Reina sat alone in her chambers at the Draki castle, her head buried into her sleeve and resting on the table. The room was very plain, and all the furnishings looked as old as the castle itself. She was very comfortable there, and things had gone exceedingly well in arranging Rionna’s marriage. But the good was not all good. Reina had discreetly hoped to find news of Eirian after coming to Iridia, and she had received news, just not the news she’d been looking for.
There had been a fire. Half the forestation between Iridia and Marlowe; torched. The knights had come to Reina themselves, with their heads down. They told her they had found many bodies, adults and children. Only one of the bodies discovered had red hair. They had said her body was too charred for any more investigation. Once the news had reached her, she had retired to her chambers to mourn.
Unwritten letters consumed her thoughts. She had sat down in the hopes of writing to her surviving daughters, her friends, her husband. But something inside her refused to put it to paper, as if in doing so it would all become real. No parent should survive their own child, Reina thought to herself.
“Pardon my intrusion, your grace.”
Reina lifted her head, she had been so involved in her thoughts she hadn’t heard the knock at the door, or the sound of it swinging open.
“Kryssa” she said without emotion.
Kryssa Kovar was the granddaughter of the exalted ‘Lord Kovar’ who had once held custodianship of the mountain ranges called Kyland. Lord Kovar had declared war against Marlowe, or more so against the Casimir monarchy. He and his family had been stripped of their titles and lands, and Kryssa was now the only living relative of his name. She had given a story that she required asylum from the Draki family, but Reina knew that Kryssa had inherited her family’s fortune, and their wit.
“I did knock,” Kryssa smiled.
Reina wanted to be sick. This woman had crept into Conri’s bed years ago, and then left without a word. Later they had learned she had given birth to a baby boy, Conri’s boy. Now, she roamed the halls of this castle, her belly growing in size.
“What is it Kryssa?”
The woman bit her lip, before making her way to the table, and helping herself to the place opposite Reina.
Kryssa was beautiful. Her skin was like porcelain, the kind of complexion noble ladies only dreamed of. Her hair was golden, left wild to fall down her back and shoulders. Her lips were a peachy red, her teeth as white as snow. And her eyes, her eyes were like the emeralds Reina had once held in her hands, from the mines of Iridia.
“I wish to express my condolences.”
“Come now, Kryssa.” Reina had endured too much of side-stepping political niceties. “I’m no fool. There is something you want to convey, so go on.”
Kryssa appeared surprised for a moment, she raised her brows, then smiled as if she were impressed. “The fire they say killed your daughter, have you been told how it occurred?”
“Naturally, I assumed.”
“You assumed wrong,” Kryssa spoke firmly, but she paused as if suddenly cautious. “Are you aware of the way those people are treated? Slavery is illegal in Marlowe, but not in Iridia. Surely the King is required to protect his citizens?”
Reina was too tired to listen to any preaching, she groaned, loudly. “Kryssa, lesser born folk are indentured due to the promises made on their behalf by their ancestors.”
“Yes, so every person out there with dark skin and hair is accused of being of that bloodline, and so forced into service.”
“They’re not forced.”
“Really? And how would you know? Sitting up on your throne you don’t see a lot of commoners passing by, do you?”
“Kryssa,” Reina’s patience was decreasing rapidly. “You came here to tell me something regarding my daughter’s death, is that right?”
“Yes, yes, forgive me.” Her ashen skin reddened, “Those men leading the caravans knew not to start fires. They were smarter than that.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying that it is my belief, that there was no accident.” Kryssa looked away, “Draki’s men set the fire.”
“What?” Anger boiled beneath Reina’s skin, “Why would you make such an accusation?”
“My theory is that the caravans were too deep in the forest, Draki’s men had to go in and risk getting lost and losing time, so instead they tried to drive them all out of the forest by setting a fire.”
Reina was feeling light headed, and the knot in her stomach tightened. She looked at the woman across from her, the candles between them burning strong. Kryssa was fiery, she was intelligent, and she was manipulative.
“Does Janoah know you are carrying her husband’s child?”
The woman grinned, the candle’s flame reflecting in her emerald eyes. “It’s quite convenient, isn’t it? My son is already a favoured playmate of Taol’s heir, they will grow up as best friends, who share a sibling.”
“And your son is a child of Conri, yet you denied him his right of custody.”
“I named my son for him, and that should suffice. And when he comes of age I will allow him to meet his father.”
“In the hopes of getting control of Kyland,” Reina almost smiled, it was a good plan.
“I was born in Kyland, taken from there before I could walk – my son will see Kyland, it is his right by blood.”
Reina leaned forward, “What if this child you are carrying is a girl?”
“Irrelevant. This child will be a bond of brotherhood between the Draki heir and my son, the rightful Kovar heir.”
If Kryssa’s son gained control of the Draki army, Marlowe would fall. Reina knew as queen she should write to her husband immediately, but something told her Kryssa wasn’t going to let anything stop her from continuing with her plan.
“Are you going to declare war like your grandfather?”
Kryssa giggled, the light catching in her hair as she laughed. “I never knew my grandfather. The issues I have with the political state of Marlowe are not monarch related. However, I do wish to restore my family name to the rightful place.”
A silence passed, and Reina looked down at her wrinkled hands. Hands that had held child after child, she had been there at every birth of every son and daughter her husband had sired – except one.
“What is your son’s name?” She asked.
Kryssa smiled again, this time, with pride. “Kazimir Kovar.”