The Queen's Last Word
She used to believe in the power of love and that, if you held a swirling snowflake in your palm with a wish in your mind, it would come true. She once lived in a time when her only worries were what dinner would be and if it would snow.
Now, she only believed in the raw power of the throne.
Her years as a crown princess were spent frolicking in the vast gardens of the palace, playing with butterflies and sniffing the colourful flowers. She used to obsess over frilly dresses and pink shoes with sparkling jewels and silky ribbons on lacy corsets.
Now, the tight uniform of a queen was the only outfit she could and would look forward to wearing.
Her father had often found it odd she had a strange fascination with snakes and pondered why they did not strike at her when she played with them and petted their curved heads.
Now, her foes knew her only as the Serpent Queen.
She had a name once. It was beautiful. The old diaries called her Elthala but such a pretty, girly name would never suit someone like her. Not anymore.
The strong voice roused her from her daydreams and she watched as a knight commander in steel armour raced towards her. She was seated on her iron throne, running her hands across the azure blue sapphires and onyx black diamonds sparkling along her armrests. With what little space she had in her dress, she folded her left leg over her right, commanding an air of authority while exuding raw beauty and elegance with her enviable form and striking features.
The knight fell to one knee before the steps of her throne and bowed his head, facing the red carpet. Her royal guards, the ardem, stood like grotesques with their glaives in hand and swords in scabbards. Statuesque as they were, their eyes never left the queen or the knight, who began to speak. "We have received word from the enemy commander!"
"Speak." A single word from her echoed through the hall; a simple trick of magick - thanks to the runes drawn into her throne - effective at commanding the hall with ease.
The knight cleared his throat. "Oh, great Serpent Queen of the Black City, this war has been waged long enough and too many lives have been lost on both sides. I propose a temporary truce and request that we establish a date where we shall meet to discuss a permanent peace treaty. I hope that you will accept this truce and reply with a date that is at your convenience. Respectfully, Damre Reltis of the Rebellion."
Silence hung in the air for a brief moment. Then, the queen burst out in laughter; a cruel cackle that startled the knight. He waited until she finally calmed herself before she glanced at her advisor. "A truce, he says! Ha!"
"Mi'lady," the advisor, an elderly man said cautiously. "Perhaps we should consider his proposal. It could benefit-"
He yelped and collapsed onto his knees, gripping his ankle where two fresh bite marks appeared on his regal boots. A soft hiss was all that filled the hall for a moment.
"Useless weakling," the queen spat. "If you empathise with the rebels, allow me to gift you with a colourful execution. Guards! Strap him to the fireworks and blow him to bits at midnight."
"No!" He shrieked in terror as two guards swooped in from behind her throne. "Mercy! I beg for mercy!" The guards gripped him by his arms and dragged him away as he kicked and screamed and pleaded to be spared.
"Shame they captured our spy two weeks ago, though," the queen sighed as she stared at the knight once more. "At least he was able to relay information regarding their location before his death."
"What would you have your knights and mages do, my queen?" The knight bowed his head stiffly, careful with his words. He could not name the other knights as men under his command, even as a knight commander; all belonged to the queen, and only to the queen.
"Well," she ran a finger along her chin. "He has essentially been defeated. He is much too desperate now. So, send him a letter; allow him to believe we have accepted his declaration of defeat and... pick a random date upon which we shall "convene" for this fake peace treaty or whatever."
"A random date, my queen?"
"Anything ordinary, of course." She unfolded her legs and straightened her back. "We aren't actually going to accept this proposition. That'd be stupid."
The queen stood from the throne and inhaled sharply. Her ruby red lips stretched into a cruel smile as a chorus of hisses rose from behind her throne. "No. We shall utterly crush them like an anaconda strangles its prey."
"Then, I shall have a letter sent to the Rebel Leader and gather your forces."
"Good," the queen began strutting down the steps. "But prepare a... slightly smaller squad. I shall accompany my knights into battle."
That was a mistake. She lashed out with her palm and struck him across his cheek. Yet, he did not cry out or frown in anger. Instead, he took it and bowed his head even lower.
"I will not repeat myself," the queen hissed. "And you would do well to remember that."
"Of course, my queen. Apologies."
"Now, go. We leave three chimes before midnight; I want to be able to return in time to see my advisor rain from the sky in a haze of blood and shredded flesh."
The forests were unusually quiet at night. The Serpent Queen knew why; the rebel camps had either scared away the wildlife in the surrounding regions or slaughtered them all.
Knights robed in black fur cloaks to maintain the element of stealth flanked her from all sides, ensuring no threat could reach her except from above or below. She walked without obstacles as her serpents writhed at her feet to clear twigs and branches while the knights moved with her like a single unit; a bulwark that centred around her.
