Home > Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(13)

Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(13)
Author: Victoria Aveyard

I pull out Shade’s letter from the little box where I keep all his correspondences. If nothing else, this will calm me down. His jokes, his words, his voice trapped in the page always soothe me. But as I scan the letter again, a sense of dread pools in my stomach.

“Red as the dawn . . . ” the letter reads. There it is, plain as the nose on my face. Farley’s words from her video, the Scarlet Guard’s rallying cry, in my brother’s handwriting. The phrase is too strange to ignore, too unique to brush off. And the next sentence, “see the sun rise stronger . . .” My brother is smart, but practical. He doesn’t care about sunrises or dawns or witty turns of phrase. Rise echoes in me, but instead of Farley’s voice in my head, it’s my brother speaking. Rise, red as the dawn.

Somehow, Shade knew. Many weeks ago, before the bombing, before Farley’s broadcast, Shade knew about the Scarlet Guard and tried to tell us. Why?

Because he’s one of them.

SIX

When the door bangs open at dawn, I’m not frightened. Security searches are normal, though we usually only get one or two a year. This will be the third.

“C’mon, Gee,” I mutter, helping her out of her cot and down the ladder. She moves precariously, leaning on her good arm, and Mom waits for us on the floor. Her arms close around Gisa, but her eyes are on me. To my surprise, she doesn’t look angry or even disappointed with me. Instead, her gaze is soft.

Two officers wait by the door, their guns hanging by their sides. I recognize them from the village outpost, but there’s another figure, a young woman in red with a triple-colored crown badge over her heart. A royal servant, a Red who serves the king, I realize, and I begin to understand. This is not a usual search.

“We submit to search and seizure,” my father grumbles, speaking the words he must every time this happens. But instead of splitting off to paw through our house, the Security officers stand firm.

The young woman steps forward and, to my horror, addresses me. “Mare Barrow, you have been summoned to Summerton.”

Gisa’s good hand closes around mine, like she can hold me back. “W-What?” I manage to stammer.

“You have been summoned to Summerton,” she repeats, and gestures to the door. “We will escort you. Please proceed.”

A summons. For a Red. Never in my life have I heard of such a thing. So why me? What have I done to deserve this?

On second thought, I’m a criminal and probably considered a terrorist due to my association with Farley. My body prickles with nerves, every muscle taut and ready. I’ll have to run, even though the officers block the door. It’ll be a miracle if I make it to a window.

“Calm down, everything’s settled after yesterday.” She chuckles, mistaking my fear. “The Hall and the market are well controlled now. Please proceed.” To my surprise, she smiles, even as the Security officers clench their guns. It puts a chill in my blood.

To refuse Security, to refuse a royal summons, would mean death and not just for me. “Okay,” I mumble, untangling my hand from Gisa’s. She moves to grab onto me, but our mother pulls her back. “I’ll see you later?”

The question hangs in the air, and I feel Dad’s warm hand brush my arm. He’s saying good-bye. Mom’s eyes swim with unshed tears and Gisa’s trying not to blink, to remember every last second of me. I don’t even have something I can leave her. But before I can linger or let myself cry, an officer takes me by the arm and pulls me away.

The words force themselves past my lips, though they come out as barely more than a whisper. “I love you.”

And then the door slams behind me, shutting me out of my home and my life.

They hasten me through the village, down the road to the market square. We pass by Kilorn’s run-down house. Usually he’s awake by now, halfway to the river to start the day early when it’s still cool, but those days are gone. Now I imagine he sleeps through half the day, enjoying what little comforts he can before conscription. Part of me wants to yell good-bye to him, but I don’t. He’ll come sniffing around for me later and Gisa will tell him everything. With a silent laugh I remember that Farley will be expecting me today, with a fortune in payment. She’ll be disappointed.

In the square, a gleaming black transport waits for us. Four wheels, glass windows, rounded to the ground—it looks like a beast ready to consume me. Another officer sits at the controls and guns the engine when we approach, spitting black smoke into the early morning air. I’m forced into the back without a word and the servant barely slides in next to me before the transport takes off, racing down the road at speeds I had never even imagined. This will be my first—and last—time riding in one.

I want to speak, to ask what’s going on, how they’re going to punish me for my crimes, but I know my words will fall on deaf ears. So I stare out the window, watching the village disappear as we enter the forest, racing down the familiar northern road. It’s not so crowded as yesterday, and Security officers dot the way. The Hall is controlled, the servant had said. I suppose this is what she meant.

The diamondglass wall shines ahead, reflecting the sun as it rises from the woods. I want to squint, but I keep myself still. I must keep my eyes open here.

The gate crawls with black uniforms, all Security officers checking and rechecking travelers as they enter. When we coast to a stop, the serving woman pulls me past the line and through the gate. No one protests, or even bothers to check for IDs. She must be familiar here.

Once we’re inside, she glances back at me. “I’m Ann by the way, but we mostly go by last names. Call me Walsh.”

Walsh. The name sounds familiar. Paired with her faded hair and tanned skin, it can mean only one thing. “You’re from . . .?”

“The Stilts, same as you. I knew your brother Tramy and I wish I didn’t know Bree. A real heartbreaker, that one.” Bree had a reputation around the village before he left. He told me once that he didn’t fear conscription as much as everyone else because the dozen bloodthirsty girls he was leaving behind were far more dangerous. “I don’t know you though. But I certainly will.”

I can’t help but bristle. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean you’re going to be working long hours here. I don’t know who hired you or what they told you about the job, but it starts to wear on you. It’s not all changing bedsheets and cleaning plates. You have to look without seeing, hear without listening. We’re objects up there, living statues meant to serve.” She sighs to herself and turns, wrenching open a door built right into the side of the gate. “Especially now, with this Scarlet Guard business. It’s never a good time to be a Red, but this is very bad.”

 

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