The White Kingdom was a sprawling, gleaming city of beauty and extravagance. As dawn broke over the horizon, people emerged from their houses, greeting their neighbors with friendly smiles. The baker opened his windows, allowing the smell of fresh baked bread to waft over the street, drawing people into his shop. The butcher sharpened his knives and the potter fired up her kiln. In almost every respect, it was the beginning of a normal, peaceful day in the White Kingdom.
When Cian Sarmithsa was younger, he used to love mornings. He loved the way the fresh light played on the lingering dew as it warmed up the air and he loved to hear the greetings shouted between neighbors. The sights and sounds took him back to his childhood, to the people who were so kind to him and his brother.
But now, Cian had no time to enjoy mornings in the White Kingdom, or anything else, really. He turned from the window as the White Queen’s nails grated against the marble table.
“I said I wanted results, Haverforth!” she snapped, face contorting in anger. “The rebels cannot be allowed to continue, what don’t you understand about that? If they threaten the safety of the Black Kingdom, they threaten the safety of ours.” Her voice took on a deadly edge. “I sent you to deal with them. I expected to find them dealt with.”
The poor man named Haverforth hung his head. “I apologize most sincerel-”
“Apologies won’t stop the attacks on my men in the Black Kingdom!” The White Queen spat, slamming a fist on the table. She closed her eyes, her pale face flushed. Slowly, she straightened, sweeping her blonde hair off of her shoulder and standing with the regal look for which she was known. “This problem is getting out of hand.”
A long faced man with a pointy goatee spoke hesitantly from further down the table. “With all due respect, Majesty, I thought that the people of the Black Kingdom were not to know of our involvement in their affairs. If we send in men from our White Army to quell the rebellion, won’t that raise a few questions?”
The White Queen’s face was unreadable. “That is why the mission was supposed to be secret. It was a stealth mission.” She sent a glare at Haverforth who didn’t meet her eyes. “Perhaps it is time we change tactics. Instead of sneaking around, we give a display of power, only make it look like the Black Army is responsible for crushing the rebels. Any rebel sympathetics will direct their anger at the Black Queen, and that is exactly what we want...”
Cian’s eyes were glued to the table, but he felt the weight of the White Queen’s gaze upon his shoulders. He waited for the words to come.
And they came, like ice. “Cian. I trust you can subdue the rebels without raising any eyebrows? You can masquerade as one of the Black Army for the duration of this mission.”
Cian gave a nod, as was expected. “Yes, Majesty.”
“Excellent,” the White Queen said. “Do not fail me, lest you end up like Haverforth here. I’d hate to see that happen; I actually like you.”
Haverforth’s beady eyes snapped up. “E-end up like me, Your Majesty?”
The White Queen smiled, her blood red lips parting and a predator gleam springing into her eye. She was not the sweet, understanding Queen that the members of the White Kingdom saw. Cian knew the truth. He knew what the White Queen was like behind closed doors, and the difference was....alarming.
“Yes, Haverforth. I like Cian. He’s good, he’s loyal, and he’s effective. But what I like most about him is the fact that by this time tomorrow, he will still be alive,” she said with a smile.
Haverforth paled and even from across the table, Cian could see the sweat bead on his forehead. The White Queen held is gaze for a long moment, lapping up his panic and feeding off of it. It was what she did. Without releasing his gaze, she said, “You are dismissed.”
The other members of the meeting stood and hurried out. Haverforth hesitated, and then followed after them. The worst part about his punishment was that he had no idea when it was coming. The White Queen much preferred surprise, playing with death like a game. Perhaps he would take a sip of his evening wine to find it poisoned, or maybe he would wake up in the morning with a knife at his throat. Cian pitied the man, but then again he shouldn’t have failed. If he hadn’t failed, he wouldn’t be being punished. Cian wouldn’t fail.
As he rose to leave, the White Queen called, “Not you, Cian.”
