Lady Serena placed her pillow against the shaft of the large column, sat down and leaned back; it was her favorite brooding spot; large marble pots on both sides and slightly forward held startlingly blue upright delphiniums and mounding white daisies. The servants had been around early, watering the flowers for the day, and no one was likely to disturb her solitude except for the occasional wolf pup sniffing everywhere and wanting scratches.
Lady Serena, and her older brother, Lord Storm, were the bastard children of the emperor and his first mistress. Their mother had been considered unsuitable for marriage, but she was allowed to rule the kitchen after the emperor joined with an acceptable empress from a neighboring island. The friction between the young empress and the older mistress was palpable, but the emperor demanded peace, after all, he’d loved the mistress and married the empress in a political arrangement; it was all proper and normal.
As the bastards of a ruler, Lord Storm could expect to become a general, if he demonstrated skill, and his sister would become the wife of a general, or possibly a governor. So, Lord Storm practiced his warfare, and Lady Serena practiced her grace in a secluded spot while she also thought of many things.
White Tip, one of the yearling wolf pups, bounded over to Lady Serena to have his neck scratched. She grinned and stroked the soft fur. As she did it, the young empress walked by, noting the love and care Lady Serena lavished on the empress’s pet.
When the empress and her servants were gone, White Tip went suddenly rigid, a crossbow bolt sticking out of his head; it had narrowly missed Lady Serena’s hand. The teenager jumped up and rushed around a marble flower pot. “What are you doing?!”
Lord Storm was peeking around a different column. “I’m practicing warfare.” He shot another bolt and Black Paw dropped.
“Who told you to do this?”
“Mother; the wolf pups are eating too much of our meat.” Another loud pop and Silver Belly rolled, howling.
“Stop right now! These are the empress’s pets!”
Lord Storm swung the crossbow at his sister, “Shut up or I’ll shoot you. The emperor will be fine with this; Mother promised me. The wolves are eating too much of our meat.”
Lady Serena rushed into the palace, dodging servants who were running and shouting, everyone seemed to know what was happening. She found her mother in the kitchen. “Stop him before he kills the last one!”
“I don’t think I can do that now.” Her mother’s sneer was wavering; could she have been mistaken in her manipulations?
“You’ve gone too far!” Lady Serena dashed up the stone stairway to her small suite, which the Emperor had chosen himself because it was warmed by a huge fireplace below. She threw herself on the bed and covered her head with a pillow, staying still, except for crying, as she heard the shouts of her brother and screams of her mother.
In the evening, one of her father’s advisers came in with the servant bringing her supper. “As you’ve probably guessed, your brother and mother are dead.”
“They were only wolves,” Lady Serena stared at the stone floor.
“The empress considered them her family since she doesn’t have children yet; we all know that. If Lord Storm would kill the pups, would he not also kill her children? If he was encouraged by his mother and thought he could get away with it? The empress made the emperor consider that possibility, and he couldn’t take a chance. Lord Storm’s blood lust and your mother’s hatred caused a miscalculation, and I’m sorry.”
“What will happen to me?”
“You’re still well-liked.” The advisor let the servant pass and leave the room. “You never conspired with your mother like your brother always did. You’re fifteen, and messages are already being prepared to send to other islands. The emperor will try very hard to make you part of a royal family.”
“One more question, if I may, will there be a funeral?”
“No. Eat your supper.” The old man closed the door gently.
One afternoon, when I was a kid, my older brother took it upon himself to hunt and shoot some of our dogs. This Friday Flash Fiction is based on that incident.
Aka Darlene Underdahl