Quinn places a sight stone to her eye and trains it down the slope. A mile from her hidden lookout rises a forest of towers and torchlight. The castle walls are opulent, decked in streamers of rosaberries and silver stars that flicker with shadows from below. Raucous laughter and jolly flutes dance from the arches. Clouds scud across the moon; rain is predicted. But the torches burn dragon oil so will not fail, and the King has brought in weather-workers to keep the inner garden free of even the gods’ interruption.
It is Solstice Eve, and Quinn is ready.
She slides from her hiding place in a pine tree, climbing in silence to the needle-soft ground. She is a shadow among shadows, grey and black and green, the colours of nature and naturally at home therein. It is when she approaches the castle that she will begin to stand out, so she runs for the walls. No one sees her. Or, at least, she does not hear an alarm.
Scaling the stones with ease, she slips into an open window and crouches, listening. Music drifts from the garden. Quinn recognises the old dirge with a jolt of pain. Her parents used to dance to this.
Before the King came.
How dare he.
Driven onward, Quinn finds her way through cold hallways into glowing corridors, chasing patches of darkness in which to hide. She turns a corner and there, suddenly, the courtyard is before her. She is in an upper walkway that wraps around the inner garden. One step brings her to an archway overlooking the gathering below. It is golden and warm and bright, like staring into a portal to another world.
For a moment she pauses, allowing the magical splendour of the garden below to capture her senses. The King sits, splayed upon his throne, one leg on the armrest, goblet in hand. He watches the musicians—who play like demons are on their tails—and the dancers, who spin as though possessed. Firelight crackles, tossing strange shapes into the fray. The heady perfume of rosaberries finds half-drunk minds and fills them. Gold is everywhere. Fabric floats, food flows, and the now-falling rain bounces harmlessly off the weather-workers’ umbrella of air, above it all.
Quinn shakes off the wonder, focusing on the King’s face. His features are beautiful, cut from an artist’s dream, sharp and wise and fine. Perfect lips in a bow. Eyes glazed in silver. No hint of the cruel man within. No sign of his tendency for violence. Not tonight, when all is well and wonderful in his realm.
Quinn has learnt the folly of gaping at gold. Her parents’ mistake, one she will not succumb to. Her dagger is black, the silver painted over so as not to catch the light. She tests it in her hand, checks its balance, and slows her heart.
Even glory cannot stand against a child of revenge.
This flash fiction story was originally written in response to r/WP’s Themed prompt ‘Resplendence’.
Thanks for reading.