“I’m wondering - will I ever see another sunrise?”
Sir Gobling shook his head and concentrated on the road in front of him, his mind a kaleidoscope of images. The Castle, Sophea, the Guardians … the chase through the streets. Had any of it actually happened, or was he living his very worst nightmare?
‘The Ruling Sceptre of Cathania will be passed, with our divine blessing … to Baroness Famika deLauer of the Principality of Rock.’ As if he were seated right next to him Sir Gobling heard the Central Guardian’s voice once again and knew, with a sickening crunch of reality, that it was all too true.
Sir Gobling would never forget the absolute helplessness that besieged him at the comprehension of those words. The Empress had stumbled back in disbelief glancing beseechingly at him, and all he could do was gaze back at her, frozen like a comical gargoyle at her side.
‘Y-your Grace!’ she’d stuttered. ‘Famika? She, she can’t rule the Empire! She’ll destroy everything that Emperor Marcus and I have worked so hard to achieve!’
Sir Gobling’s mind choked at the prospect of Baroness Famika ruling the Empire. He groaned now and banged the steering wheel in impotent fury as he remembered the rest of what had ensued in the Council chambers. The Empress had stepped forward, pleading to the stony-faced Council, ‘We have long entertained the suspicion that Famika has been embracing dark magic. She will bring only tyranny and mayhem to the peace and tranquillity of Cathania! She’s already succeeded in turning the Principality of Rock into a perpetual stage for her sickening electronic rock music. Please, reconsider your decision and spare our nation a torturous future!’
The Guardians remained detached, examining the Empress like a trapped creature in a glass cage. The Central Guardian smiled smugly at her, tapping his fingers on the marble armrests of his throne.
‘Empress,’ he whispered, ‘it is you who would have brought mayhem and you who has forsaken your loving people! In case you have forgotten, murder, especially assassination, is not a quality admired by a nation in their ruler!’
The other Guardians had nodded in unison at their spokesman’s statement.
‘As stated, Baroness Famika will take to the Cathanian Throne at a ceremony in her honour. She will address the nation in a holographic broadcast that will feed the furthest corners of the Empire and the rest of the world, of course. We predict that she will rule the Empire with a firm but fair hand and promote the musical prosperity of the nation adequately.’
Empress Sophea blanched. The spell that had immobilised Sir Gobling was gradually wearing off and he blinked in confusion, trying to orientate himself.
‘Majesty,’ he croaked quietly and supported her by the arm. She fell gently against him and wept.
‘Tears will not soften your sentence, Empress!’ sneered the Guardian. ‘We the Council must now pass your sentence! After much deliberation regarding this situation – that is the assassination of the Emperor by his spouse –’
‘But I did not kill him, Your Grace!’ Empress Sophea had pleaded.
‘SILENCE! DO NOT INTERRUPT WITH YOUR POINTLESS BEGGING! Stand in silence whilst we continue! Taking into consideration your pregnancy, we the Council have made the following decision: from this moment you are banished from the Empire and must live out the duration of your pregnancy on Hydersteel Island. Once you have given birth to the dead Emperor’s child, you will be brought back to the Tower of Truths and imprisoned here for the rest of your natural life. The child will be collected by Baroness deLauer and put into her care. It is not the practice of the Council to punish the crime of murder by death – but knowing that your child will never ever see you or speak to you, and that you will never hold him or her in your arms, will, we know, be a punishment worse than death.’