Kasslynn was thrust forward by two guards and stumbled, careful not to fall to her knees despite her bound hands. She kept her head up, making eye contact with the cold man on the throne before her, and tossed her long brown curls out of her face.
“Bow before the king,” one of the guards growled.
“I am a queen, and I will bow to no one. Certainly not to a king who adds a jewel to his crown for every royal life he ends.”
“Your rebellion will gain you nothing,” the king said, spinning one of his numerous rings around a finger. “You’ll merely be added to the collection. And apparently you’re behind the times if you still think I’m studding my crown. I graduated from that long ago.” He grinned and held up the hand he’d been fiddling with. “I have a ring missing a jewel, and I think an emerald will do quite nicely.” He gestured to the guards. “I’ve seen her. Take her to her room and make sure she doesn’t try anything. I’ll see her for dinner this evening.”
Something tickled at the back of Kasslynn’s mind as the guards seized her arms and led her out of the throne room into a small bedroom on the ground floor. She heard the door click locked behind her and took a seat on the linen-dressed bed. She set her tied hands in her lap and resolved to sit with her chin up until she was brought for dinner. She would not be using anything provided by King Julen. If she were to die in this castle, so be it, so long as it was not by his hand or the hand of one of his servants. She would die clinging to the last shred of dignity she had.
When Kasslynn was retrieved for dinner three hours later, her stomach was roaring for lack of food. She was taken, bound, into the king’s dining room, and one of the guards pulled out a chair for her next to the king himself. Her hands were untied and she stood still. She would have loved to punch one of those guards in the nose, but to do so would be to give up her dignity and show how desperate she really was.
“Sit, Your Highness,” Julen said, sitting in his own seat with an untouched plate of food before him. Kasslynn noted this and committed it to memory. Was she something more than a prisoner?
“I don’t think I will,” she replied, keeping her chin held high.
“You’ll grow awfully stiff and tired standing for the whole meal.”
“I won’t be eating any of your food, either.”
“Extra tired, then. You can’t let your pride result in your death.”
She turned to look him in the eyes. His blue eyes were darker than any brown eyes could ever be. “I can, and perhaps I will. It would be far better than being killed by you.”
“You know, it’s funny. If I were to kill you after all your stubbornness – I’m sure you don’t plan on stopping with that anytime soon – then you would be a martyr, remembered only as the queen that was killed by King Julen of Parenna. You remember I haven’t personally killed any queens or taken jewels for them?”
“That’s where you’re wrong. My people will remember. They won’t allow my death to go unavenged.”
Julen laughed. “You must be down on your culture lessons, Your Highness. Don’t you remember what an emerald ring signifies?”
Kasslynn tried to think of her lessons on Parenna, and her breath hitched as she remembered. Of course. “I will kill myself before I ever become your wife.”
“I certainly hope that’s not the case. I need peaceful control of Serdor, after all. Your people are too much like you: proud and willing to defend that pride till the very end. Even with all I’ve already conquered, I can’t defeat your people if they get it in their heads to revolt.”
“Then you made an error in judgement when you kidnapped me. Now you’re in a lose-lose situation. If you kill me, you bring my people on your head. If I die on my own and you take over, you bring my people on your head. And you’d be wise not to doubt the lengths I will go to to keep to my word. I will never marry you, I swear it to you.”
“Then you are short-sighted. You and I could rule the whole world together!”
“Has it ever crossed your mind that maybe not everyone wants that kind of responsibility or power? I am perfectly content with my own country. I don’t need or want the whole world.”
“We’ll see. Please, eat.”
Kasslynn held to her refusal to accept Julen’s offering, and so he had the guards retie her hands and escort her back to her room. He had her brought to every meal for the next week, and every time she refused to eat. He sent food to her room, but she left that on the floor for the mice. She refused even to drink anything. Finally, he brought her to the throne room one morning and she collapsed, shaking, as soon as the guards let her go.
Kasslynn pried her dry eyes open and looked at Julen. Her vision was blurry, and the strain of holding her eyes open was too much. Julen gasped and fell to the ground, a dagger planted in his throat. She saw the guards around the room charge toward the throne, and as her eyes fell shut and she shuddered on the ground, she choked out her final words.
“Long. live. the king.”