10/8/21

Epilogue: The Price of Legs...and Other Things

Previously: The Cold Wedding

Palace of the Southern Kingdom

Aquiel stood before the fountain of Ursula, eyes red and dry from weeping. She was alone in the garden; everyone else was in mourning and prayer. Everyone was wearing white now, and for once, none of the Ursas were dolled up. They set aside their jewels and perfumes, and even began a fast to mourn their dead Ursa.

Meanwhile, the castle bells tolled for the late Princess Gregoria, on the hour, every hour...Aquiel was over it.

"Are these the lessons you wanted me to learn?" the young mermaid grumbled to the goddess's statue. "Is this why no mermaid falls for temptation?" She raised her wrist, the split sleeve of her gown falling to reveal her silver bracelet, set with lapis lazuli. "You charge a price too high, my goddess. Tomorrow I will walk to the harbor, and toss your 'gift' into the sea."

She turned to walk away from the statue when she heard a familiar voice.

"As always, the mermaid passes the test."

The Cold Wedding

Previously: Black Veins

"Here. Drink this."

Aquiel accepted the cup of water without blinking or thinking. She sipped it and tasted nothing, staring into space.

"Did you see her body?" she finally asked Gisela. "Covered in black veins. I've never seen anything like it. Never heard of anything like it."

Gisela calmly rose and crossed their sitting room to stoke the fire. The sun was going down and the bells were ringing every hour to honor the passing of the princess. Outside, teary-eyes acolytes surrounded the fountain of the goddess, mourning the sudden loss of their Ursa.

"It was dreamshade," Gisela told her neutrally. 

Aquiel looked haunted. "What's dreamshade?"

10/7/21

Black Veins

Previously: "Friends"

King Everard, Queen Idalia, and Queen Damiana were all in the courtyard of Castle Frost, waiting for the arrival of Prince Florian and his mother. It was pretty day in the Borderlands; the skies were blue for once and there were no chilly autumn winds.

The three monarchs stood in tense silences, tiny smiles plastered onto their faces and held their by sheer anxiety. When the royal carriage pulled up, all three immediately relaxed, letting their shoulders fall as they simultaneously exhaled.

Lord Benedict exited first, his hair bright red in the sun. He was followed by Florian. Both men helped Lavinia from the carriage.

"She does not look well," Damiana remarked, and as usual, she spoke with the tiniest hint of amusement. "Is the journey from your palace really that taxing?"

"No, it's not," Everard bit out, masking his confusion.

"She looks feverish," Idalia said. She turned her chamberlain. "Lord Ambrose, escort Queen Lavinia to her chambers, and summon my physician to see her."

"Majesty," the old man bowed, before leaving.

"Shall we postpone, Everard?" Damiana drawled. "I was hoping to see our children wed by tonight so I could head home tomorrow, but if we need to wait--"

"No," the king shook his head, jaw tightening. "We will proceed as planned." He stepped forward, smiling as embraced his son. "You look well."

"Friends"

Previously: Glad Tidings

Castle Frost
The Borderlands

"Is that what I think it is?"

Queen Idalia stared in dismay as two of her guards brought a large chest and placed it at the feet of her throne, while her chamberlain Lord Ambrose skimmed the accompanying letter. Beside her, her First Knight chuckled.

"Another gift, my queen?" Lucian snickered. "You know it is."

They were coming daily now--boxes, barrels, crates, cases, chests, and even flocks. The castle stores were overflowing with food and wine, and Idalia had more jewels, perfume, and clothes than she could ever hope to wear. It was alarming.

"This one is from the Duke of Northland, Southern Kingdom," Ambrose confirmed, as the guards unlocked and opened the chest, revealing an assortment of lush fabrics. "His Grace congratulates Your Majesty on completing a successful treaty and hopes you will accept this paltry gift of silk and satin."

"Paltry?" Lucian chortled. "You could feed an entire Border village with that."

"That is an excellent idea, Light-Bringer," Idalia nodded. "Ambrose, have these fabrics sent to our southern village as a token of our love. And send the customary note of thanks to His Grace."

Ambrose hesitated before adding, "The Duke remarks that ever since his wife died--"

"Next," Idalia blinked.

10/5/21

Glad Tidings

Previously: Aftermath

Queen Lavinia was in a better mood than her cousin had seen in a long time. She came to breakfast with a skip in her step, and for once, didn't begin her morning with wine.

The sun was already out and quite bright for so early, like an omen of good things to come. The queen's balcony flooded with golden, if not warm, autumn light. The air smelled crisp and fresh with the deepening of fall. Gleefully, the queen buttered her bread, her eyes twinkling.

