Queen of Love and Beauty

During the ride, Lord Roland spoke to Emmeline, “my lady, I wish you at my side at the summer tournament. Despite this journey, we should be back in time. That said, we will need candidates for this year’s Queen of Love and Beauty.”

“Uzec is gifted with many lovely young women,” Emmeline mused. “It will be hard to give up my crown.” The playful glint in her eye was matched by a smile. “I’d list my ladies in waiting, Kalista, and several unmarried noblewomen as well as a number of women who may have been born common but have uncommonly good looks.”

The Baron smiled and nodded, but said, “only women marriable for a knight. Good manners, skilled, and with a verifiable ancestry. Anything else is risky. Does that make sense?”

“Oh, I see! That does narrow the list down quite a bit. But I know someone who could help flesh it out and make sure no one is left out who shouldn’t be,” Emmeline said. Of course she would be relying on Amelie again to help with that.

“Very good my dear. This year will be a vast training exercise for the men. Wargames. Captain du Triel is working on it with Raphael handling his affairs with our seneschal and servants engaged.” the Baron added with a smile.

Somehow, Emmeline had a little trouble picturing du Triel having much fun putting together a big celebration like that. She smiled, too.

“In the mean time, we have business on Thalassa. However, much of the day I will be in discussions with other lords and civic leaders. What do you plan on doing with your time?” he asked.

“I have some 200 acres to see to. I should take a day to visit my uncle and make sure my lands, and his, will do well this year,” Em said. “And… I’ve been summoned by Archmagus Revan, I’m afraid.”

“We have a week there. The first evening and the last evening I require your attendance. However, the rest of the time is yours. Please dear one, attend to your family. I know little of this Revan, but what I have been told by you gives me pause. Are you not reporting to and learning from Magus Alix?” he asked.

Emmeline nodded. “I am. It was she that informed me that I had been summoned. I truly have no idea what this is about. I don’t expect to be stuck anywhere overnight. Oh… I should see how my adopted mother, my grandmother is doing. She had hoped to be married by now. But if not… she might return to Thalassa I would think.”

The Baron asked, “You think or you know? I’ve heard nothing.”

“Think. I’ll speak to her soon to find out some news and learn what she’s doing, my lord,” Emmeline said.

“Please,” he said, “Rivannon has told me about her. Interesting person.”

Emmeline laughed softly. “I’m not sure you’d like her. She’s… rather liberal even for Thalassa.”

The Baron nodded, “Yes, I’ve heard. And you are probably right. But that said, I will be polite to her.”

“I think it might just break my heart if I see her in Thalassa again,” Emmeline remarked somberly.

The Baron nodded with some sympathy.

“If she’s in Thalassa, that would probably mean her hopes to marry the Count and retire would have fallen apart. She had been so excited about it. But I later learned that the Count might be only using her. I didn’t say anything to her because I had hoped that wasn’t the complete picture and feared if I interfered I would upset her hopes and dreams.”

Emmline looked truly aggrieved. “You know, that curse that had been on my family was real. Archmagus Revan had seen it. My mother suffered from it. I believe it killed her. It ruined my grandmother’s relationship with her children. But when I finally was able to lift it, it was night and day. Suddenly my aunt and grandmother were talking. And really connecting again. I thought I wouldn’t be doomed to die in childbirth. At least not any more than any other new mother might be.”

“I don’t know about the curse, but you turned out well, as did your grandfather from what I know a long a fruitful life. You grandmother, despite what you may say about a curse, is wealthy and within a certain circle influential. And I have met her once, some years ago when she was married to the Count of Portreaux. While eccentric, she was not in my mind cursed.” added the Baron. “People, in my mind, are the root of all evil.”

“People are cruel to each other sometimes,” Em said. “But I can’t help wondering if her happiness was stolen, what if it wasn’t simply people being people. What if the curse somehow can just snap back in place?

“I’m no expert on that, but I would think if you broke a curse, it is broken.” replied the Baron.

Emmeline looked at the Baron and then blushed with embarrassment. “I’m sorry my lord. I should not burden you with my foolish insecurities. I’m sure I’ll be laughing about this in a moment.” She was a little surprised herself at the mood swing.