Cian froze and turned to her, deference etched into his every feature. His black hair brushed his shoulders as he dipped his head towards her. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
He came. He stopped a few steps away, facing her slightly shorter figure. The White Queen turned those piercing blue eyes upon him and asked, “What are your thoughts?”
Cian responded flatly, “I think the occupation plan is progressing rather nicely. Now that the Black Queen and her men have been appropriately subdued and ours installed, public opinion seems to have turned against her. As of yet, there have been no suspicion that she is not acting of her own free-will.” He paused. “As soon as we quell the rebellion, all will be well.”
The White Queen smiled, taking a step closer to Cian. The scent of lavender wafted off of her hair, teasing his senses. “Yes, all will be well. The people of the Black Kingdom will be forced to surrender almost everything to their leaders, then we will step in, the heroes, and give them just what they need to survive. And they’ll be so grateful,” she said wistfully. “We’ll be their saviors.”
She took another step closer. “And you, Cian, will be their knight in shining armor.” The White Queen laughed, a sound like shattered glass tinkling to the floor. She raised up on her toes, pressing her lips right next to his ear. “I wasn’t lying when I said I liked you, Cian. You could be mine. You could witness the glory of this new system from my side.”
Cian didn’t respond, but instead stood stiffly. “And what about the Black Queen, Your Majesty?”
The White Queen drew back slightly, pressing her hands against Cian’s chest. “What about her?” she asked with a pouty frown.
“Will she not try to fight you? To bring to light the fact that she is not in control any longer?” Cian asked, scrutinizing her.
“How much can she do? She is powerless. All of her loyal men were killed - who will believe her?” The White Queen shook her head. “She is not a threat.”
“Then why have we not eliminated her?”
The White Queen laughed again. “We need someone to take the fall, don’t we? We need someone for the public to hate with a burning passion so that we look good. They’ll be directing their anger at the wrong enemy and it will be glorious,” she said with a relish. “Go now, Cian. Gather your men and take them to the Black Castle, where you can pick up armor. Capture the rebels if you can, kill them if you must. Return to me successful and we’ll see,” she said slowly, trailing a finger down his chest, “what happens.”
She smiled at him, then gave him a kiss on the cheek. Without another word, she spun and strode out of the room, her white gown trailing behind her. Then, the door closed and Cian was alone. The red lipstick mark on his cheek stung like acid and he wiped it away with his sleeve.
Brooding, Cian strode to the window. He remembered his first glimpse of the White Queen when he was but a boy, an orphan living in the street with his younger brother. They had been standing in the street, hungry and cold, when the White Queen came riding through the street on her brilliant white horse. It was the most beautiful sight Cian had ever seen. In that moment, his hunger didn’t matter and the chills had gone away. He knew then that he would do anything for that woman, just to see her smile like she smiled at him then.
And when the White Queen snapped her fingers and Cian and his brother were given blankets and food, Cian’s life was no longer his own. He lived to serve his good, kind Queen. He lived to fight for her, to protect her, to die for her.
In all the years since then, the White Queen hadn’t changed one bit. She was still the glorious, illustrious woman who inspired Cian’s loyalty and love. And Cian would still do anything for her.
Cian left the room; he had supplies and men to ready, for in the morning they rode. He would not fail her.
The White Queen shut the door to her chambers and sank down into a stool. She released the Glamour on herself and watched in the mirror as her hair transformed from silky smooth to limp and her eyes went from bright and energetic to tired. All of the magic involved in keeping the Black Kingdom under control was taking its toll. She needed someone to share the burden.
She needed Cian. He didn’t know it, but he had magic in him. It was buried, sure, raw and untrained, but it was there. And the White Queen was certain she could tap into this power as he slept, draw it out and take it for herself. With her skill and his power, they could make the Black Queen’s curse permanent, eliminate her as a threat entirely.
Together, they could control everything, and no one would stand in their way. The White Queen watched as her reflection grinned a beautiful, cruel smile.