This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 20. I spent an hour and some change on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write about an unopened letter.”
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Peace or War?
Darion, Second-King to the nation of Kiel, made one last note in his journal before closing the leather-skinned tome. He released a content sigh and sipped the last of his steaming Juk tea while looking over the city towards the distant snow-capped mountains. It was a radiant and relaxing morning—
Zekiel, King of Kiel, growled in frustration.
—for Darion anyway.
The two middle-aged kings were out on the large, semicircle balcony outside their royal bedchambers having a leisure morning after a week of anxiety. Darion spent time writing in his journal, putting the preceding week into perspective and making tangential observations. Zekiel stood near the edge of the balcony, facing towards the mountains, an easel with a large canvas attached to it set before him. A rainbow of assorted paints rested in large globs on a table next to him.
Zekiel growled again, stepping back from the painting and tilting his head, his brow furrowed and shoulders tense.
Darion smiled, rising from his seat and strolling to his husband. Hugging the shorter man from behind, Darion said, “You know, painting is supposed to be relaxing.”
“So I’ve been told,” Zekiel said, glaring at the canvas. It contained a multitude of shapes, forms, and colors that formed a range of mountains, though you kind of had to squint to see it as such. “Political machinations are less stressful than this.”
Darion giggled and kissed Zekiel on the cheek. He then headed back inside to get them fresh tea. Just as he finished pouring the second cup, three sharp knocks on the door reverberated through the bedroom. Darion answered the door, finding Meshal, the Royal Scribe waiting patiently behind the door.
The woman bowed low. “I’m sorry for disturbing you and his majesty on your day of rest,” she said.
“I don’t suppose you’ve decided to take a day of rest yourself and join me and your brother for tea and pastries?” Darion could hope.
Meshal straightened and shook her head. “I’m afraid not.” She produced a folded piece of orange parchment from the folds of her robe.
Darion sucked in a breath, the anxiety of the previous week flash flooding through him. “From Edelveiss?”
Darion gestured Meshal in and led the way to the balcony.
Zekiel smiled wide at the sight of his younger sibling. The mirth was fleeting, however; the grim expression on Meshal and the anxious one on Darion slapped away the smile. “What’s happened?” the King asked.
Meshal held out the folded piece of parchment. “From Edelveiss.”
Zekiel stared at the proffered letter for a few moments before gently taking it from his sister. “So,” he sighed, “we finally learn who now rules over our neighbor.” He didn’t unseal the document. He simply tapped it lightly in his hand. “I don’t suppose either of you would like to make a bet on what we’ll find in this letter: peace or war?”
Darion smirked. Meshal scoffed. Zekiel had a dry, grim sense of humor at times—usually inappropriate ones. Meshal, a serious, pragmatic woman, always found it aggravating. Darion found it funny most of the time.
When no one answered, Zekiel asked, “I have a feeling I’m going to come to regret my decision to not interfere.”
“The succession struggles of other nations is not ours to meddle in,” Darion said. It was a statement Zekiel himself had made many times to all of their advisors.
“Even if one brother means peace and the other brother means war?”
“We are prepared for both outcomes, Brother,” Meshal said. Zekiel rose an eyebrow at Meshal’s informality—something she was not known for. “You and Darion have seen to that.”
Zekiel turned and gazed at the mountains. “Only fools think they are truly prepared to face war. Or its consequences.”
“The same could be said for those who hope for peace,” Darion said, walking up to his husband and placing a hand on his shoulder.
A sad smirk formed on Zekiel’s lips. “True.” He put an arm around Darion’s waist and the two melted into one another.
The three family members fell into silence. A soft breeze blew against the castle, carrying sweet scents from the flowering trees of the grounds below.
Zekiel held up the letter, a thumb pressed against one side of the wax seal that kept the parchment closed. Darion pressed his thumb against the other side. As with all things in their rule of Kiel, they broke the seal together and as one they read what their future held.