The last has now arrived. All seven suitors that are aiming for the hand of the girl who is now my daughter. She’s so young. Too young, as young as I was when I was first wed to a man twice my years. He hadn’t been a disagreeable husband, but our marriage hadn’t been as long as I had imagined. Now here I stand, the last night of mourning for the passing of my second husband, the king. A man I could have grown to love if we’d had the time.
There never seems to have enough.
If we’d been able to produce a son, the halls of my new home wouldn’t be filled with strange men. The younger sons of kings looking for a chance at a throne of their own. Yet they are more prepared than I for the responsibility.
I’ve had no training for guiding a kingdom. Even with the assistance of the advisers I feel overwhelmed by this responsibility. I was born a noble’s daughter, with no prospects of becoming a queen. That was until Phillip shocked the kingdom by courting this unworthy widow. Now, until Snowdrop marries and her husband takes control, I must run the government. All while I mourn the good man I’ve lost and care for this child I didn’t birth.
“Supper is ready,” says a maid through the door. None of them are allowed in my chambers without expressed consent; I can’t let them see me like this. A wreck of a women so consumed by grief. I’ve heard the rumors already spreading about my inability to rule during this transition. They can’t see the concern in my eyes. It’s the only defense I have left.
Now I must face these crafty princes and this new daughter I’ve known less than half a year. Whatever fool said women are unfit for war has never spoken to one. Our lives are a fight for survival and social gatherings are our battlegrounds. We don’t have the luxury to be weak-minded fools.
Here I stand, preparing to face the battle of my life at the end of this hall. If I don’t keep my wits, I could lose this very country. What will become of me if this doesn’t conclude in my favor?
At the closed doors to the great hall, I take a steadying breath. There’s no option to retreat. The time has come.
A glance to the servants at my side and the doors swing open. The great hall is capable of hosting large banquets for hundreds. To see the table set for nine is pitiful. Only the head of the table remains empty, my seat, the seat for the ruler. Snowdrop placed at my right. One of the princes on my left - a man from the east, almost as old as I am and tenth in line for his families thrown.
“Welcome Mother,” Snowdrop smiles at me.
She always smiles. Even when her father passed and tears streamed from her eyes. She’s never failed to greet me warmly. Then why can I do nothing but answer her with a fringed nod?
“Your highness,” The oldest suitor greets. I should remember his name but I don’t.
“Your accommodations are to your liking?” I ask as I look at all seven men. They greet me with polite smiles and wolfish eyes. There’s no choice for them but to compete with each other outright during this meal. A fight for recognition.
A blond man from the south is witty. The one with green eyes is silent more than not and when he does speak everything he says is dignified and distinguished. The youngest has a way of capturing the room. The northerner has this warm disposition that’s true to his core. The westerner is theatrical, a captivating speaker. Lastly, the man from a country so far away that we have no word for its name; he has a way of commanding a topic, regardless of his knowledge on the subject.
As I’m not the one being courted, only so much attention is being placed on me, respectful yet sparse. Inexperienced as she is in such social engagements, Snowdrop is letting her true nature shine through. Which is a dangerous choice for a lamb being circled by this pack of wolves. Although I could imagine her no other way than the kindhearted girl she is.
Hair as dark as the night sky, skin like freshly laundered linen, and lips dipped in red wine compliment her untainted heart. She’s too much for me to take in at times, such a pure soul.
Watching these men present themselves is a stark reminder of what I’ve lost. My presence is merely a formality. I excuse myself, leaving this girl who isn’t mine with these men vying for her eye and servants she’s known all her life. Tears are threating to return and I can’t shed them here. Not under these watchful eyes searching for weakness. The darkness of my room is witness enough.
I’ve played my part. Now Snowdrop must choose for herself, get to know these men while I focus on running this country. The advisers see me as unfit. I can feel that truth in their stares, humoring me, waiting for Snowdrop’s marriage. Increasing as the weeks pass and some of the suitors change their focus. The blond one, the oldest, and the one from the north have been spending a great deal of time with my advisors.
The other four try and steal moments alone with Snowdrop at every opportunity.
“She has no rest from them,” I hear the maids whispering to themselves. “She’s staying in her room until breakfast and retreats again after dinner.”
I haven’t seen her at all these many weeks. Too occupied fighting off these strange suggestions my advisors have begun recommending. They’re forceful in their words, nearing commands. Only I am their queen and they wouldn’t dare outright tell me what to do.
These men think I won’t notice their vial attempts to usurp my will. They think I’m a foolish woman. Maybe they’re right, but I’m not a weak-willed one. I have lost too much to leave my heart exposed, to let my decisions be tainted by these greedy men. All Snowdrop has to do is choose one and we will be rid of the rest. She’s had her time to meet them. More time then I was granted to pick my husband.
In the early hours of the morning, I go to her. Before that flock of fools have stirred awake and the castle is quiet. Without knocking I enter Snowdrop’s room. I already knew she’s awake. She likes to watch the sunrise over the garden and in summer it rises so early.
“Good morning, Mother.” She smiles at me from her seat by the window. The new light of day frames her face in all its beauty and brings to my attention the sadness in her eyes.
“Have you made your decision?” I ask. Staying three paces back. Did I have those eyes when meeting my suitors?
“They are all lovely gentlemen,” she pauses. Pressing her berry-red lips together, she looks away. “With their own endearing qualities.”
She starts to sniffle. With a handkerchief, she dabs at her eyes gently. Keeping the reserve of a princess despite her mood.
“And yet?” I ask.
The sight of these tears. The tears of a child remind me of the days of my own youth. The quickness of my first marriage to secure financial stability for my family’s failing investments. Having to wed a man I had no feelings for, even an appreciation for, only his wealth was important.
“They look at me as a doll. One to be pampered and played with then left on a shelf. Some pretend to listen to my thoughts but I know that will not last. The others dismiss me entirely and won’t cease going on about themselves. They are miserable men the lot of them.” Her tears burst forth like the first rain of spring. Her delicate body shaking under the force of her sobs.
With haste I go to her, cradling her in my arms. This weeping child, my weeping child. I can’t let any of these men have their way with her. We women are seen as pawns in the games of men. But this castle is still mine; this country ruled by my hand. These leeches will get nothing of it. They will not marry my Snowdrop. Not as long as I am Queen.