Free-For-All (Flash Fiction, 1200 words approx)

Queen Kyrisa Talia Harverton strode down her corridor. Around her, the walls sung with the runes her family had laid into them. Every now and then she spotted a rune that came from outside the family – the layer of magic that had been set down by the rebellion in the late 1800s, the suffragette movement layer, the unions and their own little rebellion.That one in particular had been quieter, more insidious – but they had all eventually been integrated into the overarching pattern of it all.

Her family held the blueprint. They were the beginning, and the end – every bit of magic that protected the city tied back into their lifeblood.

If you killed the royal family, you killed the healthcare system, the trams, the trains, the air pollution control mechanisms, the electricity, the phone networks, the best modes of food production. The city lived and breathed her family’s magic, and so it was theirs.

Not all of the land was so well held though.

She met Clarissa at the end of the corridor. The sink is an empty hole of power – around them the smell of the magic around them disappeared, pulled into the black hole of her nothingness.

“Does anyone else know?” She asked. The sink shook her head.

“Just you your majesty.”

Queen Haverton nodded, and gestured for the other woman to enter the room before her.

It was a small room, with no windows, and a map table at the centre. Normally, Haverton would activate the runes on the walls – with Clarrisa here, they didn’t work. So she lit a lamp instead. You could work around Clarrisa. It was something so many forgot.

The map was of the inland sea, the two nations that bordered hers, and the little group of rocks they were fighting over in the middle of said sea. This fight was not new – it had always been an issue.

The problem was that someone had found out about her cancer.

“So what the hell do we do about this Clarrisa?” She pointed at the little province that stretched between the two countries and boarded the inland sea. “What the hell do we do about foreign nationals eyeing off my land? Hmmm? Any ideas? Or still too busy trying to convince my son you’d make a great queen?”

She’d checked. Time and time again, she’d checked, after becoming aware of the interest the two countries were showing in this little land bridge between them. The ruler of the province was a bastard, only in power because no-one else wanted the issues that came with dealing with a province so full of mixed blood it made a battlefield between two countries look like a genocide.

Clarrisa hadn’t said anything. Hadn’t let anything loose. While the sink was beyond the reach of her majesty’s magic, she was not beyond the reach of her majesty’s drugs, or her majesty’s spys.

Her son had almost abdicated over his paramour’s treatment, but at least she had known. Clarrisa had nothing to do with it.

Who let it slip though? That still keeps her sharp. If someone that close to her had betrayed her, then they are more than capable and willing to do it again.

“My plan would be to work with the governor to shore up his own resources.” Clarence’s fingers skittered over her info-pad, drawing up the relevant information. “He’s done a good job of keeping it together over the past ten years – there was the issue of a civil incident in the north just after he took over, but he’s had no issues after that.”

“Give it to Nate.”

The sink’s fingers paused and the incessant tapping faded. “Nate?” She licked her lips, and then forged forward, “are you mad?”

A year ago, she would not have dared. A year ago, the heir to the throne had not threatened to throw it all away over her.

“Calhum will need someone to shore up his power – he will need a powerful younger brother who acts in his best interests.” Haverton gestured again at the map. “This will be Nate’s opportunity to prove himself to that. This land has nothing of our family in its magic. It will be a good place for him to forge himself.” She sat down in one of the wooden, high-backed chairs that clustered around the table. “You will help him do it.” A beat of silence “See it as your own proving ground.”

Clarissa was nothing if not good at controlling herself. The queen saw several arguments flash through her head, saw the sink process the fact that the queen must surely already know that her second son is an idiot. The sink’s lips thinned, pressing together until they were white around the edges.

The process she puts herself through is always a pleasure to watch. The gradual un-knitting of her muscles as she breathes through her anger, makes it part of her, replaces it with a “damn you to hell” calm.

“As you wish, you majesty.”

Her highness never said she didn’t admire the woman. Just that she wasn’t going to hand over her first son without the woman in question proving herself first.

Her own husband had had to do the same for her father, so she doesn’t see why her son should have life any easier.

When Clarrisa was gone, she grabbed the pad from table, and navigated her way to the message bank. Opening it, she raised the royal chamberlain on the central line.

“Your Highness” Gary’s face was familiar, calming in the midst of all this. Haverton smiled at him.

“Gary, could you send a request to…” she flips back over to the information that Clarance had pulled up on the bastard governor. Half breed, adopted father of a five-year old, and a ruler since he was 22. If life was any fair, she’d just back him, make his hold on power official.

But someone went and created a power free-for-all by letting evidence of her terminal illness get out. This far-flug outpost of a province is one of the prizes.

He’ll get his chance to fight it out with everyone else. If it’s going to be a free-for-all skirmish, it’s going to be a free for all for everyone.

“You highness?”

“Call Governor Ward into the capital, would you? Tell him we need to discuss his future.”

He nodded, and signed off. Haverton sat back in her chair, the magic of the room, the history of it, singing to her.

Either her idiot boy would prove himself, or Clarissa will, or this bastard governor will rise to the occasion. One way or another though, the land would still belong to one of her people. Three horses in a race, even when they were competing against each other, was better odds than one.

She clicked her fingers, and the runes that had been bled into the walls over the centuries snapped to life. The smells that accompanied the activation of the runes flooded the room – lavender, mint, soil, the coppery tang of blood. The salty smell of sea air. Each spell-smell specific to a branch of magic.

Her pad pinged, notifying her that her message to the governor had been sent, with an addition. Clarissa, envoy for his Yoyal Highness, second prince of the nation, Nathaniel Haverton, requested that the governor brings along his household. Including his boy.

Her Royal Highness smiled, stood, and leaves the room signing with magic. She’ll teach foreigners to try to encroach on her land.

Feature Picture Attributed to Bill Strain ( mrbill78636), taken from http://flic.kr/p/74p3sr, under the creative commons licence, some rights reserved.

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