Read The Queen of Attolia Online

Authors: Megan Whalen Turner

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Fantasy & Magic, #Legends; Myths; Fables, #Concepts, #Seasons, #Holidays & Celebrations, #Halloween

The Queen of Attolia

BOOK: The Queen of Attolia
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The Queen of Attolia
Megan Whalen Turner

For Susan Hirschman

Contents

Chapter One

HE WAS ASLEEP, BUT WOKE at the sound of the…

Chapter Two

DAYS PASSED BEFORE NEWS OF the arrest reached the valleys…

Chapter Three

EUGENIDES STOOD IN HIS CELL with his shoulders against the…

Chapter Four

THE QUEEN OF EDDIS STOOD in the courtyard to meet…

Chapter Five

THE EARLY FALL IN THE mountains had already come when…

Chapter Six

AS THE WINTER PASSED, HE forced himself to get up…

Chapter Seven

IN THE MORNING EUGENIDES SLEPT late. When he woke, his…

Chapter Eight

SPRING CAME EARLIER ON THE coast than it did in…

Chapter Nine

THE HUNTING RETREAT WAS A summer home for the rulers…

Chapter Ten

THE MORNING AFTER HE AND the queen returned from their…

Chapter Eleven

THE COUNTRY OF EDDIS PRAYED, and as if in answer,…

Chapter Twelve

IT TOOK TIME TO PREPARE for Eugenides’s plan. The spring…

Chapter Thirteen

THE ROYAL ENGINEER WATCHED THE water pouring through the sluice…

Chapter Fourteen

IN EPHRATA, ATTOLIA SAT RELAXED on the large chair on…

Chapter Fifteen

ATTOLIA TURNED TO LOOK AT him, where he kneeled watching…

Chapter Sixteen

THE STEPS LEADING UP FROM the beach were cut into…

Chapter Seventeen

EUGENIDES DIDN’T NOTICE WHO HELPED him up. When someone pushed…

Chapter Eighteen

JUST INSIDE THE PASS THE queen of Eddis sat on…

Chapter Nineteen

WHEN THE MEDE ARMY HAD regrouped itself for a retreat…

Chapter Twenty

THE SENESCHAL OF EPHRATA, THE captain of the guard, several…

Chapter Twenty-One

EUGENIDES MOVED LIKE A SLEEPWALKER down a hallway he didn’t…

 

H
E WAS ASLEEP, BUT WOKE
at the sound of the key turning in the lock. The storage room held winter linens, and no one should have been interested in it in the middle of summer, and certainly not in the middle of the night. By the time the door was open, he had slipped through a square hole in the stones of the wall and soundlessly closed the metal door that covered it. He was in the narrow tunnel that connected a stoking room to the hypocaust of a minor audience chamber down the corridor. The door he’d crawled through was intended to allow smoke into the storage room to fumigate the linens. Moving quietly, he inched down the tunnel to the open space of the hypocaust. Squat pillars held the stone floor above him. There wasn’t room to sit up, so he lay on his back and listened to the thumping noises, like drumbeats, as people hurried across the floor of the audience chamber over his head. They could only be looking for him, but he wasn’t particularly
worried. He’d hidden before in the spaces under the floors of the palace. His ancestors had used the tunnels of the hypocausts to hide in since the invaders had built them to heat their new buildings hundreds of years earlier.

Noises traveled down the long, narrow tunnel from the stoking room: shuffling thumps and a crackle that he strained his ears to hear. A fire was being lit in the furnace chamber. Soon the warm air and, of more concern to him, the smoke would be fanned into the hypocaust to warm the audience room above and drive the quarry out. Silently, in the pitch-dark, he moved between the brick pillars to a wall and then along it to a flue in the wall with an opening slightly larger than the others. Even with the enlarged opening, it was not an easy task to fit himself into the narrow vent, and while he maneuvered, the warm, smoky air blew around him. He remembered how easily he had slipped into the flue the first time he’d tried it. His grandfather, who’d brought him to the palace, had grown too old and too big for most of the passages and had had to stay at an inn in the town while his grandson explored on his own, finding everything just as he’d heard it described.

Once inside the flue, he wedged his fingers into cracks and braced himself with his feet to climb until the space turned at an angle to join the chimney above the audience room. When he reached the chimney, he
cursed silently, though what he found was no more than he should have expected. There was a fire in the hearth below. Fortunately they hadn’t already had a roaring blaze going when they chased him out of the linen room. They must have just lighted the fire, but the air in the chimney was smoky and quickly growing hot. With no other choice, the thief climbed into the chimney and moved up it as quickly as he could, relying on the sound of the fire to cover the sounds his soft boots made on the ridged bricks of the walls. The chimney was much wider than the flue, and the ridged bricks were intended to be climbed easily by sweepers.