“Do you feel you must. However, I have heard that there are many delegations meeting on Thalassa this month. The Northmarch is just the latest. You yourself may be called to bear witness on events,” the Baron said, “but I do not know if that will come to pass. Circling back to the matter of Magus Revan, why are you being called?”

“I wish I knew, my lord. I could only make guesses. No explanation was given me by Magus Alix — and I suspect none were given to her either,” Emmeline said. “Revan prefers to be an enigma. Still, my best guess is that the events surrounding the Hatani Gates and the vast undead army — which I have been told has disappeared — would capture Revan’s attention.”

“What of the fey girl?” the Baron asked.

“Kalista? I’m not sure. I suppose Revan might be interested in her, though I can’t imagine why,” Emmeline said.

“I’ve never seen anyone like her. I’ve met elves on rare occasions, and she seems akin to them, but there is something odd about her. Something that reminds me of that little half-elven girl I met with the old man down in Mequier all those years ago.” he replied. “But then again I do not pretend to understand elder wizards. You know, the ones that survive their own egos.”

Emmeline laughed, “I can see how they might be rather few… but well Kalista is in fact special. She is fey, not elven. She’s lost, without family, but desperately wants to do what’s right. For me, that was enough to get her to the wizards for further testing. I didn’t want them to run across her and just kill her out of hand. Magus Alix has agreed with my assessment.”

“You are not telling me something,” he said directly. “I’m fine with your secrets dear one, but if it turns out those secrets pose a threat, I must know. Does Kalista pose a threat?”

Emmeline thought about it, then nodded. “She very much did pose a threat. Now, she is very different. She was once just a girl, but a foul corruption twisted her soul and made her into something awful. She threatened me and those I wanted to protect, which were also your people, so you commanded me to hunt her down.

“In that life, she was a night hag. We did hunt her down, killed all her pets and her sisters, too. When she was defeated completely, I was able to push aside the corruption that clouded her choices and before Elemix and Typhon Ne offered her a chance at redemption. A new life. In that one moment of clarity she asked for a chance.

“So, my lord, I executed there. She was a horrible person who’d murdered people. She was helpless when I did it and I still feel sick that I had to. But in doing so, Typhon Ne was satisfied that justice had been done.

“Yet Aarith supports second chances. And with Typhon Ne’s support, I was able to bring a lock of the night hag’s hair to my vale. There we did reincarnate her with Mara’s help. I knew we had done the right thing because then the night hag that had created her flew to my vale on her giant black wyvern and attacked us. She was enraged beyond reason — and that cost her everything for we obliterated her utterly. I’ve named her Kalista now. Her memories of her past are vague, and she no longer has really the powers she once did, but she’s aware of what she’s done. She is genuine in wanting to make up for the crimes she committed and do something good with this second, and last chance she has. She is aware that if she betrays the trust we have placed in her in any way, I will execute her for the final time. No matter how much I have grown to like her and regardless how much it would hurt me to do it. All this, I have also told Magus Alix.”

The Baron looked slightly astonished, “I’m beginning to be very wary of Mara and her power. To reincarnate someone is something I’ve only heard once and that was in reference to the Tyaanite in Derrien, whom you say is now some little girl. To me, evil is evil, and changing bodies does not atone for sins and in my opinion Sister Typhon is dead wrong. How do you square that circle?”

“I understand your concern, my lord. I believe we are all born innocent,” Emmeline said quietly. “She was once just an innocent girl, like any other. And for most of her life, that’s exactly what she was. She could not have been freed of her corruption otherwise.”

“The corruption is gone and will not return, and if it does, you take personal responsibility,” he noted. “There is one problem with that assumption. Once you have our child and frankly even as my vassal and mistress, the responsibilities you take on reflect on myself and in a broader sense obligate me, Lady Rivanon, your neighbors, your village, and even your cousins. You heart does you credit, but try to think of the larger implications.

Emmeline was crestfallen. “I’m sorry my lord. I know it was a risk. I just thought… If I had made a mistake, then soon it would be discovered. She is being tested.”

