The Story Part 1-Secret Love
Princess Chrysta strolled up and down within a grove of oaks in the gardens of Castle Roquat, taking care to keep out of sight of the guards on the walls. She heard rustling behind her and spun around. Thaddeus the Jester stood before her in his pointy Fool’s Cap and red and white striped clothes, a pair of outlandish pointy leather boots on his feet. He bowed to her. "It took a bit longer then normal as I was afraid of being watched. I’m worried that…"
She rushed into his arms and cut off his speech with a long soft warm kiss upon his lips. "When will you have everything ready? When do we leave?"
"Tomorrow, my love, the horses and fake passports will be ready and we will leave by night and set off as quickly as possible. Within a few days we shall be across the border and out of your mother’s reach, and shall live the life together that we want. But are you really sure you want to do this? Do you really want to exchange the pampered life of a royal princess for the life of a travelling Fool?"
"Of course I do, my love, or I would not be here. We’d better get back to our bedrooms as we can’t risk getting caught. You know what my mother is like."Chrysta bent forward and kissed Thaddeus again and then they left and headed to their respective bedrooms in different wings of the Castle.
As soon as Thaddeus entered his bedroom, he found himself grabbed by a group of Royal Vallermore Guardsmen, and a cloth was jammed into his mouth to cut off his screams. "You’ll have plenty of time to talk in the Queen’s torture chamber. The Queen was tipped off about your little private trysts with her daughter. You know well the penalty for a commoner who commits High Treason. Take him down."
The next morning Princess Chrysta asked one of her servants "Where is my Jester?"
"The…the Queen wanted his services, your Majesty,"said the servant, averting his eyes and backing away.
Additional Ideas (15)
Then the Queen strolled into the Great Hall and smiled at her daughter.
"Yocasta, where is my jester? I feel in need of amusement."
"Your jester is amusing the guards, they deserve a laugh once in a while. It is said that the court of King Mendar has plenty of jesters and I intend that you will enjoy their company, and be a Queen in your own right, as his wife."
Chrysta frowned. "Surely you're not serious? The man is over fifty years old and I'm only twenty. And there are dark rumours of the way he treats women, and that the death of his last two wives were not accidents, but murder."
"I am serious. The State Wedding has been arranged and will happen in three days time."
"Where is my jester? I don't care if he's keeping the guards happy, I need him NOW!" Chrysta's voice rose to a scream.
"Your jester is in my torture room undergoing the punishment for High Treason! Don't think I don't know all about your secret love affair with a man far beneath you in rank, a man who was not even a noble."
"How could you, mother?"
Chrysta ran as fast as she could from the room and down flight after flight of twisting stairs until she reached the torture room, just in time to see the dead body of Thaddeus, it's limbs smashed and broken, naked and covered in cuts and blood, as the torturers threw it into the castle moat. She broke down in tears, grabbed a dagger from a selection of torture tools and ran at the Royal Torturers screaming at them. At the sight of the Princess they backed away and she flung herself out of the window, stabbing herself through the heart as she fell. The castle guards hurried to the scene but by the time they pulled her out she was dead. As her body was cleaned and taken to her bedroom the Court officials began to argue over who would tell the Queen of the dreadful news.
The Lord Chancellor and the General of the Guards, the two most important and trusted royal ministers, strode up to the Queen dressed all in their formal black mourning wear. "Your Majesty," said the General,"your daughter has been pulled from the moat, dead."
"Dead of exhaustion, I assume that's what you mean. Lead the way to where she is."
The Queen came to where the body of her daughter lay on her bed. Her daughter's face had lost all it's colour by now. The Queen gently opened her daughter's glassy eyes, prodded the wound in her chest and said "I told her that there were fish in the moat that bit people. Let her sleep until tomorrow and then I want to see her."
When she had gone the Captain of the Guards said quietly "What do we do now? She's in denial."
"Get the body embalmed and buried in the Royal Tombs as quickly as possible," said the Chancellor. I will think of something. I don't want to end my life in the Queen's torture chamber."
The next day the Chancellor went to meet the Queen. "Your Majesty, your daughter has been bitten by a dangerous water snake, a Vindscreen Viper. She will require five days of bed rest and the Royal doctors have told me that you should not visit her in that time."
The Queen nodded. "I understand, but I want to see her without fail or the doctors will be in trouble."
The Chancellor bowed and left and went to his office at the Chancellery where he paced up and down wondering what to do. "If the princess does not show up in five days my head might be on the block, but she's dead. What am I going to do? Ah, a replacement, I need a replacement princess. He went and found Grand Duke Lariton. The Duke had once ruled a small kingdom on the borders of Vallermore until the Queen had made him an offer that he could not refuse. He could either allow his kingdom to be annexed, in which case he would be made a Grand Duke and retain his power in most local matters, or his country would be invaded by her army and forcibly annexed, and it's people would be slaughtered and have their homes and fields destroyed and burnt. Lariton had reluctantly chosen the first option.
He had a beautiful twenty year old daughter named Amber, with long brown hair, green eyes and a sweet nature. The Chancellor smiled when he saw the Duke and said "I have a problem which you could help to sort out. Or rather your daughter could. As you probably know, Princess Chrysta committed suicide a few hours ago. The Queen refuses to accept that her daughter is dead. Your daughter Amber looks very like the princess and we want her to..." He paused. "To replace her. With your daughter at the Queen's side, just think of the political influence that you could have, perhaps one day enough to regain your independence and rule your land as a King once more."
The Duke called his daughter in. "Amber, I would like you to do something for me. I would like you to take on the role of Princess Chrysta for me. You will have fine clothes, even better then those that you wear now, you will have a better life then you have now and you may be able to use your influence to win back my Kingdom as an independent state. When I was a king you were a princess, now I want you to be a princess again for me and for the sake of all those who live in our former kingdom and are now struggling to pay increased taxes to their conquerors."
"But father, what if the Queen finds out? We could both end up in her torture chamber and could never come out alive."
"It's our only chance to at least regain a little bit of the independence that we once enjoyed. Please, do it for me and our whole nation."
Amber nodded, and her father kissed her on the forehead. "Good girl. The Chancellor here will instruct you in what you need to do and how you need to behave to play your role to perfection."
