Another current work in progress that I love. I’ll be buying it when released, and if it comes to Steam, I will be gifting it to some friends.
This is a one-shot, and no major spoilers if you played the demo.
Queen Katherine sat astride her horse, worry marring the face of the young monarch. Her opposite number, King Erwan, awaited her in a tent set half-way between each army. She was about to order the gates to open when a hand grasped her wrist. She’d seen the owner of the hand break bones and kill many foes, but now it was as light as a feather, reminding her of her mother’s caress.
“Your Highness,” Sir Arnold said, then in a much lower voice, “…Katherine…at least let me go with you. Please.“
Katherine’s small hand patted that of her instructor and friend, “I know, but I can’t. If we are to make peace…”
“But can they be trusted?” Sir Arnold asked, his eyes focused on the one person to leave with Katherine, the southern born Princess Astryn.
“One can,” Katherine said, steel infusing her voice in a manner Arnold was still unaccustomed to, “Open the gates.”
The mechanical monstrosity groaned as levers were pulled, and gears started to creak. Once fully opened, the two youthful royals, bid their horses to go forward. All was quiet other than the hooves of their mounts striking the ground.
Astryn’s emotions warred with themselves. She was going to see King Erwan and all the rest, and yet another part wanted to find some way to grasp Katherine’s hand, to urge her back to the safety of the castle.
“You have a beautiful horse,” Astryn said by way of conversation, hoping that it might calm her concerns about the meeting with Queen Katherine and King Erwan, “What’s her name?”
“Shadow,” Katherine said, patting the mare’s mane affectionately, earning a whinny at her gesture.
“Shadow?” asked Astryn,”Interesting name for a…”
“A brown horse?” smiled Katherine, “I get asked that a lot, but you will be the first to know why.”
Intrigued, Astryn leaned forward slightly as Katherine continued, “You know I was the fourth child. Only two times in Rhivenian history has the youngest been chosen to rule. My father, Richard, Atheris…it always felt like I was in someone’s shadow.”
Astryn’s lips quirked slightly, “Your secret is safe with me.” She looked ahead nervously, fear gripping her as Erwan and his friend Allen entered the tent first. “Are you sure you want me here? Surely you know how it will look…”
Katherine reached out, squeezing Astryn’s hand, “I think you should know by now that I am not concerned by what others think of me. And I…I trust you implicitly.”
Astryn shivered at the touch, aching to reciprocate it, but didn’t as she felt both sides focused on the two of them. Instead she dismounted, opening the flap of the tent to let Katherine go in.
It took a moment for the women’s vision to adjust to the dim light. Katherine took the seat opposite Erwan, a table separating the two of them by a mere foot. He smiled as Astryn took standing position to the side, “Between the two of us, I want to thank you for keeping Astryn safe.”
Katherine blushed slightly, “I made a promise: no one would harm her ever gain.”
“And yet that didn’t extend to the scouts you captured, did it?” Erwan said with a frown.
Katherine wilted slightly under his scrutiny, but nodded “If I had known, if I had any say in the matter, I wouldn’t have allowed it to happen.”
“But the one who did it, are you going to bring them to justice?” Erwan said righteously.
“And would you do the same for the ones who butchered Daemir’s men?” Katherine said, fury in her tone, “I know not all his men died in combat; you aren’t the only one with spies in their enemy’s camp. What about chopping off their head and sending it back in a sack? Was that your idea?”
Erwan blanched slightly at the young queen’s fury, while Allen turned his head aside when he felt Astryn’s gaze fall upon him. Then all the anger left Katherine’s body, sadness making her seem much older than her seventeen years displayed.
“Lady Isabelle should be tried and hung for her crime,” Katherine said, “But it is hard to conduct a fair trial in a time of war?”
“Fair trial?” Erwan sneered, “Was my father given a fair trial when Charles had him killed? When my mother had to run for life?”
“No, they weren’t,” Katherine said, momentarily shocking Erwan with her agreement, “Nor was it fair when you and yours poisoned my people. Men, women, children, all who died so you could get at my soldiers.”
