The Captain's voice sliced into the shocked silence like a naked blade.
Shadu lifted his eyes from the Queen's body, an odd smile playing about his lips. It gave him an eerie look, for the upper half of his face lay hidden beneath a black lace mask.
"What happened?" He repeated the question softly, before giving it an answer. "The Queen is dead."
"I can see that." The Captain's voice had dropped, changed pitch, softened into something like soft rasp of a blade being drawn. "Queen's Guard, explain yourself immediately."
Suspicion had flared into life in the man's expression, already piecing things together, yet the respect for Shadu's position held him at bay. He waited for the last clue, the confirmation, and Shadu wasn't about to deny him.
Shadu shifted his gaze, so that he met the Captain's eyes. "The Shriveman sent the Branded," he gestured towards the three large bodies in the center of the courtyard. "And she commanded that I let none touch her. So, I have done as she commanded."
He saw the last piece click into place in the Captain's eyes. Yet the man, the ever-thorough soldier, didn't make a move. Shadu admired that, even as he despised the man's sickening loyalty to a monarchy long since shrouded in corruption.
"You failed to protect her," The Captain said quietly, watching him. The surrounding soldiers kept silent, yet there was a string of tension among them, pulled taut and ready to snap.
"No," Shadu said. "I killed her with my own hand."
It was the only way, since she had commanded him to keep the Shriveman away from her. And commands...he always did as he was ordered. If he couldn't let them slay her, then he'd have to do it himself.
"You are the Queen's Guard," the Captain said then, the faintest notes of disbelief hidden behind a wall of steel. "And an Ulshan...how is it even possible?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes!" The Captain's voice strained, an effort to keep control. "You took your oaths to guard her, to protect her, for life. It should have been impossible for you to even lift a finger against her!"
Shadu dipped his head, acknowledging the Captain's words. His fingers twitched, an involuntary current shuddering through his already aching body. He let none of the discomfort show.
"I was twelve and she thirteen when she gave me the oath. Children, both of us." The smile on his face softened, for just a moment, before twisting into something that wasn't quite a sneer, wasn't quite a grimace. "Do you know what the oath was?"
The Captain didn't say a word. Shadu let out a huff of grim amusement. Of course the Captain wouldn't know. The Oath between the Queen and her Guard were private affairs, witnessed only by the existing royal family. How unfortunate for everyone – well, fortunate for himself, perhaps – that the Queen was the only existing member of the royal bloodline.
"Do you promise," Shadu softly quoted, the words trailing up into the night sky like wisps of smoke, "to protect me forever and ever? I'm going to be the greatest Queen ever, and unite all the land. I'm going to make this place the best place to live, so you have to promise to protect me, okay?"
Silence filled the courtyard.
Shadu's expression smoothed out, becoming its usual emotionless mask. His eyes glittered like black diamonds behind the mask. "I made an oath to protect her, but did you know? An oath works both ways. She promised to make her kingdom prosper. Instead, our Queen has brought misery and poverty upon the land. She broke her oath to me, and thus, my fidelity was released."
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Tragedy's GiftGeneral Fiction
Only he sees her tears. And only he cares. A simple gift had started this whole thing, and a simple gift will end it. How far will one go to save the ones he loves? A collection of my short stories and prompt-driven blurbs. Cover made by @MadelynMe...