The illness had come on so suddenly, there had been nothing any of them could do. They just had to sit back and watch as he grew paler by the day, as the weight dropped off him. The servants and doctors rushed back and forth, doing all they could.
But even the most highly educated in the land had no answer for the cause of the illness, let alone the cure.
The servants in the kitchen whispered in low voices to each other.
"The tales," the old cook, her hair grey and tied back from her face, "no one ever believes the tales."
"You don't think..." The young maid stopped short when she spotted the figure standing in the doorway. The old cook glanced up, a brief frown crossing her face before she forced a smile in place. Both women stared at the sixteen year old girl.
"What were you talking about?" she asked, stepping further into the room.
"Nothing, dear. Nothing."
"You were talking about my father, weren't you?" She walked around the kitchen, fingers trailing across the items all around them. Her voice contained none of the sadness that should have been present, none of the worry.
Her hair fell straight down, so blonde it was almost white. Her eyes were a sharp piercing blue, and she did not lack for suitors. Her father had been on the verge of marrying her off to a young man from a different land, a young prince third in line to his own throne.
Not that he would ever have it. The match was ideal, for both countries. But now, without her father to command her and seal the deal, the marriage was broken.
"Do you think he's going to die?" Again, her voice remained emotionless. There was something eerie about the princess, something not quite right.
Before either of the women could reply, another figure entered the room.
The princess' companion was a tall, a pale skinned, dark haired man with eyes like coal. He drew attention wherever he went, and the young women in the castle whispered about him in the corridors, admiring him from afar. But like the princess, there was something strange about the nineteen year old, something that kept them away.
Not to mention the fact that he and the princess were practically inseparable.
"Liza," he called softly. "Liza, come. Your father wants to see you."
She spun around. The only time the girl ever looked really alive was when she was with him. "Is it time?"
He dipped his head, avoiding the looks of the other two women in the room. The old cook stared at him, muttering prayers under her breath as he reached out, took the princess' hand and led her away.
"I told you," she hissed, "the tales..."
"You think it is him, then?"
The old cook gave a curt nod, before returning to the food, preparing a meal for the king that she knew he would not eat.
X X X
"Liza," the man rasped, his hand reaching out to grab his daughter's. "My dear, beautiful Liza. Look at what a lovely young woman you've grown into."
Most other girls would have, perhaps, shed a tear on seeing their father so frail, so close to death. But Liza simply stared at him, her mouth set, her companion standing in the doorway.
"You must be good, do you understand?"
She nodded. She understood, but that meant nothing.
"For the people. Our people. You remember the lessons your mother taught you?"
Again, she nodded. Lessons on how to be a good princess, how to be a good queen, how to rule everyone fairly.
Her mother had died just over six months ago.
"Never forget them. The people will look to you for strength."
"I'll be strong," she promised, her face remaining still. He smiled, squeezed her hand, and sank back onto the bed.
"Goodbye, my darling."
"Goodbye, father." She turned, walked to the door. As she passed him, she whispered two words. "Finish him."
X X X
The bells rang throughout the night, echoing in the darkness of the city. She stood at the window, watching the people come out onto the street, wailing into the night. Gripping each other tightly, they shed their tears.
He found her there, with dawn close. Its fingers would be reaching over the land soon, and as they appeared he would go.
"Are you happy, my queen?"
He smiled, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her close to him. She felt his lips brush her neck, but knew she was completely safe in his arms.
"Will you be a good queen?" he whispered.
She just smiled, casting her gaze over the people so foolish in their mourning. "They will expect me to cry."
"Just say nothing. They will think you are too full of sorrow to think. Or that you are holding it back, to be strong."
"I am strong," she replied. "Stronger than that foolish old man. Stronger than my mother."
"You will have them on their knees."
He spun her around, hands easily holding her in place when she was facing him. His lips found hers, and despite their coldness, warmth spread throughout her body. He gripped her tightly, pulling her closer, as her hands grasped his neck, their kiss deepening. He picked her up with no effort, and in a blink of an eye they were in her room. Quickly, his fingers worked, loosening her dress as he pushed her towards the bed, letting out a growl as her hands moved under is shirt, slowly working their way downwards.
Liza fell backward, stretching out on the bed eyes watching as he leapt, landing across her.
"I will give you everything," he growled, lowering his head and nuzzling into her neck.
"And take it, too." She laughed, stretching her neck and pushing the back of her head into the pillow as his tongue licked her skin. Her fingers grabbed onto the sheets, as he nipped.
"And you'll just let me, won't you?" he whispered, bringing his knees down either side of her. She brought her hands up as he lifted his head. She grabbed his shirt, staring into his eyes.
He kissed her then, fire burning through her as her nails dug through the shirt and into his skin. Against her warm flesh, his body was cold. But she barely felt that.
He continued to torture her, spreading kisses across her body that burned like ice. His fingers roamed across her, stroking every part of her he knew would send her into a frenzy.
The bells outside tolled for her father's death as he entered her.
X X X
She was crowned the next day.
He stood beside her, hands behind his back as the crown was lowered onto her head. Their eyes scanned across the crowd. The court stood watching, lords and ladies and priests. Those who lived in the castle had fear in their eyes. Those who didn't looked on with thoughtful expressions, some full of sorrow and hope. They mourned her father, but hoped for a bright future.
Most cheered when the crown was in place.
Liza sighed, eyes flickering to the man at her side.
They snapped back to the crowd, registering that some of them were actually praying, whispering under their breath.
"You are scared," she said, her first words since officially becoming queen. "I can see it in your eyes, your faces." Slowly, Liza stood, gaze roaming over them. The muttering – the praying – had stopped. "You fear me. And perhaps with good reason." Some of them, those that had come from outside the castle, looked confused. She stepped forward. She knew what would happen if those who were scared were allowed to walk out unharmed; they would revolt, they would try to kill her. They would try to get her off the throne.
And perhaps they would succeed.
She could not let that happen.
"My father was weak," she cried. "A ruler must strike fear into the hearts of those around her, must ensure they obey every wish she makes. It is the only way to make a country strong."
They were not the words of her mother, the woman who had been tasked with preparing her to rule. They were the words of the man at her side.
She turned to him now. "They think they can save me."
"God can save you!" one of the priests yelled, stepping forward. "Liza, please, turn away from that dark creature. God will still embrace you!"
"Enough!" She whirled to face him. "I have power. More than you could possibly dream of. I don't need your God." She made a simple gesture to her companion. He grinned. "The priest first."
She sat back on the throne as the screams filled the room, as her dark haired companion dove into the crowd, ripping out the throats of all who had been afraid. Fear fled through the room like a wave, as those still living ran for the doors.
Some escaped, and it suited her.
They would spread the word.
And the realm would know real fear; the people would be terrified, for once in their pitiful lives. No one would step out of line.
She smiled to herself as she slouched against her throne, watching the carnage before her as blood sprayed the floor and walls.
A/N: When it came to write this one. I realised I wanted to end it on a kind of mirror, in the same sort of area as the first story. So, what did you think? Like the stories, hate them, have any favourites? If you've been reading the whole thing, you'll have noticed by now this is an idea I'm going to return to, and quite soon. There's a poll on my profile page with different albums, so check it out, cast your vote, and look out for the next set of short stories pretty soon. Thanks for reading.