tagNonConsent/ReluctanceQueen Of Sorrows Ch. 01

Queen Of Sorrows Ch. 01


"The King is dead."

The finance minister's words hung heavily in the air even as another barrage of explosions shook the palace walls. The latest attack started an hour before midnight; in another hour it will have lasted until dawn. The gates still held, but the responding cannon fire from the battlements was decreasing in both frequency and effectiveness. The palace guard was running out of ammunition and men to fire it. The ancient spell reinforcing the structure was all that held the stone bulwark together.

"Our forces have been routed," the finance minister continued. "Your husband led the final charge. His ambush caught the Chrysanthin Army by surprise, but in the end their numbers were overwhelming. It was a valiant gambit--our last, best hope--but it wasn't enough. Nothing we could have done would have sufficed. There were too many of them, and they were too well supplied."

The Royal Spouse wiped her moist blue eyes with a handkerchief and met the gaze of her advisor.

"And my children?" she asked. "Did they escape?"

"I have not yet received a report. Their carriage left the palace soon after the attack commenced. It's forty-six hours by coach to the Southern border. We won't know if they found refuge until sundown at the earliest, and that's only if one of the messenger pigeons survives--and we are still alive to receive it."

"I should have sent them to safety sooner."

"My Lady, there is no safety anywhere in the Kingdom. Even if they successfully flee to the border, they must still find sanctuary with our few friends among the Southern Isles. The Regent refused all our requests for help. I don't trust him. I fear he would surrender your children to the Empire if he thought it would spare his nation."

"Perhaps, but perhaps not. It would no doubt force his hand. His people would revolt if he were to form an alliance with the Empire."

"Yes my Lady, but the Empire would crush the Isles if the Regent were found to be harboring your fugitive children. The Unbeatable Army is a runaway boulder rolling downhill. It is gaining speed and crushing everything in its path."

"Then we must pray that the children are not discovered."

Another explosion rocked the palace. Chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling while screams echoed throughout the structure.

"My Lady, the spells fortifying the walls will not hold much longer and the old wizard is dead. No help is coming, and even if someone dared, assistance would not arrive in time. You must name a successor. With the King fallen and your children gone, there must be a monarch with whom the Empire can treat."

"I know, Sebastian, I know." Sofia wiped her eyes again and rose from her seat. She knelt before the finance minister and bowed her head. "I name myself Queen."

"My Lady, you cannot. Osthollow has never been ruled by a Queen. Your only official duty will be to preside over the fall of the realm. It is a terrible omen for you and your family."

"Do our laws forbid it?"

"No, My Lady."

"Then I name myself Queen. No one else should endure the burdens I must face. The indignity and infamy of surrendering our Kingdom to the Empire will be mine and mine alone."

"You will become a prisoner of the Empire."

"At least I will be alive. I will be of greater value to the Empress as a living prisoner than as a dead enemy. But if I am merely the Royal Spouse, then my execution is a certainty and I will be condemning someone else to a life sentence in the dungeon."

"You will not survive long, My Lady. Your short life will be spent in a dark cell beneath the ground. You will never see the sun again."

"And if I am dead, I will never see my children again. If I'm alive, even as a prisoner locked away in the deepest corners of the palace, at least I can retain the hope of one day seeing their sweet faces. It's better than nothing."

"I understand, My Lady. Since it appears nothing I can say will dissuade you, I will do as you ask. I will summon the Arch Bishop so that he can administer the three oaths."

Another explosion shook the palace. The wall facing the courtyard cracked, and a timber supporting the ceiling groaned. Dust floated in the air and debris littered the room.

"We don't have time for you to locate the Arch Bishop. You must perform the Ritual of Succession, Sebastian."

Sebastian coughed and then wiped the dust from the front of his robe.

"As you wish, my Lady." Sebastian held his hand over the Queen's head. "Sofia, wife of the late King Leopold V, do you swear to serve the Kingdom of Osthollow and its people with absolute fidelity?"

"I do."

"Do you swear to honor the laws and traditions of the Kingdom, both written and unwritten, for so long as you live?"

"I do."

"Do you pledge fealty to the gods above and below and swear to uphold the faithful worship of them and the observance of all rites and holy days?"

