Home > Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(2)

Red Queen (Red Queen #1)(2)
Author: Victoria Aveyard

Security officers are everywhere, their black-and-silver uniforms standing out in the crowd. This is First Friday, and they can’t wait to watch the proceedings. They carry long rifles or pistols, though they don’t need them. As is customary, the officers are Silvers and Silvers have nothing to fear from us Reds. Everyone knows that. We are not their equals, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at us. The only thing that serves to distinguish us, outwardly at least, is that Silvers stand tall. Our backs are bent by work and unanswered hope and the inevitable disappointment with our lot in life.

Inside the open-topped arena is just as hot as out and Kilorn, always on his toes, leads me to some shade. We don’t get seats here, just long concrete benches, but the few Silver nobles up above enjoy cool, comfortable boxes. There they have drinks, food, ice even in high summer, cushioned chairs, electric lights, and other comforts I’ll never enjoy. The Silvers don’t bat an eye at any of it, complaining about the “wretched conditions.” I’ll give them a wretched condition, if I ever have the chance. All we get are hard benches and a few screechy video screens almost too bright and too noisy to stand.

“Bet you a day’s wages it’s another strongarm today,” Kilorn says, tossing his apple core toward the arena floor.

“No bet,” I shoot back at him. Many Reds gamble their earnings on the fights, hoping to win a little something to help them get through another week. But not me, not even with Kilorn. It’s easier to cut the bookie’s purse than try and win money from it. “You shouldn’t waste your money like that.”

“It’s not a waste if I’m right. It’s always a strongarm beating up on someone.”

Strongarms usually make up at least one half of the fights, their skills and abilities better suited to the arena than almost any other Silver. They seem to revel in it, using their superhuman strength to toss other champions around like rag dolls.

“What about the other one?” I ask, thinking about the range of Silvers that could appear. Telkies, swifts, nymphs, greenys, stoneskins—all of them terrible to watch.

“Not sure. Hopefully something cool. I could use some fun.”

Kilorn and I don’t really see eye to eye on the Feats of First Friday. For me, watching two champions rip into each other is not enjoyable, but Kilorn loves it. Let them ruin each other, he says. They’re not our people.

He doesn’t understand what the Feats are about. This isn’t mindless entertainment, meant to give Reds some respite from grueling work. This is calculated, cold, a message. Only Silvers can fight in the arenas because only a Silver can survive the arena. They fight to show us their strength and power. You are no match for us. We are your betters. We are gods. It’s written in every superhuman blow the champions land.

And they’re absolutely right. Last month I watched a swift battle a telky and, though the swift could move faster than the eye could see, the telky stopped him cold. With just the power of his mind, he lifted the other fighter right off the ground. The swift started to choke; I think the telky had some invisible grip on his throat. When the swift’s face turned blue, they called the match. Kilorn cheered. He’d bet on the telky.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Silvers and Reds, welcome to First Friday, the Feat of August.” The announcer’s voice echoes around the arena, magnified by the walls. He sounds bored, as usual, and I don’t blame him.

Once, the Feats were not matches at all, but executions. Prisoners and enemies of the state would be transported to Archeon, the capital, and killed in front of a Silver crowd. I guess the Silvers liked that, and the matches began. Not to kill but to entertain. Then they became the Feats, and spread out to the other cities, to different arenas and different audiences. Eventually the Reds were granted admission, confined to the cheap seats. It wasn’t long until the Silvers built arenas everywhere, even villages like the Stilts, and attendance that was once a gift became a mandatory curse. My brother Shade says it’s because arena cities enjoyed a marked reduction in Red crime, dissent, even the few acts of rebellion. Now Silvers don’t have to use execution or the legions or even Security to keep the peace; two champions can scare us just as easily.

Today, the two in question look up to the job. The first to walk out onto the white sand is announced as Cantos Carros, a Silver from Harbor Bay in the east. The video screen blares a clear picture of the warrior and no one needs to tell me this is a strongarm. He has arms like tree trunks, corded and veined and straining against his own skin. When he smiles, I can see all his teeth are gone or broken. Maybe he ran afoul of his own toothbrush when he was a growing boy.

Next to me, Kilorn cheers and the other villagers roar with him. A Security officer throws a loaf of bread at the louder ones for their trouble. To my left, another hands a screaming child a bright yellow piece of paper. ’Lec papers—extra electricity rations. All of it to make us cheer, to make us scream, to force us to watch, even if we don’t want to.

“That’s right, let him hear you!” the announcer drawls, forcing as much enthusiasm into his voice as he can. “And here we have his opponent, straight from the capital, Samson Merandus.”

The other warrior looks pale and weedy next to the human-shaped hunk of muscle, but his blue steel armor is fine and polished to a high sheen. He’s probably the second son of a second son, trying to win renown in the arena. Though he should be scared, he looks strangely calm.

His last name sounds familiar but that’s not unusual. Many Silvers belong to famous families, called houses, with dozens of members. The governing family of our region, the Capital Valley, is House Welle, though I’ve never seen Governor Welle in my life. He never visits it more than once or twice a year, and even then, he never stoops to entering a Red village like mine. I saw his riverboat once, a sleek thing with green-and-gold flags. He’s a greeny, and when he passed, the trees on the bank burst into blossom, and flowers popped out of the ground. I thought it was beautiful, until one of the older boys threw rocks at his boat. The stones fell harmlessly into the river. They put the boy in the stocks anyway.

“It’ll be the strongarm for sure.”

Kilorn frowns at the small champion. “How do you know? What’s Samson’s power?”

“Who cares, he’s still going to lose,” I scoff, settling in to watch.

The usual call rings out over the arena. Many rise to their feet, eager to watch, but I stay seated in silent protest. As calm as I might look, anger boils in my skin. Anger, and jealousy. We are gods, echoes in my head.

 

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