“I know,” he said. “And I trust you to do what you must, but you are no longer just a traveling minstrel girl from rural Thalassa. What you do is watched by many. For good or for ill.”

Emmeline was very quiet for a long time as they rode on. She was trying to figure out who she wanted to be.

Finally she said, “My lord, I want to be someone who can really help. I want to protect our family, Cerisey and my vale, our people and especially you. Given what resources I have, how do I best do that?”

The Baron said, “You have had a lot thrust upon you in a short time dear one. You take to pleasant side of court easily enough, but court and actually accomplishing things do not necessarily mean the same thing. I will say what you can be is a symbol to the people, which you are already starting to do. A caring side of the cold Baron is what Rivanon said to me that you are. But what you can do to help is not necessarily personal. Your greatest gift is not your powers granted by Mara, or rights by the Guild, your fiefdom rights, or even your singing frankly. It is your ability to network, draw in allies, and learning to be a diplomat. Your words matter and your deeds inspire. That is what you should do.”

“Now you might say that my daughter is the expert there. Yes, certainly. In some ways she is the perfect diplomat and politician; but that is not your part. I don’t need you as a policy ambassador, but one of hope and caring and building alliances. Remember, the thing that intrigued me about the Vale was not the magic, but the possibility of elves returning to these lands as friends and allies. What became of that? Will it happen?”

“That is my hope, my lord,” Emmeline said with a nod. “A generation ago, the Silverleaf tribe was decimated by Snomorians. But as I understand it, the cycle of these things is that the tribe will withdraw, rebuild their numbers and then exact their revenge. Remi Silverleaf had been away from his home for so long, he had not known of the tragedy of decades ago.

“Because of the situation, I feel the Silverleaf tribe may be preparing for their revenge. That’s a real bad time for me to walk in. But it’s a really good time for Remi to return and invite them to find a new home. He believes in the Vale and I believe in him. I think he will bring elves home to us. I can’t predict when… but I could find out.”

She smiled a little bit. “As to my diplomatic skills, thank you for that. It’s true. Even now I do have a network I could use. I also know and have a good working relationship a Storuvan general, possibly his queen, the Tyaanite leader of the Malith refugees, someone who is perhaps the most powerful sorcerer and tactician alive today as well as every person whom I’ve met personally along the way.

“My problem is that I have nothing to offer any of them in return for their advice and help. I have no authority to provide a guarantee of anything, no resources to provide, and because I lack a deep understanding of the situation in the east and south, no intelligent advice to provide. I don’t want to make things more dangerous for you or for Thalassa by meddling in affairs of which I know so little.”

She looked to the Baron. “But if I have something to work with, even if it was just on your say so, I might be able to do exactly what you suggest. Build that network from Uzec to Thalassa all the way to the southern and easternmost reaches of the Periphery.”

He replied, “let us start with one thing at a time. Silverleaf only departed a short time ago. It is unlikely he would have made too much progress. I know you have learned to speak through dreams, but it is said elves do not dream as we do. By extension, how might you contact him?”

“I would ask Zoe to send an animal messenger,” she said. “Hm. I’m not sure her range on that, actually.”

“It is worth a try. It is my belief that the goblins will return this winter or possibly the next year, depending on what we do. Concerning the others you mentioned, let me bring them up in council on Thalassa. There and then perhaps you can have some authority behind your words.” he said. “In Uzec; however, I can lend you some authority should we learn more about the elves.”

Emmeline nodded and smiled. That news did lift her spirits a bit. She turned her mind toward the matter of the building legion. “How do you feel the training is going for the new recruits?”

“Slowly,” said the baron. “It has been over a century since we needed to do such a thing on such a scale.”

Emmeline was sympathetic. “I want them all to come home.” She knew that was unlikely, but miracles did happen in this world.

“They won’t. It could be war. Real war, not these skirmishes like up here in Uzec. Many men will die, and I will order them to die. It is the way of things.” said the Baron.

“Then you better come home,” Emmeline said quietly. “Or I’ll turn the world inside out looking for you.”

The Baron gave her a hug, “I know you will.”

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