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Careful what you wish for

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She was Queen Regnant, the Kingdom hers to lead, and all the courts of Europe stood ready to flatter or fight her - some of them both. Every one of them was waiting to see who she would pick as her next husband, now hers was a year in the ground and she was old enough to both rule and choose a union without a regent. Princes across the known land were being flaunted in her direction. But the only man she could think of was the one who had been her Chancellor, her greatest support, until he was awarded the highest post the church offered - Archbishop of Canterbury.

Now he had little enough time for his own business - his church's business - let alone to play at helping her run the state. The new Chancellor had enough on his plate just dealing with the Treasury. Zagato had led the services for her husband - her lovely, loving husband, who never touched her and saw her almost more like a pupil than a wife, one to protect and teach while he had time - and as Zagato's eyes met hers across the grave, there had been something there she couldn't name.

He'd managed to be nowhere near her as much as possible, the next twelve months, but for when she'd called a Parliament. He'd stood among the Lords Spiritual and argued hard, fighting off the crown's rights in defense of the Church that was now his, a complete change from the man who had smiled gently and fought for her as her Chancellor.

Now - now there was something cold and hard about his eyes, his expression, and she hated him as much as she loved him as he turned against her. Because he was a priest, and this thing between them - dangerously exposed, now she stood alone - this thing could not be.

He let his duty swallow him down, devoted himself body and soul to his work, fought her over every tiny right and duty the Church had - and still he held captive the drift of her thoughts. He haunted her days, her nights, even as he tried his hardest to destroy any affection she had for him.

It hadn't worked. The land could fall to ruin, and she would still love him. It might, yet, if Crown and Church kept arguing this way.

News of the latest piece of defiance came by a letter in his own hand, that fateful day, and Emeraude found herself caressing the page, his script as well known as her own even while the words themselves made her fume.

She dropped her head into her hands. "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!" she cried out, her words ringing through the hall, full of frustration.

So used to never being a moment alone, she never looked up to see the faces of those around her who took the cry as an order from the crown. Never suspected that three young knights would be sent out, across the country, to the very altar steps. She never would have guessed that Zagato would lift unsurprised eyes from his prayers to hurl foul words at them - but make no move to defend himself as the swords came down.


Three days to the hour after it happened, she stood where he had fallen, and her tears crashed down on the bloodstain.

I didn't mean it! she wanted to shout, to wail. I wanted him gone from my heart, not - not this!

Too late.


For the rest of her reign, no matter what she achieved, she would be atoning for this most terrible mistake, fighting the damage one unintended assassination had done to her power and her standing both in her realm, and without it.

No one would ever know that the public penance and concessions were nothing to the private prayers she said every day, for the rest of her life.