Seventeen is the first chapter of The Rose Queen
Rays of sun flowed into the valley, peeking just over the mountain range. Streets were bustling and noisy with the sound of early shoppers, general civilians and powerful councilors alike coming together to buy and trade for food and other things they needed. The shops and stands were lined in up in rows on either side of the four-block streets they occupied. This was the general market, a place that opened the second the sun peeked over the mountain, and closed the second the sun made its disappearance behind said mountain.
Without the people and the shops, the streets would look awfully gray and barren, the old asphalt roads cracked with weeds growing out of them. Where there used to be houses, oversized, american houses, there was dirt and dust from the crumbled cement and bricks. Most streets within the large valley had been cleared, the remains of past civilization moved to a large hole in a nearby mountain. A quarry, it had once been called. Now civilians just called it the large mountain hole, unconcerned with what it had been called before. It was not even three hundred years since the End War, and yet humanity was willing to leave it all behind, including the trivial names and habits of things that truly did not matter.
The End War was a war predestined for years by many religions and spiritual peoples, a war so great it would kill most of earth’s population and the gods would come down to save all the good people. The war had happened, but the gods had not come. This led to the removal of religion from the peoples, at least the peoples in this valley. The problem with religious peoples who have just taken their faith from them, they are lost, looking for someone to look to. So, some people took it to their advantage, taking control of the lands and becoming the leaders over the peoples. Some across the country became new versions of the old government, while some became kings and created kingdoms. That was what had happened within this valley, although the first King had two sons who squabbled so much over who would gain the kingdom, that it was split into two kingdoms. The Kingdom of Danebod, and the Kingdom of Speare. The Kingdom of Speare had become a kingdom of advanced sciences, with their peoples trying their best to bring back the “good ole’ american life” as told by the grandfathers and grandmothers, the grandchildren of those who had fought and died in the war.
The Kingdom of Danebod, however, reflected how their current king, King Axel Surgens, lived his life. In peace, allowing the little things to roll off his back and gently correcting the bigger things. He would often go out and about within the streets, helping out his civilians and attending the ceremonies of people who would never have imagined that the King would join. He was kind and understanding. Even more so, after the loss of his wife, Eldora Maitland. Eldora had been a tall, blonde woman with green eyes, a woman who was blunt and clever. She had died of a sickness on their daughter’s ninth birthday.
Their daughter was Adaliah Surgens. Adaliah was born on a warm spring morning, her newborn cries echoing within the bright, sun-filled room in the Palace of the Hunt. Her wide brown eyes stared up at everyone with wonder, her cries fading to silence as she took in the world for the first time,
The first eight years of her life were perfect, she would usually say to herself as a teenager. She roamed around carelessly, ignoring her tutors, playing with other little children. She had made a friend, a good friend named Gwen Lance. Gwen and Adaliah would do everything together, from playing dressup to hide and seek within the markets. The civilians would call out to them, saying hello as they ran through the streets hiding from the guards who always liked to take them back to the castle where Eldora would ruin their fun and scold them before sending them to the kitchen for a snack. Adaliah always smiled remember the hot days in the palace kitchen, her skin sticking to the old metal of days long gone as she leaned on counters. Flour would always get on her and in her hair, as she liked to tease the bakers and reach in to grab a piece of bread or dough and pop it in her mouth. Gwen would always laugh at that.
Now, Adaliah was in her sixteenth year, about to turn seventeen. She still spent most of her days with Gwen, but less time within those days, as she was now being fully trained to become the next monarch. She knew all about the history of the world, compiled from the elders’ stories and the surviving textbooks from the End War. She knew all about the End War itself, and how selfish, disruptive leaders had a temper tantrum and dropped the first bomb. Her tutors would always exclaim what a miracle that it was that a nuclear bomb hadn’t been dropped near where they were, although they were dropped all along the middle east and in the continent of europe. She sometimes wasn’t so sure it was such a good thing. When she heard of all the great and wonderful advances and inventions that had been created and accomplished before the End War, she sometimes thought maybe it would’ve been better to die than to live in a dusty, ugly, gray world.
Of course, nowadays the world was less gray and bleak. The people had cleared out what they could, filling up holes and basements that were not used or needed. Weeds and flowers and earth grew over the hard roads and cement of the past, although some buildings were kept in tip-top shape, rebuilt as well as they could be, to become houses for the powerful and meetinghouses for the people. What used to be public schools became palaces, castles, fortresses. In the beginning, just after the war, the schools were still schools, but when people took over as leaders and kings, they turned them into their royal houses. Now school was held outside, in a large grassy field where the kids could get in tune with nature as they learned the history, sciences, and skills of the world.
Adaliah sometimes attended that school, but as she got older she was usually kept inside, in the large study room that used to be the school’s library. Her tutors would try to teach her but she tuned them out, and she still did. She would often learn what she was interested in on her own. As she got older she became more and more scared of being Queen because she wouldn’t be prepared, but she just couldn’t be bothered to actually do anything about it.
