Checkmate

Hey guys,

Here’s a piece I wrote while taking a break from editing. Hope you like it.

 

Her husband’s blood stained her cream gown, and hands pulled at her. Tears dripped down her cheeks as she stared at his fallen body. Everything around her seemed to fade as she clung to his silent body. A sharp cry pierced through the silence, and her head jerked up. Every eye in the courtyard stared at her, waiting for her. Her husband’s closest advisor stood next to her, holding the young prince in his arms. Her decision made, she removed the signet ring from her husband’s hand. Smearing her bloody hands across the front of her gown, she stood and slid the ring onto her own finger. Her stained hands reached for her son, and she situated him on her hip before stepping forward on the balcony.

“The King is dead,” she announced. Murmurs moved through the crowd of waiting nobles and peasants, but the crowd fell silent when she lifted her hand. Her husband’s advisor stepped forward to stand next to her.

“Long live the Queen,” he shouted. The cry echoed in the courtyard, and she turned on her heel. Her son’s nursemaid met her just inside the castle and took the child from her arms.

The blood on her hands mocked her as she stood in the quiet hallway. Bright tapestries mocked her from their palaces on the wall. Even the quiet shuffle of the servants seemed to mock her. Her shoes clicked against the tile as she ran through the hallways to the throne room. She shrieked as she tore through the room, her hands pulling down the decorations for the celebration. Anger and grief erupted inside of her as she crumbled to the ground in front of his throne. She screamed again, her anger turning everything red. A pair of arms encircled her body, whispering comfort in her ear.

“It will be alright, Clara.” She looked up and met the sad gaze of the Queen Mother.

“He wasn’t suppose to leave me, Elizabeth,” she sobbed. Grief overwhelmed her anger.

“I know, Clara. I know.” Clara clung to her mother-in-law as she sobbed on the floor of the throne room. Elizabeth held her tightly, rocking the young queen. Eventually, Clara’s sobs waned, and she pulled away from Elizabeth. “Let’s get you cleaned up, Clara.” Elizabeth helped the exhausted girl to her feet and guided her out of the room.

Lord Patrick stood outside the throne room door; his head bowed. He looked up as the door opened, revealing the two queens. Clara straightened, shoving her grief down. Elizabeth stood a few steps behind Clara, offering her silent support.

“Lord Patrick,” Clara greeted, clasping her hands behind her back.

“Your Majesty, I came to tell you that the preparations have started for King Richard’s journey to the Holy City.” Clara nodded, fighting against the onslaught of emotions.

“Very good. Thank you, Lord Patrick.” Her voice wavered as she spoke. Elizabeth stepped up next to her daughter-in-law and placed a hand on her arm.

“If you’ll excuse us, Lord Patrick. It has been a long day,” Elizabeth spoke quietly.

“Of course, Queen Mother.” The man bowed before walking away from them. Elizabeth guided Clara towards her rooms.

Clara stood in the doorway of the room she shared with her husband as Elizabeth spoke quietly with her maids. She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. How was she to go on without him? She couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t by her side. She wrapped an arm around herself and pressed her other hand against her mouth. She let out a strangled sob, and Elizabeth turned towards her.

“Please leave us,” Elizabeth dismissed the maids. Clara’s eyes darted around the room, taking in every little piece that Richard had left behind.

“He is gone. My heart is gone,” she whispered. Elizabeth took her hand, squeezing it gently. “Who am I without him?”

“Clara, look at me.” Clara looked up at Elizabeth, her vision blurry with tears. “He is gone, that is true, but you still have your country and your son. You are still a Queen and a mother.” Clara closed her eyes, swallowing back the tears. When she opened them, Elizabeth smiled sadly at her. “Chin up, my girl. You are so strong, and you are a survivor.” She pointed towards the door that lead to the nursery. “And through that door, you have a son who you must groom to become King. It will not be easy, but you are not alone.”

Clara let out a shaky breath before nodding. Elizabeth was right. Clara was still Queen, and she had a duty to uphold. She crossed the room and came to stand in front of the water basin. Slowly, she poured the warm water over her hand and watched as the water turned pink as it gathered in the basin.

“I will send the maids back in to help you change.” Clara looked over at Elizabeth.

“Thank you, Elizabeth.”

“Of course, my Queen.” She curtsied before leaving the room. Clara returned to her task at hand, scrubbing her husband’s blood from her skin. The familiar bustle of fabric and footsteps made her glance up. Her ladies’ maids moved around the room, gathering what they need to redress her. She allowed the stained and ruined gown to be removed and a fresh gown put on.

“Burn it please,” she whispered. The maids nodded before scurrying from the room with the ruined gown.

