My Short Story: A Chest Filled With Rubies

Hello all and happy Thursday! I was planning ahead for this upcoming semester and that meant looking through my old creative writing since I’m taking another writing workshop this semester. Going through my stuff from last Fall semester’s class had me stumble upon this story and I never really posted it simply because of it’s length (it’s, like, 20 pages). But, I really like it and I thought I’d share it anyway and open it up to suggestions from y’all for revision. So, if any of y’all have any points that you think I could improve on in another round of revisions, please do let me know in the comments below. I hope y’all can enjoy this story!

P.S. WordPress isn’t really flexible when it comes formatting. So, basically, this short story isn’t formatted like it should be in that the paragraphs and dialogue aren’t indented. Sorry about that, I tried everything I could to format it but it won’t budge. Hopefully that won’t make the reading experience too difficult to make sense of. I know I get picky with incorrect formatting so, I understand if this gets on some of y’all’s nerves and I apologize for it.

A Chest Filled With Rubies

by: Kristyn Garza

 

“Your majesty, the embassy has arrived from Arcadia.” The royal steward’s fretful voice bounced off the walls of the vast, empty throne room. The chamber was cold from the winter tempest that howled and raged outside the palace walls, winds of pure ice threatening the stability of the castle’s ancient foundations. The massive fire in the corner of the room struggled in vain to warm the immense, cavernous room. Queen Lorna sat atop her throne made of every precious metal, every rich gem, imaginable. Her fiery red hair cascaded in tremendous waves down the length of her back. Her ivory skin was smooth to the touch and as perfect as fine cut diamonds. Her amber eyes flared, aglow with a fury that could never be doused. She was known throughout the land as the Crimson Conqueror, the most ruthless of any ruler in their kingdom’s history.

“Send him in. Do go quickly, Gustavus, I have no time to be listening to the ravings of the Arcadian king’s perturbed mind. Our overseas enemy, Empire Foraylia, has made further movements into our territory. I, therefore, must strategize our army’s next actions. You see why I’d very much like to be done with this charade as soon as possible.”

“Of course, your majesty, as you wish.” Gustavus hurried away, rushing to fetch the neighboring kingdom’s embassy, leaving the Queen to herself and her thoughts. Sighing, Lorna stood from her position on the dais at the head of the room and went to warm herself by the fire. This winter was especially harsh, but no one was more effected by the chill than the Queen who was already known to have skin as frigid and fair as snow. The maids of the house would often gossip and giggle in their spare time, commenting how their Queen was in danger of having her fair ruddy lips and pale fingertips turning into a poisonous blue from the chill that was in her heart. Lorna knew herself to be glacial but, she couldn’t help herself. If only he had stayed, she thought to herself, thinking back to unpleasant memories. If only they had all stayed.

Hurried footsteps could be heard advancing towards her so she turned, the breath catching in her chest. Coming towards her was an unusually beautiful young man dressed in the attire of a low born. His hair shone a silvery blonde like that of stardust and his eyes were a cloudy grey like the fog of a winter’s night sky. He was enchanting, as captivatingly lovely as a man Lorna once knew. Her eyes widened when he bowed to her and spoke in a voice like the comforting crackle of a hearth fire, “Fondest greetings to your majesty, fair Queen Lorna. I, Veikko of the Kingdom of Arcadia, bring a proposition from my master, King Adwr.”

Lorna cleared her throat but could not look away from his strangely familiar face. She spoke, “Then I give you leave to speak. Say what you will then be on your way.”

“Very well, your majesty. Speaking plainly, my King has sent me to ask for your hand in marriage.”

“Marriage?” Lorna scoffed, almost doubling over in bitter laughter, “How bold of your dear King. Does he think himself a worthy man to have my hand? I should think not, that sniveling coward wants only to save his own hide. Begone, I have more important matters to attend to than hear more of this foolishness.”

