“May I have some of this?”
“You should have buzzed if you were hungry; we would have brought something up.” Dina knew as well as she did that Alanna would never do that. She may be the monarch but she was determined to remain ordinary, to continue serving herself as she had done before even though there were a dozen people working for her just to prepare food, and others to clean and polish. It hadn’t seemed so bad whenever she was here during her childhood but now she felt constricted, held in.
“Whatever. Can I have some?” She was already tearing into the loaf, knowing that no one would stop her. “You make the best bread, I reckon. I say, Dina, do you know how I can get through to the Prime Minister without him getting mad at me for bothering the secretary? He’s in a conference.”
“Ah, that Richard Matthews, he’s a riot.” The cook laughed, her enormous stomach shaking with mirth. “We were at secondary school together, would you believe it. He couldn’t cook to save his life, and I should know: almost burned down the labs, he did, when we were making pastries.” She wiped away a tear of laughter and returned to the subject. “No, I’m afraid not, short of finding out his personal mobile number. Have you tried the dep?”
“Nothing.” Alanna finished the bread and stood up to leave, but found herself being plied with other foods. She didn’t really want to eat, but the staff looked so desperate that she took a spork from the drawer and dug in, internally laughing at their expressions of delight.
“You do enjoy your food, don’t you?” said Miss James, looking a little concerned. “You’re often a little slow at dinner and I was wondering if there was something wrong with it. If you want us to change anything, you mustn’t hesitate to say so, all right?”
Alanna smiled at her, appreciating the gesture. “It’s because I eat so much during the day,” she explained. “And I’m not getting as much exercise as I used to, either, what with not being able to go outside alone in case I’m assassinated or something. Like that’s going to happen. London is the quietest place ever.”
“It was never like that when I was young,” she grumbled. “You youngsters don’t know how lucky you are. Why, I remember hearing tales of days when people had to lock their doors at night and there were murderers on the streets all of the time; nobody was safe, you know, and we were all in great danger every minute.” She shrugged and looked at the innocent, naive little queen. “Of course, times have changed.
“I heard it’s still like that in the suburbs, though. Blackheath was terrible, wasn’t it? Oh, and Sidcup of course, people are always getting stabbed there. To be honest I sort of wish I lived there. It’s so much more interesting and the shops are better.” It was a cry that, two hundred years previously, had been completely unheard; Sidcup, a small town in the South East of Greater London, was once voted the second most boring place in England, but she didn’t know that. Nobody did any more. “I should be going. I’ll see you soon; I need to talk to the prime minister.”
“Try in the morning,” suggested Dina, but she already planned to. It was absurd, really, to think that she would have to read this speech. There was no way she was playing the part of the puppet in which they had cast her, and if they didn’t like it then they would have to catch up because she was a new queen and she wasn’t going to be a pushover.
Dangerous thoughts. Alanna knew that she would have to take this slowly. There was no use demanding absolute control because it would never be granted, as the government was too used to making its own decisions, though she felt that they hardly did a very good job of that. She’d be far better, she decided, and it wouldn’t be too much trouble. The public need not know. Perhaps they could just try it out for a while?
Daydreaming happily, she returned to her own room and pulled out the little reader from the drawer. It was small and compact, with a low-glare screen so that she could read a whole book without fearing for her eyesight. Alanna loved to read. It suddenly struck her that it was a long time since she last dug into a good novel, and she was disappointed in herself, so she decided to rectify it and skimmed through the menu to find what she wanted. She had around five hundred books on that particular reader, though the others had more. This, however, was her favourite and so contained only things she knew and liked.When her personal assistant came up an hour later to call her for dinner, Alanna was completely engrossed in a book, enjoying reading about the exploits of various teenagers during the twenty first century. It was fascinating, really, what they did to entertain themselves. And as for their schools - the idea made her laugh. Compulsory sport, and science, and maths? Not a chance, for now there were only the subjects that you were assigned and not everybody was made to take the same things. Oh, but she would have given anything to have had the chance to go off to one of these universities and specialised in Music. Nowadays that was frowned upon and people thought it was too narrow. She hadn’t even had the chance to study, though she hoped if she could find a Regent she would be able to later. If being Queen took away her education she didn’t know what was wrong with the world.