In the Name of a Queen

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Falcon, Aug 14, 2014.

  1. Bards tell tales on knights and ladies, kings and queens, farmers, blacksmiths, and goose girls as if their lives were full of grand adventures. Very rarely is it like that. Normal geese to not lay golden eggs; smiths very rarely have the chance to forge a sword for a passing knight let alone a prince; farmers do not often find treasure buried in their fields; royal life is not made up of fancy garments and balls, but rather solving the problems of the people and dodging interfering politicians; should a knight have the misfortune of falling in love with his lady, he’d sooner put the noose around his own neck then let his affection be known; and very, very rarely does any soldier return from any battle unscathed.

    Stories are stories for a reason and, generally speaking, a person is far better off being content with the mundane.


    The rain clouds gathered over ReValya promising more than the current light drizzle that was keeping the valley kingdom fresh and green. There was a coolness to the air that, if one let it, could cut clean through a good wool cloak and chill to the bone. The addition of being in full armor certainly didn’t help that problem. The metal carried the cold.

    Hoof beats crunched the loose gravel and the saddle creaked as the lone traveler shifted his position atop the buckskin gelding. Gloved fingers tightened on the reigns and then spread again to chase the stiffness from the joints. Sir. Nicoli de’Arbolshire was a fast rider, but even the fastest riders in the kingdom knew better than to gallop all the way across the country. Walk and trot, walk and trot. That was the way. It helped both horse and rider stay fresh, especially when there was no pressing reason to risk the life of the horse. He valued his horse, almost as much as he valued his friends.

    Not for the first time he wished he had some company on this ride. Three of them had set out from the royal city, now only one could return with any speed. Sir. Tristen had taken a crossbow bolt through the shoulder, now he was in the hands of a healer a day’s ride behind. One of the other two was to be sent on alone. Sir. Greagor had drawn the long straw and stayed behind to see to it the other knight made it back in one piece. The long straw rested, short straw rode ahead. Had the news Nicoli was to deliver been good, it would have been the other way around. The bandits they had been chasing had escaped, vanished into the Mist Wood. He hated being the barer of bad news.

    The road crested the rise and then dipped down again, dropping into the grassy sea of a long meadow and the river’s ford after it. Not long now. Not long at all until he reached the city a few hours, maybe, if he kept his current pace. Yet as he approached the waters of the river something caught his eye. A woman he thought, but this was a strange place for a person to be resting considering the current weather and the promise of an approaching storm.

    He dismounted as he drew nearer to her, staggering slightly when his feet hit the ground. It would seem that his fingers weren’t the only things that were stiff.

    "Forgive my intrusion, madam, but do you require any assistance?"
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  2. Rain, rain and more rain. The gods never seemed to weep enough. Calls and answers of lightning and thunder had rolled violently through the heavens for days on end, or so it seemed, and to an old woman with weak ears the sound was less than pleasant. Each day brought more confusion as it was hard to read a hidden sun for a sense of time and puddles of water rose to distort any tracks worth tracking. She looked to the skies and wondered which angel had done a terrible thing to deserve such a punishment, or what kind of raucous celebration the Great Deities were hosting above the clouds. I do hope the crops stay safe, she thought in her pause. This kingdom does not need to bleed any more.

    Wrinkled hands clutched a black cloak closer around her fragile frame, protecting what remained of her strength from the harsh and bitter cold. It would not do to die in such a miserable state. Fire, I could die by the fire. If only age had not taken what abilities she had left, stolen by the lack of hardness in her bones and a mind too burdened to focus. Such were the woes of a woman in her shoes. The tolls of magic are not worth the rewards. Had the world stopped obeying Time and given me twenty years back, I could build a fire. But I am useless now, so useless.

    At the sound of a voice, the crone turned to face the man from whence it came. Tall and strong he was, fierce, with a tone as gentle as he was formidable. He was skilled with his weapons no doubt, and the crest of the Royal Family was emblazoned upon his steel-crafted breastplate, decorated with onyx and hints of gold. A knight. Though most of her supernatural ability had seeped through her fingers unwillingly, intuition and foresight had dawned and breathed a strange life back into the wisdom of a woman once damned. She immediately reached for the hands of the young knight, certain he would not thwart her, for truly she was no harm to him.

    "You," she spoke, barely above a haunted whisper. "You, you are a knight. But not any knight, young man. There is a touch of destiny in you. A spark. Oh, yes. A holy spark..." What may seem like nonsense to some was a simple equation to her, and while the years had stolen her reasoning she had no intention of letting him think her a fool. "The queen is in danger. You must help her and reclaim what is yours, lost to ages past, stolen. Stolen, yes, so tragic...ahem. I'm sorry. Who are you?"
    #2 moffnat, Aug 14, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2014
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  3. Nicoli allowed the old woman to take his hands, feeling her wrinkled skin against the hard calluses on his palms. Her advanced age alone was enough to put him on his best behavior and he was more than willing to offer her a steady arm to lean on.

