About a third of the way through the current draft of The Little Queen. Below is the current version of part of the prologue. When I did the first version of this a few years ago I made the chapters quite long – just chopped the story into thirteen parts, because it’s a lucky number in some cultures. And with the new drafts some of those chapters are even so I should mayb consider reorganising a little. But first this:

Time passed. Minutes ran into hours, hours to days, summer
became autumn, and then ten more summers passed. We’re far now from Jennifer
and her father, in a different house on a different night and a very different
little girl.

Tenley Tych was eleven years old, with a bob of jet black
hair and eyes almost as dark in which light reflected like mirrors to the
universe. She sat cross legged surrounded by dinosaurs and dragons, aliens and
ghouls, lions, vampires, robots, monsters – none of these things frightened
her. The only one she found even slightly creepy was Wendy, with her stringy
red hair and loose button eyes. Tenley had a bit of what she believed was
called a love-hate relationship with Wendy – they’d been best friends for years,
but they were also rivals.

Tenley had gathered all her friends for the show, although
she was having difficulty getting them all seated. There weren’t enough little
wooden, plastic and cardboard chairs for one thing – many had to sit on top of
another animal. But one tyrannosaur in particular kept flopping on his side no
matter how she positioned him.

“Don’t slouch, Timothy!” Tenley angrily admonished. She
considered the problem for a moment then decided to stick a pencil up his bum
to act as a makeshift spine. Then with everyone paying attention the show could
finally begin. She stood up on the coffee table, or rather the stage, and
cleared her throat.

“Ladies and gentlemen, beasts and ghosts, dinosaurs from all
ages! Tenley Theater presents, in association with Wendy’s Wrestling – in which
I am undisputed and unbeaten champion,” Tenley mentioned as an aside, never
missing an opportunity to rub it in the face of her rival, “The Dance of the

The Fairy performing the dance was still warming up inside
her box, so Tenley bought her some time by turning the key over many times
before opening the lid. The Fairy wore a short blue dress, had sparkling wings
and pirouetted beautifully as the chimes echoed around her. Tenley danced as
well, a long scarf twirling around her as she spun faster and faster like a
carousel. She imagined herself beneath the ocean, cool soothing currents gently
brushing through her hair.

The music box was Tenley’s favorite thing. She didn’t know
where it had come from – she used to tell herself that it was left for her by
her father, but she knew that probably wasn’t true. But she was certain it was
old. It had to be as it was made of wood and delicate porcelain. It was her
favorite thing and she wanted to share it with everyone, allow the chimes to
gently carry them to the land of dreams as they did for her.

But then, like a rock smashing through the surface of her
perfect pool, she heard the front door slam. Tenley froze. If mother came up
here and saw the room untidy she’d be furious. She might take away some of
Tenley’s friends. Her best hope was to get downstairs first and pray mother
wasn’t curious enough to want to see what she was up to. She bolted, making it
down the stairs to the front door as mother was still hanging up her coat.
Mother had slammed the door when she’d entered and was still swearing under her
breath. Tenley knew better than to further approach. She said nothing and stood
at ease until mother chose to address her. After a moment mother did deign to
glance at her, wrinkling her nose as if Tenley were some bad smell.

“I hope you’ve not been slacking,” mother said.

“No mother,” Tenley assured her.

“You mowed the grass? Weeded everywhere?”

“Yes mother,” that and much more besides, yet mother
regarded her with suspicion.

“You seem remarkably clean for having been in the garden all

“I showered when I was done,” Tenley explained. And in
truth, she had gotten very good at all these chores and got them done much
faster than mother expected.

“And you mopped the floors?”

“Yes, mother.”

“Did all the laundry?”

“Yes, mother.”

“Made a rope I can hang you with?”

“Yes…” Tenley stopped as her brain caught up with what she’d
heard. It was a joke, just not a very good one. Mother’s never were. On another
day she might have said so, but mother was still in a sour mood so she held her

Mother snorted to herself and moved to the kitchen where her
dinner was being kept warm. She didn’t thank Tenley for that. She never even
acknowledged that Tenley did it, or perhaps she just imagined that the food
appeared there every night by itself. If she just forgot to do it one she was
sure she would hear about it then.

