It was her last masquerade as queen, for what vestige of meaning the title retained in a conquered land. She had commanded the Fire Hall to be decorated as time and tradition demanded, scarlet banners and a host of torches in sconces both jeweled and plain. She dressed the part, a flowing black gown with a high waist and a wide neckline, dotted with obsidian – hair the color of ash set free.
And she ached for it to be anything more than ceremony.
She surveyed the Fire Hall from the concealment of a curtain, frowning. Too many of the court had already adopted the style of the conquerors, pale, uncertain colors in winding, binding ties and stays. It was a scramble for favor, pure and simple – since the queen herself was old and intractable, the empire would need a figurehead, and why not one of them?
She suppressed the feeling her people were about to dance on her grave.