Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 22


“Is this really necessary?” Sophia grunted, almost collapsing under the weight of another piece of metal as Alno strapped it to her shoulder.

“The king has decreed it so,” her friend declared, sarcasm heavy in his voice.

“I know it’s for my own protection, but it’s so freaking heavy. If I fall over, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to get up again. I’d be a sitting duck,” she groaned, lifting her arm to test the weight of the metal plating on her body. It wasn’t exactly armor, not fully. But it was just shy of it.

“Sitting duck,” Alno whispered to himself, smiling. He did that often whenever he found one of her human sayings funny. “I’ll have to tell that one to Difila. She loves hearing all your human phrases. They’re adorable.”

Sophia frowned under a mountain of metal, feeling like a gangly teenager swimming in their father’s armor.

From what Alno had told her, the mood of the city was pretty positive. Though they didn’t like her specifically, they enjoyed the idea of what perks a human queen might bring Vrulatica. Currently she was more a prop than anything else, but for now that was fine. She could prove herself over time.

Maybe.

Or maybe she was being colossally delusional to imagine a graphic designer from Seattle who desperately missed her outdoor movie nights and disgustingly sugary coffee concoctions would make a good alien queen. But whenever that thought arose, she dutifully bashed it into pulp and skipped right over it. Delusion, for now, was fine.

The fact that Sikthand had built up the security surrounding her was not unwelcome exactly. Now, whenever she left her room, she was escorted by at least two armed soldiers. She supposed they made her feel a bit safer, but they also erased any sense of privacy.

She had to remind herself not to be upset about it, though. If she was going to be a queen, then this was her new normal. Better to stay alive than hang on to some imaginary sense of normalcy that regular folks had.

It also produced an unreasonably fluttery swarm of butterflies in her stomach when she thought about Sikthand brooding over her safety. When he’d dropped off this metric-fuck-ton of armor for her to wear, grumbling that it would keep her shielded during her tours, she’d nearly tossed him her panties as a token of thanks.

She could chalk up his protectiveness to a simple political play. It wouldn’t do to have his future queen murdered after all—a human queen, at that—but she liked to imagine that he fretted over her for other reasons too.

“So things are going well with Difila?” Sophia asked. On cue, Alno beamed, lighting up the whole room in glowing gold.

“She’s more wonderful than I imagined,” he sighed, strapping some shin guards to her legs.

“That’s good.” Sophia wobbled as he pulled them tight. She tried to be glad for Alno. He was so damn happy. But if things worked out for him, it meant he’d go off and get married and devote all his time to his new wife.

She could still visit him as a friend, but if marriages here were anything like they were in Tremanta, her visits would be more of an imposition than not. It was like an alien version of her friend getting a boyfriend and vanishing from the face of the earth. Except in Vrulatica, she didn’t have any other friends.

Sophia would have to start over with another attendant, and what if she didn’t like them? The thought was exhausting.

“Don’t worry,” he said, seeming to read her mind. “She doesn’t want to try for another child yet since she was just made a cloud chaser last year. No marriage in my future until my love has a statue in the Heroes Hall.”

Sophia caught the tightness around his mouth as he explained.

“I’m sorry. You could always get married without trying for children,” she offered, even knowing it was very unlikely by Clecanian standards.

He laughed. “What, like you? No, thank you. That’s a human thing. Difila has far too much honor to engage in frivolous marriages.”

She frowned but tamped down her annoyance. When Clecanian women entered into marriages knowing full well they did not want to try for a child, it was deemed frivolous and cruel. They’d essentially be signing up for a few months of pampering without giving the male in question a fair shot at the honor of offspring.

Sophia let her mind wander to that problem. She still hadn’t figured out how she was going to reconcile human concepts of marriage and Clecanian ones when the time came. She was sure there were plenty of humans that would be willing to enter into a temporary marriage, but then to have children and move on to a new marriage without them? That would be a bigger issue.

She’d need to introduce human relationship customs to the Vrulans so they were prepared. They’d be open to it. She felt confident in that estimation. After all, the only reason temporary marriages were prominent these days was because males outnumbered females so ridiculously and repopulation had overtaken romantic attachment in terms of importance. Once Earth opened and Clecanians didn’t feel quite so threatened by extinction, she was sure long-term relationships would become more popular. Right?

