Viola sighed, and slid down with grace from Willow Sam’s arms. She set Ivan down, and patted his head.

“Nadia, you are raising such wonderful children.” Viola said to the descending Koskov. “Truly a testament to your work and love.”

“My thanks countess.” Nadia said. she cradled her youngest tight, smiling.

Sienna cleared her throat, and looked down from the balcony. “Perhaps the Koskovs could enjoy the gardens for a time, countess?” She asked. “Nalus and I would love a cordial with you.”

“But we were going to play games,” Viola said. She winked knowingly at Sophie and Pietr. “Climb the trees, terrorize the staff, get into no small manner of hijinks.”

“Later, perhaps?” Nalus said through gritted teeth.

“Later.” Viola agreed. She left the Koskovs in the trees, Willow Sam keeping a watchful eye over both the family and the grove.

“Wonderful children,” Viola said brightly. She led Nalus and Sienna back into the house, past the staff. “And so well-mannered. Sienna, your work?”

“They were already pretty well-behaved…” Sienna trailed off. They wanted privacy to speak. But Viola was leading them away from the kitchen, or main dining rooms. They had asked about a drink, not a tour.

Nalus rumbled as well. Another of Viola’s games. What was she playing at?

Viola smiled sweetly, and turned into the throne room. She ascended the platform, and sat in her chair.

Nalus and Sienna stood in the entrance to the door. Viola didn’t use this room. She was always too busy, working her way through the rest of the manse. She was either in the kitchens, or the gardens, or one of several studies and dining rooms. Her throne room had lain empty since she had been crowned. Nalus suspected this was by design.

“Come in, you fools,” Viola muttered. A wave of her hand, and a blast of cold air shut the doors behind them. “I’m not in the mood to shout.”

Sienna gulped. “The drink…”

“Spare me.” Viola said. “You two have barely been able to look me in the eye for the better part of a week. Why?”

Sienna tried to search for the right words. How to put it best? There were suspicions, and maybe something unsubstantiated. But…well…

“Someone’s planning a coup.” Nalus said.

Viola’s eyebrows rose. “Again? Didn’t we just have one of those?”

“They seem to be in vogue, countess.”

“Especially when the occupant of the throne wears a dress.” Viola said. “Sienna, do you concur?”

Sienna nodded. “I am so sorry, countess. It just…”

Viola slammed her hand into the armrest. She stood up, scowling. Waves of cold washed off of her, frost dotting the throne.

Sienna shivered, and clutched her arms around her chest, trying to keep warm. “C-c-countess…”

“Again.” Viola muttered. “I open up trade, stop senseless killings. I hold power, and compassion, and yet once again there is talk of rebellion.”

She glared up to the sky.  “What else do I need to do?”

“Perhaps let others in?” Nalus asked.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Nalus looked around the empty room. “Perhaps another of our council members could enlighten us.”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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