by SJ Longtaile
The Serpent Queen reflects on grey clouds and lurking shadows.
Titania Attor, queen of the great Brydain Empire, sovereign ruler of the forty-two conquered colonies and head of the royal house, gazed out the large window of her chambers, listless and still, grey eyes reflecting the shrouded sky.
Rain poured down the window pane and doused the city below. The weather was ghastly, fitting for a day such as this, she supposed. Titania tried to remember a time when the world didn’t look as it did in that moment.
Perhaps the fauna had been green once, the mountains patterns of blues and purples in the distance, the houses of the people may have been splattered in bright whimsical colors. The sun had shone back then. The queen couldn’t remember what the warmth of the sun had felt like. These days she felt very little, everything just seemed to drip from her like oil on water. What remained was the drive, the singleminded determination, the patience. The rage was there too but that was bottled up and stored away until the time came, and the time was coming, it was oh so near, close enough that she could perhaps almost feel it; in the throbbing of her heard and the restless whispers in her hears.
Shadows slithered and squirmed, hissing about the corners of the room, strong they were in the dim light offered by the single candle on the desk, the faded light coming in through the window doing little to curb their excitement. The shadows were always moving about these days, they were greatly anticipating what was to come, eagerly awaiting what was promised.
A knock on the door has the shadows all but writhing, shivering and twitching, creeping towards the door as if begging to be allowed to swallow up whoever was on the other side.
Titania dismissed the incessant shadows with a loose flick of her wrist before admitting the visitor entrance.
A tall, twig thin man swept himself in with the air of someone who was either foolish or unafraid of standing before the Serpent Queen without so much as a bow to show his respect. His stony angular face was emphasized by the straight lines of this black robes, the white frock at his throat all too telling that perhaps he was the latter. A priest has no reason to fear a queen, after all, the only one who could truly punish a man such as he was a power greater than a ruler.
So they believe, Titania thought bitterly, she didn’t care to admit how many times she’d wished that God really was the only true power in world. But she’d given that dream long ago, the shadows were proof of that. They could barely control their joy at the priest’s arrival, they absolutely adored him, thought he was adorable, or so they insisted on whispering to her every time he came to her.
“What is it, Father Leif? I do not recall requesting a meeting today,” she said, tone idle, bored almost.
“I simply thought that given the circumstances that you’d like to make a confession today, your majesty,” Father Leif responded gently, hands folded neatly over a bible in front of him, face soft and inviting.
Titania couldn’t help the derisive, unladylike snort that puffed its way out of her, a sardonic smile on her face as she returned her gaze to the window. “I have nothing to confess, Father. Today is not a day I need to be forgiven for.”
There was a pause, the candle on the desk flickering in an undetectable wind as the shadows strained against Titania’s hold, wanting desperately to gobble up the priest. Distracted as she was, the queen didn’t notice the strange look in Leif’s eyes, it is uncertain whether or not she would had noticed even if she had been looking at him, for his eyes were green. A venomous green that rivalled even that of her empire’s flag, and a color that screamed danger to anyone who could see it. If she had seen that unusual color, she might have understood the shadows’ interest and intense obsession with him.
A tentative knock at the door drew the attention of the room.
“Come in,” Titania granted entry while the priest stepped aside and opened the door for the new visitor.
It was a young man, dressed in velvets and silks, he bore brilliant sapphires for eyes, but the blond hair and sharp cheek bones marked him as the queen’s flesh and blood.
The Crown Prince Edward was a gentle and mild mannered young man, carefully groomed and well educated to succeed his mother. Already he was taking on responsibility within the kingdom, seeing to tasks deemed unworthy of his mother’s time but still requiring a royal hand. Edward would be a good king, competent at running an entire country and caring for his subjects, his tutors had assured the queen. But Titania wouldn’t just hand him the empire she’d worked so hard to build and maintain, simply because he was her son. If he wanted to rule one day, he would have to be good enough to take it from her.
“Prince Edward,” Father Leif greeted, the strange look in his eyes gone, but his stony features seemed to smooth out a little, like he was speaking to a pup instead of a fledgling snake,”Well then, your majesty, I shall take my leave of you.”
Titania made an idle, dismissive wave at him, and with that, he was gone. The shadows mourning his absence as they settled, though they were still excited by Edward’s presence, they knew they couldn’t have him, so they were content to stay back and observe.
Edward stared at his mother for a long moment before he realized she was waiting for him to speak.
“Mother— I mean, my queen,” he addressed her, bowing as he should, seeing as this was about formal business,”Everything is set. The trial is ready to begin.”
Humming in pleasure, Titania slid from her perch on the window sill, a small but sharp smile gracing her elegant features, a cold glint in her eyes. “Excellent. You may leave now, I’ll be down presently. Have the carriage ready.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Edward responded, bowing again, turning to the door. Before he left, he had to ask,”Mother, can’t I come with you this time? Please.”
“No,” her reply was instant and cut dry.
Edward began to argue.”But mother, I—“
“No!” she snapped, barely managing to contain the shadows. ”A witch trial is no place for you, not yet,” she hissed, the cold light in her eyes flaring at the word ‘witch’ on her tongue.
Edward looked both frightened and crestfallen. He kept his mouth closed this time, merely nodding and taking his leave quietly.
Titania sighed, a deep breath. Soon, she thought, soon he’ll understand. She cast one more looks out the window. It was still raining.
Perhaps the sun will shine again, one day.