“When can I leave?”
Isabel stared out the window, over the browns and reds of the wet stone courtyard, over the smooth black iron of the great cannon, beyond the fortress battlements. Fog swirling through the valley below erased all detail from the world. It smudged the treetops and grayed the mountainsides, leaving only the snow on the higher peaks sparkling in the sun.
“When it is safe.” Marco’s voice, as hard as the fortress wall, stood like a barrier to deflect her questions.
“Safe, safe, safe! I’m choking on that word! Can you feed me nothing more?”
“No, your majesty.” His voice rang like steel. “It is my duty to protect you.”
When had her trusted advisor grown so cold? He had not always been so. In his youth Marco had rushed headlong into battle, risking all for victory, and had taken down her political adversaries with equal bravado. He had not been one to cower behind stone walls, nor had he ever advised her to hide herself away. “A queen,” he had once told her, “must be braver, bolder, more daring than a king, lest she be judged not as a monarch but as a woman.” Where was that man now?
“You said the rebels would be defeated in but a month,” she said, “yet I’ve been a prisoner twice that long.”
“You are no prisoner, your majesty. The rebels proved stronger than we realized. They have captured many villages and even now advance upon your palace. But they cannot touch you here. Come, I will show you the latest maps.”
Isabel refused to turn, refused to look at him. Her eyes had drunk their fill of his face. “What good are maps? I cannot rule here.” She watched the fog. She was being erased as surely as it erased forest and mountain. How could she remain a queen with her power occluded, her name faded, her very presence dissolved? Would she be safe once she had grayed and blown out to sea on the wind? Or would her enemies?
Marco’s boots clicked on the floor as he came to her side. She glanced at his form reflected in the glass. He stood a head taller than Isabel, broad-shouldered, powerful, stern of visage. When they were younger, she had found him handsome and thought to marry him, but her father had forbidden it. “Beware the powerful man who serves you,” he warned. She didn’t know why he had mistrusted Marco, but she found it impossible to disobey, even after his passing and her ascension to the throne.
“Tell me, Marco, what advice would you give your queen?”
“Be patient,” he said. “Be content. You are safe and want for nothing.” Soft words, spoken hard.
Her eyes strayed to his reflection again, and saw him, tall, rigid, hard because only stone could protect her now. To the south, an enemy bent upon her destruction ravaged her kingdom while her loyal forces struggled to stop them. What would she see if she looked into his eyes? Fear? Anger? Determination? She thought of the youthful Marco. How he would have longed to be in the thick of battle, defending queen and country. How it must pain him to be so far removed from the action. Yet his position now required him to stand guard over his queen.
Shame coursed through her. Marco was but doing his duty. She should not doubt him. He had never given her cause to doubt him. “You are right. I shall be patient.”
His reflection nodded.
And then, just before he turned away, it smirked.
Isabel heard her father’s warning ring in her mind and felt the red leach from her blood.
Beyond the window, the fog closed in as though to carry her away.
“Erased” is an expanded version of my flash fiction story “The Window,” which originally appeared in the Indies Unlimited flash fiction competition, June 24, 2017. I felt the original didn’t do justice to Marco’s character, a deficiency I hope is corrected here.