The Heiress by Katie Preedy
This story is one of the February Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
“My lady? It is time.”
I barely hear Galeran over the thunderous downpour outside. I have been sat in this stone-cold alcove for what must be hours now, my head resting on the stained-glass window, my eyes glazing over from a relentless bleed of tears, and my heart aching with endless attempts to forget.
But I cannot forget.
I never will.
Especially now this day has arrived.
Slowly, slowly, I lift my head away from the window and give Galeran a wordless, weighted nod. Gathering whatever strength my grief has permitted me to keep, I drag myself off the sill of the alcove, my gown looser and heavier than it was just a few weeks ago, and move slowly across the threadbare floor of the chamber towards the doorway where Galeran awaits me.
Without even looking at him as I approach, I can sense Galeran’s own sadness, and a desperation to do something, anything, to relieve my pain. Yet we both know that the jokes we have shared since childhood — even the ones that usually have me crying with laughter — will not raise even the smallest of smiles from me now. And likely never will again.
I drift past Galeran, out of the chamber and down the long, long corridor to the throne room. The torches on the walls either side of me are alight with amber flames, but their warmth does not reach me, as though my body were sheathed with invisible ice. By the time I am in front of the huge oak doors that stand between me and the throne room, it takes all the strength I have left not to fall to the floor and shatter into a thousand pieces.
The doors begin to open. Their old creak is familiar yet suddenly shrill in my ears, and so much louder than I ever remember it being. Or perhaps it is not the doors but the cacophony of hundreds and hundreds of voices on the other side of them that beats so loud in my brain. The people of the queendom muttering, tittering, and speculating as they await my arrival.
Indeed, as the doors steady to a wide-open halt, I see them all stood before me, crowding the throne room with their tailcoats and gowns. An unpleasant hush falls over them in a wave as the chamberlain announces my arrival, and they all turn to stare at me with gormless, unfeeling eyes.
I take a deep, shuddering breath, straighten my aching back, and carry myself and the weight of the world through the crowd.
I am barely halfway across the room when the whispers begin.
“Poor lamb,” I hear them hiss. “So sad.” “So weak and frail.” “Where has all her famed beauty gone?” “What a burden for one so young.”
I try to shut out the words. I can hear through their feigned kindness to a core laced with the poisons of envy and greed. They are arrowheads to a soul already shred by sorrow.
It makes me resent even more that now, I must be their ruler.
I wade through the last of the courtly crowd to arrive at the other end of the room, and before I have truly prepared myself, before I can bear it, I am faced with the throne.
My mother’s throne.
Galeran has made it to the end of the room before I have. He must have anticipated this fresh surge of raw emotion within me too, because as I draw near, he reaches out to me and takes my hand in his.
A fragile “thank you” passes through my cracked lips. Galeran nods, and the gentle squeeze of his fingers gives me just enough stability to take the steep, blood red carpeted steps upwards, turn towards the crowd of queendom dwellers, and, oh so resentfully, lower myself into the throne that my mother should still be filling now.
Within a heartbeat, my coronation begins.
Everything seems to fade around me as I numbly make my vows before the court. My voice is hoarse and so unlike the graceful one my mother always addressed the court with — even in her own most trying moments of rule. As her jewel-encrusted crown is brought down onto my head, the weight of it almost crushing my skull, fresh tears slip from my eyes into the hollows of my cheeks. The agony of the moment is so great that I barely feel the rays of sunlight that now tear through the months-long storm clouds above, stream through the throne room windows, and dry the tears away.
But it dawns on me at last.
I am no longer the heiress of my mother’s land.
I am its queen.
And a long and lonely destiny awaits me.