Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 12


Sikthand’s eyes followed Sophia around the loading bay as Madam Kalos and Speaker Besith jabbered away at him. The whole Guild had been in a frenzy since news that Vila had been confirmed as Queen had been delivered that morning.

Though he’d trudged to the Guild chamber as soon as reports of her confirmation had come in, it seemed a pointless endeavor. Until they had some new, solid information to discuss, arguing about what Vila might do was a waste of time.

Time he would much rather spend watching Sophia stretch and putter around her room the way she did every morning before Alno arrived. He’d had to miss the view of her rumpled hair and heavy lids just so he could listen to his Guild argue about things they’d been arguing about for the past few days.

“She’s known to be a shrewd counselor within the Intergalactic Alliance.” Madam Kalos stood at Ahea’s feet and spoke seemingly to Sikthand but spat the words in Speaker Besith’s direction.

“Her input is always too severe, though,” Besith countered. “The king must be careful in his approach. She may want retribution for our actions as a demonstration of strength.”

“Nonsense. We aligned with six other cities when we cut off trade. We didn’t threaten war, we only asked that her predecessor break her silence. She has no grounds to retaliate.”

Ahea turned her head, snorting at the two wailing near her ear. He covertly patted her flank. I know. Leave the squabbling children be. As if his mount could hear his inner thoughts, she huffed in irritation and angled her head away.

“None of the other cities kidnapped three buckets’ worth of their citizens. Humans at that!” Speaker Besith’s eyes bugged. “I said it was a bad idea when you suggested it, and it was.”

“Guildmembers.” Sikthand kept his voice even. His father had drilled into him from a young age how vital it was to keep the Guild happy. One wayward insult could sow seeds of resentment. The Guild held power over their domains, and a dissatisfied guildmember could easily transform into a bitter enemy if he wasn’t careful. It was always a game to ensure he sided with each member throughout the year on one issue or another to give the illusion he respected them equally. In reality, he had his favorites, and neither of these two were them.

“She won’t be in power long if she doesn’t reopen trade with Vrulatica. She won’t risk that. Not for a mere slight.”

“You—”

“Guildmembers!” Sikthand boomed. Their attention flew to him. His mother had trained him to be forceful. They won’t follow you if they see weakness. He had to walk a fine line between displaying objectiveness and ruthless authority. “The Guild chamber is being stocked and prepared even now. We will meet after the address, and you will voice your concerns then.”

They tapped their tails respectfully on the ground, but a flash of disapproval crossed over Besith’s face. Sikthand took notice.

Cold suspicion flooded him, hardening his muscles and clearing his mind. He’d been distracted by the human as of late, following her around the tower like a simpering animal. How many other veiled looks had he missed while he gazed stupidly at the female?

Sikthand stared down at his hands, clutching Ahea’s reins. There were no marks under these gloves, though he often found himself checking.

His mind had churned since the announcement of the new Queen came through. There was a chance he’d be forced to send Sophia away.

It’s better she leaves. He tried to convince himself of the fact yet again.

He watched her so often, he was surprised he hadn’t been assassinated out of sheer obliviousness.

Unable to control himself, his eyes found her, and an ache settled in his chest.

“Ready yourselves. We need to leave,” he called to the room. The Guild divided into two buckets. One that would be carried by Roldroth, and one by him. Sophia glanced between the two, uncertainty crinkling her nose. He welded his jaw shut and forced himself not to demand she climb into his bucket.

Though he wore his masked helmet, her eyes rose to meet his. When she caught him looking, her gaze shot away. A light blush bloomed on her cheeks.

He could howl in frustration. This fascination was easier when it had been wholly one-sided. How much longer could he keep away from her if she continued to grace him with soft smiles and fleeting glances?

The leather reins groaned under his clenching fists as Sophia clambered into his bucket behind Lady Lindri.

Put her out of your mind.

He spurred Ahea on, Commander Roldroth following close behind.

As they took off into the scorching afternoon sky, Sikthand buried his emotions. He’d need to be the king today. Not an infatuated male. His people and his city were his priority, and Sophia was a pretty tool to be used for their benefit. It did him no good to think of her as anything else.

He’d vowed a long time ago to never let anyone within striking distance again. As he imagined her flying away from his city, a deeper hurt than had existed before Sophia’s arrival pulsed through him. It would ebb in time. It always did. But the fact that he’d let his guard down enough for this measure of grief to exist at all infuriated him.

Before too long, the outbuildings nestled around the infirmary came into view, and he pulled Ahea into a gentle descent. When he dismounted, he didn’t wait to walk with the rest. He needed to put distance between himself and the human. No matter what the day brought, whether she stayed or left, he would be cutting himself off from her. She was a distraction he couldn’t afford.

A messenger was already there, setting up the feed for them, and he gave a respectful tap of his tail when Sikthand walked in and took his seat against the wall. He kept his head facing forward, helmet in place, as the Guild trickled in, speaking amongst themselves.

Lady Lindri was squeaking excitedly to Sophia as they entered, though he couldn’t tell about what. Likely smelting. He’d only ever seen Lindri speaking this avidly to non-mine workers or metalsmiths when she was talking about such things.

Sophia grinned and listened, almost appearing interested, though it was clear from the subtle furrow of her brows that she was confused. He sucked in a growl, annoyed by the human. Wherever she went, his people seemed to love her, almost like they were unable not to.

She’d even charmed Khes. Sikthand had been tattooed by the old male for as long as he could remember, as had his parents before him, and he couldn’t recall hearing the male laugh more than a handful of times. After meeting with Sophia once, he’d morphed into someone who might’ve been mistaken for jolly.

