The Queen in Shadows

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Chapter 12

Saturday comes like a deathly slow crawl. The week passed in a blur of isolation, the days blending together. At work, I am the servant, at home I am the scolded dog, tail tucked between its legs.

My aunt gives me small, sad smiles when she sees me, otherwise, I’ve been a pariah. My uncle ignores me so thoroughly I am starting to doubt my existence. I spend the majority of my time thinking about the Queen. They announced the gala for the Prince, yesterday, it will be Friday.

Less than a week from today.

The Queens execution will be the Sunday that follows.

Vampires can only really die if they are steaked directly through the heart then burnt to ash. In my lifetime there haven’t been any vampire executions. I won’t be attending. It seems like a horrible thing to watch. She’s on my mind almost constantly, like a memory, nagging at me.

I wake up extra early on Saturday morning and rush through my shower. I’m full of nervous energy as I make my way to the cafe to pick up breakfast. I expect that my time with Celine will be different than the previous experiences. She won’t be so kind in front of the Viciosos, but I hope for a small gesture, a simple smile, even.

I’ve felt so alone this week that I’ll take any sign of care or affection, no matter how small. I try not to get my hopes up though, she might feel like she has to treat me like nothing in front of other people.

There are no customers in the cafe when I arrive.

“Wow, you’re really early today!” The boy smiles.

“Yes, extra busy day,” I say, looking over the pastry case. My heart flutters when I see palmiers and eclairs. I’m sure he’s sleeping right now, it’s too early for a vampire to be awake. I wonder what he looks like while he sleeps, his perfect face, completely at ease, his lips slightly parted, his hair spread over his pillow.

Why am I such a creep?

Stop thinking about him sleeping, that’s worse than watching someone sleep.

“Here you go!” The boy says, “see you next week!”

“See you next week!” I rush out the door.

When I arrive at the house there are lights on and I can hear commotion upstairs.

“Pull another bottle of blood from the pantry and toast some bread, we have two guests,” Madam Vicioso calls down.

“Yes, Madam.”

I hurry to set two extra places at the table and prepare more food.

“Go to Madam Celines,” I’m told as they sit to eat, “we will be there shortly.”

“Yes, Madam.”

I jog from the house, it’s quite a distance and I know she will be unhappy if I’m not there when they arrive. When I get to the pedestrian entrance I see the vampire that drove me in the trolley.

“Hello, I’m supposed to assist Madam Celine today.”

The rude vampire from last week curls his lip in disgust before opening his mouth to speak.

“I’m here to drive you up,” the trolley driver cuts him off. We both look at her, confused. The angry guard jerks me forward by the arm. He roughly pats me down before pushing me toward the driver.

“Come on, she’s waiting for you,” she says before sitting behind the steering wheel, her tone kind, not impatient or annoyed. I slide into the seat and she takes off, driving quickly on the quiet, deserted street.

“I’m Sloane,” she smiles at me.

“I’m Noelle,” I try to smile back but I’m not sure if I’m successful. All these nice vamps are freaking me out.

“Celine thought your boss might make you walk,” she explains.

“Thank you for coming to get me.”

She whips the small cart into the courtyard.

“See you later, Noelle.”

“Thanks for the ride.”

I run down the path to Celines work studio. I hope I can have a few minutes alone with her before they arrive. When I get there her door is open.

“Good morning, Celine,” I say, standing just outside, waiting to be invited in.

“Good morning, Darling. What are you doing out there? Come in!”

When I step inside I scrunch my nose at the unmistakable, metallic smell of blood. On the small table there is a tray of pastries set out, like before, and a bottle of blood on a warmer.

“Please, have a pastry,” Celine says as she drags a mannequin from under the stairs “I’ve been told you’re partial to eclairs.”

“What?” I choke

“Was he wrong? Boys never remember these things” her light laughter fills the room.

“No, no, he wasn’t wrong. I...just...”

“Please, have one,” she smiles at me.

I lick my lips and consider for a moment. I decide to hurry up and eat one before they arrive and I miss the chance. I moan as I bite into it.

“So delicious!”

She laughs again, “Hurry and have another one, they were ordered special, for you.”

I stop and clear my throat. Feeling ridiculous at getting emotional over a pastry, I look at the ground. He told her I like eclairs and she made sure to have them here for me?

After a few minutes we hear them approaching.

“Go into the back room and relax. I’ll tell them you’re sorting fabrics,” she wiggles her brows and I giggle. I sit in the back, looking through huge binders of hand drawn dress designs. Each one is intricate and exquisite.

About thirty minutes into the visit Madam Viciosos shrill voice calls to me.

“Nina!” her voice pierces through my peace, I roll my eyes ‘Nina.’

“Go to the car and get Emilia’s shoes.”

“Yes, Madam,” I bow and scurry out the door.

