Terrouge E-zine Archives
RoF: Chapter 1
A very special thanks goes to author Sherwood Smith for her critiques on this chapter, which I think really helped fix it up.
I can just barely remember the ball at which my mother was murdered. I was still young enough to be in the nursery, but I was soon to go my own apartments, under the care of a governess, of course. King Akral, of Southsward, looked alive and vivacous, very proud of his little daughter who was growing up so fast, and very much in love with his wife, who, though quiet, reserved, and not well-adapted to court life, was still loved by all. Or so everyone thought. I myself cannot remember the purpose of the ball, but Sona tells me it was held in honor of the anniversary of their wedding. She also tells me it was held in Valeria, the largest, grandest, most beautiful ballroom in Floret, which had not been used for so many seasons that none, not even the oldest among the courtiers, could remember a ball having been held there. My mother wore a beautiful white satiny ball gown with forest green trim and silver and emerald jewellery...green, silver, and white are the colors of the house of Rialda, into which she was born. She was no longer a Rialda, of course, having married into the house of Floret, but Rialdas tend to be fiercely loyal toward their clan. It is my clearest memory of her: standing there, at her king's side, turning her tender, loving smile on me as I made my way at my nurse's side across the ballroom, with all the guests looking on, to stand at my parents' side. My mother reached down to embrace me, and as she stood back up, she crumpled like a withered rose and collapsed on the ground, her face still wreathed in that smile.
Those are my most vivid, and most horrible, memories. I was still half-stunned by the murder, so I can barely remember any of what followed...the funeral, the burial, the endless gifts and kind wishes from courtiers, some of whom, I am half-convinced, truly missed their queen. But, for the most part, as always, they cared nothing for anyone but themselves, and acted purely out of selfish ambition. Such is the nature of courtiers. Is it bred into them, I wonder, or do they stumble upon it as they are introduced into court life? Somehow my mother managed to avoid it; perhaps it was her loving, gentle nature. And my father never had any need to be ambitious, being the crown prince and then the king. And I need it not either, being the crown princess. But I like to believe that I would not be as self-centered as the rest of the nobles are even if I were not next in line to the throne.
Katarina seems too sweet too care much for her own status...but then, I don't know her very well at all. All the public loves her, the nobles have showered her with endless praise, and I daresay our resident poets have already cranked out a few dozen ballads in praise of her exquisite mouth and delicate eyes...honestly, I should not be the least bit surprised if they took it into their heads to write a sonnet about someone's belt buckle.
"...to govern the nation of Southsward with a wise and benevolent hand, to love your subjects, and to cherish your lord the king."
"To this I swear," said Katarina solemnly. Being one of the marriage party, I had to stand behind the royal couple, who faced the crowd...giving me a good view of nothing but her backside. However, I did see her turn her head slightly to smile at my father, who stood beside her. There was no mistaking love in her eyes. I had been stunned when my father, the aging King Akral, had suddenly decided to remarry. Not to mention furious. In my eyes, it was the most horrible thing he could do to the memory of my mother. If Lady Katarina Mernflor (I refused to call her 'Queen', for she would not be for thirty delicious more seconds) thinks she can replace my mother, she is quite wrong. She had better not try.
Looking at them, standing there, I wondered what my mother's wedding had been like. Did my mother wear the white and green of Rialda, just as Katarina now wore the silver and blue of Mernflor? I suddenly itched to ask Sona...but I knew it would be rather inappropriate for one of the wedding party to be seen making their way to where her old governess was standing in the corner to ask about the events of a previous royal wedding. I contented myself with the knowledge that Rialdas wear their colors at every event of import, so my mother certianly would have worn them to her wedding. She would have looked at my father like Katarina just did. And he would look back, like he had just looked back at Katarina. Only we would have been much younger. True, he was not yet old, but he was past his prime.
My mind jerked back to the present. "I crown you Katarina Floret, Queen of Southsward, wife of His Sovereignty King Akral Floret." So saying, the retired captain of the otter regiments of Floret handed a glittering silver crown to my father, who gently placed it on his young bride's head. He whispered something in her ear, and she smiled...I couldn't hear, because the cheering of the crowd was so wild, which was a pity, because I'm sure our blasted poets would have paid me a fortune to tell them, so they could set it in verse. A pox upon all poets; will they never leave us in peace?
As the nobles approached the new royal couple one by one to swear continued fealty and pay their respects (the usual courtier ploys to gain favor) my mind wandered back to the events after my mother's murder.
Investigators were immediately set out to determine the queen's poisoner. Nothing was found for weeks...until, one day, a group of the investigators disappeared mysteriously. Father was mad with fury (which, when combined with still being mad with grief, made for a very formiddable figure). He ordered all the regiments to scour the palace for any signs of the missing investigators. They were found. Dead, of course, but at least they were found. They were in the chambers of Lord Montauge Riliaux...the last person anyone would have suspected of murder. Needless to say, Riliaux had disappeared.
Certainly everyone will tell you that they knew all along the Lord Montague Riliaux had murdured Juliana Floret, but no one had any inkling at the time, Sona tells me. He was, in fact, quite well-liked, and his opinion was highly respected among the courtiers. But, as the old saying goes, power corrupts. I sincerely hope we shall never see him again. Everyone says he fled south to the empire of Canto Attia, and would never dare to return. The Emperor Rilander, who himself does not suffer overly from pangs of conscience, is still a decent fox, and does not harbor criminals from Southsward. His empire is so huge, however, that it would be relatively simple to set up a living without him or his army ever being the wiser. Or perhaps some great miracle has taken place, and he has fallen off a cliff, or been murdered, or drowned in one of the Empire's many frigid lakes. One can only hope.