This is the opening scene for a novel I’m planning temporarily called Dark Queen Rising. (While I love the title, it gives away spoilers. XP) Enjoy. :)
Roran paced the library, stiff black boots sinking into the maroon carpet with every step. He rubbed the back of his neck, focused on his steps and the speech he was muttering. He prayed the words wouldn’t escape him once he got out there.
When the door opened two minutes later, Roran jumped and his brown-eyed gaze shot to the newcomer. It was just a member of the guard, crisp uniform as polished as everything else in this place.
“It’s almost time,” the guard said. “Follow me.”
Roran did as he was told, trying hard not to pull at his collar. He momentarily wondered why he was even doing this, but quickly dismissed the thought. The people of this province needed a good leader. He wasn’t at all certain that he could be that leader, but he had to try.
The guard led Roran into a well-lit dining hall, where two others already stood, looking far more comfortable than he did. One was a tall woman in a sleek red dress and dramatic makeup, both in contrast with her pale skin and dark curls. She wore several rings on her fingers, all gold. The other was a man probably in his mid-twenties, only a few years older than Roran, with dark hair and blue eyes. He wore a starched black suit similar to Roran’s own.
“You must be Roran Brance,” the woman said, her lips curling upward. She walked over, sleek as a cat, and extended a hand. “I’m Clissa Hiara.”
Roran shook her hand, heart rate speeding up. This was one of the Hiaras? “Pleasure to meet you.”
“I’m sure the pleasure is all mine.” Her smile widened, showing perfect white teeth in contrast with her dark lipstick.
The other walked over and extended a hand in turn. “Caiden Berkeley.” The man looked Roran over, sizing him up, as they shook hands. “You don’t look much like a politician.”
Roran chuckled, nerves getting the better of him.
Christian stepped back and looked out an open set of French doors to the terrace beyond. The current prime minister, Trell Paust, was in the midst of giving an introductory speech to the hundreds of people gathered outside his manor, and Roran turned his attention to Paust’s words.
“…People of the Trell Province, I do hope that you’ll reelect me and allow me the privilege of being your prime minister for two more years. Thank you.” He stepped away from the podium and turned toward those in the dining room with a broad smile.
Caiden leaned over and muttered to Clissa. “He shouldn’t have ended the speech with a request.”
Roran’s throat constricted. He’d been planning on ending with a request. Should he not?
“Now,” Paust said, “allow me to introduce the other three candidates in this election. First, Miss Clissa Hiara.”
There were cheers and applause as Clissa smiled and stepped gracefully onto the terrace, standing in front of a chair set up for her.
“Second, Caiden Berkely.” More applause as he moved to stand beside Clissa.
“And lastly, Roran Brance.”
There was deafening silence as Roran stepped onto the terrace to stand next to Caiden. He tried to smile, but his nerves were frayed and he knew he looked just as terrified as he felt. What a way to start a political campaign.
“The first to speak will be Clissa Hiara. Please give her your full attention.” Paust smiled again and took a seat across from Caiden and Roran.
As Clissa stepped up to the podium, Roran tried to focus on her.
“Good morning, dear people of the Trell Province. I am, as has been announced, Clissa Hiara. It is a great honor for me to stand before you now, running for prime minister. I have lived here in Trell since before that was its name, I have come to love the people and the places…”
Roran zoned out. Clissa’s words faded into the background as he looked around at the crowd. There were so many people, so many eyes that would soon all be focused on him. It was petrifying to think about. He turned his attention instead to those who weren’t paying attention. Men and women yawning, having only come out of a sense of duty, and children whose parents had brought them along either out of necessity or to acquaint their children with the political early. One little girl was looking right at him, and when he met her gaze she waved at him with a smile. He smiled back.
The remainder of Clissa’s speech and Caiden’s were a blur of fear for Roran. He couldn’t focus, which simply perpetuated his fear. I can’t do this. I can’t focus. I can’t speak…
Too soon, Trell Paust was announcing his name.
Roran swallowed hard and stood, walking over to the podium, trepidation weighing on him like a yoke. He put his hands on the side of the podium and swallowed again, looking down at the blank wood of the stand and then out at the ocean of faces. His mouth was dry. His brain worked, but his mouth did nothing. He watched, feeling helpless, as people began to mutter to one another.
Finally his words came, squeaky though they were. “Dear-” He cut himself off to swallow again in an attempt to wet his mouth. “Dear p-p-p-people of Trell.” His brain stopped. He had nothing beyond that. His heart was racing. “I have live-lived here since I was born. I’ve gotten t-to know th-th-the people here.” He strained to pick out a familiar face in the crowd. His parents, perhaps, or his sister. “I know th-th-the struggles and t-t-t-trials you face.” He thought he heard people laughing in the audience and felt his words catch in his throat. “I’m a member of your community. I’ve been among you. I work on a farm with my p-p-par-parents. I know what it’s like t-t-to…” What was he even supposed to say? He’d had a whole speech prepared, but now? He swallowed past a lump in his throat.
Roran heard harsh whispers right before a little girl climbed through the terrace fence and took his hand. It was the same little girl who’d smiled at him earlier. He smiled down at her.
“You’re doing wonderful. Keep going.”
Roran looked back out at the crowd. “I… I don’t know how t-to do th-this. I just know I want to help. I had a sp-p-speech, but I… I don’t know what happened. I just want to help the people of T-trell. We don’t need another shady p-politician. We need someone real.” Roran stepped back from the podium, the girl keeping her grip on his hand. He looked down at her. “Why’d you do that?”
“You looked scared. Holding someone’s hand helps me when I’m scared and I wanted to help.”
As Paust stepped back up to the podium, there were a few scattered claps for Roran’s speech, but nothing consequential.
Roran smiled at the little girl. “Thank you. What’s your name?”
“You should get back to your family, shouldn’t you?”
All the light drained from her face, but she nodded, released his hand, and headed back through the terrace fence into the crowd.