Olenna died gracefully.
From where he was tied beside the beheading platform, Herion watched her shoulders, the way that they relaxed as she lowered her head onto the stone block before her. Her neck was small. It broke easily enough.
Her head fell at the same time a rotting tomato collided with Herion’s face, hard enough to bring stinging tears to his eyes. The small girl who had thrown it, who wore the grey robe of the Tamis people, spat at his feet.
“Ese pramuna shan’t’il,” she hissed, which, from Herion’s limited knowledge of the Tamiso language, roughly translated to “the prince will feast on your eyeballs.”
“Do your parents know what you’re doing with their groceries?”
The remark earned him another tomato to the nose.
The crowd in the high street was thick as honey, but as the sound of drums echoed from the harbor, it parted seamlessly. In spite of the blood running from his nose into his mouth, mingling with the vile juice of rotten tomato, Herion let out a breath of laughter.
When the sunlight danced off the chains around the prince’s neck, it gave the illusion that he had emerged from the sky itself. He rode serenely at the front of the procession, his copper hair cropped short, his colorful robes floating over the horse’s back.
Even from the distance, Herion could sense how the prince’s demeanor changed as he travelled down the road. By the time he dismounted in front of the gallows, his face was the worst thing that Herion had ever seen.
They must have made quite the pair like this: the prince in his silks, Herion with his hands tied to a rail above his head, rotten tomato solidifying on his shirt front. He felt ghastly. The prince looked it.
With a smirk that cracked the blood on his lips, Herion locked eyes with the prince.
“Sorry, Wren; I’m a bit tied up at the moment.”
“How could you possibly do something so foolish?”
Wren paced and forth across the prison cell, his hands twisted in his hair, his breath coming fast and hard. Every few moments he looked up, noticed some new appalling detail of Herion’s appearance, and averted his eyes in something that might have been shame.
“I have never heard of something so utterly idiotic. You and your crew may as well have leapt out of the throne room window and let the river swallow you. What were you thinking?”
There was a leak in the ceiling, and every few seconds, a drop of raw sewage would fall onto the grimy floor. Herion fixed his eyes on the wet patch. “Welcome back.”
If he closed his eyes, he could see Wren’s hair as it had once been: long, tangled across a clean pillowcase. If he tried hard enough, he could forget the ghost-like figure standing in front of him, the one that smelled of sweat and rancid memories.
“I don’t know what you expect me to do.”
Wren had turned so that he was facing the door. His hands gripped the remains of his hair like it was some kind of phantom limb.
“You killed my sister.”
“Please. I killed a tyrant.”
The river was full of skeletons the queen had had drowned, the countryside full of villages her armies had burned. Taking up with the rebellion had not been a conscious choice for Herion. It had been an inevitability, the natural product of years spent watching all of his friends being killed off.
“You could have come with me,” Wren whispered, and when he turned around, his expression had grown even more haunted. “We could have left together; we could have built some kind of life away from her.”
Herion’s lungs were heavy. “You asked me to leave behind everyone else that she would have killed. When I told you that I wouldn’t, you chose your throne and left me. That is what happened. You don’t get to to paint yourself as the victim here.”
Wren made for the door. “You’ve got tomato all over your face. Someone will come to clean you up before tomorrow morning.”
There was the smallest hint of disgust in his voice as he left the cell. Herion couldn’t tell if it was directed at the tomato residue or him, and in the end, he was not sure that he wanted to.
The stone block smelled of memories.
Herion met Wren’s gaze only once as his head was forced down upon it. Wren stood on the dais where his sister had once stood, her crown on his head, her advisors flanking him.
This is what we’ve been reduced to, then. A lifetime of unwritten letters that read “I love you, but not enough for it to matter.” The way that the space between our mouths, once pressed together like castle walls, has widened to become an ocean. The smell of tomatoes fermenting on my shirt.
The Tamis girl who had washed his face the night before had been small and anxious. As she’d left the room, she’d bent to whisper in his ear.
“Does it hurt to be betrayed by someone you once loved so dearly?”
The night before Wren had left, he’d traced patterns over Herion’s arm and whispered about the world he would forge as king. Something had lit up in him, and as he spoke of running for the mountains and forging an empire, he hadn’t seemed to notice the light fading from Herion’s eyes.
He didn’t betray me. He did exactly as I expected he would.
Herion closed his eyes. As the axe swung down, he reached out for the memory of Olenna, for the rest of his friends who were bones and dust now. They rose up to meet him, in an unending darkness that would become the sea.