    Her words to him were strange though, and for a moment he thought she must have mistaken him for someone else. As far as Nicoli was concerned his only destiny was to die in service to his queen. Preferably of old age behind a desk somewhere. But then if wishes were wings his horse would have flown him home by now.

    “I am Sir. Nicoli de’Arbolshire knight of the guard, my good woman,” he answered her gently, shifting his weight awkwardly to his right foot as he tried to shield her a bit from the wind that carried the rain. “The Queen is always in danger and while I have lost many things in my short life, I seriously doubts any of it is worth recovering. Unless, of course, a thief made off with my whetstone? Though I can afford the cost of having to purchase another.” He smiled at the joke, but this was neither the time nor place for idol conversation. “Do you have a home nearby?” he asked her. “Someplace warm and dry you can go to get out of this weather? If it’s a matter of crossing the river I’d be more than happy to lend any assistance.”

    Thunder pealed overhead in a low rumble that caused the buckskin to turn its ears back and give its rider a wary look, though it stayed exactly where it had been standing when Nicoli dropped the reigns. The knight turned his face to the sky and sighed to see the clouds had only grown darker in the few minutes since he had dismounted.

    “If you do want to try the crossing, might I suggest we go sooner rather than later? My horse can carry you and the water is not so deep I cannot walk beside.”​
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  4. Ah, yes. There were rumors of this one. She had heard the voices speak to her in the night, whispers from the Fade of a young warrior bound to a name that differs from the truth of his noble heritage. He had grown strong, she noticed. Big broad shoulders and armor hid the thickness of muscle and raw strength. Yet he had a heart to match the gentle nature of a peaceful man, stopping to offer an old woman assistance when she was like to perish under such harsh conditions. Carefully, she smiled. And when an enchantress smiled, good things were known to happen.

    "You are most kind, young man." She placed her dry, cold hands upon his cheeks like a mother to her son, protective and comforting. "You have proven yourself a genuine soul. Yes, you will do..."

    Instantly, she closed her eyes. A glow, dim at first, began to spread around a black cloak and wrinkled face, and the wind began to swirl. Rain, clouds, wind, sun, all of it seemed to disappear in a gentle cyclone for a moment as she bonded herself to him, imprinting a piece of her in the depths of his bones though he felt and saw nothing of the sort. And when she was done, there were tears in her her eyes.

    "I am going to pass from this world soon, good sir. But I have given you a special gift--to summon me from the heavens, whether to offer wisdom in a time of crisis, defeat your enemies, or heal a wound for you or your true love. But be warned. This gift can only be used once, and only before the sun sets and after it rises. The night is no place for a benevolence like mine."
    #4 moffnat, Aug 15, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2014
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  5. Nicoli felt her hands on his face, wise and old, comforting as his grandmother's had once been.
    He heard the words, but he did not understand. He would do? for what? But it seemed she meant them for good and though he opened his mouth to speak, to request of her their meaning, no words came. For a fleeting moment something seemed to change, though he felt and saw nothing in the world around him. Rather he saw it in her eyes, tears. Had she mistaken him for someone else? someone she had once known? A grandson perhaps?

    She spoke then of her death, and a gift to be used only in daylight. Still he did not understand. Give him a battle, or armor to care for. Give him a horse to tend, a sword to wield, or enemies with which to treat. Light, give him even the court politicians and ask him to shift truth from their lies. Those things he understood. Those things he could deal with. But this little old woman, with a few nonsensical words had muddled his brain entirely.

    He closed his eyes. Just for a moment while he sought out the proper words for his question. One moment was all, but when he opened them again she was gone. The rain still drizzled, his horse stood where he had left it, damp grass still waved about his boots, but there was no old woman. He searched for her, called for her, used up a good ten minutes seeking everywhere he could think of just the make sure she had not run off on him and taken ill in a ditch, but it was like she had never existed. Eventually he was forced to give up, forced to admit he had other priorities, and he again mounted the buckskin and took off.

    The river was cold, but the ford was manageable, and with the rain already soaking him through he came out no wetter than he had already been. The ride after was long, the hours there just as dreary as those before the fated meeting at the river. With no company and the road before him well known, Nicoli was left to only his own thoughts and imagination. He began to think that she hadn't just run off on him, that the old woman had actually vanished. What did that make her then, specter or angel? the fairy queen herself? He chuckled at that last thought. He might as well claim she was his fairy godmother for all the good wild speculation would do him. Such a thing belonged only in children's tales. No, it was the fatigue. His eyes must have been closed longer than he had originally thought.

