“Well, you should continue to get what sleep you can to gather your strength. Tomorrow you’ll be meeting with the finest seamstress in the city.”
“I have plenty of clothes.”
He pauses and gently sets the duvet on the settee. When he speaks again, he doesn’t look at me. “She will be measuring you for your coronation gown. It is the honor of the top seamstress to clothe the queen for the event.”
“I see…” I murmur.
“Of course, she doesn’t know you intend to be gone by then.” Eldas turns and the broad back I was just admiring now has become like an icy wall that I will never be able to scale.
I don’t get to finish before he closes the door behind him. The sound rings in my ears louder than the silence that crashes down on me in his wake.
The seamstress sets up a makeshift salon in the castle. She is now one of the “elite few” who’s able to see me and has, by my understanding, been intensely vetted by Eldas. It’s hard to believe it’s now been over a week since the attack. In some ways, it still seems like yesterday. I’m still jumping at every sound and movement in the corner of my eye when I round corners. In other ways, it’s like an eternity.
Rinni escorts me to a room with large windows that overlook Quinnar on three sides—almost like a closed-in balcony. Here, the seamstress has set up three tables under each window, yards of fabric, lace, and jewels glittering in the sunlight. I’m directed to stand on a pedestal in the center of the room as Rinni and Hook stand guard outside the door.
The seamstress steps around me. She flicks her fingers and invisible ice is dragged over my skin as measuring ribbons unfurl down my arms and legs. I do as she instructs, holding out one arm and then the other. The measurements are endless and it gives my mind time to wander beyond the window panes.
Quinnar is getting dressed up like a spring maiden. Heavy garlands of wildflowers plucked from the fields that my room overlooks have been magically woven across awnings, balconies, and porches. Minstrels have begun walking the streets, standing on benches surrounding the central lake and belting their songs.
It’s a joyous veneer on a dying world. The throne was less aggressive but somehow more exhausting than the last time. Its toll is less physical and felt more in the recesses of my magic—a hollowing out of the powers I have.
My power—the last power of a long line of Human Queens—is diminishing, and I fear for this world if Eldas and I don’t end the cycle.
I frown at the thought.
“Apologies, Majesty, did I prick you?” the seamstress asks, looking up from the muslin she’s draping over my body.
“Oh, no, I’m fine.” I force a smile. I had been frowning at the realization that I’ve begun to care for this world—not just in the way that I care for anything living. No…I care for it deeper than that. Perhaps it’s the throne, or perhaps it’s Eldas, but I’m beginning to care for Midscape as though it could be a home to me.
I stare out at the statue of the first Human Queen, kneeling before the first Elf King, and can’t help but wonder if they will someday make a statue of me—the last queen. There’s no way to be certain that I am the last… But a nagging inkling whispers with certainty that I am. One way or another, the Human Queens will end with me.
What would you do? I wonder with an aching heart, wishing the first queen could hear me. If only you could guide me…
“Your Majesty!” the seamstress squeaks as I step off of the pedestal, interrupting her work. Muslin falls from my hips.
“I’m sorry, just a moment, I need a better look at something.” I quickly cross to the windows, staring down at the statue.
From this vantage, I can see details that are hidden by the queen’s hands when standing at ground level. Nestled in her cupped hands is a sprout. I was right—she’s not kneeling before him, she is burying something. And that something is a plant.
“When was that statue built?” I ask.
“The one in the center of the lake, when was it created?”
The seamstress hums in thought. “I’m not rightly sure. It’s always been in Quinnar. Perhaps by the second or third Human Queen.”
One of the first five queens—someone whose journal I’m missing. “If it’s that old, how are the details still preserved?”
“I believe the Elf King tends to it.” She motions back to the center of the room. “May we resume, Your Majesty?”
I go back to the pedestal, mind whirring. The sculpture was an early creation, when the throne was young and the memory of the first queen was fresh. Is there a meaning hidden in it? Or is it truly just to honor that early queen? Those questions lead me to wonder what it might actually be depicting… Is it the creation of the Fade, or redwood throne, perhaps?