"Everard has requested Florian and I join him at Castle Frost," she beamed, while Lord Benedict watched in amusement. "My son is to be married and I'm to get a daughter-in-law. I wonder what she's like."

Benedict's amusement dimmed, but only slightly. "She's a warrior, my queen, and quite a famous one in the North." She could rip that little boy of yours to shreds, he didn't add.

9/28/21

Aftermath


Idalia rose shakily from the dining table. The room was swaying around her just a little. After a moment it steadied and eventually, her eyes landed on her First Knight, who had stopped gawking at his own armor long enough to gawk at her instead.

Idalia left without a word. There was no point excusing herself; the moment she spoke, they would want an explanation and she had none to give.

It's real. Her mind swam as she made her way back to her chambers, trying not to collapse en route. It's real, it's real, it's all real.

There was the belief that came from reading and hearing. Then there was the belief that came from seeing.

The Queen of the North

I've been obsessed with Tagaq for years, sooooooo...here you go


Castle Frost
The Borderlands

It didn't take long for Queen Damiana and her daughter to return to the Borderlands.

Damiana was not a tall woman, and she didn't need to be. The curvaceous monarch sashayed towards Castle Frost like she owned it, clad in a gown of flowing white silk, with blinding white furs to match. She wore a crown of silver with pearls dangling upon her brow, and her eyes were painted red as blood.

Behind her followed Celestina. The princess was taller than her mother and clearly not a fan of pretty things. She came clad in full armor the a pale shade rose gold, with white-gray furs upon her shoulders. And she didn't bother wearing a crown.

9/24/21

Bones of the Dreaming One

Previously: Idalia 

To Aquiel's surprise (and Gisela's dismay), the royal siblings remained intrigued by them.

For the third day in a row, Aquiel found herself in Princess Gregoria's company, dining, touring the palace gardens and some of the older halls. Gregoria was a highly knowledgeable woman; she had a great memory of her family history. She knew who reigned and when, and which wars they fought. She rattled off the names of her executed predecessors like letters of the alphabet.

"All the kings and queens before me worshipped Ursula," the princess was saying, as they reached the shrine of the goddess. "In fact, it was Queen Meliora Augusta who first established the shrine some two hundred years ago, same time she launched our dynasty." Gregoria smiled, more so to herself than Aquiel. "Many kings used to earn their crowns on fields of battle, but Meliora took hers at sea, sinking over a hundred enemy ships and overthrowing House Alban."

She's trying to impress me, the mermaid suddenly realized. Why is she trying to impress me?

9/20/21

Idalia


Castillo de Butrón doubling as Castle Frost

Previously: Dinner is Served

Castle Frost, property of House Frost, was said to be one of the first great castles of Misthaven. The original structure was allegedly built (or blessed) by some ancient sorceress whose name was now lost to the ages. Regardless of who told the origin story or how, one thing was clear: Castle Frost was the ruling house of the Borderlands, a central enchanted kingdom unto itself that touched all the other kingdoms in Misthaven--North, South, East, and West.

It was here where the kings and queens of Misthaven met to resolve their disputes, without the presence of their armies. And it was the sacred duty of all born to House Frost to moderate these disputes, as they had all done for centuries. For the very earth of the Borderlands was enchanted to keep the warring parties out.

Dinner is Served

Previously: ...The Family

"Is there a lot of tension between those people, or I am just imagining things?" Aquiel wondered aloud, while Gisela frantically paced their sitting room.

"Of course there's tension," Gisela rasped. "Lavinia is Gregoria's stepmother."

Aquiel blinked, paused, then asked, "...and?"

Gisela struggled to find her patience even as her heart pounded in her chest. It was easy to forget how ignorant mermaids could be of the human world, so much that she often wondered why they were ever even sent ashore.

"Royal families," she began, "are often thrown together. They don't like actually like one another. Their marriages are arranged, and every child is born out of necessity, not love."

Aquiel raised an eyebrow, bemused. "You're saying those people don't like each other?"

9/19/21

...The Family


"These Ursas are different," Aquiel mumbled as she helped lace Gisela into a velvet gown of the palest blue. It seemed to shimmer in the candlelight. It was identical to her own, with slim bell sleeves and an scooped neckline embroidered in white thread.

They were the plainest dresses available and immediately what Gisela went for.

"Different?" Gisela clutched her stomach, her long black hair still damp from her bath. "That's an understatement."

"You have to admit, though...their way of life is enchanting."

Gisela turned to face her. "This is what I was talking about."