The Little Queen – Prologue, Part Three
We met Jennifer and Kaya in parts one and two, but there’s one other main character in this story so it’s time we met her. Apologies for any errors in formatting – normally I copy things from MS Word with double spacing, but this time I’m copying from Scrivener so some paragraphs may be scrunched together.
Warning for violence and death.
Prologue, Part Three
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 with a very different little girl.
Tenley Tych was eleven years old, with a bob of jet black hair and eyes almost as dark. She was athletic and strong and she feared very little. In fact she only feared one thing. She never went to school and whenever anyone came to the cottage mother would chase them away – the whole town was afraid of her. Tenley’s friends therefore were a ragtag assortment of bears, horses, and even littler girls with button eyes.
She had gathered them all together, seating them in wooden, plastic and cardboard chairs. Some who couldn’t sit down provided seating for the others. It was all very orderly, except that one bear had trouble staying in his seat and kept flopping on his side.
“Don’t slouch Timothy!” Tenley scolded. After considering the problem, she decided to stick a pencil through one end of him to act as a makeshift spine, and with everyone sitting up properly the show could begin.
Tenley took to the coffee table, or rather the stage, draped in an old bed sheet that was now a flowing silk scarf. She cleared her throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, bears, ponies, aliens, robots, and dragons. And Wendy,” she added, remembering the doll at the back with the stringy red hair. They had a very complex history together. They were the oldest friends here, but also the most intense rivals. Tenley always just came out ahead in everything, whether it was singing, dancing, fencing, or boxing, but it was close. Tenley liked to get a dig in any time she could. “I present, for your approval, the dance of the eel.”
She pirouetted on the stage, faster and faster like a carousel, the scarf moving to her hand and trailing it, then arching up and down. That was all the dance of the eel was, but she was certain it looked amazing. Wendy certainly wouldn’t be able to top it. Tenley became lost beneath the sea, cool soothing currents washing through her hair and gently brushing her skin. But then, like a rock thrown into her perfect pool, she heard the front door slam.
Tenley hadn’t expected mother to be home so soon. If she came up here and saw all this she’d be mad. She might take some of her friends away. There was no time to put it away so she just had to run and greet mother in the hall, hoping she had no curiosity about what Tenley had been doing. She only rarely ever had before and usually just when she was already mad at her.
She intercepted mother at the front door, still hanging up her coat and scarf as Tenley clamped her hands behind her back and waited attentively.
Eventually mother deigned to look at her, then sneered, “did you cut the grass?”
“Yes, mother,” Tenley answered.
“Reset the traps?”
The mousetraps. “Yes, mother.”
“Do all your exercises?”
“Make a rope for me to hang you with?”
“Ye-” the words reached Tenley’s brain and she stopped, frowning and cocking her head.
Mother snorted, then went to fetch her dinner from where it was being kept warm in the oven. Tenley had never been thanked for that – mother seemed to think the food just prepared itself each evening. In addition to her plate, mother also took a bottle from the cabinet then at the dining table she ate and she drank, which was never good. Tenley would have to clean all that up as well, after mother was asleep.
The mail had also been left on the table for her mother to read. She hadn’t done so that morning since she’d just rushed off into town for some sort of business – Tenley knew not what as mother rarely ever told her things, perhaps because she thought Tenley wasn’t mature enough to understand. She knew that mother had been angry about something, but mother was always angry. Opening the first letter and reading it just made her a tiny bit angrier.
“Damn fools are persistent,” mother growled as she scrunched up the letter and threw it away. “Either that or very stupid,” she mused a moment, then turned to Tenley. “What do you think, little one? They want us to move away, from our house, so that they can build gods know what. A mall, airport, golf course – turn where we live into some place idiots go to waste their time because all they have is currency but nothing worthwhile to spend it on. Do you think I should say yes to that?”
