Home > Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(14)

Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(14)
Author: Victoria Aveyard

She steps through the door, seemingly into the solid wall. It takes me a moment to realize she’s going down a flight of stairs, disappearing into semidarkness.

“The job?” I press. “What job? What is this?”

She turns on the stairs, all but rolling her eyes at me. “You’ve been summoned to fill a serving post,” she says like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

Working. A job. I almost fall over at the thought.

Cal. He said he had a good job—and now he’s pulled some strings to do the same for me. I might even be working with him. My heart leaps at the prospect, knowing what this means. I’m not going to die, I’m not even going to fight. I’m going to work and I’m going to live. And later, when I find Cal, I can convince him to do the same for Kilorn.

“Keep up, I don’t have time to hold your hand!”

Scrambling after her, I descend into a surprisingly dark tunnel. Small lights glow on the walls, making it just possible to see. Pipes run overhead, humming with running water and electricity.

“Where are we going?” I finally breathe.

I can almost hear Walsh’s dismay as she turns to me, confused. “The Hall of the Sun, of course.”

For a second, I think I can feel my heart stop. “Wha-what? The palace, the actual palace?”

She taps the badge on her uniform. The crown winks in the low light.

“You serve the king now.”

They have a uniform ready for me, but I barely notice it. I’m too amazed by my surroundings, the tan stone and glittering mosaic floor of this forgotten hall in the house of a king. Other servants bustle past in a parade of red uniforms. I search their faces, looking for Cal, wanting to thank him, but he never appears.

Walsh stays by me, whispering advice. “Say nothing. Hear nothing. Speak to no one, for they will not speak to you.”

I can hardly keep the words straight; the last two days have been a ruin on my heart and soul. I think life has simply decided to open the floodgates, trying to drown me in a whirlwind of twists and turns.

“You came on a busy day, perhaps the worst we will ever see.”

“I saw the boats and airships—Silvers have been going upriver for weeks,” I say. “More than usual, even for this time of year.”

Walsh hurries me along, pushing a tray of glittering cups into my hands. Surely these things can buy my freedom and Kilorn’s, but the Hall is guarded at every door and window. I could never slip by so many officers, even with all my skills.

“What’s happening today?” I dumbly ask. A lock of my dark hair falls in my eyes and before I can try to swish it away, Walsh pushes the hair back and fastens it with a tiny pin, her motions quick and precise. “Is that a stupid question?”

“No, I didn’t know about it either, not until we started preparing. After all, they haven’t had one for twenty years, since Queen Elara was selected.” She speaks so fast her words almost blur together. “Today is Queenstrial. The daughters of the High Houses, the great Silver families, have all come to offer themselves to the prince. There’s a big feast tonight, but now they’re in the Spiral Garden, preparing to present, hoping to be chosen. One of those girls gets to be the next queen and they’re slapping each other silly for the chance.”

An image of a bunch of peacocks flashes in my head. “So what, they do a spin, say a few words, bat their eyelashes?”

But Walsh snorts at me, shaking her head. “Hardly.” Then her eyes glitter. “You’re on serving duty, so you’ll get to see for yourself.”

The doors loom ahead, made of carved wood and flowing glass. A servant props them open, allowing the line of red uniforms to move through. And then it’s my turn.

“Aren’t you coming?” I can hear the desperation in my voice, almost begging Walsh to stay with me. But she backs away, leaving me alone. Before I can hold up the line or otherwise ruin the organized assembly of servants, I force myself forward and out into the sunlight of what she called the Spiral Garden.

At first I think I’m in the middle of another arena like the one back home. The space curves downward into an immense bowl, but instead of stone benches, tables and plush chairs crowd the spiral of terraces. Plants and fountains trickle down the steps, dividing the terraces into boxes. They join at the bottom, decorating a grassy circle ringed with stone statues. Ahead of me is a boxed area dripping with red and black silk. Four seats, each one made of cruel iron, look down on the floor.

What in hell is this place?

My work goes by in a blur, following the lead of the other Reds. I’m a kitchen server, meant to clean, aid the cooks, and currently, prepare the arena for the upcoming event. Why the royals need an arena, I’m not sure. Back home they are only used for Feats, to watch Silver against Silver, but what could it mean here? This is a palace. Blood will never stain these floors. Yet the not-arena fills me with a dreadful feeling of foreboding. The prickling sensation returns, pulsing under my skin in waves. By the time I finish and return to the servant entrance, Queenstrial is about to begin.

The other servants make themselves scarce, moving to an elevated platform surrounded by sheer curtains. I scramble after them and bump into line, just as another set of doors opens, directly between the royal box and the servants’ entrance.

It’s starting.

My mind flashes back to Grand Garden, to the beautiful, cruel creatures calling themselves human. All flashy and vain, with hard eyes and worse tempers. These Silvers, the High Houses, as Walsh calls them, will be no different. They might even be worse.

They enter as a crowd, in a flock of colors that splits around the Spiral Garden with cold grace. The different families, or houses, are easy to spot; they all wear the same colors as each other. Purple, green, black, yellow, a rainbow of shades moving toward their family boxes. I quickly lose count of them all. Just how many houses are there? More and more join the crowd, some stopping to talk, others embracing with stiff arms. This is a party for them, I realize. Most probably have little hope to put forth a queen and this is just a vacation.

But a few don’t look to be in the celebrating mood. A silver-haired family in black silk sits in focused silence to the right of the king’s box. The patriarch of the house has a pointed beard and black eyes. Farther down, a house of navy blue and white mutter together. To my surprise, I recognize one of them. Samson Merandus, the whisper I saw in the arena a few days ago. Unlike the others, he stares darkly at the floor, his attention elsewhere. I make a note to myself not to run into him or his deadly abilities.

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