♔ Chapter Two ♔

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"You're not saying that because you're jealous?" he teased her. "No, but in all honesty Avila, I have never once regretted our relationship. Aline is a mere friend and I never once considered courting her - dealing with Lord Sebastian isn't worth it. I have sympathy for any man who tries. And besides, I'd rather like to think I choose the less shrewish lady already." Avila looks down at her plate, red painting her cheeks.

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As night settled around the palace like a soft sheepskin the celebration continued. Despite all her majesty finds little pleasure in it. It seemed like a constant flow of ranking nobles speaking meaningless gibberish. After a few hours of this mutiny, she grew rather bored with the whole affair. Queens do not feel bored. They feel blessed with the kindness and consideration of their guests. Avila glanced at Richard and coughed. He didn't blink an eye. She coughed again.

"Yes, my queen. Would you desire a cough drop per chance?" She raised a hand as if to cuff him on the side of his head.

"What was that for?" he demanded, sidestepping the blow with expertise. Violence was not something she usually utilized. Perhaps, it was not the wisest of moves, but Avila had little tolerance at the moment of formalities, humor or proper behavior. She did not do well under stress, which honestly was the worst part of being Queen, you always had something to stress about. If she grayed prematurely she would blink an eye.

"You make terrible attempts at humor. Have I not made it clear that you need not address me in that way? I get enough of that from everyone else as it is. We have some important matters to discuss." Her head spun because she had been addressed in this repetitive fashion, far too many times that evening. She required nothing more than the ability to run out of the event. If granted that acts she would go into her personal chambers to cry her eyes out. Unfortunately, queens didn't cry either.

"About what?" Richard plucked up a bone from his plate inspecting it with a careful eye. His inspect seemed in vain for he set down the bone and picked up another. His tone proved little to his mood, for it seemed he was neither upset nor happy at her cross words.

"About the new advisor position that was left open with convenience by Lord Lysander. Who shall take that seat?" Her fingers nervously tapped the edge of the wooden table, her eyes gazing off into the crowd. Her eyes searching, for something, Aline? She was not sure who had seemed to disappear again much to the queen's frustration. She turned once more to her friend.

"Seat? I don't think anyone would want to take that seat. Not after all that happened." Richard gazed down the table. His gaze focused on some other guests.

"Well, I must fill the spot. Have you any suggestions?" The jumpiness of her anxiety was starting to get the better of her and she could feel a ball of nerves growing tighter in her stomach. How much longer was she expected to be present for? Far too long, at least for her liking. "Can it please wait for tomorrow?" Her tone became whiny and Avila thanked the gods that her mother wasn't paying attentions. Her mother did not tolerate whining. You are not a baby or a small child, you are a young woman with the supreme rule over an entire country. If you are weak, then your country is weak.

"It is best for the country to have no vacant seats in my council." Richard, I love you but I would appreciate if you didn't sound so much like my mother. If only Avila could convey so much with a few good expressions, her mother could disclose thousands of words with one look. Avila knew her mother's speeches well enough that she could recite them if spurned.

"If you replace Lord Lysander too soon, the people are going to see you as a heartless monster." Richard's gaze returned to her, his voice lowered in council so as to not disturb the other guests.

"Think of it what you wish, Richard. I am not heartless, but practical and stoic in the wake of justice. You say this to me only for the sake of Aline, whose kinsman's treachery vacated the seat." Maybe again she was overreacting, but not even Richard could deny that Lord Lysander's actions were a travesty. One could not blame her. As her mother said, it would be weak to forgive him and it was strong to dispose of the threat.

"Don't tell me he didn't use to play with you. Because I very specifically remember the time you couldn't sleep because of a scary nightmare. He stayed up for hours talking to you until you finally feel asleep." Richard's words sparked memories she'd long forgotten. When she was little more than the princess, and not a Queen with a heavy burden, One evening, sometime past midnight she'd awoken from a dream, one that had scared her to the point of chattering teeth and an adrenaline rush. Whatever the dream was actually about, she could not think, but her cries had drawn the attention of Lysander. Aline asleep beside her did not budge at her cries, but Aline's uncle had comforted her.

Reminding her that morning would dawn bright, and that she had nothing to worry about. His soothing words had calmed her nerves and had her allowed to snuggle back beneath the cover beside her friend. She had slept the rest of night in peace. The memory brought shivers back.

"Speak not of that. He attempted to end my life." A coldness snuck into her voice. That memory had penetrated too deep and close to a wound that was still fresh in the world.

"I don't think it was personal." We must have very different definitions of personal then. More than I believed possible. Richard spoke with an authenticity that could not be avoided. Personal or not, that did not change Avila's former choices.

"Lysander tried to dispatch me and to install a puppet in my stead." To avoid the guilt that Richard would most likely bring, she tried to affirm her actions and beliefs. She was right, and Lord Lysander was wrong.

"Avila, darling-" he again broke off with her frown. "Avila, you know I didn't mean that. He's been raised his entire life to see men as being on top. It's rather unheard of to have a solo woman ruler." Was he defending the person who tried to murder her? This was outrageous! A flare of passionate anger bloomed in her chest. Where was the Richard who cared so deeply about her well-being?

"Rather unheard of? Rather? Don't play games with me Richard Rivière. You behave as though I had cold-heartedly cut off the head of someone as dear to me as a father. Lysander may have been as such when I was young, but here is now, and he has shown his true colors." True colors indeed. If these are your true color Richard, then I will be very disappointed in everything. Our friendship, and what we had beyond that. She paused considering what she was considering. She should not be angry at Richard, he was simply thinking about the best possible way for her and the country. That was his job. Advisors advised, but she didn't have to take his advice.

"Do you want to be known as the queen who didn't care about anyone save herself?" You are making this very challenging. I wish to not be cross with you, but you try my patience. What kind of person do you take me as? You know how many sleepless nights I spent trying to make good decisions. You call that caring for nobody but myself? Breath Avila, he does not mean it in that way. While attempting to heed to her own advice, she found trial.

"They know me as THE QUEEN. We have the right to be selfish sometimes. Why are you so vexed about Lysander's death? He was a snake. He would have betrayed us all, should we no longer serve his purposes." She fumed, before normalizing her voice, as she noticed several guest starring at her and Richard. Making a scene would not improve any part of this situation or soothe her injured feelings.

"I never said that. I sai..." Avila got up and raised her hands in protest. She had enough, she would not let her temper, tiredness or terrific esurient get the better handle of her control.

"I am done with you. This exchange of words and philosophies prove tiring. I shall be a bed shortly. Good night, Richard." Rising from the chair, smoothing the skirts of her red and black gown. She nodded to her parents before walking towards the door.

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