"Sir Rokton was spotted today." observed Queen Drica, her face hidden behind a tattered stack of papers. "Ah, and just a week ago, the b*****d child of Brighnt was seen. My reports tell me he now lives happily in an orphanage." Sir Solne could see the tip of her forehead wrinkle and crease. "A certain lady by the name of Koline was found with her head still attached. Now, can you be so kind as to tell me what my orders were? What did I tell you to do to the three I have named?"
"You wanted them disposed of." stammered Sir Solne, his flickering eyes darting across the floor, avoiding her gaze. Her eyes are behind the paper. Why am I so afraid? "I...They swore to never oppose -"
"Swearing means nothing." interrupted the queen calmly, her gaze burning through the paper. Solne felt a shiver sliver up his spine. "A man will swear and vow to eat the world in a single bite if it meant he could live, even when he knows fully well he cannot. Now, what were the rest of my orders?"
"You wanted..."
"Yes? I wanted...?"
"Their heads, My Lady. You wanted their heads."
"And where, pray tell, are their heads? I have three bare pikes outside the castle. They're angry, you know, they were promised heads to warm their cold steel tips."
"The heads... are still breathing and thinking. They are still attached."
"I see. So that leaves one last question." A booming snap filled the room as the sheets crashed against the marble floor. "Why," wondered Queen Drica, rising up from her throne chair. "Are they still alive?"
"Because they did not deserve death!"
"Who are you to judge that? I am the queen!" roared Drica. She slapped her hand through the air, as if knocking away Sir Solne's argument. "You will follow my orders, or I will have her killed!"
Veanil. The man's legs began to tremble beneath the weight of her threat. "You cannot harm her, you swore-"
"Swearing means nothing, I believe I already told you that."
Solne swallowed his cowardice and tore his eyes from the floor. He turned them towards the queen. Her crimson gown was gilded with gold, and coiled tightly around her, revealing her frail and bony figure. Sadly it is not the body that I fear. His eyes met hers and he instantly looked away. They are black. They shame the night and are the envy of every shadow. They were what controlled and instilled fear in all her subjects. They crumbled men and castles all the same. Voktric once tried to stare into them when speaking to her. He glanced over at the hanging, upside down skeleton chained to the wall. Her eyes killed him. I don't know how, but they did. He remembered how Drica had laughed when his body convulsed and dropped to the ground. She had his corpse bound to the wall as a reminder to all who would dare look at her. "You basilisk." hissed Solne.
"Excuse me?" snapped the queen.
"You rule with your eyes, you rule with fear and death! You cannot call yourself a queen, you cannot even call yourself a human being!" accused Solne at the floor. "You are a monster!"
"Watch that tongue of yours. From now on, every word against me will be a nail in your wife's stomach!" threatened Drica, her shriek shaking the room and rattling the skeleton on the wall.
Fear and love stitched his lips together. Veanil...My love, my life, my future...do you know what sacrifices are being made for you? He remembered her as a strong woman, always laughing and optimistic, yet guilt would destroy her. He recalled when she had accidentally stepped on a frog and then locked herself away for a week as punishment. How would you feel if you found out how many innocent people have died for you? How many are going to die for you? He grimaced.
"Now turn away and leave." demanded Queen Drica, seating herself down upon the throne chair. "Bring me their heads, and your wife will receive a hearty meal. Maybe I'll even give her a bed."
"Promises mean nothing." echoed Solne.
"That is one nail." counted Drica, holding up a single finger. "One nail in her stomach."
Solne's own belly pulsed with pain and regret. Perhaps if I speak enough, I can guarantee her a swift death... The man raised his eyes from the ground and focused them on the foot of her chair. "You wicked beast!" cried Solne, his lips tearing out from the bindings placed on them by Drica's threats.
"Two nails!"
His eyes slivered up the gilded legs of her chair. "You disgusting monster!" barked Veanil's husband.
"Three nails!"
He glared at her armrest, and at the weak, pale arms lying across them. "You vile b***h!"
"Four nails!" roared the queen, jumping up from her seat. "Four nails!" she repeated, her voice cracking beneath her own anger.
"You despicable creature!" growled Solne, his eyes glued to her neck. He glared fiercely into it, trying to choke her with only his gaze.
"Five nails! No, ten nails! Ten nails in your wife!" howled the raging queen, her face burning redder than her gown.
"You..." Solne's legs quivered. "You..." He dispelled the fear and stomped a foot down. "You hideous demon!" thundered Solne. He glared into her eyes.
"Eleven nails!" shrieked the queen, staring back into his. "Twelve! Thirteen!" continued Drica.
Do not look away. Do not look away! "I'll kill you!" exploded the man, drawing his sword from the scabbard on his waist.
"Put that toy away, or there will be twenty nails in your wife!"
I can end this. "Shut your damn mouth!" ordered Solne, stepping forward.
"Guards! Guard!" The towering throne doors remained shut and silent. "Guards! Get in here!"
They hate her. We all hate her. "Your reign is over!" bellowed Solne, charging towards her with his sword poised over his head.
"Kill me and your wife dies!"
"If I kill you, I can save her!" corrected Veanil's husband, closing in on her.
"Stop! I'll kill her!" vowed Drica. "I'll-!" Her words turned to blood as Solne's blade ran through her chest. She gasped and gagged as her fierce eyes began to dull. "You...!" Bony fingers clasped onto the man's arm for a moment, then loosened and fell. "Fifty nails...Fifty...!" She vomited blood onto her gown. "Nails..." Her head slumped over and her blood soaked body jerked back into the throne chair. Drica's lifeless eyes continued to glare at him as he wrenched his sword out from her corpse. With bloody fingers, he closed her eyes and tucked his blade back into its scabbard, not even bothering to wipe off the blood.
"Lovik! Hyovin!" called Solne, approaching the throne doors. Perhaps they would have helped had she learned their names.
"Yes?" answered two voices from behind the wooden doors.
"Will you open the doors for me?"
"Are her eyes closed?" wondered the shaky voices.
"Yes, they cannot see nor kill anymore."
The great doors creaked and moaned as they opened. Natural light flooded the room, drowning out the weak candles that circled the queen's room.
"She's...!" gasped Lovik, brushing his shaggy blonde hair away from his eyes. "She's really dead!"
"Sir Solne, you are a hero!" praised Hyovin, bowing deeply before the man.
Solne gave an awkward chuckle as he begged them not to praise him. "Instead," he suggested, stepping out of the room and into the hallway, "let us round up her prisoners."
"They are in the dungeons below. Madam Yivine has the keys."
"Then let us find her."
"And then what?" wondered Lovik, his voice low. Solne glanced at the two guards and remembered how young they were. Children. They are mere children...
"And then we're on our own."
"Will we be alright on our own?"
He gave them a weak grin. "Yes, I swear." A true swear. Probably the first real swear they've ever heard. "Let's go. We have many cells to open."