Tenley found it hard to look her mother in the eyes. She shifted, rubbing the back of her left shin with her right foot, not knowing what mother wanted her to say. She decided to be honest, not knowing that they spent their time together any more wisely either. “It might not be so bad to go some place new.”
“Oh?” Mother arched a brow. “Are you dissatisfied, my dear?” The chair she was sitting in screeched as she stood up, causing a tingle in Tenley’s spine. She knew already her answer had been wrong as mother swaggered toward her. “Do you think, perhaps, that I should offer you more gratitude for all the little things that you do?” Mother started to growl, her face twisting into something like that of a furious wolf, leaning close enough that Tenley could feel her hot breath. “Me? Who gave up everything for the sake of your wretched existence? You expect gratitude from me?”
Tenley winced as her ear was clipped and then twisted. “I-I’m sorry,” she meekly begged.
“Yes you are,” mother glowered. “I would blame the parents, but… come!”
Tenley was dragged under the stairs, to the basement, where she was flung on the mat near the punching bag which mother stood behind and repeated, “come.”
The girl obediently picked herself up and assumed a fighting stance, jabbing as hard as she dared knowing that without gloves she would be doing more damage to her own wrists than to the bag. Mother sneered, “is that all? You want to hurt me, don’t you? Again!”
Tenley never wanted to fight at all but what she wanted never mattered. Being strong was important to her mother, so although it stung she obeyed, gritting her teeth and punching and kicking and each time her mother barked at her to do it again, harder and faster. Until she simply couldn’t anymore and she was dead on feet, her arms feeling like lead weights hanging by her sides.
“Pathetic,” mother chided, letting the bag go so she could step forward to kneel in front of Tenley and look her in the eye. “To think that something so weak could have come from me. I suppose you must take after your father. He was useless too.”
Tenley had never met her father. She knew nothing about him other than that her mother never spoke fondly of him. She never spoke fondly of anyone, but Tenley thought that he was at least part of the reason she was so relentlessly bitter. Whatever he’d done hadn’t been Tenley’s fault and being compared to him made her body shake as she ground her jaw and tightened her fists.
Mother noticed, tilting her head and smiling cruelly. “Go ahead,” she said.
So she did. Tenley summoned all the energy she had left to launch at mother’s sneering, scolding and dour face. But it wasn’t enough. Mother simply pushed the blow enough to change its direction so that Tenley just fell forward into empty air, then her lungs burst, her eyes bulged, and she slipped limply to her knees, only entirely falling to the floor when her mother removed the fist from her heart.
Mother stood, watching Tenley writhe at her feet. But as she did her face softened, as if for an instant she regretted what she’d done. But only for an instant. “If you want to win,” she said, “then skill isn’t enough. Strength isn’t enough. You have to fight pain as well. Never flinch from it. Always be prepared to accept more of it than your opponent. You hate me now, but one day you’ll understand why all of this was important. One day…”
Tenley didn’t know how much later it was when she finally emerged from the basement. Mother had left a long time before and was found sleeping in the living room, slouched in her favorite armchair with a bottle in her hand. Tenley did hate her, and she’d had many opportunities like this to just end her. But something must have happened to have made her this way, and perhaps if Tenley made her happy by becoming much stronger things would be different then. One day. Besides, they were each all the other had. So Tenley sighed and just gently took the bottle to put away in the kitchen.
In her room she put the toys away in the chest and lay in bed with her music box. She believed it was decades old. It might not have been, but she believed it. It was made of wood and brass and when she opened it a fairy appeared who had porcelain white skin and a blue dress and wings. She turned the key and let the gentle chimes wash over her as she watched the fairy dance, pirouetting calmly, gracefully, beautifully, like she hadn’t a care in the world. Tenley started to feel like she was adrift in the sea, soothing waters just carrying her along. And then she fell asleep.
