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BOOK: Elizabeth Raines
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The old archbishop droned on and on, and Syla tried hard to calm her racing thoughts and listen to his words. He was admonishing Thama that a true ruler loved her people. That a true leader put all others before herself. That a true leader risked even the things most dear to her to ensure her people thrived.

His words hit her hard. Syla had always known that her birthright was to be queen of Trilan. She’d been raised learning about her government and her people and learning to love her heritage and the Trilani way of life. But now, after listening to the archbishop’s admonition, she finally understood. She really
was
meant to be queen.

When she’d been faced with choosing between what would make her happy and doing the right thing by her planet, she had put the welfare of her people before her desire to be with Luka and the love she held for him deep in her heart. She’d sacrificed a future with Jake and Luka and the comforts and security of the Montana farm to come back and keep a ruthless, soulless woman from seizing control.

I am a queen
.

Then the words she was waiting for came as the archbishop said that once he placed the crown upon Thama’s head she would be the anointed ruler of Trilan. Taking a deep breath, Syla opened the door and ran from the vestibule into the bright lights of the altar. “Stop!”

No matter how this day ended, Syla would remember the shocked look on Thama’s face for the rest of her life. And she would treasure it until the day she died, which she sure hoped wasn’t today.

The archbishop had picked the crown up off the velvet pillow, but he took one look at Syla, smiled, and quickly put it back down. That was one vote in her favor.

“The traitor!” Preval screamed, pointing at Syla as he sprang to his feet from the first pew. “She’s a traitor to the queen! Arrest her!”

“Your mother is
not
the queen. Not yet,” Syla retorted. “Not
ever!

On cue, the rebels spilled into the sanctuary, and the audience waited in stunned silence for a moment or two before they reacted. Dressed in their finery, people squealed and pushed toward the ends of the pews, trying to run. Thankfully, her people quickly made their way to the exits, holding their weapons but not aiming as Jake had taught them. They were threatening but not truly a threat.

Syla wouldn’t allow the panic to spread. She hurried to the front edge of the altar and held up her hands. “Stop! Everyone! Please! Just stop and listen to me!” Her voice rang through the sanctuary, a sound louder than she’d ever imagined she was capable of producing.

The crowd stopped moving, although they didn’t sit down. At least the eyes had all turned her direction.

It was a start.

“These people have come here with me. They mean you no harm. They are here only to protect me. I am here to claim my birthright!” she shouted. “I am here to humbly ask that I succeed my father as he’d always hoped.”

Thama was on her feet, moving slowly from the big wooden throne because she was weighed down with a long, heavy red velvet robe that trailed far behind her. “Guards! Arrest the traitor!”

The queen’s private guards had been standing behind the throne. Dressed in their own ridiculously elaborate uniforms, they carried only swords. Both fumbled to pull the unwieldy weapons from their scabbards. Before they could accomplish the feat, a pulse shot rang out, striking the tallest guard’s hat and blowing it right off his head.

She almost shouted a thanks to Jake, but the second guard had freed his weapon and was hurrying around the throne, heading at her with murder in his eyes. He raised his sword, but Syla held her ground.

The second shot came from the aisle right in front of Syla. This one hit the guard’s sword hand, setting off a bright burst of light. With a howl of pain, he dropped the weapon and fell to his knees, clenching his bloody hand against his chest.

Syla whirled to see which royalist had dared to take a shot against her orders, even if it had saved her. She froze when she recognized exactly who had stepped forward to be her champion. “Luka.”

His smile was like the rising of the sun, filling her with love and confidence. He’d come to her. He’d really come to her.

Maybe he loved her just a little after all…

“Anyone else want to try to hurt my princess?” he demanded, his voice hard and angry.

My princess
. He’d called her “my princess,” and he’d said it in perfect Trilani.

No one moved. Even Thama stilled her steps.

“Now, Syla,” Luka said, “tell these people what they need to hear.”

