Mountain of AshMature

With a sharp crack the thick oak doors swung open. The torch flames lining the walls fluttered in the rush of air. A tendril of smoke snaked to the ceiling as one blew out. Roderik spun to face the sudden threat and pulled his son behind him. He did his best to mask his panic.

Andalia strode into the hall, her eyes dead set on him.

Two guards dove into the room just behind her. “Apologies, Your Majesty, we tried to—”

“Leave us,” she said without so much as a glance backward.

The guards only looked to the king.

He took a breath. “Do as she says. Close the door and take up post.” Roderik swallowed his growing apprehension before turning to his guest.

“I request your presence and you hold up in your keep without a word. Without even the grace to refuse me in writing,” Andalia spouted.

“In all fairness, it was but a request. Sovereign to sovereign.” He was careful to keep an edge to his tone, lest the fear show through.

“In all fairness,” she said sharply, “you owe it to me.”

“What price would you have me pay?”

A mocking smile played at the corners of her mouth. “I'm not sure, Roderik. What price would you put on my son's life?”

“Andalia, you know it was a mistake.”

“I suppose you should tell me it won't happen again.”

The teasing hunger in her eyes gave him the urge to fidget. “That's not fair.”

“Is that what you want? Fair? Blood for blood?”

Roderik glanced back to his own son, the concern creeping over his face. “Imprison me, torture me, kill me, whatever will quell your heart. But spare my son, please.”

She shook her head.  “I want you to wander the halls, like a ghost. Passing years of memories painted on the walls of every room in your castle. I want the only peace you have to be in waiting. Waiting for death to take you.” Her eyes bore through him. “That would quell my heart.”

“Spare him, he—” he stopped short, knowing his answer would fall short.

“What reason would you give me?” she challenged.

“We were friends once, Annie. Do you remember?”

“Not anymore,” she said. “I know our past. But for all that, it just seems so false under the shadow of what you did.”

“I'm sorry. Truly, Annie”

“You're not. You're sorry the consequences caught you this way. You don't want to make it right, you want it to go away. Whatever small difference that may be to you.”

“I did not intend this. I don't expect your forgiveness.”

“Did you mean to start a war? Or do you always conscript such marauders into the ranks of your armies? You couldn't have the decency to ransom my son to me?”

“Andalia—”

“Regicide is a commander's order, not some hero-soldier's bright idea. You're careless and your people deserve better.”

“Why do you say these things? Is that what you want? A war?”

The mocking smile returned. “You must be careful now, Roderik. For I have far less to lose.”

He watched her carefully, the tension unrelenting.

She only turned away and sighed.  “Thousands of years our ancestors have done this. Blood and revenge. What peace can be kept when our houses are pillaged by death and false promises?  We do this to ourselves.”  She looked to Erik, the prince, as he watched from behind his father.  “You cannot repay blood with blood.  All it does is drain the world.”

“What will you do?”

Her skirts whipped around and she turned to him, her anger flaring again.  “Because of you, all my blood is in the dirt and my heart is buried with it.  When I can no longer sit the throne, what will happen to my kingdom?  My people deserve better than you.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am not so low that I would deprive a parent of his farewell.  Your son should pack his things.  I’m sure he’d quite like to explore a new castle.”

Roderik wasn’t sure if the feeling in his chest was relief or further dread.  “And so I will wander the halls like a ghost.  Will I see him again?”

“You would do well to count your blessings, Roderik.  My kingdom will be Erik’s one day, if he can prove to be a better man than you.”

“Andalia,” he could not think of how to express his gratitude.

Her eyes were dead set again. “You may be getting what you wanted, but I will make sure it is only upon your dying breath.”

“If we were in each other’s place, I’d have brought your kingdom to its knees.”

“Roderik,  if we were in each other’s place, things would not be as they are.”

“You should know, I never thought myself a good king.  If ever there was one, it would be you.”

Andalia shook her head.  “More than anything, I want to see it all burn.  I want to see your people flee the gates wondering why their king would betray them to the flame.  And you would sit in your tower, helpless but to watch.”

“And when you stand atop that mountain of ash, what then?”

With the corner of her mouth upturned, she said, “I would watch the wind take it away.”

The End

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