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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2. Chapter 2

    Thalia hesitated, her hand hovering over the door to the carriage. Her heart was racing- she was a lot more panicked than she had let on. She really didn’t want Chrissy to worry about her. Even now, Chrissy seemed to have no idea how Thalia was feeling. She was watching her now with those bright eager eyes.

    Thalia took a second to compose herself, then opened the carriage door, stepping regally onto the cobbled streets. 

    Just her luck- a small crowd had gathered to see the new princess arrive. Her pulse sped up even further, but she ignored the stares and the rapidly spreading whispers.

To her irritation, the prince wasn’t there yet, forcing her to wait. It was nearly five minutes before the castle gate opened, and the prince came out.

    She identified him immediately. He was surrounded by a small escort, but his bearing gave him away. He seemed relaxed- too much so. She supposed he was handsome, but in a harsh way, like a hawk. Already she disliked him.

    He slid off his horse and approached. The only indication he gave of his opinion on her outfit was a slight raising of one eyebrow. 

    “Princess,” he said, dipping his head slightly.

    Thalia did her best to avoid judging him instantly, but she was already beginning to get a premonition of danger. Ignoring it, she held out her hand. He took it, and kissed it lightly. 

    Finally, Thalia allowed herself to speak.

    “Prince Ferrel. I am pleased to meet you.”

    “The pleasure is all mine, princess,” he replied. 

    Thalia’s parents came up behind her, along with Chrissy. They each greeted the prince, who responded politely enough, though his eyes never left Thalia. Finally, their conversation, mostly random pleasantries, circulated back to Thalia.

    “We must warn you,” her mother began, “Thalia is a bit of headstrong girl. Nothing you can’t handle, I’d imagine, but she can be a little bit difficult.”

    Prince Ferrel settled his cold eyes on Thalia again, with a slight smile. “Coming from a small backwater country like yours, I don’t imagine she’ll be hard to handle. We’ll make a proper princess out of her quickly enough.”

    Like hell you will, Thalia thought.

    She felt Chrissy’s hand slip into her own. She gave it a rapid squeeze, and hand withdrew.

    “I’m sure you will,” she said as sweetly as she could, while at the same time making her voice sound acidic.

    Prince Ferrel raised his eyebrows. “Come, my princess,” he said, taking her arm. “You are most welcome- I’ll have the servants bring you an outfit that is more… proper for one of your station.”

    “That won’t be necessary,” Thalia said, doing her best to keep her voice even. “I will change into a more proper outfit shortly.”

    “I should hope so,” the prince said dryly. “I wouldn’t want my princess dressed in a commoner’s clothes.”

    Your princess?! Thalia thought, infuriated. It took all of her willpower to remain calm. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Chrissy cast her a worried glance. She smiled reassuringly back. No need to worry her sister.

    They entered the castle. Almost immediately, Thalia began to feel claustrophobic- a familiar clawing panic that seemed to always visit her at the worst of times. She did her best to cast it off, but she couldn’t help but feel as if she was suffocating, drowning in this prison of stone.

    Eventually they reached the rooms that had been set aside for Thalia and her family. Prince Ferrel gave her a short bow, then departed, claiming he had important matters to deal with. Thalia was relieved to see him go. 

    The instant her mother closed the door, Thalia let herself speak freely. “I can’t marry him.”

    “Thalia!” Her mother said, shocked. “How could you say something like that? He is your betrothed-”

    “There is no love between me and that horrid creature!” she snapped.

    “This marriage has nothing to do with love,” her mother replied calmly, approaching Thalia and putting an arm around her shoulders. “This is for the good of both of our country's, child. This marriage is essential to keep the peace between us.”

Thalia felt tears of frustration rising to her eyes, despite her efforts to keep herself under control.     “I won’t marry him!” She insisted. “I cannot. He is a horrible man, unfit to be my husband.”

    “Nonsense. Prince Ferrel is a perfectly decent man if you spend time getting to know him. Now you will allow the servants to prepare you for your wedding, and you will not speak another word of this foolishness to anyone, even yourself. Understand?”

    Thalia let her head drop in submission. It was pointless. There was no escaping this. “Yes mother.”

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