He went on until he reached an intersection where several chimneys came together into a much larger one that rose to the roof of the palace. The chimney was warm and filled with smoke, but instead of climbing it, he turned to another opening and climbed down. He guessed that the queen had soldiers posted on the roof of the palace to watch the openings of the chimneys.

He breathed shallowly and slowly, stifling a need to cough. Any sound might betray him. As he dropped lower in the chimney he’d chosen, the smoke grew thicker, his eyes watered, and he missed a handhold and slid down with a thump to a ledge below. He sucked in a lungful of smoke and then covered his mouth with both hands while his face turned red and the blood pounded in his ears. The breath trickled out between his fingers and he breathed in again more cautiously,
but his throat burned and his head swam. His breath came and went in huffs of suppressed coughs.

He was on a ledge where the chimney divided into smaller flues that led down to several different rooms. He closed his eyes and listened for sounds, but there was no shouting, only the muted crackling of the fire somewhere below. He poked his head into one chimney after another, debating with himself before choosing one he hoped led to the stateroom of some foreign ambassador too prestigious to be disturbed in the middle of the night by soldiers wanting to light an unnecessary fire in his hearth.

The chimney he chose descended from the main one in a long, shallow slope. Once he was away from the main chimney, the air was free of smoke and he stopped to draw grateful breaths until his head cleared. When he reached the turn where the chimney dropped straight to the hearth below, he paused and settled himself to wait. There was no sign of a fire laid underneath him, so there was no immediate need to get down, and he thought it best to be sure there was no one waiting for him in the room below. After a long silence he heard the creak of a bed as if its occupant had shifted in his sleep.

Still cautious, the thief lowered himself down the chimney until he was just at the upper edge of the fireplace. Then he braced himself across the bricks and lowered his head to glance into the bedroom. It seemed
to be empty of guardsmen, and he dropped soundlessly to the hearthstones. The figure he could see stretched out on the bed didn’t move, and the room was otherwise unoccupied. He squatted there in the empty fireplace while he reviewed what he knew of the sleeping arrangements in the palace. He didn’t think there were very many rooms nearby where the soldiers hadn’t already lit fires. They probably hadn’t disturbed the occupant of this room because they were waiting out in the hall for their quarry to open the door and walk into their arms.

He didn’t intend to go through the door to the hall. The bedchamber was on an outside wall of the palace. The wall dropped straight down to a road that separated the palace from the city around it. He stepped past the bed and went to the window and pulled aside the curtains to look down at the perimeter road. He opened the window and glanced up to be sure that no guards on the roof were looking down. He saw no one leaning over the parapet and so swung himself across the windowsill and began to descend. The gaps between the marble facing stones of the palace were narrow, but wide enough for fingers and toes. He was halfway to the ground when there was a shout above him. He had been seen. The thief crabbed sideways along the wall, expecting a crossbow quarrel to bury itself in his shoulder at any moment, but none came. The queen’s personal guard would have guns, he remembered, but no
bullets came either. Maybe they didn’t use the guns in the middle of the night, the thief thought. Maybe they didn’t want to wake the queen. That didn’t explain the absence of quarrels, but he had little attention to spare on the puzzle. He’d reached a window, and he swung inside.

He was in an office. Most of the floor where the queen’s taxmen worked would be offices and storage rooms, many of them connected to one another. He’d eluded the guards on the floor above, and if he hurried, he could be gone before they’d reorganized the search. There was little point in trying to hide now that they’d come so close to catching him. He had to get out of the palace and safely into the town.

In the light of the lamps burning in the corridor, he got a good look at himself and winced. Though he was dressed in the household uniform of one of Attolia’s servants, he was filthy, covered in soot and cobwebs, and much too dirty to pass as an innocent inmate of the palace awakened by all the noise. Not that there was any noise. It was a very quiet hunt moving through the corridors of the queen’s palace in Attolia, with her guardsmen creeping quietly, hoping to surprise him, and him creeping even more quietly, hoping to evade them. It was an increasingly frantic game as he found soldiers at every turn. They were in every space he needed to move through until at last they were chasing him at a run, their boots crashing on the bare floors as
he forced the lock on a door that led out onto a wall that enclosed one of the palace courtyards.

They were still behind him when he sprinted the length of the parapet, but they had slowed to a walk. There was a sheer drop of fatal length into the courtyard on one side and down to the perimeter road on the other. Another group of the queen’s guardsmen was ahead of the thief, around the corner of the wall. Both groups were confident they would catch the thief between them. The thief could imagine too well what might happen to him if he were captured, and when he reached the corner, he didn’t slow as the guards expected, and he didn’t turn. He stepped onto the edge of the parapet and threw himself off it, into the black night air beyond.

 

Too late, the guardsmen raced to the edge of the parapet. They lay on their bellies on the wide stones to look down the sheer walls to the pavement of the road. Remembering their specific orders to capture the thief alive, they looked for the broken body in the interlocking shadows cast by the lanterns hung on the palace walls. The shadows made it difficult to see, and it took time to realize that there was no body below.

