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The Next Chapter Is Here! The Queens of Ravenwood Introduces LESBIANS!

By not really popular demand so much as a veiled threat, here is the next chapter of the book I’ve been working on. If you missed Chapter One, go back and read that otherwise this part will not make sense to you.

Chapter Two was pretty easy to write, actually. However, one the second run through I realized that it was HUGE in comparison to the first chapter, so I cut it off at a better place than before. Now, it’s also more focused on the arrival of the fae as opposed to everything that happens that’s now in Chapter Three.

Enjoy!


Chapter 2: Welcoming the Fae  

Arriving at her own estate grounds two days later, Elan was the one holding the reins. She needed to be seen first so the guards would let the carriage in without a fuss. She heard the guards at the towers shout her name to each other, and doors opened in record time. 

Flora was stowed away inside the carriage with Amelia and Larent. Jalek kept her company with a trusty bow and a quiver of arrows, just to be safe. They made good time getting there, no brigands encountered along the roads. The guards were trotting along on either side of them, a little tired but used to such ventures. 

Jalek said to her as they meandered through the gates, “How does it feel to come home?”

“Honestly,” Elan said as she turned the horses towards the stables, “it doesn’t. I’ve been gone a year, and a lot has happened within that year. Perhaps it’s stupid and arrogant of me to say, but the Queen’s castle started to feel like home I…” She sighed, not bothering to finish her thought. 

“Hey, it’s alright.” Jalek put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I know it’s not what you expected. Hell, it’s not what I expected either. Still, at least you’re more than prepared to be a duchess, and it’s not like Flora wouldn’t have you as High Advisor.” 

“I just…” Elan shrugged. “I don’t know how I’m going to get used to this again.”

“Well,” Jalek put an arm around her shoulders and squeezed her, “we’re all here for you, so that’s something.”

Elan couldn’t help but smile. “Yes, I suppose that’s more than enough, really.” 

The stable attendants came up to take the reins from her hands and help her down. Jalek popped down to open the carriage door for the passengers. Flora stepped out first, sprinting straight towards the side entrance with Amelia on her heels. 

“Move!” Flora shouted as she shoved aside a stable hand.  

Elan watched a giggling Larent exit with his hand over his mouth.

“They needed to go for miles, but didn’t want to stop to use bushes again.” He walked over to Jalek. “I say we take what little we brought up to the rooms and freshen up.” 

Elan motioned for a guard to come over. “I’ll have someone send you both clothes. We have more than enough to get you through these next few days.” 

Harlin swung off his horse. He started barking orders as he touched the ground. “Tavin! Get your ass to the staff magician and tell him to get the hot water started. Danival! Help the royal nitwits with their bags. Carl and Vincent!  Get the horses brushed down and fed. Myra and Lilly! Get the shit off the horses and into our rooms.”

Elan giggled a little. She let him take control of his guards. Danival took the bags from her hands with a smile and a shake of his head. “Always yelling, I swear, it’s like he thinks we’re deaf,” Danival grumbled.  

Jaleck turned to Larent. “Freshen up, brother? Are you going to make me look dashing?” Jalek asked with a scrunched up face. “I would rather keep on this attire.” 

Larent glared at his brother. “Heaven forbid you wear something civilized.” 

“Perish the thought.”

“Could the two of you please just help with the bags?” Elan interrupted them. “I have enough fools required for entertainment, I don’t need the two as additions.” 

Jalek rolled his eyes, but didn’t protest anymore. Elan walked with them and the servant as they headed for the main stairs. Larent whistled, making the sound echo off the white stones around him. 

“Stop it,” Elan said, knowing it was useless.

Jalek whistled on behalf of his brother. “Why is your lobby so vast? Most of your estate is this lobby, I swear.”

“It was designed by my great-great grandfather to appear welcoming to all.” Elan said with exasperation. “Just take the bags upstairs!” 

Larent and Jalek made faces and mocked her tone as they did precisely what she asked. Flora and Amelia appeared from the side hall. They ran to catch up with Elan on the stairs. 

