Joined: Aug 2013
The Sequins in a Dress
"How many will burn before this ruler's drink turns sweet?"
indentAcross the seas, over the mountains, and through the fields there is a kingdom in mourning. The now young queen, Sylvie, follows the funeral procession through the cobbled streets of the capital. Black coursers carrying knights carrying black flags; the king now still, resting on the pyre that the soldiers carry. The peasantry bow their heads in silence, the druids chant monotonously, and the young queen wears an ivory mask passed to her with the crown.
indentIn this land the monarchy holds an impassive face, said to show the solidarity of the kingdom, the steel of the ruler. The procession reaches the dock and the nobility dismounts, the soldiers place the pyre into a boat, a druid making the final orisons while the young queen watches through the eyes of the ivory mask, her black silk dress sitting still in the afternoon sun. When the prayer is done the queen is given the torch, she lights the pyre and the flames of her father's corpse cast streaks over her mask. The smoke hides her red eyes and the tears behind her mask.
indentThe Queen on the following day takes to her councilors in the private council chambers of the royal castle. Advisors for the finances of the crown, foreign and domestic affairs, the spymaster, military advisor, and her—now Queen's—guard commander. In these private chambers she wears no mask, the guards by the door and the councilors at the round table are sworn to silence. The financial advisor—a young man taken in by her father, with a black ponytail and a strong brow—leans forward on the table, spreading his papers showing the gains and losses with each passing season.
indent"Your grace, the late King Charibert left the realm with rising coin, the treasury is stable and the respective vassals pay their taxes adequately."
indentThe Queen nods and looks to her domestic and foreign advisor—a balding man with a beard and speckled skin by the name of Joachim—who has been looking uneasy since the meeting began.
indent"Rmm, yes, your grace."
indentHe rises from his seat and unfurls a cloth map, spreading it before the Queen.
indent"Here, the neighboring kingdom of Albion has been sending scout ships across the strait, we have had uneven relations with them beforehand, with the loss of the late King, they inch towards war."
indentThe Queen looks toward Guenièvre, the middle aged spymaster cloaked in sable.
indent"Whispers in the court of Albion speak of restless knights and petitioners eager for land, they are well stocked with eager boys thirsting for glory."
indentThe Queen looks towards Ser Gabriel, her military advisor in the kingdom's blue and red.
indent"Your grace, our barracks are strong and we may raise additional forces from the peasantry if Albion becomes aggressive. We've approximately two thousand knights on armored horse, four thousand footmen, and near two thousand bowmen. We lack in ships but we may meet them on the shore. Yet we should consider the morale of the men following the loss of the King..."
indentThe treasurer raises his voice following Gabriel's report
indent"And, your grace, the Olive Branch mercenary company is available for hire, but this would strain our coffers."
indentFollowing the advisors and nearing the end of the meeting, the Queen began the closing address.
indent"Honored counselors, your service is most appreciated following the loss of my father and your unwavering loyalty and support does the realm proud. Gabriel, please station men along the northern watchtowers with rested messengers. Guenièvre, do what you can to see if Albion truly plans an invasion, relay all pertaining knowledge to Gabriel and see necessary preparations are made. And Edmond..."
indentShe says, looking to the commander of the Queen's Guard
indent"Send a letter to my aunt, Anastasie."
indentThe council shifts slightly in their seats, talk of an elder druid often unsettles the nobility in the capital. Yet the Commander nods and leaves the chamber to send a messenger, with each counselor rising, bowing, and following suit. The Queen, with only two silent guards, leans back in her chair, listening to the still air, and dreaming of a quieter time, where an old man told her stories and the world seemed bigger.
indentIt took a month for Anastasie to arrive with a compliment of two pack horses and an apprentice. The Queen receives her in the courtyard of the castle, the four knights of her guard in two lines. The druid slides off her sidesaddle horse in a white linen robe embroidered with the images of oak trees, waving a hand for her apprentice to take the horses aside.
indent"Your grace, I am sorry for the loss of your father, he was a strong man who made the kingdom stronger still, when his soul comes again we will take notice."