Finally one guardsman pointed to the rooftops on the far side of the boulevard that surrounded the palace. Stumbling, the thief had gotten to his feet and was crossing a rooftop as quickly as he was able. He
dropped to a lower rooftop and was out of sight until they caught a glimpse of him as he dropped from that roof into the alley beyond. Someone in the group of guards swore, partly in frustration, partly in admiration.

“Did you see where he went?” a cold voice asked behind them, and the soldiers pulled themselves to attention as their lieutenant answered, “Into an alley, Your Majesty.”

“Fire your crossbows into it. The guards on the ground should hear where the quarrels fall.”

The queen turned and strode down the wall to a doorway leading back inside. She’d wanted to capture the thief in the palace. Four times in the last year she knew he had moved through one of her strongholds, once leaving a room only moments before she entered and once, she suspected, passing through her own bedchamber while she slept. He’d escaped only by a narrow margin on his last visit, and she knew he wouldn’t escape again. Still, it galled her that he hadn’t been captured within the walls of the palace.

 

In the alley the thief heard the quarrels clattering down behind him and heard a corresponding shout not far away. He gave up moving quietly and ran as fast as he could through the twisting streets. The drop from the palace wall had been a sickening one, and though he’d rolled, he’d been shaken by the force of the landing. His hands stung, and his shoulders ached. Before the hollow
feeling in his chest faded, it was replaced by a stitch in his side as he ran on, sweating in the warm night.

There were so many turns and intersections to the narrow streets that no pursuers could have kept him in sight, or heard his footsteps over the noise they themselves were making, but there seemed to be more soldiers at every corner, and no sooner had the thief dropped out of sight than he was found again. He was breathing heavily when he came to a straight street at last. He turned onto it and sprinted. He could hear dogs barking and thought they were not the city dogs that had been barking since the shouting started but the palace dogs brought out to hunt for him.

The road he ran on came to an abrupt dead end at the town wall. Like the palace, the town’s walls were new, built shortly before the end of the invader’s occupation. They were sheer, rising straight to the walks above, unlike the banked walls of older cities. He had no hope of scrambling up them, but at their base, where the narrow road canted into a ditch that drained heavy winter rains, there was a sewer that ran under the city walls. Halfway through the wall there should have been an iron grate, as there was in the other drainage sewers, but the grate in this one was broken loose. It had been repaired once, several years before, and the thief had spent three long nights filing through the new bars to reopen this private entrance to the city.

The drain was not large. Coming into the city, the
evening before, the thief had moved slowly on his hands and the tips of his toes, taking great care not to get his clothes dirty. He’d washed his mucky hands at a public fountain, wiped the tops of his boots, and gone to buy his dinner.

With the palace dogs somewhere behind him, he raced at the walls without slowing and threw himself facedown at the entrance to the tunnel, sliding the first few feet into the sewer on the mud and slime inside. Behind him he could hear people running and dogs barking. When he reached the iron grate lying in the mud halfway along the tunnel, he crawled over it, then turned back to lift it upright. When he heard it scraping the walls, he yanked it harder, hoping that if the dogs pressed against it, their weight would force the grate further into place, not over into the mud again.

After crawling the rest of the way through the sewer, he dragged himself out from under the city wall at the edge of an olive orchard. Dawn was hours away, and with no moon to light the sky, he could barely make out his hand in front of his face, but he didn’t need to see to know where he was. There were olive trees in front of him, planted in orderly rows. If he headed downhill between the rows, he’d reach the river at the bottom of the olive grove. Once in the river, he could pull himself out of the water into one of the trees along its bank. He’d lose the dogs and then could get farther from the city before the dawn revealed him.

The nearest gate through the wall was well away to his right. Pinpricks of light issuing from it were the lanterns of more pursuers. Trusting in his knowledge of the olive grove and the orderliness of the trees, the thief got to his feet and ran. The trees were shifting shadows against the black night as he headed downhill, moving faster and faster, placing his feet carefully in case he landed on a root. Thinking of the river, he had no warning when a shadow appeared directly in front of him and he ran face first into a wall. As he fell heavily to the ground, he was dimly aware that his feet hadn’t hit anything, only his head.

The pain was overwhelming, and he lay on his back while he struggled to see past the lights flashing behind his eyes. He clutched at the sparse grass of the orchard, then rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself to his knees, trying not to be sick. He crawled to a nearby olive tree, following its roots through the hard dirt, and holding it, he got to his feet. The night, which had been dark before, had become impenetrably black. With one arm still around the tree, he waved a hand hesitantly through the darkness until he felt it strike something solid. It was a board, he realized slowly, stretching between the trees. He pushed on it. It was nailed in place. It was just at the height of his head, and a stone wall couldn’t have been more effective.

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