The queen was but a princess, her parents lost this year past, one to war and one to childbirth. The child, too, was lost. He would have been heir.
When news of the Queen mother’s death, and that of her infant child, reached the ears of the kingdom, envoys of counselors and suitors came to the hall. But the princess-Queen chose La Rana.
La Rana had been advisor and handmaid to the Queen mother. She was short and stout, with dark hair, large, black eyes. They said she had been taken from the gypsy caves in Granada, a spitting, half-feral thing. As a child she had been in an accident, and about her throat was a burn mark as if from a rope. She wore high collars, and when she spoke above a whisper, she seemed to croak. No one knew her age.
“The gold gown,” she nodded to the princess-Queen’s handmaid. “The red brooch. You must look powerful tonight.”
The princess-Queen, Aurelia, lifted her head. She was dressed in only a shift, her long, black-brown hair loose about her shoulders. The coronation ceremony had taken place a month ago. Requests for her hand had not ceased since. On average, her suitors were 25 years older.
“Opal?” my mother calls from the hallway. “Are you ready yet?” Her words sound like razors and train tracks, metal on metal, but I’m past answering. She only gets sharper as my father’s presence fades from the house. The windowsill is hard against my palms and my toes stretch down to reach the ground below my bedroom window.
The summer grass is cool and sticky soft under my feet and shoes would have been a good idea, but they were the furthest thing from my mind. I run through the back fields and the tall grass swallows me whole, catching my hair and the breath I didn’t know I was holding until it rushes from me. This is Willowreach in the summer, all green, even in the dark. I run fingertips across rough tree bark as I pass and the trees whisper sweet nothings to me. I could listen to them all night, but I don’t have the time. I pass my dad’s grave just yards from where the river took him, and a fresher one next to his.
Fireflies light the banks of the river, like the slowest strobe lights in the world, and I’m looking for Indie. I startle a bullfrog from the reeds and he splashes into the water, the ripples lapping at my toes. Something heavy presses at my temples and it has a voice like blades against my skin. The draw to walk in and let the warm water have me is immense. I’ve felt the pull all summer, like a buzz in my brain, getting louder as time passes. Mud squishes between my toes and I swear there are voices in the water too. They say things I couldn’t repeat to my mother without getting slapped. An arm snakes around me and pulls me back. My feet squelch out of the mud, as if it was already trying to pull me in.
“You shouldn’t be so close to the water.” Indiana’s eyes are green really, but in the night of Willowreach they’re as dark as the shadows the trees throw around us. “It’s talking to you.” It’s not a question, but it should be. She always knows. Her eyebrows come together and she looks as angry as the water sounded.
“Yeah, it is. Everything is.” The truth hangs between us, heavy as a summers storm. I hadn’t said it out loud yet.