Fortunately though, there had been another kid there learning when she did, a boy several years older. His name was Nathaniel, and he couldn’t help but pay attention to what Adaliah was being taught, so whenever she was in a pinch and there was a ceremony soon but she couldn’t remember her role in it, he would guide her through it seamlessly. Adaliah already knew that he would be her greatest asset when she became the Queen.
Adaliah’s tutor heaved a loud sigh and dropped books in front of her, startling her away from her thoughts. She looked up at him, and his stern, annoyed face glared down at her.
“Read these this week. Don’t skip these. Skip all the damn books and assignments I give you, but for god’s sake, just read these.” Adaliah raised her eyebrows as her tutor stormed out of the room, and she looked down at the titles of the books. History of the Danebod Kings, The Art of War, and Conflict Resolution for Dummies. Adaliah curled her lip, inwardly sighing. Footsteps coming into the room made her look up. “Chase off another tutor?” Nathaniel chuckled, holding what had to be close to twenty books in his arms. Adaliah flopped forward onto the table and groaned.
“He’s making me read these shit-ass books. Why do I have to be the next monarch?”
“Careful,” Nate’s voice was light but had a note of seriousness. “Don’t openly say that so loudly. There are many who would like to take it away from you.”
“Why?” Adaliah asked, moving her head so she could look at her friend. Nate’s back was to her, he was putting his books back on shelves where they went. He didn’t answer, so she asked another question. “I don’t suppose you’ll read these for me and report back?”
Nate turned around and raised an eyebrow at her as he crossed the room to another shelf. “Like he said, if you only read a few things he gives to you to read, read those. There’s only so much I can retain for you.”
“Where can I get someone to retain it all, then?” Adaliah joked, but instead of laughing, Nate just raised his eyebrows at her. “Fine. I’ll read them tonight.” “You won’t have time.”
“Why not?” no sooner did the words come out of her mouth did she remember and her entire body went cold. Nate just glanced at her, looking uncomfortable. It was the full moon, and every night of the full moon Adaliah held a ceremony in the remembrance of her mother. A sweet, small ceremony, but a ceremony nonetheless. She couldn’t skip it.
Sometimes she wished she could, though. It had been seven years since her mother died, seven years of holding this ceremony, eighty four ceremonies. It was time to move on. She knew she couldn’t though, not until her father died. King Axel had loved his wife more than anything, and it broke him when she had died. Although instead of hiding away like most when they lose their everything, he went out more and did more kind and beautiful things for his people. Adaliah hoped she could be even half of what he is as King.
The ceremony always started with a soft, stringed instrument playing her mother’s favorite tune. It was a warbled, sad tune, the sheet music of it found in a ditch once. It was called God be With You Til we Meet Again. Fitting, considering the ceremony.
Adaliah would then walk down the chapel’s aisle, dressed all in black and wearing her mother Eldora’s pearl necklace. She would walk to the altar with Eldora’s jewelry and crystals on, and kneel before it. It was a ceremony of silence and respect, where Adaliah and whomever attended would sit in silence thinking of Eldora for a good hour or two. Afterwards, Adaliah would walk out and she and her father would sit in silence for another couple of hours eating and playing cards.
That was nearly exactly what happened this night, except King Axel was not feeling well, so he retired. Adaliah retired to her own chambers, surprised to find Gwen on her couch.
“Adaliah, hi!” Gwen greeted her, smiling at the heir from where she sat curled up in a blanket, reading the Art of War book. Adaliah smiled at her, waiting for her maid to close the door before she took off her black coat. She was still in a long, modest black dress, but she was too tired to change. She walked over and sat beside Gwen, leaning into her and resting her head on Gwen’s shoulder.
“I think my ex boyfriend read this book,” Gwen giggled, pointing out a sentence. “Be extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.”
Adaliah looked down at her hands, which were fidgeting in her lap. “I don’t think he could’ve gotten this book. We only have it in this palace, in my study room.”
Gwen pushed Adaliah off of her and turned them both around so they were sitting straight in front of each other and couldn’t look away. “I know you know what I meant, so something’s gone wrong, then. What’s wrong, Ada?”
Adaliah smiled at her friend’s nickname for her. “Nothing.”
Gwen leaned in and took her hands, raising her eyebrows. “Promise?”
“I promise.” Adaliah had to squeeze the words out, but they must have sounded convincing enough, as Gwen turned back around and went back to reading the book, talking more about her ex boyfriend and how smart the author was. Adaliah wasn’t listening, all she could focus on was Gwen’s face, and how her lips curved perfectly, and how her neck was bare, her hair swept off to the side. Adaliah caught herself and turned her head, staring into nothing.
It’s nothing. I promise. Nothing.