I hobbled through the arched entranceway of the outdoor market. The sack of sugar I purchased from the baking supplier was difficult to carry so I heaved the damn thing over my shoulder while muttering expletives. Then I saw her, the Queen’s Second— also another name for the Queen’s Executioner.
The Queen’s Second thwarted enemies of the throne and kept peace within city walls. Her beauty stirred jealously in girls like me but I never coveted her position. She intimidated me, though it wasn’t her leather lace uniform that bothered me. It wasn’t her bone-stiff cape protruding from her shoulders like a demon wing or even the hook-shaped sword she carried at her waist that sent chills through my body. What kept me in constant discontent was her mask of clear, outward-pointing needle blades. They said you should never look the Queen’s Second in the eye, but that day I did. She paid no attention to me as something else held her thoughts, something she feared.
A gloved hand touched my arm. I recoiled and dropped the sugar at my feet. The Queen herself towered over me. Her whimsical white gowns reminded me of desolate boneyards—I never cared for either. She may have been smiling but I couldn’t see past her feathered veil.
She brushed my tar-colored bangs from my eyes. “Caroline, today you start your training,” she said in a confident tone. Unless I wanted my parents to bury their only daughter, I followed the Queen and her Second. The sack of sugar was left with its sweet innards spilling into the street. The Queen crowned a new Second.
The former Second’s tears dripped from the blades of her mask. She sat crumpled against a wall of the throne room like an old pair of shoes and no doubt the Queen’s plans for her involved something gruesome.
I told my teacher, classmates, and family at home about my new title. As my mother fell to her knees and wept, the Queen squeezed my shoulders from behind—a reminder that I no longer belonged to my parents. I turned to my father, “Sorry about the sugar. I can’t make your birthday cake this year.” His red rimmed eyes conveyed his grief. I tried to tell them I’d be back, but they didn’t buy it.
Too short to be the Queen’s Second, I received arm and leg extensions which weren’t bad but the pain during my spinal column lengthening was unbearable. I learned to fight with my taller body and it didn’t take long before I mastered the drills. I received a hot iron rod to my thighs and legs for each unsuccessful kill and a concussion for misjudging my height.
The Queen’s success in finding immortality had worked these past few centuries, although my parents once told me she had been different people. “That’s why she hides her face underneath the veil. Nobody lives forever,” they’d say when I was still their daughter. Turned out, the Second’s infamous needle mask had a purpose other than intimidation. When I wore it, I could see Queen’s true complexion. Time stole her flesh and skin and left a heap of skeletal decay—she remained the same person throughout her rein—my parents were wrong.
From the genocidal twinkle that emanated from her hollow eye sockets to the blood covered truffles that her servants brought us, I knew everything. I never questioned whose blood I swallowed, I just accepted it. I accepted her.
I wanted to sleep where she slept and dine where she dined. I relished looking down on citizens through my mask, watching people avoid eye contact. Those who weren’t as submissive often walked into my sword.
Belonging to the Queen for more years than any other Second, she thanked me with a ceremony, or so she called it. Her soldiers tied my wrists together with coarse rope. I tried making a case for myself. I’d been the best Second she’d ever had, but the Queen wasn’t swayed. My pleading was drowned in the cacophony of cheers from the citizens. The Queen chose another Second and the first assignment came as a haunting realization.
Praying that the scared girl could throw a hooked sword well enough, I tried to think of my father and mother and teacher and old classmates. But I couldn’t. I could only think of her, my beloved Queen.
Bio: Clara Brown is a speculative fiction writer and blogger from Phoenix, Arizona. She created the website “Suck My Words” as a platform for topics such as fiction, religion, science, philosophy, activism, and sex.