“So before everyone arrives,” Amelia said with a sly smile, “could I perhaps be paired with Larent in a room?”

Elan thought hard about it. “I suppose your wedding is close enough that a child conceived would be within an acceptable time.” 

“Oh!” Amelia smacked her on the back. “I will be taking herbs to prevent that for a good year or two, thank you very much.” 

Elan laughed. “It’s fine, Amelia, I see no reason to keep you two apart. My mother might have some words for me, but I think it’s high time we change those stuffy old rules about married only couples.”

“If she makes a ruckus about it,” Flora said with her chin held high, “I’ll make it a royal decree.” 

“Ah ha!” Amelia slapped her hands together. “I knew one day this contender stuff would pay off.”

The ladies all walked up, up, up to the high rooms on the fourth floor. The main stairs forked to two hallways on either side at each level, the left side being for couple’s rooms and the right for singles. Elan’s own room was on the fifth floor where the main stairs stopped. She brought Flora to the best singles room available, Amelia following with them just to chat. 

Elan moved to take the cover sheet off the bed while a servant opened the window. “Apologies, nothing has been prepared. We left so quickly and there was no time to send word.”

“Of course,” Flora said with a nod. “For the best, anyway. Now it can be like old times, just us.”

“Indeed.” Amelia said as she aided a servant with bringing in bags and cleaning supplies. “Besides, it just looks dusty, not dirty.” 

“Mother is always having the place cleaned.” Elan said with a small frown. “I think when I am Duchess I shall definitely change that schedule. She demands far too much cleaning and not enough maintenance work, in my humble opinion.”

Amelia made a face that indicated she would’ve liked to have words with Lady Brienne. “What you mean to say is, she’s awful to all the help.” 

The servants all winced in unison. 

Elan squirmed and said,“Awful is perhaps a bit much-.”

“I’m sure we’ll get it all sorted out quickly enough.” Flora cut in. She walked towards the bathroom and motioned to a servant.“Please do bring up a towel and some tea when you get the chance. I want to feel human again as quickly as possible.” 

Elan and Amelia giggled. Within an hour, the ladies were lounging about in Flora’s room on the bed. Flora and Amelia wore simple loose fitting dresses, the older styles of Lady Brienne’s time (and possibly nicked from Lady Brienne’s old wardrobe). Flora’s was a lighter peach colored with lace sleeves, while Amelia donned a dark green one with longer loose sleeves. Elan settled on a yellow old fashioned sundress from the back of her closet. 

“We all look as if we’re about to have tea in a garden.” Amelia remarked. 

“Not a terrible idea,” Flora said. “But I would rather stay in and relax.”

Elan nodded her head as she yawned. “That ride was too long.”

“Yes, but necessary.” Flora tucked her feet underneath her. “I do wish we could teleport like I’ve heard some fae can? To go from one place to another instantaneously? How extraordinary, and time saving!” 

“My great-great grandmother could supposedly do such a feat.” Elan fiddled with the blanket under her hand. “But her stories always seem a little too unbelievable. I suppose I could ask Ravenna if any of it is true.” 

“I do so wonder what they’re like!” Flora said, holding up her hands to cover her cheeks. “Do you think those stories are true, about, you know, the time they can spend…nightly?” 

Amelia tilted her head back to laugh. “That’s what you’re curious about, Princess Flora?”

“A princess or not, I am curious, although I would never discover first hand.” She wiggled her eyebrows at Amelia. “After all,” she took Elan’s hand in hers, “sometimes it’s best to stick with our own kind, if only for the sake of security.”

Amelia’s smile faltered. “Yes…I suppose there’s some truth to that.”

Elan flicked her eyes between the two, wondering at the odd tension. She also vaguely wanted to know why Flora had become so touchy with her these past few days. 

Flora leaned towards her. “Are you as curious about them as I am?”

Elan shrugged, “I’ve grown up with all sorts of tales, so yes, it would be nice to see the truth from fiction, but they only stay to sign the papers and then go. I don’t think there will be much opportunity for anything else.” 

