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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8. Chapter 8

    Something shone on her face. Thalia blinked- but her eyes met blinding light as soon as she opened them. Rapidly, she snapped them shut, groaning softly. Eventually, she managed to drag herself sideways, taking her face out of the sunlight. 

    There was a light knock on her door, and despite her exhaustion, Thalia jerked upright. She calmed down when it was just a servant, entering to see if she was awake.

    “Your majesty,” she said curtsying. “The king expects your presence in one hour’s time in the gardens. He also expects that you will be properly dressed for one of your station.”

    Before Thalia could make a comment on this statement, the servant curtsied again and left.

    Thalia considered directly defying his orders, and wearing her masculine clothes. In the end she decided against it. She had no desire to antagonize him this early in the day.

    There was another light knock- this time a pattern of three short knocks, and two long ones. Thalia smiled as she recognized the signal she’d taught Beatrice.

    “Come in. It’s just me,” she whispered.

    The door opened slightly, and little Beatrice slipped inside.

    “Mornin’,” she said cheerfully. “I got another letter!”

    Thalia took it, confused. Why would Chrissy send her two letters in a row?

    But this letter wasn’t from Chrissy. It was in a familiar delicate handwriting, signed with a name that only she would know.

    Thalia smiled. The letter was from the princess of a neighboring country- a girl named Alissa. She addressed her letters as Atolia, and was eager to hear about Thalia's life. The two had met years back at a fair. Both had snuck out, disobeying their parent's wishes, and had quickly bonded. They continued to send each other letters, though they rarely saw each other.

    She looked over the letter, smiling as she read her friend’s one million questions. Mostly she was concerned about how Ferrel was treating her. She wanted to know if she was still allowed to hunt and ‘climb out windows like some crazy squirrel’.

    She shook her head with amusement, while Beatrice looked on with sort of a wistful expression.

    “Is it good?” she asked innocently.

    Thalia nodded distractedly. “Yes, it is.”
    “Thas’ nice,” Beatrice sighed.

    “What’s wrong?” Thalia asked, putting down the letter and turning to look at her friend.

    “Can’t read.”

    Thalia was silent for a moment. “Nobody taught you?”

    She shook her head, her joyful expression fading some.

    Thalia was caught off guard by this. In Castilla, everybody was taught to read. It was an essential part of life- not just something for royalty. 

    “Well I’ll have to teach you.”

    To her surprise, Beatrice’s eyes widened in panic at the thought. “No, you can’t do that! The king’d get real mad!”

    “Why would he get mad?” Thalia’s eyebrows shot up.

    Beatrice shuddered slightly. “He doesn’t like us bein’ able to read… ‘cause then we could read his important stuff, and that’d make him mad, and if you taught me he’d know… I can’t do that.”

    Thalia sighed in resignation. “I understand…”

    “You should go,” Beatrice added, sighing. “He’s gonna be waiting for you, and he’ll get real mad if you don’t show up.”

    She slipped out of the room again, as quietly as she’d come in.

    Thalia turned to her wardrobe, debating on what to wear. She fingered through her large assortment of dresses. They felt so wrong to her- like something from another planet. Why were women forced to wear these infernal things? What was wrong with a simple shirt and leggings? But it was ‘unsuitable’ for a woman to wear such things, especially around others. Unless she wished to fight with my husband every single day, she would have to learn how to bend a little.

    Thalia chose a shimmering blue dress, embellished with sapphires, and other deep blue stones. The instant she slid it over her head, she began to feel confined- trapped in this cursed dress, suffocating.

    She forced herself to ignore the feeling. Now is hardly a good time to be acting claustrophobic, Thalia. You must keep control of yourself. 

    She sighed, and smoothly walked out of her room, practically gliding in the dress. She heard her guards fall into step behind her, and sighed with irritation. She despised having these men follow her around- men who most likely reported back to Ferrel. All this to keep her from doing anything that Ferrel didn’t approve of. She was beginning to wish she hadn’t worn the dress.

    Eventually, the small procession reached a door that led to an inner courtyard- Castle Edoran’s gardens.

    When Thalia had first seen them, she’d scarcely been able to believe her eyes. How could this ugly stone prison hold anything of such beauty? The castle gardens were large, and full of bright exotic flowers. Here and there were trees bearing many different kinds of fruits. It was a haven of beauty in this miserable place, and she’d already spent many of her afternoons there.

    Her joy at seeing the garden was dimmed when she saw Ferrel. He was studying one of the flower plants, and turned to face her, eyebrows slightly raised.

    “Princess. You look lovely,” he commented.

    And you look as much like a vulture as ever.

    “Thank you,” Thalia dipped her head slightly.

