Home > Queen Song (Red Queen 0.1)(2)

Queen Song (Red Queen 0.1)(2)
Victoria Aveyard

“Be a dear and take those to the kitchen, Julian, won’t you?” she said, jabbing a long-nailed finger at the candies. “The staff will be so grateful.”

It took all Coriane’s strength not to scoff. “The staff” was little more than a Red butler more ancient than Jessamine, who didn’t even have teeth, as well as the cook and two young maids, who were somehow expected to maintain the entire estate. They might enjoy the candies, but of course Jessamine had no true intention of letting them. They’ll end up at the bottom of the trash, or tucked away in her own room more like.

Julian felt quite the same, judging by his twisted expression. But arguing with Jessamine was as fruitless as the trees in the corrupted old orchard.

“Of course, Cousin,” he said with a voice better suited to a funeral. His eyes were apologetic, while Coriane’s were resentful. She watched with a thinly veiled sneer as Julian offered one arm to Sara, the other scooping up her unsuitable gift. Both were eager to escape Jessamine’s domain, but loath to leave Coriane behind. Still, they did it, sweeping away from the parlor.

That’s right, leave me here. You always do. Abandoned to Jessamine, who had taken it upon herself to turn Coriane into a proper daughter of House Jacos. Put simply: silent.

And always left to their father, when he returned from court, from long days waiting for Uncle Jared to die. The head of House Jacos, governor of the Aderonack region, had no children of his own, and so his titles would pass to his brother, and then Julian after him. At least, he had no children anymore. The twins, Jenna and Caspian, were killed in the Lakelander War, leaving their father without an heir of his flesh, not to mention the will to live. It was only a matter of time before Coriane’s father took up the ancestral seat, and he wanted to waste no time doing so. Coriane found the behavior perverse at best. She couldn’t imagine doing such a thing to Julian, no matter how angry he made her. To stand by and watch him waste away with grief. It was an ugly, loveless act, and the thought of it turned her stomach. But I have no desire to lead our family, and Father is a man of ambition, if not tact.

What he planned to do with his eventual rise, she did not know. House Jacos was small, unimportant, governors of a backwater with little more than the blood of a High House to keep them warm at night. And of course, Jessamine, to make sure everyone pretended like they weren’t drowning.

She took a seat with the grace of one half her age, knocking her cane against the dirty floor. “Preposterous,” she muttered, striking at a haze of dust motes swirling in a beam of sunlight. “So hard to find good help these days.”

Especially when you can’t pay them, Coriane sneered in her head. “Indeed, Cousin. So difficult.”

“Well, hand them over. Let’s see what Jared sent along,” she said. One clawed hand reached out, flapping open and closed in a gesture that made Coriane’s skin crawl. She bit her lip between her teeth, chewing it to keep from saying the wrong thing. Instead, she lifted the two dresses that were her uncle’s gifts and laid them upon the sofa where Jessamine perched.

Sniffing, Jessamine examined them as Julian did his ancient texts. She squinted at the stitching and lacework, rubbing the fabric, pulling at invisible stray threads in both golden dresses. “Suitable,” she said after a long moment. “If not outdated. None of these are the latest fashions.”

“What a surprise,” Coriane could not help but drawl.

Thwack. The cane hit the floor. “No sarcasm, it’s unbecoming of a lady.”

Well, every lady I’ve met seems well versed in it, yourself included. If I can even call you a lady. In truth, Jessamine had not been to the Royal Court in at least a decade. She had no idea what the latest fashions were, and, when she was deep in the gin, could not even remember which king was on the throne. “Tiberias the Sixth? Fifth? No, it’s the Fourth still, certainly, the old flame just won’t die.” And Coriane would gently remind her that they were ruled by Tiberias the Fifth.

His son, the crown prince, would be Tiberias the Sixth when his father died. Though with his reputed taste for warfare, Coriane wondered if the prince would live long enough to wear a crown. The history of Norta was fraught with Calore firebrands dying in battle, mostly second princes and cousins. She quietly wished the prince dead, if only to see what would happen. He had no siblings that she knew of, and the Calore cousins were few, not to mention weak, if Jessamine’s lessons could be trusted. Norta had fought Lakelanders for a century, but another war within was certainly on the horizon. Between the High Houses, to put another family on the throne. Not that House Jacos would be involved at all. Their insignificance was a constant, just like Cousin Jessamine.

“Well, if your father’s communications are to be believed, these dresses should be of use soon enough,” Jessamine carried on as she set the presents down. Unconcerned with the hour or Coriane’s presence, she drew a glass bottle of gin from her gown and took a hearty sip. The scent of juniper bit the air.

Frowning, Coriane looked up from her hands, now busy wringing the new gloves. “Is Uncle unwell?”

Thwack. “What a stupid question. He’s been unwell for years, as you know.”

Her face burned silver with a florid blush. “I mean, worse. Is he worse?”

“Harrus thinks so. Jared has taken to his chambers at court, and rarely attends social banquets, let alone his administrative meetings or the governors’ council. Your father stands in for him more and more these days. Not to mention the fact that your uncle seems determined to drink away the coffers of House Jacos.” Another swig of gin. Coriane almost laughed at the irony. “How selfish.”

“Yes, selfish,” the young girl muttered. You haven’t wished me a happy birthday, Cousin. But she did not press on that subject. It hurts to be called ungrateful, even by a leech.

“Another book from Julian, I see, oh, and gloves. Wonderful, Harrus took my suggestion. And Skonos, what did she bring you?”

“Nothing.” Yet. Sara had told her to wait, that her gift wasn’t something to be piled with the others.

“No gift? Yet she sits here, eating our food, taking up space—”

Coriane did her best to let Jessamine’s words float over her and away, like clouds in a windblown sky. Instead, she focused on the manual she read last night. Batteries. Cathodes and anodes, primary use are discarded, secondary can be recharged—

Thwack.

“Yes, Jessamine?”

A very bug-eyed old woman stared back at Coriane, her annoyance written in every wrinkle. “I don’t do this for my benefit, Coriane.”

“Well, it certainly isn’t for mine,” she couldn’t help but hiss.

Jessamine crowed in response, her laugh so brittle she might spit dust. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? To think that I sit here with you, suffering your scowls and bitterness for fun? Think less of yourself, Coriane. I do this for no one but House Jacos, for all of us. I know what we are better than you do. And I remember what we were before, when we lived at court, negotiated treaties, were as indispensable to the Calore kings as their own flame. I remember. There is no greater pain or punishment than memory.” She turned her cane over in her hand, one finger counting the jewels she polished every night. Sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and a single diamond. Given by suitors or friends or family, Coriane did not know. But they were Jessamine’s treasure, and her eyes glittered like the gems. “Your father will be lord of House Jacos, and your brother after him. That leaves you in need of a lord of your own. Lest you wish to stay here forever?”

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