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Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 21

He wasn’t ready for this.

Sophia was being announced today, and every cell in Sikthand’s body was tied in knots. Usually he felt prepared for difficult situations. Flying into a deadly storm or battle didn’t faze him. It was easy to keep his wits when he knew danger was coming from all sides.

But this was different. It wasn’t only himself he had to worry about anymore, and as much as he wished he could split himself in two, he couldn’t. He strapped his metal on extra thick, his shoulders already aching from the weight of it, and prepared to parade himself through Vrulatica on his way to the throne room in lowcity.

He had no idea what reaction his people would have to the engagement announcement disseminated early this morning. The Guild had pushed to hold a public forum so citizens could come and voice their support or their complaints, and he had, without question, refused to allow Sophia to attend. She would remain safe in the queen’s quarters until he’d taken the temperature of his city.

Not only did he have his own citizens to worry about, but the world. Some cities would be jealous, some appalled if they deemed a Class Four planet species unfit to rule, and Tremanta…well, he had no idea what the new Queen would do. He and the Guild had decided to let the announcement stand on its own as a statement rather than reaching out to formally accept or decline her offer of humans in exchange for their vote.

They’d reopened trade to Tremanta as if it had merely been paused. This morning, the Queen should have awoken to shipments of askait and news that Sophia would become queen of Vrulatica.

It was a dangerous move. She could very likely take offense. After all, they were making a hostage human their queen. Though it would be idiotic, especially considering this marriage was consensual, the Queen had grounds to call for war if she so wished. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Their askait deposits alone should keep her quiet, but he couldn’t be sure.

It was paramount that he remain vigilant, but that was proving more than a little difficult. He’d thought their nightly visits would subdue the irritating temptation to follow Sophia, to have her in his sight always, but the urge had only grown stronger. He found himself loitering in his study long after she’d left and inhaling her lingering scent.

His duties had become more demanding the past week, requiring him to be called away often as they discussed strategy for the building storm system moving in. But Sikthand had found himself rushing back to his rooms every night and sitting on his bed, unable to focus on anything as he waited for her to knock. Always three gentle raps high on the door.

Whenever she glided through his room, smiling gently in that way that made his gut tighten, all his worries ebbed. They were still there, bubbling at the corners of his mind, but she blurred them somehow.

Her presence was as glorious as it was dangerous. The leery voices inside that hissed warnings about who he needed to spy on weren’t as pressing as they used to be. When she was away, though, the voices returned with a vengeance.

She knows your habits now. All she’d have to do to betray you is slip something into your wine.

The Guild has seen how distracted you are. This is the perfect time for someone to strike.

You haven’t trained in weeks. You’re growing soft.

The whispers were true, but he didn’t know what to do about them. He couldn’t keep himself away, and he didn’t want to. What she’d said had stuck with him, gnawing at his chest as he actively tried to ignore it. He deserved to find some joy too. Well, his joy was watching her, and it was the only joy he’d permit himself.

Being in the same room as her and allowing himself to sink into the peace that she brought, even if all she did was silently go about her life within his line of vision, made his mind buzz with warmth.

During their meetings, he loved to watch her read the most. He’d study her nose, waiting for the moment it scrunched. A question wouldn’t be far behind, and he looked forward to the instant her beautiful eyes connected with his as she asked it.

He’d even begun playing a sick game with himself. He’d altered the tattoos on his forearms every couple of days. Then, when he knew she was gone, he’d sneak into her room and flip through her drawing book. The pleasure he got every time a new sketch appeared with his updated tattoos was indescribable, and well worth the pain of getting them altered.

She watched him too. The notion should terrify him. Someone who paid that much attention would be sure to see cracks in his armor, but it was also thrilling to know she studied him so closely when he wasn’t looking.

Yes, Sikthand had allowed himself a bit of joy, but he didn’t let himself have anything more, though his body ached for her. He kept his expression stony whenever she was around, not allowing any of his internal mooning to show on his face. He never permitted her to linger in his bedroom. Her smell needed to be contained to the study, or he’d never get any sleep. And never, under any circumstances, did he allow himself to touch her.

Memories of their kiss still plagued his dreams. He thought the only reason he hadn’t fallen into total madness at the memory was because, thankfully, his armor had shielded him from experiencing the sensation of her body crushed against his.

Sikthand was in control again. It was a control based on vicious internal negotiating and compromise, but it was something he could cling to.

He left his room and stomped through the halls, flashing his formal armor, a contingent of soldiers following behind.

The Guild was waiting for him when he arrived in lowcity. Madame Kalos looked overjoyed, which allowed him to relax a fraction. If there were whispers of her trade being affected, she would have worn a very different expression. There must not have been any negative news from Tremanta in that regard.

Lady Lindri had tried dressing in a slightly cleaner pair of pants than normal but still looked like she’d rather be anywhere else. He often felt that if he didn’t need to keep a healthy social distance between himself and the Guild, that he might’ve been friends with Lindri. She’d taken the Guild role at the urging of his parents, and she’d never hidden the fact that she hated it.

She did a good job because it benefited the people she cared about, the miners and the metalsmiths, not because she had any great interest in power. Her situation felt similar to his in that way. Taking the responsibility because it was expected, not because it was wanted.

The massive throne room was at the edge of the tower in the most skyward section of lowcity. The room was divided into four segments. Two on opposite sides of the room were tiered stands lined with benches. Between them was an open standing area where people could stream in if they were unable to find a seat or wished to speak. And at the head of the room was the royal throne and the Guild’s section.

Behind their seats, the curved wall was decorated with enormous slabs of glass, giving the visitors an unmatched view of the desert, minata forest, and mountains beyond.