"I do."

"Then by the power vested in me, I hereby name you, Sofia the First, Queen of Osthollow, Protector of the Realm, Defender of Justice, Mother of the People. Long may you live. Long may you serve. Long may you rule."

"Thank you, Sebastian. Now go and instruct all of my remaining advisors and the King's cabinet to dress as servants. Give them the order to assume duties of the household staff."

"My Queen?"

"I'm trying to keep as many of you alive as possible. The Empire will no doubt execute government officials, but the household servants and support staff may be spared. Now hurry along, we don't have much time."


* * *

The last of the palace defenses fell three hours past dawn. Swarms of Imperial intruders poured through the breach, slaying anyone wearing the uniform of the Palace Defender. Servants and attendants were put in chains and marched into the dungeons. Military officers were executed on the spot. The screams of the dying echoed throughout the broken edifice.

A detachment of Imperial Guardians--easily distinguishable by their glossy black armor, black helmets and matching black weaponry--entered through the gaping maw that was formerly the main entrance of the palace. The Empress strode purposefully at the center of the formation. She was an imposing figure, standing as tall as her brawny guards with her cobalt blue battle raiment gleaming like liquid glass in the bright morning sun. Her raven hair was cut severely--short in the back and longer in front, forming points that framed her ivory face like two ebony scimitars. Thin lips painted red stood out on her face like blood on a snowy field.

The formation reached the wide staircase leading to the throne room. The guards' boots thundered against the marble stairs as they marched up the long flight at the center of the palace. When they reached the top, the first two Guardians opened the doors while the Empress and her retinue entered the vast hall.

Queen Sofia sat on her throne and watched the invaders fill the room. Sunlight pouring through the open skylights above illuminated her long blond hair. She looked angelic in her pristine white gown, although the sadness in her face stood in stark contrast to her diaphanous beauty.

The invaders moved in precise unison. They formed a perfect triangle in front of the Queen's throne. The Empress clicked the heels of her tall, glossy boots and the formation parted, allowing her to stride to the front. Another click and the guards flowed into a pattern of three triangles surrounding the Empress.

"Queen Sofia." The Empress stared up into the blue eyes of her counterpart. "I am the Empress Kiera."

"Empress," the Queen responded. "I have been expecting you."

"Good. Let's dispense with the pleasantries and get down to business. Your husband is dead. I am not exaggerating when I say that he died valiantly, but nonetheless, he is gone. Your armies are routed. Your generals have all been executed. Your surviving soldiers have been captured. Your defenses are smashed, your palace is broken, and your city has fallen. In short, your country is mine."

The Queen clenched her jaw and swallowed. Fresh tears streaked her golden face, but she refused to sob in front of the Empress.

"What are your terms?"

"The same as they were a year ago, before this foolish war commenced: Your unconditional surrender; the complete and total annexation of Osthollow by the Empire."

"And if I refuse?"

"The war will resume. Your defenseless people will be slaughtered. Mothers and daughters alike will be raped in the streets. Your cities will burn, your stores and reserves will be plundered, and your lands will still be annexed. You will go down in history as the Queen who could have saved her people, but instead chose to sacrifice them out of spite."

The Queen glared at the Empress.

"You don't leave me much choice, do you?"

"Choice is for the victors. The conquered are fortunate if they are permitted to see the sun rise on another day."

"So be it. I accept your terms."

"A wise and compassionate decision." The Empress allowed a small smile to form at the corners of her mouth.

"What now?"

"You will be taken to the palace dungeon. You are now my prisoner and will be treated as such. In three days we will perform the Ritual of Submission, and the annexation will be complete. After that, you will live out your remaining days in the darkness below ground."

The Queen gulped.

"And if I resist?"

"The alternative is execution. As the victor, the choice is mine. You should pray to your gods that I don't change my mind before three days have expired."

"I see."

"Summon the Cabinet and your advisors."

"They're gone."

"Where are they hiding?"

"Most were killed in the attack. The rest fled. I have no idea of their whereabouts."

"No matter. We control all highways and roadways. The borders have been sealed. They won't escape."

"Of course not."

The Queen squeezed the armrests of the throne until her knuckles were white and her forearms ached.

