Viola’s eyebrow rose. “Excuse me?”

“Let’s just pay the guards.” Nalus mimicked her voice. “And then we pay everyone a fair wage. And open trade, and squash any who oppose us. In short, we are going to make the world a better place, and everyone is going to accept it…because!”

He pointed his finger at her. “You have done some great things. Stopped a coup, and flushed out the true traitors from the innocent bystanders. Opened us to the outside world, and made alliances to help us all in the end. And ended a truly perverse practice that the count may have endorsed.”


Nalus gripped the chair’s armrest. The wood whined underneath the strain, and threatened to crack. “You know what your reward for such altruism is going to be…countess? Your enemies are emboldened that you do not kill when you could rather imprison. Invited the gaze of a thousand more enemies upon our Valley. And the one class of citizenry who has any power or influence in this entire Valley is coming for your head!”

He bowed his head, and closed his eyes. “I understand the need for goodness. To make the Valley better, purer. But if you try to change this world too fast, it will instead break you. And without an heir…”

Viola smiled. “Should I wait until I’m pregnant to start becoming radical?”

Nalus started, and she held up a hand. “Or better…married? That is what this is about, isn’t it? One of the reasons I am so despised is because I am a woman. If I were merely a countess to a count, empowering a man to make the real decisions…well, I would have far more time to tend to the gardens.

“As to my…radical ideas.” She fixed him with a cold glare. “I shall do as I see fit. And those perverted nobles know where they can find me.”

Nalus shook with rage. “You are going to destroy the Valley with your vanity.”

“It is my Valley.”

Viola sank into the chair. “You are dismissed, Nalus.”

Nalus stood his ground. “I will not let you destroy the Konstantin name.”

Viola stood up in an instant. “Excuse me?”

“I am not going to let you run towards your death.”

“You presume too much. Leave now, while you still have the chance.”

“Kill me if you will. You are destroying the entirety of your family’s legacy.”


“Consorting with peasants. Upending traditions.”

Viola’s hands glowed blue. “Out.”

“Mucking about with that creature in public.”

“Leave!” Viola shouted.

“What would your father think?” Nalus shouted. “If you hadn’t…”


copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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