Call her a Queen. Call her a bitch. Call her what you will, Rhea will destroy anyone who gets in her way without a backward glance. Her father was a lord, nothing special. Just an average man with an average gut and a small patch of land in one of the villages north of the Castle(about two hundred miles or so). Rhiannon never learned how or why the predecessors of the Royal line chose her family, or her for that matter. It's not as if they asked her opinion on the matter.
At age eight a beautiful carriage arrived on her father's property. Gorgeous gold-gilded frames, red lacquered wood and silver reins lashed to the most beautiful black horses she'd ever seen. They even spoke to her, called her “Mistress Ysandre” and nuzzled her face until she giggled. She and her family were being summoned. By the King and Queen of all people! She was trussed up in her prettiest red dress - everyone knew the Queen's love of red, it was never a question of trend or season - and already so excited she couldn't sit still the entire week long trip. From the first moment she stepped onto the palace grounds, a handsome man guiding her from the carriage and accompanying her the entire way to the Throne room, little Rhea was in heaven. Of course, there was no such thing as Heaven in Wonderland and Rhiannon was about to get a hard dose of reality thrust upon her.
”Come here child.” The beautiful queen beckoned her with a flick of her fingers. Turned this way and that, Rhea was examined for all she was worth in the space of a few seconds. ”I guess she'll do. She's the same age, correct?” Rhea couldn't take her eyes off of the Queen so she didn't see the response but she felt the crimson nails dig into her cheeks. Queen Sienna drew her gaze back on the small child in her grasp.
”Someday you're going to be my successor.” The smile on the Queen's face was malicious, even when handling a child. The look turned Rhea's blood to ice and froze her stuttering heart in her frail ribcage. ”If you live that long.” The Queen was so clearly disinterested in hearing about the future it reverberated in Rhiannon's ears for a good five minutes while she stood off to the side. “Adult talk”. She hated adult talk. But then there was a clang of armor and the doors swept open, emitting a huge - in her eyes - knight in, you guessed it, red. Something was hiding behind his feet, a flicker of cloth and dark hair. At first the only thing Rhiannon could see was the enormous crimson knight and the blood still splattered on his face. She didn't even bother with the scampering little twig in the background. Then the knight plucked the boy by the back of his shirt and dropped him in front of Rhea. ”Your prince, your highness.” His glare was almost as vicious as the Queen's and little Rhea yelped, jumping back. Terrifying, this place. Beautiful and deadly.
The boy was small and pale with red-rimmed eyes and drippings hanging off his nose. He'd clearly been in mid-tantrum when he was dragged off to meet his future wife. He wouldn't look her in the eyes or say anything at all, just toed the stone floor and clung to the knight's side.
”Achilles. Attend me.” Another snap of those claw--fingers. Rhiannon couldn't believe she'd talk to the man like that, so abrupt and demanding. She didn't understand what Queen meant at the time, just that he was terrifying and she was tempting danger. But the knight brightened and scampered off to the Queen's side, dropping to a knee and taking her hand. ”Anything for my Queen.” He gazed at Rhea and narrowed his eyes. Both of them glared, and the nightmares thereafter were frequent.
But then the King, a kindly looking man greeted her to explain what was happening; her father tried to join in the explanation but was mostly overlooked. Because Rhiannon was young but she wasn't stupid. And she heard the words “Queen” and “arranged marriage” shoved in the jumble of the King's talk. He gestured to the sniveling boy beside her and explained again. Marriage. It took a few more years to understand just what that meant, marriage. Arranged.
Loveless. Caged. Her rights ripped away at the seams.
But to be Queen. To be powerful and beautiful like Sienna. To command men like the King and the Knight with the snap of her fingers. Oh, that power was incredible. Worth dealing with a snot-nosed brat for. And worth suffering the forced marriage. But if she was going to be pushed into a marriage not of her own choosing, she would do it in her own way. Any damn way she pleased.
And that's just what she decided to do.
Cause I can make you every inch a king
When Rhiannon turned twelve she was sent to school. An uppity school for the privileged and cocky. Sweet, naïve little Rhea was poisoned upon entering the hoity-toity school. There was a hierarchy and a line a mile long of people trying to get in good with the future queen. There were also plenty of enemies waiting to rip her heart out and reduce it to ash. Her first experience with the manipulation of others wasn't pretty.
A sweet blond boy with wavy curls found her eating lunch alone one day, and he was all smiles and friendly words. He apologized for all the rude people and accompanied her everywhere, quickly becoming her best friend. They spent every waking hour together and somehow he fell in love. Or so he claimed. He seduced her, serenaded her. Promised her everything under the sun, swore to capture the stars and braid them in her hair to make them shine more beautifully. Three months he pulled her close, crooned over her every breath.
It didn't take long to destroy every last vestige of innocence in her heart.