    He doubled his pace after that, to keep his mind busy and his body warm. He took no more rests other than what was needed for his horse, sometimes running awkwardly beside the beast to give the animal relief of its burden. Eventually as the sky grew darker, the rain fell harder, and his stomach growled with hunger, the meeting at the river seemed nothing more than a dream.

    He gave up on running the last few miles when his right knee began to ache in protest. His horse, sensing that home was near, nickered as he climbed into the saddle and the animal set a quick pace before Nicoli had so much as twitched the reigns. Above a cloud moved aside, just for a moment, letting a sliver of sunlight fall the the earth below to rest on his destination. The main gate was less than a mile ahead now.
    The Royal city, capitol of ReValya.
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  6. The dripping of rain in a porcelain bowl brought an unnatural strain to the young queen's head. She watched the water fall from the arched, painted ceiling and clash into the plateware below, spattering as it made contact. The sound was agonizing and brought with it lessons of poverty and disgrace. She covered her mouth with a gentle hand, unable to speak, unable to believe what blue eyes witnessed. I am no queen at all if I cannot even maintain my own castle from a storm.

    "Your Grace, there is a visitor." A man in the doorway, her personal butler, made a small bow before approaching. "A knight from the bandit mission."

    "What is this, here?" Ignoring his information, Anne gestured to the porcelain bowl while her frown remained intact. "Is the roof leaking?"

    "...a small thing, Your Grace."

    "It does not look small." She craned her royal neck to gaze upon the ceiling, not noticing any major problems, but the leakage was enough to disturb her. "I want it fixed, Larence. I want it fixed as soon as this storm comes to an end."

    "It will be done, Your Majesty."

    Distressed, the queen turned to her faithful servant, her adviser, expecting answers to all her troubling inquiries. "My kingdom is poor. My people are hungry, and I have a leak in my halls. I..." She gulped. "I don't know what to do, Larence. My people come first. But how can I help them when I, too, and not of the right attitude?"

    "Get in the right attitude," Larence said promptly with a smile that could warm any soul. Hie was elderly and wise, and she trusted him with any advice he had to offer. "You have always been a just, benevolent monarch, Your Majesty. Your people love you even though the kingdom is wrought with hard times. That in itself is something to be celebrated."

    "I suppose you're right." Still frowning, Anne gathered her skirts and turned to leave. "See to it that all the leftovers of tonight's banquet with King Anton are brought to the poor. And please, fix this roof before he arrives. My kingdom suffers, I don't need to make it obvious upon his arrival by letting him witness the disembodiment of my palace. I will see the knight in my throne room."

    "Of course, Majesty."

    She bit her lip and gathered what positivity she could, praying to the gods that this day would not progress as terribly as she imagined it would.
    #6 moffnat, Aug 18, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2014
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  7. Home, he was nearly home, Nicoli mused as he waited in the hall, just a little while longer and he could find a hot bath and his bed. Provided of course that Captain Oswin didn’t haul him aside for training.

    Nicoli winced as he shifted his weight awkwardly from foot to foot, both because he had been in the saddle so long, and because he had ill tidings and he had not yet figured out the phrasing of the words he had to say. The bandits’ escape, Tristen taking a wound, Greagor staying behind to aid him – That not only put the guard down two men longer than originally expected, but there were still ruffians terrorizing the countryside. True they had a better idea of the robbery patterns now, but that didn’t help the poor farmer who lost his chickens or the merchant who lost his goods.

    He finally stilled the shuffling of his feet, but the hall still rang with a gentle plop, plop, plop as his cloak dripped on the stone floor. He felt a little guilty for it, some servant or other was going to have to clean up his mess, but there was nothing he could do considering he was soaked completely through. There was no time to find dry clothing, and he could hardly appear at court undressed, so in sodden clothing it was. He only hoped he had not also left muddy footprints down the corridors as well. Not tonight. He knew what was set to happen. The whole castle had been buzzing over it. He'd overheard a couple of washer women theorizing on how handsome the visiting king would be. The men mostly seemed more concerned with the quality of the King's Guard. He's heard several wonder aloud if there would be a contest of some sort. Nicoli sincerely hoped not. He didn't particularly feel up to competing at the moment, not in the present circumstances at least.

    One minute, two, he tried not to count them in his head as he waited in the corridor, but he wasn’t left standing there long before someone was sent to inform him that Her Royal highness had announced she would see him in the throne room. He already knew the way. How many times had he stood guard in these halls, protecting them as a man, sweeping them as a boy. The son of a stable hand and a scullery maid, he had already gone farther than any had ever dreamed possible. To stay and protect these walls and the country they stood for was all he had ever wanted.

    The doors to the throne room were opened for him, guarded by two of his fellow knights. Nicoli tried not to wince at the squishing sound his boots made as he crossed the floor. They were sturdy boots, well crafted leather, but had been too long in the rain.

