Endure - Sara B. Larson


My father taught me that the only way to ensure your subjects’ loyalty is to make them fear you. He used cruelty and terror as tools to ensure his power. My mother, on the other hand, taught my brother and me something entirely different: A king — a good king — must be who his people need him to be.

I live by her words.

For the grieving woman, I am compassionate, I am kind. To the generals who lead my armies, I am firm and absolute. To the daughters of the royal court, I am courteous but, of necessity, aloof.

I’ve spent a lifetime practicing, becoming who I must be to survive. Hiding in plain sight, always acting, always playing a part. There are times when I fear that I’ll lose me, my true self, in the haze of the facade. But that fear doesn’t matter to anyone besides myself. It doesn’t build homes for the orphans and women left broken by my father’s reign of terror. It doesn’t put Antion back together, or stop us from getting dragged into another unwanted war. The only thing that counts is that I carry on and do what I must.

So that is what I do.

Until night falls and I lie in my bed, with the weight of a kingdom bearing down on me, trying to breathe under the pressure of all that I hope to do, all that I want to accomplish — all that I fear. And that is when the smell of gardenia mixed with the coppery tang of blood comes to haunt me.

The memory of my mother is both happiness and terror intertwining into a tangle of comfort and horror. I try to erase the bad with the good. Her arm draped around my shoulder at night, a comfortable weight. The remnants of her gardenia perfume in my nose, with Victor on her other side. Her voice flowing over us along with the blanket of darkness as night fell. She started all of her stories with “Once, a long time ago …” Her Blevonese accent made her words different, almost magical. She painted pictures for me and Victor, holding us in the protective wings of her arms, curled up together on her massive bed. Her stories always ended well, sending us off into dreams, warm in the comfort of happily ever after. But her gentle life ended in a tapestry of blood, at the hands of my father. Nightmares drenched in dark, dripping crimson have been my constant companion ever since.

My story, if someone were to tell it, would begin with her voice.

Once, a prince was born. He was a second son, who worshipped his older brother as all younger sons do — even if it was in secret most of the time. His mother adored both of her children. She told them stories; she showed them sorcery. She was magic, to this young prince. And when he found that he, too, could do strange and wonderful things, she taught him to hide his secret from everyone — even his brother. The same brother who teased him mercilessly, but was the first to stand up to anyone else who dared look sideways at the young prince. She taught him that magic was a death sentence in the world his father had created. It became a marvelous game to him — one that he was determined to win, even if he wasn’t quite sure what the prize was. She promised that when he got older, she would tell him all the secrets of her people and the magic they both wielded.

When they were together, they were happy.

And then his father, the king, took her away. One moment his mother was looking at him, all her secret pleadings and advice swimming in the tears that glistened in her eyes, and the next she was gone. Murdered. No one could stand up to the king, not even his own sons. The older brother held the young prince in his arms that night. In the dark silence where once had been their mother’s voice and touch, they sobbed as though they were still children, even though they were halfway grown into men.

War started. The prince’s life was never the same.

And then his brother was taken from him, too.

One by one, the prince lost every person he had ever loved, until he was completely alone, save for a healer who hid deep in the palace with his half brother — to bring him the bloodroot that suppressed