A knight to her left raised a fist and they stopped, forcing the queen to slow to a halt as well. He pointed at a strange construct by a tree; a wooden pole stabbed into the earth, holding a wreath of leaves, raspberries and part of a fox's hide.
"Nothing we should worry about," one of the mages stalking from behind whispered. "It is a shrine to the Divine Huntress, Oneris, to pray for her blessing in hunting foxes."
"Then let us move," the queen hissed.
They resumed, slowly marching forward until they positioned themselves behind cover, hidden from the rebels. The camps were close now and the queen could see them lulling about; chatting, drinking, eating and cooking. She watched as a scout of their ranks rush into a tent that appeared to be larger than the others. In his hands glittered a golden letter bearing the official seal of the Serpent.
Good, the queen smiled to herself. They got the letter.
A moment later, Reltis strode out of his tent and held a horn to his mouth, blowing into it. A loud, booming noise echoed through the forests and the rebels reacted with cheers and cries of glee.
The queen was determined to make those joyful screams turn into tortured shrieks.
When Reltis vanished in his tent and the scout hurried to a bonfire to pick a chunk of skewered meat out, she watched as the knights silently stalked around the forest. The mages followed them as well, flanking the camps like a bulwark; a bulwark to keep them in.
For a moment, they did not act as the rebels celebrated. It was a bittersweet sight; one that would precede a bloodbath.
When the rebel guards gathered around the three bonfires, she watched as the isolated ones were picked off by silent and invisible threats. Then, she smirked as the bonfires began to dance and blaze brightly, forcing the rebels to stumble away.
In the moment of distraction, her knights finally struck; they leapt in with lances and swords thrusting at the rebels. Soon, the once peaceful camp was a battlefield of royal steel and mage fire. Rebels fell, caught without their weapons, while her knights danced through them like whirlwinds of steel streaked with blood.
Twin flashes of steel caught the queen's eye. From the shadows behind the knight commander, an assassin lurked towards him with a cold gaze.
She stood up from behind her log and strode into the battlefield. Her serpents slithered out from beneath her form-fitting dress, vanishing in the darkness. All at once, multiple rebels began to scream and fall as her snakes struck at them with venomous fangs; the rebel assassin suffered no differently and he, too, fell on his back as his knees collapsed beneath him.
A stray arrow sailed through the air and would have pierced the queen's heart. However, it struck an invisible ward that flared to life around her, clattering to the earth uselessly. Runes glowed along the spine of her dress and the rebels froze in absolute shock as their eyes landed on her.
In such a moment, the knights struck them down until the last one was pinned to a tree by an arcane shard. They all turned to stare at her and she raised her arm. "I shall deal with Damre Reltis; it is only fitting that a queen would deal with a traitor of her court personally."
They nodded and moved to flank the tent's entrance but did not enter. The queen approached it and stood before the beige flaps, waiting while her serpents gathered beneath her again.
It was most likely a trap; Reltis would have definitely heard the sounds of battle and the screaming of his brothers and sisters in arms. Nevertheless, she strode in and slapped the flaps away with her hands.
A sword swung at her throat and she instinctively raised her arm, deflecting it with a metal gauntlet. She ducked in and shoved the weapon away, turning to grip Reltis by his throat and holding his wrist with her other hand to make sure he didn't swing at her again.
"Queen!" He struggled to break her grip with one hand, eyebrows rising in surprise at her strength.
"We have slaughtered every single one of your pitiful rebels and still, you hide in your tent. You are a coward to the end, Reltis."
He raised a knee to strike her gut but nearly shattered his kneecap on her metal corset instead, which was hidden beneath her dark dress. Old habits died hard, they said.
"You... pledged to a... truce!" He choked out his words.
"I lied. Just like you did."
Her serpents began to coil around his legs, slithering up and up until they reached his neck.
"You'll never... get away with this, tyrant queen!"
She simply smiled and leant in close to whisper in his ear. "I never wanted to. The world will know my name and when it is upon their tongue, fear shall seize them as well. That is my vision."
A serpent bit into his neck and he gritted his teeth, not giving her the satisfaction of hearing him scream. She shoved him away and he collapsed onto his back as her snakes slithered away and under her dress once more.
"You," he breathed shallowly as his blood vessels darkened along his body. "Venomous bitch!" Black lines travelled across his eyes like cracks on a window and he fell limp, foaming at the mouth.
The queen strode out the tent casually, nodding to the knight commander. He signalled to the other knights and they moved into position again, forming a bulwark around her to guide her to her steed on the main path through the forest once more.
"Let us hurry," she said as she glanced at the crescent moon in the star-studded skies. "Midnight will come in less than an hour and I long to see my advisor's insides be scattered among Menora's stars."
A/U: Check out my Instagram account, world_of_arnad, where I will post short bios and illustrations of my characters, among other things like excerpts and future concept characters!