For the next five days the Chancellor and the Captian of the Guards drilled Amber ruthlessly to play her role. "Keep a straight back, Chrysta always kept her back straight in public. If you get a mosquito bite, no scratching. You must be polite to the Queen but not too polite. Remember what will happen if the Queen ever finds out who you are-death in the torture chamber with your father suffering beside you."
Amber's jewelry of amythestes and other semi-presuious stones was replaced with the diamonds and rubies and emeralds that had belonged to Princess Chrysta. She was dressed in the Princess's silken robes. As she had once been a princess in her own right she did not find the training as hard as she might have done, but as the days grew nearer to when she would meet the Queen she grew more and more scared until her hands were shaking and the jewel encrusted bracelets on her arms were clinking loudly.
Queen Yocasta took Amber's hands in hers and began kissing her forehead over and over again. "Poor you, the bite from that nasty Vindscreen Viper must have really hurt you. You're still shaking from it's effects."
Amber forced her voice into a range slightly lower then normal so that she would sound like Chrysta when she spoke. "Mother,I thought I was going to die that day. Please, please don't marry me off to that Prince Mendar, not if you truly love me. I'm your only child, I need to be by your side to learn how to..." Her voice trailed off.
The Queen finished the sentence. "Rule when I am gone. You're right. You've also faced enough horrors already. I won't marry you off to him. Rest now. Tomorrow we will meet again."
The days passed and Amber gradually lost her fear of the Queen and basked in her love. She welcomed the kisses that the Queen gave her and began to act arrogantly to those beneath her in rank. One day when she got a mosquito bite on her arm she scratched the itch instead of leaving it alone like Chrysta would have done, using a bracelet to cover the wound whilst cleaning the scab off each night. She began to be arrogant and surrounded herself with trusted bodyguards whilst alone. As she lost her fear little bits of her old posture crept back into her movements and she no longer acted exactly like Chrysta. She started to give advice at the meetings of the Royal Privy Council more often. She also began to talk with Grand Duke Lariton secretly in his bedroom.
One morning she said "Your Majesty, my birthday is coming up and I wish for a special present. I ask for the Vandersil garrison to be withdrawn. I have had petitions arriving for many months complaining about cases of theft, assault and unlawful imprisonment without trial, and complaining that the taxes have been quadrupled. I ask that the city-state be set free."
The Queen frowned at her with a look that she had never seen before. "You were the one who told me that it would be a good idea to annex Vandersil in the first place, and you were right, our realm of Valermoore is very much richer because of it. We've even managed to lower our own taxes. As for complaining about unlawful imprisonment, we are not democrats and never have been. I suppose you'll want a written consitution next, and a Human Rights Act?? There are times when I wonder about you. I wish you to leave this room."
When Amber had left the Queen motioned to a couple of her spies. "Something is very wrong. Follow my daughter and write down every word she says that is worth recording. Something is strange about her but I can't put my finger on it. First, Amber supposingly goes back to her home city, then my daughter starts walking like her, and vanishing every now and then, and holding her political opinions. I want one of you to hide in Duke Lariton's room as he seems to be at the bottom of this mystery."
Amber rushed up to Duke Lariton and kissed his cheeks. "How am I doing, Father?"
"Quite well. She hasen't found out and that is all that really matters. I"m starting to think of her as a second mother, she is so kind to me. She loves me and I think I love her but I love you and our city more."
"Did you ask her to free our city as I told you?"
"I did and it made her really angry, like I've never seen her before. She said that it was my idea in the first place. I'd better go."
A while later the spy that had earlier hidden himself in the Duke's wardrobe was at last able to extracate himself and give his report to the Queen.
The Queen scowled when the spy came in. "First, take that pair of underpants off your head at once. Then give me your report and get out of here."
"Your Majesty, she...she referred to Grand Duke Lariton as her father and kissed him on both cheeks. And it was the Grand Duke who got her to ask that his former realm be restored to him." The spy faltered at the sight of the Queen's angry red face.
The Queen strode outside. "Guards, guards, arrest Duke Lariton at once and have him chained up in the torture chamber on a charge of High Treason. And tell my daughter that I want to see her right now."
When Amber arrived the Queen gave her a cold smile. "You're not my daughter. You may look like her, and you may have put on a clever act, but you are not her. Take off your bracelets."
Amber shuddered and did what she was told.A scab from a scratched bite came off and the Queen saw this. "My daughter was not a bite scratcher, but people can change." She smiled. "Do you remember that coup attempt seven years ago when a faction in the Palace Guards tried to kill us both?"
Amber nodded. "Seize her," snapped the Queen. "There was no coup attempt.My guards know the fate of traitors. Take those royal jewels away to my daughter's bedroom as she has no right to wear them. Take Amber to the torture chamber. I want to know where my real daughter is being held captive and who else is involved in this plot."
The guards frogmarched Amber to the iron door of the torture chamber and she saw her father chained up inside. It was not long before she was chained up next to him. The Queen spoke quietly. "I made you a Grand Duke, Lariton.I spared your country when I could have destroyed it. And how do you repay me? By kiddnapping my daughter and putting your own in her place. You will tell me who else was involved in this plot,and you will tell me where my real daughter is, or I will have Amber blinded." And she picked up a poker from a rack of torture tools.
Amber let out a scream. "Please don't hurt my father, and I promise that I'll be the best daughter of yours ever, I'll play the part to perfection, I'll..."
"Gag her," snapped the Queen, and a nearby torturer thrust a strip of cloth into Amber's mouth and tied it tightly, shutting off her protests. The Queen strode up to Grand Duke Lariton. "Tell me the truth and your daughter will not be executed for High Treason. All of it."
"It's the Chancellor's fault, your Majesty. When your daughter was plucked dead from the moat, he got me to agree that my daughter should take her place, for your sake, and in the hope that she could persuade you to let my kingdom go. Punish me if you must, but let my daughter live. She meant no harm."
"You lie. You took my daughter. Where is she?"
"In her royal tomb. Dead, but by her own hand."