    He crossed the space until he was the appropriate distance from the Queen before he knelt, one leg on the floor the other knee raised, one hand resting on the pommel of his sword, the other snapping into place with a clank on the armor over his heart.
    "I live to serve, Your Majesty."
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  8. "Sir Nicoli," she stated with a fond smile. His face was familiar to her. He had always been one of her favorite protectors, kind and brave and gentle and honorable beyond a doubt. There were few men in ReValya in her Queen's Guard to hold such high honors. And it would taste a lie to say she hadn't missed looking upon him, either. "You look terribly wet. Sir Bran, please fetch him a warm blanket, please."

    "Of course, Your Grace." The knight departed moments after, leaving Sir Nicoli and Queen Anne alone.

    "You look very weary of your travels, Sir. Rise and tell me what you have seen."

    In truth, Anne hated it when knights bowed so low and stayed uncomfortable for so long--oftentimes she'd forget to tell them to rise, assuming they would do so of their own accord--and all she wanted was to ensure the comfort and safety of those sworn to her service. Never once had a man of the Queen's Guard dishonored her or jeopardized the conditions of ReValya. In that, she was honored, but as she sat upon her golden throne and looked down upon the soaking knight who claimed to serve her, she yearned to offer more support than a blanket and a bed in the barracks.

    She sat with her hands folded in the silks on her lap, awaiting his unpredictable reply.
    #8 moffnat, Aug 20, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2014
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  9. Nicoli had never heard it said by anyone that their queen was not a beauty, but it was the generous nature of her heart and the kindness of her hands that led her people to love and respect her. A pretty face was one thing, a benevolent heart another. One would fade in time, the other forever be cherished. A better ruler they could not ask for, though she was young for the position, perhaps because she was young for the position. Yet youth was not necessarily a flaw, Nicoli simply wished Her Highness could enjoy it a bit instead of being saddled with so much responsibility.

    He rose when he was given permission to do so, slowly and testing his weight before settling firmly onto the balls of his feet. It would not do to slip in the water pooling from his own cloak. The offer of the blanket was gratefully accepted, the kight completely unphased by the fact that in accepting it they were left alone as Sir. Bran set about the item’s retrieval. Nicoli was one of her guard. Tired as he was, no harm would befall her while he was in the room. He paused a moment to give his mind more time to find the right words. Unfortunately there were none so he jumped strait to the point.

    “Forgive us, your Majesty. We have failed you. The bandits have escaped. They sought refuge in the mist wood and we were unable to follow. Sir. Tristen has taken injury and while the healer we brought him to claims he will recover in full, it is unwise for him to travel at this present time. Sir. Greagor remained behind to see he followed the physician’s orders.”

    Taken injury, it was the knights’ standard words. Those they protected were never to know the placement, depth, spread, or severity of a wound unless the injured party wished it or the wound was taken in their company. Only the comrades, their captain, and physician that helped them recover from it need know. It was better to let captain or healer set the limitations than give a charge a reason to worry over the fitness of their protectors to perform their duty.

    “We have, however, been able to confirm several things.” Nicoli continued keeping his eyes on the floor, not daring to look up at his queen. “Firstly, that they are bold enough to attack in broad daylight and target both farmer and noble alike, though they tend to go only for people who are actually carrying something of value. Secondly, that they are in fact nothing more than common outlaws and do not seem to be working for one of ReValya’s neighbors. Unless they’ve turned mercenary, which while possible, is unlikely. There was a moment where they could have easily killed the three of us and they ran instead.

    “I wish I could have brought you better news.”
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  10. His words certainly harmed her. Queen Anne felt the weight on her shoulders increase, something she didn't know possible, but ever monarch knew never to show such discomfort before the eyes of her people. Even her knights, her sworn protectors. Their faith and belief in her was as unwavering as rock and stone, and she did not mean to give them reason to abandon her.

    Instead, she sighed. A little sigh, one that hid the sadness within.

    "That is unfortunate news," she reiterated, "but the most important thing is that you are alive to bring it to me. I was hoping they hadn't been working for some sort of enemy, and while I'm proud to say the land has had peace I'm not sure what I would do if it came to war. My people come first..." How many times have I said that today?

    Changing the subject, Anne stood from her throne and began to pace around the room at his level. "Is there anything else you wish to say? You look...troubled, to say the least." I hope it is not my doing.
    #10 moffnat, Aug 25, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2014
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  11. How did she do it? Nicoli wondered as he watched his queen absorb this information and manage not to wilt. How did she handle the pressure of ruling a kingdom day after day, receive bad news, and still hold strong in the face of it all? Surly even a Queen must need a hand once and a while. But then he remembered she had her advisors and he wondered if that was enough.

    At her question as to why he looked troubled Nicoli finally raised his head. He opened his mouth as if to answer, then closed it again, and finally noded to himself as he settled on sharing the least of his worries. She did not need to know he was fatigued. Standing before her soaking wet was bad enough.

