The Crown

The Crown by Colleen Oakes Read Free Book Online

Book: The Crown by Colleen Oakes Read Free Book Online
Authors: Colleen Oakes
Tags: Fiction - Fantasy
grinned. “Dinah, c’mon. . . .”
    She pulled her cloak over her pale-gray dress lined with red hearts and tucked her long black braid back into the hood. “That’s the last tart you will ever get from me. Who are you to lecture the Princess of Wonderland? No one, a lowly stable boy.”
    Wardley pushed his hair back from his forehead and gave her a knowing smile. “Alright, but I’ll still be hungry tomorrow.”
    “Dinah, wait!”
    Her heart throbbed in her chest as she turned back to him. He leaned against the side of Corning, his face close to hers, whispering, “You can’t say anything like that about your father again, unless we are outside of the palace, or in our box in the Heart Chapel, do you understand? I’m serious.”
    Dinah saw a rare glimpse of fear in his chocolate-brown eyes. She gave a sigh. “I won’t, I won’t say anything to get you in trouble, I promise.”
    “Good.” Wardley gave her shoulder a friendly squeeze. “I enjoy having my head.” He pulled Corning over by his red reins and mounted up. “Will you come see me again tomorrow, after training?”
    “Perhaps. If I have time. I probably won’t. Tomorrow is the Royal Croquet Game.”
    “Ah yes, your favorite day of the year.”
    Dinah grimaced. She hated the Royal Croquet Game. “Perhaps I can find a way to hit Vittiore with my mallet.”
    “Go easy on her. I think your father scares her. She seems terrified all the time.”
    “He should scare her. She’s a bastard child, unworthy of a minute of his time. I hope she dies of wheezing fever.”
    Wardley looked off into the distance, focused on something Dinah couldn’t see. “You don’t mean that. So, you’ll visit me tomorrow, maybe after croquet? Or I’ll see you at the game.”
    Of course, of course, her heart sang, I will see you every day! She gave a shrug.
    “Good. Before I forget, I have something for Charles. Can you give this to the Mad Hatter himself?” He handed Dinah a tiny wooden seahorse. He had whittled it himself; there was truly nothing Wardley couldn’t master.
    She turned it over in her hand, admiring his craftsmanship. “He’ll love it.”
    Wardley wheeled Corning around and out into the winter air. “See you tomorrow!” he declared. She smiled and waved as he joined the ranks of Heart Cards, marching in silent formation toward the courtyard, their steps echoing in harsh, single notes. Xavier Juflee patted him hard on the back as they galloped to the front of the line.
    Dinah tiptoed out of the stable area, back into the circular labyrinth. As she rounded the endless curves and switchbacks of stalls, she allowed a smile to play across her face. One year ago, in the bright Wonderland sun, Wardley had given Dinah her first kiss, a light brush of his lips over her top one. They had been under the Julla Tree, a massive red skeleton with silky mulberry leaves and buzzing black fruit that opened and closed every hour. As children, they had climbed the Julla Tree hundreds of times, to play Tribes and Cards, or to spy on the ladies’ bathing quarters. Now, they escaped to the leafy shelter to have a minute of stillness with each other—Wardley from his endless training, and Dinah from her lessons and, sometimes, her father.
    It had been summer then, and Dinah was sixteen years old. The lunch trumpets had sounded from the Royal Apartments and Dinah had reluctantly dropped the fruit she had been snacking on and slipped down the tree. Her ankle twisted at the bottom and she fell, cutting her leg open on the tree’s thorny roots—fat fingers that twisted up from the ground to protect the tree. Wardley followed her and gently wiped the blood from her leg with his hand.
    “Are you okay?” he’d asked, holding her leg in his large hand. Dinah gave him a brave smile, though she felt like sobbing. She didn’t want Wardley to see her cry, even though he had several times—like when Vittiore had a costume ball thrown in her honor,

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