A/N: I’ve been going a lot with the one-word chapter titles lately, so I thought I’d make up for it with this one. Not too long before we’re at the end. Happy reading 🙂
“I know who did this.”
Now everyone’s eyes were on Caution. Even though she still couldn’t see them (she couldn’t see anyone; her eyes were locked with Creep’s), Caution could feel the rest of the nearly-three hundred. They were all staring at her too.
They were waiting for her to say something.
“Um,” was all she could manage.
Creep was unwaivering.
She forced her mouth to open again. “You do?”
Creep looked around at the faces surrounding him, before landing his gaze back on Caution. “I do.”
Caution glanced at Captain Moorson. His hand was mere inches away from his sword. Maybe he wouldn’t have her hanged. Maybe he’d just cut her head off and be done with it. And Creep would let him. Caution looked back at her sworn protector.
It was over. She had killed a man, her husband was dead, her family thought she was dead, and Creep wished she was. There just wasn’t any point.
Still, she had to be a hundred percent sure. “Who?” she asked finally.
Creep looked surprised by the question, in as much as Creep ever looked surprised about anything.
The one positive result of Caution’s question was that everyone was looking at Creep again.
Creep grabbed the handle of the knife and pulled. It made a sticky kind of slurping sound as it slid out of Andy’s chest.
“I recognize this knife,” he said, holding it up. “It is an Abiku hunting knife.”
Caution’s breath caught in her throat. This was the moment.
“He was killed by our enemies.” Creep got to his feet and handed the knife to Captain Moorson.
Caution ran off to throw up.
There was general commotion behind her, far away. Then she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Creep,” she said, spinning around.
Captain Moorson looke down at her, and smiled very, very slightly. “Your Highness? Are you alright?”
Caution wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. “I’m Okay.”
“We must return to the castle, Highness. The sun will begin to set shortly, and there is business that we both must attend to. I’ve set some men to the task of arranging transportation for His Majesty. Please come with me.”
In a daze, Caution followed Moorson through the now silent forest, toward the horses.
Creep was already mounted, and at least two hundred of the Imperial Guard were milling around on the grass.
Captain Moorson continued to face forward, but leaned to the side, bringing his mouth close to Caution’s ear. “Your Majesty, one final thing: You are certain that it was The King?”
“I know my husband,” Caution snapped back. Truth be told, she wouldn’t have been one hundred percent sure, if it weren’t for the fact that she killed him. The man in the forest was so pale and gaunt and… lifeless. He looked nothing like the supermodel she had met here just a few weeks ago.
“I had to be sure,” The Captain replied. Then, without warning, without even a perceptible intake of breath, he opened his mouth and shouted, “The King is dead!” at the top of his lungs.
Caution jerked away from him, and everyone else turned to stare.
“The King is dead!” he repeated. “Long live The Queen!”
The shouts echoed back, over two hundred strong – “Long live The Queen!” People were bowing left right and centre. There were even a few people on horseback who attempted to bow without dismounting. “Long live The Queen!”
“Yeah,” Caution muttered under her breath. “Long live me.”
The air was just as fresh on the way back, the view just as beautiful. But even the clear air and soft, distant bird songs weren’t enough to stop Caution from feeling sick, tried and miserable. And soon they could see the castle. All the way through the city, it was the same: The King is dead! Long live The Queen!
Since some of the peasants hadn’t, by this point, found out about Kiros, and since still more were fuzzy on the details of whether the wedding had been completed after the earthquake, Captain Moorson’s announcement was, in most cases, met by baffled stares.
By the time the party (at least those at the front of it) reached the drawbridge, word had gotten out, and a few people were cheering half-heartedly at Caution.
Captain Moorson helped Caution off her horse, then helped Creep off his. Creep, who still wouldn’t look at Caution, seemed equally determined not to leave her side. She walked into the castle flanked by both men. They were in followed by Andy’s advisers, who, Caution realized uncomfortably, were now her advisers.
The group was greeted by six of Caution’s maids, and despite the advisers’ protests, they and Byers soon joined their ranks.
The whole time, Moorson was still shouting about The King being dead. Caution was starting to get seriously sick of it.
They were just reaching the big scary room, where, the unspoken understanding was, they were going to stay until they had figuredout what to do next. They never made it inside.
A man who looked absolutely awful pushed his way to the front of the crowd, then dropped to his knees.
Caution was going to tell him to get off the floor, but he looked utterly relieved to finally be able to stop moving, and not really well enough to stand. “Um, yeah?”
“I am the rider who was—”
“You went to the Chonti village. What happened? Are they okay?”
“I went where I was told to,” the man confirmed. “It was empty.”
Caution looked at Creep, then back to the man on the floor. “That’s impossible,” she told him. “It’s there. You must have gone to the wrong place.”
“Forgive me,” the rider said. “The village was there, where Your Highness indicated it would be. It was empty.”