Some of you may remember Royce from the recent interview I did with her, Zoe and Ashe. Royce is a tormented woman by the time this short story starts. She’s just killed a man who didn’t deserve the death he got, and she easily could have loved. Though she’s been commanded to continue with her mission of death, she’s having a hard time sitting aside her grief for Amunas, and that struggle is going to place her in danger. Here’s the start of her next chapter.
Even in the purity of sunlight, she could see the red. Her hands shook as she raised them to her face, mesmerized and horrified as she ran her fingers along her palms, watching it drip down her arms. She could feel the weight of her sword, understood the sudden unbalancing of herself as she drove the cold steel through a monster’s body. She was gentle with him, ridiculously so. Even impaled, he could swipe her with one of those clawed hands and poison would flow freely through her veins. She fixed on those eyes as they slowly melded back into something resembling human, guilt settling over her tenfold. It had been in that moment of weakness and vulnerability that she’d allowed herself to think of him, not as a monster, but as a man. She had killed a man, one caught in a terrible spell that robbed him of humanity and life.
Her vision cleared, even as her mind clung to the memory. It would haunt her for the rest of her life, stealing sleep and peace of mind. But she offered no complaint to the gods, and did not go before the Mother to ask that the memory be dampened or stripped from her. It was punishment for what she had done, regardless of how noble her reasons.
She returned to packing, attempting to dismiss the memory, and failing as she did every time. It retreated from the forefront of her mind, but hung as a storm cloud over a flooded river, ready to renew the deluge.
“I am sorry to have placed this burden on you.”
Royce stood straighter at Kiah’s voice, but did not turn around. Instead, she fixed on a point on the opposite wall as Kiah glided toward her and perched on the edge of the bed, arranging the shimmering gold of her dress. The queen glowed, as she always had, her skin radiating a kind of eternal health that could only come from a direct blessing from the gods. And Kiah was more than blessed.
Royce could not find words to respond. She could not reassure Kiah that she was well, for she was not. But neither could she doubt or question the duty given her.
“I gave it to you because you have always been the strongest among us, Royce,” Kiah’s voice was soft, somewhat pleading as she offered an explanation Royce did not want, “I’d much rather have you by my side, but… You know how dangerous these men could become.”
“I know,” Royce replied stiffly, returning on her menial task, keeping her eyes fixed firmly away from her once-friend.
Kiah smiled a little. “When it is done—” she was careful to avoid speculation that Royce would still be alive at the end of the campaign, “I would have you rest by my side, and never be troubled again by things of this world.”
Deadened anger jumped through Royce. She had never been able to stand apart from the world and its happenings, even when they had been children, tucked away in their village. Even if she knew how to step back and watch the world work without her, honor bade her to influence, to build up and tear down. Rest—she gave a sharp, bitter laugh—would only be found between this life and the next.
“I am your sister in all but blood, Kiah. This life will never afford me rest, even after this. Do not give me honeyed words.”
Royce tossed her pack over her shoulder abruptly, a rude way of dismissing the queen, and turned for the door. As she reached for her walking staff leaning against the wall, Kiah replied from behind her,
“The warrior Amunas’ death has affected you deeper than you would admit. Must I command you to have a care of yourself?”
Royce felt only remorse as Kiah spoke his name. She did not want to be idle any longer because within that idleness was the torment of memory. What she needed was more action, more challenge. More blood on her hands.
“You may be the queen of a newly born empire, Kiah, but you have never had the strength of will to command me.”
The door closed on the queen, leaving her alone with her thoughts and sending Royce back to the road.