indentThe Queen in her ivory mask nods to her relative, an early autumn wind shakes her royal cloak, she inclines her head.
indent"Your kind words are appreciated, let us speak inside, Oak-Seer."
indentThe guard, Queen, apprentice, and druid continue inside the castle, to the upper tower overlooking the eastern forest. The room is round with four shuttered windows, a round table in the center and an overhanging chandelier. The candles cast orange light over a map pinned to the table.
indent"Here, we have had reports of massing soldiers at Anderida over the strait. They will raid our fishing villages along the eastern coast and we lack the naval capabilities to challenge them at sea. With farmers bringing in food for winter, the loss of those settlements would strain our people."
indentSays the Queen, leaning forward on the table to draw lines with her finger.
indent"Your grace, autumn winds may send enemy ships off course, yet I would strongly recommend you move your serfs inland with their stores."
indent"Ser Edmond, send men to our coastal villages, instruct the peasantry to move inland, and give my aunt free reign of our dungeons and prisoners."
indentWith a bow and a turn, the commander leaves the room, the Queen, now finished, inclines her head to the druid and turns to leave the tower, pausing briefly to give a masked look towards the apprentice, who glows red at the glance. And Anastasie with her apprentice take a tour of the city dungeons, pulling criminals from the bars of confinement, making preparation for the sacrifices.
indentWith raiding forces from Albion attacking the fishing villages, peasants are making their way towards the capital. They are carrying their belongings in linen sacks and on the backs of work animals. The peasantry is housed outside the city walls, with a contingent of guards guiding the people and drawing lines between families. The Queen was urged by her advisors to look into the people; she set out in the morning with four personal guards, Anastasie and her apprentice, and six carts with bread and salted meat.
indentThe retinue stops just beyond the main gate, the Queen calls for a table and a crier to gather the displaced peasantry. In a few minutes a crowd gathers, rumbling and slowly coalescing into a line. The Queen, astride her horse in riding pants, rises in her saddle and calls to the peasantry.
indent"My people! Hear me as your Queen! I know the road has been harsh and the loss of your homes painful! I ask for your patience as the crown works tirelessly to restore your lands to freedom! Accept these gifts of meat and bread!"
indentMurmurs ripple through the crowd, old fishers mumbling that the dead king never brought war, that the Queen is young and inexperienced, and that bread is not land. The Queen's Guard commander, Edmond, pulls up beside her, dropping his voice.
indent"Your grace, the peasantry are restless and I fear a riot would place your personage at risk."
indentThe Queen studies the crowd, shifting in her saddle and considering that Edmond has been the commander longer than she has been alive.
indent"Edmond, let us wait a while longer, it would not do to see the Queen quit the field so early."
indent"Yes, your grace."
indentEdmond takes his position by her side, hand resting on the hilt of his sword. As the bread and meat is handed out, a guard hauls a peasant before the Queen, pushing him to the dirt before her horse.
indent"This one tried to take more than his fair share, your grace."
indentThe Queen shifts in her saddle, the man appears unrepentant, yet the punishment she decides will no doubt spread through the rest of the peasants. She holds a hand up to the guard
indent"Keep him still."
indentShe rises in her saddle
indent"My people! Hear me! This man wished to take more than his fair share! He would take what is rightfully yours just as Albion takes your land! As he takes what is yours I ask you: what justice suits a thief?"
indentShouts of discontent echo off the walls, cries for blood, for whipping and drowning, for hanging, for lost fingers and sacrifice. The Queen raises her hand
indent"At the behest of my people, I will merit out the justice due to this thief! Ser Edmond, your sword."
indentShe extends her hand to Edmond, palm open, with a pause he draws his sword and turns it over to the Queen. She swings her right leg over the saddle and slides to her feet, steel in hand. The peasantry crowds around, shouting curses at the criminal, who spits and grimaces into the earth. His head bowed the Queen looks down on the man she intends to kill, the veins of his neck press against the skin, sunlight gleams off the sweat running down his spine.