Chapter 9

 

Syla had never been so damned glad to see anyone in her whole life. She favored Luka with a smile, wishing she could throw herself into his arms and kiss him senseless. Instead, she gathered her thoughts and tried to find the right words to answer Thama’s accusations. “I’m
not
a traitor to Trilan. I’m the heir to the throne—daughter of King Leopart and Queen Anastia. I would
never
betray my people.”

Thama hissed like an angry cat. “You conspired to remove your father from the throne. I have proof. You wanted him dead.”

“What
proof?
” Syla asked. “I loved my father! I would never do anything to harm him. I had no desire to be queen. Not when I left here, running for my life.” Syla decided her people deserved her honesty. “Perhaps not
ever
.”

The prime minister stepped from his pew to stand in the center of the wide aisle, facing the altar. His hard, commanding stance and deep purple robe of office made him a strong, intimidating figure. One hard stare and Luke moved to the side. The man bowed his head to Syla, and she returned the courtesy.

The prime minister spoke in a voice as loud as thunder. “If I might be so bold as to ask, why would you consider not taking your rightful place on the throne?”

Thama’s face flushed a furious red. “She will not be queen. She is a traitor!”

The prime minister directed the same authoritarian gaze at her he’d thrown at Luka. “Madam, I am speaking to Princess Syla at the moment. I’ll get to your assertion in due time.” He motioned for Syla to answer his question.

“I grew up in the palace. I watched my father and mother bearing the heavy burden of the monarchy. The endless ceremonies. The trips to hospitals. The endless meetings with more people than I can even remember. They were such good leaders I was afraid I wasn’t up to the task. I was afraid I’d be a disappointment after people so giving and so generous with their time and their love.”

“Do you still feel that way, Your Highness?”

“No, Prime Minister, I do not.” She smiled at Luka and then turned her gaze to the balcony where Jake was watching over her. “Thanks to the love of two special men, I feel strong enough to do my best for the Trilani people. I know they’ll be there to support and care for me as I support and care for my people.”

“You will
never
be queen.” Thama moved then, taking a few more steps closer to Syla and raising her hand as though to strike her.

“Don’t touch her!” Luka ran forward, aiming his laser pistol.

“No, Luka!” Syla shouted as Thama’s open palm struck her hard across the face. The blow made her ears ring and her cheek throb, and she tasted blood. But she stood her ground, even giving Thama a smile meant to enrage her. “I’m no traitor. But you? What did
you
do to my father?”

Thama raised her hand again, but before she could hit Syla, Luka stopped her. He blocked the woman’s arm, holding her wrist tightly in his grasp. “You hit her again, and you’re a dead woman.”

Jake’s voice rang from the loft. “Damn right.”

Luka looked up and grinned.

Thama’s eyes widened before narrowing to mere slits. “You threaten the queen? I’ll have both your heads on a platter!” She shifted her gaze to the crowd. “Help me!”

Not a soul in the sanctuary moved.

Syla directed her steady gaze at the prime minister. “Mr. Prime Minister, I stand before you, asking that Parliament investigate the circumstances of my father’s death.”

His eyes were dark and hard to read. “There seemed to be nothing suspicious about his passing. Your father was, after all, an old man.”

She shook her head. “Not old enough to die so quickly. I was only gone three weeks, and he was the model of health when I left.”

“You fled the charges of treason. Why would you run if you weren’t guilty?”

“I ran because I was afraid of being thrown in jail—perhaps even executed—for something I didn’t do.”

She was now pleading her case as much to her people as she was the prime minister. “When I ran, it was because I had no choice. My father wouldn’t see me to let me plead my innocence. Thama had him locked up in the king’s suite, and she and the guards wouldn’t let me anywhere near him. She’d sworn out a warrant on me, telling everyone she’d found evidence that I was trying to take my father’s throne. My private bodyguard protected me by taking me away from Trilan.” Jake had saved her, hiding her away when the palace guard came to arrest her. He spirited her to Earth because he could hide her there.

“Will you stand trial now?” the prime minister asked.

She nodded. “If you look into this without my stepmother’s interference, I will face whatever consequences you deem I deserve.”

