for loyalty, I return my love

She turned to the Captain of the Guard, himself rising from an encounter which had left two Jalrans dead on the stones. Men who would have rushed to their master’s aid. Had drawn their swords before she struck, or after? No matter. There were still four men at the door, but they were his, and he–

Elissa fixed her eyes upon his. When they rose from regarding her hands and the knife in them, she said: “You have always been a loyal subject of the crown, a faithful servant of my the King, my father. Never more so than in his last days, when his friends deserted him and few remained.”

“Lady, I had served him thirty years.” the Captain said warily. “You are his blood.”

Elissa ordered, “Let the fort be secured. Let the King, my brother, know of it. Let the crown be brought here, to me.”

The fear went out of the Captain’s eyes then. “I have three hundred men. It is not enough to take back the gates, or to hold them. But the gatehouses may be shut behind Jalra, and the postern doors opened on the south wall. The odds are long, Lady, unless the King come swiftly,” he warned.

Elissa liked his voice: frank, with neither bravado or fear, and deep. Courtiers did not have such voices. Soldiers did. And soldiers knew, doubtless, how such things were done. Personally, she had had no idea until he uttered the words. She drew a ring from her left hand. It bore Jalra’s crest, and also Jalra’s blood. She did not wipe it clean. “Do as you must. Let the Lord Ildaan be summoned by this token.”

“Yes, my Lady.”

“Leave me a guard. I do not wish to be disturbed by vermin.”

Stepping across the outflung and outpoured body at her feet, she went to the white dais of the silver and emerald throne, and sat on its steps. She smoothed her skirts, and, because she felt its visible presence might aid matters and its absence hinder them, laid the still-wet knife in her lap. So this was how it was to play a game. The odds were long. But she knew, because he had boasted to her of it, that the Lord Ildaan had eighty men. Sakar had ninety-five. Perric had thirty. Jais had ten. And was it not in the power of the man who held the knife to change all things?

She held the knife now–an engrossing thought. Presently, the silver and emerald crown on its bed of green and gold-embossed velvet was set at her feet. There was some commotion regarding this, which she ignored.

And then, for a while, there was nothing–only the movements of guards, servants, more distant figures hovering and lingering; voices, pleading or protesting, which she also ignored. And figures approaching whose bold, hasty strides grew less bold with each step, and far less hasty.

Elissa fixed her eyes on the foremost. “Lord Ildaan. You have always been a loyal subject of the crown.”