Today’s vignette goes back to “Serafina’s Saga,” seven years after the end of the visual novel. The visual novel is interactive, and therefore has a variety of possible endings; but this is the ending of my choice, and if I revisit Darzia in a later novel (which I intend to), then the circumstances will be as follows!
Near the top of the Elborn tower, where rosy vines and chinder branches wove around stones and columns like threads of matching fibers, tendrils of red hair streamed from the window.
Serafina stood in her bedroom, looking down at the stone city that comprised Castle Krondolee. She remembered the first time she arrived here seven years ago, though it seemed like a lifetime. Before that momentous day, she had never ventured into human civilization. She knew nothing beyond the jungle, where the only question she asked herself each morning was whether she would survive or succumb to the dangers of Darzian wildlife. Sometimes, she still yearned for those days. Because now that she was only a few hours away from becoming Queen or Grand Princess, at least a thousand questions hovered in her mind at any given moment.
She flinched as the door creaked behind her. Only one person would enter without knocking, and that was her husband.
She prepared herself to face him before turning around, even as she heard him take several steps and then close the door behind him. One would think that after seven years of marriage, Reuben’s ability to fluster his wife would have waned in effectiveness; but on the contrary, Reuben had only grown more skilled at stirring Serafina’s emotions, in every manner possible, and as frequently as he possibly could. She realized that some of the fault was her own. Reuben liked to play games, and he would have tired of the sport many years ago if she hadn’t played it with equal vigor.
Today’s circumstances, however, went beyond fun and games. Today the entire kingdom’s future lay on the line. A new monarch would be chosen between Reuben and Serafina. Either she became Queen, or he became King.
“Has the Royal Duma reached a decision?” Serafina asked, still not turning around.
“Not yet, cherry pie.”
As ever, he called her by her old nickname to incite an irritated response. Before they married, he liked to call her cherry tart. He claimed that “pie” was a more accurate description once he’d finally “gotten a taste.” It never failed to make her blood boil, and normally, she would have given him a proper retort. But this time, she refused to take the bait.
“Then why are you here?”
“Because I’m tired of pacing in circles downstairs.”
His fingers brushed the long red locks of her wavy hair, then tickled the bare skin of her arm. He leaned in close, his breath against her neck. His grip tightened around her waist.
Finally, Serafina spun around to face him.
Reuben’s coral eyes sizzled at her beneath dark lashes. His golden-red hair flowed down his shoulders and back into a black bolero top-coat. His body was small and lean, though not without muscle—a fact made all too clear by the slimness of his clothing or complete lack thereof. Beneath his short jacket, a tiny shirt covered only half of his rippling torso. Dark green trousers wrapped around the sharp angle of his hips and the curves of his thighs and calves.
Serafina tried not to focus on these things as she met his simmering stare. She despised the sneer ever-lurking on the edge of his lips, even as it made her heart beat faster.
“I keep thinking about what happened to Belatrix,” said Serafina carefully. She had rehearsed these words in her mind so many times, anticipating Reuben’s eventual entry. “The story makes no sense. Why would she run so deep into the jungle just to pursue some lone antelope? And why be so foolish as to stumble into a nest of spindle-vines? Surely an antelope wouldn’t have passed through one first.”
“My darling,” said Reuben, his hand returning to her dress, “not everyone knows the jungle as intimately as you do.”
“But Belatrix was smart, and a decent tracker.” Serafina struggled not to get distracted as Reuben played with the strings of her corset.
“She had lost her husband only two weeks before,” Reuben reminded her. He stepped closer, his gaze focused on her lips. “Perhaps she was distressed.”
Serafina firmed her resolve. “Awfully convenient, don’t you think? For the Queen and her Grand Prince to die so closely together?”
Reuben had gone quite still, his fingers cold against her arm. “My dear wife,” he said softly, “I don’t know what you’re suggesting.”
“You know exactly what I suggest,” hissed Serafina, and she felt her jaws gnashing as she bared her teeth. “I suggest that once again, a Jeridar destroyed the monarchy—just as one of your relatives murdered my parents.”
“I see.” Reuben took a step back and twiddled his fingers against his chin. “Now isn’t this a dilemma?”