Queen Brione stormed past the guards, the letter that had given it all away crumpled in her adorned hand. "Where is he, my husband?" She demanded of a guard, and the man pointed to the Garden of Tranquil Roses. "Thank you, and would you please find Courtier Terren for me?"
"My lady, the courtier-" The guard began, but the Queen cut across him.
"It is urgent, send him to my chambers." The Queen briskly strode past the guard, towards the garden she and the man she loved had built together. In her hurry, she hadn't even changed out of her riding boots or armour, and the clipped sounds of her boots echoed down the path.
She found him deep within, the King, head bowed at the fountain. It was a wishing well, but there were no coins in it.
Their marriage had been so happy they had never needed wishes.
The Queen paused when she saw him, her expression shifting between enraged and pacified before returning to anger. "Darius," She brushed her hair from her face, coming to his side. "Darius, I've just come from the front." She held up the letter with a shaking hand. "You cannot do this."
The King didn't look at her. Instead, he withdrew a coin from his pocket and dropped it into the well.
Brione reeled inwardly but didn't shift. "Darius, I have been informed that you are going to destroy the village of Merisa, why?"
"Shouldn't you be leading our armies? Finish the war against Freiling Nord?" Darius asked, his voice soft.
"The war is all but won, Darius, you cannot do this. You have everything, their land, their money, soon the head of their queen on a silver platter. This is too much now!" Brione stared him down. determined to shake his position. "You are about to become Emperor of everything on this side of the continent, why slaughter innocents?"
"You heard that prophecy," Darius said, plucking a weed that had sprouted in the garden. "I stand to lose all this," He gestured around the garden. "If that child lives."
The Queen laughed incredulously. "Darius, my love, that was the ramble of a crazed man, you cannot-"
"Can't I?" Darius demanded, finally looking her in the eye. "Hasn't everything else come true? The burning rains? The fires? I think you know as well as I, that the heir of fire has been born."
"Darius, stop it! Those rains were merely a weather anomaly, and this is the season of fire anyways. You are fooling yourself, and you're going to cost the lives of hundreds!" The Queen stepped closer. "We have children, like the children in that village. You've taken away their fathers and mothers, have pity on them now."
"No," Darius said, casting away the weed. "I will never let that prophecy unfold. My children will rule as long as that moon remains in the sky, no blasted halfbreed will revolt against them."
"No halfbreed will have to, the people will! Once you show them that you are a merciless, heartless tyrant, they will rebel on their own!" Brione snapped. "Rescind your order!"
"Who told you?" Darius asked, staring at the letter in her hand.
Brione crumpled it contemptuously and threw it into the well. Ink branched out, its wispy tendrils searching, searching for absolution. "Oh, so you can kill them too? I am not an idiot Darius, I know about the purges. I know you've been killing people left and right while I've been gone. Have you utterly lost your mind, executing all my maidservants?"
"They were spies!" Darius snarled. "Seeking to topple the world we have built!"
"This! This is the world we have built!" Brione shouted, throwing her arm out and looking around at the garden. "One where people, art, beauty could flourish! And you, you are destroying it!"
"Oh, stop! You don't know what it is like to rule! Those meddling creatures were at my door, listening, telling you my plans." Darius picked up the goblet from the fountain and drank from it.
"I deserve to know your plans! Particularly, since this is our kingdom! Not yours alone. I care-I care about you Darius," Brione suddenly put her hand to her mouth. "You are changing, and before it wasn't wrong, but-"
"You once told me I was blind, I didn't see the villains in my friends." Darius reminded her viciously, hating her for the moments that she had shaped and ended.
Brione stared at him, at a complete loss. "What? Erlan poisoned your wine, Sigmund committed treason, I saved your life. Had I known at the time that you would change like this, I would have-"
"What, let me die? Run the kingdom on your own, since you could such a better job?"
"Darius, I have never once said that," Brione said coldly. "I saved your life, because I love you, and the man you are. Back then you were so naive, and they were dangerous-"
"They were my friends. And you had them killed," Darius snapped, slamming his goblet down.