    “There was an old woman at the river, your Majesty,” he began hesitantly. “Or I think there was. It’s happened so fast I’m not sure I didn’t dream the whole thing, but one moment she was speaking to me as if I were her grandson, and the next she was gone. I was unable to find her after, and with this storm—“ he did not believe there was need to say more.
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  12. "A woman..."

    Anne stopped pacing and looked upon the soaking knight, inwardly wishing she could dismiss him to clean up and do as he would, but the matters at hand were far too pressing and immediate. The mention of an elderly crone wasn't one that was foreign to her ears and hearing it for yet another time brought her pause. "A woman. I've heard of her before. A black cloak, she wears, and continues to search for someone. But she disappears upon seeing that the man in question is not who she seeks..."

    The queen watched the water drip from the knight's cloak, frowning. Had all her knights suffered so much under her rule, or was she simply overlooking things once again?

    "She kept you out there a long time. When tonight is over, you will have to tell me all that she said to you, hm? Since Ser Tristan is no longer in my company, I hereby charge you with the duty of acting as my personal guard until such a time comes that Tristan returns to me. Do you accept?"

    The Queen in her knew he would accept his duty. But the woman within pitied him, and wished him nothing but comfort.

    "You can bathe and sit by a warm fire before you change, if you like..."

    She had to offer some sort of kind words.
    #12 moffnat, Aug 26, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2014
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  13. She already knew of the woman it seemed, Nicoli mused, or at least stories of her. Nicoli found that knowledge oddly comforting, though he was certain the little old lady was not a threat. At least he hoped she wasn’t.

    His attention was very quickly captured by other matters, however. Nicoli knew well why Tristen had been chosen her majesty’s personal guard over all the other candidates, he also knew that had sir Oswin, the guard Captain, been present someone else would have been chosen in his place, someone better suited. Yet Oswin was not there. She had chosen him.

    “It would be an honor, My Queen,” he rumbled, placing one hand over his heart and bending slightly at the waist. He couldn’t help but flash a slight smile as she offered him time to bathe and warm up first, though he knew he could no longer take the time for a leisurely soak like he had wanted. “I will not disappoint you.”


    A short time later Nicoli hauled himself out of one of the large copper tubs in the barracks bathing room and onto a wood bench beside it where he set about rubbing a bit of toweling over his dark hair. A merry fire crackled in the grate and over it sat large kettle heating water for someone else’s bath, several other empty tubs sitting nearby. Oh how he longed to rest just a little longer in this warmth. It was not to be, however, and with a weary sigh he set about dressing himself, not in the travel worn garb and heavy armor of his earlier arrival, but the soft cloth and light-mail worn by the knights stationed within the palace walls. These were finer though, better cared for than most of his clothing, what might be termed as his feast day best. It was a special occasion after all.

    Captain Oswin had not been pleased to learn of Nicoli’s being appointed, temporarily, to Tristen’s place. But the Queen’s choice was the Queen’s choice and there was little else that could be said in the matter. “You’re a fine man, Nicoli,” sir Oswin had stated, “no one’s questioning that, but the title of Queen’s knight carries certain political implications and, you’ll forgive me, but your heritage leaves quite a bit to be desired. Not to mention a certain physical imperfection.” His eyes very pointedly did not travel to Nicoli’s right leg.

    “It’s only temporary,” Nicoli had reasoned, “I know I’m not the best choice. Perhaps when sir Tristen returns—“

    When Tristen returned, depending on his recovery, the man would either retake the position himself, or name a candidate to fill in during his absence. In the meantime everyone would have to make due with things as they were, Nicoli included. He was more than honored that the Queen had chosen him, but he worried he would do something to let her down.

    With a burdened heart he swung his gold clasped, black cloak around his shoulders and headed back to the palace to take the proper place at his Queen’s side.

    “Confound this blasted rain!” Anton’s man, Lampkin, cursed beside him as he readjusted his hood for the twentieth time that day. “How’s a man supposed to stay warm when the wet keeps sliding down the back of his neck!”

    Anton said nothing. It might not amount to much controversy to converse and gain information from his people in private, but the open road was hardly private, not with a number of knights and servants floating around him, each practically begging to cater to his every whim. He knew better than to think he owned all of their loyalties, no matter whose colors they wore. So, for now it was in his best interest to ride silently, wear a faint smile, and pretend he heard nothing of the man’s complaints.

    Still, Lampkin had a point, Anton thought absently as he shrugged the fur lined mantle of his cloak a bit tighter around his neck. He much preferred the snow of his mountain home. Snow might be colder, but it cold be brushed away and it took a great deal longer to soak in. He wondered how long this visit would take, whether it would be difficult to persuade Queen Anne to even speak with him or if they would find they actually liked each other. She was by all reports a beautiful and kindhearted woman. It would be far better if they liked each other. That would make things much easier.

