An unsettling quiet filled the air as Katherine sat at the small table underneath the tree in the private garden. Sipping her tea and watching the clouds roll by slowly did little to ease the tension.
“Um, Y-Your Majesty?” Asked Jordan, sitting uncomfortably on the opposite side of the table, “Are you sure it’s alright for me to be in here? This area’s reserved for royalty only.”
“But you are my guest,” Katherine replied softly, tired from all the recent events but refusing to vent her frustrations on the young boy. “And as a guest of the Queen, you are allowed to be in here if you are accompanying me. Or do you wish to leave?”
“N-No,” Jordan blurted out becoming quiet again. “I-I just want to help out in any way I can. But I’m afraid I won’t be of much help to you. I mean, I have no combat training or physical skills that could help.”
“You have one thing Jordan,” Katherine interrupted, a friendly smile playing on her face as her green eyes gazed at the royal assistant. “You have a kind heart, something not many people possess. You were willing to kill a Prince in order to avenge your Queen being taken away, regardless of the consequences. That takes a great deal of courage, Jordan.”
Jordan took in Katherine’s words, looking once again to the ground as a wind rustled the tree above them.
“You love Queen Terrya, don’t you?” Jordan’s eyes widened in embarrassment as his face reddened.
“No, it’s not like that,” He wailed, shaking his head to deny the statement. “I don’t ‘love’ love her but...”
“I understand,” Katherine laughed, “You don’t love her as Abigail loves Romeo, but as a mother figure of sorts. Have you lived without knowing a mother?” Jordan nodded.
“Well,” Katherine continued, “It is natural then to understand why you felt this way. Based on what your father must have told you, Terrya seemed like a nice person.”
The now calming atmosphere was interrupted as the doors to the lounge opened and Abigail entered, quickly walking towards Katherine.
“Katherine, a carriage’s approaching. We think it could be Nikz and the others and...” Abigail drifted off as she spotted Jordan. “Who is he and what is he doing in here?”
“This,” Katherine said, standing from her chair, “is Jordan Almark. He’s a guest of mine in this place and someone close to Terrya. I’ll accompany you to the gates.” Katherine then turned to Jordan. “As for you Jordan, I want you to return to you quarters and remain there until I send for you.”
“Uh, yes your majesty,” Jordan replied with a quick bow before hurrying out of the lounge. Katherine then turned to Abigail.
“Let us proceed.”
The hallways echoed with the sound of footfalls as Ales and Shards were escorted by two guards towards the entrance hall of the Palace. Shards remained quiet, but hopeful despite Ales’ blade being held at her neck.
Neither she nor Ales had spoken a word since Ales had negotiated his terms of escape. With Riku’s voice joining Katherine and Romeo outside the door, Ales had agreed to release Shards in exchange for free passage out of the capital. Whether Ales or Riku would uphold their agreement, Shards did not know, but the fact she would be free soon was more than enough to put her mind at ease.
Stopping at the top of the entrance hall stairs, Shards looked down to see every royal currently residing in the Palace gathered below her, all of them wearing concerned or disapproving expressions. Ales’ hand gently pushed against Shards’ back, moving her towards the stairs.
“Well well,” Ales said with his smug smile in full effect. “What a gathering we have here today. It’s been far too long since we’ve all been together like this. I mean, you even managed to find Ginny!”
Shards eyes widened, instantly rising from the floor to scan the familiar faces before her, and eventually she found the brown curls and framed hazel eyes of Ginny, looking back at her with equal amounts of happiness and sadness.
“Ginny,” Shards whispered in disbelief before Ales reminded her about her situation by pressing his blade a fraction harder against her neck.
“Let her go Ales,” Riku stated loud, clearly expressing his anger.
“Nice to see you to Riku,” Ales replied sarcastically, “But Shards isn’t going anywhere unless I see a carriage roll up outside.”
“It will be here soon,” Romeo stated dryly, his eyes narrowing as a hand rested on the handle of his sword.
“Ales,” Katherine asked, stepping forward now, “I will only want to ask one question. Why are you doing this?”
“To reform Incasta,” Ales replied, his tone of voice now becoming much more serious. A few gasps were heard as the effect of Ales’ words sunk in.
“But what do you mean reform?” Angel asked.
“All of you must understand that the time of Kings and Queens has passed. We are the only true monarchy left on the continent and as a result, Incasta refuses to advance because of our stubbornness and traditions. That’s why I’m going to change everything, and in the process forge a stronger Incasta.”
“And Terrya?” Lydia asked.
“Every government needs a figurehead that the masses like. Terrya will be mine. Although, it wasn’t my idea for her to leave the country, she decided to do that herself. I just gave her the information she wanted.”
“You’re insane,” Riku muttered in disgust as the carriage came to a subtle stop outside.
“I never expected any of you to understand, Ales said as he pulled his sword away from Shards neck. Shards did not waste the opportunity, and immediately ran into an embrace with Ginny.
“You will never be allowed back here,” Katherine stated as Ales began slowly walking towards the exit, “And your title as a Prince will not spare you from punishment.”
“Well then it’s a good thing that I’ve abdicated my position for the throne, unlike a lying family member we all know and trust that never had the right to do so in the first place.”
“What?” Strawberries and Riku asked simultaneously, while Shards looked away as a feeling of failure passed over her. Ales turned around, now facing all other royals with his back to the exit, his arrogant smile restored upon his face.
“You should all know the truth about our dear little Duke, of how he is not bound to us by blood. Riku was not born into our family and his mother was not a Queen or Duchess, but a common wench who was too poor or sickly to even care for their son.”
“ENOUGH!” Riku roared, drawing his sword and charging. Ales saw this coming and easily blocked Riku’s swing, and struck.
“Riku,” Nikz practically screamed as Riku looked down to see a blood red stain rapidly expanding from a knife embedded in his side. Riku’s grip on his sword all but vanished as it clattered at his feet. Riku took a laboured step away before falling back.
“Damn you,” Romeo growled, but before he could draw his sword Katherine placed an arm in his way.
“Enough of this,” She shouted, fully exerting her authority as Queen, “Both of you!” Ales looked on with an indifferent look on his face as Riku lay bleeding, with Nikz, Strawberries and Shards now at his side.
“Very well,” Ales replied, sheathing his sword and turning for the carriage, “But in return for sparing him, I will take my leave.
“I bid all of you a good day, for the next time I see any of you I will lay siege to Astraea, and everything you stand for will burn.”