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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19. Chapter 19

    It was dark when the sack was finally pulled off of her head. At first she thought it was night. Then she realized that the horses were walking through a dim shadow-filled tunnel. She heard the echo of water somewhere, and the sound of the horses’ hooves. Other than that, it was completely silent. There was absolutely no conversation. 

    The gag had been removed at some point during the ride, but Thalia didn’t dare break the silence by asking where they were going, so the empty space was occupied by the horses hooves and by the dripping water. The sound was constant, and nearly monotonous. Thalia found herself almost drifting off, but she rapidly awakened herself, reminding herself that she was in a dangerous and life-threatening position right now, where one wrong move could result in the end of her life.

    Finally, they reached a large, open cavern, filled with wealth. Alone one wall were several racks of weapons, some broken, or rusted beyond repair. But others shone, bright and new, waiting to be used.

    In the center of it all sat the alpha.

    She couldn’t recognize him- he wore a mask over his face, that depicted a snarling wolf, and he sat upon a throne with depictions of wolves hunting their prey. And he was so out of context that it was almost completely unbelievable. But she was willing to stake her life on the fact that she knew who it was. It was the pose, the bearing, that gave him away. That overconfident look, like a vulture.

    “Ferrel, I presume?” she said, poison dripping off her tongue with each word.

    The Alpha ignored her, turning to look at the wolf guarding her. “Bring her to me. And make her kneel. She’ll show some respect in the presence of the Alpha.”

     Thalia’s blood burned. She recognized that voice. That horrible, sardonic, uncaring voice. It had to be him. There was no one else it could be.

    She was dragged to the foot of the throne, then forced to her knees. 

    “Well?” she demanded. “Is it you?”

    The man pulled off the mask. And it was Ferrel. 

    Except… it wasn’t. 

    There was no doubt that they looked similar, but this man was not Ferrel. Thalia hesitated, confused. He looked just like Ferrel… yet there were obvious differences at the same time. 

    “No, Queen Thalia,” the man said, his voice dripping scorn. “I am not Ferrel, as a matter of fact. Ferrel is hardly more than a child- not exactly fit for ruling such an elite group. No, he is my younger brother. Before his crowning, we developed a plan. I would lead the Blood Wolves, and he would control the crown. We would have dominance over the entire kingdom.”

    “Then what is your name?” Thalia asked, putting all her bravery and confidence that remained inside of her into her tone.

    The man- Ferrel’s brother- laughed. “You will show more respect in the face of the Alpha of the Blood Wolves, girl. You may call me Alpha, and no other name.”

    “Are you afraid to tell me your true name?” Thalia said evenly. “Worried I’ll expose who you really are?”

    “My old name is of no consequence,” he replied. “I have no connection to any other, now that I have joined the Blood Wolves. I am their Alpha, and I will be treated with the respect I deserve. No prisoner is going to speak to me in such a defiant manner in my own lair. This is my kingdom, not yours.”

    “As a matter of fact, as long as we remain in Edoran, we remain in my kingdom,” Thalia pointed out. “This is my territory as well, not just yours.”

    The Alpha shook his head, his expression turning angry. “You are a foolish and arrogant girl, Thalia. You will learn respect in the lair of wolves, or you will taste death for your foolishness.”

    “That brings us to another question,” Thalia replied. “If I am not here to die, why would I be here? What reason could you possibly have?”

    “You will not be told of the Wolves plans until you need to know them,” he replied. “Take this girl to the prison, and leave her there. No food or water. Keep here there until I send for her. Perhaps she’ll learn a little respect that way. At the least, I won’t have to listen to her talk anymore.” He replaced the mask on his face, the snarling wolf returning. “No one will find you here, queen. You are completely, utterly, and totally at my mercy, understand?”

    “Someday,” Thalia said softly. “But not today.”

    The Alpha snarled, a quiet, guttural sound. “You’ll learn.”

    Thalia was jerked to her feet by another masked wolf. She held her head high, glaring at the Alpha, through his masked eyes. She refused to let him cow her into submission. She was still a queen- while he was just another low-down scum of the earth assassin, who simply believed he was a king, while sitting on a dead throne, ruling a kingdom of lawless, moral less people, who most likely would gladly stab him in the back to take his position of power. That was no way to rule a kingdom, and Thalia knew it. There were better ways to rule, not just by pretending you were a king in a place like this. She wondered why the older brother had chosen to rule the assassins, instead of taking the throne, as would have been his birthright. And why he had never been mentioned. Ever. 

    Then again, she wasn’t really in the position to be wondering these things. She was already in a dangerous situation, that she might very well not come out of alive. She would worry about the mysteries of the Wolves’ ‘Alpha’ later, when she wasn’t in such a critical situation.

    Instead of a hood, this time they put a mask over her face, securing it with leather straps. The mask depicted a  wolf, just like all the others, and when they secured it on her face, Thalia cursed at them. This resulted in her getting a fist to the gut, causing her to nearly collapse, winded. Finally, with a few more muttered curses, she allowed them to lead her through the halls.

    Slowly, it began to get darker. A breeze ruffled Thalia’s hair from somewhere deep within, suggesting some massive pit. They kept walking, with Thalia in complete darkness. She nearly tripped several times, resulting in vicious yanks on her arms from the Wolves guarding her. Eventually, she managed to find even footing on the rough stone, and was able to stumble along without falling.

    All of a sudden, the mask was pulled from her face. Thalia blinked, looking around to find that they had entered a room. Or rather, a gigantic cave. The bottom must have been at least a mile below, and she could barely see it, dimly lit by torches as it was. All around it were smaller caves, that she noticed had been fitted with iron bars on the front. 

    This must be the prison, Thalia thought with interest. She took in the surroundings, studying them and already planning an escape route. However, that didn’t seem to be the plan.

    One of the Wolves fetched a long ladder, hooking it to something above in the gloom. Then they gestured for Thalia to climb. She hesitated, thinking they were going to make her fall to her death. But one of them drew their sword, silently gesturing for her to climb again. She forced herself to breathe evenly, reasoning that if they’d wanted to kill her, they could have done it already. She began to climb the ladder.

    As she reached the top, it became apparent as to what she was climbing for. An iron cage, hanging from a lattice of metal that must have taken years to build. It branched between two of the rock outcroppings. Several other cages hung, some of them occupied. The one she was climbing towards was unoccupied at the moment.

    Finally, she reached the cage. It was unlocked, and, still being held at sword point, she climbed into the cage. The wolf behind her locked it, smirking.

    “Try and get out of that,” the wolf murmured mockingly. Their voice was low and husky, but obviously a woman’s. She retreated down the ladder, and soon Thalia saw it vanish into the darkness.

    The cage was small, and she sat leaning against one wall, with her knees pulled up to her chest. Soon, the cold of the metal began to seep into her bones, and she shivered. Hanging above the pit, she knew that even if she could escape the cage, there was still a good chance that she’d fall to her death. She had to think of some way to escape. And soon. Whatever the Wolves had planned, she had no intention of being here when they decided to enact their plans.

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