So I opted to put scenes 2 and 3 of the prologue together, since they’re both relatively short. Scene 2 introduces the physician/apothecary Esset who, like Ronnius and Lady Synnis, I’d intended larger roles for when originally planning the story out (in contrast with Elissa, who didn’t even have a name in my original draft of scene 1, but who eventually ended up cast as Queen Viarra’s lover). Scene 3 brings in General Derron, one of Viarra’s mentors and commander of her island forces.
Ronnius didn’t bother knocking when they arrived at Esset’s shop; he kicked the door in and barged up the stairs to the old man’s bedroom. “What in the—?” Esset yelped as Ronnius jerked him out of bed. “Ronnius? What in the hells has gotten into you, man?”
“There’s been an attack on the royal estate,” Ronnius said shortly, dragging the old man down the stairs. “Queen Viarraluca is critically wounded and you are going to do your best to heal her, as your survival now depends upon hers.”
The physician gulped visibly. “Queen Viarraluca?” he repeated. “Get her into the back room, then. I’ll do everything in my ability.”
“Light no flames in the front room,” Queen Viarra ordered hoarsely as they moved her onto a cot in the back room. “We want no one to see light through the window. Synnis, help Ronnius fix and then bar that door he broke while you’re waiting. Elissa, stay with me and assist the doctor with anything he needs. Doctor, keep the door to the back room shut so that no light leaks from it into the front room.”
Thankfully, despite the darkness, the front door was not difficult to fix—Ronnius’s kick had merely knocked loose one of the clasps holding the bar in place. It only took a couple minutes, then Ronnius and Synnis each found shop chairs and sat in the darkness to wait. After what seemed a long time, the alarm bell began clanging in the distance. Ronnius smiled as the commotion ensued outside the shop. He could see torches being carried by running men outside the curtained window.
“I wonder if anyone else survived,” Lady Synnis said into the darkness.
“I can’t say,” Ronnius admitted. “My first duty was to find the King. It wasn’t until after that I started to search for survivors.” Though he couldn’t see her, he looked over at her anyway. “How did the three of you survive, may I ask?”
Lady Synnis seemed to hesitate. “I… her majesty and I were up late talking in her chamber, and I fell asleep in her favorite chair. Elissa rushed in to wake us when the attack hit, so we barricaded the door and hoped they wouldn’t come after us.”
“But they broke in anyway,” he finished for her. “How did the three of you stop them?”
Ronnius thought he could hear her smile. “Her majesty slew all five attackers, actually.”
For a moment he thought she was bullshitting him, but he could hear the earnestness in her voice. “I’d heard that her majesty had trained with General Derron, but I had no idea she was so formidable,” he mused aloud. “Those hoplites weren’t the best I’ve seen, but they weren’t incompetent either.”
He heard Synnis yawn and nod her head. “Formidable is a good word,” she agreed. “Elissa and I were terrified, but her majesty kept calm and waited for them to attack. She took up the sword she keeps in her room, then used it to slay the bastards, though she was wounded several times during the fight. I… think if she’d had armor or a shield they’d not have harmed her at all.”
Ronnius mulled this new information over as he sat in the dark. A warrior queen could make for an interesting change of pace for their little city-state. Viarra’s father had been a pacifist almost to the detriment of the kingdom. Certainly, he’d rallied the soldiers and citizens to the city’s defense on several occasions, but he’d also passed up many opportunities to strengthen their geopolitical position, opting out of open war. Arrol, who’d taken up the throne barely a year past, was more charismatic than his father but had given every indication of continuing his father’s policies. Ronnius privately felt that this was the reason Kel Fimmaril had so many enemies—because their rivals and would-be allies alike saw this pacifism as a sign of weakness.
He yawned, then smiled a bit as he heard Lady Synnis snoring softly from her chair. After a few minutes, he dozed off as well.
General Derron, commander of the soldiers of Kel Fimmaril, strode through the late king’s manse, surveying the carnage. The guards had lit all of the torches in the house, giving an orange glow to the blood and death. The old general felt sick as he leaned against the doorway to the king’s chambers. King Arrol and his queen were dead, as were their children. He could see their bodies lying within the royal chamber.
Though he’d had no warning of the attack, no way of preventing it, Derron couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d failed. He’d failed his life-long friends, King Arrol’s father and grandfather. He’d failed the king’s brothers and sister, who he’d loved like his own children. He’d failed the citizens of the island, who’d counted on him to protect them and their rulers.