With unsteady steps, she crossed the room and opened the door to the nursery. She stood in the doorway and watched her young son play happily with his nursemaid. His innocence filled the room as his joyful laughter echoed off the walls. He caught sight of her and toddled over to where she stood.

“Mama,” he shouted gleefully, lifting his hands up. She smiled and crouched to pick him up.

“How is my big boy doing?” The little boy wrapped his arms around her neck and started babbling away. The nursemaid curtsied and ducked out of the room, leaving the pair.

“Mama?” he asked.

“Yes, my sweet boy.” He tilted his head, watching her thoughtfully.

“Where is Papa?” His question broke her heart, and she floundered for an answer.

“Papa got hurt and had to go away for a while. He’s on a trip to the Holy City.” A wide smile grew on the young prince’s face.

“I will pray for him tonight.” She smiled sadly at him.

“That is a good idea, Henry.” She kissed the top of his curls.

~*~*~

The black lace veil obscured her face from the onlookers, and as tears slid down her cheeks, she was grateful for the little bit of privacy. Henry clutched her hand tightly as they stood in the middle of the courtyard. Lord Patrick and Elizabeth stood on the other side of them. Clara’s tears turned from grief to anger as she met the smug gaze of the ambassador from Luneria. She pressed her lips together and lifted a gloved hand to wipe away her falling tears. The carriage bearing her husband’s coffin started forward, and she watched it leave the courtyard. Henry and her would met it in the Holy City in a week. The crowd started to disperse around the royal family, and Clara watched the ambassador from Luneria cross the courtyard. Lord Patrick stepped forward, but Clara waved him off.

“I apologize for the lack of fanfare welcoming your arrival, Lady Nieman.” The ambassador curtsied before offering an easy smile. Clara crouched down in front of Henry.

“I will be inside in a few minutes. Go inside with Grandma.” The little boy nodded and grabbed Elizabeth’s hand. Clara watched them go before turning back to Lady Nieman. “Let me be frank with you, Lady Nieman. I have no qualms with Luneria, but at this time, I want nothing to do with your country.” The ambassador smiled, an eerie smile.

“I am merely here to ensure that you know that Luneria had nothing to do with the assassination of your King.” Clara tilted her head, frowning slightly.

“And why would we think that Luneria had anything to do with it?”

“My sources say that the man responsible for the assassination was captured. He is Lunerian.” Clara nodded, clasping her hands behind her back.

“Your sources have given you accurate information. However, at this point we have not been able to make any legitimate connections between him and the Lunerian court. Your presence here does increase the suspicion. It is rather convenient that hours after my husband signed a new trade agreement with Genia that he is assassinated.” Lady Nieman bristled at the subtle accusation.

“Luneria had nothing to do with the attack,” she protested. Clara frowned, glaring at the ambassador.

“You claim that Luneria had no part in the attack, but the assassin says differently,” she remarked, her anger boiling underneath the surface.

“You cannot believe the word of a criminal over the word of an ambassador,” Lady Nieman protested. Clara’s eyes hardened as she stared at the scapegoat that King Ronaldo had sent.

“I will believe those words which will protect my country and my family. Do not test my power or my fury,” she threatened. “I am the sovereign ruler of Almestria. You think that I would let a small country bully me to do what they wish.”

“I must protest, Queen Clara. We have not bullied you.” Lady Nieman shrank under the weight of Clara’s glare.

“Then how come my husband is dead only hours after we signed a trade alliance with Genia who is an enemy of Luneria. He is dead by the hands of a Lunerian assassin.” Clara lifted her chin and held out her hand. Lord Patrick placed a scroll into her hand.

She walked over to a flaming torch and held the scroll over the flame. She glanced over her shoulder at where Lady Nieman stood.

“This is the treaty between our two nations. Your country has failed to uphold their end of the agreement. From this day forward we will no longer be friends, but rather enemies.”

“Please, Your Majesty. Think rationally,” Lady Nieman begged. Clara whirled around on her heels and glared at the woman in front of her.

“You took away my husband,” Clara screeched. “You think you have destroyed me, but you made the fatal move.” She held the scroll over the flame and watched with satisfaction as the paper caught fire. Flames licked along the edges, curling the paper before it dissolved into ash. She tossed the destroyed scroll to the ground and stomped out the flames. “Checkmate.”

She left the Lunerian ambassador standing in the middle of the courtyard by the burned scroll. She held her head high as she entered the large castle. The large portrait of Richard sat on the wall staring back at her. Reaching out, she touched the delicate strokes that made up her husband’s likeness.

“Checkmate,” she whispered as her fingers trailed along the painting.

“Mama,” her son’s voice called. She turned and welcomed him into her arms. Standing in the shadows of Richard’s gaze, she knew this was only the beginning.

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