Queen Daisy Mae sat on the throne beside her newlywed king. Her eyes ran over all of the different people who were dancing and mingling in the ballroom, smiling and happy. Mae felt empty — a motionless husk of who her people wanted her to be. She crossed her legs and leaned back, releasing a heavy and sorrowful sigh. The king, Oberon, turned to her, his brows closely knit.
“Are you okay, darling?”
Her heart pinched. She did not love this man.
“Yes. I am quite well.”
He nodded, clearly still worried, and returned his attention to the crowd before him. The occasion was a popular one amongst the Florian people — the First Rain Festival. It was a celebration of the spring’s first rainfall. The Queen hadn’t held it in Aerin since she began her reign eight years ago. She wished to rid the tradition, began by her grandmother decades ago, for it was where some of her happiest memories came from. Her husband had insisted that they hold it, and she knew better than to talk back to a king, so she gave in. This year, they had invited all the kingdoms on the island, so it was far more expensive and busy than usual. Especially expensive.
Oberon stood, looking at Mae and nodding in respect before walking off, perhaps to go drink champagne and mingle as a good king would. Her eyes didn't leave the orchestral ensemble. She too played viola, usually with her younger sister, Princess Iris Annette, who played the cello. Speaking of Anne, she hadn’t any clue where she had gone, and Mae would really be enjoying her company right now. Anne had likely ditched the party due to her social anxieties.
Mae picked at the stitches so intricately sewn on her skirt, bored. She knew she didn’t have to stay here and watch, she knew she should dance with Oberon and talk amongst her people, but she couldn't will herself to stand. It wasn't that she didn't care, it was more that she felt too dull, glum, hollow, dreary. No amount of dancing, champagne, and laughter could help her, or fill up that gaping hole in her heart. She rested her face against her fist, resisting the urge to close her untired eye, have a change in scenery.
Scenery did indeed change as a man approached her, wearing a mask to cover his nose and mouth. His hair was black; cut short and messy. His left eye was covered with a black leather eyepatch, and his other was brown and shining. How charming. Mae looked dully up at him, annoyed and refusing to take in any details about his all-too-familiar stride and demeanor. He bowed before her.
“Hello, Your Majesty. How are you?”
She ignored the itch in her mind that his voice gave her.
“Just fine. And you?”
He tilted his head in thought.
“I’m fine as well. I came here to find someone.”
Well, you won’t find them any faster bothering me. Mae clamped her mouth over those words and only stared at him, willing him to leave. Of course, that didn’t work, and he laughed. It once again brought back memories that she had buried.
“Are you only going to scowl at me, Your Majesty?”
She sighed, frustrated. “What is it you wish to happen right now?”
He stepped back a bit, hurt. “Well, I wanted to check up on my queen. I missed her, Your Majesty.”
She scoffed. “You smell of Ausca. Your Queen is non-existent.”
A strange look crossed his face. “Yes, I’ve been in the Aroma Kingdom for eight years. I would imagine I smell of the dreaded place.”
“If it is so dreadful, why were you there so long?”
He shrugged, “I was stuck there.”
The man then had the gall to sit in Oberon’s throne next to Mae. She disregarded this.
“Why exactly were you stuck there?”
“Failed a mission. Couldn’t go to Zephyr or Largesse because I’d stick out like a sore thumb, and Gelid, Erkin, or Stygian would just kill me.”
She made a small noise in acknowledgment, too glum to ask further questions. They both sat in silence for a while, watching the people dancing among her. Oberon was chatting with a man, perhaps the Lord of the White Lily, his cheeks rosy and daffodil cup in hand. The Auscan man looked back at Mae.
“Shall we dance? I reckon the next waltz is starting soon.”
Mae sighed again, turning to him. “I've never been any good at it.”
He shrugged. “That's alright, I can teach you.”
She felt a pang in her heart, but ignored it. “I may be hopeless.”
He held out his hand to her. She gingerly took it, and they came down to the dance floor, the several onlookers stepping aside for their gorgeous queen and the stranger. The two danced, twisting and turning, and Mae felt just a little lighter than before. When they finished, they stepped outside of the ballroom, a distance away from the open ivory archway and out of earshot of the visitors, where Mae felt more comfortable to breathe. The man spoke up.
