Survival of the Rose - Book cover

Survival of the Rose

Audra Symphony

The Captain of the Guard


“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Max sighed, fidgeting.

He tugged at his decorated sleeves, stretched his toes in his brand-new boots, and adjusted his belt.

They stood in the courtyard of the castle, waiting for Albarel’s servants to unload their luggage from the carriage.

“You promised, Prince Maxim,” Aeon responded.

He stood confidently in a navy-blue outfit, considerably less ostentatious than his companion.

Max scrunched his nose at the use of his proper name. “I hate when you call me that. And I still don’t understand why I have to court this hag.”

“Please don’t call her that.”

“Queen Rosaline is as old as our mother.”

“Maybe, but I’ve heard her beauty it that of a woman in her twenties.”

“And I’ve heard her temper is that of a witch in her nineties,” Max responded.

Aeon barked in laughter.

I’m glad Max agreed to accompany me. I wouldn’t want to be here without him.

“You still haven’t explained how you expect me to do this, exactly,” said Max.

“You’re a great actor. I have confidence in you,” Aeon said, resting a hand on the prince’s shoulder.

“You need only woo her until I find what we’re looking for,” he continued. “You’ve had plenty of practice winning women’s favor, brother.”

“You’re not expecting me to bed her, are you?”

“No need for that. Just keep her interested. I’m sure you can distract her well. You’ve broken more than your fair share of hearts,” Aeon replied.

“Don’t remind me.”

Aeon suddenly felt like they were being observed.

He glanced around the courtyard, but no one was paying them any attention. The other guests were similarly arriving as servants greeted them and unpacked their carriages.

Aeon’s gaze flitted up the castle walls to meet a set of dark eyes staring down at him from one of the tower windows.

They belonged to a woman.

She looked at him as if she were trying to solve a puzzle.

Her chocolate-colored hair fell loose and floated on the breeze of the open window.

Who is she?

Aeon felt that if he weren’t careful, this woman would soon find out why he was here.

He didn’t care; something about her discerning look was intoxicating.

It made him want to be known.

Then, as suddenly as he’d noticed her, she disappeared from the window, retreating from sight.

“Aeon,” Max called, “are you following?”

Aeon pushed the young woman out of mind and followed Max into the castle.

Approaching the door, he turned once more toward the tower, but the figure had already vanished from sight.

A flustered servant ushered them into a large ballroom with several grand tables.

They entered in a group of about a dozen suitors accompanied by their men.

The ballroom shone from the checked flooring, up the Corinthian columns, to the painted ceiling above that depicted an Eden so attractive that Aeon himself would have chosen not to eat the fruit.

The queen was already seated at the head of the main table.

She was beautiful, there was no denying it.

Her posture was regal, and her hair, an unusually striking mix of blonde and white, was twisted up on her head and studded with jewels.

But you could almost feel the cold cunning that lay dormant behind her painted smile.

To her left stood a younger copy of herself, presumably her eldest daughter, and to her right a young man scowled, probably her son and heir to the Albarel throne.

I wonder if the rumors are true—that the future king has more of his mother’s malice than his father’s wisdom?

“Welcome!” the queen called out. Her smile remained fixed as she spoke.

“Please, be seated,” she continued. “Drink and eat to your heart’s content! We’ll all be good friends by this week’s end.”

Max side-glanced Aeon, who shrugged and pulled out a chair for the prince. Max sat down.

“Charm her, Max. Charm her,” Aeon reminded him in a hushed voice as he took a chair of his own.

“What a gracious queen you are, Your Majesty,” Max said loudly.

Several men glared at him; others quickly agreed. “And might I be so bold as to say you are as beautiful as you are gracious,” he added.

“You may be so bold, good sir,” the queen said, smiling her angelic smile. The princess seated next to her mother blushed.

“Tell me the name of the man who compliments me so,” the queen continued.

Max stood and bowed. “Second Prince of Summoner, Your Majesty. Maxim is my name.”

“Prince Maxim,” the queen said. Aeon wondered how her face remained strong enough to smile so long.

Max sat back down, and dinner was served.

Many tried such compliments as Max had given, but few received the same warmth in return.

Max, however, managed to raise a giggle from the queen several times throughout the meal.

Aeon picked at his food. He knew etiquette dictated he stay by Max’s side, but curiosity had him eager to search the castle.

When the meal finally came to an end, and the queen retired as the men finished their drinks, he had to force himself to keep from jumping up from his seat and running from the room.

“Relax,” Max whispered. “We have a week to search.”

“I’d rather leave here as soon as possible—or has the queen captured your heart already?”

Max exaggerated a shudder.

A servant showed them to their bedchamber.

“Change out of those ridiculous clothes,” Aeon ordered.

“You’re the one who told me to get the queen’s attention,” Max said, beginning to strip off his clothes, showing off his slim frame and toned muscles. “Like a peacock.”

Aeon looked away. “I said nothing of peacocks, nor any other fowl. Ready?”

“Let’s go.”

There was a knock at the door, and a servant entered.

