Home > Queen Song (Red Queen 0.1)(3)

Queen Song (Red Queen 0.1)(3)
Victoria Aveyard

Like you. The implication was clear, and somehow Coriane found she could not speak around the sudden lump in her throat. She could only shake her head. No, Jessamine, I do not want to stay here. I don’t want to be you.

“Very good,” Jessamine said. Her cane thwacked once more. “Let’s begin for the day.”

Later that evening, Coriane sat down to write. Her pen flew across the pages of Julian’s gift, spilling ink as a knife would blood. She wrote of everything. Jessamine, her father, Julian. The sinking feeling that her brother would abandon her to navigate the coming hurricane alone. He had Sara now. She’d caught them kissing before dinner, and while she smiled, pretending to laugh, pretending to be pleased by their flushes and stuttered explanations, Coriane quietly despaired. Sara was my best friend. Sara was the only thing that belonged to me. But no longer. Just like Julian, Sara would drift away, until Coriane was left with only the dust of a forgotten home and a forgotten life.

Because no matter what Jessamine said, how she preened and lied about Coriane’s so-called prospects, there was nothing to be done. No one will marry me, at least no one I want to marry. She despaired of it and accepted it in the same turn. I will never leave this place, she wrote. These golden walls will be my tomb.

TWO

Jared Jacos received two funerals.

The first was at court in Archeon, on a spring day hazy with rain. The second would be a week after, at the estate in Aderonack. His body would join the family tomb and rest in a marble sepulcher paid for with one of the jewels from Jessamine’s cane. The emerald had been sold off to a gem merchant in East Archeon while Coriane, Julian, and their aged cousin looked on. Jessamine seemed detached, not bothering to watch as the green stone passed from the new Lord Jacos’s hand to the Silver jeweler. A common man, Coriane knew. He wore no house colors to speak of, but he was richer than they were, with fine clothes and a good amount of jewelry all over. We might be noble, but this man could buy us all if he wanted.

The family wore black, as was custom. Coriane had to borrow a gown for the occasion, one of Jessamine’s many horrid mourning frocks, for Jessamine had attended and overseen more than a dozen funerals of House Jacos. The young girl itched in the getup but kept still as they left the merchant quarter, heading for the great bridge that spanned the Capital River, connecting both sides of the city. Jessamine would scold or hit me if I started scratching.

It was not Coriane’s first visit to the capital, or even her tenth. She’d been there many times, usually at her uncle’s bidding, to show the so-called strength of House Jacos. A foolish notion. Not only were they poor, but their family was small, wasting, especially with the twins gone. No match to the sprawling family trees of Houses Iral, Samos, Rhambos, and more. Rich bloodlines that could support the immense weight of their many relations. Their place as High Houses was firmly cemented in the hierarchy of both nobility and government. Not so with Jacos, if Coriane’s father, Harrus, could not find a way to prove his worth to his peers and his king. For her part, Coriane saw no way through it. Aderonack was on the Lakelander border, a land of few people and deep forest no one needed to log. They could not claim mines or mills or even fertile farmland. There was nothing of use in their corner of the world.

She had tied a golden sash around her waist, cinching in the ill-fitting, high-collared dress in an attempt to look a bit more presentable, if not in fashion. Coriane told herself she didn’t mind the whispers of court, the sneers from the other young ladies who watched her like she was a bug, or worse, a Red. They were all cruel girls, silly girls, waiting with bated breath for any news of Queenstrial. But of course that wasn’t true. Sara was one of them, wasn’t she? A daughter of Lord Skonos, training to be a healer, showing great promise in her abilities. Enough to service the royal family if she kept to the path.

I desire no such thing, Sara said once, confiding in Coriane months before, during a visit. It will be a waste if I spend my life healing paper cuts and crow’s-feet. My skills would be of better use in trenches of the Choke or the hospitals of Corvium. Soldiers die there every day, you know. Reds and Silvers both, killed by Lakelander bombs and bullets, bleeding to death because people like me stay here.

She would never say so to anyone else, least of all her lord father. Such words were better suited to midnight, when two girls could whisper their dreams without fear of consequence.

“I want to build things,” Coriane told her best friend on such an occasion.

“Build what, Coriane?”

“Airjets, airships, transports, video screens—ovens! I don’t know, Sara, I don’t know. I just want to—to make something.”

Sara smiled then, her teeth glinting in a slim beam of moonlight. “Make something of yourself, you mean. Don’t you, Cori?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“I can see why Julian likes you so much.”

That quieted Sara right away, and she was asleep soon after. But Coriane kept her eyes open, watching shadows on the walls, wondering.

Now, on the bridge, in the middle of brightly colored chaos, she did the same. Nobles, citizens, merchants seemed to float before her, their skin cold, pace slow, eyes hard and dark no matter their color. They drank in the morning with greed, a quenched man still gulping at water while others died of thirst. The others were the Reds, of course, wearing the bands that marked them. The servants among them wore uniforms, some striped with the colors of the High House they served. Their movements were determined, their eyes forward, hurrying along on their errands and orders. They have purpose at least, Coriane thought. Not like me.

She suddenly felt the urge to grab on to the nearby lamppost, to wrap her arms around it lest she be carried away like a leaf on the wind, or a stone dropping through water. Flying or drowning or both. Going where some other force willed. Beyond her own control.

Julian’s hand closed around her wrist, forcing her to take his arm. He’ll do, she thought, and a cord of tension relaxed in her. Julian will keep me here.

Later on, she recorded little of the official funeral in her diary, long spattered with ink splotches and cross outs. Her spelling was improving though, as was her penmanship. She wrote nothing of Uncle Jared’s body, his skin whiter than the moon, drained of blood by the embalming process. She did not record how her father’s lip quivered, betraying the pain he truly felt for his brother’s death. Her writings were not of the way the rain stopped, just long enough for the ceremony, or the crowd of lords who came to pay their respects. She did not even bother to mention the king’s presence, or that of his son, Tiberias, who brooded with dark brows and an even darker expression.

Uncle is gone, she wrote instead of all this. And somehow, in some way, I envy him.

As always, she tucked the diary away when she was finished, hiding it beneath the mattress of her bedchamber with the rest of her treasures. Namely, a little pallet of tools. Jealously guarded, taken from the abandoned gardener’s shed back home. Two screwdrivers, a delicate hammer, one set of needle-nose pliers, and a wrench rusted almost beyond use. Almost. There was a coil of spindly wire as well, carefully drawn from an ancient lamp in the corner that no one would miss. Like the estate, the Jacos town house in West Archeon was a decaying place. And damp, too, in the middle of the rainstorm, giving the old walls the feel of a dripping cave.

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