Whatever people say, and whatever people do, your task is only to be Emerald — heart unfazed, your colour true.
Elma’s eyes flitted open as the warm rays of the rising sun danced lazily through the bed curtains. This happened every morning — her father's words echoed in her ears from the dream and into reality, as if he was sitting there right beside her, softly stroking her hair as he would if he still lived. Most mornings she'd be content, rising with a leap in her step and a smile on her face over the heartful conversations they've shared during the night. But today, she stared at the ceiling with brow furrowed, her eyes welling in tears and confusion clearly etched on her face.
“Are you awake, your highness?” The maid stepped into the room, interrupting her thoughts. But Elma wouldn’t call her a maid, she was almost like a second mother to her.
In one fluid movement, Elma wiped away the sadness in her eyes, then jumped out of the covers and into her dressing gown. "Yes, thank you." She refused to meet the maid’s gaze, staring at the far wall instead; but in the corner of her eyes, she saw her step forward with a pillow in her arms, and atop it the Emerald Crown that was now hers to wear. The light danced off of its surface like faeries dancing over the lakes at moonlight, its joyous glimmer a sort of insult to the misery currently churning inside of her.
"Isn’t it beautiful, your highness? It’s the same color as your eyes. All the nine kingdoms would rejoice tonight when they gaze upon the first Queen of Alvia."
Elma watched as the maid carefully placed it on the boudoir, carefully observing her as she went off to prepare the bath while humming a happy tune. "Do you truly believe they will, Berta?” The princess asked.
Bertha froze, concern was visible in her eyes as she took in the young princess' defeated countenance. She had her head bowed low, staring deep into the ground, her fingers unconsciously twirling on the ends of her hair as she does when she can't get something off her mind.
"Is something the matter, your highness?" Elma was about to shake her head, before finally deciding that she might as well get it out of her chest.
"Well, I've been thinking," Elma’s voice quaked as she sat down by the mirror. "Will they, actually? Will they accept the thought of having a Queen at the throne? An unmarried one, and a young one for that matter?”
It took a while before Bertha gathered her bearings, but she spoke with such conviction and alacrity not usually seen even in the most assured of men.
"They will. They ought to. It is the first time in the history of Alvia that the gods have blessed us with a ruling Queen. Your name will be known in the world, princess Elma, and your reign will not only be secure but a prosperous one. You have the gift of the Emerald, the light of a thousand stones shining in your eyes. I am telling you, your highness, you were born to wear the crown."
"But what if it is a curse, instead?" Elma asked, as Bertha pressed hard on her lip to bite back a laugh. "Where did you ever get that idea, your highness?"
"I've heard what the people say, I'm no fool." Elma looked at her square in the eyes, pain emanating from her trembling hands and cold green fire glowing in her gaze. It was then the young woman knew the princess was not in jest. She was hurt, it is clear, down to her very bones; doubt and shame flickered in her eyes, contrary to the light-stepped care-free child she usually was. Poison, Bertha thought. They have been poisoning the princess’ mind and planting seeds of self-distrust. She felt her own blood boil at the very idea.
"There are many who think it as a punishment," Elma narrated. "For 9000 years, the Emerald Crown has been passed from father to son, uncle to nephew, brother to brother; and suddenly, I was born and all the male heirs are gone. They all say that I have angered the gods, only for that reason would they deny us a son to rule."
Berth unconsciously curled one hand into a fist, enraged at those who would dare say such a thing. "People talk without knowing anything, your highness. All children are a blessing to their parents, and your birth was one that brought joy to many in the kingdoms. Those bold enough to say otherwise are simply bigoted miscreants, whose words cannot be trusted and should never have a place within your heart." Elma studied the fingers on her lap, their rich ebony colour a stark contrast to her father, the late King. It was one of the few things she had left of her mother, besides the high-bridged nose and long wavy locks of raven that framed her face. Her mother was not native to Alvia; she and Elma stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the sea of faces around them. And though the daughter of a king, the taunts and jests of not belonging seeped its way into her waking hours. "My mother was a slave.” Elma said flatly. “So in the eyes of many, I am not born to be a queen."