Instead of turning to leave, Veikko moved even closer to the Queen, “Your majesty, blister my tongue if any of my kinsmen were to hear me utter these words, but I know my master to be a coward of the worst sorts though I love him dearly. Aye, it is a fact as true as the sky is blue but, he knows not the ways of women and therefore cannot begin to understand why his proposal so cowardly. Indeed, he wishes only for the safety of his kingdom which you threaten every day as your armies march closer and closer to overtake our borders. So, I ask you, fair beauteous Queen, what will appease your thirst?”

Slinking seductively to sit at her throne, Lorna cast a dark coquettish smirk at Veikko, “Why, you, fair young lad. I shall like to have you.” In her mind, Lorna knew the boy would jump at the chance to bed her and, having been satisfied, he’d finally leave her to concentrate on the enemy at hand. Men’s natures were always so easy to discern and so quickly pacified were their desires. Lorna knew very well what it took to get what she wanted, and right now all she wanted was peace to brood over her battle plans. My people are depending on me, she repeated over and over in her mind.

Gustavus, the Queen’s faithful steward, stumbled forward in protest, “But, your majesty, he is not of noble birth. A mere peasant, and of a rival realm too, should never have the tremendous honor of lying with a beauty as bountiful as your own.”

Lorna narrowed her gaze to glare at her servant, “Hold your tongue, sir. It is not your place to voice such concerns. Am I not the greatest conqueror to have ever lived? Have I not proven my prowess time and time again? I take whatever I want. So too will I take any man of my choosing and add him to my collection of lovers and play things.” Don’t try to interfere old man, I’d like to be done with this errand soon, she thought to herself.

Veikko spoke at this, kneeling before her and saluting with his fist over his heart, “Risking my life and the impropriety of appearing rude, I must decline, your majesty. You may not have me.”

Lorna was shocked, her eyes wide with furious confusion, “I may not? Who are you to deny a queen’s wishes? I shall have your head for your insolence.” How could he refuse? This is all anyone desires from me besides wealth or status. What does this man want?

Veikko bowed his head low before looking up into her blazing eyes, a gentle smile playing on his lips, “If it is your will to have my head then so be it. But, know that you will gain nothing by doing so. You will remain, still, a lone ruler in a castle of austere majesty.”

Lorna’s anger billowed forth at his insolence and she called for Gustavus to take the impudent man from her sight. Ever her faithful servant, Gustavus reached towards Veikko, meaning to drag him from the throne room and toss him into a dungeon cell to rot away the rest of his years but, Veikko was too quick and leapt from where he had been kneeling in front of the queen’s throne. He vaulted towards Lorna, pressing her against the back of her throne, his body against her own with her concealed knife already quickly drawn and pressed against his neck.

“Your brazen nature will be your downfall, fool.” Lorna’s voice trembled, though with rage or fear, no one could ascertain. Her hand that held her knife to his throat remained steady, however, unwavering and poised for the kill.

Veikko smirked as a small bead of blood was drawn from the skin at his jugular. “End me, my fair queen, but know that it will not end your pain to do so.”

Lorna was taken aback as she glanced with curious flaming eyes from the thin trail of blood trickling down his neck to his unnerving half smile that exuded a calm charm. “What would you know of my pain, knave?” Lorna scowled at the presumptuous young man who stood before her, too close. His sweet aura suffocated her and sent her head spinning with muddling emotions that stirred inside of herself, blowing like strong gusts of wind through a cavernous, hollow chasm.

“I can only imagine, lovely queen. I see the pricks of sorrow over the expanse of your fairness.” He remained silent for a moment before speaking again in a hushed tone filled with overflowing gentilesse, “Who has abandoned you to leave you in such a wretched state?”

Lorna’s breath caught in her chest, her knife clattering to the floor, the ringing resounding through her near empty throne room mimicking her shock. “How could you possibly know? Who are you to see so clearly?”

Veikko gave her a sad whisper of a smile and said simply, “I know of loss, my queen, and of the sting of abandonment.”