“It is war; there are always casualties,” Erwan said, though Astryn couldn’t help but notice that some of it sounded like deflection.
“Maybe so,” Katherine said, “And yet, I’m willing to it go. The bloodshed must stop; otherwise, years, decades, maybe longer of violence will continue. What would it take for you to agree to peace?”
Erwan gazed at Katherine, feeling a bit unsettled. Something about her told him she was sincere. Before Erwan could say anything, Allen laughed, “Can you believe this? How could the Rhivenian’s choose someone so…so…foolish…to assume the throne?”
Astryn grimace since she had said much the same thing many times before. She wanted to say something, but Katherine stopped her “They didn’t; that was the Sword. And you aren’t exactly the first one to say that about me. You won’t be the last.”
Allen let out an exasperated laugh, “Have you no pride? Why…”
Allen stopped when Erwan put a hand on his chest, “Enough. You want to know what it would take for there to be peace? Only the death of Charles’ heirs will suffice.”
Katherine tilted her head slightly, “Would one heir curb your vengeance? The one you see before you?”
Astryn felt sick to her stomach, hating the way the talks were going, and yet something told her that Katherine was sincere in her offer.
Silence filled the tent as Erwan weight the offer, then he shook his head. “I’m afraid the answer is no. But I should thank you for at least making get the first one a lot easier.”
Erwan launched himself across the table, grabbing Katherine tightly by the arm, while Allen firmly pressed downward, preventing Katherine from rising. However, their actions proved useless as Katherine offered no resistance. Astryn was paralyzed for a moment by this action, but found her hand hovering toward the hilt of her sword.
“Don’t,” Katherine told Astryn, offering her a gentle smile.
“But,” Astryn tried to say, seeing looks of dismay on Erwan’s and Allen’s face.
“It’s alright,” Katherine said, as the two men brought her to her feet, “I knew they had no intention of honoring the peace.”
“Please,” Allen said, “trying to sound like you expected this after your capture…it doesn’t look good on you, your highness.” The title was said with such sarcasm, Astryn was slightly taken aback by the emotion.
“If anything, you should be thanking us for doing you a favor. Did you honestly think you could rule without getting your hands dirty?” Allen added.
“No,” Katherine said, “But at least I will be bringing down those who would do my people harm.”
Katherine said this with such conviction and certainty, it gave Erwan pause. He immediately started to look around the tent, expecting someone to emerge from underneath the folds. His action stopped when Katherine began to give a mournful laugh.
“Poisons are funny thinks don’t you think?” Katherine said, “So many people in my life dead because of them. It only seemed fitting that I should dip my toe in that hellish brew, don’t you think?”
“What do you mean?” Erwan asked, when Allen suddenly collapsed to the table, his eyes starting to bulge while his right hand clung to his throat. Then Erwan started to feel a tightness in his chest, and he slid back into his chair, trying to remain upright.
Katherine coughed slightly, and a small drop of blood dribbled down her chin, “Whatever they say about me, at least it won’t be hypocrite. You were dead the moment you laid hands on me.”
Astryn felt a great sadness and terror fill her chest as those near and dear to her started to die around her.
Katherine laid her head on the table, eyes gazing on a distant shore the living can’t quite see. “Astryn…are…are you there?”
“Yes,” Astryn said, grasping hold of Katherine’s limp hand, but this didn’t seem to register with the dying queen, “Why…why do this?”
“I…I can’t see…hear…it doesn’t matter,” sputtered Katherine, “The Sword…not chosen…for…war…but…you are safe. You…antidote. I live…no one will harm you…especially me. Maybe…maybe with us gone…maybe that is e…e…n…o…”
Katherine closed her eyes for the final time while Astryn considered what she could do. As it was, she was the sole ruler of the southern alliance. Maybe, Astryn thought as she made her way to the Southern lines, maybe Katherine bought enough time to forge a new peace, however tenuous especially if it was true the next Rhivenian king or queen got the previous one’s thoughts.