"Queen Issoria was Queen of Merhitaea before King Julius ravaged their lands and made her a slave," Bertha was quick to correct her. "When King Alaric succeeded to the throne he abolished slavery and married her to restore honor to her name. She was a great woman, the paragon for compassion and kindness and justice. She saved me and my family; took us in and gave us a chance to grow ourselves into something better. She built orphanages and feeding centers, and traveled to far away kingdoms to prevent wars and have peace reign. She was a bright woman; a beautiful person beloved by many. I can assure you no finer woman has ever graced to walk this Earth."
Elma smiled sadly, “Yes.” she was indeed kind and compassionate, and loyal to a fault. She had given up her life rather young, and she never got to hold nor see. "She would have been a great Queen."
“So would you." Bertha smiled as she came closer, and wrapped her arms around Elma in a firm embrace, letting Elma’s head rest on her shoulders.
"I knew your mother and father, their love for each other shone a light throughout the nine kingdoms. Their love for you was also such. What would you think they would say if they both were here right now?"
Elma paused, repeating the words her father spoke in the dream. "...your task is to be Emerald — heart unfazed, your colour true."
“I see him. My father. Every night,” she confessed, her voice barely a whisper in the wind. “We talk for hours on many things, I tell him about what was happening, and he guides me in what to do. But last night...I told him that I didn’t want to be Queen.” Bertha let out a small gasp.
“I told him I was too young to be Queen; I'm small, clumsy and foolish at times, and my studies were far from complete. I am an 18 years old girl who isn’t smart. A queen must be wise if she were to lead her people. How am I to lead if I am not wise? And what about the wars? The bloodbath? How am I to command respect from the other kingdoms if they do not think I have the divine right? How am I supposed to help better the lives of my people? How can it be said that I am fit to be Queen?” Elma screamed all the thoughts that have been living in her for weeks without end.
"What did he say? What was his answer?" Bertha probed as softly as she could.
"...That was all he had to say. Nothing more."
Bertha smiled despite herself, "Maybe that was all that needed to be said."
Elma looked up at Bertha, no longer trembling but instead letting all her tears freely flow from her red cheeks. "You were born for this, princess Elma. Alvia and the nine kingdoms have long waited for the Blessed Queen. And you are. The Emerald chooses, the Emerald sees, the Emerald knows. The Emerald goddess has seen your heart and proven you worthy and that is why she gave you the gift. The crown is yours to wear. Doubt is the last thing that you should let creep into you." Bertha handed Elma a cloth, wiping away her tears. Finally, Elma’s eyes cleared of the gloom and lit up with the gleaming fire of conviction, the meaning of her father's words finally taking root.
“...He wants me to be strong," she says.
“Yes," Bertha nodded. "Emeralds symbolize wit, compassion, reflection and growth. It signifies prosperity. And with the gift of the emerald, you are now its embodiment. You will bring peace to the lands, and growth to your people, and compassion, kindness, and bliss wherever you tread."
“But emeralds are soft and brittle and break off easily,” Elma countered. “...easily crumbled. Like hope that flutters and is gone with the wind.”
"Most emeralds." Bertha replied with a glint in her eyes. "That's why you must be strong. It's the emeralds that do not break that are the most valuable."
Elma stared at herself in the mirror. "You are our only hope, Princess Elma."
Elma nodded, the light of a million stars shining in the green sea of her eyes, a smile creeping up on her lips. "I will be that emerald. For my people."
She looked again to the crown in front of her, its verdant glow now devoid of any mockery, enveloped only by a warmth akin to that of a friend's embrace.
"We should start preparing you for the ceremony now," Bertha reminded.
"Of course," Elma laughed, taking Bertha’s hand and squeezing it in hers. "Thank you, Bertha” Suddenly, the princess' smile broke into a sheepish grin, “Will you please braid my hair for the ceremony?"
Bertha’s chuckles returned. "With greatest pleasure, my Queen."