My thoughts continue to spiral around what I’ve read in journals, searching for a link to this revelation of the statue’s true nature. I might be reading into it too much. But I must find a way to break the cycle. That’s the only solution. If I don’t, Midscape will be in danger.
Then, I return to Capton and everything I’ve ever wanted.
But what do I want?
“What do you want?” the cheery seamstress echoes my thoughts.
“I’m sorry, what?” I blink back to reality. She motions to the table of fabrics.
“For your dress, Your Majesty. What do you want? Silk, or velvet? Or perhaps chiffon? I think jewel tones for your complexion but I want to make sure I incorporate your opinion. After all, a woman’s natural beauty is enhanced best by her own confidence.”
She would lay an egg if she knew that what would enhance my confidence best would be a sturdy pair of canvas trousers and some kind of breathable shirt or tunic that I didn’t mind getting absolutely filthy.
“I trust your judgment,” I say, finally.
Her face falls slightly. “Are you…are you sure? Is nothing I brought to your liking? Because if it’s not I can—”
“No, they’re wonderful,” I interject. I hadn’t meant to offend her. “Let’s see…” I step down to run my hands over the fabrics, settling on one as light as air. “This one, whatever color you think is best, but this one.”
“Oh, fae-spun silk.” She practically purrs as she runs her fingers over it. “You have good taste, Your Majesty.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” I laugh. But a thought crosses my mind at the mention of something being fae made. “I hear the fae are good craftsmen.”
“The fae are skilled at their looms, yes. But the elves are the best craftsmen in the land.” She preens.
“Oh, of course. On my side of the Fade there is nothing more valuable than elf-made goods.” I smile and she continues to relish in my praise. I’m hoping I have her enough off guard to seize another opportunity. “I’ve heard a good deal about the things fae can make…especially things for celebrations.”
“Like faerie mead?”
“And more, I’ve heard.” I’m not sure how to approach this casually and can already tell I’m overplaying my hand.
A shadow crosses her face, but she brightens it with a forced smile almost immediately. “You honor us all that you’re taking an active interest in all the inhabitants of Midscape.”
“It is my role as Human Queen.” Just when I’m about to give up on learning anything more about glimmer, she surprises me.
“I’m not sure what you heard, Your Majesty…” The seamstress keeps her head down, writing notes in a ledger she brought. “But I…”
“It’s not my place.” Her pen pauses.
“Please, tell me,” I encourage. “This is still a new land to me. I have much to learn.” Not a lie in the slightest.
“I would suspect you might have heard something of the like from the young prince Harrow.” I don’t need to confirm the fact; my silence is enough to prompt her to continue. “Please be careful, Your Majesty. Those of us in the cities have seen the prince’s recent…dalliances. Especially since the arrival of the fae delegation.”
She shakes her head. “I shouldn’t have said anything. Forgive me, Majesty. Please, if you might…if in your immense kindness you spare mentioning I said anything to the king?”
“I assure you I won’t,” I say hastily, trying to put her at ease. “But I do need to know as I am living in the same castle as Harrow. Please, tell me if there’s anything I should be aware of?”
“I don’t know anything more.” She shakes her head and I leave the matter be. If she does know something, she’s too nervous to say.
We finish up shortly after and I excuse myself from her salon. The moment I step out I’m face to face with Harrow, Jalic, Sirro, and Aria.
“Your Majesty.” Jalic is the first to notice me and he bows his head. The others follow suit. Even the begrudging etiquette is a significant improvement over the first time and I wonder if my interactions with Harrow have had anything to do with their change in tone.
Hook bounds past me. He circles Aria twice, growling low. Aria steps closer to Harrow, grabbing his arms.
“This beast is getting snot on my skirts.” Aria swats lightly at Hook’s nose as he buries it into the layers of fabric. “Shoo, shoo!”
“Hook, come,” I command. Hook looks between me and Aria and lets out a frustrated huff, but obliges. However, his focus remains intently on the woman. It’s amusing to watch Aria fight an open scowl. “Good afternoon, you four. Where are you headed?” I ask.
“Why? Would you like to come? Have a bit more fun with us?” Jalic shoves his hands into his pockets and gives me a casual grin.
“Is that any way to speak to a queen?” Rinni asks and Jalic glances askance.