Blood Crown
By Violet Day
Date: December 21, 2020
Ch. 1212

A few of the judges, all white haired officials that oversaw entertainment and the arts in the palace, came onto the stage for a closer look. Senna willed her hands not to shake as she held the still drying painting. The judges returned to their seats at a long table right before the platform. “Thank you,” the queen said. “You may return to your seat.”

Senna did so.

“Girls, you may talk amongst yourselves, but do not leave this room, for a hugely important elimination is about to occur. As you know, you are the top one hundred girls. However, after this elimination your numbers will not be halved, or even cut to a third. Only ten girls will go on to the fifth trial.”

Ten girls? Out of a hundred? Senna swallowed. Yeah, she wasn’t getting past this trial. She would go home and explain to her friends and family that she had tried for them, but nothing had come of it. Hopefully she would still be able to find a new job, and her friends and family wouldn’t condemn her for leaving without a word to do something as stupid as try to be queen.

“The judges and I will now deliberate over what you showed us tonight, and your individual performance in each of the trials. When we are done, the numbers of the top ten girls will be called.”

Some contestants clumped together, talking but not laughing. Others sat by themselves, looking more nervous than Senna had ever seen anyone look. She herself sat just where she was, staring into the painting on her lap. Yes, it looked like a faithful representation of a beautiful garden. Yes, it had a kind of bright spark in it that came from just how comfortable and warm Senna had felt while she painted it.

Thinking about that reminded her of Dorn’s strange behavior when she had been called to the throne room.

No –she stopped herself –she didn’t want to think about that. It had been nothing. She had imagined it. She had to have one person who was rooting for herself in this competition.

Wait, she thought. That should be me. I want to win, right?

The queen rose from the judge’s table and the room fell silent so fast it felt like no one had ever said a word.

She took the steps to the platform and raised a finger to her throat, looking queenly and solemn in her dark gown. A simple gold ring rested on her tresses. “The numbers of the top ten are…”

The queen said each number carefully, leaving too long of a space between them.

Senna could hear her blood rushing in her ears. The fifth number was called. A girl screamed. The sixth number was called. Gasps. The seventh number was called. It was Lowelle. The eighth number was called. Pippia. The ninth number was called. The longest, heart-wrenching pause Senna had ever experienced. “And the final number is one thousand, five hundred and forty two.”

Her number.

Senna’s hands squeezed the painting so hard that she smeared some of the half-dried paint. She had a one in ten chance of becoming queen.

The queen repeated the numbers, quickly this time.

Some girls were crying. One girl smashed her little porcelain statue she had made for the fourth trial.

“If your number was not called, please leave the hall. You will be escorted by a page.”

Ninety percent of the girls left the room –girls that Senna had considered prettier and more talented than herself. But somehow, the judges had found that no –she deserved to be here. She could be queen.

“As the top ten you will not be treated as numbers,” the queen said to a tiny audience of ten girls. “You will be treated as the unique, strong young woman that you are. Each of the top ten girls will take part in a filmed interview tomorrow morning. But that is not the fifth trial. I will not tell you the details now, but know that the fifth trial will test you on something deeper than any of the trials before have. The fifth trial will be test of your soul, a test where you face your deepest fears. Because only those who can pass this trial with their minds intact are fit to rule a kingdom.”

There was such silence in the room that Senna felt sick. No more coughs and shifting of the hundreds of girls that filled any silence.

The ten of them had nothing to say about what the queen said, but undoubtedly their thoughts were moving very fast. Senna couldn’t help but think that this interview and the fifth trial –whatever it would be –would be the hardest of the competition. Understandably.

Her heart beating fast, Senna returned to the dorms with the other girls.

At the suggestion of the queen, the girls all moved their things into a dorm room of their own. No one protested. No close friend group had survived the competition. Each remaining girl was on their own.

“Lowelle,” she said when they got back to their room. “I’ll just take a different room since I don’t have any things to move.”

The dark haired girl nodded.

Senna was about to leave when Lowelle called out to her. “Wait,” she said. “You’ll need an outfit for tomorrow. Just choose one and leave.”

Senna was honestly surprised, but she knelt down by the suitcase and pulled out khaki pants and a blue lacy shirt. Was Lowelle being kind? No, Senna reminded herself, Lowelle didn’t see her as competition so this was just her being a decent human being.

“Thank you,” Senna said without making eye contact with Lowelle. She left the room and claimed the one two down from Lowelle’s and next to Pippia’s.

Pippia leaned out of her doorway as Senna was about to enter hers. “I loved your painting by the way,” she said, her bright orange braids swinging.

“Thank you,” Senna said again, but she felt better about this one. She liked Pippia. As she set down tomorrow’s outfit next to her new bed, she decided that if she wasn’t going to be queen, she wanted Pippia to be. She seemed good hearted and good natured. The other girls seemed to lack that spark, or whatever you wanted to call it.

The next morning came. The queen announced that breakfast was to be had in the university cafeteria, and then each of the ten girls would be called one by one, in random order, to have their filmed interview.

Senna took a shower and then reluctantly joined the other ten girls in the university’s cafeteria. Though it was vastly smaller than the great hall, it was still much too big for a group of ten girls.

The meal was delicious; it consisted of perfectly fried eggs, bacon, and cottage cheese with fruit. One girl, a vegan, asked for a different meal and one arrived in a matter of minutes.

Senna could get used to this kind of dining. She filed it under yet another reason she wanted to win this competition.

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