Hot tea burned her lips as she took a sip. The general’s private quarters were plush and warm, and the furniture showed enough wear to be quite comfortable. Nothing was quite pristine, and nothing was out of place. Even the bitter tea was lovely in its imperfection. She sighed and opened her eyes to look up at the rotund general. “Thank you for having me, General. Your hospitality is a thing of legend.”
The large man chuckled. “Thank you. I’m a bit pressed for time, so please, why have you come tonight?” He prompted. “Also, it may help if you share your name, for the sake of simplicity.”
The woman laughed. “My name is Lucia Knowles.” She took a sip of her tea and swirled the bitter liquid about her mouth. There was a hint of something sweet hidden in the mixture, and she struggled to identify it. “I came to ask about my husband’s demotion, General Pronidis.”
Pronidis frowned. “He was demoted for incompetence.” He began, only to be cut off as Lucia shot him a dark look.
“He was demoted because he followed orders to the letter. I spoke to everyone else about the situation thus far, and I will not allow Marc’s memory to be marred by a post-mortem demotion.” She set her cup of tea down and stood slowly. Pronidis couldn’t resist a glance at the widow’s body.
Her figure was full and lush, and her lips resembled an over-ripe berry, filled with sweet juice. She narrowed her coffee-colored eyes at him “Are you quite done?” she demanded, her voice tight with warning. He paused and returned his gaze to her face and leaned back in his chair, his fat body balanced with ease.
A grin lit the fat man’s features. “Lucia,” her name slid from his lips, “I believe I know a way to nullify his demotion.” His tone was over-friendly, and his eyes roamed once more.
Lucia’s brown eyes burned with the heat of the nearby volcano. “And I believe I will bring this matter before the king, if I guess your motivation correctly.” She picked up her cup of tea and looked at it thoughtfully. Her eyes glanced up at Pronidis with venom, and she thrust the cup forward. Hot tea scalded the fat man’s face as she lightly set the cup down on his desk and walked away in disgust– not because he was unattractive, for he had a handsome face, if thick– but because he was so insensitive to her loss.
The lonely woman closed the door to the man’d quarters and leaned against the wall as she heard the sounds of the man cleaning his face. She tried desperately not to cry, but the tears overcame her shredded willpower. As she leaned against the stone wall, she sobbed once more for the loss of her beloved.
She didn’t remember if anyone saw her. She couldn’t recall if anyone tried to comfort her. She simply woke up, in her bed, still wearing her black dress that she wore to visit the general. Confused, she rose and sought out one of her maids.
“Annalise?” She called.
The young and lovely bucktoothed woman hurried to her from somewhere down the hall. “Yes, Miss Knowles?” She looked so like a sweet little mouse.
“How did I get home last night?” The woman frowned.
“General Pronidis sent for us to fetch you after you started to cry in his hallway. His face was red, and he was dabbing at his face.” She frowned. “He looked quite angry, and he had a few blisters on his nose.”
“There was nothing amiss with my dress?”
“Nothing, Miss, save your sleeve, where you were blowing your nose.” She reported. Her voice had a childlike quality, without being high, and it held the native Saldecla Island accent that so many main-landers called ‘nasal’ and ‘ungraceful’.
Lucia enjoyed the girl’s voice, however. It reminded her of home, back in the capital of Roi Saldecla, where most people spoke with the same accent, and officials were less corrupt than in this icy, hellish land.
Hotazhek was home to many a subtly corrupt official, who hid their evil ways behind beauty and art. Lucia detested them! She paused and scowled. “I was in Hotazhek yesterday. How am I back in Kotazhek already?”
“Oh! The general paid your fare across the channel. He mentioned something that made me quite mad.” Annalise tilted her head, and her tied locks fell into view. The ends were ragged and uneven.
“What happened to your hair?”
“Nothing to worry about, Miss!” She grinned. “Nothing to worry about. Are you ready for breakfast? Wilhelmina should have it almost done, and she has been working on it for hours. I think it will be a very nice breakfast.”
Lucia shook her head. “Thank you. I suppose I should bathe and ready myself.”
“Do you need help?” The tall mouse-like woman asked.
Again, the lush Lucia shook her head. “No, but thank you. I’ll be fine.” She waved Annalise off and began to walk to her washing room. She had one of the most advanced plumbing systems in the kingdom that used a Republic design that brought water from a well directly to her kitchen and various baths. She turned the wheel, and water rushed into the tub. With a flint lighter her late husband once bought her, she lit the fire that would heat her water, and waited. When the tub filled, she turned the wheel the opposite way. Water spilled over the edges and splashed onto the ground, wetting her dress. It took several tries and much grunting for her to shut the water off completely, and she had to drain the bath some, but eventually, it was filled as full as she wished, and the fire soon brought it to the right heat. She closed the windows, and eventually, the smoke choked the fire out.
With a sigh, she stripped. She should have asked Annalise to help. Annalise always managed without spills or difficulty.
She climbed the steps to the tub’s edge and slipped into the hot water. It was slightly too hot, but she no longer cared. Absently, she washed herself, then drained the water and perfumed herself. She walked to her bedroom, where she dressed absently before she walked to the kitchen. Her home seemed empty, even with the numerous maids and servants rushing about doing chores.
As she walked into the kitchen, she stared. An unfamiliar man who bore the marks of a sergeant stood nervously in the sitting room. She frowned suspiciously and walked into the room. “Hello, Sergeant.” She greeted warily. She felt uncertain. Her hair was unstyled and hung damply from her head and dampened her dark blue dress.
“Miss Knowles.” He bowed stiffly. “I am Sergeant Willem Tadsson. I served alongside your husband from the time we were green recruits together.” He rose. “I was told to deliver this to you.” He slowly extended a folded and sealed document to her with a gloved hand.
Slowly, Lucia took it. “Thank you, Willem.” she managed as she broke the seal and looked at the letter. Tears formed in her eyes. “He was promoted?” Her voice caught.
The young man nodded. “Yes, Miss Knowles. General Pronidis promoted him shortly after you left. He said any man who weds such a headstrong woman while in command of rambunctious soldiers deserves it, and whoever demoted him is going to receive a lashing.”
Again, tears overtook Lucia as she struggled to thank Willem as she gripped the letter tightly.