PROLOGUE

A/N: Might be continued as an extended work, but at this point is my attempt at a stand-alone. Set in a fantasy world, and originally written in response to a challenge from my English teacher to the entire class, the imperatives being that a lover, leader, betrayal and death were included, or hinted at. Advice appreciated, Alexis.
PS. Just wondering, does the tense in this piece work?

A leader, a friend.

A lover, a liar.

A betrayal, resulting in murder most foul.

The blood on sweet Aurelia's hands.

She wasn't to know how it would end, had no idea of the debt owed to victory. When faced with the crisis the only thing certain had been the dire consequences that defeat would surely bring. Even now, she wasn't sure what else she could have done. But surely, surely Aurelia thought, any life as a consequence was better than this?

Bitterness soon overtook her, as it did every time she reflected on the shattered remnants that lay in the dust of her perfection; of a life tainted by waste, fractured by deceit and wracked with regret. Finality pierced her, Aurelia's once consuming beauty withering as a plant without sunlight, a flower imprisoned by ice. Sometimes, as she lies alone under soft sheets, Aurelia wonders how she lives without someone as vital to her as Fletch was. She sleeps but never feels rested, hears without really listening and walks though she isn't going anywhere. Summarily, she exists without living.

Their friendship was once her lifeblood, and she likes to think that it was his too. There is no way to know now, no way for those precious words to fall from lips quirked in that familiar smirk.

A prick of pain, physical for once, followed by a string of blood dancing down her finger. Cussing softly though no one is around to hear, hissing venomously at the needle and her damned sentimentality that had distracted her from such delicate work.

Fletch was never sentimental.

Footfalls now, echoing like drums on the shiny floor. Aurelia reflects on the nature of footfalls as she rises and makes her way to the wooden chest to find more thread. Footfalls, she knows, can be read like the face of an old friend. Recognition may take a few moments, but once dust tangible as the years has been swept away, it strikes as fast and hard as a dagger. For what mother, daughter, sister or lover, does not recognise the signal of a loved one's return, footfalls falling on stairs?Aurelia knows the hated footfalls betraying the imminent arrival of her husband; his two feet stubbornly refusing to weary, the hard clunk after bang resulting is characteristic of his pomposity as he struts through the palace, never minding who or what he might tread on.

Her head throbbing, no purple thread in sight though she carefully sifts through the large collection. The headache has been there all morning, but is nothing against the sound of her heart beating a fast tattoo of sorrow, shame and nostalgia as her husband enters the room. She loved him once, almost as much as she loathes him now, though he has always treated her with kindness. No, she loathes him for what he represents, and for living when Fletch didn't. Loathes him as much as she loved Fletch. Loathes him a great deal, though not as much as she does herself. She supposes she could forgive him, though she could never forgive herself, but hatred is so much easier. Her time and efforts are better spent in what she likes to call regal solemnity, what others might deem as the sulks.

King of the nation, reigning sovereign of dignity, and she who was once below him now brushes past without a word or glance. King Edvard bristles, the claw of loneliness tearing at his heart as she walks away, her head held high and lips pressed tightly together. Though tempted, he doesn't question or chastise her as he has long wished he could. By rights he should, understanding be damned, but cannot find the resolve within him to reach past the high walls she has built. King Edvard once prided himself on his determination, but such a time has long since fled. It feels as though it has been forever when he was truly proud; though he likes to pretend all is right and just in the world.

Her staid skirts sway as her two pasty, flimsy legs press forward hastily though her destination knows no time or dates. Aurelia brushes past many servants, who unabashedly fix her with looks of respect bordering on trepidation though she pays them no mind. Every once in a while the reserved gray waves parted to reveal small glimpses of her delicate, uncovered ankles. A small part of her that hinted of the young, impressionable woman she herself had once been. And for the first time since she'd entered this palace, a petite flower, embroidered with a magic quill onto now blemished flesh, glimpsed the affluence afforded to the royal family perceptible in even the most dingy hallways. But even to the little flower, this place seemed a pitiable imitation, a mere echo from glorious ages long past, resounding weakly through to the modern world.

Casting wary looks behind, Aurelia withdraws an old key from her pocket, the dull gold speaking of times more kind. Taking one last look of caution, her hand finds the doorknob. She almost gasps, seeing the outline of red trailing down her finger onto her palm, forgotten in the midst of her and Edvard's silent war. But she doesn't gasp. Instead, she draws her head back and laughs, the hollow sound reverberating. All previous thoughts of caution are thrown carelessly to the wind as she indulges in a flight from sanity. A few moments later, she regains awareness and quickly enters the room. None follow. The Palace of Opportunity, as it is sometimes known, is held together as much by the insanity of its royal denizens as the magic and mortar it is imbued with. After all, madness had always made her presence known to members of the royal family, regardless of whatever beginnings they might possess.

So once sweet Aurelia and once proud Edvard remain together, bound by their sins and their past. Regret is her cross, as loneliness is his, their eternal penance for the betrayal of a friend. Edvard is stuck in a perpetual adolescence; grand fantasies of his youth finally come to fruition; Aurelia has resigned herself to reality, wretched though it is. Both are left alone, with silence ringing deafeningly in their ears.