Veikko of the Kingdom of Arcadia, grew up with a father for the first ten winters of his life. He was the beloved son of a proud and mighty man who shone with the radiancy of the sun and, yet, was unknown to anyone. Many in the kingdom believed him to be an orphan and wondered how he had survived since no one ever saw his father. When Veikko turned ten, King Adwr spotted him alone in the marketplace and decided to show him kindness by taking him in as his servant. Upon hearing this news, Veikko’s father, the shining man with hair of gold and eyes of steel, turned his back on his son and told Veikko to go to the king for he would no longer care for his child when the king had taken him in. With that briefest parting, young Veikko never saw his father again and was brought up in the castle of King Adwr. He rebelled and scorned the life he was given, believing that if the king hadn’t taken pity upon him then his father would have stayed with him forever which caused his heart to melt into lava within his own body, coursing rage and fury through him. But, gradually, Veikko and the king grew to love each other as adoptive father and son and he cast off his shroud of bitterness and hatred, not allowing it to taint his soul. His heart hardened into a more dependable, more pure essence from the love that he’d allowed himself to be exposed to. Veikko very much knew of Lorna’s pain, but, unlike the coldhearted queen, he had not succumbed to bitterness. Instead, he had steeled himself and let his kindness shine outward, bringing radiance wherever he went.

It was his radiance that caused Lorna to pause before speaking again. He shone so brightly into her darkness that she found herself craving more of his light. “I should kill you for your despicable actions and the words you have spoken but, I will instead have you stuck here. You will be my little caged goldfinch, unable to fly back to your own kingdom. I will break you and your condescending nature.”

Veikko flashed his brilliant smile at her, “Condescending? My queen, I should say not. I have no contempt for you nor any within your court. I am a simple man of little status, wealth, and any other criteria used to indicate importance. But, if this is a man that you would have within your domain then I am at liberty to oblige your wish.”

And with that, Veikko was sent with Gustavus to be prepared to dine with the queen that evening. Lorna struggled to shake herself back into the task at hand. While her handmaidens prepared her for dinner, Lorna sat at her vanity pouring over maps and strategies for how to defeat Foraylia. Her brows furrowed in concentration which vexed the poor servant who was trying to apply the queen’s makeup but was struggling with keeping her canvas of dewy pale skin smooth. The young woman combing through Lorna’s luxurious hair that cascaded down her back in waves like the wisps of a fire muttered under her breath in the language of her foreign kingdom. The other girls giggled but continued their work, stealing derisive glances at Lorna. Chuckling to herself in her mind, Lorna wondered how her servants would react if they found out that their queen did indeed understand and spoke fluently the language they used to mock her when amongst themselves. She could speak to them in their tongue. She could make their faces turn an ashen white from the blood that would drain out of fear. But, instead she recalled the radiance of the young man who had recently entered her court. Veikko’s light was like none she had ever seen. She wanted more, to create a light as beautiful as his own. She spoke, “I apologize for being difficult. I shall try my best not to interfere with your beautiful work.”

The young women all looked puzzled. They knew only the queen that apologized for nothing and was considerate of no one. The girl who’d been applying the queen’s makeup was the only one brave enough to at least smile at Lorna, cautiously accepting the queen’s apology. The other girls fell at ease and continued their work, but, just as the tone had shifted lightly, the pot that the young girl was using to paint Lorna’s makeup clattered onto the vanity, thoroughly ruining Lorna’s maps and plans with the contents of the pot devouring drawn landmass after landmass as the liquid seeped into the parchment and stained it with its rusty copper tint.

Lorna’s rage flared as she quickly tried to save the documents she had worked so hard to formulate. She scorned the women, spittle spewing out from her elegant curved lips as she blistered her servants in their own language, adding an extra layer of mortification and fear from which the girls were forced to awkwardly courtesy and fly from the room with the haste of women who were being chased by demons on their heels. With the door to her chambers still ajar, Lorna slumped back into her seat at her vanity and caught a glance at herself in the mirror, her chest heaving with the intensity of her internal fire. Her eyes appeared as hardened as steely ice. She frightened herself. Listening to the silence around her and scanning the desolate room, she began to weep quietly, almost imperceptibly, not knowing that there was a lone figure hidden outside her door, saddened by the faint sound of her falling tears. What she wanted was to exude light, but instead she just revealed her darkness that writhed inside of her like the rearing head of a monstrous beast.