“Hmm,” Flora squeezed her hand, “I suppose we’ll just have to find other ways to pass the time.” 

Elan looked down at the hand entwined with hers. “I suppose so?” She shot a questioning look to Amelia, who didn’t return it. Instead, her long time friend glared daggers at Flora. She didn’t have a clue what was going on, but she didn’t like it. “Anyway, it’s only a few days off, so I had best get started now, the earlier the better.” 

She slid her hand out of Flora’s grip before she stood up. The tension remained, Elan could feel it stirring around as she left. Whatever happened after she left the room would be for the two of them to sort out. Elan had her own problems. 

~~~

Lady Brienne came in the early morning the next day and set about preparing the rooms with the castle staff, so that was one weight lifted off. However, most of the courtiers arrived the eve of the festival, which made Elan’s tasks all the more difficult to overcome. So much else left to do!

Luckily, she had the Contenders and the Princess herself, and none of them were fools on the importance of the event or the chaos of this last minute increase in guests. Larent was runner for Elan, getting messages to and fro to various places around the estate. Jalek decided to go out with the kitchen staff to hunt in the forests for more deer and other meat. Flora was dealing with the courtiers as they came, entertaining them with her iconic charm. Amelia handled organizing the magicians, who needed guidance on where they were most needed as both staff and security detail. 

The biggest issue to tackle was neither the time crunch nor the flood of people crammed into an ill prepared estate. It was one person: Jaden. The old man wouldn’t accept any of Elan’s input, constantly talked over her, and in general acted like a real ass. The old man had organized many a stately affair within the Northern Province, but no one liked to work with him. 

In the library, Elan spoke with Jadeb about the plans for the Main Hall. He had scribbles of plans in front of him, his old notes from the time Ravenna came to the estate. All of Elan’s suggestions were continually rejected, and the future Dutchess began to lose her patience. 

“Jaden, if we tell the courtiers to avoid the fae, the fae will no doubt be offended. All the records show they are social creatures like us, why would we segregate from them? My mother said she had tea with Ravenna in the sunroom.”

“Against my wishes, I might add!” Jaden said with a huff and picked up an illegible piece of paper. “The woman agreed to the meeting without my approval-.”

“She is the Duchess, Jaden, she never needed your approval.”

“But she was a pregnant woman! She obviously couldn’t think straight. Being around those monstrous things, I can’t imagine what might’ve happened in that room had she done the wrong thing, said an insult, you might’ve never been born. Who knows!” 

“Those fae,” he continued over Elan’s attempted protests, “ are on their side of the world, beyond the gate, and we’re on this side. We’re meant to stay apart. The treaty even states for us to never enter the other’s lands.”

“Without permission given by the other side,” Elan managed to interject. 

Elan sighed, a long breath rushed out between teeth. “Jaden, it’s obvious to me now that you hold some bias against the fae that wasn’t previously brought to my attention. As such, I’m removing you from the party detail.”

“What! But I’ve done these parties for decades, and-.”

“No, enough. I’m done trying to guide your stubbornness into something productive. We’re not segregating the two species, that’s entirely beside the point of these meetings! We’re going to have everyone intermingle. If something goes wrong, we will deal with it in the befitting manner of our stations..”

“You don’t know, child, you’ve never met them. When you do, you’ll understand.” He said as he clattered up and out of his chair. He grabbed up his papers with angry and shaking fists. “I will be discussing this with your mother and the Duke.”

“What you mean to say, sir, is you are going to discuss it with the Duchess and Duke of Altier.” Elan said with more force than was perhaps polite. “But please, do be sure to tell my parents your entire opinion in full. I’m sure they would love to hear it.”

Jaden stomped out of the room. A lad in waiting rolled his eyes as he took Jaden’s place to stand near Elan. Ken was an older fellow, without partner or children. His tastes in clothes were impeccable, and it was a joke around the estate his talents were completely wasted on Duke Nathaniel. 

“I heard everything, Lady Elan,” he said with a slight smile. “I think you did it right, getting rid of him. I can’t stand him, myself.”

“Thanks,” she responded. “But, well, he’s not wrong. I don’t have any idea what the fae are like. Perhaps they are more prone to feel insulted? I don’t know.”

“I was a young lad when the fae came last, and honestly? A lot of things turned out much differently than I thought. Sure, they are a sight to see, but that Raveena and her lot didn’t cause any trouble. They just went through the motions, the ceremony, and signed the papers.”

“Well that sounds…”

Boring, Elan thought. She picked up her own notes, full of even and organized points in shorthand. She read so much on the fae for most of her life. Books upon books, talked with scholars, and even listened to what little she could from people in the estate who were around them. 

“I think we need to change those plans, right now.” Elan gave him a smirk. “From what I understand, the fae love a good party.”

A feast then, and a party! 

Larent came into the room. He squinted his eyes at Ken and then her. “Sooooo, what are we plotting now?” 

Elan giggled. “We’re going to need to get wine from the basement.”