She wheezed out a breath as Alno slammed a solid metal plate against her back. They’ll be as flexible as steel, she thought, letting her pessimism win for a moment.

Alno shoved a helmet down over her head before giving her a supportive shove out the door. She clattered through the halls, legs spread as if she’d just gotten off a horse. “I look like an idiot,” she griped as her soldiers for the day surveyed her with twitching mouths.

“A very safe idiot, though.” Alno grinned. “Come on. You’re gonna have to get used to this sooner or later. It’s what a queen wears.”

She frowned at that. “Shouldn’t the queen wear whatever the hell a queen wants?” she grumbled.

When she’d first started her Tremantian tour around the planet with her human group, she’d gotten used to the constant staring and whispers surrounding them. The fact that she was an alien was not something the Clecanians let her forget.

Over the past month, the Vrulans had become more comfortable with her. They hadn’t been staring as much, and she’d fallen into a rather pleasant pattern of polite nods and familiar tail waves with a few faces she saw on her way to the archives every day.

That was all over with now.

She was an alien queen crashing through the tower in metal that was too heavy for her. Her neck ached from the helmet she was forced to wear, and she kept clanking loudly, her head on a constant swivel.

How had Sikthand survived into adulthood with his peripheral vision always so blocked? Though the suit she wore under the armor was made from the specialty cooling fabric, her skin wanted to sweat. It felt gross not to be able to. Like her body was disagreeing with itself over whether she was actually working hard.

As it turned out, the bumpy start to the day only grew bumpier. They toured the mines, accompanied by Lady Lindri. The mazes of old mines and active ones were incredibly fascinating, but Sophia only managed to think so after she was free of them.

The tour had been, in a word, claustrophobic. Between the knowledge that she was in tunnels underground and the restrictive weight of her armor, Sophia had been close to hyperventilating.

She hadn’t known tunnels would be an issue for her until she was a mile underground in the dark, trying to breathe through a panic attack. They’d turned up the light for her, finally realizing that her human eyes were too weak to see in the dim light. But perceiving more detail in the rock that surrounded her on all sides like a grave had definitely not helped.

She’d managed to bite down on her fear and breathe through the tour, her masked helmet hiding a face surely drained of all color. On Earth, she would have probably gotten through the experience with everyone thinking she’d been temporarily fearful, then pulled through. But this wasn’t Earth, and the worst part of the whole day was understanding that each and every Clecanian within sniffing distance knew exactly how terrified she’d been.

Their much-heralded queen, petrified of the mines that supported their whole city. She was an absolute and utter failure.

Sophia had shambled back to her room, pleading with Alno to bring her food so she wouldn’t have to face the dining hall. She hadn’t worked up the nerve to eat there yet, knowing she’d be expected to sit at the raised table. Her embarrassing display today confirmed that tonight would not be the night she braved it.

Though they’d quickly hidden it, she’d caught more than a few looks of derision from the miners as well as her guards. She didn’t doubt that before breakfast tomorrow, the whole tower would have heard about her embarrassing day.

Alno tried to cheer her up as he helped remove her armor, but everything he said just forced her throat to tighten even more. She kept quiet until he was gone, then crawled to the bathroom and disappeared under the scalding water of a bath.

She let out a shriek under the surface, misery making her want to stay down there forever. Slipping her head up, just until her nose could take in air, she sulked and waited for the heat to soothe her cramping muscles.

She’d tried so hard, yet at the first opportunity she’d proved herself to be just a scared little human.

The water of her bath turned cold around her before she forced herself out, dragged on a nightgown, wrapped up her knotted wet hair in a sloppy bun, and crawled into the dark confines of her bed.

Humiliated, she’d decided not to go to Sikthand’s room. Her eyes remained wide, replaying her day and cringing. A small, pouty part of her wondered whether Sikthand would come to check on her when she didn’t show up to their nightly meeting.

He didn’t.

Her throat clogged painfully. He’d probably heard what happened and wanted to make sure to give her the space to lick her wounds privately. She sniffed, pulling her covers up to her chin. That’s what a Vrulan queen would do, right?

It was just a bad day. A really bad day.

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