Alanna was angry. Everything about her screamed ‘fury’, from the grey silk trousers that swished as she marched up and down the corridors of New Buckingham Palace to the blonde hair escaping from her loose French plait and the set expression on her face, which lent an eerie quality to the green of her eyes. It was mid-December and the Prime Minister had just sent her a copy of the Queen’s Speech.
The minister himself, a Richard Matthews who had grown up in a political family, was a nice enough man, but she resented this and the message it gave. The queen was useless. Even her speeches were written for her by the Prime Minister, so that she was able to say nothing she wanted to say and was limited to parroting the main political views of the time. What was she but a figurehead, just there to give the tourists something to stare at? It was only four months since Alanna had become queen and already she was fed up of the crowds with their flowers and cameras at the ready every time she went out in public.
She should have been ready for it, of course, but her mother’s abdication and rapid disappearance had been completely unexpected. At first people had said it was suspicious and she had surely been kidnapped, but Catherine had been seen in her little house in the country, so she was obviously safe. Alanna missed her, but not as much as she missed her old life.
When she was younger, she’d been at liberty to walk around in public without any trouble; it hadn’t been a problem to go to the shops or out to the cinema, for although a few people recognised her from the media it wasn’t a big deal. She was just the princess, too young to be very interesting, with no gossip or scandal to speak of.
Alanna sighed. She was stressed, and this latest communication from New Downing Street put her in an even worse mood, but of course Mr Matthews couldn’t have known: it was just bad timing.
I’m not going through with this charade, she thought, looking at the piece of paper that had been printed for her. The monarch was one of the few people that could still afford hardcopies of everything and she indulged herself whenever possible. I can’t. It’s against my principles.
Making her decision, Queen Alanna marched towards the nearest telecom, which wasn’t too far away. She had insisted when she moved in that one was placed at the end of every other old-fashioned corridor, with their carpets and papered walls. Everybody else made do with brushed steel but traditions had to be observed, here in New Buckingham Palace, or would the tourists think?
“Put me through to Richard Matthews,” she said, when she reached the man’s office. What she heard obviously displeased her. The young man that answered was just that: young, inexperienced and above all not trained to recognise her voice. He asked her who she was. “It’s the Queen, for goodness sake, so put me through!” Wasn’t it enough to be the ruler of the country? Did one have to do something else to get recognised when you wanted to be?
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but we can’t get him to the phone right now. He’s in a conference.” She suppressed a growl of frustration, contenting herself with smacking the metal telecom with the palm of her hand and listening to the ring of the steel. “If it would please your majesty, we could ask him to call you later.”
“No, I’ll call him,” she said, pressing the ‘end call’ button and storming away from the little booth. What was with the world today? Everything was going wrong and it seemed to Alanna that it was all happening to her. The Prime Minister had planned this, she decided. He knew she didn’t want to read the speech and had made sure he was unavailable should she try to call.
Hurrying down the long corridor and taking the stairs two at a time, Alanna went back to her private quarters. They were the only part of the palace that was allowed to look modern, since nobody ever went there, and the curving metal surfaces comforted her because she no longer had to worry about scuffing the carpets. If only more of the palace was like this, she would perhaps have been a little happier.Besides, it would have made a better noise whenever I walked along it in a bad mood, she thought, and felt her gloom lift a little. It made her more cheerful to think of things like that. Although if anybody tramped around while I was asleep I would wake up and I’d probably have them arrested. Perhaps I should stick with the carpets for now.