    He offered his arm, and she took it, trying not to shudder at being in close contact with him. They walked together through the gardens for a moment in utter silence. Thalia was practically holding her breath, waiting for him to say something critical- something to unbalance the quiet peace that had settled over the garden.

    Thalia had thought they were just wandering through the gardens, but apparently Ferrel had a destination in mind. He led her to a bench and sat, gesturing for her to sit beside him. She did so, pulling as far away from him as the small confines of the bench allowed.

    “My queen, we must talk,” Ferrel said firmly.

    “Must we? It’s such a beautiful morning, and I’d hate to ruin it at the moment,” Thalia commented.

    As she’d expected, Ferrel wasn’t amused by this comment. He sighed, shaking his head.

    “I realize you and I have had some… disagreements as of late. This is what we must speak of.” He took a deep breath, and she knew he was preparing for a lecture. “You are a queen, not some commoner who can run freely through the woods like a wild animal. You have duties are are more pressing and binding than personal matters. Furthermore, you are my queen. You are here, in my castle, as my wife, and you will obey my orders. I will not have a… defective queen at the head of my country, do you understand?”

    Defective? Thalia thought of many harsh things to say, but she voiced none of them. She tilted her head slightly, and Ferrel’s eyes narrowed. He reached out, gripping her shoulder tightly.

    “Do you understand?!”

    Thalia pulled herself out of his grip, letting some of her anger loose. “What I understand, king Ferrel, is that you wish to control me. You want me to be a meek, obedient wife, who only does what you say, and does not question you. You would have me be little more than an ornament, a beautiful decoration for you to admire, and call your own. You seek to dominate me, and take away my free will. Well, to you I will say this. You would sooner control the winds than tame me! You may be a vulture, but I have the heart of a lion, and I will not bow to your selfish whims, now or ever! If you believe that you could control me, then you were mistaken from the beginning. You will not speak to me in such a way again. No matter how important you think you are, I will remind you that we are equals, in rank and station. Whatever you believe, I will rule this kingdom at your side, but I will rule it justly and fairly, not by domination. Do you understand?”

    Ferre’s eyes blazed with anger. “Soldiers!” he barked. “Escort the queen back to her rooms. She is to remain there until further instruction on my part.” He turned to look me in the eyes. “Who are you to speak to me in such a way? This is my kingdom, and you will obey my wishes. Fate has decreed that man will always have more power over women- you are nobody to believe you can change this! You will learn, sooner or later, that you are my queen. You will give up those foolish thoughts of yours, and return to me as an obedient queen.”

    “And if I refuse?” Thalia whispered, keeping her face set. I’ve pushed him too far, she thought. “If I resist you? If I choose to remain who I am?”

    “Then you will pay the price for it,” he said quietly. “I will break you, like a sheet of glass, and you will come crawling back to me, begging to be forgiven. Do you think you would be the first? I have learned the art of control. I will not be defied by some whimsical girl, who is still little more than a child with grandiose schemes of power.”

    Before Thalia could respond, one of the guards yanked her to her feet. Keeping a grip on her arm, the guard dragged her at a forced march back to her rooms. She was shoved inside, and the door was locked. 

    Thalia sighed, dropping onto the bed and squeezing her eyes shut. To her surprise, a single tear slipped down her face. Why was she breaking down?

    I shouldn’t have pushed him so far. Who knows what he’ll do not? I could be in danger. Thalia gave herself a count of ten, then forced herself to calm down. She had nothing to fear. She was in control. Not that upstart of a prince. He may think he was strong and powerful- perhaps he even thought that his threats would beat her down- but she was not that weak. She was unafraid to stand up to him- if that last conversation had demonstrated anything. 

    If that last conversation had demonstrated anything… What it really had demonstrated was that Thalia was as hard-headed and stubborn as they come. 

    Thalia sighed, eyes going to the featureless ceiling. She wished she had thought before she had spoken, fearing that she might have just sealed her fate by telling Ferrel that she would never back down- with no room for compromise. Perhaps there would be a way to fix this later- something she could say or do… 

    She paused. Why was she so concerned about what he thought? Why was she constantly defying him, yet seeking to stay on his good side? What was the point? Why should she run around like a trained dog, obeying his every whim and want- and if she defied him, and showed that she still had a fire within her, chose to try and mend what she’d broken? She had be up front with him. Ferrel seemed to be a man that respected strength. Or at least greatly admired his own strength. Well, Thalia would show him. She would twist him around her little finger if she chose to, and he would be hopeless against her. She would just have to learn how to control him. It was, unfortunately, a game of dominate or be dominated. And it was a game that, in the end, she feared she would lose.

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