Home > Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(15)

Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(15)
Author: Victoria Aveyard

Strangely, though, I don’t see any girls of age to marry a prince. Perhaps they’re preparing elsewhere, eagerly awaiting their chance to win a crown.

Occasionally, someone presses a square metal button on their table to flick on a light, indicating they require a servant. Whoever’s closest to the door attends to them, and the rest of us shuffle along, waiting for our turn to serve. Of course, the second I move next to the door, the wretched black-eyed patriarch slaps the button on his table.

Thank heavens for my feet that have never failed me. I nearly skip through the crowd, dancing between roving bodies as my heart hammers in my chest. Instead of stealing from these people, I mean to serve them. The Mare Barrow of last week wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this version of herself. But she was a foolish girl, and now I pay the price.

“Sir?” I say, facing the patriarch who had called for service. In my head, I curse at myself. Say nothing is the first rule, and I have already broken it.

But he doesn’t seem to notice and simply holds up his empty water glass, a bored look on his face. “They’re toying with us, Ptolemus,” he grumbles to the muscled young man next to him. I assume he is the one unfortunate enough to be called Ptolemus.

“A demonstration of power, Father,” Ptolemus replies, draining his own glass. He holds it out to me and I take it without hesitation. “They make us wait because they can.”

They are the royals who have yet to make an appearance. But to hear these Silvers discuss them so, with such disdain, is perplexing. We Reds insult the king and the nobles if we can get away with it, but I think that’s our prerogative. These people have never suffered a day in their life. What problems could they possibly have with each other?

I want to stay and listen, but even I know that’s against the rules. I turn around, climbing a flight of steps out of their box. There’s a sink hidden behind some brightly colored flowers, probably so I don’t have to go all the way back around the not-arena to refill their drinks. That’s when a metallic, sharp tone reverberates through the space, much like the one at the beginning of the First Friday Feats. It chirps a few times, sounding out a proud melody, heralding what must be the entrance of the king. All around, the High Houses rise to their feet, begrudgingly or not. I notice Ptolemus mutter something to his father again.

From my vantage point, hidden behind the flowers, I’m level with the king’s box and slightly behind it. Mare Barrow, a few yards from the king. What would my family think, or Kilorn for that matter? This man sends us to die, and I’ve willingly become his servant. It makes me sick.

He enters briskly, shoulders set and straight. Even from behind, he’s much fatter than he looks on the coins and broadcasts, but also taller. His uniform is black and red, with a military cut, though I doubt he’s ever spent a single day in the trenches Reds die in. Badges and medals glitter on his breast, a testament to things he’s never done. He even wears a gilded sword despite the many guards around him. The crown on his head is familiar, made of twisted red gold and black iron, each point a burst of curling flame. It seems to burn against his inky black hair flecked with gray. How fitting, for the king is a burner, as was his father, and his father before him, and so on. Destructive, powerful controllers of heat and fire. Once, our kings used to burn dissenters with nothing more than a flaming touch. This king might not burn Reds anymore, but he still kills us with war and ruin. His name is one I’ve known since I was a little girl sitting in the schoolroom, still eager to learn, as if it could get me somewhere. Tiberias Calore the Sixth, King of Norta, Flame of the North. A mouthful if there ever was one. I would spit on his name if I could.

The queen follows him, nodding at the crowd. Whereas the king’s clothes are dark and severely cut, her navy and white garb is airy and light. She bows only to Samson’s house, and I realize she’s wearing the same colors as them. She must be their kin, judging by the family resemblance. Same ash-blond hair, blue eyes, and pointed smile, making her look like a wild, predatory cat.

As intimidating as the royals seem, they’re nothing compared to the guards that follow them. Even though I’m a Red born in mud, I know what they are. Everyone knows what a Sentinel looks like, because no one wants to meet them. They flank the king in every broadcast, at every speech or decree. As always, their uniforms look like flame, flickering between red and orange, and their eyes glitter behind fearsome black masks. Each one carries a black rifle tipped with a gleaming silver bayonet that could cut bone. Their skills are even more frightening than their appearances—elite warriors from different Silver houses, trained from childhood, sworn to the king and his family for their entire lives. They’re enough to make me shiver. But the High Houses aren’t afraid at all.

Somewhere deep in the boxes, the yelling starts. “Death to the Scarlet Guard!” someone shouts, and others quickly chime in. A chill goes through me as I remember the events of yesterday, now so far away. How quickly this crowd could turn . . .

The king looks ruffled, paling at the noise. He’s not used to outbursts like this and almost snarls at the shouts.

“The Scarlet Guard—and all our enemies—are being dealt with!” Tiberias rumbles, his voice echoing out among the crowd. It silences them like the crack of a whip. “But that is not what we are here to address. Today we honor tradition, and no Red devil will impede that. Now is the rite of Queenstrial, to bring forth the most talented daughter to wed the most noble son. In this we find strength, to bind the High Houses, and power, to ensure Silver rule until the end of days, to defeat our enemies, on the borders, and within them.”

“Strength,” the crowd rumbles back at him. It’s frightening. “Power.”

“The time has come again to uphold this ideal, and both my sons honor our most solemn custom.” He waves a hand, and two figures step forward, flanking their father. I cannot see their faces, but both are tall and black-haired, like the king. They too wear military uniforms. “The Prince Maven, of House Calore and Merandus, son of my royal wife, the Queen Elara.”

The second prince, paler and slighter than the other, raises a hand in stern greeting. He turns left and right and I catch a glimpse of his face. Though he has a regal, serious look to him, he can’t be more than seventeen. Sharp-featured and blue-eyed, he could freeze fire with his smile—he despises this pageantry. I have to agree with him.

“And the crown prince of House Calore and Jacos, son of my late wife, the Queen Coriane, heir to the Kingdom of Norta and the Burning Crown, Tiberias the Seventh.”

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