Gelid winds of winter’s whimpered like the ghosts of autumn’s fallen leaves. Snow had not yet fallen, but the grey monotone of the skies portended that it would be soon enough. Perhaps it would be enough to break the siege and bring the people to sense. Yet, even as the thought crossed her mind, Empress Alane knew it would bring no peace. Common folk had no concept of the art of war, but in this they had the advantage still.
Her palace towered over the city of Arey, but it was surrounded by those who considered themselves her enemies. Lies perpetuated by the Whiteblood, a band of insurrectionists hell-bent on overthrowing Imperial rule and “healing” the realm of its ills. Once valiant defenders of the Empire, the Whiteblood turned against the crown, seeing enemies where there were none. It was the Baron Cyto Kines that incited the Whiteblood against her sovereignty, spreading lies about the increase of taxes and the oppression of the merchant class. He spoke in the streets about the decadence of the Imperial Palace and how the sovereignty had grown fat and complacent.
Truth be told, there was no conspiracy and no increase in taxes. Reality of the matter was simple: the merchant class increased the prices of their wares, making it difficult for the lower classes to buy and sell goods, but when questioned they claimed it was higher taxes that resulted in the price increase. Alane had attempted negotiations with the Merchant Princes a number of times, but they always refused. Yet, rather than learn the truth for themselves, the common folk were all to ready to believe that their Empress and the Empire had failed them.
Alane drew the furred collar of her winter cloak higher up around her neck as she stepped out onto a balcony that overlooked the city. In the distance, she could see the amber glow of flames as a section of the city burned. Smoke curled up like sickly fingers of cold corpses, carrying with it the sounds of looting and malcontent. The winter would be a hard one for everyone. They would be fortunate to survive.
Her eyes drifted away from the city, away from her failures as the steward of its welfare, and instead gazed skyward at the heavens. The Empire taught no religion, wanting no idols and gods to be placed above them in worth. We are one body, she recalled it being said in one of her old governance lessons, One people. We either stand together in faith with each other or we fail as a nation, disparate as a people.
There was no immunity from the disease that ate away at the very heart of her city and her people. Like something terrible and chronic, it festered; lingering onward into a miasma of pain and abandoned hope.
“No,” she finally whispered aloud, her eyes once more returning to the burning parts of the city. “I will not give up. I’ll never give up. There must always be hope.”
She turned to go back inside. “Even if it is only mine.”