The Fall of the Citadel (Part 5)

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. And dust poured down into the cellar. And Charlotte could feel the wadded-up shirt against her wound warming and wetting.

‘We have to go. If we’re lucky, there won’t be too many soldiers in the tunnels.’

And the walls cracked. And falling plaster clinked against empty wine-bottles resting in pools of blood. And Charlotte took a step forward. And another.

Her head was light: Charlotte would be dead soon. She grit her teeth and took another step, and another – not yet. Not yet.

‘You’ll have to head west,’ she said, as they made their way down the corridor. Flo was in front, checking around corners for any sign of the enemy; Charlotte was being supported by the young queen, whose hair was matting with blood and dust. ‘Juliette Greatbridge. She was right – we should have slaughtered the noble families. Everything that we fought for, all those years, all those deaths, oh, oh…’

‘Mother taught me that all life is sacred,’ said the young queen, in her young voice.

Charlotte thought: your mother was a liar, then. But she didn’t say it – she couldn’t possibly say it. She choked back a sob. She was going to be dead soon.

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