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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7. Chapter 7

    Chrissy received her sister’s first letter that afternoon. Eyes glimmering with excitement, she ran to find her parents. She nearly knocked her mother over tearing through the halls.

    “Chrissy! What is the matter?” she asked, steadying her overexcited daughter.

    “Thalia wrote!” Chrissy squealed.

    Her mother’s eyes lit up as well. She took the letter from Chrissy, and opened it, beginning to read. 

    “So?” Chrissy said after a second. “Is it horrible? Is he cruel to her? What’s going on?”

    “No, not at all,” her mother replied, raising her eyebrows. “It says here that he’s very kind to her, and she was wrong to doubt him.” she kept reading, a smile growing across her face. “At least she is happy. And here, she has a piece of artwork for you on the back.” she handed the letter to Chrissy. “Thank you, my dear. It’s lovely to hear from Thalia.”

    Chrissy took the letter, totally uninterested in whatever lies she’d put on the front. On the back, the studied the drawing carefully. Then she smiled. The flowers and insects, arranged in rows, made it look like a simple drawing of a garden. But Chrissy wasn’t so sure.

    She bolted into her room, withdrawing from its hiding place the old piece of paper that held their code. As she’d guessed- this was Thalia’s real letter, for her alone to read. She began decoding it, eager to read her sister’s words.

 

    When she finished, the message was anything but positive. For a moment, Chrissy simply stared at what she’d done, pleased. Then she got to work reading.

    Dear Chrissy,

    I miss you more than I can say. I imagine you already discovered how much of a lie I’ve written to you. But I cannot risk my letters being destroyed before they reach you. 

    The truth is, things are not as wonderful here as I said. He always has somebody watching me. Chrissy, you will find this amusing. There is a secret door in my room, and he assigned someone to watch me there, but after all my time hunting, you know that I can stalk animals easily without them knowing. People are much the same… Chrissy smiled as she read her sister’s explanation- a perfect, slightly violent, Thalia-like solution. 

    According to her sister, she was doing her best in the castle. She was not worried for her safety, the prince  had not threatened her yet- but she was convinced that if he could not dominate her, things could become dangerous. But at the same time, she assured her that she had things under her control, and Chrissy mustn’t worry herself about what was going on with Thalia. Everything would be okay.

    Chrissy sighed, wondering if her letter had gotten through to Thalia. She should have coded it. The Blood Wolves seemed like something important. But if what Thalia was saying was true, her letter probably wouldn’t arrive. 

    Chrissy sighed, folding the letter gently, and pushing it away from her. She was worried about her sister- worried that things could become dangerous- if they weren’t already. She sighed, staring at the ceiling. How could my parents betroth her to someone like him? How could they not know?

 

    More than ever, Thalia felt claustrophobic inside the castle. The guards following her around made her feel like little more than a prisoner. And when no letters arrived from home, she knew that any mail coming her way was most likely being destroyed. She began to feel shut in, cut off from the world. 

    Not only was she constantly under guard, she was never permitted to leave the castle. She could always use the window, but she preferred to keep that secret, in case she would need it for an eventual escape from this place. One could never tell when having a secret escape route like that would be useful. Thalia always liked to keep at least one escape option open- it was a habit developed from hunting. You never knew whether or not your prey was going to turn around and attack you, and it always paid off to be cautious, no matter how safe it seemed. 

    That morning she was woken up by the sound of small feet pattering across her room. She opened her eyes slightly, maintaining her deep breathing. A small child was sneaking across her room. She reached her desk, and placed something on it, then turned to go.

    “What are you doing here?” Thalia asked quietly.

    The girl hesitated. “Your majesty… I didn’t mean to wake you-“

    Thalia sat up, holding up her hand to silence the child. The little girl couldn’t be more than nine or ten, and she was dressed in servant’s clothes. 

    “I wake easily. You still haven’t answered my question.”

    The girl backed towards the desk, fetching whatever she had placed on it. She approached Thalia with nervous steps, like a little bird ready to take flight at a moment’s notice. Shyly, she presented the object- a letter, marked with the seal of her family.

    “The king told me to burn this… but… it don’t seem right, burning something from your family to you, ya know?” the girl’s speech  began to reflect her station as she slowly began to realize that Thalia meant her no harm. 

    Thalia smiled, her heart filling with incredible gratitude. “I cannot thank you enough, child.”

    “You’re welcome your majesty…” she curtsied quickly.

    Thalia smiled. She was relieved- perhaps she could find someone in the castle that would help her. “No need for that. What is your name?”

    “Beatrice, your majesty.”

    “You’ve done an incredible favor for me, Beatrice, and I won’t forget it,” Thalia replied. “You don’t need to call me ‘your majesty’ either. To Ferrel, you and I are both servants.”

    A small smile crossed Beatrice’s face. “What d’ya want me to call you?”

    “Thalia,” she replied.

    “That’s a pretty name,” Beatrice said cheerfully. “I wish I’d been named Thalia.”

    “There’s nothing wrong with Beatrice.”

    “Thank you,” Beatrice blushed.

    Thalia took a deep breath. “Beatrice, could I ask you a favor?”

    “Sure, your ma- Thalia,” she corrected herself.

    Thalia hesitated. She knew this could be risky and she didn’t want to put the child in danger- but this child might be her only hope at communicating with her family. For a moment she considered changing her mind, but Beatrice’s wide, eager eyes somehow dissuaded her. The girl was only a child, but it was obvious that she was eager to help- and chances were good that she may be the only ally Thalia would be able to find in this stone prison.

    “If Ferrel asks you to burn any more letters… is there a chance you could bring them to me in secret, like this one?”

    “‘Course!” she said eagerly, bobbing her head up and down eagerly. “Like I said, s’not right, burnin’ letters that are for you.”

    “You’re right,” Thalia agreed, allowing herself to relax. “You should go now. I wouldn’t want you to be in trouble for this.”

    “Yes your majesty- Thalia,” Beatrice corrected herself again, smiling widely. She left the room, still smiling.

    Thalia’s eyes went to the letter in her hand. She stowed it under her pillow, resolving to read it when the morning came.

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