    The reigns of his midnight coated stallion jingled slightly as he switched hands, his saddle creaked as he adjusted his posture so that he was sitting straighter, prouder, stronger. He wanted to make a good first impression after all, and he could now see the walls of the royal city of Re Vayla directly ahead of him.

    King Anton De'Leondeal had finally arrived at his destination, his visit to his neighbor and ally would begin shortly. Tonight would be a night worthy of celebration indeed, especially if all went to plan.
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  14. The arrival of this foreign king brought a strange flutter of anticipation and anxiety to the young queen's insides, twisting and reforming, but whether it was a bad feeling or excited bewilderment, she could not place. The coming of King Anton would bring the kingdom much to be thankful for--a potential alliance, an end to poverty, the coming of a new era of peace--yet Queen Anne was still very young, a maid of nineteen years, and she knew within her heart there was a deeper calling. True love could exist, even for queens. She had read that in a story once.

    Even still, duty must be done. Anne was never supposed to rule at all, destined to be a princess and an icon for the people to admire and never hold any positions of power, but after the mysterious deaths of her mother, father and three eldest brothers on a ship at sea, the crown had fallen on her pretty shoulders. "She bears the weight well," she overheard a knight saying to one of his fellow comrades months after her coronation, "but I fear the naivete of youth and femininity will bring misfortune to ReValya. All I can do is pray." Anne had stalked back to her chambers that night frustrated and wounded, wondering why one of her own sworn protectors would doubt the integrity of the king's own blood, but more-so that he feared her female attributes would cause a problem. In total she had reigned two years, and in those two years there had been poverty and famine.

    But her people were happy, were they not? Queen Anne often walked the streets of the dirtiest sections of the city and personally spoke with innkeeps and merchants, she had abolished slave-like laws for workers and brought education to young children, she had installed irrigation systems for cleaner water and sanctioned off unused buildings as homeless shelters for those who could not afford to feed themselves. She passed laws in regards to rape and the abuse of women, a problem in the gutters of the city, and supplied each victim with the means of employment and psychological assistance. When she walked in the open, her people praised her though they could hardly fill their plates each night.

    "Mother of Mercy," they called her. "All hail Queen Anne, Mother of Mercy."

    It was this that fueled her determination and force of will, her sheer desire to bring a happiness to her kingdom that would last for centuries to come. Mothers do not abandon their children to starvation and disease. And in her heart of hearts, Anne knew that if sacrificing her desire for true love and a happy marriage meant the protection of her small, loyal kingdom, she would do it a thousand times over and a hundred times again. A decision every queen must make.

    The courtyard gates opened. Her castle staff, knights and maids fell to their knees in respect for the approaching monarch of a distant land, and Queen Anne lowered her beautiful royal head, awaiting anything he might say.
    #14 moffnat, Aug 30, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2014
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  15. King Anton de'Leondeal did not know what he had been expecting upon arriving in ReValya. What he did know was that this was not it. This kingdom was poor. He could see that at a glance as they rode through the city toward the palace. Yes the people looked content, but they hardly looked prosperous. What was that woman thinking, or had there been no choice? Was this the reason for the desired alliance? were they looking for a savior? The concept irritated him. Not that he couldn't do it, Anton had been well trained in the management of a kingdom from a very young age, (with his Uncle childless Anton had been the only heir,) but it hardly looked as if this land could offer him anything comparable in return even if the queen was a beauty. Perhaps he had been overly ambitious in coming.

    Perhaps it was arrogant to think so highly of himself, but Anton did know his own abilities. It might be an interesting game to offer a bit of advice here and there and see what happened. He suppressed the smirk that threatened to cross his lips in plain view of all as he dismounted his horse, handed the reigns off to a stable boy, and led his retinue into the courtyard in order to great his hostess.

    His eyes flicked across everyone as he strolled forward, the maids and serving men, the guards, the knight stationed just behind and to the right of the queen who, though he knelt, seemed to be aware of everything at once and ready to spring at a moment's notice. Well that was comforting, presuming her entire guard was that well trained perhaps they might have something to offer after all. Leondeal could boast in its military strength, but it was strength in numbers, not necessarily skill. Though Anton was confidant that he was safe with his own men at his side.
    He was proficient with a sword himself, but he could hardly be called a warrior. He had far more important pursuits to follow. Keeping track of a kingdom for one.

    It was then his eyes fell on the queen. Every bit as lovely as rumor suggested, and every bit as young. Perhaps he could gain more than he had originally thought. Perhaps his ambitions had not been too high, but too low? mentally he was already adjusting his plans. The small smile that crossed his face then was genuine, though perhaps not for the reasons it seemed.

