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Var'aan

He had expected some grief.

An uncharted attack on the Golden Hand would have had him at the reprimanded, if not flogged, or publicly humiliated. Maybe even tortured, should the Queen be in the mood to warrant it.

The rough granite floor was achingly cold on his feet, and it reminded Var'aan of those years of prison; of wretchedness and barren forget-me-nots. Yes, convicted of assassinating his brother as an adolescent, Var'aan was very used to slavery by now. It was his aunt, Queen Reiyana, who removed him from that, and gave him the vague shadow of a second prospect—even if that subsequent chance was a life of asking no questions and doing as instructed.

But that wasn't important now.

He was led through the black stone hallway, where Bone Warriors guarded the throne room wearing their masks from the skulls of the dead, and into the vast vaulted room, where the Queen perched on her throne constructed from the remains of former Queens. Only a single bone was ever taken as a relic, and the throne now was dense, and unfathomably ancient. It was thought that the wisdom of each queen would drain into the living who sat there, and therefore, as the next died and was added, more knowledge would be present for the next ruler.

The room itself was massive, the vaulted ceiling forebodingly cold and distantly upwards, extending into gloom where the firelight would not touch the top. The revered Hall of Champions was at his right, and Var'aan could faintly pick out the first mural, but he had seen them so often that now, the place had lost all meaning to him.

Besides iron torch-stands, the throne room was sterile. Unlike the former Queens, Reiyana had no use for finery—the gold and gemstones that once cluttered the throne room were gone, making room for a crude wooden table on the throne's dais, where she would discuss everything from battle plans to tax records. The emptiness made the room echo.

Reiyana was poring over battle schematics when Var'aan entered, and when he arrived, the door was shut with enough noise to stir her from her reverie. The queen quickly looked up, and demanded that all others leave.

The chamber swiftly emptied.

The silence that stretched forth was murderous, and Var'aan felt a lump form in his throat. No other being could frighten Var'aan the way Reiyana could, but, of course, he had no respect for anyone other than the Queen herself.

She stood, far taller than he, and even more grand on the dais, her Thorns unfurled from her back in a way that only royalty could manage—a show of power, as the spiny protrusions, tipped with poisonous barbs, were incredibly painful to unleash during extended periods. Her Thorns were majestic; full extra spider's legs that only the royal family boasted. Var'aan had them also, but they were only exposed during missions in which Var'aan was required as a Beserker.

At last, she walked to him, and Var'aan immediately dropped to his knees. He had expected the backhand that immediately smartened. He tasted blood as he fell sideways, splayed temporarily on the hard stone, until he gathered his limbs back at a kneel.

Her voice was stoic, reserved as she watched the blood streak down her nephew's face, "You constructed a plot to wait in the Black Fens. You took the best elite brigade and murdered the entire skirmishing sector of the Golden Hand. You did this without my instruction, and lied to Lieutenant Nykita. You potentially opened the floodgates to another enemy that was once a neutral trading partner. You've sacrificed much for blood, Var'aan."

"It was demanded from Chamber Leader Aria, High Mother." Var'aan's voice was emotionless as the dark blood puddled on the granite before him. He kept his eyes averted, "She assured me it was your wish."

"Then you are in the very least guilty of gratuitous inanity," There was no venom in her voice, and it was her smooth, even tone that made the youth the most nervous, "You have never received orders from Chamber Leader Aria, as you are her equal, my General. You are only to answer to me, ever. I am startled by her audacity, and she will be the one to pay for your blunder. But you must have a punishment, none the less."

"Yes, High Mother."

Reiyana turned away, walking back to her throne to take a seat elegantly, "I trust you have heard about the assassination of Emperor Oryane?"

Var'aan certainly hadn't. In fact, he did his best to avoid the political side of his occupation. He didn't answer, and his silence was reply enough to the queen.

"I see. Well, the Avai. You aren't dense enough to ignore our most primeval ally, are you, boy?"

"I am aware of the Avai, Majesty."

"Their emperor was assassinated not a fortnight ago. As was his next-in-line. The crown has passed to a boy about your age, Nephew. Soon, a struggle for power will rip the Nemnbian court to pieces, and no Avai—privileged Nemnbian or peasant will recognize a thirteen-year-old boy as emperor. We can expect our greatest ally to fall unless the boy is given protection until he has reached an age where he can be capable to ruling with esteem."

Var'aan wasn't certain where the queen was going with this, but he was sure he would not end up liking it. He stayed silent as she gave him a very significant look.

"That is why you have use in my throne room right now, Var'aan. You will be the protector of the emperor."

Var'aan felt his face blanch. The lump in his throat grew to a size that he lost the ability to speak.

"Until the Nemnbian court calms, you will be at his side always. This way, I can have you avoid battle plans, as well as use your expertise outsmarting would-be assassins."

"I am being demoted." Var'aan regained his voice, and this wasn't a question. He knew what it was.

Reiayana's amber eyes were still trained on Var'aan's, watching the youth squirm, though he tried to suppress his distaste, "Lieutenant Nykita will take your place as General until you are finished your task. It may be for years, and I believe that will be enough time to regain the footing he had lost with the Nons. That is all."

The former-General found it suddenly very hard to bow and retain pleasantries, "Thank you for your orders, High Mother."

A/N: A 'forget-me-knot' is an old medieval obliette/ prison cell. Basically, you would enough room to lie down. In most cases, you would be left there to be 'forgotten'.

If you have any questions to be answered, just let me know.