The Queen thrust the poker that she held with all her might into Lariton's chest and watched him choke on his own blood until he died. She turned to Amber, who was sobbing and trying to scream through her gag. "Worthless wretch. I keep my promises, you will not be executed, but that does not mean that you will not die for your crime. You will be buried alive with your father outside the capital. Guards, take the body down and take Amber away. And I want the Chancellor arrested, stripped of his seal of office and his fine clothes, and placed in chains within this room until I decide if he should die or merely be locked up at my pleasure. Grand Duke Monter can be the new Chancellor. Another thing. I want my daughter found within two weeks or there will be a purge of my administration." And she strode out of the room.
Amber was dragged away with the body of her father, which was thrown into a large wooden coffin. The guards said nothing to her until they had left the city of Vallermoore. One of them took her gag out and held his finger to his lips. "I used to serve in your father's army. So did my friend here. We hate the Queen for what she has done so we'll set you free. If you can make it back to Vandersil, it may be that you could raise an army against the Queen and come back to take your revenge. If you do, remember that we set you free, and had no part in your father's murder."
The other guard undid her bonds and massaged her wrists and ankles. He gave her a small flask of water, a dagger and a small bag of coins. Amber forced herself to smile and kissed the body of her father on the forehead. "I will return Father, and avenge you, I promise." And she set off towards her home city.
The Council had gathered together. "What shall we do?," asked Chancellor Montor. "The Princess is dead but we can't tell the Queen that, and if we attempt to put someone else in her place and she finds out, we shall all die and the entire Court could be at risk."
The President of Trade spoke up next. "We will make sure that she does not find out. I know of a woman who could turn even a farmer's daughter into a Princess. Dracia Elden is her name. We will use the guards who police the city to bring in non-noble girls for training."
"But what if one of the girls does not play her role right?," asked the Chancellor.
"Then she must die as a warning to the others."
Chancellor Montor had a special squad of guards formed up and spoke to them in the Council Chamber. "You are to be known as the Princess Escort to impose the new Princess Draft. Your job is to search the city and the farms outside it and bring me three girls who look rather like Princess Chrysta used to. I don't want beggars, but I don't want daughters of the nobility either. I'm looking for the daughters of farmers, merchants, shopkeepers, teachers and so on...those who occupy the gap between nobility and pauperdom. I want them brought in with the minimum of force, they are no use if injured. And this is a secret operation, if people find out we'll have half the girls fleeing the city. Also the right aged girl is important. Do your duty."
A servant came into the Grand Council Chamber and bowed. "Lady Eldren is here."
Dracia Eldren was a very sharp featured woman. Her long greying hair was pulled back into a severe coif. Narrowed black eyes studied the potential Princess stand-ins. Darcia was well schooled in the ways of etiquette. She was a seasoned Mistress. Her name was well known about the different Kingdoms/Queendoms. She was the woman you contacted when you wanted your daughter to become the well cultured and well taught pillar of nobility. She was the woman who schooled young princesses on the fine art of being noble. Dracia was as strict as they come. Years of practice allowed her to use a switch upon her subject without leaving any marks. Only a sharp stinging pain as a reminder of their failures.
She lived for her work. If you wanted to infiltrate a kingdom with a doppelganger...you needed the help of a professional. One who knew all the ends and outs of Princess behaviour.
"I came as fast as I could, Lord Chancellor, as soon as I received your sealed letter. I know you will be paying me well but I will be worth every penny."
In the evening the guards returned with three green eyed brunettes. One girl wore the apron of her father's inkeeping trade, the other two were farmer's daughters. They were taken to a wing of the castle that was far from the Queen. The Chancellor smiled nervously. "You
are to strip, you can do it in private, and dress in clothing that is far more fitting of your new status in life."The bewildered girls exchanged their clothing for the clothes which Princess Chrysta had worn in life. Silken robes, and jewels that they could never hope to wear in their normal lives.
Darcia fingered the switch at her side as she studied these potentials. These potentials were of poor condition. Some of them were farmer's daughters. Pathetic. She had her work cut out for her. At all times there would need to be at least three princess replacements in training. They would have to learn together. Eat together and train together. Every movement would have to be perfect. And she only tolerated perfection.
When she spoke it was in a cut-glass accent. "I am Lady Dracia Eldren, your Princess Trainer. You may already have heard the rumours of what has happened to Princess Chrysta. She has died, and your only purpose in life is to take her place. And my job is to turn you into perfect princesses. I teach the daughters of the nobility how to behave. I can see I will have my work cut out. When I've finished with you the Princess shall live again through you."
A girl nervously scratched at a bit of dry skin and Lady Eldren drew the switch and in one fluid movement smacked it across the girl's knuckles. "No scratching! It's not ladylike to scratch, no matter how much it itches. Guards, show her and the others what happens if I catch any scratching taking place." The guards forced the girl's arms behind her into a leather arm sheath and placed fingerless mittens on her hands. She started to swear at them and a cloth was stuffed into her mouth and tied tightly.
"There will be no swearing, no scratching and no attempts to escape. My job is to teach you how to survive-because once you are introduced to the Queen, if you make one false move or say one wrong word, you will be killed. Hold your backs straight, all of you. Stop slouching. Today and tomorrow you will be taught the basics. Basic posture and speech. On day three and after that it gets more interesting, as you will be taught all the little things about the Princess, such as what political ideas she held and how to express them. In two weeks from now one of you will be summoned to the Queen's side. Your names no longer have meaning. From now on you are Chrysta One, Chrysta Two and Chrysta Three. Any attempt to resist will be severely punished."
Over the next two weeks Lady Eldren, with several trusted guards beside her, taught the girls how to be Princesses well enough, she hoped, to fool the Queen. Often the girls felt the painful blows of her switch on their hands and bodies. More then once they found themselves bound and tightly gagged as a punishment for some small failing-for scratching an itch, speaking their own names, or crying. And slowly under Lady Eldren's intense training they began to act like girls of the nobility.
All of this was done in a secret Princess Training School that was in a part of the castle that was far away from the Queen. The beds were the kind that a princess would sleep in and the food was very good but the constant training, and the beating with Lady Eldren's switch and the other punishments for failure that sometimes went along with it, was hellish.
At last Lady Eldren smiled at them.
"Chrysta One, you will be the first to take on the identity of Princess Chrysta. You may say goodbye to the other girls."
