“There are some things one shouldn’t joke about.”
I walk through the crowd, seemingly unaffected by the force which holds them in place. Showing off in such a manner is against my personality, but otherwise, they won't learn the lesson. It's important for them to understand the relationship between me and them. That reminds me, a real ruler needs a sign of office. I consider the issue for a moment, then I remember the tiara which I stole from the crypt.
When I checked it, the enchantments on the artefact were weakened to the point of slowly dissolving into nothingness. It's essentially a mundane piece of jewellery by now. But it might be exactly what I need. Its appearance is close to that of a crown, even if it's less pompous. I'll have to get it from my workshop and make a habit of wearing it.
Nobody dares to talk to me on my way through the crowd. They even looked away when I challenged them to establish eye contact. I am aware that most of them are most likely innocent. But the mere act of stopping in order to listen to a provocative speech is enough to warrant a small punishment.
I detest people who hide behind numbers and call their riots a demonstration. The only thing they accomplish is to clog up the traffic, annoying those who are actually working in order to change society.
It should be enough if they have to sit here for the next hour, while other passer-byes get to see their humiliation.
Zane, Elma and Willow are still waiting in front of the palace’s entrance. Zane is clearly fighting his emotions, while Elma looks a little sick. Her face has a greenish tinge, but otherwise, she looks to be fine. Willow is unreadable since I can't discern the expression on her tiny face.
I address the guards, waving my hand imperiously towards the corpse. “Clean that up and strip the body of all items. He was reaching for something in his pocket when he stepped towards me. I want everything he had with him. Find out his identity and search his accommodations. Search the properties of his friends and family, should he have anything of the sort.” Though, I bet that the speaker was single and moved alone to Illum.
The guards nod with sick expressions on their faces, then they hurry towards the pedestal. I don't envy them the task of picking through the remains. I made a mess out of the man, but that's why I bother to have subordinates.
Elma is the first one to comment on my solution to the situation. “It's possible that your choice of words wasn't the wisest, Mylady.”
I tilt my head. “My choice of words?”
“Labelling yourself a god. That wasn't the wisest thing to do. Many of the less educated folk on your island already think of you as a messiah. It could cause problems if they elevate you to the next level.” The stout woman bows quickly after speaking her mind.
“I see. Though, I fail to see how I could have given them the impression that I am something more than a mortal.” I scratch my chin, considering the implications.
Elma looks mortified. “They don't know anything about your personal shortcomings, Mylady. They only get to see marvellous feats which nobody else would be able to accomplish. That's enough to create rumours, and I must say that this latest feat will only encourage them.”
I sigh. “So long as they honour their contracts, it will be fine. I really need more helping hands. Getting called out for something like this-” I gesture at the group of naughty kids who I pinned to the ground. “This isn't worth my attention.” If I only had someone in this world who I can really trust. Someone who can manage affairs like this one to my satisfaction.
“Isn't that what family is for?” Elma asks. “Forgive my curiousness, but you never mentioned how you intend to organize the order of succession in case that something happens to you. You have no heir.”
I realize that I must have spoken aloud. It's not like I care what happens after my death. The possibility of me reincarnating on this world a second time is highly unlikely, but Elma is right. That's what a family is good for. If eventual offspring is trained well, they are the most loyal of servants – or the most dangerous traitors. Though, I still dislike the thought of having kids. “I will have to think about this. The whole issue of having kids is only a long term solution. It takes decades to train them. But you are right. I wouldn't trust any stranger with Illum. It's not like I don't have a donor, but the whole pregnancy business is tedious.”
Zane coughs and chokes as if something got into his lungs. For some strange reason he held his mouth shut, but that's no longer the case. “Excuse me?”
I roll my eyes and walk past them, back into the palace. Zane is the only one who follows me. “You are not considering to get pregnant, are you? You promised that our encounters wouldn't have any consequences. You said that you abhor the thought of having children.”
Maybe I do. But the fact that Zane seems to completely lose his cool about the issue is amusing. I don't know why, but pushing his buttons feels satisfying. His expressions are priceless when he gets one of his episodes. “I do. But there are benefits to having someone who I can shape, beginning with his or her early years. Just take a look at Janice. She is the matriarch of a whole culture. She had several offspring, despite her immortality.”
“I still refuse!” Zane complains. “You promised that our encounters wouldn't have any consequences.”
I still don't intend to pursue this idea, but for the sake of teasing Zane I will play along. “That was then and this is now. You don't have to consider your fiancee any longer. That wench is out of the picture. And besides, who says that you aren't already committed?”
Continuing, I increase the pressure on him. “I think that I didn't cast an abortion spell this morning. Willow's unbidden entrance caused a hasty departure in order to deal with the congregation in front of my palace.” I cross my arms in front of my chest and nod sagely.
“Then cast it now, before you forget about it!” Zane gestures wildly.
“Why are you so bothered by the thought? I don't understand. Didn't I already tell you that you don't have to take responsibility? I have more than enough power to be a single mother. It's not like I need you for anything.” That's probably not what a man like Zane wants to hear.
“Because we don't know each other well enough! And who says that I would allow you to keep it to yourself?” Zane asks.
You wouldn't have any choice. “I would just want what's best for the baby. Exposing it to your morals and ideas would be a grave mistake. Illum can't have a weak ruler.”
“What are you two talking about?” A third voice causes me to turn around.
Fuck! Now Zane did it for real. He had to have this argument with me in my palace’s entrance hall. His mother is standing right behind us. What was her name? Esmeralda… I think.
“I- a- erm- W- e-” Zane stutters but doesn’t manage a single coherent word. Gods, he looks as guilty as a murderer who was caught with the dagger buried in his victim’s chest.
Esmeralda doesn’t say anything. The lean brunette is just standing there with her hands balled into fists and her lips pressed into a thin, white line. Her left eye starts twitching while she waits for her son’s answer.
That makes me wonder how Zane’s twisted personality was forged in the first place. His father, Oswin, is a soldier through and through. Daddy knows that the battlefield sometimes requires immoral decisions. So where does that strong sense of justice and morals come from? If I assume that his father is responsible for Zane’s ruthlessness, then that leaves…
My next action is a pure impulse, born from curiosity and the simple desire to learn a little more about this Esmeralda. I raise my palm and slap Zane on the back as if we are good friends. “By my jiggling tits, Zane, get your act together. It's not like this is anything unnatural.” Turning to his mother, I smile. “Oh, it’s nothing! We just had a little argument about your son’s responsibilities.”
“His responsibilities!?” Esmeralda chokes, which makes me wonder how much of our discussion she managed to listen in on.
I nod. “Yes! You see, he went and dipped his carrot into royal oil, and now he thinks that he has any rights to the natural results of his cooking.”
Her eyes widen, but I can see that she didn’t get my meaning. Oh, maybe she understood – intellectually – but not emotionally. Maybe I have to be a little blunter.
“He shoved a bun into my oven.”
“I am pregnant, and it’s your son’s!”
Her eyes turn upwards in their sockets and she topples over, backwards, rewarding me with the reaction which I sought.
“Mother!” Zane hurries forward to catch his fainting mother.
I cackle and return to my quarters, leaving Zane to tend to his mother.