She was weeping, and he could not bear her weeping.
Royal Advisor Antony Sculton loved the Queen dearly, having sacrificed decades in raising and training and guiding her. Nothing–not his grey hairs or failing body or lonely existence–made him feel as helpless as when the Queen cried.
He stood just inside her tent. One lamp flickered light over the dark interior. Shadows caressed the bed where she lay face first in her pillow. She was a hardly more than a child, too tender for the burden of the kingdom.
“Your Majesty,” he said quietly.
“Go away, Sculton!”
“It’s not your fault.”
“It is, it is, it is!” She screamed into her pillow, her body shaking.
He stepped closer. “You always make it your fault. It is not. You are the Queen. You did what had to be done.” She ignored him, still trembling in her emotion. He came next to her and sat in the chair beside her nightstand. “You did nothing wrong.”
“You can’t believe that.” She turned her tear-streaked face to him. She was ugly when she cried.
“I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t.”
“You would.” She sneered. “To stop me from making a spectacle of myself. Don’t cry, don’t cry! It wouldn’t do to see the Queen cry! Let them despise me. I deserve it.”
“You don’t,” he said severely.
“Why won’t you just leave me alone?”
He told her again, patiently. “You have been raised by the finest minds of the modern world. Your father and mother, rest their souls, gave you love and affection. You have matured into a beautiful, intelligent woman. You are a good person. You are a good Queen. This…guilt you feel, it’s just insecurity, just your wanting to please the parents who aren’t here to see how strong you’ve become, just a desire for people to like you. But it’s not real, not true.” He leaned close and brushed her hair from her forehead. “I never had any children, any grandchildren. But I could not be prouder of them than I am of you.”
The Queen looked up at him with her large eyes. “I shouldn’t have done it. You see that, right? I was just so–”
“It’s fine. It’s over. And they’ll learn. You’ve done nothing to apologize for.”
“It’s just, it’s my birthday. I want everyone to be happy. I want to be happy.”
“Of course. You have the right to be happy.”
“Just today,” she said. “One day of my own. I have to deal with them all the time.”
“All the time,” he agreed. “It’s a lot to ask of a young woman.”
She sat up, quiet, like land after a rain. “Do they still love me?”
“It doesn’t matter what they think. You’re the Queen. You did what needed done. For yourself.”
The tent flap opened and Grayson entered. He was a good man, a loyal man, but he wanted more direction than most. “Sir?”
Antony excused himself and exited the tent with Grayson. A glance showed him Grayson had done his job tolerably well, though the blood was still obvious in patches and not all the debris had been removed yet. “Yes?”
“How shall we dispose of them, sir?”
“What do you mean? You’ve obviously done something with them.”
“They’re in a pile, beyond the clearing. We considered burning, sir, but the smoke and smell, won’t it bother Her Majesty?”
Antony considered. “Go ahead. I’ll deal with Her Majesty.” He reentered the tent. The Queen was at the table, pouring herself some wine.
“What were you discussing?” she asked.
“How best to clean up.”
“And what did you decide?”
“Fire, Your Majesty.”
She took a long drink. “They shouldn’t have stopped so soon.”
“I quite agree. You deserve a much longer applause.”
She refilled her cup and emptied it again.
“Come with me, Your Majesty.”
She rose and exited the tent with him. In the distance, they could see the black smoke. The wind brought the smell of burnt flesh. The Queen turned pale, and she trembled. “I’m wicked,” she whispered.
He placed a hand on her shoulder. “No. Not that. Never that. You were right. You are always right.”