Time passed. Whether minutes or hours she did not know. It was the blaring of a car horn that awoke her, getting her to crawl out of bed to window. A truck had parked in the drive and she had to squint through its headlights to make out maybe half a dozen men – no, six men and one woman. They all made a semicircle in the drive with the truck in the middle, and one man out in front. None of them seemed armed but they were all wearing flak jackets over ordinary clothes. The lead man might have been a soldier once at least – he certainly had the scars for it.
The noise and the glare woke mother too. She arrived in front of the cottage swaggering, sneering, totally unimpressed. A conversation ensure between her and the scarred man. Tenley couldn’t make out much of it from where she was by the upstairs window. Mother warned them to leave. The man said something about a generous offer. Mother said she wasn’t interested then turned her back on him to go back inside, at which point he reached out to grab her, which she must have been expecting as she immediately reversed the grip as she spun round and punched him on the nose.
With their leader sprawled on the ground the other strangers rushed in to try and help. It didn’t go much better for any of them. They were trying to pile on and restrain her, but she was too quick and nimble. An elbow here, a roundhouse there… Tenley had never seen her mother in a real fight before, but she was glorious. Strong, graceful, beautiful, and seemed untouchable. Then she arrogantly mocked them for thinking they could come here and scare her. She should never have turned her back on that man a second time.
Tenley saw the glint close to the scarred man’s hand and tried to shout a warning, but the words stuck in her throat. And then it was too late. He jumped up close behind her then stepped back, mother turning slowly, hate mixed with surprise as she reached around her back then regarded the blood on her fingers like it was something she never expected to see. Then he stabbed her again. And again and again, all the way to the ground. Some of the others started to panic, begging him to stop until eventually two of them pulled him off, and mother just lay there with her eyes wide open but completely still, more like a doll’s eyes then those of a person.
After that it was a like fog descended on Tenley’s mind and nothing anymore felt real. She saw and heard things happen around her, but it was as though they were happening in another time or another dimension and she was merely witnessing them. One of the strangers saw her in the window, and she just backed away slowly, not thinking to run even as two of them stormed the room and carried her downstairs. A black man clutched his temples and kept saying this was wrong. The scarred man told him to shut up as they had no choice. The woman cried and they kept arguing until one of them, a tall man with red hair, said that he would do it and the others wouldn’t have to see. He agreed to meet the rest of them tomorrow after they ‘ransacked’ the place – the scarred man said to make it look like a burglary that had gone wrong, which wasn’t too far from the truth anyway.
Tenley was pushed outside where she saw her mother on the drive lying in her own blood and almost vomited as the stench of guts stung her nostrils. It was only then she started to realize that none of this was a dream. Her mother was dead. But still she couldn’t process what that really meant so as she tried she walked. She didn’t know where or for how long. Her mother was dead. That meant she was finally, definitely alone. Leaves and small branches crunched under her feet. There was no one else in her life. It had always just been the two of them. It was so dark now she could barely see, the canopy blocking out the stars and the moon. Everything she had ever done; all the chores, cooking, training, it had all been for nothing. The man behind her turned on a flashlight as they continued deeper into the woods. They had taken away any chance of Tenley ever making her mother happy, of ever having a real family. There was only thing mother would want her to do now.
They finally reached a spot where the forest cleared enough that the moon broke through. The man stopped but told her to keep walking, as he loaded his gun. Tenley did not. She turned to face him instead. It was so sudden that he jumped and recoiled, as if he saw the fury of the universe reflected in her black eyes.
“Turn around!” He demanded.
Tenley took a small step forward, her eyes completely locked onto his. “No,” she said.
“Shit!” He spat out angrily. He slowly pointed the gun at her head but she never flinched or looked away. His hand started to shake. It was at that moment that they heard the whispers carried in the wind. He was distracted for a second, but a second was all Tenley needed to step under his arm and kick him in the groin. He groaned and collapsed from the surprise of it – both the quickness and the power – dropping the gun which a split-second later was hers.
