This journal, written by current Serene Princess Katéa of Hosquerre, chronicles her thoughts and experiences in the days before going through the Queen's Judgement, and shines a light on the country's unique succession practice.
The Journal of Princess Katéa
In four days, I will have to face a Riftcrawler. Either it kills me, or I take my place as heir to the throne of Hosquerre. This fight has been looming over me for my entire life, but it always felt so far away, you know? But suddenly I’m about to turn eighteen and this monster is looming over me like a tsunami about to break.
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
One of the reasons why Hosquerre is a nobler, more powerful nation than our neighbours is that we test our monarchs before they are allowed to take the throne. Places like the Taalorang Empire will stick anyone in charge if they have the right parents. I am the eldest daughter of the queen, but I can’t become queen myself until I prove my worth.
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
The above is mostly just a summary of what I learned from my history tutors growing up. As the day of my own battle approaches, I did more research and found some other information.
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
All my life I’ve known that I would eventually have to go through this event. As it gets closer, I’ve realized that I don’t know exactly how it will work. My desire for minute details to fret over has led me to conduct thorough interviews with some of the more elderly palace staff. They’re old enough to have witnessed both my mother and my grandmother’s Judgement, plus they walk slow and can’t escape my questions.
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.
There are only a few rules.
- 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
My mother demands I do it on my eighteenth birthday, as is tradition. That is the age I have to be to rule without a regent. I suppose it’s better this way; might as well get it over with, right?
One of the most disconcerting feelings is the knowledge that people you have never met before are placing bets on whether you'll live or die. Gambling at the arena is generally legal, but gambling on the Queen’s Judgement is, not that that stops anyone. In my research binges, I found some reports of arrests for peon'tple who were caught betting on my mother’s Judgement. They don’t just bet on whether she wins or not, but about how the fight will go. I wonder what the wagers are on me?
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?
ApparelThe day after tomorrow is the day. I went to the Proving Grounds today to get outfitted for the fight. I’m to wear a simple dress of Fisé Blue. I understand the reasoning of wearing that colour - it's the royal colour, and this fight is meant to confirm my place in the royal lineage. I can't help but think that it's wasteful to wear such an expensive outfit when it's likely to get ripped up and splattered with blood.
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.
Editor’s Note: The following page was ripped out of the scroll and found under the bed in Katéa’s room several months later
Day After Tomorrow -
I’m going to die. I’m going to die. I’m going to die. I don’t want to do this. I’m halfway through packing my bag. I’ll slip away tonight and run away to Jausai. I feel like I’m going to explode from how much I’m shaking tonight and this probably isn’t even legible. Screw all the blasted audience who will come in, tipsy and laughing, shoving pomegranates and figs in their stupid faces while I try not to get killed. I don’t want to do this!! I’m so [expletive removed] scared.
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.
I am trained in combat. I never enjoyed those lessons, but I performed dutifully, knowing this battle awaited me. I’ve watched other warriors battle riftcrawlers, and listened to all the advice from my instructors. For the last few days, I've been interviewing every warrior I could find who has fought one and compiled a list of things to keep in mind for the fight.
Rules for Fighting a Riftcrawler
Number One: Stab it in the underside. Their backs are too hard and protected by spines to be pierced by any weapons. Their mouths are vulnerable, but that’s why they have those giant fangs around their mouths. The only viable way to kill them is to use a long spear and impale them in the underbellies. Which brings us to…
Number Two: Don’t get underneath it. That’s where the stinger is.
Number Three: Keep moving. If you stand still, they’ll shoot a glob of their sticky saliva at you. It thickens quickly, and will keep you glued to the ground like a tar pit. Once I saw someone get their arm glued against their body in a battle. He… didn’t make it.
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
TrepidationToday is my birthday, but I have never felt less like celebrating. All I could stomach for breakfast today was a piece of naan. The street party is already making noise beyond the palace, wile I spent most of the morning cuddling with my cat. It's so sad to think that if I die today, he won’t understand what happened and think I abandoned him.
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.
VictoryI did it! I’m shaking again as I write this, but this time it’s from excitement and disbelief. The shadow that’s hung over my entire life is finally been banished. The riftcrawler is dead and I am alive. I am going to be the queen of Hosquerre someday!
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 LiesMy mother lied to me.
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.
The Queen's Judgement
A 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