Shala Votalin sat by the window in her quarters in the Imperial Palace and cried. She’d been sitting there for hours, but she seemed to have no less tears to cry now than when she began. She was still in the quarters she’d been in when her father was alive, but she figured that she’d be moved soon, as she’d just discovered that these quarters were for the Emperor or Empress’s consort. Valador wasn’t married, so these quarters weren’t actually needed for anyone, but it would cause talk if the wife of the Emperor’s second-highest ranked General and daughter of his predecessor was using the quarters that were supposed to be used by his wife.
Shala didn’t really care what quarters she stayed in now. Part of her wanted to stay here because she had a connection with this place where her father had started loving her for the first time. Part of her wanted to burn it down and walk away, and forget everything that happened here. All of her felt completely confused, and, for the first time in a long time, totally alone.
She would have thought that being back together with Belfamor would have helped, at least a little bit, but in reality it only seemed to be making things worse. She understood Belfamor not grieving her father’s death. Her father had done horrible things to Belfamor’s family, and it was only natural that Belfamor would be pleased by his enemy’s death. But what Shala couldn’t understand was that Belfamor seemed to be actively angry that she was grieving her father’s death. He’d barely spoken two words to her since his forces had taken the Palace, and he seemed to be avoiding her entirely.
In a sense, his anger was understandable. After all, Neminatrix had done horrible things to her as well, and as her husband, it was natural for him to feel protective and be angry at someone who had hurt his wife. But it was also natural for a woman to grieve the death of her father, no matter how horrible that father had been, and Belfamor seemed almost…offended that Shala was grieving. All she wanted was a little comfort, a little sympathy while she grieved, and Belfamor was acting as if that was the most reprehensible thing he could imagine.
Well, Shala Votalin didn’t need Belfamor Hemetal. Shala Votalin didn’t need anybody. She knew what it was like to hurt alone. She’d done it before, and she could do it again.
Belfamor Hemetal strode through the halls of the Imperial Palace, only half-listening to the report being delivered by the lieutenant at his side. What he was doing was unimportant, but he felt the need to be doing something, if only to get away from his thoughts about his wife and her reaction to her father’s death. Ever since he’d first fallen in love with Shala Votalin, he’d worried that somehow her father would steal her away from him. And now it seemed as if he had, but not in a way that Belfamor would have ever expected.
How could Shala feel any grief toward that murderous, raping bastard! Belfamor thought to himself, his hands clenching into tight fists that he barely noticed. Did she forget what he did to my father? Did she forget what he did to my mother, and my sisters? Did she forget what he did to her!
It was utterly incomprehensible to him that Shala was up in her quarters at this very moment, crying her eyes out over the most reprehensible bit of human trash that Belfamor had ever had the misfortune of encountering. He felt completely betrayed. It was as if she cared more about that monster she called a father than she did him. He even felt like if he had died and Neminatrix had lived, she’d be happy.
“Um, sir?” said the lieutenant next to him hesitantly. With a start, he realized that the lieutenant had been attempting to get his attention for awhile. He also realized he’d been grinding his teeth and growling menacingly.
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” he said, taking ahold of himself and pushing his anger aside. “What were you saying?”
“I-I was just informing you that the Emperor is on his way, and he plans to be here in two days,” the lieutenant said, still a little wary.
“Ah. Yes,” Belfamor replied, nodding slightly to himself. “Good. I will be sure to make all the necessary arrangements so that everything is ready when he arrives.”
“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant said, saluting sharply. “Very good, sir.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Belfamor said, glancing at him briefly. “That will be all.”
“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant replied, looking relieved to get away from the crazy general. “Thank you, sir.”
Belfamor sighed heavily, and walked over to a nearby window to gaze out over the Selorin skyline. Nothing was working the way he wanted it to. He thought that destroying the enemy of his family, reuniting the Empire, and rescuing his wife would solve all his problems, but instead it seemed to have made everything worse. Maybe it had been a mistake to press forward with his plans after Emelien Fanas had denied him permission. Maybe he was getting his just reward for breaking every rule imaginable to accomplish his goal.
He shook his head and his expression hardened. No, he wasn’t going to admit that he had made a mistake. Fanas had been wrong to deny him permission. The fact that the battle had been such a resounding success was proof of that. Fanas was an idiot, and nothing was going to change that. And his wife was wrong to be so upset at her father’s death. If she was going to be so ungrateful as to spit in his face when he held out a helping hand, then forget her. He wouldn’t divorce her, because an alliance between House Hemetal and House Votalin was now more important for the health of the Empire than ever. But that didn’t mean he had to associate with her at all. Let her mourn her bastard father. She could do it alone.