Fantasy Historical Fiction Drama

She had known it would come to this for a very long time. She was an old queen - one who had outlived her husband by a great many decades. She had lived her fair share of lives, made her fair share of mistakes. She was certain history books would sneer upon mention of her name. Perhaps her own descendants would mock and ridicule all the choices she had made in life. She wouldn’t blame them. She had made so many mistakes.

This would not be one of them.

Their kingdom was an old one, ruled by older still superstitions. They said that the youngest child would always have the most magic. It made sense, considering all of their old texts. It was always the youngest of three or seven children who was regarded as a hero. The youngest who wielded the cleverest tricks and charms. The youngest child who had the most magic bursting from their fingertips, ready and waiting to shape the world to their whims.

When a queen died, she could choose between her youngest child, or the youngest sibling of her youngest child, or however many generations a queen lived to see. The queen got the final choice and she could alter it - for the good of the kingdom, of course - until the day she died. No sanity required. That was probably for the best. No sane queen would have ever attempted this sort of thing. No sane or wise queen ever had. 

But she had long ago struck any hope of being remembered as sane or wise from even the most glorified history books. She was certain she’d either be seen as a ruinous ruler or just flicked over as another name before coming to a pause before a king who really mattered. She smiled as her pen scratched parchment now.

There was a knock on her chamber door.

“Enter,” she said. She knew exactly who it was, had summoned them half an hour ago. In truth, she was surprised that they had come so quickly. The younger of her two daughters was always a bit difficult to track down, even by her closest maids.

“You… called for me mother?” the girl asked. She wasn’t really a girl - though she would always seem as such to her aging mother. She was a woman, not even a young woman at this point. A woman who had seen her peak and passed it without batting an eye. She had no children - made it clear she never intended to have any children as if she was trying to force her mother’s hand into picking the youngest of her elder sister’s brood.

For a long, long time, the queen had consented to this. She had let it happen: played right into her elder daughter’s hand. She’d even been giving tutelage to her youngest grandchild, hoping to teach some sense to the girl.

She was too much like her mother. Too cold-blooded, too hungry for even a scrap of power that she’d trade half the kingdom to get it. The queen had tried to mold the girl, but her mother’s talons were dug in too tight. Finally, the queen gave up. She stopped trying to help the girl. She spent most of her hours in her bed - feeling as her old bone grew weaker, her old mind wearier that and… the gardens.

The queen had four grandchildren. They were all still plenty young and filled with all folly of youth, but the eldest of which, a little boy with hair as white as snow had caught something soft in her. He might’ve been brimming with all the ambition of his younger sisters if he had even the slightest illusion of taking the throne. But he didn’t. He didn’t even remember a time when he was anything but the eldest child. 

She had no idea how, but amongst their garden of thorns, a pale white rose had bloomed in the moonlight. He was gentle. Soft. Delicate. Kind - oh, he was so, so kind. He had no gifts for magic or words but he was curious and had a good head on his shoulders and most of all he knew how to be weak - he knew shame and humility. He could ask for help without it destroying him. He was the only one in their rotten family who the queen wished to sit on her throne after she died.

And that would be any day now.

“Sit down,” the queen instructed her younger daughter. She had never had ambition. Not like her sister who had thought herself the next queen for the first twelve years of her life. Her younger daughter might’ve made a good enough queen but she was too timid. Fear sparked in her eyes and choked her lungs.

She might’ve made a good enough queen - better than the current queen’s youngest granddaughter but the queen would never do that to her youngest daughter.

“How are you feeling?” her youngest daughter asked. “Would you like me to take that for you?” She gestured to the table in which the queen was writing the last parchment she would ever write in her long, long life. All it needed was a signature. Her youngest daughter’s signature in fact.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” the queen said. Her voice carried none of its prior strength. It was so weak and raspy the queen only half-realized it as her own. “Please, just sit down. There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

“Yes… mother,” her youngest daughter said, doing as she was told and pulling up the nearest chair.

Once she was situated the youngest daughter looked to the queen with… well the queen couldn’t exactly tell what emotions her little girl was feeling right now. It seemed like quite a lot from how her lips were lowered and her brows pinched together. The queen wondered if her youngest daughter thought this might be the last time they saw one another. She was tired. So, so tired. She knew a day would soon come when she’d drift to sleep and never open her eyes again.

“You know the laws of this land, correct?”

“Yes, mother,” her youngest daughter said.

The queen slowly raised herself and handed her youngest daughter the parchment she had been working on. “Tell me when a child can be adopted by another adult.”

Her youngest daughter’s eyes widened. “Is this for-”

“Answer the question, child,” the queen said.

Her poor little girl looked down at the parchment and then back up at her mother. “A… child can be adopted when their parents die, are not able to take care of them any longer, or they’re renounced or abandoned by their parents.” Her youngest daughter looked up with her impossibly wide-eyed. “There’s no way you would have gotten a court to judge Charlene-”

“Saskia,” the queen said, calmly. “Your elder sister wasn’t declared unfit to take care of him. She spoke so frequently about throwing the poor boy out for his… ah, as she put it incompetence that… it is possible I told her that if she wished, I would have the boy removed from the palace to live with a cousin of mine in the country.”

“She… she didn’t.” Poor Saskia’s eyes widened even further, her hands trembling as she looked down at the paper, trying to figure out if it was some cleverly crafted illusion or not.

“She renounced him as her own,” the queen said. “But it seems my cousin in the country died three years back so she can’t take the boy either.” The queen let a smile stretch across her face. “I’m asking you, Saskia, and I am allowing you to say no: would you like to have a son?”

Saskia’s hands were trembling so badly.

The queen knew that Saskia was soft for the boy. She’d already served as his mother in everything but name through the majority of his childhood. The only thing his actual mother had delivered was punishments. Harsh, cruel punishments, but they never seemed to make him any less soft or kind to the world. That was the person that the queen knew needed to be sitting on the throne. That was the person the queen knew the world needed more of.

A couple of tears rolled down Saskia’s cheeks before she swallowed and took the pen up and scratched her name on the bottom of the parchment. It took either the eyes of the queen or a judge to make something like this official. So it was done. The queen smiled as she unfolded the other document she’d been keeping safe before handing that, too, to Saskia.

Once again she took it and her eyes widened. “Oh,” she squeaked. “Oh know Charlene will-”

“It’s too late,” the queen said, closing her eyes as a laugh left her weak lungs. “The youngest child of my youngest child will take the throne upon my passing. We’ve had adopted children sit on this throne before so there’s precedence.” The queen smiled but it was hard. “Guide him well, Saskia. Get a judge to verify those papers before I die, too.”

“Mother-” Saskia said, but whatever protest she was about to make died out as she pulled the two sheets of parchment tightly against her chest. “Yes, mother. I will.” The tears she’d long been holding back started down her cheeks. “He will be a good king and you will be remembered as the wisest queen to have ever sat on this throne.”

The queen smiled as she lowered herself into her pillows.

Her elder daughter - and by extent the entirety of her elder daughter’s faction - would be furious and the poor boy would have a steep learning curve. But the queen trusted in his ability to thrive.

He was a hardy little rose after all.

September 04, 2020 21:02

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