Time once more for Saturday Scenes! Here we have another snippet from Chaos Theory, my Wonderland story from NaNoWriMo a few years back. (You can see the first, second, and third parts at the links.) In this bit, we’re switching perspectives and introducing some new characters.
In her chamber high above the entrance of the manor, Lady Galona stared out over the courtyard. The sunset finished its spectacular performance, leaving a deep, bloody stain across the darkening sky. She wanted to see that sunset as a good omen, she really did. She’d never had quite the knack for interpreting omens, but they could still come in handy if you could be sure of them.
It had not gone well.
She hadn’t expected much, really. She had thought that the summit was a foolish, desperate chance at holding things together in the absence of that silly nitwit who called herself the queen. Nonetheless, she had immediately stepped forward and offered to host, because desperate fools were always useful tools, and Galona had not gotten to where she was today by passing up such opportunities. Her estimation was that controlling the circumstances and surroundings of the meeting might allow her some measure of control over its outcome. She hated being wrong. People who tried to make fools of her usually ended up making the acquaintance of the headsman.
The torches went up around the courtyard, illuminating the figures milling about the red-veined white stone. Recognizing people from above always presented a bit of a challenge, but the most prominent of them, the heads of their unofficial delegations, were easy enough to spot. No one could have possibly missed the Duchess of Conroy’s massive, hideous black headdress — a ridiculous confection of ratty lace and cheap looking jewels — even amidst her obscenely large entourage, more than twice that of everyone else. A small army of black coaches pulled up, and without a word or a look back at anyone, she disappeared into the first and most ostentatious of them. Griff’s people prowled around the edges in the darkness, the lionesses’ gold armor glinting in the firelight, causing the nearest of the guests to nervously shy away toward the center. Griff himself had the manners — unusually for him — to walk upright and keep his wings mostly folded, though he kept fluffing their feathers unhappily as he conferred with Morska, who clung to his side, her dull, flat eyes wide with alarm. Off to one side, George and Giovanni, their mirrored corpulent forms encased in garish suits, argued animatedly while everyone tried to say out of the way and avoid any stray punches.
It had never been possible to reach any sort of consensus, of course. Hells, it had almost come to blows then and there, treaties be damned. Galona wasn’t particularly interested in consensus; wars always kept things interesting, changed up the landscape, brought out all sorts of delicious strife and animosity. The peace of Relidran bored her to tears. Indeed, if she hadn’t been able to reach across the divide and manipulate things in the mortal world, she might have died of sheer ennui centuries ago. As eager as she was for a proper dust-up, she had to admit that it certainly would have been easier if everyone would just agree that she had by far the best claim to the throne, better than even that brainless chit Rowanys, and stand aside.
But no, they couldn’t even agree that someone should step in and take over, despite the fact that it had been weeks now with no one on the Scarlet Throne, tipping their world further out of balance with each passing day. The Duchess in particular kept insisting that there was no need to take any sort of action, because Rowanys would be returning soon. This was the thought that held them all in check: while they all clearly suspected each other of being somehow involved in the queen’s disappearance, none gave any indication that they actually knew where she was or what had really happened. Had any of them really known the queen’s whereabouts, they would be much more willing to make an open move. Galona supposed that the whole charade had been worth it just to learn that much, but it was small comfort. As long as Rowanys was somewhere out there, possibly to return any moment, any power play held significant risk.
But biding their time grew riskier by the day. Despite the Duchess’s ravings that Bruadair had things well in hand, as though the royal consort held anywhere near the same sort of power as the sovereign, the cracks were starting to show. The land in Relidran had always been restless, shifting to suit its own whimsical, ineffable moods, true enough, but a strong and sure hand could keep things more or less in order. The lands normally under Rowanys’s care were starting to go berserk. A traveler on the road in that area might find himself making camp in the middle of a verdant field, waking up at the top of a mountain, and somehow ending the day on a tiny island in the middle of a powerful river. And the effect was starting to spread. At this rate, it wouldn’t be long before holes started cropping up as the realm ripped itself apart.
These were all very good reasons to have an interest in returning someone to the throne. Truth be told, Galona didn’t need any sort of reason, good or otherwise, to want a chance at the crown. She had been robbed of it, all those many years ago. Of course she was going to take any opportunity to correct the grave injustice, no matter how unlikely or remote. She had hoped that by playing the gracious hostess, she might demonstrate her fitness to rule, and perhaps gain at least one ally to support her claim. Before many words had been exchanged, it became painfully clear that there would be no coalitions or allegiances. Everyone who had even the slightest possibility of claiming the throne seemed determined to do so.
Griff roared a command to his people, and they disappeared into the shadows in streaks of tan and gold. The twins now stood alone in the courtyard, save for their few attendants, dressed just as horribly as they. In unison, the two looked up at her window, staring deeply through her. She locked eyes with them in turn, until they broke off and headed back inside. Galona slipped back into her high heeled red velvet shoes, patted at her pile of brassy curls, and hurried back out into the hall. Perhaps it hadn’t been a wasted day after all.