~~~

The Northern Province and Ravenwood held a long, entwined history brought about by centuries of war and then peace and then war again. After the crowning of Ravenna nearly two hundred years ago, the two realms finally struck an accord, and peace reigned between them. Thanks to those two hundred years, the fae kingdom of Ravenwood and the Northern Province shared their resources, and in the end discovered both could give each other “gifts” to keep the balance.

The Fae adored gold, silver, and jewels. For them mining mountains would be tantamount to heresy in their realm, for their mountains held their own fae-kin as well as the sentient trees upon them. The realm of man, however, held no such spirits, and could be mined without fear of such intense repercussions.. 

The human magicians were trained in magic. Humans with hints of magical ability would go to a High Mage for a test. Magicians had their own ways of getting into the fae side that didn’t involve gates. They were a secretive lot, and so integral to most life in Surene. Infrastructure, plumbing, security, so many jobs relied upon the magicians learning new things from the fae. 

On the day of the Summer Solstice, Elan mentally tallied all these details, letting them coalesce inside her mind. She breathed in and out, recalling everything she ever learned about the fae. It would serve her well, she hoped.    

She stood in front of her mirror, staring at her reflection. Her mother ordered her to wear a similar outfit to the one from Flora’s crowning, but this dress was designed with more intricate silver leaves running up and down her arms, trailing all the way down to the edges of the dress at the bottom hem. Elan’s hair was pulled up into an intricate braided top, practically a crown in and of itself. 

A knock at the door startled her. Elan turned, calling out, “Who is it?”

The door opened, revealing Flora. She wore her crown atop her head, as expected. She wore a dress of deep blue, the fabric flowing around her frame. Her long blonde hair wasn’t bound, but instead brushed straight down. 

“Are you ready?” Flora asked as she closed the door behind her. 

“Yes?” Elan sighed. “Maybe.” 

“Breathe, dear.” Flora walked over to her. With a gentle hand, she brushed her fingertips across Elan’s forehead. “It will be a short affair and then it will be done.” 

Elan nodded. “I’m still so shocked by all of this. I am grateful you pushed the courtiers into coming, but, well.” 

“No need to thank me.” Flora’s eyes flickered over Elan’s dress and face. “Your mother did her half compliment and half terse complaint to me already.”

“I’m sorry-.”

Flora put up a hand to stave off the apology. “Again, no need. I know how she is.” Flora glared at the space between them. “If I were Queen, I suspect she wouldn’t dare, but we’re not quite there yet.” Flora tossed her head from side to side. “Anyways, it’s best we go. The delegation is gathering down in the Main Hall. I would like to give Harlin less of a reason to yell expletives at us all.” 

Elan nodded. “I shall follow you.” 

“No, no, please walk with your mother and father in front. Your family sealed this peace treaty long ago. I will not steal your place to receive Queen Ravenna.” Flora shot her a half smile. “Besides, it’ll make your mother incised, and I’m in a mood to make her suffer a little.” 

Elan rolled her eyes and sighed. “Can we not with the petty jobs so early in the day?” 