indentThe Queen takes the sword in two hands, a bastard sword for her height, she brings the blade up and behind her shoulders, steel shining as if it were the blade of justice itself.
indent"In the name of Esus, Taranis, and Toutatis, I sentence you to death by decapitation, to be carried out by I, Queen Sylvie Sauveterre. May your soul find absolution in your next life."
indentWith a heave she swings the sword overhead, back arching with the blade to put all the force of her body into the swing. The sword cuts a hard line through the neck of the criminal, blood splashing up and onto the Queen's hands. His heads takes a turn into the dirt, blood soaking into the ground as the crowd cries in exultation.
indentThe kingdom's banner flaps in the wind, three prisoners stand on the dock facing the sea. A pyre, a noose, and a stone are tied with each prisoner, the Queen is in attendance with her guard, her aunt and their apprentice. Anastasie in a deep green hooded robe presides over the ceremony, the court waits in silence as she walks back and forth before the prisoners, chanting in gutter tones; her apprentice holds several oils and herbs, exchanging bottles over time as Anastasie performs the ceremony.
indentAnastasie draws a circle in spiced oil on each of the prisoners' foreheads, they shake and rock in their binds. With collected regency she kicks the lever to open the hatch below one of the prisoners, snapping the noose tight and strangling them the first of them.
indent"Esus the woodman, take this sacrifice into your wood and grant us protection from our enemies."
indentThe druid lights a torch with a striking of flint and steel, she takes the torch to the pyre bound prisoner, the fire catches to the dry straw. The flames lick the prisoner and his screams echo across the docks, muffled only by the crackling of flame and Anastasie's incantations.
indent"Taranis Lord of Thunder, please accept this sacrifice and rain divine fire from the sky unto our enemies."
indentThe final prisoner stands by the edge of the dock, a stone tied to his ankles with hands bound behind his back. He spits when Anastasie approaches, face twisted in a scowl. She gives him a practiced kick over the dock edge, stone drags him down to the depths as bubbles rise to the salt surface.
indent"Toutatis, great guardian warrior, please accept this sacrifice and shake the water beneath the ships of our enemies."
indentThe Queen and court fall to their knees and follow the prayer, chanting along with the druid, hoping that the gods will hear them.
indentThe Queen sits at the desk in her chamber, a candle lit by her side and reports spread before her. With softly shaking hands she pushes the papers back, sliding onto the top of the desk to muffle her sobs, the weight of the crown baring down on her as the deaths of her people haunt her closed eyes. It is in these moments of falling that those with dark hearts steal what they may and the man sent over the sea with a cloak and dagger takes the opportunity to raise his knife.
indentEsther raps on the door to the Queen's room, pushing it open in the same breath. The assassin, knife upturned over The Queen has eyes go wide as he brings the knife towards the Queen's back. Esther, mind pausing in the moment, watches the motes in the dark room, pieces of the world clock stick to one another. With an open mouth she drops the books she carried, dashing towards the assassin with a shout.
indentShe collides with the man, the shock of her shoulder throwing them both to the ground in a tangle. The Queen, confused and frozen watches, petrified, as Esther wrestles the dagger from the assassin and with a quick motion descends with it to his throat. The Queen listens to the pounding of her heart, Esther breaths hard and swallows, looking to her ruler.
indent"I...am an unfit Queen, all I have brought is death..."
indentShe falls from her chair to the carpet floor, face to the ground as her chest shakes and she loses composure. Esther looks at the once steel Queen, reaching a hand over and pulling Sylvie into her arms. The tears come then, soaking into Esther's robe while she gently rubs Sylvie's back, whispering.
indent"My...Sylvie, you bear the pains of the kingdom alone, all that has happened was't fault of another, you've held us all together through a storm, a more fit woman to rule I've never known."
indentHer tears do not end, yet she softens into Esther's protective arms, and with minutes her sobs taper. Slowly, she looks up to the face of the apprentice, sees her soft features in the candle light, her deep blue eyes and for once, the person who has been so long besides her. In that moment of shadow, where graces fall and the woman behind the queenly mask takes a breath.
