Catching the Sun, Part 7

Princess Shala Votalin sat alone in her darkened bedroom, staring through a small slit in the heavy curtains which covered the windows. It was daytime outside, a bright, sunny day, the sky a brilliant blue, unbroken except for a few puffy clouds. But inside, it was dark and dreary. Shala preferred it that way. The gloom of her bedroom matched the gloom of her soul. And yet, she couldn’t seem to look away from that small patch of bright sunlight.

Princess Shala had not been born a princess. She had had that title thrust upon her five years ago, when her father declared himself Emperor after the death of the old Empress. As far as she could tell, it didn’t mean anything. Her father’s behavior toward her hadn’t changed at all once she became a princess. Nor did anyone else’s. In a way, she was grateful. She’d suffered her father’s abuse for her entire life. She didn’t know anything different. She sometimes felt that, if that abuse ever came to an end, she wouldn’t know how to handle it.

Today was her wedding anniversary. As of today, she had been married to Lorgad Hemetal for two years. Not that that meant anything, either. She could count on one hand the number of times she’d seen Lorgad since their wedding. Their marriage was purely one of political expediency. She didn’t mind being ignored, though. Her father had always been the only person to pay attention to her, and his attention was such that being ignored was much preferable.

She continued to sit and stare out the window as the door to her bedroom opened and closed. There were only two people who would enter her room without announcing themselves, her husband and her father, and she had no desire to look at either of them.

“Hello, my wife,” said Lorgad’s voice, in a tone that sounded as if he was trying to come across as affectionate. She turned and looked at him with an expression that was somewhere between confusion and anger. He stopped, looking somewhat taken aback. “What?”

“Why are you here?” she asked bluntly.

“Well, I thought I would spend some time with my lovely bride on our wedding anniversary,” he said, with a sickly look on his face that she supposed was an attempt at a smile. She stared blankly at him, not sure what to think.

“You know, ever since I was little, people have assumed I was dumb,” she said. “I don’t know if its because they were afraid of my father, or what. But it’s not true. You’ve barely paid me any attention in two years, and now you want me to believe that you desire to celebrate our wedding anniversary? Please. Now tell me what you really want, or get out of here and leave me alone.” He stared at her, disgust, anger, and…something else, something she couldn’t identify, mixed in his expression.

“You are smarter than I gave you credit for,” he said with a resigned sigh. “All right. I’ll level with you. When I married you two years ago, it seemed like a prudent political move, to ally more closely with House Votalin at a time when your father was making a bid for the Throne, but I wasn’t sure if it would come to anything or not. Now, it seems all but assured that your father’s plans will come to fruition, and he will be the Emperor in truth, as well as in name. Because of this, Ilena and I have decided that the time has come for you and I to have a baby.” She stared blankly at him for a few moments, and then suddenly burst out laughing.

“Oh, that’s good, Lorgad,” she said, gasping and wiping tears from her eyes. “That’s real good. I so rarely hear jokes that I can’t help but laugh, even when they’re at my expense.” She sighed, a strange mixture of resentment and content, and then she burst out laughing again at the uncomprehending look on his face.

“I…don’t understand,” he said uncertainly. “What…what is so funny?” She continued to laugh, shaking her head and holding her hand up in front of her face.

“I told you Lorgad,” she said when she’d calmed down enough to speak, “I’m not stupid. I know you came here to poke fun at my condition. It’s okay, you can drop the pretense now.”

“I still don’t understand,” he said, a baffled frown crossing his face. “What ‘condition’ do you speak of?” She started laughing again, but almost immediately stopped, as it dawned on her that he really didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Oh,” she said, frowning. “I thought you knew.”

“Knew WHAT?” he exclaimed, exasperated.

“I’m barren,” she said calmly. “The abuse I suffered at my father’s hands as a child did irreparable damage to my reproductive organs. I can never have children.” The look of confusion on Lorgad’s face was slowly replaced by a look of horror.

“That…that monster!” he whispered.

“Yes,” Shala said quietly. “Yes he is.”

“Why would he do such a thing?” Lorgad said, appalled.

“Why do psychopaths do anything?” Shala said with a shrug.

“But…but…what of the succession?”

“Well, after I die, my aunt becomes the head of House Votalin. Or one of her four children does, if she dies before me.”

“And the Throne?” he asked. Shala snorted at this.

“I sincerely doubt my father ever considered the possibility that he would ascend to the Imperial Throne when I was a child. Even if he had, I doubt it would have changed anything.” Lorgad just shook his head, as if words had completely failed him. “Anyway,” she continued, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I just assumed everyone knew.”

“You don’t need to apologize,” he said, shaking his head again. “As much as Ilena and I would have loved for me to have a child on the Throne someday, it is not essential to our plans. And I have admit that Ilena will be pleased that there is no reason for you and I to…um…well, you know.” She sighed wistfully, her expression a mixture of regret and relief.

“Well, I’m glad we had this little chat, I guess,” she said with a half-hearted smile. “But if you don’t mind, I’d prefer to be alone.” He nodded, stood up, and bowed to her gracefully. She stared at him without expression, and as he walked away, she turned back to her small patch of sunlight.

To be continued…

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