Mother then went to the dining table where the mail was also
waiting. She opened it as she ate, spitting when she laughed, “Ha! Persistent
fools, aren’t they?” She screwed up the letter, saying as she threw it away,
“or perhaps just fools. What do you think, little one?” Tenley didn’t think
anything – she didn’t know what her mother was talking as she was rarely told anything.
On this occasion mother did go on explaining. “You know they want us to move
away. They’ve offered a substantial amount of money to do so. But it would mean
leaving our home, where we’ve suffered labored for so long. For what reason
they won’t say. Probably a golf course – that’s what rich morons in this world
do all the time. Hit tiny white balls with sticks. So what do you think I
should with their tiny balls? Perhaps get a stick of my own?”

Mother undoubtedly thought she was being very amusing, even
though the only audience she had was Tenley and she never laughed. Tenley never
had a real audience for her jokes either, as mother chased away anyone who came
to the house. But maybe if it was a different place, a different town
surrounded by different people, maybe things could change. “It might not be so
bad,” she said at last, “to go somewhere new…”

Tenley knew almost immediately from her mother’s look that
had been the wrong answer. She lowered her head, not daring to look mother in
the eye as she rubbed her calf with the other foot. But it was too late –
mother slowly rose from the table.

“Oh?” Mother said, her lips curling like those of an angry
animal. “Are you dissatisfied, little one? Perhaps you think I owe you
gratitude for all the little jobs you do? I who gave up everything for the sake
of your wretched existence? You think I should thank you?”

“No,” Tenley answered meekly. “I’m sorry…”

“Yes you are. I’d blame the parents, but… perhaps I have
allowed to become too soft. Too complacent. Come.”

Tenley knew what that meant, but she followed regardless as
to do otherwise would only make things worse. There was a door under the stairs
that led to more stairs and a cellar. The first room contained some exercise
equipment and boxing bags, all of which Tenley was very familiar with.
Thankfully mother didn’t unlock the other door that led to the room with all
the weapons and instead waited behind the punch bag.

“I am the storm,” mother said, “lightning is my blade and
fire my blood. My enemies will speak not their sins, but they will feel my
thunder and hear the winds howl with my fury…” Mother seemed lost for a moment,
but then returned with a shrug. “Something like that anyway. Those were the
words they made us say. Overly dramatic nonsense really, but I suppose it got
everyone fired up. Now, come.”

Tenley had many questions. Mother never talked much about
where she came from or what she did before, or about Tenley’s father. But now
was not the time to ask. She instead assumed a fighting stance and threw some
jabs at the bag. Mother kept demanding that she do it again, faster, harder.
Very soon her wrists were sore, but although she winced each time Tenley kept
going, it taking more and more effort. Her arms became heavier until each swing
was like lifting a great lead weight. Her will pushed her body far beyond it’s
limit, but could only go so far.

“Pathetic,” mother sneered as Tenley stood dead on her feet.
“How could I have raised something so weak? You take too much after your

Tenley’s eyes flashed with rage. She didn’t know who she was
more angry at – her for the insult, or father for just not existing, at least
not for her. Probably both, but it was mother who was here and who noticed,
swaggering toward her then kneeling. “Go ahead,” she taunted. And so Tenley.
She summoned everything left she could muster and launched her fist straight at
her nose. Mother deflected the blow easily and almost instantly Tenley felt her
own lungs burst before she fell limply to the floor.

Mother stood, watching Tenley and for a moment her features
softened as if in regret. But it was only a moment before her hard face
returned. “You will need to be strong for what’s to come,” she said. “I don’t
know when, but it will, and you’ll have to face pain far worse than this and
not flinch. You might hate me now, but one day you’ll see.”

Mother left her then. Tenley didn’t know how long it was
before she got up, but when she did she found mother asleep in an armchair in
the living room, a bottle in her hand and stinking of drink. Vulnerable. But
mother was wrong – Tenley didn’t hate her, at least not that much. She just
didn’t understand. What had happened? Why were things like this? Mother wanted
her to be strong but wouldn’t say why. But perhaps if Tenley became as strong
as mother wanted, things would be different and they could talk then, like a
real family would. For now all they had was each other. The night was cold, so
Tenley warmed the fire and went to bed, the chimes of the music box soothing
her and guiding her to sleep.

It was hours later when light broke through her window
waking her, but still hours before dawn. The light was accompanied by blaring
horns, so Tenley rubbed her eyes, crawled out of bed and edged carefully to the
window from where she could see the drive leading to the cottage. There was a
truck out there, it’s lights on full, and six or seven people stood in a
semicircle. One of them had a dog. One she was sure was a woman and the rest
were men. One of the men, the bulkiest, seemed to be the leader, but from here
she couldn’t clearly make out any faces.

