1. Aftermath

The revolution has ended. The Azmi have lost. It is the Evakians who have won the battle. It wasn’t even a battle, young Soolyi thinks, just a storming of the palace and a massacre of those who wouldn’t support General Vikan Srisai taking over. King Vikan, she mentally corrects herself. It’ll take some time to get used to the switch of power and her future uncle’s new title. For now, Soolyi puts on her black shawl and checks herself once more in the mirror. She wears no makeup, and she wants to be sure the change does not have such a drastic effect on her face.

“Are you sure you want to go watch?” her fiancé asks once again. “It will be brutal.”

“I will go, Karik,” she tells him, fixing her hair one last time. “Out of respect because, under him, our people enjoyed more freedom and less discrimination.” She finally faces away from her reflection and faces her future husband. “And out of loyalty to Choenyi. I will not let her go through this alone.” Her decision is final, and Karik with all his military accomplishments dare not defy her while she’s like this.

The dethroned king’s heavily guarded makeshift quarters are in front of the chamber hall, a ten-minute walk from Karik’s guest villa. There’s a commotion in front of it. Soolyi does not need to see the young lady’s face to tell who is arguing with the guards. Her crown with its four dangling silver threads of diamond-dewed metallic flowers gives away her identity.

“Our apologies, Grand Queen Dowager,” one guard says while the other urged her to return to her pavilion. “But our orders are to keep everyone out until the execution. Please, return to your chambers, Your Highness.”

“Grand Queen Dowager?” eighteen-year-old Choenyi scoffs, her eyes watery but her voice unrelenting. “Does my crown not tell you? His Majesty may have lost his crown yesterday, but under Azmi tradition and even the Evakian customs, General Srisai is not king until the Azmi line of succession has ended! And until His Majesty’s head rolls on the ground and the Crown Princess’s body turns cold, I am Queen Dowager! And even if I were Grand Queen Dowager, I am still the most powerful person in all of Karnuk! My word is law, so step aside and let me through or have you Azmi men turned traitor to Evakian cause?”

Soolyi throws a glance at her fiancé, and Karik goes to diffuse the situation. “I’ll take responsibility,” he says to the guards. “I am Karik Csejte, Evakian lieutenant of the first order. I speak on behalf of my uncle General Vikan Srisai. Let the Queen Dowager through. This will be the last time she’ll be able to see her brother-in-law. We Evakians are not heartless. We will grant this mercy. Now, open the doors.”

The guards, though hesitant, give the lieutenant a curt nod and unlock the doors for the young dowager. Choenyi doesn’t acknowledge either Karik or Soolyi and hurries into the building. Her handmaiden, however, glowers at the two, her sneer lingering on Soolyi, before following after her mistress.

“Would you look at that?” Karik crosses his arms. “No thank you?”

Soolyi almost rolls her eyes, but the solemnity of the situation stops her. “Can you blame her? We did betray her, after all. You, one of her bodyguards, and I, her childhood companion. And then there’s Severin, her love, the son of the man who has usurped the throne. Choenyi will not look kindly to us for a long time. We’d best get used to it.”