Eventually he decided to make his “move”. Jokingly, Rhiannon pushed him back and warned him she was betrothed. He was her “defiance” romance, her “to hell with all of you bastards trying to control my life!” scapegoat. It was serious in her heart and she even fantasized about running away. But he kept pushing, kept trying to coerce her. When it was clear she refused and he wouldn't accept that she slapped him hard, drawing on all her strength. ”I may not be committed to this whole 'Queen' thing but that doesn't mean you can reach into my dress. I don't understand what you're doing but don't speak to me for a while.” She'd run off hiding her tears until she made it to her bed chamber.
The next day the entire clan of “nobility” heard the rumors. Lies, all slanderous lies. She was a whore, a sleaze already taking advantage of her “Queen” status even though she was defiling the marriage before it was official, and she'd been dumped on her ass for trying to get with him.
It didn't matter what she said or who she said it to, everyone looked down on her. Ostracized her, as if their two-faced attention wasn't bad enough. That was her first lesson. Trust no one because everyone's out to take you for all you're worth.
So she decided to take everything back. Where before she was quiet-spoken, a girl on the sidelines, she became someone else. Someone new. Someone befitting a Queen.
Her tongue was as acrid as her reputation, and twice as deadly. Three girls wept, one ran back home in the night, and six lost their boyfriends to the future Queen's false promises and coercion. She built herself up and reigned with a deadly glance. The boy who broke her heart and ruined her life? He was caught naked and drunk in the gardens, a red bow tied around his...well, let's just say he called himself a “present” to the highly affronted matron running the school and asked to be unwrapped. He ran home in shambles, and no one remembered his name again. No one dared utter it around Rhiannon though there were whispers she'd been the one drawing him to the courtyard and slipping something into his wine.
Having no proof, their theories went unproven. At sixteen Rhea returned home a proper young lady capable of horseback riding, archery, proper etiquette and ready to take on the world.
Before I do tell me what's in it for me?
Her father got ill a few months after Rhiannon returned home and had to step down as lord. Her mother, distraught with his failing health, was beside herself with worry and couldn't take up the reins. But Rhiannon could.
She turned their little town on their heads, from product production to financial situation. And within a year they were prospering, growing bigger. Attracting new civilians and building a legion of workers under Rhiannon's thumb. Eventually her father did get better but it was decided he'd stay retired--Rhea was doing such a good job, he couldn't dare take that happiness away from her. And she'd already tied everything in her own name as future Queen.
Those small deal with neighboring towns were struck and prosperous. They blossomed, and so did her connections. Soon she was visiting Lords of other provinces, dropping her personal hand-written thank you cards to every well-respected noble in the area. She built up her power and horded it like a fiend, drawing ever more and never letting on just how much hold she held over them. At least not until the blackmail began.
By the time she was nineteen her town's wares were selling for almost three hundred percent more than their actual worth and “gifts” were delivered by most every lord and lady save the Queen. Pleas to not reveal sacrilegious affairs. Bribery to avoid under the table theft from coming up in every day conversation. To beg Rhiannon's mercy not to wipe their names off the face of Wonderland itself.
Nearing her twentieth birthday the Queen visited again, to remind her of her duties. Suffice it to say the Queen didn't stay long and Rhiannon refused - politely - to take a meal or share in her wine. Or take any gift, in fact, though the Queen tried. Whether they were compromised or the Queen approved of her subterfuge and iron grip on the nobles was never found out. The Queen vanished not three years later and Rhiannon never once saw the King or Queen again. When the war broke out, her “beloved” Jack at the forefront, Rhea was safe in her newly acquired mansion built by the blood, tears and souls of her townspeople. The Knave, as he was referred to, was on the outs with her Majesty. He was an anathema and no longer in line for the throne.
More power to him, fighting a rebellion with pawns and children. He being a child himself, she wasn't surprised. She didn't need him for power. She had her own growing alliances and choke holds on those around her. Of course it was a disappointment not to become queen but she never wanted to marry anyway. She'd find another way to gain power.
The rebellion hadn't lasted long and surprise, surprise. Jack won.
Once again she could be a future Queen. Better to give Jack a little ring, remind him of his commitments. After all, it wouldn't do to spurn his betrothed, now would it?
My roses are in your hands
The castle looked just as Rhiannon remembered. Gorgeous, strictly trimmed hedges filled with blossoming red roses. High tiered accolades and that gorgeous spire at the west side which she'd quickly claim as her own chamber. The carriage door clamored open and a young man nervously held out a hand to help her descend. A carriage of crimson, gold gilded wheels and silver reins attached to magnificent black horses - who no longer spoke, sadly, as the speech-gifted creatures were now human. But these beasts did just fine. Her first step on the palace grounds in fourteen years and she was ready. Her finger crooked toward the nicely dressed “card”, as they called them, nearby. ”You. Attend me.” Her ruby red lips curved into a smile and Rhea peered under her long dark lashes, smiling up at the bright-red young man. ”Y-yes miss?” She leaned in close, pressing her lips nearly to the base of his jaw. Her words, whispered, drove a bolt of lightning straight through the quivering card.
”Tell Jack the Queen has arrived.” With that she tipped down her hat, corner of her lip quirked, and strode past the dumbfounded card toward the castle doors.
Her castle. Or it would be soon enough. Semantics.