Blood Crown
By Violet Day
Date: November 16, 2020
Ch. 77

The crowd fell silent as stately music played and the queen strode onto the raised platform and took a seat on her throne.

“Girls,” she said, holding a finger to her throat. “I hope you have your assigned numbers ready, because I am about to read a list of those who have passed on to the third trial.”

Senna looked down at her card to remind herself of the number she was looking for. One thousand, five hundred and forty two. She repeated it to herself a few times.

The queen began to read the list a page held before her. At each number a scream or fit of screams erupted from the girls. Lowelle’s number was called. She smiled, looking smug as if she had expected it.

“One thousand, four hundred and eighty eight. One thousand, four hundred and ninety six. One thousand, five hundred and twelve.” The queen paused. It seemed like a good three hundred girls had been called, as promised… Was that it? Was that the list? If so, Senna had been eliminated. Her chest felt tight. “And, finally, One thousand, five hundred and forty two.”

Senna let out a breath. How had that happened? She had to find Dorn soon and tell him how thankful she was for his tutelage.

“If I have not called your number, please return to your room, pack your bags, and leave the castle. A page will accompany you in doing so.”

Two hundred dejected girls shuffled off toward the dorms.

“Now, for you three hundred girls who are still with us in the search for the next queen, I have a special treat for you.” She clapped her hands, two times sharp.

Out of a side door came several strong handymen carrying a long banquet table. More came out with chairs.

“On this table is a feast of a breakfast. Enjoy, because after breakfast you will learn what the third trial will entail.”

Girls rushed to the table, all giddy and talking to each other.

Lowelle and Senna approached the table more slowly. They sat near the end, a few seats away from any other girls.

“May I sit with you?”

Senna turned to see where the voice had come from. A girl with long red curly hair and strong bone structure stood behind the chair next to her, grinning genuinely. “Of course,” Senna said, ignoring the oddly negative vibes coming from Lowelle.

The girl pulled out the chair and sat down. She put some egged toast and strips of meat onto her plate. “Sorry to just come and ask to sit down like this,” she said, spearing food onto her fork. “But my sisters have both been eliminated and I don’t really know anyone else here.”

“I’ve seen you before,” Lowelle cut in. “You’re one of the Julien sisters, right? I see you at social functions once in a while. You all look alike. Which one are you?”

The girl furrowed her brow. “We don’t all look alike. My sister Yeri, well, she has really bad skin, and she got eliminated in the first trial. And my other sister got eliminated this morning. She has a terrible memory and is no good with history or anything like it. So here I am. I’m Pippia.”

“Nice to meet you, Pippia,” Senna said. “I’m Senna and this is Lowelle.”

The girls fell silent for a few minutes while they ate.

“What do you think the next trial’s going to be?” asked Pippia, her mouth half full.

“No idea,” said Senna. “I hope it’s something I’m good at, that’s all.”

“There are six of them, right?”

“That’s what I’ve heard.”

“And in the last one the prince chooses, from three girls, right?” Pippia looked dreamy.

“I’m guessing you’re only here for the prince?” Lowelle asked, voice not exactly good natured.

“What else is there to be here for? Being queen sounds like a huge amount of pressure. Prince Yoren is the only reason to deal with all of it.”

Oh yeah, Senna thought. The prince’s name was Yoren. She had seen him on TV once, hadn’t she? She couldn’t remember. He didn’t seem much concerned with making himself visible to the public. Maybe she had seen him on TV as a toddler when she was the same age, but she couldn’t really remember.

“What does he look like?” she asked, suddenly curious about this aspect of the prize of the competition.

“He’s supposed to be handsome,” Pippia said. “I saw a portrait of him and it looked very nice. High cheekbones, pale skin, very… regal. But you can’t trust portraits.”

“He’s probably not that interesting or handsome,” said Lowelle. “Otherwise he wouldn’t be so reluctant to appear in interviews and the like.”

So she wasn’t the only one who couldn’t picture his likeness.

As they were finishing their breakfast the queen came back onstage. “Forks down, please,” she intoned. The sound of forks and plates meeting came to a stop. “Thank you. Now, girls, today’s challenge is to test your ability in a very specific aspect of being queen. As you may know, procreation is a very important aspect of the queen’s duties.”

A few girls laughed and giggled. Some blushed. Senna saw that Pippia was blushing, while Lowelle rolled her eyes at the antics of the other girls.

Senna was just a little freaked out. Was this challenge sexual in nature? Like a test of their skills in the bedroom? That didn’t seem quite right. She listened to the queen’s next words intently.

“Raising a child and feeling comfortable with children is incredibly important as a queen, as birthing and raising the heir to the throne is essential. Today a simple, non-invasive fertility test will be a part of the trial. Anyone uncomfortable with this can leave the competition. After that, you will be asked to spend time with a group of children from the capital’s largest elementary school in this very room. How you engage and interact with the children will be of the utmost importance. I and my pages will be observing you. Tonight, based on your fertility results and your chemistry with the children, the top one hundred girls will be selected.

There were a lot of mutters along the dining table. Some girls looked confused, some looked uncomfortable, some looked excited –Pippia included.

“Little kids! I love little kids! This is my challenge for sure.”

Lowelle looked even paler than usual.

“How do you think you’ll do on this challenge?” Senna asked her.

“I’m an only child and I don’t know any children under the age of fifteen,” she said. “I’m honestly a little worried. I wonder on what exactly we will be judged… Maybe the children will have to rate how interesting we were or how fun it was to be with us. Great.”

“As you line up to leave the great hall,” the queen’s voice echoed, “you will be tested for fertility by the palace’s resident midwife, Shalla. She will place two fingers on your lower stomach, and sense the status of your organs with her magical abilities. If she says nothing, you are infertile and must continue on to your dorm room to pack your bags and leave. If she waves you back inside, you are fertile and may wait for the children to arrive.”

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