Blood Crown
By Violet Day
Date: December 14, 2020
Ch. 1111

It was an extremely comfortable morning.

It was a warm day with a light breeze, and someone with whom she had made a connection with was with her, albeit silently reading something very dry. But with each shape and color Senna put on the canvas, she felt more and more light and carefree. Happy even, like she was where she was supposed to be.

She had never been able to paint like this before. The materials were impeccable, clearly very expensive, and she had no constraints on space. She put her whole self into the painting, her whole concentration.

And it came out very well. About two hours later she took the smallest brush she had been given and added highlights to some of the petals of the flowers.

“I’m done,” she said, grinning. She tuned to Dorn.

He looked up from his book. He definitely wasn’t done with his book; there were still about a third of the pages left.

Dorn laughed.

“What? Is it terrible?”

“No! The painting is beautiful. On par with what one might see within the castle walls. I’m surprised you haven’t had professional training. But…” He laughed again, covering his mouth with his hand. She noticed he had slender fingers.

“What?” she insisted.

“You have paint on your face,” he said finally. “A good amount, at that.”

“Oh,” Senna said. Her cheeks got hot.

She wiped her forehead and cheeks with the back of her hand. “Is it gone?”

“No,” Dorn said. He set his book down on the chair and got up. He stood before her. She could hear his breathing. He licked his forefinger and rubbed her nose, and then an area above her mouth. She felt like a kitten being cleaned by its mother, or like a little kid being cleaned up by a parent… “It’s gone now,” he said, but he didn’t move away.

They looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, almost by accident.

His eyes were so green! She had never seen eyes so green, and how nice they looked with his auburn hair… She wanted to see him without his glasses on. She imagined he would look handsome, strong, manly. His glasses made him seem reserved.

They still did not move from each other.

And suddenly Senna was thinking about kissing. She had been kissed before, plenty of times, but never in a situation so romantic like this, not with someone with whom she had no idea if kissing was even an option. Did he want to kiss her? He had to, otherwise he wouldn’t be standing so close to her, looking at her like he never wanted her to leave.

“Girls,” the queen’s voice echoed through the garden. “It is now time to be prepared to present your talent to me and the judges. Please proceed to the great hall.”

Dorn wasn’t looking at her anymore. He sat back down in his chair. “You should go,” he said, a dark expression on his face. “I’ll get someone to deal with the easel and everything else. Do you need someone to help you carry the painting?”

“No,” Senna said slowly. “It’s just small enough that I’m fine carrying it.”

Dorn nodded, taking out his book. “Just go back through the library,” he said. “Ask someone who looks like they work in the palace and they will lead you in the right direction.”

“I know,” Senna said. She looked at Dorn. What had changed between that moment and this one? Just the queen’s announcement. Maybe he dearly didn’t want to hinder her chances of winning so he didn’t want her to be late? Or to distract her?

She had been so sure he was going to kiss her.

Well… he hadn’t, and now she had to go.

She picked up the painting and left the garden without saying goodbye to Dorn. Something was up with him, and she didn’t have time to think about what that might be. She had to get to the great hall so she could present her painting of the garden.

She carried it through the halls until she found the throne room. Initially she looked over the crowd for Lowelle, but remembered their fight as soon as she laid eyes on her. Should she still go and sit with her? Senna didn’t really know. She decided not to, and sat by someone she didn’t recognize and didn’t care to get to know.

It seemed like there were no kind, honest people in the castle.

One by one, each of the remaining hundred girls were called onto the stage to perform or display their talent in another way.

After girl fifty –an adorable girl with curly dark hair who sang the national anthem of Dornesse –there was a break for lunch. Tables laden with iced water in glass jugs and immaculately cut triangle sandwiches were brought in.

Senna carefully laid her painting on her seat and went to get a sandwich. When she got back, Lowelle was standing over her seat, looking at her painting.

“Um, hi,” Senna said carefully.

Lowelle looked up from the painting, almost as if broken from a trance. She didn’t look very happy. “Very nice,” she said. “It’s beautiful. Did you paint a garden in particular or was this from your imagination?”

“It’s a real garden here at the palace,” Senna said. “What do you want?”

Lowelle blinked and seemed to return to herself. The odd, blank look on her face vanished. “I just wanted to reassure myself that you’re not competition. And compared to my violin playing, this is honestly garbage.”

“Lowelle, please go away.” Senna picked up her painting and moved to a seat farther away. She watched Lowelle walk over to a seat away from everyone and sit there.

As lunch was over, another girl went. Her performance was… strange, to say the least. She read some kind of poem that incorporated yodeling. Then a number was called that Senna recognized as Lowelle’s.

Lowelle was right, in a limited sense. Her violin playing was absolutely stupendous. The notes soared and dashed in just the right places to make you feel light inside. However, there was something very practiced about her playing. If you really listened, you could tell that maybe she didn’t enjoy playing it, or that she had used to enjoy it but now she didn’t.

A few girls after Lowelle came Pippia, who looked adorable in her tights, padded shoes, and little dress. She flitted and twirled across the stage to recorded music. She was clearly a master at what she loved, and unlike Lowelle, she also clearly enjoyed it.

After a few more girls, including one who showed a wire sculpture she had made that looked like a clump or hair and less like the “battle between light and dark” as the girl described it, Senna’s number was called.

She picked up her painting and took the steps to the platform at the end of the hall, which had had the thrones removed for the occasion.

She held it in front of her and said a few words as the other girls had when they had an object to present as their talent and not a performance. “This is a painting of the most beautiful garden I have ever seen,” she said, realizing that since she was onstage, with the floating lights some assistants were creating shining right into her eyes, she couldn’t see the judges’ faces and reactions to her artwork.

“I created it using oil paints.”

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