Long May She Reign(10)

By: Rhiannon Thomas


I couldn’t be queen. I couldn’t. So many people would have to die for me to inherit the throne, and they couldn’t be gone. I’d seen them, a few hours ago. All alive, completely themselves. I’d never liked most of them, but I hadn’t wanted them to die.

Dagny butted against my hand, and I swept her up into my arms, hugging her so tightly she mewed in protest.

“But my brother,” Naomi said. “He’s ahead of me in line to the throne. Ahead of me, but after Freya. What happened to him?”

“I don’t know!” My father was almost shouting now. “I didn’t see him. He may have left, himself.”

Naomi stumbled toward the door. Her legs didn’t seem able to hold her weight. “I have to get back to the palace. I have to know. I have to look—”

But the guards blocked the doorway, and they did not step aside.

“We cannot let you go, my lady,” one said.

“I have to see my brother!”

“No,” my father said. “No, they’re right. You’re in line to the throne, too. Thirty-sixth before tonight? You have to be protected, as well.”

Naomi shook her head, over and over, but the guards still didn’t move.

“We must act quickly,” my father said. “I’m sure our enemies are already planning to take advantage of the situation. We have to move now, before they have time to act against you.”

“We don’t have enemies,” I said. “How could we have enemies?”

“You’re queen, Freya. And we must ensure you remain that way. We need to leave—now. We will have the servants fetch whatever you need later.”

He gestured for me to place Dagny back on the table. I tightened my grip. I was not leaving Dagny behind. Not now. Contrary to what many people seemed to think, I wasn’t a fool. I read my history books. I knew how these things ended. The fights over who was the rightful heir, the fate of hapless girls shoved at the throne because of tenuous family connections, the overbold young men with dreams of glory. If I claimed my supposed throne, I’d be sticking out my neck for anyone to take a swing. And if I failed to hold the crown . . .

But if I didn’t claim the throne, I’d still be in danger. Who would leave the rightful heir alive, if they wanted to control the throne themselves?

I wasn’t going to leave Dagny behind tonight. Dagny helped me think. Dagny helped me breathe. I was going to need both of those things if I was going to survive this.

“I’ll go,” I said. “But someone needs to look for Naomi’s brother. They have to help her.” I looked at the guards, waiting for them to move. Instead, they looked to my father.

“Very well,” my father said. “Someone will look for him. But Naomi must come with us.” He gestured at the door, but didn’t move. I didn’t move, either.

He was waiting for me to walk through first. Because I held precedence now. Because I was the queen.

I couldn’t be the queen.

I grabbed Naomi’s hand and squeezed it before stepping forward. My legs shook.

Queen. I was queen.





THREE


NEWS OF THE ATTACKS HAD CLEARLY ALREADY SPREAD. Even more people crowded the streets now than they had last night, and the air seemed to have changed, heavy with fear. People shouted at our carriage as we squeezed past—is it true? Is the king hurt? Is the king dead?

Crowds bumped against the carriage, and the horses danced out of the way. Our curtains were clipped shut, barely letting any light through, preventing anyone from seeing me and my guards. But what would they think, even if they could see me? I was just a girl clutching a cat. Not exactly someone who looked like they had information.

“There should be guards on the streets,” my father murmured. “This could turn into a riot.”

I clutched my hands in my lap, squeezing my knuckles until they turned white. A riot. I could picture it like it was already happening, the people screaming, running, our carriage knocked over in the panic . . . but it wasn’t happening now. It wouldn’t happen. It was fine. It was fine.

“We are trying, my lord,” one of the guards said. “We were all taken by surprise.”

I looked across at Naomi. Her fear was a physical presence in the carriage, but I couldn’t think what to say. Anything reassuring felt like a lie. I was terrible with words, and now that they really did matter, I didn’t have a clue how to help her.

As the carriage jerked around a corner, Naomi began to shake, and Dagny struggled out of my arms and crossed the seat. She butted against Naomi’s side and licked her hand, purring. Naomi stroked her, but she did not turn to look.

I squeezed my eyes closed. Calm. I had to remain calm. But all my fears jumbled together, each one passing too quickly to process. Everyone was dead. I was queen. Someone had tried to kill us all. I was queen. How could I be queen? Each idea felt disconnected from the others, and I couldn’t focus on any of them. I couldn’t breathe.