This story is by Cecilia Masafwa and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Wait! Wait!” Queen Evangeline yelled, the clang of metal-on-metal ringing throughout the room.
It was only a few seconds before it was metal against stone. She’d dropped her sword.
“Wait,” she repeated, holding up her hands.
Her opponent didn’t drop her weapon. She kept it up, but it was defensive. For now.
“Why?” It was the first time the assassin had spoken since she’d arrived. Her voice was higher than the queen expected. Not high, but higher.
Evangeline knew it was risky letting go of her sword. The girl before her could kill her at any moment. It was her job after all. She wasn’t defenceless though. Not if knowledge is power.
“Because I know who you are, Yvaine,” she replied. The girl raised her sword slightly, taking a step forward; the queen matched her, taking one back.
“No one calls me that.” Evangeline wasn’t sure if she was making up the slight tremor in her voice; her hand was so steady. She kept her own raised.
“But I know it’s your name.” This time, she took the step back. Yvaine followed. “Because when our mother was pregnant, she let me choose it.”
For fifteen years, Yvaine had been presumed dead… until their impromptu fight. Neither had been given the opportunity to properly gear up, so when Evangeline’s sword slashed her shirt, the mark became visible.
Most monarchies relied on fate; that the firstborn of a bloodline was chosen to take the throne. Evangeline’s kingdom, Fepelda, was different. They too believed in fate choosing their ruler, but they were chosen by the mark. The deformed star which would form on the back of the mother’s left hand and the father’s right. It faded after the birth, instead appearing on the child’s sternum and for generations, it had been that way; one marked ruler at a time, the child only chosen once the old one passed. The parents ruled in their stead until the child reached sixteen. So, for ten years, it was thought Evangeline would rule. Until her mother became pregnant again… and her parents bore the mark.
It was unprecedented. No one knew what it meant when Yvaine was born with the star too. It caused controversy in the kingdom and for almost four years, it wasn’t clear who would wear the crown… until Yvaine vanished. She was three. They searched far and wide for the girl, but she had simply disappeared. When it came to Evangeline’s sixteenth birthday, there were no other contenders. No other children born with the mark. She was crowned queen.
She wasn’t sure how to feel. She was even less sure of how the girl before her would react. Truthfully, she wasn’t expecting her to raise her sword and keep it hovering just beyond her throat. She should have.
“How? How did you know?” Yvaine hissed. This time Evangeline was sure. The hand wielding the sword stayed steady, but her voice was definitely shaking. Still, that wasn’t what had her attention.
“How did you know? Have you known this whole time?”
It made no sense feeling betrayed. They didn’t even know each other. Not really. But she was. She felt betrayed by her sister.
“Of course, I knew,” she replied. “It’s why I’m the one doing this.”
The Yras had been taunting her for months. A small but admittedly powerful faction convinced that Evangeline had usurped the throne from her sister. Threatening her life but not taking it. They made no secret of the fact that they planned to assassinate her yet none of them had followed through. Every time she’d wondered why. What they hoped to achieve. She couldn’t deny that there had been opportunities to end her before. Now it made sense. They were her tormentors. Yvaine was to be her assassinator and successor.
“Why are you doing this?” Evangeline asked. The mark had distracted her. Made her irrational. It was going to be the reason she died. “Do you want to be queen that bad? That you’re willing to kill a person? That’s how you want to start your reign?”
She didn’t know Yvaine, but she knew herself. She knew that whenever she was lying, at least by omission, she would squint, almost starting to glare at the person. She knew their mother did it too. It looked very much like the glare Yvaine was giving her now. The sword hadn’t moved though. Maybe they weren’t raised together but biology said she was her sister. What were the odds they had the same tell?
“Or do you not want to do this?” she continued. “You don’t want to kill me.” It was meant to be a question but when the girl’s eyes started to well she knew her answer.
“They said I have to,” Yvaine whispered, barely shaking her head.
“Why?” She knew who.
“They said as long as both of us live there will never be peace. That you made sure of that when she tried to kill me as a child instead of letting the natural succession occur.” She’d heard the rumour before. Of course, she had. It hurt but she’d long since decided to pay it no mind.
“I loved you, Yvaine. I never tried to kill you.”
“I know.” She sounded certain. The queen wasn’t sure why or how, but she knew it wasn’t time to question it. “But if I don’t kill you, they’re going to kill me. And I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to kill you.”
She knew Yvaine was seventeen; eighteen in two months. She fought like an experienced warrior, but looking at her, stubbornly refusing to let any more tears fall, she could only see she was a seventeen-year-old girl. A seventeen-year-old girl with an absurdly steady grip on a sword.
“They won’t,” she promised. “Not if you don’t go back. Not if you stay here.”
Evangeline hadn’t managed to truly shock the girl before, at least not visibly. Now, the assassin’s eyes doubled in size.
“Here?” The blade did move this time, but Evangeline wasn’t even sure if the girl was properly conscious of it. She was though; it was cool against her neck. Strangely, she wasn’t scared. Maybe it was because she realised the movement was because the younger girl was.
“As a guest. Not a prisoner.” It would cause drama. She knew that but what else was she supposed to do? “You’re the only weapon they have. You don’t have to let them use you. Without you, their plans mean nothing.”
Yvaine’s eyes shut as she inhaled deeply. It was almost deceptive. Like this, the queen knew it looked like she could probably escape. But she’d faced those who’d trained the girl. There was nothing close enough to truly give her a chance. Besides, she didn’t actually feel trapped. She didn’t feel like she needed to escape.
“You can’t begin to imagine the things I’ve done,” Yvaine whispered.
“I know what you’ve done.”
“Not all of it.”
“Maybe not but I do know who raised you. Who taught you and told you to do the things that you did. I don’t know if you wanted to do it though. Everything you did.”
“I did at first. I made them proud.” Yvaine’s eyes opened and locked with hers. “But then I actually saw what I was doing to those people. It made me sick. So, they agreed to make you my last target. It was what it was all leading up to anyway.”
“You don’t have to do it, Yvaine. Stay with me and I promise you, we will work this out.”
Intellectually, Evangeline knew the walls were cold. They were stone. Still, it had shocked her when she’d abruptly stepped back into it. The only thing that stopped her from flinching forwards was Yvaine’s blade. If she pressed any harder, it would break the skin.
“I don’t want to be queen.”
“Then don’t kill me,” she replied, slightly breathless. “Put down the sword.”
She could see the conflict in her little sister’s eyes. She wondered what she was debating. To kill her or let her live? To believe her and stay or think her a liar and leave? To look at her as a sister or not? Either way, Evangeline no longer had anywhere else to go. She held her breath…
Metal against stone rang throughout the room again. As Yvaine turned away, Evangeline exhaled deeply, her shoulders slumping for a moment, her head hanging. When she opened her eyes again, she realised Yvaine was crouched to the floor, shaking. Crying.
“Yvaine,” she said, tentatively placing a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” she cried, the sound muffled. “I’m so sorry.”
The queen moved around, to her front, though Yvaine’s crying eyes were hidden behind her hands. She didn’t move them, even when her older sister pulled her into an embrace but, she crumpled into her, nonetheless.
“We can work this out together now,” Evangeline whispered, stroking her back.
And they did.