    Anton bowed, formally, and offered his hand so that he might bring her own to his lips. "Of all the gems in all the lands I think I may have finally found one that outshines them all." He straightened then, and flashed her his most charming grin. "I hope you will not find my visit an inconvenience."
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  16. He was not sore on the eyes, that much was certain. King Anton was tall and gallant, with cheekbones that complimented his face and smooth dark hair falling to the tops of his shoulders, lopped in the most handsome of fashions. Oh, yes. He was pleasant to behold indeed. But Anne was no fool, either; good looks were as useless as paperweight. She wouldn't have offered any different notion or thought when he presented himself even if he had dastardly pimples and stood two feet shorter than her. Duty was duty.

    Though, she had to admit, his appearance does grant him a certain allure. My people will surely respond to him well.

    Or so she hoped.

    "Nonsense, Your Majesty. Your arrival is no inconvenience in the slightest, I can assure. What a poor hostess I would be indeed, to chase away my invited guests at the gates." Anne offered her hand to the beautiful King Anton and let his lips graze her knuckles, unphased. She had suffered the courtesies of suitors before. If she could play the part of a coy young queen with plenty of gold and naivete to offer one so notoriously ambitious as King Anton, the match was as well as struck.

    At least, that was how she liked to think of it. I am the savior to bring prosperity back to my realm, not a submissive fool who surrenders the jingle of coins and the smiles on handsome faces.

    "You look weary from your travels, and hungrier still. A feast has been prepared in your honor, of course. Would you dine alongside myself and my court?" She gestured amiably to the front doors of the castle, massive and made of wrought iron along thick planks of wood. Beautiful and elegant on the outside, yet strong and sturdy to withstand any force.

    Much like the queen who ruled there.
    #16 moffnat, Sep 1, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2014
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  17. "Of course, dear Queen," Anton rumbled gently offering her his arm as they turned to go inside. "It would be my pleasure to dine with you," and it would too. There was an intelligence behind her clear blue eyes that promised at a decent conversation, and an innocence to her features that suggested he might be able to gain a great deal of useful information from her about the state of her kingdom without her realizing what he was doing. And if the whole thing was a farce, if she was cleverer than she looked, if it turned out that she could and would present him with a challenge, well part of the fun was the game. He wondered if she were any good at playing. He almost hoped she was.

    As they entered Anton paid the standard complements necessary when visiting another person's home. "That painting is very well done," "Your people are very efficient" etc. etc. His eyes kept flitting back to the knight who was always the perfect step behind his queen, always poised yet ready for trouble at the same time. Oh the man seemed perfectly relaxed in his stride and stance, but his brown eyes said otherwise, and to Anton that was what made him so dangerous. It was the dangers one underestimated that caused problems. Anton's own man was in a similar position, but in Lampkin's case Anton could see the tension in the man's shoulders. He suppressed his irritation at the fact and turned his attention back to queen Anne.

    "Your knight takes prodigiously good care of you, Your Highness."
    He hoped her answer might tell him something, and if not, there was the feast to look forward to. He wondered what sort of entertainments the people of ReValya enjoyed.
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  18. Irritating, to say the least. This King Anton said to much and revealed too little, leaving her hands empty when she yearned to have them full of answers. No doubt she was one of the most sought after bachelorettes in the continent at the present time--a young virgin queen always was--but she was not about to let the king of ReValya's crown fall on the head of any who charmed her. Besides, the queen could easily change the custom if she wished as she had considered doing countless times before. A queen can rule without a king. My husband could be the Queen's Consort, with the respects of a king but the political responsibility of an ant. A harsh fate, to be sure. But all she did was for the protection of her kingdom. After all, there were many who would seek the throne attached to her maidenhood and nothing more, discarding her altogether. If that happened, however, her people would certainly revolt.

    I am not a tool, nor a toy, nor an obstacle to be overcome or a magnet to be summoned closer. I am a rock. I cannot bend or break.

    She had also considered the more obvious choice; wedding a king, but writing into law that only the spouse born of ReValya's blood has the ultimate power. For example, should a queen defy her king the cost could be her head, but for any espoused king to defy Queen Anne of ReValya and shame her beyond repair, his head would be on a spike. These are my people. No marriage will take them from me, nor I from them. Yet in her heart, she wondered if she was not being the least bit selfish. She often feared turning into the monarch that children feared. Nothing would bring her greater peril, should the sky fall upon her head or a plague wipe her kingdom from the map.

    Fear cuts deeper than swords. Her father's voice rang clear as day.

    "My knight?" she replied to King Anton at last, having snapped from her reverie. "Oh, yes. Ser Nicoli. He is most loyal, raised from the depths of poverty to stand as the Head of my Queensguard. He is wonderful company as well, and his voice has left women weeping. You shall have to hear him sing sometime, should I command it, but I would hate to embarrass him so. I confess that I am soft of heart."

