A tense atmosphere loomed over the moon-lit castle as two servants stood in front of the black throne. Both dressed in white robes, one held a pillow and the other, a gold chalice embedded with colorful jewels. Beams of moonlight peered through the tall windows as domestics and advisors scurried about the throne room to prepare for their lady’s return.
Then, several knocks echoed in the throne room. The whispers ceased as all the servants lined up in two rows. One butler rolled a black rug across the floor as the black doors groaned open. The stunned attendants gasped as their eyes beheld the figure that just walked in.
Limping on a bloody leg, a raven-haired woman dawning black armor with silver linings stepped on to the carpet.
Subjects mumbled to each other as some covered their noses from the unbearable stench of crimson.
The woman’s vision blurred, and she shook her head to keep from losing consciousness. She ignored the arrow protruding from her shoulder and clasped her sword. While blood ran from other parts of her body, her subjects were too shocked to move as they quietly watched the woman halt at the center of the aisle.
“Bring me wine…” the woman’s voice boomed.
Shuddering from disbelief, a young boy sauntered up to the broken woman and held the chalice.
The weary lady yanked it from the tray, tilted her head back and gulped down the liquid. Streams of wine trickled down her pale skin as she swayed from a spell of dizziness. Stopping her drink halfway, she poured the rest onto her wounded shoulder. The deep purple liquor glistened under the shiny chandeliers as the woman tossed the cup onto the marble floor.
A servant rushed with a bowl of water to nurse her wounds, but she shoved him away so hard that he fell on his backside. As water spilled on the floor, she reached for the arrow and took several sharp breaths before wrenching it from her shoulder. Blood gushed from her cracked shoulder guards as her loud, agony-filled shriek tore through the royal court. The burning sting made her entire body tense in pain as crimson dripped onto the rug. She dropped the arrow, and her body swayed towards the side.
A knight rushed to her aid and caught her in his arms while her long hair draped over his shoulder. The woman rested there before she placed her palm on his chest and gently shoved him away. She stood erect and continued her limp down the aisle. Passing the petrified pillow carrier, she dragged her sword along the carpet and the tip of the blade trailed blood across the floor. She collapsed onto the throne and all the subjects bowed in unison.
“Welcome back, My Lady, Queen Testra!” They saluted.
The Queen ignored them as she jammed her sword into the floor.
Moments passed as the woman gazed into the distance and the uncomfortable silence lingered until a formal advisor broke it.
“Um… Your Grace-“
“Scribe” the woman blurted out.
A man wearing a white robe with gold embroidery at the bottom ran next to the Queen, knelt before her and presented a scroll.
“Take my steed and deliver this message to King Laden. ‘Glusea has fallen’”
Her words struck the crowd with horror as they looked at each other.
The scribe’s eyes widened after hearing her words, and he trembled.
“Yes, my Queen,” he said in a shaky voice as he tried to keep his composure.
“To the rest of you, the Odrens have captured the capital and are invading this castle.”
The woman clenched her armrests as she huffed in exhaustion, “You can flee or stay. Either way, if they capture you, they shall show you no mercy. For I showed them none.”
The mumbles turned into loud chatter as they argued amongst themselves, while others fled for fear of what will come.
She watched her once-loyal subjects jumped out the open windows as they stole vases and ornaments from her castle. Faint sword clanks and death cries from battle resonated from the other side of the door as a single knight slid a heavy wood beam across it. With the full throne room now barren, the queen rested her head on the headrest.
“How the mighty have fallen,” she said in a weak voice. Tiny droplets of blood dripped to the floor as she stared up at the candles on the chandelier, reflecting on all the moments she ruled with a sword. A weak smile of delight etched across her beautiful face as she remembered the name given to her by those who feared her, “The Black Queen”.
Booms resonated in the room as a rowdy crowd used a battering ram to break down the entrance doors. Surprised, Testra looked down to see one knight standing at attention while he clasped his spear in his hand.
“Why are you still here, you fool?” Her voice carried a sharpness and pain no man could ignore, I command you to flee, this instant!”
“But my Queen,” The young knight replied in a deep muffled voice underneath his spiked helmet, “What shall you do?’
“I shall stay and face my death,” she said, clenching the black and silver hilt. “I am no coward. I knew this day would come. I just need time to… rest.”
Then a pleasing smile swept across her face as her tired eyes daydreamed. “I enjoyed watching them, you know. Their screams and whelps… were… melodious to my ears. I didn’t even know I’d be Queen someday.”
She laughed painfully as her wounds burned. Her blood erupting from her mouth halted her deep laughter as she doubled over and clasped the hilt her sword. “All I did… was pillage village after village, taking who and what I wanted, and they hailed me as their leader. I always wondered… why people who feared death worshipped it so.”