So this is it, he realized, tears staining his grizzled face. The royal family was dead. Duke Elladan had left his stench on the entire assassination, but because he was the only person left in line for the throne, he’d get away with murdering his brother’s family. Certainly, some of the other nobles would balk, but what could they do? Elladan was king now. Derron could easily raise a military coup and depose the bastard, but there was no one left to put on the throne. And such a move would only bring more chaos to the already beleaguered citizens of the island. Somehow, he knew that this was what Elladan was counting on.
No, Derron would do his duty to the people of Kel Fimmaril. He would serve the usurper faithfully and dedicate the last years of his life to protecting the citizens of the island that had been his home for over sixty years. Turning to leave the king’s chambers, Derron knew that these last years would be the hardest years of his life.
“I’m sorry, my lord general,” city guard Fillo said, looking rattled to see his commander weeping. Derron just nodded, patting the old guardsman on the shoulder as he passed him in the hall.
The general paused outside of the door to Princess Viarraluca’s chambers. The beautiful princess had been Derron’s best and brightest pupil. Strong, smart, and tough, Viarra had been a match for any of Kel Fimmaril’s hoplite elite since she was fourteen. Despite his grief, Derron was curious to see how many attackers she’d taken with her. He braced himself and stepped through the broken doorway.
Stepping over the debris from the battered-down door and barricade, Derron smiled slightly seeing five fully-armed and armored hoplites lying dead in the room. Good girl, he thought, that’s my good girl. Derron frowned, realizing there were no other bodies in the room.
“Fillo,” he called to the guardsman, “could you step in here for a moment?”
“Yes, General,” the old guard replied as he entered the princess’s room. “She, ah, she gave as good as she had, didn’t she?” he commented, whistling.
“So this is the first you’ve been in here?” Derron asked, tilting his head slightly.
“Aye,” the guard nodded. “As there were only the four of us, and I sent young Kellim to raise the alarm, we thought it best to wait for reinforcements before securing the grounds. The reinforcements got here just before you did.”
“Probably wise,” Derron agreed. “But you told me when I arrived that the royal family was dead. How did you know that if you hadn’t been inside the house?”
“Sir, I…” Fillo broke off, looking down. The guard’s hesitation nearly made the old general crow with joy.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Derron told the guardsman, trying not to laugh. “The fact that the princess’s body isn’t here tells me that she escaped. The fact that you lied tells me that you saw her and she told you not to tell anyone she was alive.”
Fillo looked crestfallen. “I’m sorry, General, I—”
“Don’t worry about it,” Derron cut him off, laughing quietly. He took Fillo by the shoulders and kissed the old man on both cheeks. “That you’d keep her secret even from me has earned you and your group a promotion.”
Fillo just stared in shock. “Yes, sir, thank you, sir,” he stammered a bit. “But I should also tell you that she was hurt, bad. Dark bandages on her chest and stomach. Prince Kellor’s woman and one of her handmaids had to all but carry her.”
“Handmaid? Which one?”
“I can’t think of her name… the skinny one with the brown hair.”
“Elissa,” Derron confirmed. Good. “It was just the three of them?”
“No, that young nephew of the duke’s wife was with them: Ronnius, I think his name is.”
“Why was Ronnius there?” Derron frowned.
“I didn’t ask, General. Should I have?”
“No, I’m just not sure where Ronnius’s loyalties lie.” Derron thought for a moment. “If the princess was willing to trust him, I will for now. But if he’s betrayed her somehow, I’ll gut him with my bare hands.”
“He was the only one armed,” Fillo informed him.
So if he’d wanted, Ronnius could have killed the princess sooner. “That helps, thank you, Fillo.”
“So, what now, General?”
“Now, I do exactly what I was going to when I thought her highness was dead.”
Fillo looked puzzled. “You’re not going to try to find her?”
Derron shook his head. “She’s at Esset’s shop. It’s the only place it makes sense for her to go if wounded and trying to hide. When she’s ready she’ll find me.”
They left the princess’s chamber and headed for the rainy courtyard. Throughout the house guards and medics checked among the bodies and tended the handful of wounded servants they’d found. Outside, eleven city guards watched over the eight prisoners—attackers who’d surrendered once the guard arrived. Two of them were clearly wounded.
“This is all of them?” Derron asked, stepping over to where the traitors were bound on their knees against the courtyard wall.
“Yes, General,” one of the guards confirmed.
Derron glared coldly down at them for a long moment. “Hang them,” he ordered the guards. “They’re all expecting a pardon from Duke Elladan for betraying our king. Take them to the execution square, right now, and make sure that pardon never comes.”
“Wha—? You can’t do this!” one of the prisoners shouted.
“So stop me,” Derron suggested icily as he turned and strode from the courtyard.