The Fall of the Citadel (Part 4)

‘Charlotte,’ came a voice, ‘wake up!’ The young queen. ‘Come on…’

‘Here, ma’am,’ came another voice, and then Charlotte’s arm burned.

Charlotte opened her eyes: there was the servant, with her black eye, holding a wadded-up shirt against the wound on Charlotte’s shoulder. It smelled of wine.

‘She’s awake—’

‘Charlotte!’ The young queen’s face was streaked with tears. The floor rumbled. ‘What do we do now?’

‘I saw your mother.’ The words came out as barely more than a whisper. There was something caught in Charlotte’s throat, something rough.

‘What?’

Charlotte breathed out, hard. With her good arm she pushed herself up, so her back was against a barrel. The servant moved with her, keeping the shirt in place.

‘Don’t cry,’ said Charlotte. And then, louder: ‘You have to be strong.’ She looked at the servant. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Flo, ma’am.’

‘Flo. Right. Do you know how to use a sword?’

‘Ah… no, ma’am.’

‘Take the knife, then.’ Charlotte grabbed hold of the shirt. Her legs were weak. She made herself stand up, anyway. ‘Keep it hidden up you sleeve. Let them get close. Let them think you’re weak. Then go for the throat. You understand?’

‘Yes, ma’am.’ Flo stooped down to collect the knife.

The young queen said something. Charlotte looked at the girl through out-of-focus eyes; she blinked twice.

‘What?’

‘What are we going to do?’

She was so young. So soft-looking, so wide-eyed. So unlike her mother.

‘You take the sword. We have to go.’

‘Go where?

‘There are those that will stand with us. With you.’

The walls shook again; the bottles in the wine-racks rattled. Charlotte’s knees shook. She bit her lower lip: she couldn’t show weakness, she couldn’t fall down. The queen bent down and, tentatively, picked up the sword. Remember your training, thought Charlotte.

And the walls cracked.

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