indentIn that moment, the woman named Sylvie leans up...and kisses the apprentice named Esther.
indentThe following evening, after the day's court matters were settled and the court retired, Sylvie calls Esther to her room, torches set in their sconces casting full light through the room. The queen leans against a chair by a window, watching the lights from the city below.
indent"Your grace, you called?"
indentThe Queen runs a hand through her hair, plagued with a headache.
indent"Sylvie, call me Sylvie, please."
indentEsther, feeling uncomfortable, shifts from left to right, unsure of where to put her hands.
indent"I, yes, Sylvie, sorry."
indentSylvie gives Esther a tired smile.
indent"A headache has haunted me since the assassin was dispatched, attend me"
indentEsther, unaccustomed to the expectations of a Queen, steps tentatively behind her, she begins to gently massage Sylvie's temples.
indent"Esther, since my father took leave of his body, my every night is attended by guards."
indentEsther, swallows, heart racing in what she hopes, and fears may happen. Sylvie takes Esther's right hand, clasping it in her own.
indent"Esther, will you stay by me on this night and future nights?"
indentSylvie, smiling in the moonlight, rises and turns to Esther, sliding her hands around Esther's waist.
indent"Love has always been a foreigner to me, but now we have made peace..."
indentShe pushes Esther back towards the bed, Sylvie unties the knots on Esther's dress, for once smiling. She slides Esther's dress to the floor, kissing her neck and pushing her down to the bed...
indentIn the castle's northern tower Esther and Sylvie lean over a map of the kingdom, small clay pieces show towns and ships.
indent"Storms have been throwing Albion's ships, every day we have more wrecks, our watchtowers send men to combat any ground forces and peasants have been returning home in limited numbers. Esther, we're winning this war."
indentEsther rounds the table, rubbing her shoulder against Sylvie's.
indent"Should we sue for peace?"
indentSylvie nods to her lover.
indent"By bird and diplomat, make offer to divide the strait along the center and to hold a member of their royal house as a ward."
indentEsther nods, leaning back from the table and turning towards the door.
indent"And...Esther, when Albion accepts this peace do you..."
indentSylvie pauses, looking unbearably awkward for a Queen.
indent"Wish to take your place by my side as my wife?"
indentEsther pauses, looking falsely pensive, then breaking into a smile and taking two steps, embraces Sylvie.
indent"What fool would refuse the most wonderful woman in the world?"
indentAlbion, sore from the wounds inflicted by the storm, agreed to the peace and sent the King's second son to serve as a page for Sylvie. The royal wedding was announced soon after, for a spring morning. Sylvie wears a deeply hooded cloak, no ivory mask but the cloak shadows her face from a distance. Esther and Sylvie ride side by side down the cobbled city streets, guards bearing white flags and cheering citizens call from windows and side-streets.
indentThe couple make their way to a great oak beyond the city, where Anastasie and Edmond wait at the base of the tree. The couple dismounts, walking hand in hand down a line of waiting nobles; Percy, the ward from Albion, follows the two brides, spreading flower petals behind their trailing steps. Standing before Edmond and Anastasie, the two brides bow. Edmond speaks first, as Sylvie's guardian.
indent"Your grace, I watched you grow from a young child into a Queen, go forth with my blessing."
indentEdmond ties a red cord around Sylvie's wrist, an old smile for an old face. Anastasie speaks next, cord in hand.
indent"Esther, I've taught you much in your time with me, go forth with my blessing as a druid."
indentAnastasie ties the other end of the red cord to Esther's wrist, signaling the consummation of their union.
indent"Before the sight of the gods and the great oak, I bind you two together as wife and wife, to travel life's roads as long as the love lasts."
indentThe brides smile to one another, Sylvie leans over to Esther, keeping her voice low with a terrible un-Queenly countenance
indent"The oak will remember us, the trees will sing of our love, and the stars will forever remember our passion."
indentUnder the comforting arms of the oak, their lips meet, a first married kiss among many.
MAL Makes my formatting strange
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Joined: Aug 2013