I felt a sudden wave of horror, like I needed to stop something. My heart was beating like I had just been running, but I wasn’t running, I was sitting down. I looked at the dinner laid out in front of me. It was half eaten. I remembered its taste. It had been delicious. Our cooks were the very best. The fork was still in my hand.
“Is everything all right, my dear?”
I looked up at me husband across the table and smiled. He was handsome and kind. A real prince among. No, a king! “Of course, Zlodey. Everything is wonderful!”
“Of course it is,” he replied, returning my smile. He looked so happy, so proud. Victorious even. “How could it not be? I have the most beautiful wife in all the world and two fabulous children.”
Children? Yes, my sweet, beautiful children. I loved them dearly. I looked to my left where my son, Mayhew, was sitting. He smiled at me, at his father. He was a dashing young man. I was so proud. I turned to my right to my daughter, Madeleine. She was not smiling. Why wasn’t she smiling? Life was so great. Our family was so perfect. But she didn’t seem happy at all. If anything, she seemed perplexed. She was staring at her right hand as if she had never seen it before. ”Lina? Is something wrong?”
“Huh?” she asked, looking up as if seeing me for the first time. “No. Um…” She looked around, at her father, at her brother, at the table in front of her, and at the room around her. “Everything’s…everything’s ok…Mom. I just…I’m not feeling so, um, so great. Can I be excused?”
Excused? But my daughter loved our chef’s cooking. Something must be wrong. “Are you feeling sick?”
“Sick?” Lina pondered the word, weighing it. What was going on in her head? I wondered. “No. Just…tired? I think I might lie down.”
“Ok, honey,” I told her. “Would you like me to send in the doctor to have a look?”
“No!” Lina jumped to her feet. “No. I just would like to lie down. OK?” She rushed off before I could say another word.
I turned to Zlodey who shared my worried look. He truly looked concerned, but despite that he said, “I’m sure there’s nothing to be worried about, my dear. Teenagers can be strange sometimes. Isn’t that right, Mayhew?”
“I think her being strange has nothing to do with her age, father,” the boy said with a straight face. “My sister has always been a weirdo.”
“Mayhew,” I scolded. Just because it had been his birthday a few days ago did not mean I could let him get away with that sort of comment. His birthday…I had sudden strange flashes of it. Of flying into Zlodeyskiygrad with Lina…but we hadn’t been anywhere. Of a flying shark. Of death. But then the visions were gone, I remembered I had to reprimand Mayhew. “She’s your sister! You should never…” I stopped as the door opened and Hera walked in. Why was I so surprised to see her? Where else would she but by Zlodey’s side?
“Excuse me, General,” Hera said wearing her purple Ramstovian uniform. “But we’ve received word from the Eastern Front.”
Zlodey’s face went cold. He could be a hard man when the time called for it. “Am I going to be happy?” he asked, but it was also a warning.
“I believe so, Sir. Paris has fallen.”
For a second, I was horrified by this news. I didn’t know why. We were victorious! What could be better than that? The world would be better under his rule. The Parisian would see that soon.
Zlodeyskiy began to laugh. “Excellent news!”
Mayhew clapped. “Can we see the live feed, Father?”
“I don’t know, boy,” Zlodey replied, teasing. “You seem to have a lot of food left on your plate.”
“Oh, be nice, Imre,” I chided. “It’s not every day that his father conquers a major metropolitan city.”
Zlodey laughed. It was that laugh I fell in love with. So joyful. “I am trying my best though. Come on, boy. Let’s all go see it together. You, me, and your mother, as a family.”
“Yay!” the boy shouted before running off.
We followed Hera into the War Room. There were monitors covering the walls showing live footage of the conquest. Our soldiers marching through the streets. The Louvre burning. Parisians surrendering. Mayhew rushed from screen to screen trying to see all of it. “Look at it,” Zlodey said. “Our empire continues to grow!” He pointed at the map where Imperial Ramstovian purple covered practically everything between Paris and Moscow, from Athens to Oslo. It was a beautiful sight!
It was amazing, what my husband had achieved, but also, for some reason…frightening.
to be continued…