The girls excitedly chatter about everything, boys at school, dresses, the gala, the Prince. They touch the rolls of fabric and look through stacks of dress designs, unworried by the concept of angering anyone with their actions. I wonder if this is what it’s like to have friends. I find myself being envious of their happy, carefree lives at the top of the food chain. Celine has me pulling out all of the blue fabrics that have any silver or gray tones in them. Madam Vicioso wants Emilia to have a shawl with her dress. I’m actually enjoying helping Celine, our time here is passing too quickly.

I hear gasps from behind me

“Your Highness!” Everyone says in unison.

Without looking, I drop to my knees and bow my head. There is silence in the room for a moment.

“Noelle?”

My head shoots up searching the room for his face. I expect to see the boy guarding whichever Royal family member is here.

Instead, I’m met with only one person standing in front of me. The kind stranger, wearing purple today, positioned in the middle of the room. I gasp and drop my head into a bow again. As he steps forward, I hear a sharp intake of breath and somehow know it’s from Madam Vicioso.

He bends down in front of me, gently taking my hand, pulling me up to stand.

“Don’t do that,” he says quietly but I know they hear him.

My eyes are open so wide that I feel like they’re going to fall out of my head. My hand trembles, I look down and notice that he’s still holding it.

I yank it away. “Your majesty?” My voice shakes as I finally look up at his face.

I frown instantly, he looks tired and sad. There are dark circles under his eyes. He probably wasn’t sleeping this morning when I was thinking about him. It looks like he hasn’t slept well in days.

“Ok, Dear,” Celine’s cheery voice cuts through the uncomfortable tension “let’s try this fabric against your dress! I think it’ll work perfectly for a shawl!”

I want to hug her for taking everyone’s attention away from me and the Prince. With everyone’s focus turned to Celine for a moment I sneak a glance up at him only to find he’s already looking down at me.

I don’t know why I do it, it’s like my mouth has a mind of its own, before I can stop myself I silently mouth the words

“I’m sorry about your mother.”

He gives me a sad smile, nodding while mouthing back “thank you.”

I don’t know what’s come over me. I have to wrap my arms around myself to keep from hugging him, from trying to comfort him.

When I look over, Madam Vicioso is staring at us with murder in her eyes, it’s like she’s trying to vaporize me. Celine steps forward and hands the Prince a small parcel wrapped in brown paper, tied with a purple ribbon.

“Here you are, Dear,” she says “thanks for coming to get this!

“Of course,” he says with a sad smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

He turns to me “Noelle, it’s good to see you again.”

“Ladies” he nods to them before quickly walking out the door. Once he’s gone the tension in the room is suffocating. Everyone seems angry except for Celine who continues chattering about fabrics and dress designs.

I sit silently on the floor next to the large rolls of fabric, hoping that Madam Vicioso will forget the whole thing. Every time I pluck up the courage to look up, she’s staring at me with venom in her eyes. After about an hour they’re finished with the fitting and alterations.

“Go ahead to the courtyard with our packages. Put them in the car.” Her voice is like stone.

I quickly get up from the floor, grabbing the packages. I’m still holding out hope that I can behave my way out of whatever her plans are.

“Bye, Dear!” Celine calls “Lovely to see you.”

I give her a small tight lipped smile and wave, afraid that if I say anything Madam Vicioso won’t be able to contain her rage. I run quickly down the pathway to the courtyard and load the packages into the back of the car. As I stand, waiting for them, I look up at the dark gray sky, a storm is definitely coming in more ways than one. I shake with nervous energy. I don’t know what’s about to happen but I know it’s not going to be good.

I hear them before I see them, walking down the path. They’re talking quietly so that Celine doesn’t hear but I can tell they’re angry. Their feet angrily stomping against the ground. When they step into the courtyard, no one speaks.

Before I even have time to register what’s happening Madam Vicioso is on me, with lightning quick speed she shoots across the courtyard, back handing me, hard. Her ring catches my cheek, tearing it open. I stumble backwards as she lurches forward and grabs my face by the chin, pushing me back until I’m against the stone wall behind the car.

Her sharp nails dig into my jaw. I have to control myself, not to let any strength show. I’m supposed to be human, I can’t let on that I’m physically stronger than I should be. It takes all my willpower not to push her away from me.

“How do you know the Prince?” Her voice is quiet but deadly.

“I met him last week when you had me bring the envelope. I didn’t know he was the Prince,” I tell her truthfully.

“You didn’t know he was the Prince?” she says tightening the grip on my jaw.

“No, Madam. He wasn’t wearing purple and he never told me his name.”

She lets go of my face and lets out an angry humorless laugh “You’re fired girl,” she snarls.

They angrily get in the car and drive away. I stand there for a moment, blood dripping from my cheek onto the ground. Shit. What am I going to do now?

I gather myself together and begin to walk slowly down toward the security gate. I’m sure they can smell me coming because the guards step out before they can see or hear me. They don’t say anything as I pass, they just watch me.

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