by L.C. Woodbury

It comes down to this: there’s blood in her mouth, and on her hands, and on the marble floor. Coppery on her tongue, slippery under her feet. The blade in her hands is heavy, but not half so heavy as a crown, a mere shadow of the weight she’s readying herself to bear, and so she holds it steady. There are bodies covering the ground, a sea of them stretching between her and a towering throne of dark marble.

And on the throne sits a king.

This is the man who’s ruled since before she drew her first breath in this life, since before her own mother did. This is the man who sent her brothers and sisters to war when she was still an infant in the cradle. This is the man who sat behind locked doors for a year and feasted while a blight swallowed up her father’s crops.

This is the man she’s come here to kill.

“Girls know that they can bleed. The world does not let them forget it.”

He wears a crown, and she wear none. They say he’s older than the mountains, and there are nights she still feels barely older than the fledgling bird trembling on the edge of the branch. Here she is, all heartbeat and hatred and hope, in dented armour, bloodstained and bruised, before a king carved from iron, a king they say can’t be killed. Her hands should tremble. Her heart should stutter.

‘What is one sword against a mountain?’ asks the king. ‘One girl against a king?’

Her hands should tremble. But they do not.

One step forward. Two steps. Three.

Her heart should stutter. But it does not.

The sword shines in midair as the last light of day breaks through the cracks in the walls, and the king looks up at the blade. It is easy, too easy, to forget that kings have hearts, and easier still to forget it when you are the king. If you believe you cannot be killed, you are already dead. If you forget that you have a heart, why should it continue beating?

But girls are not kings, and girls do not forget their hearts. Girls have hearts that shift and ache and bruise and keep on beating. Girls know that they can bleed. The world does not let them forget it.

‘A sword is nothing against a mountain,’ says the girl, and she swings.

There is just enough time for his triumph to rise before the sword comes down. There is just enough time for him to choke on it before he dies.

‘A sword is nothing,’ she repeats, to a room full of bodies, to a dead king, to her heart, to the war all around her that she is ending as she speaks. ‘It is the wielder who makes the difference.’

Her hands do not tremble as she lowers the sword, and when she presses her bloody palm against her chest, she can feel her heart beating for her, for a kingdom, for all that is to come, and even amongst all the gore, bruised knuckles and bloody lips, there is glory in the endurance of that beat: steady, steady, steady.



Lillian Catherina, also known as L.C. Woodbury, is a writer with a love of cats, thunderstorms, and all things mysterious, from the depths of the ocean to the board game Clue. She writes novels, short stories and poetry, and her dream is to write someone’s favourite book someday.

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