Mother had awoke as well. She must have been still asleep
downstairs, maybe drinking more as she staggered out, sneering and demanding
they keep they noise down. The leader of the group stepped forward, and Tenley
could now see one side of his face was scarred. Not a straight scar – she
judged he’d probably been bitten by an animal. It didn’t intimidate mother who
engaged in a conversation with him.

Tenley couldn’t make out exactly what was being said –
something about an offer which mother said she wasn’t interested in. Mother
turned her back to head back inside, infuriating the scarred man who reached
for her arm. She had obviously been expecting it, reversing the grip as she
turned and flattened his nose. The dog began to bark and snarl, but the man
behind held onto it’s chain, not willing to let it go in all the confusion.
With their leader sprawled on his back the others all rushed forward to try and
restrain mother, but she was untouchable – even inebriated she was fast and
strong, graceful and glorious, the invaders all going down one by one, surprise
and pain written over their faces. Mother mocked them for thinking they could
scare her, told them to crawl back to their master, but Tenley thought she was
being too arrogant – they weren’t beaten yet.

The scarred man was slowly rising to his feet as mother had
her back to him once. Tenley saw a glint in his hand and tried to shout a
warning but the words stuck in her throat. Before she could take a breath to
try again, it was too late. The man jumped up and then stepped back, mother
slowly turning as she reached around her back then regarded the blood dripping
from her fingers. For a moment her face contorted in hate and rage, then she
fell. The man fell on top of her, the knife rising and falling again and again.

Tenley stepped back from the window, unsure she was awake.
It was as if a thick fog descended all around, obscuring all vision and
muffling all sounds. The invaders entered the cottage and began searching. She
could have hidden, but instead they found her standing in the middle of her
room having not moved at all, then dragged her downstairs to the others. They
were all in a panic, and this was the first time Tenley got to see all their
faces. The man with the dog had a narrow, pointed face. The woman had dark red
hair and rough skin. There was a young black man with a small nick on his lip
who kept pacing, clutching his temples and muttering that this was wrong. The
others yelled at him to be quiet, but none of them knew what to do until the
scarred man told them – they had to ransack the place, make it look like a
burglary that had gone wrong, and there couldn’t be any witnesses. The black
man cried and a couple others protested, but in the end they all agreed. One of
the men volunteered to take care of it so the others wouldn’t have to see.

Tenley was pushed outside, still foggy and seemingly
oblivious to everything. Then she saw mother lying there in the drive, eyes
wide open but strangely still like one of her dolls. It was only when a strange
smell stung her nostrils that Tenley started to feel this wasn’t a dream.
Mother was lying there in the drive, but she was gone – her mind struggled with
the paradox as the man behind her kept shoving, forcing her to march into the

Dead. Mother was dead. The realization struck her like a
bucket of cold water. Mother had thrown both buckets and water at her, but not
anymore. Beyond that it still took some time to process what it really meant as
she was made to walk, leaves and small sticks crunching under her feet. It
meant that Tenley was finally, definitely alone, darkness engulfing her as the
forest canopy thickened. It meant that everything she had done, everything she
had worked for, all the chores, punishment and training, none of it mattered
now. She could never prove herself. She could never have a family. They had
taken her future and now it was so dark she could barely see.

The man pushing her turned on a flashlight. Tenley saw
something glint, slipped and rolled over some of the leaves before the man
pulled her back up and made her continue even deeper into woods. There was only
one task left mother would have her do – she had to become the storm.

She knew the man had a gun as she heard him load a clip just
before he stopped but demanded that she keep walking. It struck her as very odd
demand as if she kept walking she knew she was going to be shot, so what could
the punishment be if she refused? She decided to find out so turned around
instead, staring hard at him with the universe reflected in her eyes. He
recoiled, unable to look into it.

“Turn around!” He demanded angrily.

Tenley stepped forward, so the barrel was almost touching
her head and her black eyes kept staring straight at him.

“Shit…” he said rolling his jaw, tilting his head, and
closing his eyes for a second. In that second, Tenley sidestepped and slashed
at his hand with the sharp stone she’d found. He dropped the gun, pulling his
hand back as she stepped up on his chest and kicked him in the jaw before they
fell away from each other.

He was stunned, but Tenley doubted he was actually that hurt
so looked around for where the gun had fallen. He furiously tackled her before
she could reach it, and with ease lifted the small girl and threw her across
the little clearing they were in before retrieving the gun himself. Tenley had
landed on her side, not badly hurt either, not that she would admit it if she
was. Still he wasn’t going to let his guard down so easily again.