“Everyone despises me,” she mumbled to herself, “that’s why they all leave me.” Too wrapped up in her own internal thoughts, Lorna didn’t notice when the faint footsteps retreated from their place on the other side of her door frame. In her room devoid of any soul save her own, she found herself wishing for her beloved Mildryd, the nursemaid and head servant who had passed five years prior from a terrible plague that swept the land. She had raised the young Queen since her age of adolescence, acting as the only mother the young queen had ever known. Lorna glanced at the toy chest she still kept in the corner of her room, her mind recalling one of her earlier memories with the kind older woman whom she missed miserably.

—*—

Lorna grew up as a spoiled child, demanding a great many trinkets and playmates from the court gentry. Without fail, her playtime would always end in frustrated tears. Her gifts always broke, or wore away, or tore, or were lost. Her playmates would always leave her and return to their own homes, most never returning for fear of being tied up by their greedy princess again. Every time, after one of her possessions were taken from her or a playmate would leave her, she’d cry and scream and wail like someone had taken their hand and ripped out her heart. The servants and King Cecilius were at a loss. Her nursemaid was the only one to understand why Lorna would become so upset over the loss of trivial belongings and artificial friendships.

“You are an empty chest, milady.” She’d say as she’d tuck the young princess into bed after some fit or another she had thrown.

Lorna’s brows would furrow, hot angry tears still pooling in her fiery amber eyes, spilling down her pink heated cheeks, “Blister your tongue, Mildryd. How dare you call me empty.”

The child’s nursemaid would crack a whisper of a smile, her eyes filled with a strange light of knowledge, “But, you are, milady. You are a sad empty chest whose treasure has been stolen from you.”

Lorna’s confusion frustrated her and she’d burst out in anger, “How am I like an empty chest? You make no sense. Explain yourself or I’ll have the King send you to be hanged from the gallows.”

Mildryd would simply wrap her arms around the child, squeezing tight to let her know she was loved, and she’d kiss her forehead, leaving the young princess to her thoughts in her room, alone.

—*—

At dinner, Lorna felt uncomfortable sitting so far away from Veikko at the head of her table. She wasn’t accustomed to actually using her dinning hall except for when visiting dignitaries came to discuss politics with her. She, having no one to dine with, was used to taking her meals in her study or war room where she could continue her studies or plotting new strategies for her armies. The constricting armrests of her chair made her feel boxed in and isolated. At the far end of the table sat Veikko who had been cleaned of the filth and grime from his journey and given a new tunic of the finest linen in the purest white. His fine silver blonde hair had been washed and combed, his hands and feet scraped of all callouses. His beauty, which was already prominent before, had taken on an ethereal quality that outshone the light that came from the flickering candles nestled within the room’s massive golden chandelier. Gustavus was the sole servant remaining in the room, standing at attention against the wall behind Lorna, ready to be called upon at any moment.

Veikko was the first to speak. “You have a lovely castle, your majesty.”

Lorna, still distraught from remembering her beloved nursemaid, was startled out of her reverie. “Thank you, I’m glad my little bird finds his cage to his liking.” Stabbing a baby potato with her fork, she shoved it greedily into her mouth with no attempt at acting as a lady. Gustavus cleared his throat behind her, just as King Cecilius used to do when she was a child and acted unladylike. Ignoring her old servant, she continued to shovel her meal into her mouth, unfazed by any attention it received.

Veikko chuckled, smirking at her from across the room. Standing up and taking his plate and goblet of wine in his hands, he sauntered over to Lorna’s end of the table and sat at her right hand, causing Gustavus to turn beet red.

