Shoot. So I figured out yesterday that I completely forgot to post the remaining scenes from the First Empress prologue to SSH. Sorry about that. I’ll post the rest today and tomorrow.
So I lied in my intro to scene 1, there’s actually six scenes in the prologue, I just divided them up into five posts. This scene features Queen Viarra talking shop/politics with Ronnius after the physician, Esset, finishes bandaging her. Ronnius was originally one of the characters I’d considered as a significant other to Viarra, before she and Elissa came out to me as lesbians. Instead of Ronnius’s rescue of the title heroine in the prologue leading to an eventual relationship, Queen Viarra rewards Ronnius by making him her kingdom’s steward when she’s away. As always, any feedback is most welcome. (Scenes 1, 2&3)
Ronnius wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep when Esset quietly woke him. The window was still dark, but the noise from the commotion outside had apparently died down. “Her majesty is stable and wants to see you, young Ronnius,” Esset told him. Ronnius nodded groggily as he stood and stretched. “Damned girl refused any opium to reduce the pain. I stitched up her wounds, as well as several internal injuries. In a few weeks I’ll have to go back in and take those stiches out,” Esset continued. “That handmaiden was a terrific help, and I’m letting her sleep for now. Her majesty suggested I head down to the hospital now to volunteer and to see if they found any other survivors at the estate.”
Ronnius patted the apothecary on the shoulder. “Thank you. Keep an ear open while you’re there,” he suggested. “Find out what rumors are flying around and what Duke Elladan and General Derron and the others have been saying.” Esset grunted an affirmation, then turned and slipped out the front door.
Ronnius entered the candlelit back room and closed the door quietly behind him. Queen Viarraluca smiled weakly up at him from one of the doctor’s cots. Even broken and bandaged, his queen managed to look regal. There was strength of spirit in those jade eyes that he’d never paid attention to before. He couldn’t explain it, but somehow he foresaw her becoming one of the greatest queens to ever reign. She squeezed his hand as he sat in the chair next to her cot.
They sat without talking for a long moment. “Hell of a way to begin your reign,” Ronnius finally said, more to break the silence than anything.
Viarra smiled, shaking slightly. Then she winced in pain. “Please, don’t make me laugh, it hurts to do so right now,” she admonished him hoarsely.
“I wanted to thank you, Ronnius,” she continued, “for everything you’ve done tonight. You saved not only me, but likely the entire kingdom as well.” She paused. “I saw Lord Vennis’s body on the path when we met those watchmen. You killed him?”
“I did, your majesty.”
“That must have been hard; he was very close to you,” she replied.
“He was as my brother. But at the moment I killed him, I didn’t see him as such,” Ronnius admitted. “He’d revealed his part in his father’s plot against the king. I couldn’t be a party to that, nor could I just sit by and let it happen.”
Her majesty looked at the ceiling. “We’d long suspected the Duke was plotting to seize control, but all indications were that it centered on marrying his son to me. Arrol, General Derron, and I thought that we could buy time to unravel his plans by having me play ‘hard to get’ with Vennis—by making them think he had a chance with me and that I could be manipulated. Apparently his father saw through that. Not even our worst-case scenarios anticipated so sudden a violent takeover.”
“Duke Elladan caught us all off guard with this—even Vennis didn’t know about it. Bastard executed his gambit perfectly.”
“No, he didn’t,” Queen Viarra disagreed, looking back over at him. “I’m alive, aren’t I?” Ronnius smiled when he saw her smug little smirk in the candlelight. “No, the fatal flaw in his plan was that it hinged entirely on all of the people between him and the throne dying tonight. With us dead, he could tell the nobles and commoners anything he wished, despite the obvious blood on his hands.”
“And with you alive, he is a dead man.”
The queen coughed as she nodded. “Publicly by noontime, if at all possible,” she agreed. “It’s an unfortunate necessity, but the people need that catharsis while they mourn the loss of their king.”
Ronnius frowned. “Unfortunate in what way?”