"We intercepted your children's carriage, after all." The Empress locked eyes with the Queen. "I'm sure we won't have any trouble rooting out your advisors."

The Queen's eyes bulged. Her jaw dropped open, but no words came out of her mouth.

The Empress turned to her Guardians.

"Arrest her. Place her in a private cell in the lower dungeon. She is to have no contact with anyone unless I give the order."

The Empress turned and glided out of the throne room. The Queen buried her face in her hands and sobbed. She slapped the hand of the first guard that tried to grab her. Within seconds she was surrounded by the massive men in their oily black armor. She stood, placed her hands behind her head and wept as she was led to the Palace dungeon.

* * *

It was late in the afternoon when the Empress finally sent food to Sofia. Two black-clad guards entered the corridor, stopping at the only cell with an occupant. One guard unlocked the door, while the other entered with a tray of food. He set the tray on the bench, closed the door, and then returned a moment later with a bucket of water.

The guard leered as he approached Sofia. The Queen was seated on the bench with her back against the cold stone wall. She was completely nude. Her wrists were shackled to a ring mounted on the wall a foot above her head. That positioning stretched her torso and thrust her ample breasts out and up. Her nipples were as hard as small stones in the cold damp air of the dank dungeon.

Sofia pressed her knees together. It was her only defense against the guard's roaming eyes. Despite her best effort to retain a modicum of modesty, however, a tuft of blonde fur still escaped the junction of her thighs and lower belly. The guard grinned under his helmet as he reached for the lock fastening her wrists to the wall. He turned the key, released the shackles, and departed the cell.

"I'll be back for the tray in fifteen minutes," he said. "And the bucket, too. I suggest you get your fill of water and then take care of your other needs."

"When will I get another meal?" Sofia asked. She rubbed her wrists and forearms, trying her best to ease the aches and pains and burning in every muscle.

"That's up to the Empress."

"What is the 'Ritual of Submission'?"

"You will be briefed at the appropriate time."

That sounds ominous.

The first guard locked the cell and the two guards departed.

Sofia looked at the tray. There was a quarter loaf of day-old bread, a piece of hard cheese, a few strips of dried beef, and a badly bruised apple. Not much of a meal, but still better than what we serve our prisoners. Is the Empire more generous, or I am receiving special treatment?

The Queen took a few bites of the dried beef and then gulped greedily from the water bucket. She finished off the beef, and then took a bite of the apple. She dipped the bread in the water, stuffed it into her mouth, and then took a few more bites of the apple. She sniffed the cheese but could not force herself to bite into it. She finished off the apple, drank as much water as she could, and then realized she was running out of time. She put the bucket on the floor, squatted over it, and forced a stream of piss from her body.

Sofia heard the guards' boots clacking against the stone floors signaling their approach. She returned to her position on the bench with her knees pressed together and her arms folded across her breasts.

The two guards resumed their duties as before. One guard manned the door while the second entered and reattached the Queen's shackles. He removed the tray and bucket and then departed. The first guard locked the cell, and the two disappeared around the corner. The clacking of their boots receded into the distance.

When the dungeon was once again silent, Sofia hung her head and cried. Leopold! What do I do? What can I do?

* * *

The guards did not return until well past noon of the following day. Just as before, one guard manned the door while the other brought in a tray and a bucket of water. This time, however, the guard tasked with unlocking Sofia's shackles paused long enough to press his thighs against the Queen's soft breasts and his groin into her face. If he were not wearing armor the Queen would have found this conduct repulsive, but the hard metal surfaces covering the guard's body formed a sufficient barrier between their skin that she had to chuckle at his ineffective attempts to humiliate her.

"If you're trying to turn me on, I'm afraid you'll have to do better," she hissed. "And if you're trying to rough me up, well, you had better check with your Empress, first. I think she wants me intact and undamaged for her little ceremony two days from now."

The guard took a step back and tilted his head toward the Queen's face. Sofia could not see his eyes through the black helmet, but she could read his intent all the same. She braced herself a second before his black gloved hand shot out and squeezed her nipple. The guard pinched until a tear rolled down her cheek. Sofia clenched her jaw and refused to cry out despite the immense pain radiating from her tender flesh. The guard stood rigid, squeezing with all his strength until Sofia finally dropped her head and gasped.