“You aren’t a bad dancer at all, Your Majesty.”
Mae scowled. It was true. When her fiancé Cyrus died, the time she’d spent combat training had been freed, and she didn't know what else to do. She also feared embarrassment at the court dances, so she accepted her fate and attended her classes. She’d eventually mastered it.
“Same for you.”
He laughed. “I spent a lot of time practicing. I had to teach a stubborn princess to dance, so I took up her classes myself.”
Mae couldn't deny the familiarity any longer, she quickly turned to him, squinting her one emerald green eye and leaning toward him. “Take off that hideous mask.” She demanded.
He paled. “I- I can’t do that.”
Mae slammed her fist against the archway into the ballroom. “As your Queen, I command you to remove that mask from your face.”
He stared at her a moment before reaching up for the mask, and his hand lingered a moment before he pulled it down, revealing the rest of his face. A flat, crooked nose and round, rosy lips. There was a scar across the bridge of his nose, sticking out among his freckles.
It was Mae’s turn to pale, and she felt like her heart could stop. “Cyrus?” She reached out and cupped his face in her hand.
He went rigid, nervous due to the lack of a barrier between him now and their past. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
She pulled her hand away from him and brought it to her mouth in awe. “There is no way.”
Cyrus blushed and looked at the cloth mask in his hands, fidgeting with it. “There is indeed a way, Your Majesty.”
Mae waved him off, “No need for titles now...” He never used them when they were younger. She stared a moment longer before asking, “What happened to you?” She reached out and touched his hair, cut short and shaggy, taking in his far more crooked nose.
He shrugged. “I couldn't tell you that day in the courtyard, but Raf had sent me to kill King Mateo. He — as you know— is a tyrant.”
She gasped. Rafflesia — or Raf — the general of the royal guard, was rather fond of her mother, Queen Isabel, who had come from the previous royal family of Ausca. Her father, native to Aerin — the present kingdom Mae rules, did not want to take action on Mateo’s tyranny and murder of the old royal family, he said it was ‘none of their business.’ Mae didn't mind Mateo, actually. He was harsh, sure, but Ausca has been flourishing in more ways than one since his reign. He had earned that title of “King.” And even though he killed all of her mother’s family, she couldn't say she cared, since she wasn't close to any of them and their pretentious asses never cared to try and contact she and her siblings.
“Then how are you here, what happened? Cyrus, what is going on??”
He took her hand in his. “I failed the mission. Mateo’s royal guard stabbed me with my own blade.” Mae gripped his hand at this, fear in her eye. He continued, “Thankfully, it was so dark in that room that he couldn't see me escape after they left.”
“You tried to kill that giant monster of a man with only a silver blade?”
Cyrus chuckled nervously. “Must we go into detail?”
“Yes. What did you actually try to kill him with?” She was slowly becoming angry. Red-hot fuming anger. She never imagined Cyrus, her sweet and kind-hearted (ex)fiancé, attempting a murder in cold blood. She swallowed it down, waiting for his response.
Gelsemium. Or heartbreak grass. A poison that if taken in small amounts, induces dizziness, nausea, and convulsions. If attempting to kill someone, you should use a large amount, which will cause asphyxia and respiratory arrest. In someone like Mateo, even large enough amounts to kill a bear would only disservice him.
“Where the hell did you get gelsemium?”
“Beats me, Raf gave it to me.”
Mae turned around toward the staircase, walking down the steps and away from him. She didn't know where, but she wanted to get away from this nightmare.
Cyrus called to her. “Mae! Where are you going?”
She stopped halfway down and turned to him, fire in her eye. “Away from you.”
He jogged down to her, taking her hand. “Daisy, I’m sorry.”
She yanked her hand from his grasp, getting close to his face. “You tried to kill the Aroma King. You listened to Raf, after a direct order from my father was issued that no action was to be taken from Aerin on his rampage. You really think that's a good enough apology?” She spoke quickly.
She cut him off. “And then, when you failed, you let your fucking ego keep you away. You left me here, Cyrus. I thought you died.” she choked back tears. “I mutilated my face in grief.” Her power to grow new plants had lost control when her sister told her that he had died. Because of this, a flower sprouted from behind her left eye and shoved it out of its socket. It’s now stitched shut and covered by a curtain of bangs.