Before being forced to take on the role, Chrysta One had been Amy, a farmer's daughter. Now she kissed the other girls goodbye and was escorted, walking straight backed all the while, to the Queen. Chancellor Montor bowed and said, "Your Majesty, we found your daughter was being held secretly as a prisoner within the castle itself, by the followers of Grand Duke Lariton. I present to you, Princess Chrysta."
The Queen grabbed Amy, hugged her and planted warm kisses on her cheeks and forehead. Amy forced herself to leave the kisses alone as she had been taught, and smiled at the Queen. "Yocasta, I'm so pleased to be back with you again."
Over the next few days Amy began to let herself go in little ways when she thought nobody was watching her. She let herself slump in her chair. If she got an itch, she scratched it, and she began to keep a secret diary in which she said, amongst other things, how much she longed to be back at home with her family. Unknown to her, it was secretly being read by members of the Court who decided that she was about to reveal her true identity and so she had to die.
One night when she got into her bed, her guards were ordered away from their posts to report to the Chancellor on how well they were doing, and other guards with knives entered her room as she lay sleeping and quietly killed her with a few swift knife thrusts. The sheets were changed and the body was wrapped in them and taken to the Princess Training School where it was shown to the other Potential Princesses who were roused from their beds to see it.
"This girl thought she could be herself and paid the price. She went against my teaching. That is what happens to those who disobey. Guards, escort Chrysta Two up to her bedroom. And cremate the body in the Royal Oven. Pour the ashes into the River Nine. Find me two new girls. Chrysta Two, if you fail me, this will be your fate."
The guards dragged the body of Amy to the Royal Ovens. "Oi! What do you think you're doing? You can't burn dead bodies here or we'll all end up with disease, from the lowest gong-scourer to the Queen herself." It was the Chief Royal Cook who spoke, his hands on his hips, ignoring the fact that the guards were armed. "Throw the body into some unused dungeon cell instead." The guards looked at each other and then decided to do what he said. Having served for fifty years in the Royal Kitchen, progressing through the ranks from spit-boy to dogsbody to waiter to cook to Chief Royal Cook, he knew what he was talking about. This was his environment and the guards knew that they were outsiders within it. They scuttled out and dumped the body in the deepest darkest dungeon cell that they could find.
Before she was abducted and placed in Princess Training, Chrysta Two had been a farmer's daughter named Emma. She was shaking as they escorted her to her royal bed. "Don't worry Amy, I will avenge you," she whispered to herself. The next day she acted for several hours as she was expected to do, and then said aloud to the Queen "Mother, Dracia Eldren is plotting against you."
Queen Yocasta laughed out loud. "You do like playing the jester, don't you? Lady Eldren would never be a threat. Many people might be, but not her."
"But Mother..." Emma halted. If she explained what was going on and the Queen believed her, then she might be executed for taking part in High Treason, even though she had been forced to do it.
"No buts, I won't hear any more about the matter," said the Queen. "Lady Eldren, I'Â¢m sorry about my daughter. Chrysta, one more word about the subject and I'll send you to your bedroom." Emma saw the look in Lady Eldren's eyes and thought back to the agonised face of Amy after she had been stabbed to death. She decided to stay with the Queen, as nobody would dare to lay a finger on her whilst Queen Yocasta watched. For several hours she stayed with the Queen, knowing that the knives were literally out for her, and playing her role to perfection, even taking a perverse pride in it, knowing that the Queen loved her.
At last the Queen said to her, "The Foreign Minister of Karnivahl is coming to speak with me about a delicate matter of trade, and you can't come with me. I don't want to have to get into a war because you said the wrong thing at the wrong time. So run along now."
"Please let me come, I want to gain experience so that I can be more use to you."
Queen Yocasta shook her head. "No. I'll tell you all about it later, when I come back."
*When she comes back,* thought Emma *I'll be dead and my body will be rotting somewhere. And poor Olga who never did anything seriously wrong will be in my place. And the worst thing is that I was just beginning to love Yocasta-she loves me with a deep motherly love. *
She said "Mother, could you kiss me goodbye?"
The Queen planted a big warm kiss upon her forehead and left the room. Emma stared around expecting to feel a dagger blow at any moment, but none came. The hours passed and she began to relax. Then it was time for her to go to bed. She said to the guards outside her bedroom door Whatever happens, stay at your posts, even if the Lord Chancellor himself should call you away. I will see that you are rewarded well, I promise you."
It was not long before the Lord Chancellor was speaking with some very irate knife-wielding guards from the Princess Training School.
"Why are the guards still on duty? You said you'd call them away."
"They said that the Princess had ordered them not to move from their posts. You'll have to get crossbows and kill them as well. I will report them as deserters. Desertion happens occasionally despite the heavy penalties for it. You will be assigned to guard the Princess from now on."
The killers walked up to the guards who thought nothing of it as these were Guardsmen like themselves, and shot them at point blank range with crossbows that were meant for penetrating the armour of mounted knights. The chainmail armour of the guards had no chance against the arrows and the killers grabbed the dead bodies before they had time to hit the ground. For an hour they stood on guard duty and then crept in and stabbed Emma through the throat and heart. The three bodies were carried to the Princess Training School and laid in front of Olga, the next Princess to be.
"This girl dared to say that I was plotting against the Queen. Her guards have been replaced with more...trusted figures. Never think that you are not being watched, my dear. Every step you take, every move you make, every word you say, is known about by my spies. So you will play your part to perfection or you will die. Put all thoughts of your former life as Olga out of your head. Your sole reason for living now is to be Princess Chrysta and to keep the Queen happy. Get busy acting, or get busy dying."
As soon as she was out of sight of Queen Yocasta' s castle, Amber took a long look at the map which the guards had given her. "Let's see.I can take a route through the Barrow Downs and down to Karnivahl and...no. I don't have anywhere near enough money, so a sea trip it will have to be." She walked slowly, as if there was nothing to fear, out of sight of Queen Yocasta's castle, expecting every minute that a squad of guards would come chasing after her, but nobody came. She set off to the seaport town of Pier Point on foot, and walked all day, spending the night in one of the many inns along the route.
It was evening when she reached Pier Point, and the sea glowed a deep red in the light of the setting sun. She passed numerous fishing craft, coming into shore or heading out to sea. A great war-galley was anchored on the quay but she ignored it. She passed ship after ship until she reached a large three-master with the name Naiad on it's brass name-plate. The Captain was a red haired man who stood on the quarterdeck wearing a blue frock-coat with brass buttons and she decided to hail him.
