Belfamor Hemetal was still fuming by the time he got back to his manor on the Rock. Actually, still fuming implied that he had been fuming from the start. In reality, in the beginning he had been absolutely frothing with rage, and had only slowly cooled down on the long trip back to Medradi. Cooled down being a relative term. He had held it all in, of course. He had no intention of sitting back and allowing Emelien Fanas to sit on the Imperial Throne, and if he wanted to be the Emperor, he needed to act like the Emperor, and the Emperor did not go around throwing temper tantrums. But, oh, how he wanted to!
He’d had a small army with him on Trisitania, to block any attempts by Fanas to arrest him, and it had taken all of his self-control to not just unleash them on the Senate once the result was announced. It had been so very tempting, but he was wise enough to know that murdering the entire Senate was not the way to endear himself to the population of the Empire. Not to mention the attempt would likely have failed. It wasn’t as if his troops were the only soldiers in that theater.
Storming into the main entryway of his manor, he stopped short when he realized his wife was standing midway up the grand staircase, with her arms folded, obviously waiting for him. He glared at her coldly, but she just gazed back at him calmly. “I heard the news,” she said.
“And?” he snarled.
“And I’m sorry,” she replied, still perfectly calm. He stared at her for a moment, a sneer on his lips.
“It doesn’t matter,” he finally said, in a cold voice. “I will be Emperor. Fanas will fall.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Shala replied, unfazed by his harsh tone. “You shouldn’t do this. You swore an oath to Valador that you would accept the will of the Senate if they elected Fanas to replace him.”
“VALADOR IS DEAD!” Belfamor roared. “I don’t care what that crazy old man wanted me to do! Emelien Fanas cannot rule the Empire! I won’t allow it!” There was a fevered light in his eyes now, and he was breathing heavily. Despite these signs of derangement, Shala was unfazed, still eyeing him coolly and calmly. For a long time, they stood like that, staring at each other, one looking like a wild beast, the other looking like a marble statue. Finally, Shala turned away and began walking up the staircase.
“Very well,” she said over her shoulder. “If you are committed to this course of action, then so be it. House Votalin pledges you its support.” And then she reached the top of the stairs, turned a corner, and was gone, leaving Belfamor standing by himself in the entryway, looking slightly stunned. As he stood there, he couldn’t quite explain the feeling that had bloomed in his heart when Shala had told him that she would support his bid for the Throne. After a few minutes of pondering, he realized what the feeling was. Relief. He couldn’t quite explain why Shala supporting him would cause him to feel relief. Of course House Votalin would support House Hemetal! Why would it even be in question? And yet, for a moment, standing there with his wife looking down at him, he had thought that she would refuse to support him, and even stranger, he had the strange feeling that losing her support would cost him any chance of winning the Throne. Why that would be, Belfamor couldn’t say. Votalin was a much smaller and weaker house than Hemetal. He didn’t need Votalin’s support to win the Throne. But for some reason, he felt like he did. He couldn’t explain it.
Shala managed to maintain her composure until she returned to her study, but as soon as the door slid shut behind her, she slumped down into a chair and let out a long, slow breath. She felt like she was going to cry, but she refused to allow her composure to deteriorate that greatly. There was no question the man she had married was gone. Something had broken between them just now, maybe the last thread that connected them, and whatever had happened to Belfamor, whatever was wrong with him, he was no longer the hopeful, brave, idealistic man she had fallen in love with. That man had been replaced with a spiteful, suspicious, and cruel man who, frankly, scared her. There was no good reason for her to support his bid for the Throne, and so many reasons for her to stop him. And she could stop him. One message, and almost all of House Hemetal’s wealth would belong to House Votalin. Without his house’s vast wealth, there was no way that Belfamor would be able to sustain the forces needed to wage war against Emelien Fanas.
She just couldn’t do it, though. She didn’t even have a reason, but when it came down to it, she just couldn’t betray him. The fact that he was willing to throw away the oath he had sworn to Emperor Valador was proof that he was beyond redemption, but it still wasn’t enough for her to pull the trigger. What did she have to live for if her husband was no longer her husband? She had reconciled with her father at the very end of his life, but that was cold comfort now that he was dead. She had a son, but ever since he had betrayed her, she had been unable to make herself feel anything but indifference toward him. If Belfamor was lost to her, then she had nothing left.
Maybe it was foolish. She didn’t want to rely on another person for her happiness, but what else was there? She’d fought so hard to escape the hell her father had created for her, and now it seemed like all of that fighting had been for nothing. Why even bother fighting, when life was just going to destroy everything you were fighting for in the end? But even though she didn’t know what to do, she wasn’t ready to give up. She would keep fighting, because it was all she knew how to do.