“I was abused. I couldn't go through that again, so I married a man I do not love. I wasn't upset; I knew you were sent wherever you had gone against your will. But you could have come back, and you didn't. You could have kept me from having these things happen to me and you didn't.” She was crying now, and people were beginning to stare from inside the ballroom.
“Mae. I'm sorry. I couldn't see you again after that, I knew how angry you would be with me-”
She cut him off again, flinging her gloved hands out aggressively, fingers splayed. “I would have been far less angry had you come back then; if you were honest with me!! But no! You had to leave me here!! I-”
It was his turn to cut her off, “Mae! I'm sorry! I can't change the past, but the future remains in the works. I'm sorry I didn't come back, I thought about you constantly, and I was pained to have not returned.”
Her hands dropped and she just stared at him blankly, looking over his face. It was blotchy and his visible eye was wet, like he could cry at any given moment. She ignored the few wallflowers in the ballroom that were watching and stepped up toward him. “How many other women have you said that to?”
Cyrus’s face dropped entirely, and it was clear to her how angry he’d become by the way his eye seemed to light on fire. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me loud and clear.”
“Are you out of your mind?”
“How many? It's been eight years and I know for a fact how much you like to. . . bed people.” She spat this like it was poison.
He put his face in his hands, gripping his hair in frustration and stepping back. “You are married. What does it matter?”
“You said that it pained you to have left me. You told me when you proposed that I was the only one for you.”
Cyrus glared up at her, distressed. “That was ten years ago, Daisy. And I never said it was untrue.”
“Then how many other-”
“None! Zero!” He shouted, throwing up his arms and stepping toward her again. His voice hushed again when he got a glare from some noblewoman in the ballroom. “Damn, what is wrong with you? I came here to see you again, and all you're concerned with is finding things to be angry about. Why are you doing this?”
Mae’s face got hot again, and her chest swelled with embarrassment. He was right. She didn't know why she was doing this. She missed him more than ever, and now she couldn't even feel happy, just lost. Cyrus scoffed, pushing past her further down the marble stairs, to disappear once more.
“You're going to leave?”
He looked at her again, pain and anger on his face, “You don’t want me here.”
“I do.” She whispered, fidgeting with her hands in front of her. “Don't go.”
He turned his back to her and put his face in his hands, sighing. He faced her, glaring coldly. When he saw that she had dropped her act, his face softened, and he came toward her. “Then why are you acting like this?”
She didn't look at him, just kept pulling at her gloves. “I don't believe it. I thought you were dead. I never thought I’d see you again.” The queen started sobbing then, her whole body shaking. Cyrus pulled her into a hug, as if he could take back all eight of the lost years in one embrace. She leaned into him. “I’m sorry.”
He ran his hand over her short auburn hair to console her, beginning to cry himself. “As am I, Daisy. I’m sorry I haven't returned until now.”
Oberon came up to them suddenly, burning anger in his voice. “What did you do to her?? Who even are you?” Two people had never separated so quickly. Mae stood rigid and surprised, looking at her husband. She sniffled.
“Then why are you crying my love?” He glared at Cyrus, clearly intimidated.
She cringed. “Nothing.”
“That hardly makes sense.”
Cyrus squeezed Mae’s hand and looked up at him from the corner of her eye. He had a twinkle in his eye, one that she knew all too well; the same one he used to have when her father had caught them being troublesome. Her heart fluttered, and she squeezed back in response.
“Hello?” Oberon snipped, stepping toward Cyrus. “A response would be absolutely grand.” His cold glare remained, but he didn't yell or grab at either of them.
Cyrus ran down the stairs, pulling the giggling and surprised Mae close behind him, and leaving a shouting and baffled king in their wake. He wasn't sure where he was headed or the trouble he was getting them both into, but this time he was bringing her with him.
note for Mr. Telgren or anyone who read my flash-fiction: Mateo is King Louis, but completely rewritten. Ausca/The Aroma Kingdom is the Spice Kingdom/Realm, I just rewrote that entire part of my world.