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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11. Chapter 11

    Chrissy hummed to herself, adding the finishing touches to her drawing. She’d been making a sketch of the castle grounds for nearly two hours now, and she was impressed with her own progress. She’d come a lot further than yesterday- mostly because it had rained all day.

    She heard rapid hoofbeats, and looked up in time to see two horses approaching. A man rode one of them, and another bore a woman and a child, who couldn’t have been more than ten. Instantly, Chrissy knew they’d been traveling for a long time. She raised her eyebrows and stood.

    “Welcome,” she said politely. “How may I help you?” For a royal, Chrissy had always been incredibly polite to those lower in station than her. It was a lesson that Thalia had taught her. Always be kind to anyone. You never know when it will be useful for winning friends and allies. Slowly, the three of them dismounted.

    Surprisingly, it was the child that spoke. “I have a message… for princess Chrissy.”

    That got Chrissy’s attention. No one called her Chrissy- her actual name was Christina. If this girl had a message for her by that name, it must come from Thalia.

    Hope blossomed in Chrissy’s chest. She missed Thalia. Her letters had stopped coming, and she was desperate to know what was going on.

    “From… Thalia?” she said, doing her best to keep her hope under control.

    “Yes,” the girl handed her the note, and dropping into a deep curtsy. 

    “You must have travelled a long way,” Chrissy marveled. “Just to deliver the message?”

    “We couldn’t stay,” the woman said softly. “The king ordered my daughter’s death, and Queen Thalia saved her life. She told us to run, and deliver this message to you.”

    Chrissy opened the message with eager fingers. The letter inside was short and rushed.

    Dear Chrissy,

    You must care for the girl and her family. Ask our parents, I am sure they will do this for me. No one in that kingdom could have offered me a greater service than Beatrice. Please request that they are given a food place to stay and a home. I promised them protection, and I cannot let them down. My letters will most likely stop coming after this one, but do not worry it is simply a precaution to keep all of us safe.

    With love,

    Thalia

    Chrissy nodded to herself, then turned to beckon to her guests. “You,” she said, pointing at the little girl. “You’re Beatrice?”

    She nodded. “Yes your majesty.”

    “None of that,” Chrissy said. “Thalia says that no one in the kingdom did her a greater service than you. Any friend of Thalia’s is a friend of mine. You can call me Chrissy if you like.”

    “You’re like your sister,” Beatrice noted.

    That made Chrissy blush with pride. “I am?”

    “She told me the same thing. Not to call her your majesty- just Thalia.”

    “That would be her,” Chrissy agreed. “Come inside. I have to deliver this message, but there’s no reason for you to stand outside like this. Come in, and I’ll have some food and drinks brought for you.”

    “Thank you, your majesty,” the man said, bowing to her.

    Chrissy smiled, though it was strange being bowed to by somebody older than her. “It’s nothing,” she said smoothly. “And it’s Chrissy.”

    She turned and walked into the castle, with the group hesitantly following.

 

    Blades rang against blades. Thalia felt the familiar jarring impact to her arm, right before she was disarmed.

    She stepped back, grinning, and wiped some of the sweat away from her forehead. “You must admit, I’m improving.”

    “Like lightning, my queen,” the captain promised. “You are the most impressive student by far that I have ever taught.”

    “Thank you,” Thalia dipped her head slightly in acknowledgement. Truthfully, she was probably a lot worse than he had been making her out to be, but she was still grateful for his praise. She was out of practice, and it felt good to home those skills again, and work them to perfection. Or as close to perfection as she would be able to get out of one week. One thing had become clear- she would never bow to Ferrel’s whims. Which means that in a week he would attempt to dispose of her. Which meant she would have to escape. Already, she’d begun to develop a plan, but had shared it with no one. That could have just caused more trouble. She didn’t want to put any more lives in danger. And besides, if no one knew anything, than no one could follow her.

    There were light footsteps, and a servant entered the courtyard with a tray. On it were sandwiches and a pitcher of water.

    Thalia nearly laughed, feigning shock. “I am royalty, and you offer me sandwiches?” she smiled at the servant to show that she was only joking. The servant laughed, cocking her head slightly. “That’s what’s good for your practice, your majesty,” she said, smiling back. “Good healthy food- nothing too sweet, or it’ll slow you down.”

    “Right you are,” Thalia agreed. “Thank you.”

    The servant bowed, then drew back, departing as swiftly as she’d come.

    “They respect you,” the captain noted. “All of us do.”

    “Why is that?” Thalia raised my eyebrows, simply to humor him.

    “You saved one of our own,” he shrugged. “Not everybody would do that.”

    “I suppose I am out of the ordinary,” Thalia shrugged, though inwardly she glowed with the pride that loyalty could cause.

    “Yes,” the captain agreed, “you are. What other queen would choose to fight with swords? What other queen would stand for her people against the king?”

    One who wasn’t foolish and stubborn to the core.

    Thalia didn’t answer. She didn’t feel like speaking the words that she held in her mind. All they could see was someone to admire. All she could see was someone weak and foolish. Someone who put other’s lives at risk. It was a side of her that she did not approve of. It seemed altogether too childish and selfish to be of her liking. 

    She sighed, staring up at the sky. It was well past noon. The seventh day. Tomorrow morning, Ferrel would want her decision.

    “Queen Thalia?”

    She turned to look at the captain of the guard.

    “You realize that tomorrow Ferrel will want to put a stop to these lessons.”

    “I am aware,” Thalia sighed. Rumors had flown around the castle about Ferrel’s threat. Everyone was waiting for her decision. She doubted that anyone knew what her real plan was- to flee. She still wished there was an alternative, but this castle was too dangerous for her now.

    “You know what he will wish you to choose to save your life.”

    “I do.”

    The captain sighed. “Then we must make the most of today, I suppose.”

    Thalia nodded, not trusting her voice. The captain was one of the few people who had been openly kind to her- but she didn’t dare tell him what her plan really was. That could put him in danger. And anyways, that would make him just one more person that would be able to find her. She didn’t want that. 

    Where she was going, she had to vanish completely.

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