    In truth, she had no idea the sound of his song voice nor the emotions of women that stirred in his presence. She had only pondered at such things, wondering as her handmaiden laced her corset if Nicoli of Arlbolshire had any alluring qualities. Aside from his face, of course. That was undeniable. Anne liked to think that his singing talents were exceptional enough as well as his physical appearance. Perhaps he played the lute, some time ago. It filled her with a small sense of dread that she did not know as much about her temporary Head of Queensguard as she would have liked. I can admire him from afar and speak with him like a queen, but as a woman I am still too shy to speak on the same level. She turned to him, smiled and looked away quickly, wondering if he had ever noticed her elongated looks in the past.

    "What of your Head of Kingsguard, Your Grace?"
    #18 moffnat, Sep 1, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2014
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  19. Sing? A voice to make women weep? it took everything Nicoli had to keep his face impassive, though he could see the sideways look the King's man was shooting him, one eyebrow raised.

    Well played my Queen
    , Nicoli thought the moment he realized what she had done. Rather than feeding King Anton information about her military and guard, as he had no doubt been fishing for, she had redirected his attention to the idea that she was well acquainted with her men, that she knew them on a more personal level, and they might be inclined to report to her any wayward behavior of anyone in the King's party. Hardly important enough to be truly worth note and certainly not the information Anton must have wanted, but it answered the question without appearing to be a dodge. In fact there was a brief moment where Nicoli was sure he saw an appraising look on the King's face.

    When she looked back at him Nicoli gave her a brief nod and a soft, "As you command, my liege." He would not give her away in the lie. It was not wholly a lie either, though he did not think she'd ever had occasion to hear him sing. While he thought his voice was only passable he had never heard any one complain about it, and several had even hinted that it might be very good indeed. Should she be forced to play out the bluff it was very probably that her words would pass as only a mild exaggeration, the sort of thing any woman might say when trying to impress a guest. A moment later it was clear to Nicoli that the bluff might be called sooner rather than later.

    "Does he indeed!" King Anton's voice rang with amusement. "I enjoy a good song, though I've been told I have a voice like a bullfrog myself." There was something about the way the King looked at Queen Anne that Nicoli did not quite like. As if she were a piece on a chess board and not a woman. Strictly speaking Nicoli should not be thinking of her as a woman himself, but when he knew the aim was a match he couldn't help but think of her that way. She was a woman as well as a queen, and while the match may have to be political he still couldn't help but want to see her happy. With everything she had done for her people, in spite of all their current troubles, he didn't think there was a citizen in all of ReValya who would say otherwise.

    But King Anton was speaking again and Nicoli quickly shifted his attention back where it belonged.

    "I'm afraid I've left the head of my guard back in Leondeal," the man said with the sort of charming smile that said his expression was intentional. "Lampkin is only the second in command. I do not believe he sings, or not so that I have heard, but he makes an excellent meal while on the road. I think I ate as well as I would have while in my own home, though I am still not sure what exactly I think of rabbit." The King laughed heartily and Nicoli suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. The man had, like the queen, answered the question in a way that gave away nothing. Any knight worth his salt could hunt and cook travel fair. It was a necessity of survival. Though it was interesting that the head of the Kingsguard had been left behind. The King must have left someone highly valuable in his place.

    Nicoli filed the information away, though he was sure that his Queen had already made note of it.
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  20. Hm. Interesting. The babble of a good travel meal was wasted on her ears, for the queen considered such a thing to be none other than a wish for comfort and an unfamiliarity with the wild, however Anne herself had never been in such conditions and could offer no valuable evidence to justify looking further into it. Perhaps I am being too suspicious. But there was much to be suspicious of, and certainly not enough knights to sniff out something afoul so soon.

    The guardsman, however, was another matter. The king was wise to leave his best man behind, but also very foolish. To pull along a prized stallion meant to risk breaking his leg in the race, but leaving him behind means secret weapons. She liked that not.

    "Cooked rabbit!" she laughed, skirting around the topic of who and where their best guardsmen were. "The master chef of this castle makes exquisite rabbit, though I'm sure you have tired of it from your journey. I suspect wine will be the best cure for you. A deep red."

    His response to the wine was critical. A suspicious look would give him away, alerting her that his thoughts lingered on blood instead of wine. Too quickly an answer would suggest an overly zealous need to be served or drink from the bottle, neither of which were good things in her mind, but too slow meant that he had no intention of accepting gracious hospitality at all and she would not suffer to waste either of their time pretending otherwise. She kept her expression innocent and sweet, a smile that could enchant a thousand gracing her lovely features as naturally as water runs over rock.

    He would not dare suspect me a liar. The few advantages of being a woman.
    #20 moffnat, Sep 1, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2014
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