Moving forward from his position behind Lorna, Gustavus spoke, “My queen, the insolence of this man to sit at the distinguished seat of honor by your majesty’s side, I cannot abide by it! Please, allow me to escort the knave to a prison cell at once.”

Lorna stopped her chewing and took up her goblet of wine, taking a long swig from it. “Let it be, Gustavus. I am not offended so why should you be? You know I care not for such formalities as to who sits where. After all, I can hardly have a proper conversation with the man if we must continuously shout from across the room. Therefore, I say peace my noble steward, for I am not sorely wroth.”

Gustavus stole a glance at the queen before reluctantly returning to his post where he glared at the impudent young man seated at Lorna’s side. Together, Lorna and Veikko continued their dinner, conversing and sharing stories from their respective kingdoms. Their two people didn’t have much in common except for one aspect of their folklore: there were children of the gods that lived amongst men.

“My entire town believed me to be the son of a god,” Veikko said, laughing lightly, “they never saw my father and everyone knew my mother was healthy and strong as an ox, yet she died while giving birth to me.”

“Yes of course, just as the legend says. The mothers of demigods pay the price for their children’s divinity with their lives.” Lorna knew that piece of folklore very well.

—*—

Twenty-one winters ago, when King Cecilius journeyed to the ally kingdom of Hyggelig to strategize a plan against the Empire of Foraylia during their land’s first encounter with the foreign power, a God descended from the heavens and, upon seeing the beauty of Queen Goderun, unmatched by any other maiden among mortals or the heavens, he became immediately lust-stricken. He coaxed and courted her until she fell into his arms, filled with desire for him. They were in love. But she then died while giving birth to a beauty that doubled her own, and the God gave this babe the name of Lorna. The King would remain in his ally’s realm for four winters afterwards while the young princess was raised by her father in secret with all the paternal affection and attention she could ever desire, though the servants believed themselves to be her only caretakers. Those were splendid days, when the sun shone brightly over the child’s own little world as they often played together in the gardens with the light illuminating her father’s white-blonde hair like the ethereal light of a halo. She was never left to herself, she was always attended by the God, that is, until news arrived that the King had made his return. Just as swiftly as her father had entered her life and that of her mother’s life, he vanished without a word, back to the heavens and wiping his hands of the child he had spawned. The poor young princess begged and cried and held fast to him with what little strength she could muster at the sparse age of four winters old. But the God would listen to none of it. No tears welled in his eyes that were the color of dead, flat, lead. He, instead, pried his daughter’s fingers from his legs and left her screaming for him to return. The child cried and wailed for days on end and would eat not, nor speak not and the castle’s household was at a loss for the reasoning behind her bizarre behavior.

Meanwhile, King Cecilius did his best to try to raise the girl, whom he believed to be his own. But, the child would have none of his love or affections or gifts or attention since they were not from the one person she truly wanted them to be from. She wanted no part of this man who thought himself her sire and she even took to calling him “King” or “your majesty” and never, not once, did she ever call him father. And so it went for many years until the King died three days after Lorna had turned ten winters old. He left this world still believing he had sired a child whom he’d tried to love, though it had been tremendously difficult to attempt to love a child who so clearly despised his very existence. She was crowned a season after his death and, from that moment, she would become known as the Crimson Conqueror, her eleven-year reign being known as the bloodiest and most successful of all within her kingdom’s history. This was the time when her cold heart had hardened and become completely frozen.

—*—

Lorna’s mood fell heavy, she hated recalling bad memories. Seeing her eyes cloud over, Veikko’s brilliant smile wavered. Placing his hand upon her own, he stroked her skin that was as perfect as freshly fallen snow. Lorna jumped at the gentle touch. It feels different, she thought to herself, most men’s touches are far less kind, though this tender brushing of skin burns into me more than any other.

“My mother died.” She had no idea why she said it, but it was out in the open. Veikko simply nodded and kept his warm hand on hers, allowing his warmth to seep into her skin to drive out the cold.

