The Queen's Judgement
The Journal of Princess Katéa
I’ve decided to embark on a research project. If I’m going to die in a few days, I want to know exactly why, and how, and maybe what I can do to not die. Actually, scratch that, the ‘not dying’ part is my main priority here.
History of the Queen’s Judgement
The tradition began before The Fourth Reckoning, with Queen Amyala of the small kingdom of the Hosque people that existed before Hosquerre. She was a frequent competitor in the arena games that already existed around Tamanhāmi, which was the capital back then. Once she took the throne, she realized that her experience in the arena was the reason for her wisdom and leadership abilities. Because she had experienced that sort of life-threatening combat, she could more wisely decide when to deploy troops and had an intimate understanding of the worth of a life. Along with that, her victories had given her self-confidence and proved to her contemporaries that she was powerful and a worthy leader.
Amyala decided that her experience in the arena was so integral to her growth into a queen that she insisted her daughter participate as well. She refused to acknowledge the princess as her heir until she had several notable arena victories under her belt. From there, the tradition continued.
Over the next few generations, arena combat turned from a tradition to a requirement. Although that kingdom collapsed after the Reckoning, the first queen of Hosquerre instituted the tradition again as a way to demonstrate that our dynasty is its rightful successor. She streamlined the requirement, so there is only one battle a princess needs to win. Hosquerre’s greatest glory is reclaiming Upper Hosquerre from the monsters by walling off the Rift. If someone is to inherit this legacy, she has to prove that she is also capable of conquering the monsters. Thus, to be judged worthy of inheriting my mother’s throne, I must defeat a riftcrawler in the arena.
What Wasn’t in the History Books
There have been 10 women to partake in the Queen’s Judgement since it began about 200 years ago. I was surprised to learn this, because I know my family lineage back to the Reckoning, and only 8 women have been queen, including my mother. Of course… this means that 2 of the women who partook in the Judgement didn’t survive.
It was very difficult to find information about these women. I had to go back to old family trees and birth announcements from almost two hundred years ago. Gods, I used up so much lamp oil in the library…. Anyway, the first one to die was the second person to partake in the Judgement. She did it when she was 16, and the riftcrawler killed her. I double-checked the other records, and it seems like after her, the age was lifted to 18. Her younger sister did it a few years later and succeeded, and she’s the queen I am descended from. That woman’s granddaughter was also killed. I don’t know if records of the dead were shoved under a rug out of grief or embarrassment.
The good news is that no one has died since that second woman. The bad news is that this event has a 20% fatality rate.
How it Works
The event will take place at noon on my 18th birthday. This much I knew, but apparently the celebration in the city will begin at dawn with a street festival. I got a lot of details about the delicious food the stalls always serve, and had to wrangle the old man’s memory back to what I was actually asking him.
The street party isn’t really for me. Matches in the Proving Grounds are always popular, and the Queen’s Judgement only happens once a generation (or, well, twice a generation if someone dies…). People treat it like it’s the biggest sporting event in twenty years, and I guess it would be pretty exciting if you didn't have to deal with the prospect of getting eaten that day.
About an hour before noon, everyone will filter into the Proving Grounds and start getting seated. There will be some warm-up matches to get everyone hyped-up – probably some executions with sabre-tooths and then the standard sword-junkies competing for wealth and glory.
And then, it will be my turn. I’ll walk to the centre of the arena and try to ignore the thousands of eyes watching my every move. Across the ring, I’ll watch the drawbridge clink down over the moat that surrounds the ring and watch the spindly legs of the riftcrawler emerge from the darkness. It will be just me, a spear, and the beast.
- I’m only allowed to bring a spear and a shield into the arena
- No one else is to help me or enter the arena until the beast is dead
- I must kill the riftcrawler for it to count – it can’t merely be wounded
- I have to do this before I become queen.
- I am not allowed to leave the arena until one of us is dead
Betting on how many times it throws me to the ground?
How many times I get cut on its fangs?
On whether the shield will last for the whole fight?
On whether I’ll cry?
But then, maybe there's an element of psychological warfar in it. Fisé Blue comes from the venom of riftcrawlers, which is harvested only after they're dead, so it's a little like going into battle wearing its dead friend. Which is kind of creepy now that I think about it....
Other than the outfit, I have sandals and leather bracers for my arms. That’s all. I asked the outfitter if I could have proper armour, and his response was less than reassuring.