"Captain, where are you bound?"
"The city of Vandersil, but why are you interested, young lady?"
"I want to sail with you. I have friends there who are waiting for me."
"And how will you pay for your passage?"
She had managed to hide a bracelet in a secret pocket within her dress before the guards had taken the rest of the royal jewels from her and dragged her off to the Queen's torture chamber. It was pure gold and was inlaid with rubies that sparkled in the dying rays of the sun. "I can pay with this, Captain. I am of noble birth." The Captain looked her up and down for a long time and stared at her dress of red silk.
"I believe you. Come aboard, we sail in an hour. I am Captain Benning. I don't normally carry passengers but one of my crew was jailed for a month after drinking too much and getting involved in a tavern brawl, so you can sleep in his cabin. What's your name?"
"My name is Amber, Captain."
"Amber. That's a nice name for a nice girl. Don't just stand there, get aboard!"
Amber scampered up the gangplank, handed the bracelet to the Captain, and a seaman grinned at her and showed her the way to her cabin whilst the Captain bellowed out orders to the rest of the crew. The air was full of noise-the clanking of the capstan as the crew raised the anchor, the flapping of the sails in the wind, and the creaking of the ship's timbers as it headed out to sea. Amber came out on deck to gaze at the port of Pier Point as it shrank into the distance. "Ah, you again," said Captain Benning and grinned at her with a mouthful of yellow teeth. "We'll sail down past Tiptoe Point and it's lighthouse and then anchor for the night. Then we'll sail on and into Heel Bay and Heel Point and on into the Valermoore Channel, and after another night at anchor we'll sail across to Vandersil. I want you to eat at my table tonight."
"Thank you, Captain."
When Amber appeared for her meal the Captain was no longer grinning. "Amber, I want to know who you really are. Noble girls of your age do not normally make long sea journeys on their own, without their family and without even a single bodyguard. I think you're on the run. Who from?"
Amber stared at the Captain and his crew, who glared back at her, so that not a single friendly face was to be seen.
"I'm escaping a forced marriage."
"Amber, you lied to me. I brought an amulet once from one of the ports in Karnivahl and it tells me when somebody lies, by cooling down. It cost a lot but it's worth it. Tell me the truth."
"I fled Valermoore after the Queen murdered my father and ordered my execution. I am Princess Amber and I will pay you well once you deliver me safely to Vandersil."
"Grab her, gag her and tie her to the mast. No wounding and nobody is to rape her. Virgin princesses, if indeed you are a virgin, will fetch a lot of money amongst the tribesmen of the Nomansland, money that can be shared amongst all of us. You can kiss her, you can grope her, but anyone who goes too far and goes all the way will be thrown overboard."
Amber found herself dragged roughly across the deck and tied to the mast, her screams cut off by a piece of salty sailcloth that was stuffed into her mouth and tied with twine. Then the crew gathered around her and kissed her on her forehead, her eyes, her cheeks and neck, and she was helpless to wipe away any of the kisses. Hands squeezed her breasts and felt between her legs, ignoring her muffled screams and nasty looks.
The Swiftbolt was a ship well named. Captain Joshua Tibbs, at least, said that no ship had ever outrun her. And his crew had to admit that had been their experience, as well. In fact, the run-down vessel they were chasing now would be easy prey.
"Captain, are you sure this one's worth it? I mean, look at it. It's kind of pathetic."
The captain, who was a very short man (standing a full head lower than his shortest crewmember), smiled up at his navigator. "Jenya, lass, all ships are worth it. Word will spread, if nothing else."
Jenya suddenly grinned back and nodded. They were catching up. The captain and the mate were bellowing orders, preparing for boarding.
The other vessel tried to run, but they didn't even make it a chase. Grapples were thrown over, and pirates swarmed aboard. Jenya stayed away from the fighting, and made for the captain's quarters. She wanted his maps, and anything else of value in there. Behind her, she heard Handsome Jack laughing in his crazy manner as three sailors tried to rush him. She grinned; they'd have better luck taking Big Gus than Jack. He was a skinny man, but was like a demon once he got his sword unsheathed. She found the cabin with a minimum of incident, only being forced to shoot a sailor once. And by the time she had removed everything of value from the cabin, her crewmates had subdued the crew. Big Gus and Kajah were standing guard, and between the two, massed about the same as the sailors.
As Jenya carried her loot to the Swiftbolt, she caught sight of the main mast and frowned. A girl was tied to it, looking terrified. Setting her spoils down, Jenya went over to the sailors. "Which one of ya fools is the captain of this bucket?" The hands eagerly pointed him out, and he strenuously objected. "You'll want to be telling me why that poor girl is tied up like that?" He stammered some nonsense, tripping over his stories. Jenya sighed. "Hey, Gus. Squeeze this guy a little for me."
Big Gus smiled in his goofy way. "Okay, Ja." He picked the captain up easily, and applied a little pressure. The captain squealed."Now, tell me the truth, or I'll let Gus pop your head off." She was serious; it was messy, but effective. "We were going to pick up some extra money. She'd fetch a fine price in Collus."
Jenya swore impressively. In addition to a sailor's vocabulary, she'd also picked up a few other languages. Even Kajah looked a little stunned. "Slavers. I hate slavers. Gus, kindly take him to the railing and see how many times you can make him skip."
Big Gus nodded, and wound up for the throw. Gus was huge and very strong; when he hurled the captain overboard, the runt flew at least thirty meters before he touched water. Jenya counted; seven skips, a new record. "That was very good Gus. Better than ever before." He smiled happily, and then Jenya sent him back over to guard the rest of the sailors, who had gotten very quiet.
"Marcus, come gimme a hand here." Marcus, the first mate, wandered over. "Help me cut her loose."
"So we can take her over to the Swiftbolt."
He raised an eyebrow. "The Captain said that we ain't supposed to be taking prisoners."
"I'll talk to him. But she ain't staying here." He shrugged, and pulled a knife to start cutting the ropes. Jenya pulled out her own, and moved to cut off the gag. The girl twitched fearfully. "Oh, stop it. If we were going to kill you, we'd have done it already. We wouldn't be wasting time cutting you loose." She settled down a little, and Jenya neatly sliced through the gag.
