“Home Is Rarely Safe”
Leah leaned against the cool wall and closed her eyes, letting the tension melt from her shoulders. The parade was over. The annual pageant was a tradition, a display of the Emperor’s power and wealth, his army marched down the main boulevard from the city gate to the palace, followed by the huge, self-propelled chariots, the gears clanking in rhythm, small cannons glinting from their sides. The citizens lining the route cheered, but she had seen fear mixed with the pride in their eyes. The soldiers alone were an impressive group, young men, each carrying his weapon of choice but moving as one, well-trained, eyes straight ahead but missing nothing. Her own group, the elite guard, had worn their traditional armor, striking but essentially useless in battle. As the wives’ guards, though, her women were rarely called to war; their battle was closer to home, guarding against assassins, against enemies both foreign and those inside the walls. The wives knew better than anyone that home was rarely safe.
“Captain.” A low whisper pulled her back from her thoughts. She turned to see the youngest of the consorts, Mariah, smart, beautiful. “You must come.”
Leah followed the graceful woman up the stairs and through the halls until they approached the Emperor’s room. She was curious: the Emperor was greeting visiting dignitaries in the great hall, his suite should be empty. Mariah pushed the heavy oak door opened and gestured for her to enter. A pool of crimson blood was seeping into the silk blankets on the bed, and in the middle lay the Empress, the primary wife, dead.
She turned to Mariah. “Help me,” midway between an order and a request. Leah understood quickly. Mariah had taken advantage of the festivities to dispose of this powerful lady and would maneuver herself into the position. She nodded, a plan forming to keep the blame off of the guards and Mariah. Suicide would fit the bill nicely. Leah knew to have the new Empress in her debt her would be priceless. She glanced at Mariah. And dangerous.
“I’m sure the Emperor will be inconsolable in his grief,” Mariah murmured. “Devastated.” Leah looked at this woman, seemingly so mild and gentle but steel underneath, and knew that her ambition nothing less than the throne itself.
Dottie at Tink’s Place has a Monday Morning Flash Fiction challenge that I’m enjoying. Each Monday a new picture prompt will be posted and if you choose to participate you post your story on Friday – 350 words, give or take.