Flora huffed. “You know I can be worse. Come on, stop stalling, let us depart.” 

~~~ 

The Dukes and Duchesses of the kingdom were all gathered together in a half circle near the Alter Gate. The gate was a winding tree, a magical signpost between the world of human and fae. The branches were stark black, winding upwards as if to pierce the rising sun. The other royals seemed perturbed by the sight, their faces scrunched up and leaning away from the structure. 

Having grown up with the Alter Gate so close to home, Elan touched the Alter Gate a time or two when she was a more daring babe. The tree did nothing to harm her for it, simply sat and waited to be used by the Queen of Ravenwood.  

Lady Brienne and Duke Nathaniel stood to her left and right. Her mother kept glancing behind her to Flora and the entourage of guards surrounding the princess. Duke Nathaniel coughed into his hand to get her attention, and Lady Brienne glared at him. 

“I’m just checking,” Lady Brienne hissed at him.

Elan whispered. “Mother, Flora doesn’t want to disrespect us, so don’t disrespect her.” 

Lady Brienne bit her lip. “But a Duchess shouldn’t be before the Princess.”

Duke Nathaniel grumbled at her. “You know Ravenna doesn’t give two licks about human protocol! Shush!” 

Elan put a hand on her mother’s arm. “Just let it go. It’s done, and-.”

A hollow toll emitted from the tree. White lights streamed up the branches. Little by little, silver leaves and flowers peeked out from it between the winding wood. A light blue flashed across from across the branches. Steadily, the energy formed into a tall, long knife-like structure. 

Elan gasped. Goosebumps popped along her skin, her hair standing on end. The power emitted from the portal was electric, like when a thunderstorm sent a clash of lightning too close for comfort. With a gulp, Elan tried to swallow down her trepidation.  

From out of the light, Queen Ravenna stepped through with a smirk on her lips. She wore nothing like the women of the human world, opting instead for black pants that hugged closely to her curves and a silver shirt that hung low. Her ebony black boots shone in the sunlight, rising up to her knees. A cloak hung about her shoulders, covered in black feathers that swayed with her. Her hair was a frazzled upward mess of feathers, holding up a black and silver crown that looked very similar to the Alter Gate tree.   

Her dark skin was lined with stark white marks down her arms, sigils of power etched into her by ancient mages in the fae realm. When they peeked through the cloak, the marks didn’t stay stagnant, but instead shifted to-and-fro. And of course, Ravenna had a raven’s eyes, so deep that one could get simply lost in them. 

Elan had no idea how long her mouth had been open before she shut it with a clack. Nothing prepared her for the sight of Ravenna, a dark and mysterious force from childhood come to life before her. She thought she understood enough, but one look at Ravenna demanded she reassess. This woman was fierce, confident, and absolutely wild. All the preparation in the world would be useless to understand her. 

The only way to get on Ravenna’s good side would be to get to know her in person. 

Ravenna was followed by a trio of guards. They all wore the same uniform of white cloaks atop their shoulders with black pants. One had leathery red skin, their eyes a bright yellow with slit irises. Strapped to their hip was a pouch, so most likely a mage. Beside them was a black man with leathery wings, on his back, two knives at each side. The two guards stood a good two feet taller than the last guard, a very pale woman with horns coming up and over her head. 

The Duke of the Northern Province began his speech, “Welcome back to the Kingdom of Surene, your excellency! May I be the first to say we appreciate your acceptance of our invitation and look forward to re-establishing our ties…”

Elan waited beside her father as he spoke of their long ties in a much more flurried manner. She only half-listened, giving Ravenna an apologetic smile as he continued on and on. Her hands held a small box of lacquered wood, thin and long. She helped design the silver scepter within it. She was now supremely glad she trusted her instincts on silver over gold, for now it would match the Queen’s crown. 

