BY REBECCA HARRISON
They called her the Grey Queen. Her gaze was the colour of storm echoes. While kings had fought and fallen, she’d watched and waited for the crown. When they lay in chill tombs, she sat on the throne. Her words were as cold as stone rain. In the castle halls, courtiers danced to stunted music while she stood at the tower tops and looked across her land.
Weighted with velvet and gold, she patrolled the castle. Her steps sounded like broken skies. In the shadows, she thought she heard whispered plots. The courtiers’ dances looked like secrets. She ordered the music to stop. The songs were hushed and the ladies sat in a stillness which felt like ice. Later, under candle glare, the queen studied maps of her kingdom, of the barons’ realms and lands beyond. Her hands tightened on her crown.
So she sent her men to spy on the kingdom corners, in the Lords’ hunting troops and the peasants’ taverns. Her robes dragging on the spiral steps, she climbed the tower tops to listen for murmurs of unrest, but she heard only crow paths and smooth skies. Her hands shook. She summoned her advisor; he knelt at her feet. She demanded the barons’ gold and the farmers’ crops. He begged her to stop.
“Silence,” she hissed. She pinched his last word between her nails and pulled his voice out of his throat. Opening her jaw wide, she dropped it inside. He grasped at her robes and mouthed silence. She peered down at him and spoke with two voices stuck together. “To the dungeon.” The guards took him.
That evening, the queen looked across the banquet table at the ladies and dukes. “My most loyal subject has given me his voice,” she said. “I hope many of you will follow him.” They shuddered. Her glance was like shark song. And as the months passed, the two-voiced queen hoarded the farmers’ crops and counted the barons’ gold, and across her kingdom the fields became the shade of burned clouds. Her spies told her of the barons’ fury. With her voices quaking, she summoned them. Into the great hall, they walked. “I am your queen,” she said. “Tell me your woes.” And as they did, she stole their voices. “The dungeon,” she said. Her thirty voices spoke in a bellow.
In the villages, folk supped bitter gruel and children wailed with hunger as sharp as night’s teeth, and in the farms, peasants scrabbled at dust dregs and cursed the grey queen. Her spies heard the unrest and hurried to her hall. Her hands clawed at her velvet robes. “My carriage,” she said, the walls trembling from her thirty-voiced snarl. She glared from the carriage windows as it raced through the forest. At the nearest village, she stepped into pathways that smelled of bones. Her robes dragged puddle-deep. Folk cowered from her shadow. “My people, I am your queen, tell me your sorrows.” The crowd stared. A young woman crept forward clutching a pale child.
“Majesty…” she began, but the queen snatched her word and tore out her voice. The villagers shouted and clamoured. But the queen took their voices until they only mouthed silence. Then she swept back into her carriage.
“To the next village,” she said.
Weeks passed. In the castle corners, between stained glass and shadows, the courtiers murmured their fears of the queen. They hushed when they heard her patrolling the corridors: her steps sounded like iron. Across the kingdom, past the withered farms, in the nobles’ grand homes, the lords and ladies whispered of the vanished barons. The queen’s spies watched and heard. So she held a great banquet for the nobles and the courtiers. They sat in torch glow, shivering beneath her stare.
“My subjects, my friends, why do you speak against me? Give me your voices and all will be forgiven,” she said. Loud with hundreds of voices, her words dented the firelight and shivered the tapestries. She rested her gaze on an aged countess with hair the colour of bald stars.
“Your Majesty, take mine,” the countess mumbled. The ladies and lords trembled and followed. After the queen had taken all their voices, she dined on spiced meats while they sat in a silence that tasted of wind moss.
The castle became as quiet as shrew creep. The courtiers danced to music which wasn’t there. When the queen spoke, her words hurt the air. And across the kingdom, past the silent villages, folk hungered and raged. At dawn, a vast crowd of peasants protested outside the castle walls.
“My subjects,” said the queen. “I will help you all.” She ripped their voices out and gobbled them one by one. Then she bellowed, her words roaring with a thousand voices. The flags crumbled. The silent crowd was scattered. But in the corner of her right ear, there was a patch of quiet. She shouted harder until the trees lost their colours, but the quietness grew. She summoned her carriage. Across the land she sped, halting at towns and hamlets, thieving voices to make her words louder. But the quietness spread. She journeyed to all the corners and hollows of the land. Her fingers grew gnarled from snatching words. Then she returned to her castle and sat on her throne and across the hushed kingdom, the wordless folk heard her bellowing with all their voices. But she only heard silence.
Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and can be summoned by a cake signal in the sky. Her best friend is a dog who can count. Through the WoMentoring Project, she was chosen by Kirsty Logan as her mentee. Rebecca’s been nominated for Best of the Net, and her stories can also be read at Rose Red Review, Maudlin House, Luna Station Quarterly, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter.
OTHER STORIES BY THIS AUTHOR