His throne, isolated and monstrous, was in the center of this section, with the guildmembers’ seats fanning out on either side below. The late afternoon sun had broken through the dissipating storm and backlit the throne. From this angle, the view was as beautiful as it was grandiose.

Sikthand only ever got to see it this way before taking his place as king. He wondered how many of his citizens considered the fact that his throne faced away from the beauty of the room, that the architect hadn’t inlaid the walls with askait tiles or created the organic windowpane design for his enjoyment.

He eyed the throne that had been specially built upon his ascension. Would they demolish it when they built Sophia’s throne? Or merely construct hers to the side of his? It would throw off the balance of the room.

He didn’t care one way or another. A wooden chair would have been sufficient for him. But who would respect a king in a wooden chair?

The room was already filled with citizens. Those who had arrived early sat in the stands, while the rest filed into the standing area. Inhaling a steadying breath, Sikthand marched toward his seat, using an elevated platform that led directly to his throne.

He pricked his ears up as he walked, hand resting on his axe just in case the whizz of a flying weapon caught his attention. The murmurs in the crowd nearly vibrated the stone underfoot. Whether the undertone of the buzz was excitement or anger, he couldn’t tell. He eyed the crowds, trying to isolate faces and expressions. He spotted crossed arms and shaking heads but also grinning and enthusiastic wide eyes. It had been too much to hope that the majority would be happy, yet he’d naively hoped anyway.

Sikthand took his seat, spine straight and chin lifted. For good measure, he slipped the axe out of his belt and held it casually in one hand. The Guild took their seats on the platform below him. He slammed his tail against the hollow metal base of his throne, sending a booming clang around the room. The citizens fell silent, and his Guild opened the tedious session.

He watched on as Speaker Besith, the voice of the people, made his declarations and announcements. Sikthand was impressed with the male as he listened to him outline the positives of having a human queen. A few closed-off soldiers in the stands to his left considered the Speaker’s words, nodding slowly with raised brows and tucked chins as though Besith was changing their minds for the better. Sikthand made a mental note to approve one of the projects Besith had been fighting with Master Bavo to fund.

The rest of the Guild stood when Besith was done and contributed their opinions on the matter, each describing how the instituting of a human queen benefited their particular branch of government.

Master Bavo’s words had a scowl rising on Sikthand’s face. He chose to focus on the many distressing decades Vrulatica had remained queenless. The prejudice that many had against male leaders ruling alone had been a constant source of irritation for Sikthand. A queen ruling on her own would not earn nearly as much scrutiny.

As frustrating as it was, he saw many Vrulans in the audience nodding along approvingly with Bavo’s words and knew that whether or not he liked it, the point would win over many disapproving citizens, so he couldn’t complain.

Commander Roldroth had the least to say, though he strongly voiced his support, and though Magistrate Yalmi had the most to say, Sikthand felt her speech had the least impact as it was intellectual and dry and brimming with statistics. When the Guild was through, they took comments, each fielding questions pertinent to their domain.

The worry in his heart lifted whenever his citizens asked about the ways in which Sophia might entice humans to live here or what programs would be put into place throughout the city to aid human integration. The Guild explained that over the coming weeks, Sophia herself would be touring the city, meeting with businesses and government facilities, but that she wouldn’t formally announcing any plans until she was enthroned.

Impatience was clear on their faces, but it seemed to be an understanding impatience, which was a thundering victory in his experience.

Yet even through all the hints of hope, darkness crept into his chest. There were those Vrulans who objected on the simple grounds that Sophia was not Clecanian and therefore had no right to rule. They likened it to appointing a malginash pup as queen, which had made Sikthand’s grip on his axe tighten.

He knew this bias would exist. If he didn’t know Sophia as well as he did, he might’ve had the same objections. Despite the benefits, despite the potential for them to meet humans and recognize mates, the mere notion of an alien ruling the proud Vrulans would be a nearly insurmountable obstacle to some.

There were other questions that, though respectfully asked, had his mind sparking with warning.

What changes will she make, and will they unfairly favor humans?

What will happen to the marriage ceremonies considering humans do not believe in dutiful marriage wherein reproduction is the goal?

After Roldroth had explained that even the human males would not likely become warriors or cloud chasers since they didn’t have a tail to keep them locked on their mount, some Vrulans had questioned how a weak species like that could fit into their society and whether male humans should be allowed to relocate to Vrulatica at all.

But the people Sikthand made a mental note to investigate were those who brought up Vila. He didn’t know how, but it was clear some of the citizens were aware of Vila’s offer of humans in exchange for their vote. Perhaps Vila herself had found a way to disseminate the information or, as unfortunate as the thought was, one of his Guild or one of their advisors might have leaked the news.

One male with a rose-gold hood and silver skin asked about it directly, causing a rush of murmurs to spread through the hall. “Why not support the new Tremantian Queen as planetary representative? She’d have more power than a human queen would in funneling humans here.” He topped off his arguments with examples of the ways in which humans were less physically developed, hinting that Sophia wouldn’t be capable of fulfilling a queen’s duties.

It was ridiculous, and thankfully Magistrate Yalmi jumped in to explain with hard facts how his understanding was flawed. Though humans were less evolved in terms of their physicality, they were no different mentally. Sophia was smart—smarter than most Clecanians he’d met, and she was damn perceptive. Whatever she might lack in muscle, she made up for tenfold.

Though Sikthand knew this, he also knew bias and rumors would hurt her in the short term. She’d need to prove herself on her tour through the tower.

Later, while the Guild celebrated how positive the feeling of the forum had been, Sikthand remained unsatisfied. Sophia had officially become a target. A single-minded determination settled in him, overpowering his urge to shadow her.

He’d return to the tunnels, employ his best spies, and fill the dungeons if that’s what it took. Sikthand would not allow his queen to be hurt.


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