Once it was believed silver was poisonous to fae and demons, but it turned out to be mere human wishful thinking during the Rift Wars. Fae, especially raven-kin, tended to actually adore all shiny things. However, raven-kin hated anything sticky, as it could get on their feathers and keep them from flight. While other fae loved milk and honey, raven-kin abhorred both in near equal measure.  

The guards and Ravenna took their time gazing over the crowd. Ravenna seemed neither pleased nor displeased with the large crowd, just owning the space she inhabited regardless of who else was around her. Elan couldn’t help but admire it. Valeria was a Queen beloved for her grace and strong hand with the kingdom, someone the kingdom could admire her beauty as well as her power. With Ravenna, she was a focused energy, a force of nature with no use for grace. Elan knew she would demand obedience and receive it. 

Her father finished his speech with, “Accept our humble commencement.”

Ravenna flashed a smile. Elan noted the tips of sharp teeth. “Well met, Duke Nathaniel. My people and I of course accept and wish to give our own thanks in return. Through this accord may we have yet another time of peace in which we both benefit.” She bowed a bit at her waist and her father bowed in turn. 

As he rose, the Duke said, “And now, my daughter, Elan Alteir, wishes to give you a token.” 

“Oh?” Ravenna turned her full attention to Elan. 

It was another lightning strike. Elan moved forward to get closer to her as she fought down her racing heart. It’s just like any other diplomatic effort, she chided herself. There was no sense in getting all bent out of shape because the Queen of Ravenwood simply looked at her! 

“Yes, your excellency. I have brought you a gift.” Elan opened the wooden box to reveal the scepter. “I hope it’s to your liking.” 

Ravenna stepped closer, tilting her head from side to side as she did. Elan recalled a day when she fed the castle crows from her hand last summer, as they looked at the offered food left and then right before taking it. The Queen reached out to take the metal in hand. As she picked it up, she locked eyes with Elan. 

“Thank you, my dear,” she said and leaned in close. “I’ll be sure to treasure it.” 

The unwanted blush bloomed over Elan’s face. She nodded quickly as she snapped the case shut. “I am glad it meets your approval, your majesty.” She backed away to return to her father’s side, cutting off the eye contact. 

What is happening to me? She wondered. For years she’d been training herself. She didn’t blush over nothing, how childish!

A hand fell on her shoulder. “Elan has the best eye for gifts.” Flora pushed herself forwards. “Greetings your majesty, I am Princess Flora, newly ascended and chosen.” 

“Ah!” Queen Ravenna’s eyes widened. “How welcome, Princess Flora. It has been some time since royalty came to meet me from Surene.” 

Flora bowed to her. “I wish to create a strong kingdom, and such a thing is only possible with the strength of the ties we form with our allies.” 

“Too true,” Raveena nodded with respect. “I hope to meet with you in the coming days to deepen these ties.” 

Princess Flora turned to Elan. “You will love the plans we have for your visit. Elan has gone to great lengths to make your arrival party something to remember.” 

“Oh?” Ravenna’s focus shifted again to Elan. “What a nice change of pace!” Ravenna turned to her mother. “Take no offense Lady Brienne, you were a lovely hostess, but I do enjoy a chance to unwind as much as anyone else.” 

“Your majesty, I take no offense to preferring my daughter’s work over my own. After all, she inherited her good choices from my side of the family.” Lady Brienne said these words with absolute conviction, ignoring her husband’s glare.

Duke Nathaniel said to Ravenna, “I beg of you, Queen Ravenna, do not be beguiled by my wife’s misleading words.” 

Ravenna laughed, a loud and cawing sound. “Oh, someone is going to get an earful later, I believe.” 

Elan giggled. Ravenna turned to her again, her eyes softening. 

Ravenna said, “Yes, I do find myself quite intrigued. Well, shall we then?” 

“Yes,” Flora extended her hand between Ravenna and Elan, “please, let’s go to the estate together. We can begin our discussions now.” 

“Oh, of course.” Ravenna took her hand, tucking it into her arm. 

Elan trailed behind them. She barely heard her father directing the Dukes and Duchesses back to the estate. Lady Brienne chatted with the guards, knowing them apparently from the last visit. The whole short walk back to the estate, Elan kept looking at Ravenna.