“My mother died when she gave birth to me. The king died when I was a mere ten winters old. Five winters ago, my beloved nursemaid, my Mildryd, died from plague.” The words kept tumbling out of her as she was unable to keep them from flowing. Again, Veikko nodded, his eyes closed as if in pain at her despair. “And…a-and,” Lorna choked on the final confession, “my father left me all alone!”

Gustavus was silent behind his master, but his hands tightened into fists at his side. He and Mildryd were the only ones to have guessed the truth behind Lorna’s birth and it was only them two who looked after her, watching her struggle more and more as the people around her continued to disappear.

Sobbing, with her chest heaving from the efforts of her breaths, Lorna stood from her place at the table. “I-just, leave me. Please, leave.” Placing the back of one hand over her mouth to stifle her cries and the other clutching at her abdomen like she was afraid that if she didn’t support herself she would come apart, she walked a few paces from Veikko. But the man would not flee.

“I will not leave,” said Veikko, taking a couple of tentative steps towards her.

Lorna’s anger flared, “I command you to leave! I wish not to be seen in such a state.”

Veikko again ignored the queen, instead he took several more steps towards her, mere inches from her back.

Whipping around to face him with scalding tears billowing from her flaming eyes, she shouted, “Leave me, I said! Why do you still stay to torment me so? No one would ever want to see such a disappointing queen in a state such as this.” Never had anyone seen her cry, not since the season of her fourth winter. Not since him. Lorna pushed at the fair young man who refused to move an inch. Tears were flowing easily from her eyes, making their amber color liquid like blood.

Unfazed, Veikko held her fists that tried to swing at him firmly in his grasp, “I will not leave you, beauteous queen. No matter how many times you strike me, no matter the countless threats you hurl with scalding curses, I will not leave. Inflame me, burn me with your fire if that is what you wish. Destroy me, fair beauty, for I am content to have you do so.”

Her cold fists firmly in his grasp, his warmth seeping further and further into her skin, the queen’s shoulders slumped, devoid of anger and struggle. Whispering under her breath, Lorna asked softly, “Why?”

Veikko looked into her eyes and, with his voice filled with his radiant light, he spoke, “While everyone else may leave, here will I still remain, for I could never come to despise you, gentle queen, when our souls yearn for the company of another to drive out the loneliness. My heart has begun to fill with only love for you. And so I shall stay, know that that I will never leave you so long as you will be content to have me at your side.”

And with that, the queen was left at a loss for words, for no one had ever given her so much love in her life, nor had anyone alighted so much love within her own heart before. That night, the pair became one in mind and body, giving themselves to each other with overflowing tenderness. Upon making love with one another, Veikko and Lorna learned of a puzzling truth. Embossed on both of their bodies was the symbol of a sun. While Lorna’s was emblazoned on the right side of her chest where her heart beat, Veikko’s was positioned on the left side of his chest so that when the two came together, their suns were joined.

Veikko smiled down at her, kissing the tip of her nose, “I suppose we were born to be each other’s halves, two hemispheres that make up a whole sun.”

“May we burn ever brightly from now into the beyond.” She nestled into him, burying herself into the crook of his neck, not feeling alone for once. Dressed in her shift of black silk, Lorna laid next to her love in her bed that was so large it made her appear as though she were a tiny fragile doll laying lost among the mountainous piles of sheets, tethered to the solidity of Veikko’s presence. Lorna stared up at her ceiling that was so high it appeared to have trapped little stars in the darkness of its shadows like that of the starry night sky and the pair drifted off into sleep.

 

After a complete moon phase, Lorna, with Veikko at her side, had still not figured out a way to defeat the ever-encroaching enemy of the Empire of Foraylia. The queen, being desperate for any smidgen of a strategy, called for the spirit woman that had been making her rounds about Lorna’s realm, helping people however she could with her gift of spirit. Upon peering into the eyes of the queen, the old wise woman concluded, “You are incomplete, your majesty.”