“Please, spare my life” she repeated as she playfully yet tiredly waved her hand.
“And I would tell them before I slide my blade into their gut, ‘Death is just the destination. The journey there-one should fear’ but I got carried away,” she said as her face turned to a glower. She watched the door jostle back and forth as the troops on the other side rammed it.
“I underestimated them. I don’t know what gave them strength. Perhaps fear, or maybe something else. They pushed past my forces on Undland to the Rivers of Sama and trampled us at the Mountains of Cast. Now I am broken, driven to death, and my enemies’ pound at my door, the last hold, ready to give me the same tonic I eagerly delivered.”
Then, her brown eyes shifted towards her Knight as she leaned on her throne.
“What shall you do?” She asked.
“My Queen,” the knight said resolute, “I shall stand by your side.”
The woman blinked twice after she heard his words.
“Y… You shall?” she asked. “Why?”
“Because my lady, you are humanity’s deliverer”
The queen’s laughed in her mind upon hearing the knight’s words. She busied herself on the battlefield and never desired to show weakness to her men. She never confided in her soldiers. Her power and cruelty lead her men to many victories, but strangely, even as they perished, they clung to her. No matter how dire their battles became, the soldiers remained loyal to the very end.
“Remove your helmet,” she ordered, “I want to see you”
The knight, with his free hand, lifted his helmet and revealed his ball, dark-skinned head. His eye had been scarred from a previous fight.
Gazing at him, she judged him to be in his late twenties, but his mannerisms displayed a seasoned soldier whose face seen many skirmishes.
“I ask again, Knight,” she said, “Why do you stay?”
“For unity, my Queen,” He said.
“Before you arrived, famine and slaughter plagued my war-torn land. Divided amongst power lusting lords, they fought each other with no end. I was ripped from the womb of my mother’s corpse.”
Looking up at the ceiling, his eyes watered as a tear fell from his slashed eye.
“Raised by a group of thieves and vagabonds, I stole, killed for pay… and took everything that I thought I needed to survive. It continued until you and your men raided our camp and slaughtered all but me. I assumed you were the same as every warlord in the land, but whenever they tried to bribe or seduce you with wealth, you killed them, disregarding their wealth and power. Facing the harbinger of chaos, the lords ceased their petty squabbles, aided each other and united as one to face you. For once, I…nay all the knights saw the importance of your campaign and swore to give our very souls to your cause. As we speak, the United Armies of Odren pound away at the door to rid themselves of their true savior.”
Testra’s eyes widened in shock as she stared at her teary knight. She never imagined that her men saw her as their redeemer. She never thought beyond battle; she just relished it, not realizing how much it meant to her men. Tears dripped down her eyes as his words touched a place in her chest no man could ever reach.
“Those are the kindest words anyone has ever said to me.” She said as she wiped her tears away with a trembling hand.
Then, a boom shook the entire throne room as the hinges on the door loosened and another bang cracked the marble tiles on the door. The knight turned around, clasped his spear, lifted his head and held out his hand.
“My queen, let us stand one last time,” He said, with a menacing smile on his face.
The queen’s red teary eyes hardened into a sneer as she saw her last knight beckon her to his side. She flung her hair, adjusted her armor and yanked her sword from the floor. Taking one step, she stumbled forward, but again, the knight caught her in his arm. She stood on her toes, raised her head and graced the young man’s lips with hers and they shared the only warm moment they ever had in their lives.
Then, a final bang knocked the hinges off the door as the beam barring it cracked in half. The door flings open and scores of soldiers flood the throne room.
Pulling away slowly from each other, they stared longingly in each other’s eyes. Not bothered by the breach, both nodded to each other and faced their charging foes.
“Yes,” the queen said with a smile.
“My queen,” the knight said, “It’s been a pleasure.”
The woman rotated her sword above her head and a gray cloud oozing from her blade formed into a thunderous vortex. The knight took his stance and pointed his spear at the scores of sword-wielding soldiers pouring into the royal chamber.
“For unity!” The knight shouted as he charged ahead of his queen. He disappeared into the mob as a clap of thunder struck the queen’s sword and sparks erupted from her eyes. She charged into the fray and the battle lasted the entire night.
Scores of bodies across the blood-stained floor.created a stench that mingled with the chilly breeze. The queen stood over her dead knight as his bloody and broken body lie motionless on the floor. As she held her bleeding gut, flames from overturned torch lamps ignited the oil and the room was set ablaze.
Ignoring the flames consuming her world, she dropped to her knees, picked up her dead knight and embraced him as the blazing chandelier collapsed on them.