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The Queen's Rising
Author:Rebecca Ross

The Queen's Rising

Rebecca Ross


For Ruth and Mary,

Mistress of Art and Mistress of Knowledge


Midsummer 1559

Province of Angelique, Kingdom of Valenia

Magnalia House was the sort of establishment where only wealthy, talented girls mastered their passion. It wasn’t designed for girls who were lacking, for girls who were illegitimate daughters, and certainly not for girls who defied kings. I, of course, happen to be all three of those things.

I was ten years old when my grandfather first took me to Magnalia. Not only was it the hottest day of summer, an afternoon for bloated clouds and short tempers, it was the day I decided to ask the question that had haunted me ever since I had been placed in the orphanage.

“Grandpapa, who is my father?”

My grandfather sat on the opposite bench, his eyes heavy from the heat until my inquiry startled him. He was a proper man, a good yet very private man. Because of that, I believed he was ashamed of me—the illegitimate child of his beloved, dead daughter.

But on that sweltering day, he was trapped in the coach with me, and I had voiced a question he must answer. He blinked down at my expectant face, frowning as if I had asked him to pluck the moon from the sky. “Your father is not a respectable man, Brienna.”

“Does he have a name?” I persisted. Hot weather made me bold, while it melted the older ones, like Grandpapa. I felt confident that he would at long last tell me who I had descended from.

“Don’t all men?” He was getting crabby. We had been traveling for two days in this heat.

I watched him fumble for his handkerchief and mop the sweat from his crinkled brow, which was speckled like an egg. He had a ruddy face, an overpowering nose, and a crown of white hair. They said my mother had been comely—and that I was her reflection—yet I could not imagine someone as ugly as Grandpapa creating something beautiful.

“Ah, Brienna, child, why must you ask of him?” Grandpapa sighed, mellowing a bit. “Let us talk instead of what is to come, of Magnalia.”

I swallowed my disappointment; it sat in my throat like a marble, and I decided I did not want to talk of Magnalia.

The coach took a turn before I could bolster my stubbornness, the wheels transitioning from ruts to a smooth stone drive. I glanced at the window, streaked from dust. My heart quickened at the sight and I pressed closer, spread my fingers upon the glass.

I admired the trees first, their long branches arched over the drive like welcoming arms. Horses leisurely grazed in the pastures, their coats damp from the summer sun. Beyond the pastures were the distant blue mountains of Valenia, the backbone of our kingdom. It was a sight to salve my disappointment, a land to grow wonder and courage.

We rambled along, under the oak boughs and up a hill, finally stopping in a courtyard. Through the haze, I stared at the decadent gray stone, glistening windows, and climbing ivy that was Magnalia House.

“Now listen, Brienna,” Grandpapa said, rushing to tuck away his handkerchief. “You must be on your absolute best behavior. As if you were about to meet King Phillipe. You must smile and curtsy, and not say anything out of line. Can you do that for your grandpapa?”

I nodded, suddenly losing my voice.

“Very good. Let us pray that the Dowager will accept you.”

The coachman opened the door, and Grandpapa motioned for me to exit before him. I did, on trembling legs, feeling small as I craned my neck to soak in the grand estate.

“I will speak to the Dowager first, privately, and then you will meet her,” my grandfather said, pulling me along up the stairs to the front doors. “Remember, you must be polite. This is a place for cultured girls.”

He examined my appearance as he rang the doorbell. My navy dress was wrinkled from travel, my braids coming unwound, the hair frizzy about my face. But the door swung open before my grandfather could comment on my unkemptness. We entered Magnalia side by side, stepping into the blue shadows of the foyer.

While my grandfather was admitted into the Dowager’s study, I remained in the corridor. The butler offered me a place on a cushioned bench along the wall where I sat alone, waiting, my feet swinging nervously as I stared at the black-and-white checkered floors. It was a quiet house, as if it was missing its heart. And because it was so quiet, I could hear my grandfather and the Dowager speaking, their words melting through the study doors.

“Which passion does she gravitate toward?” the Dowager asked. Her voice was rich and smooth, like smoke drifting up on an autumn night.

“She likes to draw. . . . She does very well with drawing. She also has a vivid imagination—she would do excellent in theater. And music—my daughter was very accomplished with the lute, so surely Brienna inherited a bit of that. What else . . . oh yes, they say she enjoys reading at the orphanage. She has read all of their books two times over.” Grandpapa was rambling. Did he even know what he was saying? Not once had he seen me draw. Not once had he listened to my imagination.

I slipped from the bench and softly padded closer. With my ear pressed to the door, I drank in their words.

“That is all very good, Monsieur Paquet, but surely you understand that ‘to passion’ means your granddaughter must master one of the five passions, not all of them.”

In my mind, I thought of the five. Art. Music. Dramatics. Wit. Knowledge. Magnalia was a place for a girl to become an arden—an apprentice student. She could choose one of the five passions to diligently study beneath the careful instruction of a master or mistress. When she reached the height of her talent, the girl would gain the title of a mistress and receive her cloak—an individualized marker of her achievement and status. She would become a passion of art, a passion of wit, or whichever one she was devoted to.

My heart thundered in my chest, and sweat beaded along my palms as I imagined myself becoming a passion.

Which one should I choose, if the Dowager admitted me?

But I couldn’t mull over this, because my grandfather said, “I promise you, Brienna is a bright girl. She can master any of the five.”

“That is kind of you to think such, but I must tell you . . . my House is very competitive, very difficult. I already have my five ardens for this passion season. If I accept your granddaughter, one of my arials will have to instruct two ardens. This has never been done. . . .”

I was trying to figure out what “arial” meant—“instructor,” perhaps?—when I heard a scuff and jumped back from the twin doors, expecting them to fly open and catch me in my crime. But it must have only been my grandfather, shifting anxiously in his chair.

“I can assure you, Madame, that Brienna will not cause any trouble. She is a very obedient girl.”