"Would you rather have died?" Brione's hair shook out of her braids. "I simply cannot understand it, first you were delighted, now you are upset over traitors and assassins?" She sighed, collecting herself. "Darius, please. We are ascendant, we have done it! We rule more of the world than the fabled Queen Sarya of Ahten did. We are the greatest civilization known to man, do not make this a chapter of your reign."
"I must protect my legacy," Darius said tonelessly, staring into the distance. "One son of mine has died already, I will not condemn others to that fate."
The Queen's face softened. "It was battle, people die. That-that pain you feel now, imagine that for those villagers, your subjects!" Brione placed her hand against his chest. "Vincy died, trying to stop this war from breaking out, would you really shame his memory by spilling the blood of innocents?"
Darius swept her hand off his chest. "You shame his memory by not seeking the blood of those that did it."
Brione frowned. "I do not recognize you."
"Maybe if you weren't always exploring, waging war, or doing whatever it is you do, you would have known me."
Brione snarled. "You mean bettering our kingdom? You mean bringing the architects who designed the city walls? I have done, far more, than any mother, any Queen of this kingdom has ever done. And this is my reward? A murderous king who refuses my counsel?"
Darius hated her for this, her lack of loyalty, lack of belief in him. "Why can you never support me?!" Darius yelled, "Why can you never aid me?"
"I do support you! I gave away half the power I rightfully had, I gave away my daughter because you wanted a powerful alliance with the savages in the south!" Brione screamed back, every resentment she had buried snapping out. "I abandoned my pride, let you have the throne we were supposed to share! I did all this, for the good man I married!" Brione controlled her breathing forcefully, curling her hands into fists. "And you sidelined me, over and over! You, you couldn't bear that I was better at strategy, it took, 14 courtiers for you to entrust me with the battles! Fourteen!"
Darius' mouth curled. "Listen to yourself, you told me, all this was fine, because you loved me."
"Yes, I love you, but your ambition is out of control! You-you risked the lives of thousands of men, waging war with Queen Casyn, over five hundred have died! Now, now you are killing a village of mothers, children, families. You wouldn't have done that a year ago."
"Queen Casyn is about to bow down to me. Didn't you say that?" Darius smiled. "My ambition is why we are the most powerful kingdom."
"No, it was thanks to me and my men, that your war was won," Brione said, refusing to let him have this too. "You sat here, entertaining the words of a delusional priest! What do you think, his prophecy of you becoming the ruler of the continent is going to come true? Come on, Darius!" She placed her hand behind his head, staring into his blue eyes. "We have so much, why risk war in such a delicate time? Our army will not win again."
"You are too late," Darius whispered, the dark shadows under his eyes more pronounced than ever. "I sent out the army this morning."
Brione gasped, pulling away from him.
Darius spread out his hands. "I knew you were listening, so I didn't tell my generals until this morning. And I already caught your cousin, Lilia cannot spy to save her life."
Brione's eyes were filled with tears as she unsheathed her sword. "Darius, what have you done?"
"My family comes first. That child," He spat disgustedly. "Will never, ever threaten us again. I'm having the remains of every child brought here."
"We are going to have war." Brione stepped forward, her grip on her sword getting steadier. "Darius, you caught one spy, I have eleven of your courtiers on my side. I will oust you, and I will stop you."
"My love, battle has sharpened your sword, but dulled your mind." Darius worked his ring off his finger, letting it splash into the well. "Guards have surrounded us, I have killed all the courtiers. It makes me sad to know that only eleven of them needed to die."
"Darius, I don't-"
"Father Giro told me you couldn't be trusted. And he was right." Darius whispered.
The queen raised her sword at the guards who had emerged from the path and the trees. "Darius-"
Darius straightened the crown on his head and tossed a handful of coins into the well. "I wish that you forgive me in the afterlife, my love." Then the King motioned to the guards, and the Queen clashed at them, desperately.
Darius turned and walked deeper into the rose infested forest he had made.