Four Dead Queens(11)

“Murdered?” Corra’s hand flew to her mouth. No queen had ever been murdered within the palace. Attempts had been made hundreds of years ago, when the Quadarian monarchs were free to roam their quadrants and the Quadrant Wars savaged society, but that was before Queenly Law had been established. Now to leave the palace was to forfeit the throne—ensuring the queens followed this crucial law. It was not only for their safety but to guarantee they were not influenced by the voices of the people. For the unhappy always spoke the loudest.

“I’m sorry to say it’s true,” Ketor continued. He remained distant, seemingly uncaring. Like Corra, he was Eonist. Queenly Law dictated a queen’s advisor share her quadrant of origin, protecting the quadrant’s integrity.

“Queens above,” Corra said, leaning slightly against a bedpost to stay upright. Surely shock was allowed? “How did this happen?”

He cleared the discomfort from his throat. “It’s grisly, my queen.”

When he didn’t elaborate, she said, “Tell me.” This was Iris. She had to know.

“Her throat was cut, my queen.”

A gasp ripped through Corra’s body before she could stop it. She shut her eyes briefly once more to center herself and stabilize her emotions. Her chest felt unusually tight.

“Don’t be vulgar, Ketor!” Corra’s handmaiden admonished.

Corra shook her head, knowing her advisor was simply being honest. Eonist. “That’s all right. I wanted to know. What’s the protocol?” She needed to play along until her advisor left her side. Then her real emotions could show.

Grief. She’d never felt the weight of it before. It was rare for someone to pass unexpectedly in Eonia. Due to Eonist advancements, their lives were long, not cut short by illness or old age. Some had shorter lifespans due to genetic abnormalities, but their deaths were still not unexpected. Little was unexpected in Eonia. Corra would rule till her death date in her ninetieth year, although she was allowed to abdicate, if she so desired.

“The queens have been called to court before the nightly meal to discuss who will inherit the Archian throne,” Ketor said.

Corra wouldn’t have time to grieve.

“She has no direct heir,” Corra said. Iris had claimed she couldn’t find an appropriate suitor, no matter how many men had been paraded in front of her.

Ketor nodded.

“What will happen in the absence of an heir?” she asked.

“I don’t know, my queen.” His expression was frustratingly calm. “We must attend court at once.”

While Corra’s heart was splintered by the news of Iris’s murder, she would not allow her stoic mask to crumble. To grieve was not Eonist. It implied feelings beyond general associations. Eonists were a unified people, but distant. It provided an environment where logic and knowledge reigned.

“Lead the way,” she said.

* * *

MARGUERITE WAS ALREADY upon her throne when Corra entered court. She wore a traditional black Torian dress for mourning with a veil attached to her crown that covered most of her face. Corra wanted to run to the eldest queen, but she forced her footsteps to steady. Stessa had yet to arrive, no doubt ensuring her death mask was painted on in perfect detail, the Ludist custom of showing respect for those who had passed. The girl was always late to meetings, but for once, it didn’t aggravate Corra. Sixteen was far too young to deal with such monstrosities.

When Corra neared the dais, Marguerite lifted her veil. Corra startled. The Torian queen’s usually clear alabaster skin was blotchy, and her sharp features were softened from puffiness. She looked older than her forty years.

Marguerite stood and embraced her. Corra didn’t register the contact until she was surrounded by her floral perfume.

“Are you all right?” Marguerite asked. “Have you eaten? You look unsteady on your feet.” She pulled back, searching Corra’s face. Corra willed herself to be calm, then nodded. The tightness around her chest had moved to her throat. Marguerite gave her arms a squeeze. Corra wished she could feel the warmth of the older woman’s hands through her dermasuit.

“We must take care of ourselves, and each other, now more than ever,” Marguerite said. “We are all we have.” Sadness pulled at her brow and mouth.

“Yes,” Corra replied, her gaze steadying on Marguerite’s as she ignored the swirl of sorrow inside her.

The advisors had arranged three thrones close together on the dais to face one direction—Iris’s quadrant. Corra had only seen the thrones encircling the Quadarian dial. She hesitated, unsure which throne to take. They all looked the same, and yet foreign, in that moment.

“Next to me, dear,” Marguerite said, nodding beside her. Corra stared blankly. Iris should have been between them. Marguerite took hold of Corra’s gloved hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze. Corra pressed her lips together—not quite a smile, not a frown. She could sense Marguerite’s disappointment; she wanted someone to grieve with.

She wouldn’t get that from an Eonist. Emotion clouded thoughts, muddying logic and intellect, and that got in the way of progress.

Corra took a deep breath and sat down. Immediately, she was affronted by the view. Every day, Corra sat facing north and the beginning of her quadrant. Although there were no walls inside the throne room to segregate what was and wasn’t Eonist, she believed she could sense where her quadrant began and ended. She loved Eonia, and it didn’t feel right facing toward the west of the room—toward Archia and neighboring Toria. She could see the Torian crest painted on the floor, depicting a boat crossing an ocean. Framing the boat was one large fishhook, and on the other side, a spyglass—symbolizing the quadrant’s focus on trade and exploration. Next was the Ludist section of court, denoted by a painted crest of ribbons, garlands and gems encircling the sun and moon—the picture of frivolity.

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