"Who...who are you people?"
"Pirates. I should think that would be obvious."
"Why are you helping me?"
"Well, partly because I take issue with slavery. Partly because you look to be of high birth, and maybe someone would be wanting you back enough to make it worth it."
The girl scowled, but said nothing. Just then, Marcus got the last of the ropes cut, and the girl nearly collapsed. "How long have you been tied up there?"
"Two days, I think."
Jenya shook her head. "She's gonna have to be carried. No way she can walk."
Marcus picked her up. "And what, exactly, do I tell the Captain?"
"Tell him I've got an idea that should net us a pretty price. I'll explain it to him."
Captain Tibbs looked at the girl doubtfully. She was sitting on the deck of the Swiftbolt, shivering. "What exactly you have in mind, lass?"
"Well, we found her, didn't we? Seems like we should be entitled to a finder's fee."
The Captain grinned. "We should at that. Yer a good girl, Jenya."
Jenya sat down next to the girl. "So you want to be telling us who you are, and where you're from?"
"My name is Amber. I'm from Vandersil. Please, I can get you money if you take me there."
"That is the general idea. You got any family, girl, that'll want you back?"
She was silent.
"Girl, you may as well accept the fact that we're
holding you for ransom. All things considered, you're still better off with us than your previous hosts." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "At least we're sending you home."
Amber sighed, then gave a name.
Jenya started. "Are you telling the truth, girl?"
"Yes. What good would it do me to lie?"
Jenya stared at her for a minute, then jumped up and let out a whoop. "All ships are worth it! Cap'n, you've gotta be a prophet or something."
He frowned. "Jenya, lass, I'm glad you're thrilled, but ye mind letting us in on the secret?"
"We're a shipload of rich bastards, that's what the secret is! This girl's gorramn royalty!"
General riot ensued as the pirates cheered raucously. The Captain got a grip on himself and shouted, "Awright, ye over-loud sons of sea-dogs! Shaddup! Set a course for Vandersil Harbor! Someone take Her Highness down and lock her in the hold."
Jenya frowned again "Cap'n, with all due respect, I think locking her in my cabin is a better idea."
"This girl just spent two days tied to a mast. We don't want her family pissed at us. Besides, you know what we keep down there. And you also know that it would be nigh impossible to keep the hands out of the hold."
He considered for a minute. "Right you are, girl. We'll put her in your cabin. You can keep an eye on her."
Amber stayed locked in Jenya's cabin all day. There was nothing in it that would be useful, but there were books and things to keep her occupied. She was reading one when Jenya unlocked the door come nightfall.
"Here. Thought you might be hungry." - She handed Amber some food she had snagged earlier.
"Thank you." - And she proceeded to tear into it ravenously. When she paused for breath, she looked at Jenya. "Why did you ask that they lock me in here, instead of the hold?"
"Well, for starters, that's where we keep the powder and supplies, and it would just be a bad idea. Secondly, like I said, it would be near impossible to keep the hands out of there, and I think you'd be just as content to avoid the possible implications of that." - Jenya picked up a book. "Besides, I'm a pirate, and a damn good one, but that doesn't mean I'm a total bitch."
They were making good time to Vandersil.
Jenya was poring over her new charts, adding the information to her own, when she saw a flash of red. She looked up, and sighed. Amber was running down the deck, holding what appeared to be Handsome Jack's sword. Jenya stifled her irritation; Marcus knew better than to put him on guard duty for a pretty girl. It looked like Amber was heading for the longboats.
"Jenya, can I borrow your cutlass for a minute?" - Handsome Jack was heading the same direction, looking terribly embarrassed.
"This wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that our guest is apparently brandishing yours in a threatening manner at Kajah and Bill, would it?" - "Maybe." She handed him her sword. "Jack, I feel compelled to once again remind you that despite what the pretty captive says, she does not, in fact, want to sleep with you." -"You keep telling me that, but sooner or later I'll get lucky."
"Or you'll get dead. Don't hurt her; we don't want to be giving her family damaged goods.
"Hurt her? Ye gods, woman! Then I would have no chance at all!"
As he sped down the deck, she yelled after him, "You don't have any chance anyway!"
Jenya followed him and yelled at the girl. "You have three choices. You can fight until we kill you, or you might be lucky and get taken alive, in which case we'll tie you up again even tighter then your captors did, or you can surrender NOW and promise to be good, and we won't tie you up. Which is it to be?"
Amber shrugged and let the sword fall to the deck. "I keep my promises," said Jenya. "Men. Keep a close watch on her in case she tries something stupid."
The days went by and Amber made no further attempts to cause trouble or to try and escape. She became friendly with her captors, singing to them in the evening, telling them jokes and stories and keeping them amused. And they trusted her and let her walk around the ship. At last they reached the port of Vandersil, the City of Bronze, famed for it's riches, a place where even the poor were fed.Normally the sun would be gleaming off the streets of polished bronze and the great golden copulas and domes of the temples, state buildings, and the homes of the rich.
Instead, the gold and the bronze had been peeled away.The roads of which the citizens had been so proud were reduced to muddy tracks and the buildings, stripped of their treasures which made them look so good, were now no longer waterproof and were dirty and decaying. Where once there were great crowds buying and selling, haggling and hurrying, now there were a few sad-faced people dressed in little more then rags. And there were patrols of soldiers from Vallermoore, well armed and arrogant, who pushed anyone who got in their way into the gutter. Where once the blue flag of Vandersil with it's silver cross fluttered in the breeze, there flew the red flag of Valermoore with it's golden crossed sceptres.
Before entering the harbour the pirates raised the Valermoore flag and a few positioned themselves next to Amber in case she tried to betray them, but she just put her head in her hands and wept at the state into which her country had fallen. A skinny old man, dressed in the remains of what had been fine clothes once recognised her and came halfway up the gangplank where Amber, Jenya and two pirates met him.
"Princess Amber? Is it really you?" His voice was croaky now.
"Mayor Auric! What have they done to you?"
