Steel Queen

**WINNER OF 2016 RED QUEEN WRITING COMP** Princess Thalia is betrothed to an unfamiliar prince in a foreign land. When it turns out that the prince is a cruel and harsh dictator, who seeks to dominate Thalia- or do away with her- she has to make a desperate plan in order to save her own life.

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1. Chapter 1

    “Let me see let me see let me see!” Chrissy tried to peer over her sister’s head, but Thalia was too tall. Her only reward for her curiosity was for Thalia to put a hand on her head and shove her overeager sister back into her seat. Chrissy sat down, fuming. It wasn’t fair. Why did Thalia get to see what they were approaching, and not her?

    She didn’t understand why Thalia wasn’t more excited. Her coming of age was an important event- today she would be married to a prince. As the oldest princess of Castilla, she was betrothed to the young prince of the neighboring kingdom of Edoran. The arrangement had been made and sealed at her birth, and she’d been betrothed ever since. 

    Again, Chrissy met her older sister’s eyes as Thalia settled back into the seat across from her. Her sister was wearing traveling clothes at the moment- a loose shirt and trousers- meant for boys, but Thalia had refused to wear anything else. 

    Usually Thalia’s eyes were bright with excitement, but not today. Today they were dark, and dull, as if someone had sucked the life out of her sister. Again, Chrissy didn’t know why. She wasn’t much younger than Thalia- 13 to her older sister’s 16, but there seemed to be so much difference between them. Chrissy was bright and full of life- she had been told this countless times by her parents- but Thalia was different. Chrissy had heard several whispered conversations about her sister behind closed doors. Her parents didn’t know what to do about Thalia. She was a rebel. Different. Against the system. She insisted on wearing men’s clothes, hunting out in the woods, and otherwise engaging in non-princess like activities. Chrissy never understood this about her sister- why did she not like being a princess?

    Both girls were of dark complexion, though Chrissy tended to lighten her skin using makeup and powders. Thalia refused to do so, but in the end somehow it just made her look even more beautiful. That just infuriated her even more. Another thing Chrissy didn’t get. Why didn’t Thalia like looking beautiful?

    They’d been riding in the carriage for a few hours. Thalia had been poised and withdrawn for most of the ride, only moving when they were nearing the castle. Chrissy was practically exploding with excitement. 

    Finally, she had to speak, if only just to break the tension in the carriage. “What’s the prince’s name?”

    “Ferrel,” Thalia replied, still as distant as she had been for the past three hours. “Ferrel Contarus”

    Chrissy hesitated, her confidence wavering. “I’ve heard he’s very handsome…” she kept going. “And that his family’s very rich, and has a huge castle. Do you think it’ll be bigger than our castle?”

    “Most likely.”

    Chrissy gave up with an exasperated sight. What is her problem?! “What’s wrong, Thalia?” she asked finally. You’re about to be a queen, married to a really handsome guy, with a huge castle and a lot of riches. Why is that so bad?”

    “The minute I enter that castle, I enter a prison,” Thalia murmured. “They will be watching me. Making sure I am the princess they expect me to be. I will never be free again.”

    Chrissy’s reaction probably wasn’t the best- but she couldn’t believe her sister was being so melodramatic. “Thalia, you’ll be a Queen! You’ll be able to do whatever you want!”

    Thalia looked at her in a way that made her feel stupid. She let her gaze drop to the ground quickly.

    “Will I?” Thalia said simply.

    Chrissy peeked back up at her sister. “Of course you will… I mean, you’re gonna be a queen, right? That gives you the authority to just… do whatever, right?”

    “Not necessarily.”

    Before Chrissy could keep questioning her sister, the carriage pulled to a halt. A minute later, one of the servant girls burst into the carriage, flustered and out of breath. She took one look at Thalia, and her eyes widened in absolute horror.

    “What are you wearing?!”

    Thalia rolled her eyes. “You think I was going to wear that dress to travel in?”

    “Well… yes… I mean, you can’t let the prince see you wearing a man’s clothes.” The servant shuddered.

    “He’ll have to,” Thalia replied. “I think it will be better if he knows exactly what he’s getting with this betrothal.”

    “But princess-”

    “No but’s,” she said calmly. “I will see the prince like this.”

    The servant retreated, falling silent.

    Chrissy smiled at her sister, admiring her bravery. Their parents would be furious- but Thalia didn’t seem to ever care.

    Chrissy could hear hoofbeats outside of the carriage. She caught Thalia’s eye, and for the first time since the start of the ride, Thalia smiled slightly. 

    “You ready?” Chrissy asked quietly.

    Thalia nodded. “I’m actually excited to see their faces.”

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