“You’re a little animal,” The man laughed as she bared her
teeth at him. “Just like your mom. Guess now I won’t feel so bad about putting
you down.”

It was then they felt a cold gust of wind and first heard
the whispers. Both Tenley and the man were unwilling to look away from the
other, but they were both confused, unable to discern where the sound was
coming from. Tenley really didn’t care so much, but he couldn’t tolerate the
thought of another witness.

“Who’s there?!” He snarled. And the wind answered:

T u r n a r o u n d

“Show yourself!”

The response was mocking, childish laughter. But from where
and whether near or far Tenley couldn’t say, but it did seem to her that it was
focused on him, emboldening her to stand. The man looked accusingly at her, as
if somehow she could be responsible. She wasn’t, but she welcomed the fear,
panic and confusion in his eyes.

There was whoosh and whoomph! The man doubled over as if
punched hard in the belly, then his body lifted and spun through before landing
on his back with a sickening thud. Tenley rubbed her eyes and watched, unable
to see an assailant. But nothing tonight made any sense, so… whatever.

Blood poured from the man’s nose and mouth and several teeth
were spread about the ground. He tried to rolled over and push himself up but
whatever was there lifted his leg and he clawed desperately at the earth,
unable to find a grip as he was dragged through it then spun and his body
launched like a stone from a catapult. His back bent the wrong way when he collided
with a tree and slid down.

Then she appeared, a woman in red. Her eyes were black but
her skin shifted like sand as patterns of color rippled over it. “You poor
thing,” she said as she bent over the stricken man, “seems you’re all bent out
of shape.”

Two other women appeared, one blonde and one red, wearing
short white tunics, one of them handing the first woman an umbrella. They
looked normal, except that their dress didn’t reflect the temperature, although
Tenley was still in her PJ’s and only now really beginning to feel the cold.

“But, my children, we must be kind,” the first woman said.
“Ease his discomfort and make it quick.”

The woman swept away, opening her umbrella, which Tenley now
saw was not an umbrella but a large red flower which she spun over her
shoulder. The blonde wore a wide grin as she knelt down, poising her thumbs
over the man’s eyes… Tenley looked away before hearing the squelch.

The flower-umbrella-woman meanwhile found a rock nearby that
she could sit in like throne, relaxing and making herself comfortable there
when she heard the click. She turned her head to regard Tenley who was now
pointing the gun at her.

“That won’t help you, child,” the woman said.

“Do I need help with you?” Tenley answered.

“Perhaps you can get help from me. You are an intruder in my
domain, but I have been known to be merciful, even generous. Or neither. Which
I will be depends on you.”

“Your domain?” Tenley lowered the gun. She was too exhausted
and now she just wanted someone to start explaining things to her. “Who are

“Who are any of us, really? We can all be different people
at different times in different places.”

“I’m too tired for philosophy…”

“Very well. The name I was given is Titania. Have you heard
it before?”

“No,” Tenley shrugged, “have you heard my name before?”

Titania seemed amused by the response. “As a matter of fact
I have, Tenley Tych.”

Tenley peered at her, fairly certain that she’d have
remembered if she’d encountered a flower wielding woman whose skin kept
changing before. “How do you know?” She asked.

“I have eyes everywhere in this forest, and beyond. And my
children, they whisper to me. I prefer not to dirty myself by getting involved
in the affairs of men, but I saw what happened to you, to your mother. I know
where those men came from, and who sent them. I imagine those are things you
would very much like to know as well, yes?”

Yes. Yes she would. Tenley clenched one fist and remembered
she still had the gun in the other. But she believed Titania when she said it
wouldn’t help. Her eyes drifted to the dead man at the base of the tree. “The
others will come looking for him,” she said.

“Not for some time,” Titania said. “Maybe not at all. If
they do come hunting for their friend and you, would you rather be the mouse or
the cat? No, I can see there’s nothing mousy about you. I can help turn the
odds even more in your favor. I can make you stronger than you can imagine,
faster, powerful.”

“And what would you want in return?”

“I am a Queen,” Titania insisted, “but a Queen needs
subjects, and possibly heirs, should the worst happen. But most of all I just
want the same thing you do – justice.”

“You’re Queen of what? The forest?”

“Yes,” Titania literally beamed and glowed, “for now, child,

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