“She is only a woman. You must show her that you are in control. Don’t let her get you with her schemes.”
“But I have heard that she has the will of her mother and the courage of her father.”
“Rumors! Just follow through with our plans. She will not—”
Large doors swung open at the end of the counsel room and Vin-Shylvia, new Flamelord of Vithr, entered. Everybody fell silent as the ruler seated herself at the head of the table. She adjusted her gown slightly, then looked at the Hearthlords and Flamewardens expectantly. All stood and bowed deeply in her direction, before seating themselves again.
A man, Shylvia recognized him as Flamewarden Hein-Novana, rose to his feet and spoke, “Firelord, we, the royal court—”
The queen cut in. “Unless you forget, Flamewarden Hein, my parents’ death has no left me as Flamelord, not Firelord.”
“Excuse me. A slip of the tongue, Flamelord. As I was saying, we wish to offer our condolences—”
“Condolences don’t find murderers, Flamewarden Hein,” Shylvia snapped. “How goes the investigation into my parents’ death?”
“Investigation?” Novana asked hesitantly. “They died… Well, he died of a heart… That is, the doctors said…”
“My father was a healthy man. He was murdered. There was no doubt about it. Now I ask again, how goes the investigation?”
Nobody in the room spoke.
The new queen stood, proud, straight, and tall. “If you, Flamewarden Hein, are not capable enough to perform this investigation, I will have somebody else replace you as Flamewarden of Truth.”
Novana shared a glance with his conspirator. Quickly, he stood up and bowed respectfully. “In no way, Flamelord. I apologize for this lapse. I will set our best investigators on it at once.”
“Good. I trust that your loyalty will lead you to make more preemptive decisions in the future.” Shylvia stared icily at Novana until he was forced to drop his eyes.
“There is going to be chaos,” Shylvia said, looking around the room. “Hearthlord Rhin, and Hearthlord Lorin, I understand that your armies are large and well disciplined. I ask that you loan them to my generals for the time being so that we can maintain order in the kingdom. Do you have any objection?”
The two Hearthlords in question stared at the table for a moment before responding in the negative.
“Excellent. Hearthlord Shin, Hearthlord Poin, and Hearthlord Nain, you will keep your armies on standby. I fear that there are those at our borders who will seek to attack us while they think we are weak.
“There was no enmity between my father and the Asyther Everking that I am aware of. But my scouts tell me that our peoples are uneasy, and it is exactly this kind of an event that could set us at each other’s throats. We must be prepared for the worst.”
“And what is the worst, Flamelord?” Hearthlord Shin asked tentatively.
Shylvia looked around the table at the assortment of Hearthlords and Flamewardens. Nobody looked at her. Some shared glances with each other, while others just stared at the table.
The instant the last Flamelord and Flamewarden had left the room, Shylvia underwent a transformation. Her straight, powerful posture lost its strength, and her bright, flashing eyes, dulled. She sank in her chair, and let out an exhausted sigh. The burden of ruling a kingdom had been abruptly thrust upon her by an entirely unexpected event, and already her subjects were trying to depose her.
She had not even had the time to mourn the demise of her parents. News had only reached her a brightmoon after the incident, and it had taken her an equal amount of time to return to the kingdom. Not only that, she’d had to abandon her developmental work in the South side of Vithr, as well as the diplomatic agreements with the Borander chieftains whom she could’ve sworn were about to agree to her terms. It was all too much to bear.
Shylvia had not been very close to her parents. Some might have thought that being a Firelord — the child of a Flamelord pair — was an enviable life, but it was quite the opposite. The young no-el had been the object of four assassination attempts before her third year, and thus her parents had sent her away to Dithmoor, an Enomatic island, for twelve years.
There, she’d had to live her developing years under the harsh and unrelenting guidance of the religious Enomatics who sought to instill in her the black and white morality they followed. Despite never personally agreeing with their teachings, Shylvia had found it impossible to avoid being influenced by their commands, and to this day she still bore in her behavior and attitude the marks of having her childhood stolen from her.
“You were never there for me, mom, dad, but I really need your guidance now,” Shylvia murmured, resting her head in her hands.
The young Shylvia had never understood why her parents had chosen to abandon her, when she’d been the perfect child. Her younger brother, who she later received reports about, was quite the opposite. When she returned home, he was no longer living in the house, having been kicked out by her father. Nobody ever told Shylvia what exactly her brother had done, but it had to be very, very bad; there was a large crack down the center of the council table to remind her of that.
Her ears twitched as somebody knocked at the door, causing the newly appointed Flamelord to dart up from her improper position. Shylvia heard her guards conversing with the visitor outside, and she quickly composed herself, straightening out the elegant sleeves on her hands and ensuring that her veil covered her entire face. Not a moment too soon it turned out, as the stranger entered a second later, accompanied on either side by two of her bodyguards.
“Well hello, great and powerful Flamelord,” the man said with an elaborate bow. “I hear that you have newly been instated in your position and have come to offer my sincerest congratulations at your successful ascent to the throne. It is my deepest wish that your reign will be filled with good fortune and success in all your endeavors.”
“Who are you?” Shylvia demanded somewhat coldly. Something about the man’s inveigling disturbed her.
Staying bowed low, the man spoke. “I am not surprised you do not recognize my voice, as I am but a humble and lowly servant of you, great Flamelord, and it has been many years since our last encounter. But perhaps if you see my face, you will remember who I am.”
A vague memory stirred in the back of Shylvia’s head as her mind worked frantically to recognize the voice. “Look up then, that I may see your face.”
Slowly, the man straightened. The first thing Shylvia noticed was the large, unwavering smile plastered on his face. Then she looked into his eyes and what she saw made her gasp. His irises were an unmistakable mix of blue and gold. Only one family in the entire Vith kingdom had eyes like that: hers.
“My dear Shylvi,” he said, the smile never leaving his face. “Am I glad to be back.”