"They threw me out of office and put their own man into my job and my house. They treat us like dirt. They tear up the roads, strip the roofs from the houses so they rot, steal all the star stones and the other jewels, feast whilst we go hungry, and bully us. The people hate them with a passion. There is a secret army, the Home Army, that has been waiting for your return, many in the police are on your side, and the people are ready to join any revolt which has a good chance of success. All we need to do is get organized, and grab the Horn of Vandersil from those who have taken it. Where is your father?"
"They killed him in front of me." And Amber started to cry again. When she could control her sobbing and had wiped her eyes she turned to Jenya. "Help me retake what is mine, and I promise you and your men will recieve a starstone and eighty golden ducats apiece, as well as a pardon for any crimes you may have committed. I promise this upon my honour and on the soul of my father."
"We'll have to put it to a vote," said Jenya. "Come aboard, Mayor Auric."
The people gathered around the tower and cheered until their throats were hoarse, and freed their friends and relatives who had been locked up earlier for opposing the occupation. Only seven of the pirates had been killed during the fight. Amber said to the citizens "Members of the Home Army, members of the Vandersil Police, citizens, I declare today a national holiday. We will bury our dead and then we must strike Valermoore quickly.
I hate war. It's horrible. It kills people who mostly do not deserve to die. If we do nothing the Queen will hear of this uprising, and gather her full army and invade. If we lose we shall all be slaughtered, and even if we win, it will only be after a long hard war. The only way to avoid that is to invade now before she knows what has happened. Then we can repair our damaged city and live in peace."
For three days the dead were buried whilst the weapons were gathered together and ploughshares were beaten into swords. Amber was careful not to introduce conscription.The army that formed was badly trained but was a volunteer one, and they sailed across to Valermoore in fishing boats, trading ships, rafts and the five war-galleys that Vandersil possessed. As quickly as possible they diembarked and began marching on the Queen's capital.
Queen Yocasta knew what was going on.At least, a part of her did.A part of her remembered the death of her daughter and knew that the girls presented to her every day were fake princesses. So she and a small group of trusted bodyguards, who had saved her life more then once as she was not a popular Queen and many wanted her dead, went to the marble Hall of the Dead where the dead Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses were buried in tombs of green marble. When she reached the tomb of
Princess Chrysta she said to the guards "Open it, I want to be with my real daughter again."
The guards looked at each other. Opening a royal tomb was technicly an offence that could get a person buried alive, but the penalty for disobeying a royal order was even worse,and besides, the Queen wanted them to open the tomb. So they pulled on the lid of the sarcoughagus until it grated open and a foul smell rose into the air. The Queen pulled out her daughter's embalmed body and kissed her cold, dry, dead forehead. "Chrysta, you've been asleep for so long that you were buried alive by mistake."
The once beautiful eyes of the princess were now clouded over in death and her veins were outlined in blue and green, the first signs of internal decay.
"We have to get you out of those horrible black funeral clothes that you were dressed in," said the Queen.
As soon as Amber's fleet of little boats had reached the coast of Valermoore, she had got her army marching as quickly as possible. If they dithered, at worst the Queen would concentrate her forces and wipe them out.At best there would be a long, drawn out civil war full of murders and rapes and all kinds of horrible things. Amber didn't want that. She wanted to get as close to the Queen as she could before she found out, fight one battle and win it, and then sort things out quickly without any further bloodshed.
With only one day of rest, to cut down trees to make long sharp pikes, Amber's army closed in on the capital. They were tired and their feet ached but their morale was high.Rather then fighting with them, the patrols who policed the towns had retreated or even come over to their side. Amber had given strict instructions only to fight in self defence or if a major battle happened, and not to loot or destroy houses.Of course there were a few embittered people who had disobeyed Amber's orders. Two had been hanged as a warning to the others, one because he committed a rape, and the other for murdering a civilian, and the rest had been flogged publicly for lesser crimes.
Princess Amber had dressed in her full royal regalia at the gallows, a jeweled sword at her side, a golden orb in one hand and a silver sceptre in the other. "You may be wondering why these men have to hang.One murdered an unarmed man and the other raped a fifteen year old girl. Crimes like these will turn the population against us and drive them into Queen Yocasta's arms. I have no stomach for a long hard war. War slays the innocent,causes a lot of harm and grief,and can bankrupt entire countries.I don't want to rule Vallermoore, I just want to end the threat Queen Yocasta is to us all and to the entire region, and go home to rule my own country." She signaled to the hangman and he pulled the lever, and the two criminals hung lifeless on the end of their ropes.
Queen Yocasta sat at the table in her hall with her decaying daughter by her side. Nobody dared to look her directly in the eyes as she chatted to the real Princess Chrysta. "I'm dreadfully sorry that you ended up buried alive by mistake. Tomorrow I'll take you to meet the ambassador from Karnivahl..."
Outside it's tomb, in the warmer air of the rest of the palace, the body had begun to stink even more.The embalming had never been intended to stop the body from rotting, only as a stopgap so that the body could be viewed for a couple of days. Now maggots squirmed around within it and inside the eye sockets, chewing up the eyeballs, and the flesh had turned blue-green.
A messenger rushed in and bowed, kissing the Queen's hand as was the custom. "Kiss my daughter's hand as well," said the Queen. He grimaced and did what he was told, and then, fighting down the urge to retch, he announced "Vandersil has fallen to the traitor Amber, and Amber's army is just half a day's march away from the capital."
The Queen's mouth dropped open and she pulled herself to her feet in shock. "I want every soldier in the capital to present himself in the main square. We march tomorrow. I was never one to shirk a fight.We will destroy them and then Vandersil for this outrage."
We'll break right through Yocasta's line, hurrah,hurrah
We'll break right through Yocasta's line, hurrah,hurrah
We'll break right through Yocasta's line
We'll f**k the women and drink the wine
And we'll all do well when Amber comes marching home.
"I'm worried," she said. "It's true that a few small garrisons have joined our side, but sooner or later we'll be in a fight with the Queen's main army. The infantry of Yocasta are conscripts, but her heavy horse are volunteers and if we don't find a way to stop them they'll ride us down."
"Booby traps," said Mayor Auric. "Plugged wasp nests make good grenades.
Pit traps. Wooden spikes. Arrows. A trip rope twenty feet from our line. Dogs to scare horses, we have plenty of them, and everything we can throw. We can't stop their charge, but if we can blunt it enough we can take it. Then we charge before they can regroup,with our best troops on the flanks.As our centre gives ground, so our flanks will envelop them."
