22 ~ Zardria

Zardria was having trouble containing the surge of loathing that had flooded through her at the apparent sight of her deceased mother. As she took her seat she could feel her body tensing, preparing to spring. Bloodlust filled her mind and she could almost taste Yarrow’s throat between her teeth.

With great effort she suppressed her animal desires, letting her human side rule. Not tonight, she thought. Death is instant; torture can last a lifetime. Toy with her.

As the heir-apparent lazily let her eyes drink in all activity in the hall, she noticed an officer was missing from the table to which he was assigned. “Bellica Yarrow,” she said, her voice ringing out and causing a hush to fall on the hall. “Where is your major? The banquet has begun―he is late.”

Yarrow’s face flickered, but with what, Zardria didn’t catch.

“I know not, Your Highness.”

Zardria frowned, an expression the court had learned to fear. She could feel the mental recoil as she spoke. “You know not?” she said, incredulity filling her voice. “But do you two not go everywhere together?”

A muscle in Yarrow’s face twitched as she set down her wineglass. Zardria could see her jaw clench. The empreena fought back a smile. Come on, Yarrow, rise to the bait, insult me back–you know you want to.

But the bellica said nothing. She ignored the empreena.

Zardria felt the urge to kill rush up again. The blood rang in her ears, her vision grew cloudy, and a voice in her head whispered, Kill. Rend. Tear. Feed.

Again she pushed it down. That proved harder than before. Not allowing herself to speculate on the strength of her other side, she responded to Yarrow’s insult.

“Has my voice suddenly left me, or is my First Bellica deaf? Answer the question, Yarrow.”

Yarrow’s head snapped up, and she looked Zardria in the eye, unflinchingly. A small part of Zardria’s mind was grudgingly impressed, but the empreena ignored it.

“With all due respect, Your Highness, I’ve answered your question―I do not know where Major Caelum is. As to your second question, I believe the answer is obvious.” And the bellica turned back to her food, passing some condiment or another to Third Bellica Anita.

A part of the empreena’s mind wondered when the food had arrived while the rest of her seethed.

When did Yarrow become so good at insults? When she was born, a voice inside answered her. The bellica’s very appearance was an insult to Zardria, as if the Goddesses were saying one heir wasn’t enough: “We need a failsafe in case this one’s a dud.”

I’m not a dud, she thought. I will be remembered and feared throughout history. And Yarrow won’t be needed. I will see to that.

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