Lorna’s confusion showed plain on her face and the spirit woman’s verdict silenced her voice. Veikko stepped forward inquiring, “To what meaning do you speak those words, gentle woman?”

Turning to the sound of Veikko’s voice, the old woman locked gazes with the fair young man, reaching into the truth of his soul as she had down with Lorna. She spoke, “The meaning is just as I say. The queen is incomplete and you, young lad, are of the same intriguing nature. How odd is it that two halflings should stand side by side, both wondering why their strength is not efficient to subdue the wrath of tyrants when their souls are not even whole.”

“Halflings,” Lorna murmured, “So then you know about our true nature, do you?” Veikko moved towards Lorna, standing at attention by her right-hand side.

The old woman chuckled, “But of course, though I have no intention of voicing what I know. I mean only to advise your majesty. You will never be able to defeat your enemy as the halfling that you are. Your lands will be ravaged and your people destroyed. In order to save your kingdom and drive away the force of evil that knocks at your front gates, you must become whole. Only then will you have the strength to save your people.”

“How do I become whole?”

“When two hearts, two souls, become one, then too will you take on the form you most need.” And with that, the old spirit woman left the castle to travel around and continue helping those in need of her guidance. But, before she had gone, she left Veikko with a decision: give up his heart for Lorna to consume or kill his beloved queen in order to steal her heart himself so that he could rescue the kingdom. Veikko, loving Lorna more than life itself, never even gave the second option a single thought. But, he knew that Lorna would never accept his decision. Indeed, that is precisely what she said when he told her about the solution.

“Out of the question, Veikko! I will not accept this.”

“My love, it is the only way to save your beloved people.” Veikko took his queen into his arms, kissing her softly, once the throne room had cleared out after the spirit woman’s visit.

Lorna struggled out of his embrace, exasperation in every breath she took. “I will find another way. Foraylia cannot possibly be so strong that they are invincible.”

“Indeed not, until recently the entire land had thought your own kingdom invincible yet look at where we are now. Everyone has a weakness, love. For Foraylia, it is you. And all you need is a piece of me, which you already have within your possession from the moment I laid eyes upon you and had my heart forever in your care.”

Lorna tightened her arms around his frame, kissing him passionately to keep the bitter sweet words from flowing out. “Veikko, enough, I will not take your heart from you. Though I love my people with every fiber of my body, I love you with every part of my soul.”

Veikko, readily determined, knelt before his beloved. Taking the dagger she always had concealed within the folds of her dress, taking the tip to his chest. Looking up into her glistening eyes full of pleading sorrowful tears, Veikko’s eyes shone with love. “You will not be taking my heart, but I am giving it to you as freely as I give you my mind, body, and soul. So, my beauteous love, do not weep for me. I swore to you that I’d never leave you and that promise shall I keep. Remember, our sun will burn ever brightly from now into the beyond. Farewell, my love, may we once again meet.” And with those parting words, Veikko took the dagger and plunged it into his chest, dragging the blade down the surface of his skin, ripping through flesh and cracking bone to carve out his treasure, Lorna screaming all the while. Taking a shaking hand, he shoved his fingers into the chasm he’d created with rivers of blood cascading from his chest like a perverse scene of some waterfall within an ethereal garden of twisted beauty and, with the little strength he had left, he tore out his heart, collapsing onto the ground with the treasure still in his hand reaching towards Lorna.

The queen’s knees buckled from underneath her. She stared, her mouth agape, at the corpse of her beloved Veikko. Her body felt hollow, as if a gust of wind could have blown through her and a forlorn sound would resound from the deepest depths of herself. In a daze, she listened to the silence that seemed to be creeping in on her like a beast ready to devour its prey. Looking around her, she saw that it was just herself laying slumped next to the body of her love in a room with a lone throne and a grand fire that made the room eerily glow while not managing to warm anything in the slightest, the cold too potent to be driven out. She was alone once again.

The voice of her beloved nursemaid, Mildryd, echoed in her mind. You are an empty chest. She recalled what she had told herself afterwards when the old woman had left her alone in her room. I am not empty.

