|I've been obsessed with Tagaq for years, sooooooo...here you go|
Previously: Bones of the Dreaming One
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 in a pale shade of rose gold, with white-gray furs upon her shoulders. And she didn't bother wearing a crown.
Queen Idalia Frost stared down from her chamber window, sighing as the Northern royals approached, flanked by a mere handful of servants. "Have a dish of red pears sent to their rooms," she instructed her chief attendant. "Damiana likes those."
She turned back to her window, trying steel her nerves. Sir Lucian stood by her, as always, staring down at their guests, his jaw tight.
After a tense silence, the queen spoke first.
"You know, I heard that during the last battle, Damiana led her army herself and gutted a dozen of Everard's soldiers," she said in a low, tight voice.
"It was well over a dozen, Your Grace," Lucian replied gravely. "I had the the misfortune to witness the bloodshed from atop of our northernmost gate. While Everard shivered behind the walls of his castle, Damiana cut through his men like a storm of blades. She left none alive." After a beat, he added, " Northerners don't believe in taking prisoners."
Idalia's eyes glazed over and she murmured, "Sometimes I wonder what keeps that woman from slitting our throats while we sleep."
Lucian's head snapped towards her, his blue eyes visibly disturbed. "Damiana may be the Queen of the North, but you are the Queen of Frost."
"Am I?" Idalia asked him. "The last Snow-Caller died over a century ago. I have no magic to speak of--"
"That you know of, Your Grace," her First Knight interrupted. "From what I understand, your power comes from the Borderlands, the birthright and ability to make peace. After the last Great Frost laid waste to the Eastern Kingdom, no one was stupid enough to wage war for generations."
Idalia's tone darkened. "But do I really have this power, Light-Bringer?"
"All who ruled the Borderlands back to the beginning have this power," Lucian nodded resolutely. "As you shall see...my Queen."
Damiana grabbed the reddest one and sank her teeth into it, savoring the sweet juiciness. She closed her eyes, letting the flavor fill her mouth. Behind her, Celestina scowled.
"I heard the prince is sickly, spindly," she grumbled, eyeing their castle suite with suspicion. Idalia had given the same rooms as always, with gray and royal blue rugs to match the tall, blue velvet drapes. The furnishings were carved from an eerie white wood that reminded her ghosts.
Damiana wasn't in the mood. "We've been over this, Celestina," she briskly reminded her daughter. "It's better for you if Florian is a weakling. It's like my mother always warned me: if you absolutely have to marry a man, the worst thing you can do is choose one with a mind of his own."
"Florian does have a mind of his own," Celestina scowled. "He's the reader, remember? His head is probably full of all sorts of ideas."
"Good," Damiana nodded, leisurely taking a seat by the fire. "He can hole up with his books while you run the kingdom."
"You're forgetting about his sister," the princess blinked, unamused and unconvinced.
"No, I'm not," the queen shook her head, devouring the pear. It was a shame they didn't grow in her kingdom; she really was quite fond of these. "Everard has a new bargaining chip which, I'll admit, is quite tempting. So I will entertain this next round of negotiations and make an offer he can't refuse."
Celestina smirked. "And if he does refuse?"
"Then we continue onward south and kill them all," her mother replied simply. "I'll mount Everard's head right above his own fireplace."
Queen Idalia made sure to arrive last for dinner. Tonight, she wore another one of her high-collared gowns of velvet, this one of as pale blue as the Borderland sky. As always, her crown matched, this time a silver crown set with pearls and sapphires.
As host, she always sat at the head of the long dining table, while the combatants sat across from each other. The room was for formal dining, but the lighting was dimmer than usual, more intimate. The drapes were drawn against the deepening cold, and only the hearth and candlesticks were lit. The candelabras dangled above, dark.
Everard was tense, unsmiling in his dark velvets, with Damiana practically glowed in her white silks. They two were locked in eerie eye contact, while Celestina sulked nearby in a velvet dress of pale violet.
Idalia tried not to look alarmed. By the gods...it's like she's hoping he'll give her even the smallest reason.
"Thank you for the pears, Idalia," the Northern Queen greeted with a grin. "It's almost like you know me."
"I feel as though I do know you, both of you," Idalia assured her. "And I know that we can finally end this once and for all."
"Then let's cut to the chase," Damiana blinked. "In addition to the wedding between my beautiful daughter and your...scholastic son, the lands` and goods you propose in exchange for my copper mine is acceptable."
Idalia and Everard exchanged looks, surprised. They hadn't expected this so soon.
"Under one condition, of course."
The monarchs sighed, annoyed with themselves at succumbing to their own hope so quickly.
"Of course," Everard grumbled, his jaw tightening.
"I don't believe your people will respect the authority of a foreign princess, not while your daughter reigns after you," Damiana raised an eyebrow. "No one in their right mind would ever believe that," she added quickly, when she knew he would object. "They will, however, respect their queen, regardless of her origin. So name Florian as your successor instead of Gregoria."
"And this will end all hostilities for good?" Idalia asked. Though the question was directed at Damiana, its intent was meant for Everard, who was fuming.
"If he agrees, yes," Damiana nodded graciously. "If not, I will cut my way through the western lands of your kingdom, and burn your capital city to the ground." She cocked her head to the side. "A parting gift to your wretched ancestors for invading mine."
Even as his face reddened and his nostrils flared, Everard calmly bit out. "Done."
It was Damiana's turn to be surprised; even Idalia had expected there to be more of a fight between the two.
"I have a condition of my own," Everard suddenly added. "Have the wedding now."
Damiana was still reeling from his earlier acceptance. "I beg your pardon?" she asked, as though breathless.
"I'm going to send the news back to my court," Everard told her, his mood changing, his lips close to smirk. "My son is to succeed me instead of my daughter, under the condition that he immediately reports to the Borderlands...so they can marry now." When mother and daughter gaped at him in shock, Everard smiled. "You understand."
It was like pulling blood from a stone, but eventually, Damiana grittily uttered the most beautiful thing Idalia had ever heard in her life.
Celestina's head snapped towards her mother, but then turned back towards the table. Idalia felt for the girl; it was one thing to hear the the horrors of arranged marriage, and another to witness it firsthand. She wished there was some alternative she could provide the princess, but the fact remained that many lives hung in the balance.
"Then it is settled," the Queen of Frost intoned. Idalia was briefly caught off guard; she didn't recognize her own voice just now. She kept talking without thinking first, and it was like hearing a complete stranger. The words poured from her, and she knew not from where.
"This is the Treaty to which we all agree," she continued. "You are all bound by the law of the Borderlands to lay down your arms and embrace as kin. Those who abide by the treaty will prosper. Those who deceive--" and here her voice began to oddly echo on its own, "--will shrivel beneath a winter to last a generation."
Before either of the other monarchs could protest or make another sarcastic remark, Idalia's body expelled a ring of white light. The ring widened rapidly through the room, striking Sir Lucian's armor and briefly causing it to glow. The light widened beyond the castle, beyond the Borderlands.
Many years later, citizens of Misthaven would speak of the Great White Light that swept through their lands when King Everard the Golden and Queen Damiana Guardia spoke the Treaty of Idalia at Castle Frost.