That evening the two great armies faced each other, but although both set plenty of sentries, neither was prepared for a night attack. Instead Queen Amber and Queen Yocasta both gave final speeches to those who would be risking their lives for them the next day.
"Why are we here?," asked Amber. "We are here because Queen Yocasta has occupied and looted our city, has kiddnapped people's daughters at random,and has become a greedy grasping bad ruler. If we lose the battle tomorrow she will have no mercy on us, you can be sure of that. If we win we can rebuild our lives and live them the way we want to."
Queen Yocasta, with the greenish body of her daughter propped up by her side, said to her army "Tomorrow we fight to deal with that traitor Amber. Sleep well, tomorrow we fight."
The next day she stood staring at Amber's army. "Chancellor Montor, send out the heavy horse."
"With respect, your Majesty, would it not be better to scout first...?"
"When I want your advice I'll ask for it. Send out the heavy horse,NOW!"
The Chancellor, who was wearing a full suit of plate armour, raised a trumpet to his mouth and blew three short sharp blasts and out rode the elete Vallamorian Heavy Horsemen in their red armour, their lances raised. They trotted, cantered, galloped, and ran straight into Amber's traps.
During the night a cable from the Swiftbolt had been streched over a part of the battlefield and Amber's men pulled it tight, causing the nearest horses to trip and throw their riders. Other horses tripped and fell over the fallen.
Sections of the line revealed long sharp spears that no horse would charge, dogs, that barked and scared the horses,or hurled wasp grenades...plugged wasp nests that stung the horses and made them throw their riders. Other horses fell down pits or trenches that had been quietly dug the night before and covered up. Where horsemen did break the line it opened to let them in, then closed so that they could be plucked from the saddle.And all the time people shot crossbow bolts at horses or threw stones at them.
When the charge collasped into confusion, Amber signaled the charge, and the two lines hacked and slashed and stabbed away at each other.In the centre Amber's army was weak and giving ground. On the flanks Yocasta's conscripts were faceing pirates, policemen and long-term Home Army men with the best weapons that Amber's army had.As Amber's center bent, the flanks enveloped Yocasta's army and forced it into a confused mass.On Amber's orders a gap was opened and those who wanted to flee could do. When a rainstorm started, Yocasta's infantry, many of which didn't really want to fight for her and were now soaked,started to flee in large numbers and Queen Yocasta retreated inside her city.
Amber rode as close to the walls as she dared. "People of Vallermoore, I know what's been happening to your daughters. I know Yocasta is not popular. If any of you really hate her guts, now is the time to get even."
At one of the gates a couple of gate guards, one of which had lost his daughter to the Princess Draft, and another who had seen his brother executed for desertion, took matters into their own hands and opened one of the smaller gates, allowing Amber's people inside.
The Queen turned to her Chancellor. "It's not too late for us to flee and gather a new army to complete the fight. I have many soldiers on garrison duty who were not involved in the battle." She turned to Princess Chysta's dead body and kissed it's dry cheek. "Don't worry, I won't let your birthright be stolen."
At that moment Chancellor Montor did what a lot of people had wanted to do at all levels of society for a very long time. He drew his sword and stabbed the Queen through the heart. "Raise the white flag!" he shouted. "I'm sure fair terms can be arranged."
It took a while to get things sorted out and for Amber's order to stop attacking to be transferred down through the ranks of her army. Whilst the soldiers who used to fight for Queen Yocasta held the Royal Palace, Chancellor Montor and Queen Amber, each with a couple of bodyguards, met in neutral ground outside it.
"I'm willing, for the sake of a quiet life, to give an amnesty to all of your soldiers in exchange for peace, except for those who were involved in that dreadful Princess Training School," said Amber. "The parents must be allowed to look for their daughters. Dracia and..." and here she named six names "must be punished for what they did. Vandersil must be granted it's independence. The other thing is,who is to rule Vallermoore? I was not born here and the rule of an outsider tends to be disliked. I suppose you want to rule, but how can I trust you?"
"How about a compromise?," asked the plump Chancellor. "You rule for five years, with me serving under you, and then you make way for me? We make this public. Of course, Vandersil belongs to you for life."
"Done," said Amber.
That evening the gates of the Royal Palace of Valermoore were thrown open to allow the parents of those daughters who had lost their daughters to the Queen's Princess Draft. They checked the dungeons and soon smelt the stink of rotting flesh coming from a cell. When it was unlocked the cell proved to be full of the decomposing bodies and bones of those who had been taken. The parents began to scream and cry.
As one of Amber's soldiers passed the Chancellor he smelt the smell of women's perfume, so he pulled the soldier's helmet off to reveal the face of Dracia Eldren! "Guards, stop her, she murdered those girls!" Before the guards could interfere the parents of the murdered daughters threw themselves upon her, screaming curses. She managed to draw a sword and chop one of them down before they dragged her to the ground, slipped a rope around her neck and strung her up from the gallows that stood outside the Royal Palace. As they were lynching her she shouted "I'm not the only guilty one here,Chancellor, you're as gulity as me!"
Amber intervened. "I know this man personly and I feel certain that he would not have been involved in this foul plot. I suffered the horrors of the Princess Training School and survived. Now if you want to try and lynch him you'll face the swords of my troops and his guards."
The moment passed. Since they were unarmed the family members backed down. Amber wispered in the Chancellor's ear. "I'm almost certain of your guilt, and the only reason that I let you live, is because I want peace, not anarchy."
For seven days there were funerals and everybody dressed in black. Funerals for the dead daughters, and for the soldiers on both sides who had died in the battle. Amber explained to everyone about the Princess Training School.Queen Yocasta and Princess Chrysta were buried in a single royal tomb together. Three of the Training School guards were captured and hanged publicly,the others escaped and fled into hiding.
On the eighth day Queen Amber was dressed in the scarlet and ermine robes and the diamond and emerald studded crown of Queen Yocasta and swore to rule for a five year term instead of life,with Chancellor Montor standing beside her. She had what she wanted.Independence for Vandersil, her father was avenged, and she had peace.
Comments are welcome, but please don't flame me. I thank ScorpianJinx a lot for helping me with this story and helping to create Dracia Eldren.