The Tin Princess – extract

‘Just around the next bend,’ Becky said. ‘Not far now. Just keep going. Lean on me. Stop if you want to. Rest. Take as long as you like. But it’s not far now…’

All Adelaide’s strength was used up. She couldn’t answer; she could barely see; a perpetual whimper shook her chest, and Becky could even see a line of blood appearing, a frightful thing, at the tip of each fingernail. The perspiration shone on her face, and the carefully coiffed hair was stuck in damp streaks to her forehead and across her eyes. Becky reached up to wipe it away, and felt the trembling in her very skull.

At the top of the steps, just around the next bend, was the little parade-ground with the flagpole at the centre, with the platform for the funicular railway at the far side. Nearly there, nearly there… But as they rounded the bend and Adelaide’s poor blistered feet fumbled for the last six steps, a shadow fell across them.

Becky looked up at the giant form, the dark brooding eyes, of Otto von Schwartzberg.
And Adelaide faltered. She stopped. ‘I can’t,’ she whispered. ‘I’m finished, Becky, I want to die, I can’t do it…”

Otto von Schwartzberg’s expression was inscrutable; he might have been planning to strike her dead or to lift her in his arms to the summit, and no one could guess which; and such was his colossal presence that no one – not even the Count – knew what to do, for a second or so. And the flag was drooping, drooping…

Then, into that stillness, a figure leapt from the summit of the Rock and landed lightly in. front of Otto von Schwartzberg. Fair-haired, dishevelled, bleeding, with torn jacket, he stood tensely in front of the giant. He was grasping something in his left hand.

‘Move,’ he said. ‘You’re in the Queen’s way. Move at once.’

No one had spoken to Otto von Schwartzberg like that before, in any language. He stepped aside, and Adelaide took the last steps on to the platform, and the whole city saw the flag appear, and the whole city cheered.

The Eagle Guard – the sentries who patrolled the Rock day and night – sprang forward as the Count barked at them, and took the Adlerfahne from their Queen’s hands just as she sank in Becky’s arms, unconscious.

All around there were scenes of extraordinary jubilation. Hats were thrown into the air, the flag rose proudly up the flagpole, the roof tops and the Rock echoed with cheers and the little explosions of firecrackers and a fanfare from the trumpets of the Eagle Guard. Where Otto von Schwartzberg had gone, no one knew. The Count was concerned about Adelaide, but in Becky’s reticule there was a bottle of smelling-salts. She found it, uncorked it, waved it under Adelaide’s nose, and the stinging shock made the girl draw away and shake her head. She opened her eyes -they fluttered, they blinked – she looked up, and saw the Red Eagle flying in the blue air.

‘I done it,’ she whispered.

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