Footfalls out of earshot.

She’s a queen and a sovereign and she gave him an audience in front of her, where he stood, back stiff and hands at his sides, full of military bearing.

She waves a hand. He’s dismissed; he may begin his depart march. (Her body sinks back into her chair, where she rests, poised and serene, her face composed.)

He doesn’t know it, but when he leaves that room, her troop of chastisers marches in, loosed from the shadows. Clubs and sticks raised in reprimand, the purple bruises begin to bloom inside her chest, where nobody will ever see them, and where they remain sore and tender, long after his footfalls are out of her hearing.