Sikthand had watched in the Forge too. Of course he had. He’d been watching when she’d arrived and had been unable to keep himself from intervening when Khes had turned her away. He’d like to believe he’d only followed afterward to ensure the inkmaster behaved himself, but that would be a lie.

A person’s first experience in the Forge was always foul. Painful and sickening. He’d wanted to be there in case she had a bad reaction and needed to be whisked to the infirmary.

Rather than scream and cry as many did—or throw up the way he had as a lad, she’d shown a level of control he’d never imagined from a body so seemingly fragile.

She’d impressed not just him, but the whole damn room.

Madam Kalos pulled an irritated Lady Lindri away, and Sophia held her grin for a moment longer before shaking her head as if to clear it. As though she could feel his eyes on her, she caught his gaze yet again and took a step toward him.

His helmet muffled his growl. He didn’t want her to come speak to him because he so desperately wanted her to come speak to him.

Luckily the communicator set into the floor of the stone room illuminated, projecting an image of the new Queen of Tremanta, and Sophia’s focus snapped to attention. She sped back to her seat and absently lowered into it.

“We’ve suffered a loss,” the new Queen began. “Our Queen was tragically killed one week ago. No words can fill the void she’s left.”

Sikthand hadn’t been surprised when he’d heard the news. As a ruler who’d had his life threatened often, he’d known it was only a matter of time before the attempts started. As the planet’s representative and guardian to the largest assortment of humans in the world, Sikthand could not imagine the stress she must have been under. But her stubborn silence? Her refusal to hear any opinions from the rest of the cities on Clecania? Sikthand was surprised she hadn’t been killed sooner.

“We won’t rest until we find her killer, but at present, our world is in crisis. This is a time of change, and I know our Queen would understand the shift in focus. As named successor, I’m ready to take her place. For the first time in a hundred years, her name shall be spoken, and mine shall be locked away until I’ve either stepped down or moved to my next life. Nabiora Vilafina, you ruled with benevolence and grace, and you’ll be missed.”

Sikthand couldn’t read Vila’s expression. There was a theory circulating that the female was the old Queen’s daughter, but to listen to her speak now, he couldn’t believe it. He had to account for the differences in Tremantian customs, though. Whereas Vrulans inherited their royal titles—unless their line was wiped out entirely—Tremantian rulers were expected to give up all ties. They had no family, no mate, and they weren’t even allowed to keep their name, instead taking on the moniker of Queen. Even if Vila was the Queen’s daughter, it may just be a word to her. She might have been as much of a stranger as anyone else.

“Nabiora was fair and kind,” Vila continued. “Perhaps to a fault. She sacrificed in a way that made sense in the moment. She kept the humans safe. She kept them happy. But she did so by awarding them freedoms that not even her own people possess.”

The little sound that floated from his Guild quieted at that. Sikthand sat forward in his chair, an ominous dread sinking in. His gaze flicked to Sophia and found her eyes narrowed.

“The humans of Tremanta were not required to engage in marriage ceremonies. They weren’t required even to socialize with the public, though it’s been proven they spark recognition wherever they go. Through study, we’ve learned that humans come from Clecanian stock. Their ancestors are our ancestors. Yet we don’t treat them as Clecanians. We don’t hold them to the same standards. Is that not an insult to them? It’s no wonder we’ve struggled to draft an argument strong enough to support the reclassification of Earth. How can we argue humans are equal to us in intellect and ability if we don’t treat them as we treat each other? If we don’t have them abide by the same laws we abide by?” The room seemed to hold its breath. “As my first action, I decree humans will be subject to our laws.”

Disgust slithered under his ribs.

“Furthermore, I feel in this time of upheaval and transformation, our cities need to come together. Only united can we move forward with the heavy task that will be acclimating a Class Three planet to our existence. For that reason, I’ve decided to disperse the humans. Unmated Earthlings will be sent abroad to reside in cities across the planet. Not temporarily on a tour but permanently. There’s no reason that Tremantians should have more of a chance to recognize a mate than anyone else.”

The wood of Sikthand’s chair splintered under his palms. Sent abroad. If he sent Sophia back, would she just be packaged and delivered to some new city against her will? This was morally reprehensible, and that was coming from someone who danced around the edges of morality more often than most.

“In the coming days, I will be meeting with representatives around the world to discuss their expectations and aid them in preparing for their human arrivals. I am determined to make this transition as simple as possible. The humans under my care are wise, and I’m positive they will see the benefit in this plan. Though they all deserve autonomy, they will understand that they are special, and special things must be handled with care.”

Sophia’s hand raised to her mouth, and her unblinking eyes were aimed at the ground.

“We not only lost our Queen, though, we have also lost our planet’s representative,” Vila said, shifting focus. “In light of this unexpected death, the Leaders’ Summit will be postponed one month. In two months, we will meet. I urge you all to think hard on who you’d like to see represent us and keep in mind the tenacity our new representative must have. Earth must be opened. Humans must be made aware that their unknown brethren are in need of help. We won’t survive without them. I hope you will choose a leader who is prepared to make sacrifices for the survival of our race, and not one who chooses to take the longest route.”

Sikthand scanned the room, noticing some of his Guild wore appalled expressions, while others exchanged meaningful looks.

The new Queen was campaigning for herself. She was using this address to outline her stances so that all those listening would see her as some sort of wise leader who knew that sacrifice was sometimes necessary.

Sikthand hadn’t known what to expect from the new Queen. One thing was now clear—Vila was not to be underestimated.

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