"Enough. Please." Tears rolled down both of her cheeks.

The guard released his grip, paused for a second, and then finished unlocking the shackles. He turned and left while the other guard locked the cell door.

Sofia immediately reached for the bucket and gulped down half the water in one long sustained drink. She wiped her mouth, and then turned to the food tray. Once again, the guards brought her a quarter loaf of stale bread and an overripe apple. Instead of dried beef the tray contained half of a roasted chicken with all the bones removed, and in place of the hard cheese there was a boiled egg. The Queen quickly ate the boiled egg then started on the chicken. It was cold and greasy, and the skin had the consistency of rubber, but at that moment it was the best chicken she had ever eaten in her entire life. After finishing the chicken, she turned to the apple. She ate a few bites of the soft flesh, but the mealy texture reminded her of the rotting fruit that littered her parent's orchards after the harvests when she was a child, so she put it down. Sofia ate as much of the stale bread as she could choke down between gulps of water.

When the water was gone she put the bucket on the floor and squatted. A stream of urine splashed in the bottom of the pail, relieving the pressure that had been building in her bladder over the past twenty-two hours. Sofia did not stand when she was done pissing. She continued squatting until she had worked out a shit, as well. She knew that the last thing she wanted was to be chained to the wall when her bowels decided they could hold their contents no longer.

Sofia finished her necessary business and resumed sitting on the bench just seconds before the guards returned. She offered no resistance as her wrists were once again shackled above her head. The guards did their work without speaking to her. When they were finished securing her restraints, one guard picked up the bucket and left while the second closed the door and locked it. Sofia felt her heart sink as key turned in the cylinder.

* * *

Sofia felt a presence in the room when she awoke the next morning. She opened her eyelids and was surprised to find Empress Kiera standing in her cell holding a small lantern.

"Good morning, Sofia," Kiera said. "I trust you find the accommodations sufficient?"

"They are what I expected," Sofia answered. "This isn't my first visit to the Palace dungeons."

"But I'm sure it is the first time you have been on this side of the bars, no?"

"That would be incorrect, also," Sofia replied.

"Oh?" Kiera cocked her head sideways. Her expression silently invited Sofia to continue.

"In the first year of my late husband's reign as King, an upstart lord attempted a coup. I was imprisoned for about an hour before the rebellion met with failure."

"Interesting, I'm sure. In any event, I'm here to tell you that the guard who assaulted you yesterday has been reassigned. He will be joining a unit at the front when we launch our invasion of the Southern Isles."

"I never knew the Empire treated its prisoners with such respect." Sofia looked up at the Empress and smirked.

"He violated orders. A soldier who shows any sign of insubordination is a weak link. I don't tolerate weakness. The only way that guard will ever see his home and family again is if he distinguishes himself by fighting his way up the ranks. Most likely he will be killed in the first contact with the enemy."

"Speaking of family, when can I see my children?"

"I'm sorry, Sofia, but when did I ever tell you that you would see your children?"

Sofia's eyes opened wide. A lump formed in the back of her throat.

"But you said ... you said ... you told me their carriage was intercepted."

"Correct. They were captured while trying to evade a checkpoint approximately two hundred miles south of the capital. But they were not brought here."

"Then...where are they?" A horrified look spread across Sofia's face. "You didn't have them executed, did you?"

"I'm not a monster. Your children have been sent--separately, I might add--to the furthest corners of the Empire. They will be raised to be good and loyal citizens of Chrysanthis. What is your son now, five, six years of age? In another two years he will be enrolled in a military academy. If he has any of your husband's intelligence and wiles in him, I expect that he will become an outstanding general someday.

"Your daughter...how old is she? Seven? Eight? I forget. In any event, I'm afraid her path will not be so easy. If she is fortunate, she will forget about you and grow up to become a farmer's wife, or possibly a servant in a minor house. If not, she could end up in a brothel. I suppose the worst possible outcome would be if she clings to her memories of home and attempts to foment a rebellion. In that case, she would probably end up in a slave pen somewhere--if she is not beheaded. Her fate is entirely up to her."

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