Crown of Thorns
Nadia’s set to take over the throne her father’s prepared her for her entire life. But what if everything she thought she knew, including who she is, was a lie?
I’d always been fond of my father. His subjects respected him for being an honest king, and the voice of reason in every difficulty he was faced with. To them, he was the problem solver, but to me, he was that and more. He’d taught me so much over the years, from personal opinions to advice, which I hope to carry on in my reign as well as he has done, as he continues to do every day. As the oldest child, I stood to inherit the throne, and while the thought sent my nerves off in a dance, I knew I had my father and his legacy behind me, wrapping around me and holding me up in difficulties to come. But for now, I’m still learning.
Since I was younger, we had a tradition where we spent every weekend doing an activity of my choice. In a simpler time, when I was younger, it would be simple trips to my favorite ice cream shop during the summer, or a day spent ice skating on the palace’s frozen lakes during the winter. A walk through the palace grounds colored in every shade of orange, red, yellow during the fall, and a picnic in the same grounds, full of greenery and blooming flowers in the times of spring. As I grew, so did the importance of these times together; it was our time away from the castle, away from the duties and all I had to learn about. In those moments, we weren’t a king and princess, we were just family.
“Nadia,” my father calls, stopping me in my tracks on my way to the kitchens.
“Yeah, what happened Papa?” Now that I see his face, I see an undertone of… guilt? What is going on? “Your Mama and I…” I stiffen at the mention of my mother as he takes a breath. “…We have something to discuss with you later.” His eyes no doubt take in my suddenly shifted manner.
“It’s important, Nadia, and we must talk about it as soon as possible. Meet us in the Grand Library after your trip to the kitchens.” His eyes briefly soften into small smiles as he says the last bit, before they turn grave again.
“Alright, Papa. Of course I’ll be there, but what’s with the seriousness? I’m not in trouble, am I?” my mind raced to think of anything I’d done recently that warranted a meeting with both my parents.
He shakes his head. “You’re not in trouble, but let’s just talk this over when you get back, alright?”
He seems quite uncomfortable about whatever this is. I nod and walk out, my tendency to overthink getting the best of me and already rushing to stack lines of possibilities together. Knowing my mother’s going to be there is unsettling. She’d never treated me as Papa did, who always looked out for me in addition to teaching me all there was to know about the Crown. She was sharper, shrewd, nothing like my father at all.
I push open the heavy door to find my parents sitting down at the plush seats in the center of the library. While my father’s face appears lined with the same sorrow as before, bordering on guilt, my mother seems to be holding back a smile, settling for a small smirk instead.
“Oh she’s here!” she says, the gentleness pronounced more than needed.
Papa wordlessly slides a folder to me, willing me to open and read its contents. I do so, curiosity eating me from the inside out.
Inside are two pieces of paper, and my eyes latch on the words printed there, continuing to read on, sliding ahead against my will.
The thought forms against my will, hardening in my mind and becoming a truth I refuse to accept. A bomb’s been released, falling as I stare, a rising horror building up in my mind as my heart rate skyrockets. A fear going beyond control, yet paired with the dread knotting at the pit of my stomach, the thought that this is inescapable weighing down in the place of gravity. I can’t run from this. It’s an inevitable event, crashing down on me, on the rest of the world.
My parents aren’t my parents. It’s all going to go to ruin. Rubble and dust will be all that remains, and no one will be left to witness it. And yet the world still stands. I’m still sitting here in my seat in the library. My… parents sitting across from me, their faces obscured by the blur in my eyes, threatening to take over and spill down my cheeks. Or maybe they’ve already begun to. The bomb doesn’t even exist, and I’m not even sure the rest of the world is. My whole life’s been a lie, what’s another? What’s anything, even? My parents aren’t my parents. My memories are fake. Nothing ever meant anything and I’m living a life that isn’t mine.
I’m 5 years old again, skating at the lake with the figure I’ve called Papa as long as I can remember. All those moments, all the time I’ve spent in his study, trying to follow in his footsteps…
That’s when a thought strikes me, a dagger thrown and pinning down a page about to fly away, a thought trying to sneak out.
My position as heir.
Each week when my mentor Sam and I meet, Sam will give me some random prompts, photos, or words to try to inspire a creative writing idea. Once I hear something that sparks an idea for me, I let her know that I’m going with that one. We then talk about all the different ways the direction of the story can take to make sure I’m not limiting myself and am thinking outside of the box. Sam then gives me time to start writing on my own before we discuss it together.
For this piece, the prompt was about a protagonist whose parents tell them they aren’t really their parents. For me, fantasy is the genre I’m most comfortable with and passionate about, so when I heard the prompt, I decided to twist it so that it takes place in a supernatural realm. This way, my protagonist finds out that not only is she not related to her parents by blood, but she’s also not going to inherit her dad’s throne as she thought she would. As soon as that idea clicked for me, I was able to get it out onto the page.
Haniyyah Usmani is a high school senior in NYC! She’s currently feeling the load of college apps, but otherwise she loves reading fantasy (Holly Black>>>), designing formal wear (for the company she’ll create one day), and creating short pieces of writing (in the fantasy genre) inspired by prompts she comes across scrolling on Instagram!