013 Empty Victory
I awoke to slave-girls in a frenzy to make me presentable for the crowd. The fire was gone from my body. While they wiped the blood from my face, more slaves brought an exquisite dress into the room. I thrust the nearest girl aside and attempted to exit the small chamber.
“What are you doing, Princess? We must prepare you before you are presented as victor.”
“I go as I am. Not for-get blood shed. Not for-get death.”
“But we have our orders,” the slave protested.
“Both-er your or-ders!” I screamed. “They wish hide deed. I not have it! Good man die by me. Is glor-y in my deed?”
They did not reply, so I left them all in their befuddled state.
Drying blood bound my hair to my dress. Gashes adorned my haggard limbs to match the slashes in my garments which exposed weeping wounds.
A guide led me up a flight of stairs toward the royal family. I scuffled to the King with the air of a conquered soldier rather than the triumphant Princess. My absent salute earned Centin's scorn.
“Why do you present yourself before the King in such a squalid condition” he asked.
“Good man fell. How I have joy”
Tension filled the room like steam from the vents in the uninhabited regions of the Barren Caverns. I quivered before the royal couple in fear of their displeasure. The thing I desired was accomplished. I was Princess, but it did not satisfy.
“How can you not rejoice You are being made heir to the throne,” Centin replied.
Rejoice? Faithful’s body is being carted off to some unmarked grave where he will be forgotten. His widow mourns in a pool of her lovers blood. He should stand here in my stead.
The Queen rose from her place beside her husband and approached me. My trembling increased tenfold. She placed her claws on my shoulders and dragged me into a room adjacent to the platform.
“Yes,” I stammered.
“Tell me, did you intend to kill him”
“No,” I pulled away from her.
“Did he not know the risks associated with such a contest?”
“Then how can you blame yourself for his death”
“I smote his heart! I at fault!”
“Not con-sole with lies. I not for-get fri-end death!”
“Compose yourself!” she slapped my face. “He will have a funeral if you desire it. Now lay aside your grief until you are in the privacy of your own bower!” she hissed through her fingers.
“What of jus-tice? Fu-ner-al not re-turn from death. Not a-venge him.”
“You must abandon this senseless display of grief for a worthless slave from Stonecourt. Everybody rejoices at the death of his kind of scum.”
So, they did not cheer my victory, but his death.
After instructing me to array myself in one of the dresses hanging along the wall, the Queen departed. I intended to disobey, but as I exited the room, a gown much lovelier than any I had ever felt wrapped itself around me of its own accord. With the touch of the strange fabric, the filthy clothes beneath disintegrated and courage filled my heart. The fabric fit so perfectly that I scarcely felt its presence.
When I emerged, the King pronounced me victorious with great ceremony and recited a prepared speech. Tears spilled from my useless eyes. The agony of my wounds and guilt prevented all pleasure. The King and Queen hated me, but did not show it. They feigned pleasure at their new daughter as they blessed the gods for bestowing me upon them.
During the celebration, the dress strengthened me and permitted me to function despite my injuries. After hours of feasting in which I embarrassed myself many times by my lack of social graces, I was finally permitted to retire. I needed rest after the anxiety and anguish of my day.
Who could feast and dance after the death of their only friend?
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