“I am,” she whispered to herself, scared to say it aloud for fear of making it true. I am not empty. “I am.” Tears poured forth, clouding her amber eyes and dousing the fire of her resilience that had burned there for her entire life. Spilling down her cheeks, the tears stung and burned as they carved their own salty, bitter path, plummeting towards the surface of the cold marble floor that mirrored the growing coldness of her lover’s skin as the radiant warmth of his spirit left his body. I am not empty. “I am.”  I am not. “I am!” I am… “Empty! Empty! Empty! Empty! I am so unbelievably, unbearably empty!” She punctuated each utterance of that venomous word with the pounding of her fists over and over again on the hard floor that echoed a soft hollow pounding into the desolate, cavernous room. She wailed loudly and so filled with despair that anyone who’d heard would think her cries the calls of banshees, the lost souls of lore. Her sobs racked her body, trembling and heaving like the air had disappeared from the room and she couldn’t seem to breathe. The Queen gasped in breaths, her hands flying over her mouth as she screamed out her misery. Moving towards Veikko and looking into his wide-open eyes, the color of ash after a bellowing fire, she found her own vision blurred and obscured from the overwhelming flood of tears. She took him into her arms, cradling his body in her hands. She buried her face in the crook of his neck and inhaled. Already, his scent was seeping out of him. She laid her forehead against his and inhaled his receding sweet scent, engraving the memory into her mind.

“Veikko, my love, I am of a selfish nature and therefore wished for you to remain with me so that I did not have to be alone, for I am terrified of the feeling,” she whispered to the piercing silence of the room, “but your selfless sacrifice for me and my people will not be in vain, this I promise you.” Looking down at his outstretched hand that had been reaching for her, to her great astonishment, she saw a great big ruby composed of a collection of many smaller rubies nestled in the palm of his hand. The gems were the most precious and gorgeous than any Lorna had ever seen or possessed from the lands she had conquered. There was no jewel more perfect in her own coffer, nor in any treasury in the entirety of the world, than this ruby that she now held in her hands with the greatest love and care. Placing the beautiful gem in her mouth, it turned to liquid and was drunk by the Queen, blood dribbling down the side of her softly curved-bow lips. The moment the liquid jewel had glided down her throat, she felt comforted, like Veikko’s soul had fused with her own and now she would never again be alone. The strength, the resilience that had seeped out of her at the loss of her love, now coursed through her again, stronger than ever before. She now possessed enough strength to take down Foraylia and protect her beloved people. Outside, the winter winds which had been raging most tempestuously for far too long, died down. The ice from the trees toppled, the snow softening from sheets of hard ice to scrolling hills of soft wool. The sky, having been blackened and nearly consumed by darkness of winter clouds, now was freed by the appearance of the bright sun, come to shine over the land once again. Seeing this through the large window beside the expansive fireplace, Lorna smiled sadly as if greeting an old friend.

Touching her skin over her heart she closed her eyes, whispering into the room, “Our sun will burn ever brightly from now into the beyond.” Within herself, she felt Veikko smile, his warmth radiating within her, now that their souls were joined as one.

With her troops having been readied for some time before, awaiting their orders to attack Foraylia, Lorna immediately set off to lead her armies herself. Marching through her kingdom’s streets, her people who had once feared the Crimson Conqueror, the Bloody Tyrant, now gingerly peeked from their doorways at their grimly determined queen who, with newfound strength, marched to save her people. Within the growing crowd of peasantry, a rising chorus of cheers and cries for their queen’s success grew and spilled over, filling Lorna with even more resolve and comforting her aching heart that still mourned Veikko’s physical loss. Touching her fingertips to her breastplate over her heart, Lorna murmured to the spirit of Veikko within her, “Come my love, let us burn brightly.”584437d4a6515b1e0ad75b69Thanks so much for reading y’all! Let me know anything you’d like to say (critiques are welcome as well) and, as always, know that I love hearing from y’all!

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