The whispers grew louder. Both of them were confused by it but couldn’t take their eyes off the other for very long. The man rose very attentively to his feet, slowly holding out his hand. “Give me the gun girl,” he said. The wind answered for her:
They both heard it. They both shared the same bewildered expression. But he was the only one who was afraid. “What?!” He said. Tenley didn’t know if he was asking her or the wind, but the wind rasped:
T u r n a r o u n d
Tenley could see nothing behind him and although the man was desperate to look he still couldn’t take his eyes off her. “Who’s there?” He asked.
There was a loud thud and whoomph. The man keeled over as if he’d been punched hard in the stomach. He was then lifted, somersaulting backwards through the air and crashing down on his back. Tenley couldn’t see anything attacking him, but there was blood pouring from his nose and mouth and several teeth spread around the ground. The dazed would-be-child-killer tried to roll his stomach and push himself up, but the invisible assailant lifted his leg and dragged him quickly through all the mud and leaves and twigs. He was then spun and launched through the air, his back contorting painfully against the contour of a tree.
Tenley wondered if perhaps she’d been wrong and this was all just a dream. But somehow she knew that it wasn’t. She had no idea what was going on but didn’t see any way to stop it, not that she would have been inclined to do so given the circumstances. So she just continued watching to see if any new clues presented themselves.
The man spat up more blood, and then a woman said, “you poor thing. Seems you’re all bent of shape.”
She came around the tree in a long red dress and twirling an umbrella over her shoulder. Her hair and her skin was white, mostly – it kept shifting like sand with dark patterns rippling across it. She had almost no whites to her eyes, and on closer inspection the umbrella was actually a large flower. There were two other young women with her, dressed in some short white tunics. They looked more human, one with long red hair and the other messy and blonde, but all they did for the time being was stand behind their mistress.
The woman with the flower leaned over, turning her ear to the man as he gargled. “I believe he’s trying to beg,” she said, frowning and straightening. “A man without dignity is never pretty. But, my children, we must be kind. Finish him quick.” She swept about and glided away. The blonde one wore a wicked, toothy grub as she bent over to take the man’s head between her hands, placing each of her thumbs over his eyes and then… Tenley didn’t watch that, but she heard the horrible wet squelch.
Umbrella-flower woman with the shifting skin found a large moss covered stone, just the right size and shape that she could sit down and rest her back on. As she made herself comfortable she said to the girl, “come child. Join us.”
Tenley was suddenly exhausted, but she dragged her legs through the forest floor and asked, “who are you? What are you?”
“The answer to both those questions may vary depending on who you ask, but you desire a name so here it is – Titania. Have you heard that name before?”
“No,” Tenley shrugged. “Have you heard my name before?”
Titania seemed amused. “I have, Tenley Tych.”
“Oh, my children, like Ella and Lily here, are everywhere. We’ve seen you before. We’ve seen those men before as well. We know where they came from and who sent them. The kind of information you would very much like to know, now, yes?”
She would, but Tenley felt there was something very off about this woman. Maybe it was just the shifting skin, which had turned into a grey-green to match the stone she sat upon. Or the strange eyes and the way she seemed close to human but wasn’t. Or the smile. She had little experience with them but that smile was the most insincere she could imagine. She sniffed, and nodded to the dead man at the foot of the tree. “The others will come to find him,” she pointed out.
“Eventually,” Titania agreed. “Not right away. After all, it’s not safe to wander a place like this at night. But in time they will come hunting for him, and you, and we shall have a wonderful game of cat and mouse. Only there’s nothing mousy about you, is there? And I can help. I can make you stronger, faster, powerful.”
“And what do you want?”
“Of course it would be suspicious for someone to give anything away for free,” Titania smirked, resting back in her throne. “I am a Queen, you see, and this is my kingdom. But a Queen needs an heir. All my power could be yours, and all you have to do is what your heart wants anyway – kill them all.”
“You’re the Queen of the forest?”
“Yes,” Titania grinned. This time she did seem sincere. “To start with, yes.”