“Well then…” The prime minister straightened his robes. “I shall call Parliament and begin the investigation immediately—both into your treason charges and King Leopart’s death. I dare say, princess, that I believe the next coronation we schedule will be in
your
honor.”

“No!” The shout came from Preval. He lumbered forward, his red velvet robe dragging on the floor behind him.

Syla was shocked that he moved so quickly being, as in all the time she’d known him, he’d been so slovenly. Her eyes flew wide when she saw the jeweled dagger in his hand.

“I will be king!” He raised the dagger high and hurried at her.

Two laser shots echoed through the sanctuary.

Preval faltered and dropped the knife. He tugged at his robes, jerking them open to reveal a white shirt that was now black from where the shots had hit. He dropped to his knees, glanced to his mother, and then collapsed on the floor. His death rattle broke the utter silence that had descended after the shots.

Thama screamed, the sound hanging heavy in the air. She hurried down the marble steps to kneel next to her son. Cradling his ashen face in her hands, she sobbed as tears rolled down her cheeks. “My son! You’ve killed my son!”

While Syla’s heart went out to Thama for her loss, she couldn’t help but state the obvious. “He was going to murder me.”

Thama rose, hands clenched at her side. “You! You’re supposed to be dead! Not Preval!”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

“He was to be king! What I did, I did for him!”

Syla’s heart started to pound a furious rhythm. “What you
did?
Exactly what did you do, Thama?”

Thama was shaking with her rage and grief. “Don’t pretend you don’t know. You’ve always known. That’s why I had to get rid of you.”

“I’ve always known? What have I—” A sickening dread washed over Syla, and it took every bit of her self-control not to double over in pain and grief. “I knew it. You killed my father.”

“Yes,” Thama hissed.

Fighting the urge to pick up the dagger Preval had dropped and plant it deep in her stepmother’s heart, Syla took a deep breath. She wanted to hear the whole sordid tale, but not in front of the guests—at least not the more personal aspects. About to ask the guards to seize Thama, the words froze in Syla’s throat when Thama crouched and grabbed the dagger.

“Don’t do it,” Luka warned. The red dot from his pulse gun was fixed between her eyes as she slowly mounted the steps.

The hysterical woman was suddenly in perfect control. She straightened her spine and then raised her chin. She clenched the dagger tightly in one hand while she used the other to caress the blade with her fingertips. Her face was a mask of calm. “My son should have been king. He was born to be a king.”

Syla slowly moved to Luka’s side when he motioned to her. She wasn’t sure what plans were turning in Thama’s demented mind, and she feared more for Luka than she did herself. She held her hand out to her stepmother, surprised at how steady she was. “Please, Thama. Give me the weapon.”

A maniacal laugh spilled from Thama’s lips. “Gladly.” In one swift motion, she raised the dagger high and ran at Syla.

One laser shot hit Thama’s chest, a second her forehead. The dagger tumbled down the stairs with a loud clang. As if in slow motion, she sank to her knees and then pitched forward to die in front of the cathedral’s altar.

Chapter 10

 

The archbishop gave a nervous look around the crowd when he first reached for the crown, bringing a smile to Syla’s face. No doubt he was thinking of the last time he tried to crown Trilan’s new monarch.
This
time, he would be allowed to continue uninterrupted.

He lifted the golden crown from the velvet pillow and held it high, his back to Syla where she sat on the wooden throne. “I will now administer the oath of office.”

He turned to face her, his expression solemn. “Is Your Majesty willing to serve, protect, and defend the people of Trilan?”

Syla let the weight of what she was preparing to promise hit her, but it no longer made her afraid. Instead, she closed her eyes for a moment, picturing her mother and father standing on each side of her, their hands on her shoulders as though helping her bear the burden. “I am.”

“Will you in your power cause law and justice, in mercy, to be executed in all your judgments?”

“I will.”

The archbishop raised the crown a little higher above his head. “I proclaim to all of Trilan that Syla, daughter of King Leopart and Queen Anastia, is now our anointed queen.” With a smile, he set the crown on Syla’s head as the organ ground out the Trilani anthem.

BOOK: Elizabeth Raines
10.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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