Mare stared at her sister from her place on the ground, the cold heaviness of chains weighing her down as a multitude of emotions tore through her. Shock mingled with anger in the pit of her stomach, but the feeling that outweighed them all was the gnawing pain of betrayal. Betrayal was something she had felt many times in her life, from when her youngest sister was killed by one she had trusted. Her best friend, who had never cared for her. The boy had only pretended to grow close to her in an attempt to grow closer to the throne, and he had. She had felt guilty of that day ever since then, not bothering to listen as her family tried to convince her it hadn’t been her fault.
“You couldn’t have known.” Her father would say to her, his crystal blue eyes having not strayed from her tear-streaked face.
Mare would not look away each and every time he had said it to her, responding with the same words. “I was naive.” She would tell him, because it was the truth. Trust was not a luxury the royal family could allow themselves, and yet, she had done so anyway. Despite the warnings of her father, her mother, and her older sister, Athena.
How true those words seemed to her now, how ironic. Looking back on it now, it seemed as though her sister had been trying to warn her all her life of the betrayal to come. During her years of growing, Mare had assumed the warnings came from her sister’s own experience, or, once Ayla was killed, she had turned to that possibility but now she knew it had been so much more than that. The quiet whispers of warning that Athena would give her. ‘Careful little one, remember, trust is something you must give to no one. Not even those you believe you should trust the most.’
“You were trying to warn me, all my life weren’t you?” The words came quickly as Mare fought to keep the tremor out of her voice. She had no wish to appear weak. Her sister did not deserve that satisfaction.
Athena turned to face her, the woman’s perfect lips curled into a crude smile. Her eyes coldly studied Mare for a moment before nodding. “It is a shame you didn’t understand. You could have fled before it was too late. It would have cost far less for our family if you had.”
The words cut through Mare’s shield, like shards of glass as she looked up at her sister, a terrifying sense of foreboding digging into her and twisting her insides into knots. The way her sister was smiling, with nothing but pure glee on her face, made her panic grow as the words echoed in her mind for a long moment. ‘Cost our family far less…’ She didn’t want to ask, and apparently, she didn’t have too as her sister seemed to guess.
Athena’s eyes widened into saucers, her face morphing into an expression of mock pity. “Oh dear, have you not guessed by now? I thought our parents must have picked you to rule because you were smart, but I suppose the years of misplaced trust should have proved me wrong.” She drawled on, her eyes still locked on Mare’s. When Mare did not utter another word, Athena clicked her tongue. “It really is a shame.” She murmured once more before continuing. “Those years of betrayal, little one, were not simply bad luck. They came from years of planning.”
As her sister continued, the truth began to dawn on Mare. The raw, horrible truth that she wished she could erase from her mind. The betrayals had not been her fault. They had been her sister’s.
Athena’s pitying expression left her face as she saw the realization dawn in Mare’s eyes, and her cold smile returned. “You see, when it was made clear that my years of work before you and Ayla were born was going to amount to nothing. No throne, no power… well, I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t bear to sit back and watch as someone far younger than me, with far less experience, and training became Queen instead of I.” She paused, watching as a tear fell down Mare’s cheek.
If Mare had been able to, she would have wiped the tear away, again not wanting to give her sister the satisfaction, but instead, she had to let it fall. It burned as it trickled down her cheek, as though all the pain she had gone through throughout the years was collected into one singular tear.
“For years, my plan was set into place. Originally I had thought having Ayla killed would be enough to offset the plan for you to become Queen. Mother and father always were quite protective of you.” As Athena spoke the words, Mare could hear the bitter jealousy there.
Over the years, Mare had not noticed the pain her sister must have been in, but now she realized. Their parents had cherished Mare, far more than either of her siblings. She supposed it was because she had never fussed. Never once complained about the lessons, nor the lectures, she had been the perfect daughter. Though for Mare the constant words of encouragement from her parents had felt pressuring at the time, she could now imagine a younger version of her sister, wishing for even half of the attention that Mare had been overwhelmed by. The thought made her both incredibly sad, and sick to her stomach. If only her sister had talked to her… She could have done something. She was pulled out of her thoughts as her sister’s hand caressed her cheek, tilting her chin up to realign Mare’s gaze with her own.
“When I saw that my first plan had failed, I knew what I must do. I tried to change their minds at first, but that quickly proved useless. I knew then that the only way for me to ascend to the throne would be if they were dead, so I had that arranged as well.”
With those words, Mare couldn’t help the gasp of pain that ripped through her. The pain of losing her family. The pain that had gradually been building within her, held back only by the fragile dam that was slowly splintering. She had known her sister was smart, even that she could be cruel at times but this… She had never known anyone could be capable of this kind of evil. “What you must do…” She choked out, echoing her sister’s words. “This is not something you had to do Athena, you… You killed our entire family on your mission for power.”
Athena nodded slightly, her hands dropping from Mare’s face as she straightened. “Yes.” She said, without pause. “I did. And I would do it again. This throne is my birthright. I am the eldest, I was trained for the longest. It is mine.”
Mare tried to speak, to find the right words to encompass all that she was feeling, but nothing came to her. For a moment of silence that felt as though it stretched on forever she could not speak a word. Finally, though her gut wrenched and her throat went dry she managed to speak. “I trusted you.” The words burned with red hot anger as she spoke them, pouring every ounce of malice into them as she could as though the purity of her anger could harm her sister.
For just a moment, a hint of the sister Mare knew crossed Athena’s face but it was gone so quickly that Mare could barely register that it was real. “My sweet naive little one…” Athena began, bending down so that she was once again on Mare’s level, her face inches from Mare’s. “I always did warn you against that, didn’t I?” With a delicate finger, she reached out, brushing a few more tears from Mare’s face with a mockingly gentle touch before standing. “Perhaps I’ll let you live just long enough to watch as your little kingdom falls into step behind my lead. It would be fun to see your reaction.” Athena mused quietly before looking towards the guards standing watch at the door. “Take her away.” She ordered, turning away without another word as Mare struggled against her bonds.
It was at this moment that the dam broke. The tears flooded from her eyes without any attempt from Mare to hold them back. Everything in her life, all those she had lost, it was her fault. It was her fault for trusting the one person that she had believed in the most. “I believed in you.” She managed the strangled words as the guards circled their arms around her. She said the words so quietly that she was unsure whether her sister had heard her.
“I know.” It came as a whisper so quiet, that as Mare was dragged from the throne room, she wondered if she had imagined it. Deep in her heart, however, she knew. Her sister had meant those words. That was the hope she clung onto, the only thing that kept her from giving up as the days passed by slowly in her cell. The hope that maybe, some small part of the sister she had loved was still in there. That if she held on just long enough, her day would come.
She waited for far too long.