11 - The Child Queen

When the king dies and his ten-year-old daughter takes the throne, her chosen regent prioritizes his own happiness before the kingdom's health. The new queen must try to take command for herself, lest he ruin the kingdom before she has a chance to rule it.

Valentina is the 10-year-old crown princess of her kingdom. Her father, the king, is sick, and has been for a while; Valentina cares for him as much as she can, and is thus frequently present during and occasionally contributes to his official meetings and decisions over matters of state.

His death is no shock, but it still isn’t easy for Valentina to accept his loss. She’s crowned queen, and her father’s trusted advisor Mateo is appointed as her regent, ruling in her stead until she’s of age. He sends her to the countryside for a few months, giving her time away from the castle to grieve.

When she returns, the atmosphere of the court is very different than it was. Things are subdued, almost depressed, even though there are a lot of feasts and banquets going on. When Valentina asks about it, Mateo explains that everyone is still mourning the king’s passing, and he’s doing his best to keep spirits up.

Later, she hears some of the nobles whispering about Mateo seizing their goods to fund his lavish feasts. She confronts them, daring them to question their queen’s regent in public. They yield, admitting that they have no right to complain, but are clearly just saving the conversation for later. She decides to investigate the dissension in her court.

Valentina knows all of the hiding spots and secret passages of the castle, having played in them all her life. Plus, as a child, she’s often ignored by the adults of the court, and uses this to her advantage in gathering information. She lurks near courtiers as they discuss Mateo’s reign, and hears a number of troubling rumors.

A few months later, one of her favorite handmaidens begins showing signs of pregnancy. This leads to the calling off of her planned wedding, and is in general a huge disgrace for her. When Valentina chastises her for her indiscretion, she breaks down, and reveals that Mateo has been forcing her to be with him, on threat of dismissing her as a servant and throwing her out on the streets. She begs Valentina to have mercy on her and her child.

Valentina confronts Mateo about her handmaiden, and he swears that there’s no basis of truth in her story. He tells Valentina that he certainly will throw the handmaiden out on the streets if she’s trying to spread lies about him, but Valentina convinces him that showing her mercy will help to establish his good name in the court.

The next day, however, she discovers that her handmaiden has been imprisoned for slander and harlotry. She visits the handmaiden in the dungeon and assures her that Mateo will face justice.

Initially, Valentina tries approaching those who’ve expressed displeasure with Mateo’s reign, but as soon as she mentions it, they change their tunes completely, saying they love Mateo, he’s great, and long live the queen. She discovers she has a reputation as Mateo’s puppet, and has to work to overcome that before anyone will trust her.

She starts opposing Mateo in court, and spreading rumors about her and him not getting along. She tries to do this while convincing Mateo that she’s still completely under his thumb, though, by feeding him the idea that she has no real power in court.

Mateo starts trusting her less, but also doesn’t seem to have any idea about her actual rebellion. Meanwhile, she gains allies, as nobles realize that she and Mateo don’t see eye-to-eye, and that favoring her side of things is a path to future power.

Eventually, Valentina has enough support that she can start discussing staging a full coup and reclaiming the throne for herself. Once the nobles realize she intends to take power for herself - rather than just pick a new regent - many of them seem much less willing to help her.

A couple of the nobles shift back to favoring Mateo, which worries Valentina, and forces her to accelerate her plans. She has the nobles loyal to her start gathering their armies, but it’s too late. Mateo acts first, staging a coup of his own, officially claiming the throne for himself. Valentina barely manages to escape the castle, and that only with the aid of a legion of nobles and servants.

Valentina finds herself swept from household to household, from peasant hovel to noble court to merchant’s stall and back to noble court. She’s a little surprised to see how many people are still loyal to her, and are willing to support her.

Once she finally reaches the castle of one of her former councillors, she takes the measure of the armies that are loyal to her. It’s sizable, but no more than half the size of Mateo’s. She petitions a neighboring king and former ally of her father’s for aid, but hears back that the king is throwing in with Mateo.

Valentina knows then that her only chance is to strike hard and quickly, before the king can send his forces. She rallies her people, gathering not just the nobles and their armies, but forming mobs of peasants that bolster her numbers to twice their former size.

She lays siege to her own castle, using her knowledge of all of its passages and hidey-holes to her advantage by showing her men how to sneak inside and open the gate. They retake the castle, and she reinstates herself as queen, refusing to allow a regent.

The foreign king shows up only after the battle has happened, and, seeing that he threw in with the wrong side, apologizes, and promises to support her in the future.