“No point,” he told me. “Anything thick enough to have a chance of stopping its stinger will be so heavy it reduces your mobility. You’re going to want agility over durability out there to avoid getting caught in its saliva.”
So that’s great.
Day After Tomorrow -
But if I run away, I can never see my family again. I can never come home again. No. I’m not a coward. I’m so scared I think I’m going to throw up, but I have to get through this. I have a duty to this country to stay and become the queen they deserve. I can only do that if I go through this battle. Ok. I have thrown up and it took some of my anxiety with it. After this, I think I can go back to bed and maybe not have nightmares. I can do this. We all die eventually, and I would rather do it as a princess of Hosquerre then a shamed exile in Jausai.
Rules for Fighting a Riftcrawler
Number Two: Don’t get underneath it. That’s where the stinger is.
So, how do you kill one? The trick is to move in circles, confuse it. Use the spear to make jabs at its legs. The goal is to get it to drop to the ground, crushing its tail beneath its weight. It will probably get up again soon, so you have to be fast. Aim the spear for the narrow band of underbelly visible between the legs, accessible while its on the ground. Jam your spear in as deep as you can go.
This will probably just wound it, and it will get up again. It’s bleeding out now, and will be more aggressive. If you can, get it to drop again and stab it again. If you can’t, just stall it until it finally bleeds out.
See, it’s easy!
The Day of the Battle
My mother went through this. My grandmother went through this. Every queen of Hosquerre has gone through this. If I don’t do this, I am not worthy to be a queen. I will do this.
Mother just came to fetch me. It’s time.
Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I’d built it up to be. Riftcrawlers look threatening from the stands, but it turns out that since they’re ambush predators, they get confused easily in actual combat. It kept spinning to try to catch me, eventually falling over from just one jab at its leg.
When it was dead, my mother and the high priestess of Kusat joined me in the arena. In front of the thousands of spectators, my mother smeared a streak of the riftcrawler’s blue blood across my forehead, told me that I was a true successor to the glory of Hosquerre, and placed the crown upon my head. From that moment on, I was no longer just a princess, but the Serene Princess, rightful heir to the throne of Hosquerre.
I’m very proud and thrilled to know the path is clear to eventually become queen. Although, a big part of me is just glad that it’s over with. Now, I am going to head to the feast prepared in my honour. I’m very hungry, since I haven’t been able to eat all day due to nerves.
A Foundation of Lies
In fact, lots of people lied to me. I feel like a stupid little girl. Why didn’t I realize? Why did she let me make a fool of myself at the feast talking about how thrilling the battle was?
There was no battle. Oh, yes, they put a riftcrawler in front of me to kill, but only after they’d drugged it, crippled its stinger, and gave it a starting wound that I didn’t notice because the blood it spilled was absorbed by the black dirt. The monster was old and had been baited that morning into using up all of its saliva. The whole fight was staged. My mother told me the truth the evening after the feast, and said it had been the same for her, and the same for my grandmother, and for my great-grandmother.
Nobody has fought an actual, unaltered, full-strength riftcrawler since the second woman was killed almost 200 years ago. The Queen’s Judgement, that is meant to test the worth of a woman to be queen, is fake. The queen’s right to rule is founded on the belief that slaying the beast proves her worth, and it’s fake! I’m devastated. If my family’s right to be the monarchs of Hosquerre is as legitimate as I’m told, why do we use smoke and mirrors to trick the populace into thinking we’re stronger than we are?
I don’t know what to believe anymore - or who. My mother and the wranglers who neutered the beast were in on it, but who else knows the truth? The cheering fans don't, but how high up in the ranks do you have to be to know the full story? What other secrets hide at the core of this country's administration that I'm not high ranked enough yet to know? I’m starting to wonder what else about my country is nothing but gold leaf on a rotten wooden frame.
- Related Ethnicities
The Queen's JudgementA ceremonial battle in the arena in which a princess mus slay a Riftcrawler to prove she is worthy of becoming queen.
Origin Began as a tradition among the Hosque people; instituted as a requirement by the first Queen of modern Hosquerre
Purpose To link the current ruling family to the past dynasty to prove its legitimacy and to strengthen the people's faith in their queen
Location The Proving Grounds, the primary arena in the capital city
Held on The princess' 18th birthday
Result Either the monster dies, or the princess does