“The queen requests your presence,” he said formally, looking at Prince Maxim, who was now dressed in everyday attire.

“Oh! Uh—” He glanced at Aeon, who gave a small nod.

“Will you give me a moment?”

The servant stepped into the hall, and Max began putting on his finery again, audibly sighing.

As Max followed the servant down the hall, Aeon briefly recalled that the window from which the woman had been looking that afternoon belonged to the same tower in which they were staying now.

Does she also belong here?

He pushed the thought aside, as Max and the servant’s footsteps retreated, and Aeon thought it safe to explore his surroundings.

Noticing a garden unlike any he’d seen at home, Aeon decided to venture outside.

He climbed down the winding stairs and entered the royal gardens.

The sun was setting, and streaks of light covered the landscape.

The garden was breathtaking; the air fragrant and light. Flowers surrounded Aeon, blooming in every color imaginable.

He hadn’t known the world contained so many species of flower; Summoner wasn’t known for its flora.

Aeon had just turned a corner around a hedge when he saw a slim figure holding herself with the grace of true royalty.

He recognized her as the young woman from the Western Tower. Her hair hung loose, waving down the back of her magenta tunic.

She was sitting on a bench, humming softly as she twisted colorful flowers into a small garland. She held it up to herself and smiled.

She looked so happy that Aeon was afraid to interrupt her.

She had a smile to rival the sun, Aeon thought. The young woman placed the garland on her head.

Her smile outshone even the queen’s—for it lacked the performative quality he’d witnessed earlier.

“A crown fit for a princess,” Aeon said.

The young woman’s smile disappeared as she snapped her eyes toward him.

She stood up and started to back away, snatching the flowers from her head.

“Wait, I mean you no harm,” Aeon said, bowing. “I’m a guest of Queen Rosaline.”

The reassurance didn’t have its intended effect. The concern on her face only seemed to increase.

“I come accompanying Prince Maxim of Summoner,” Aeon continued. “I’m the…uh…his captain of the guard, Aeon. What might your name be?”

“My n-name?” the girl stuttered.

“You were the one I saw in the window? What’s your name?”

“I-I’m…” she started again but then gasped as she seemed to notice something behind him.

Aeon turned to see the queen walking arm-in-arm with Max.

The queen’s face was red with rage, and Max was practically skipping to keep up with her increased pace.

“Deanna,” the queen said in a deadly tone.

She seemed suddenly to remember her guests.

She paused, flashed a practiced smile at Maxim, then began again.

“Deanna, dear,” she said, this time in a more controlled, yet somehow even more chilling, voice.

She dropped Max’s arm, and he took a step away from her.

“It’s dangerous to be walking around so close to dark,” she said sweetly. “Thank you, sir, for finding my dear stepdaughter. Deanna, come.”

Deanna quickly curtseyed and walked past them to the queen’s side.

“Goodnight, Prince Maxim,” the queen said as she turned to walk away. “I hope to see you in the morning.”

“Of course, my queen,” Max replied. The two men watched them disappear.

“Well, that was easy,” Max said, placing his hands on his hips and looking at Aeon with victory in his eyes.

“Yes, it was,” Aeon murmured.

And yet somehow, I don’t feel this will be an easy task.

“So, how are we going to do this?”

“You’re going to woo the queen, as planned.”

“But—” Max started.

“Nothing has changed,” Aeon cut him off. “You still have to be on her good side.”



Deanna had found herself face-to-face with the man she’d seen in the courtyard. Seeing him made her feel unveiled.

He’d caught her staring once, and now the immediacy of his presence stripped her of the window’s protective distance.

His name was Aeon, and he was captain of the guard. His master was Prince Maxim of Summoner.

I was right about that then. I knew they must come from one of the wintry nations.

It was such a shock to find herself facing him that she’d forgotten her name as she stared at his rugged face.

Neither did she notice the queen and her latest suitor strolling up to them until it was too late.


She could tell by the queen’s voice that she was in trouble.

Deep trouble.

As much as she wanted to stay with her new acquaintance, Deanna knew there was no other choice than to follow the queen back to the castle.

The sun was setting now.

Deanna tried to comfort herself with the fact that, had she been caught with the stranger after dusk, she’d have been in even greater trouble than she currently was.

They were silent as they entered. Deanna’s heart was pounding as she crossed the threshold into the castle.

She wondered if she could sneak off to her room, but she could tell by the look the queen threw over her shoulder that she was expected to follow until told otherwise.

She followed the queen to her private chamber.

Sweat broke out on Deanna’s brow. Her body had associations with this room that she couldn’t suppress.

“Shut the door, Deanna,” the queen said.

Deanna’s heart hammered in her chest.

She closed the door slowly.

The room was silent for what felt like hours as the queen took a moment to deliberate.

The only thing Deanna could hear was her own breathing. She desperately tried to keep it even.

The queen picked up a leather strap from where it hung on the wall and came to face her stepdaughter.

“You’ll pay for that, Deanna, dear,” she said, lifting her arm to strike.

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