She frowned up at him. “Truthfully, do you think my brother was a good king?” she asked, cocking her head slightly.
He sighed, realizing where she was going with this. “Truly? No, I don’t think so. He was a good man, but a weak king. His passive policies were weakening our status among the other kingdoms along the northern Vestic Sea. Because of your father and brother’s reigns, we have dangerous enemies, few allies, and plenty of predators hovering around, waiting for us to show any sign of weakness. Though we’re not currently at war, it’s just a matter of time.”
“Actually, we have no allies,” she confirmed, looking back at the ceiling. “And just behind the predators lurks a host of scavengers, just waiting for us to fall. The only reason we haven’t been invaded yet is because several of our more powerful opponents are busy fighting someone else at this time. I’m sure Voris and Ireth would both love a rematch with us, if they weren’t already at war with each other. Ovec and Fildor aren’t in much position to move against us on their own, but they’ll want to make sure they profit from our downfall. And I’ll put money down that within a month Andivel’s messengers will show up trying to extort tribute money from us. We desperately need a strong ruler to lead us through this storm, and I feel that Duke Elladan genuinely believed he could be that ruler—that he could save our people. And because of his belief, he now must die.” Her voice seemed to grow wistful.
“At any rate,” she continued, looking back at him, “I’m glad we’re on the same page with this. I agree with your assessment, as does General Derron. May I confide something in you?”
“Anything, your grace.”
“General Derron and I were working on a plot to depose Arrol and Kallis, to force them to step down and put Emmet on the throne with me as his first-in-line. It was supposed to be a bloodless military coup forcing them into quiet retirement or—worst-case scenario—exile. But we were far from having a concrete plan ironed out. Not that Elladan could have known about any of this.”
“So, Elladan did essentially what needed to be done, but not in the way that you needed it done,” Ronnias nodded. “For what it’s worth, I think I could have supported your plot if you wished me to.”
She reached out and squeezed his hand again. “It’s worth more than you think,” she assured him. “Make no mistake, I love my brothers and will mourn them on my own time. That time is not now. I don’t like the idea of being our kingdom’s only hope, but if I’m going to save our people, I need to act quickly. To do this, I need intelligent, capable people working under me—I’m starting with you. Fetch Elissa and Lady Synnis, please.”
Elissa was slow to awaken, but Ronnius had the both of them in that back room only moments later.
“Kneel, Ronnius,” the queen commanded. Ronnius knelt. “Patrician Ronnius, this night you have shown your loyalty to our people and to the Crown a dozen times over,” her majesty declared, placing a hand on Ronnius’s forehead. “I make it my first act as queen to reward you for your bravery and dedication. Before these witnesses and Ferra, our patron goddess, I hereby appoint you as my Steward, my second-in-command. Rise, Steward of Kel Fimmaril.” Ronnius felt a jolt at her words. The shock made standing up shaky, but he felt his eyes water as he contemplated the magnitude of her gift. If there was anything he’d have denied his queen before, he would do it or give it freely now.
“As my newly-appointed Second, my first order for you is to find Lord Fillan,” she continued. “Let him know that I’m alive and instruct him to call an emergency meeting of the Assembly of Archons—assuming no one else has already done so. Secondly, find General Derron and tell him about the assembly meeting. Have him meet me here at dawn with a full honor guard and one of his finest horses. I want full colors when I ride to the assemblage—highest possible profile.”
Ronnius started to ask if she was up to such a demonstration, but decided that second-guessing her wouldn’t be the wisest first act as her steward. “Shall I see about obtaining better attire for you then? Perhaps a set of officer’s armor?” he asked instead.
She shook her head. “No. I want the people, my people, to see me as I am. In fact, I may remove some of these bandages and let them see the scars and stitches on my belly. I want them to see what I’ve suffered for the sake of the kingdom.”
“It will be as you say, my queen,” Steward Ronnius replied, saluting—or at least hoping he saluted correctly. He bowed, then left.