By Bonnie Thompson
The young queen had many lovers, in the time before she made her kingdom great. But all of them left her.
Instead she devoted herself to her subjects, who built the city for her. When the first raid shattered their sovereignty, they fought bravely. They repelled the foreigners, but at the cost of many of their fiercest warriors, whose bodies lay strewn across the barren land outside the walls.
The survivors regrouped. They reinforced the fortifications, adding revetments and tunnels, shrewd bits of engineering to foil the next round of attacks. Zealous crowds rallied in the pavilions, pledging their fealty: to what was right and true and just, and to what they lived and died for, which was her.
She led them steadfastly, and she created works of marvelous beauty. Her retinue beheld each one, admired it, and had it carried out into the city. Her surpassing talent awed her subjects and reinforced their belief in her true and inevitable majesty.
She held the sad secret close to her heart: how every work owed its soul to one of the beautiful black-eyed suitors who had fled with her when she was the virgin queen. In the cloistered chamber she had retreated to, she wove her life together with each vanished paramour’s, reimagining his power, his valor, and prowess upon the field.
She eked these memories out for years, which spooled into decades, as she grew frail.
The suitors would never return. She had understood that eventually. She had come to accept that as queen, she would spend her nights alone.
Her attendants adored her. They fetched her everything she needed and cosseted her with luxuries, some of these obtained from the burgeoning city’s raids on others. Any of her handmaidens would have forfeited her own life to safeguard the queen’s. Even so, they could never truly understand who she was or the endless demands of divine right.
She was fond of them; she depended on them. But no one would ever compare to the black knights, who she dreamed of still. Whose memories would never leave her, not till the day she died.
The memories were all used up; the winged males’ sperm was depleted, and she could produce no more eggs. Then the ant queen’s body dried out, her once-lustrous chitin dull, her sensitive antennae frayed and broken.
The loyal workers felt her all over with their own antennae. Then they carefully dismantled her body and removed it from the colony, so that death would not corrupt her last batch of eggs. One of these would yield the next virgin queen.
That one, too, would be young and beautiful. She would fly off with her own escort of winged males. They would couple with her on the mating grounds and then die, all at once, and she would break off her wings and dig the hole that inaugurated her new city, which her industrious workers, when they hatched, would expand into a metropolis.
Then she would withdraw to the regal chamber and begin her confinement. Again and again she would tell the tales of her brave knights, parceling out her memories from her secret stronghold, sustaining herself, as she grew old alone, with her moments of glory, for as long as she could make them last.
An Ant Queen! Didn’t see that coming. Thank you for this delightful story.
Thank you, Ephra Behn! I’m glad it worked.
Lovely surprise – I thought it would be a remixed tale from olden times, not something I see in my garden every year! Well done!
Thanks, Lois! I love that you think of this in terms of your garden.
Great twist and a tribute to those hard-working ants.
Thanks, Sue! And yes, ant society is amazing.
Queen Elizabeth the 1st meets formicidae (that’s Latin for ants!)??
Thank you, Stephen!
Everything you write gets me from the get go. Kudos, beautiful!
Thank you, Lizzy! That means a lot to me.
Kidding me? Fuggedaboutit
A thoughtful and humanizing take on the life that happens beneath our feet. And, too often, our notice.
Thanks, Sammy! And well said.
And biologically accurate! You kept it shrouded for a good long time, only an entomologist would have suspected early on. Fun reading! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you, David. It’s wonderful to get an entomologist’s perspective–and a relief!
If you wrote this in May 2021 and Ed Wilson read it while he was still alive, he would have found your number, he would have called you up, and he would have buzzed with conversation and admiration.
Just saw this now, Morgan. This is literally the best thing ever. Now I wish . . .