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.

The duty of resolving the conflict between King Everard the Golden and Queen Damiana Guardia now fell to one of the last remaining members of House Frost, Queen Idalia.

Lizzo as Queen Idalia Frost of the Borderlands

Idalia was a renowned beauty. She was brown-skinned, voluptuous, with long, black hair. She had eyes as gray as the winter sky, an echo of eras long gone. Today, she wore a dainty crown of silver and pink diamonds. She favored pink; pale pink velvet gown embroidered with silver, adorned with diamons and pearls. She liked dresses with high collars, tight bodices, and skirts that flowed behind her. She walked in them easily, moving with strong purpose and eyes always forward as she crossed her palace to reach her receiving room.

It was a gray gloomy day in the Borderlands; autumn's chill deepened and winter came faster than in the Southern Kingdom. Her mood mirrored the weather, or perhaps...the weather mirrored her mood, considering her lineage. Either way, her chamberlain knew to keep a warm fire burning for her while not lighting too many candles. The light hurt her eyes.

The receiving room was smaller than the throne room but similarly designed; the floors were covered in red rugs, and the velvet drapes were parted just enough to let the weak light in.

At the end of the room was a throne on a small dais. Instead of her usual entourage of maids and knights, she was flanked only by her chamberlain and the First Knight of her Kingsguard.

"Are they still here, Lord Ambrose?"

"Yes, Your Majesty," her graying chamberlain humbly bowed. He'd served her father before her. "King Everard was due to leave this morning, but a rider came in the night from his capital. Apparently, he has a new bargaining chip."

"Good," Idalia stated briskly. "Gods willing, the betrothal will proceed and those two will lay down their arms once and for all."

Her First Knight  was tall in polished silvery armor. He had short brownish hair and a neatly trimmed beard. "There's been a ceasefire in place for years, Your Grace," he gently pointed out.

Chris Evans as Sir Lucian the Light-Bringer,
First Knight of the Queensguard

"A ceasefire is not a treaty, Lucian," she irritably reminded him. "And the only reason we have a ceasefire is that Everard has no appetite for war."

"More like he can't afford it," Ambrose snorted. "Not to mention he isn't any good at it. The Southerners never won a single battle after Damiana came to power."

"Her people are still out for blood," Idalia added grimly, eyes fixed on the door. "The eastern and western kingdoms fear her army so much they won't object if she crosses their lands into the south."

"If Damiana decides to continue with hostilities," Lucian kindly offered, "no one will fault you, my queen. Though it is unlikely. She's a perfectly reasonable woman."

"And what of her sons?" Idalia countered. "They are still young and hungry for glory. Damiana and Everard might be getting old, but we are young and when the next generation rises, we will still be here."

Lucian and Ambrose exchanged looks. It was the chamberlain who spoke first. "Speaking of another generation, Your Grace--"

"I will hear no more talk of marriage," Idalia bit out. "Princess Gregoria and I are about the same age, yet she is unmarried as well."

Lucian tried not to flinch. "She's also referred to as Gregoria the Spinster, Your Majesty."

Idalia was losing patience. "And what of it? She dies and that skinny little twig she calls a brother becomes king. House August will go on as they have for two centuries."

"And House Frost, my queen?" Lucian asked, his blue eyes. "How can we ensure you will go on?"

Idalia was about to say something but the double doors opened and King Everard entered.

He was a tallish man with a dark hair and beard going gray. Despite being king of an admittedly rich country, he didn't heavily adorn himself. He favored dark velvets, with a long fur-trimmed cloak, and a simple crown of gold set with sapphires.

He was accompanied by two of his own courtiers who maintained a respectful distance. As was the custom, he bowed his head to the ruler of the Borderlands.

"Your Grace," he greeted. "I have good news."

"So I hear...Your Grace," Idalia replied, working to keep her patience. She didn't dislike Everard, but his presence represented the threat of war and chaos, and she was long ready for him to be gone.

"My wife is willing to surrender her dowry to the Queen of the North, in exchange for the copper mine."

"I know of the land you speak," Idalia nodded stiffly. "It's not three days' ride from here, as I recall."

"That is correct, Your Grace."

"It should be sufficient," Lord Ambrose counseled. "The land is large enough and more fertile than most of the farms in the North. If I may, I can request Queen Damiana's return."

"You may," Idalia replied, her tone like iron. "Send our fastest rider."

"My queen," Ambrose bowed, before quickly leaving.

"I suppose we should break our fast then," Idalia suggested, despite longing to return to bed.

***

Breakfast at Castle Frost was never light. Idalia enjoyed her sweet breads, her hams, bacon, eggs, and cold ales to wash them down. Everard didn't usually eat breakfast, but he found that the further north he traveled, the more he ate to keep warm.

The two monarchs sat across from each other in the queen's private dining room. It was small, dark, and cozy with a fireplace. It reminded Everard a little of his own private dining room back home,

Now that they were alone, they could speak informally. "How long before we get a reply?" the southern king inquired, heavily buttering his bread.

Idalia was mildly amused. "Eager to go home, Everard?"

"I've found it best not to leave my family alone for too long," the king wearily sighed. "They start to get...ideas."

There was silence for a time, before Idalia finally asked  the question that had been on her mind since Everard first arrived.

"Your daughter...Gregoria...does it bother you that she's not married?"

Everard seemed to mull her question over for a time before replying, "When I married my first wife, Euphemia of House Peregrine, we were both thirteen years old and complete strangers. All around us, war raged, outside our walls as well as in.

"I was an only child, my father was dead, and my court pressured me to marry quickly and sire an heir, so I did. Gregoria was born the following year, before I'd even learned to shave."

He was cutting his ham now with a knife and fork, and Idalia noted a subtle anger to his movements.

"Our marriage was awkward and tense; we had no idea who we were and merely did as we were told. When my daughter was nine, Euphemia died of summer sickness, and even though I never loved her, I mourned her for a full year. I was still in mourning when my advisers told me I had to marry Lavinia; her family had an extra five thousand soldiers, and tens of thousand in gold. So there I was, twenty-three years old, and standing at the altar with yet another thirteen-year-old girl. I wanted to kill myself."

Idalia wasn't sure where he was going with this story, but she was already horrified to the point that she'd stopped eating.

"My son was born after an excruciating birth, after which I vowed never to touch Lavinia again," Everard told her, finally looking up. "Royal marriage is wrought with disappointment and despair, Idalia, more so for women. Your advisers don't want me to tell you the truth, that it's to be avoided at all costs. I love my daughter more than I revere the goddess Ursula herself, so if she doesn't want to marry, I won't press the issue. She has an adult brother. Goddess willing, the betrothal will be finalized, they will marry, and they will have children."

Idalia wasn't sure what to say except for, "I have no siblings. I myself am a spinster."

"You have cousins," he reassured her. "You have extended family."

The queen seemed morose. "There are so few of us left now. Sometimes I think it's time for House Frost to fade into winter and be done. We've held these lands for far too many centuries."

"You've kept the balance of nations," Everard raised an eyebrow. "Your sovereignty is unlike any of ours. Our dynasties were launched by thieves, pirates, warriors, and the like. But yours...yours was forged by the sorcerers of old and your duty to Misthaven is sacred. If Idalia sanctions a war, there will be war. And if Idalia calls for peace, there will be peace."

She met and held his gaze, and as her gray eyes teared and her bottom lip trembled ever so slightly, he realized her deepest fear even before she spoke.

"Damiana will not swayed by mere words from a Frost Queen," she confessed in a voice just above a whisper. "If she chooses violence, I cannot stop her. Not this time."

Everard nodded. "Understood."

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