Chapter 10

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Charlotte came into the Queen's study about as soon as Alex expected. How she had made it to the colonies so fast, and the Royal vacation house at that, was a question he decided he'd rather not ask at the moment. Though her expression was impassive, every other part of her body quivered from a storm of violent emotions. Her knuckles were white from being clenched so hard. One wrong move would set the room on fire. Standing behind the Queen, he felt more like Victoria was there to protect him rather than the other way around.

Every guard in the spacious room evidently knew this as well. They all straightened up and clenched their mouths shut. Charlotte barely acknowledged Alex and the other guards beyond a cursory nod and instead walked straight up to her sister. Victoria was sitting at her desk looking over a map, acting as if her furious sister hadn't just launched herself right at her. A beam of sunlight was glaring onto her desk from the window behind her, forcing the Queen to shield her eyes and the map with her hands.

"As usual, the reports of your injuries were quite sensationalized and exaggerated," Charlotte said.

"Sorry to disappoint you sister," Victoria replied without looking up.

"What the hell were you thinking?! Sneaking off with a threadbare guard to meet with a bunch of high ranking Dans."

Charlotte's loud outburst sent ripples of chills down Alex's spine. He glanced at the guards lining the walls of the room, bracing for war. To his amazement, not one of them twitched in response to the Knight's raised voice. They all looked as motionless as the oil painting portraits of the Queens behind them. Even the chandelier covering the ceiling of the study, with its gentle flickering light and soft swing, was more lively than the petrified guards in gold armor.

"It was that or risking a war," Victoria said. Even more amazingly, the Queen's own voice remained low and her eyes didn't even leave the map she was staring at. So this was a usual occurrence.

Charlotte let out a frustrated sigh. "Yes, and thank Goddess that was avoided."

"It's not certain they were the perpetrators."

"Of course. And yet every senior military officer I've encountered on my way back here has been clambering about the war to come. Have they at least arrested the Dannic ambassador?"

The Queen clenched her mouth and thinned her lips. "No. They returned to their own country before the attack even happened." She tapped her hands erratically on her desk. "I suppose it's easy for you to look at this as an opportunity. You've always enjoyed fighting, and the responsibility of deciding the fate of millions isn't on your shoulders. If it comes to war, it won't be your conscience that's weighed down."

"Oh enough of the melodrama Victoria!" Charlotte snapped.

As her voice rose Alex understood the guards' hesitance to confront her. Her thunderous bellows rendered him a quaking coward. Thank the Mother she'd never raised her voice like that to him.

Charlotte sighed and softened her voice. "Ever since we were children you've been droning on about the cruelty and depravity of the world, as if you were somehow wiser or more enlightened than the whole of humanity. And yet here you sit, on the throne of the most heavily armed military power in history, complaining about the burden of power. Like a frightened young girl who's too afraid to fulfill her own promises."

"As if you would know anything about what heavy decisions really entail."

"Do you think my command over the thousands of Knights who've all forsworn claims to husband or glory is just a toy that amuses me?"

Victoria clattered her teeth together and scowled. "Tell me, when have you ever been forced to choose between what you know to be best for the women under your command and what they demand of you? Do you not have entire battalions of eager and ambitious second daughters and hedge knights seeking glory just like you? Have you ever been put in a position where you were forced to shed blood you didn't want to?"

"The day that Mother died."

Victoria failed spectacularly at masking her astonishment and perturbation. She leaned back in her chair with a gaping mouth as her cheeks went pale. Her hands dropped to her side and both her eyes twitched. Alex knew it wasn't from the sunlight hitting her violet eyes.

Charlotte pursed her lips. "I wanted to sit back and do nothing. And I would have if commoner lives were the only ones she had threatened that day. But a certain, stupid young girl decided to not only make a fool of herself but embarrass her mother the Queen in front of all her top Generals by calling her plan cruel and stupid.

"Do you think if I hadn't made a bigger fool of myself, a duel wouldn't have happened? Would you have been able to do anything other than kneel and grovel at the foot of a woman you knew had long since descended into madness and a lust for burning women alive? I wanted to see it. I truly did. My annoying brat of a younger sister finally being shown the cost of her impudence. But my frail emotions got the better of me and I intervened. Because you were my baby sister, and I would never have been able to bear the weight of watching you burn alive."

"You..." Victoria mumbled, still reeling. "Why did you never tell me?" Her voice shook, threatening to unravel into sobbing.

"Because unlike you, I don't believe in constantly whining about things I can never change. What's done is done. I'm a kinslayer and a Queenslayer. Complaining about my motives will never undo those crimes. If you must commit to the deaths of thousands of your subjects, do it and banish all second thoughts. Or if you have a better plan, stop hesitating and act on it." Charlotte turned to Alex, who stiffened upon meeting eyes with her. "What about you? The Queen's a bit indecisive right now. What do you think is the best course of action here?"

"My Lady I wouldn't presume..."

"Your Commander has asked you a question Sir. I suggest you answer it," Charlotte said.

Alex pursed his teeth. "Openly declaring war would be reckless and play right into the hands of whoever instigated the attempt on the Queen's life. Whether it's the Dans themselves or some rebel group, we can't let them know they've frightened us or the Queen will be attacked again. But we also need to be ready and prepare ourselves for conflict. I'm sure the Dans are doing the same."

His Commander gave him a proud smile. "That's right." She turned back to her sister. "While I handle that, get in touch with that ambassador of yours and find out her side of this story. I'm glad she got out of the colony. Arresting her would have been even more idiotic than all your other exploits."

"I wouldn't have done that," Victoria protested.

"Perhaps you wouldn't have given the order, but given the enmity between our races I doubt the police would have just sat there amicably if Ana Hauser had turned up." Charlotte turned to Alex. "You should praise the Mother for having such an attentive and talented bodyguard."

"Oh stop bragging," Victoria said. She shook her head. "Alright, dismissed. Not that you would have even needed it."

Charlotte bowed and swiveled around to exit the room. Normally, a woman would never turn her back to the Queen. Charlotte was no normal woman.

Once the elder sister had left, Alex turned to the Queen, ready to unleash the torrent of questions in his mind. The wet glint of Victoria's eyes and the violent twitches of her lips dissuaded him from opening his mouth. There would be time for this later.

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