was the perfect opportunity for that to start." 

"In the following weeks, you will not only be followed by our media but also by representatives from major news outlets from your countries. The wedding, where one of the candidates will be marrying Prince Sebastian will mark the day that we allow outsiders to step onto our soil." She continued to explain. "The journalists we invited are on this ship as well. They are under strict instruction to only photograph you, and to only report the state of the competition."

"And what kind of competition will it be?" The redheaded girl asked. She looked like she was ready for the Hunger Games. Like she would murder me for that number one spot. 

"You will attend balls and feasts. You will surround yourself with our culture. You'll meet the women and men that help our king run our country." She summed up. "Occasionally you might find yourself partaking in sports or actual competition, though everything isn't about winning those. You must capture the prince's attention most of all."

Our little meeting stretched on a little longer. We all received a folder with some basic information about the royal house and the King's advisers. We were told to read it whenever we have the time for it. When the meeting was done, everyone went their own way. The redhead went to talk to Gwen. The men that I had thought were her bodyguards just sulked off. But I had a goal in mind.

I saw a bar on my way over to the lounge. There was still a bartender standing, waiting around for customers. "One cosmo please." I said to the man. He looked positively over the moon by the fact that he had something to do and quickly started making it for me while I climbed onto the barstool.

"This seat free?" It was one of the girls who was also chosen. She was the only black girl here, with braided hair that had golden rings in it. 

"Yeah." I said, scooting my chair over so she could easily climb on hers. The bartender put the drink down in front of me.

"How much do I owe you?" I asked him, reaching for my wallet.

"Nothing, miss." He gave me a cheeky smile. "The royal house will pay for all your living expenses during the competition." The girl next to me smiled widely at me.

"Well, in that case." She grinned. "Scotch, on the rocks, please." She saw me looking disgusted. "What? You don't like whiskey?"

"No, it tastes like pure gasoline." I answered. 

"I'm Tessa." She smiled and held out her hand for me to shake.

"Jane." I answered, and shook it. 

We were quiet for a few moments while the guy poured her her drink. I took a sip of mine, which had been made to perfection, and nothing like all the attempts I have had in the bars in my hometown. 

"What do you make of the others Jane?" She asked me, as she eyed a few of them walking by us to go back to their cabins. She was observant, just like me.

"Well," I played with the slice of lime that was at the edge of my glass. "The one with the red hair seems to be very into it. The other two." I wanted to say the other two look alike because they kind of did. They were both blonde, they both had blue eyes and they both looked mortified when they heard about the other fifteen. "The other two seem to want to win, but took a hit when they heard about our odds."

"What about you?" She asked.

"Well, I'm just here for the open bar."

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