Long May She Reign(5)

By: Rhiannon Thomas


“When you figure it out, you’ll be famous.” She wrapped a loose strand of my hair around her fingers, moving it gently back and forth. Prickles ran across my scalp, and I closed my eyes.

“Of course.”

“Cold hands are the worst, Freya. People’ll pay you a lot of money if you figure it out. You could do anything you wanted after that.”

I shook my head. But secretly, I agreed. Not that I’d be famous, perhaps, but that this would work, that this was my solution. If I could solve this, and sell it, I’d have my own money. I could travel wherever I pleased. Travel to the continent, convince a scientist to teach me there. Stop living on the edge of other people’s lives and start living my own.

I couldn’t admit it, though. Not even to Naomi. The thought was too thrilling and terrifying to share. If I said it out loud, even nodded at Naomi’s suggestion, I felt, madly, irrationally, that it would be snatched away from me, just to punish me for believing.

Naomi tucked her legs underneath her. “Well, you can be boring and unromantic if you like. I believe it’ll happen. I’ll miss you, though. When you’re gone.”

“I won’t leave you.” It was the one downside to the plan, the one detail that made me hesitate. I wouldn’t know what to do without Naomi beside me. “You’ll come with me.”

I knew she wouldn’t, she couldn’t, not with her parents’ approval, at least. But I wanted to pretend.

“I suppose I would like to see the continent. But what would Jacob do without me? He gets into too much trouble as it is.”

“He’ll have to come and help you on your adventures,” I said. “Rescue you when that dashing rogue you meet turns out to like girl-bone soup.”

“Because of course that’ll happen to me.”

“It happens to all the best heroines. And if your brother doesn’t have to rush to your aid, how will he employ that handsome stranger to assist him who falls madly in love at the sight of you?”

She laughed. “Well, when you put it like that.” She glanced toward the palace. “Should we go back inside soon? They’ll be missing us.”

“They won’t miss us.” Everyone had already seen us go, and my father was going to be furious about that, whatever I did. At this point, I might as well leave entirely.

I tapped my fingernail on the hairpin. Brand-new, special for the banquet. Made from aluminum, which was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. Someone on the continent had discovered a new metal, and what did everyone here do? Rush to make it into jewelry, without a thought to what better uses it might have.

I’d be there soon. On the continent, with real intellectuals, with people who actually cared, rather than the vapid, fashion-hungry mob here. I just had to solve this one problem.

Another tap of the hairpin. Metal hadn’t worked. Not even close.

But I hadn’t tried aluminum.

I sat up.

“What is it?” Naomi said.

“Aluminum. I haven’t tried it yet. For my experiment.” My thoughts were racing. “What if—what if I combined it with something? Maybe iodine?” Yes. Yes. That would produce heat. Wouldn’t it?

There were carriages around the front of the palace, waiting until they were needed. Surely one of them could take me home. My father must have noticed me leaving the hall, but he hadn’t come looking for me. I could slip out for an hour or two, then come back, and say I’d been in the gardens all along. He’d be angry, but he wouldn’t be able to disprove it. The gardens were huge. He couldn’t search them while I was gone, not without leaving the ball for longer than he’d deem acceptable himself.

I could go back to the laboratory, try out my thoughts, and be back before the end of the feast.

And if this worked—if it worked, I’d never have to go to a banquet like this again.

Naomi grinned back at me. “All right,” she said. “Let’s go make your fortune.”





TWO


IT WAS EASY ENOUGH TO FIND A CARRIAGE. NO ONE wanted to leave the social event of the year and miss whatever drunken gossip would fuel the next two months of court conversations, but the coachmen had to wait outside the gates with their horses, just in case.

The streets were jammed with people. The king would never pay for commoners to celebrate with him—that would be a waste of good gold, in his eyes—but if the taverns could use the king’s birthday as a way to make a profit, and the people could use it as a way to have fun, then little things like invitations weren’t going to deter them. It seemed I was the only one who wanted to hide at home tonight.

It made me nervous. All those people, filling the road, blocking our escape. They were just people, nothing more than that, people who didn’t even care who we were in the slightest, but knowing they were out there, all around us, that they had beating hearts and judging minds, that they might do anything and I couldn’t predict it, that I couldn’t run past them all . . .