Part I: RED QUEEN
The two boys played skip-splash in the puddles outside the great doors of the Castle, blissfully unaware of the tension that filled their elders. With nary a worry, their game continued moving from puddle to puddle – hop-splash! hop-splash! – leading them inexorably away from the growing knot of concerned citizens, their parents among the crowd. But the two boys weren’t called back as more people arrived. Instead, the crowd grew along with a murmuring dissension that filled the courtyard enough to drown out the boys’ conversation when they grew tired of their game.
“Why do we have to wait outside?” asked Jeriff, the youngest of the two by nearly three years.
Karill, glad to display his greater knowledge at the grand age of ten, puffed out his chest with his perceived self-importance.
“We’re here to see the Red Queen. Our ma’s and pa’s got sum big things they gotta ask.”
“What big things?”
Karill hadn’t expected that question, so he searched his mind quickly for an answer.
“Important stuff. Like…” Karill paused again, trying to remember what his parents had been arguing about. “… like higher levies.”
Karill didn’t know what levies were, but he knew they must be very important for his ma and pa to dress in their finest festival clothes and shut down their little shop for the day as they made their long trek from their little village to the Castle Gates. He hoped Jeriff wouldn’t ask about the ‘levies’, because then he might have to admit he didn’t know. But when Jeriff next spoke, it was with a completely unexpected question.
“Why do they call Her the Red Queen?”
Happy at the change in subject, Karill considered the question, reviewing the gossip he heard in the streets.
“Janit, the baker’s oldest son, told me it’s ‘cause She’s always dressing in red.”
Red was an exotic color, reserved only for the nobility and merchants who could afford the exorbitant price of the dye.
“Everything?” asked Jeriff, astounded at the idea. “Even Her cloak?”
“Cloak, gown, crown, rubies, jewels, rings, hair. All of it. They say She even paints Her hands and face red, and Her Castle is full of endless rooms of red silk and painted glass because She can’t stand any other color.
“Wow,” breathed Jeriff, his imagination caught with wonder. “I wanna see Her, all in red! The Red Queen!” he shouted, entranced by the idea, spontaneously spinning in a circle and hopping back into a small puddle.
“Do you know, Her hair isn’t really red,” a new voice broke in, deep and low, but unmistakably feminine.
Instantly, both boys whirled around to see a cloaked figure standing in a nearby alcove.
Karill immediately knew that something was wrong. Fear stole through him as he realized he and Jeriff had wandered too far away from their parents to cry out for help. But despite his premonition, the figure did not move, did not threaten the boys in any way.
And Jeriff, in his innocence and newfound wonder, did not miss a beat.
“No red hair? But what about rubies? Or Her Castle all full of red rooms.”
The figure stirred.
“Truth is as multi-faceted as the best-cut gem.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means there is some truth in what you say, young man. Sometimes, that is all that is needed.”
The murmuring crowd behind them suddenly spiked in volume, momentarily drowning out anything else the figure might have added.
“Let us in!”
“It’s our right!”
“Hear us, Queen!”
The cry to ‘hear’ was taken up by many, chanting voices multiplied by the echoing Outer Courtyard.
“Other times, it is only harsher truths that will quiet dissent.”
The woman’s voice, though no louder, had increased in intensity, somehow cutting through the tumult to reach the ears of both boys clearly.
They looked up simultaneously, to find the shrouded form suddenly standing between them.
“Watch, then, and learn why She is known as the Red Queen.”