When she’d been younger, Elan admired the pictures of the fae. Every tapestry, painting, and inked out page in her books told her they were beautiful and otherworldly creatures. Ravenna managed to put all those depictions to shame. Her essence could never be captured by any artist, for how could a painting show the thick aura of magic and mystery exuding from her? 

Oh, I’m in such trouble, Elan thought to herself. 

At the estate, everyone went their separate ways to retire to the rooms. Lady Brienne took Queen Ravenna and her entourage to the dedicated fae quarters in the west wing. Elan raced to her own rooms, needing to prepare for the dance and feast that night.


Fin for now. I’ll be talking about characters tomorrow, in a non-spoilery way I promise.

Posted in Talking about Books

The Revised Chapter 1 of “The Queens of Ravenwood”: Characters actually be REAL

When it came to the re-writing process, I decided 90% of the first draft had to go. You know the expression “Kill your darlings!” when it comes to editing? I tend to slaughter them instead.

The rough draft was a stop-and-go nightmare, but this go around felt much more natural and less cringe worthy. What it lacks in “action” it made up for with the characters. I let them lead me through this re-write, showing me how they work as a team. The Contenders are supposed to be diplomats in training, and I failed to show that AT ALL in the first draft, and it’s super damn important later on.

Also, after having written my full outline for the book, I realized that Flora need a complete re-haul. She needed some thorns with her roses, so to speak. Princesses of Surene aren’t fragile, as Contenders are stacked against each other from birth to become the next monarch. It didn’t make sense to portray her as someone without wit or backbone.

All in all, I’m really happy with how the second draft turned out. I want to give big thank you to Tara and Kris, my two editors who beta read chapters one through three. I owe them both money if I ever get famous, but we all know that won’t happen, so I’m safe.

On with the show!


Chapter 1: The Proclamation

Elan Altier, Heir of the Northern Province, watched as newly ascended Princess Flora stepped onto the  overhead balcony with Queen Valeria. The Queen waved demurely to the crowd, allowing them a moment to welcome their new Princess. Even from across the pavilion, Elan could see Flora was crying while smiling from ear to ear, elated to take her well fought place before the Kingdom of Surene. 

Up above, Flora’s dress matched her eyes, a deep dark blue silken fabric with diamonds along the skirt. Elan ran a hand over her own dress, a deep green silken attire with silver lining on the edges too, a reflection of the Northern Provence’s colors. It wasn’t layered as heavily as Flora’s, simpler to reflect her lower role as Duchess in Waiting. Her tailor chose a soft square to expose her neck and her chest, holding an emerald necklace gifted from the Queen. Her hair was up in her standard top bun with braids keeping it up, her longer brown hair falling down her back to her hips. 

 The Queen was dressed in her more regal attire, gold from head to toe, with a white sash draped from shoulder to shoulder. Her crown was bejeweled with rubies, but Elan only knew that as she’d seen it up close. 

Elan clapped for her friend along with the other Contenders. Amelia cheered more bosteriously than a Duchess should. “Congratulations Flora!”

Elan tilted her head back and laughed. “Amy, she can’t hear you all the way over here.” 

The balcony was situated across from the pavillion, above the throng of people from neighboring townships. The four flags of the four provinces hung from the edge: a green tree on silver for the North, a silver sword with a gold white striped backdrop for the South, a black serpent with wings on crimson for the West, and a white rose on a blue line with white edges for the East. 

Behind her, Jalek and Larent were murmuring on the other side of the balcony. They were no doubt already talking about the festivities afterwards. Amelia knocked Larent hard in his ribs, and Jalek chuckled at his pained expression. Elan rolled her eyes. 

“Will you two pay attention?” Elan chided them. 

Jalek leaned forward to stick his tongue out at her. “Make me, mother.” 

“Don’t tempt me, child,” Elan said. 

Jalek gave her a cheeky smirk before he leaned back into place. As the youngest they always called him “child,” “youngster,” and such. He was only three years behind them, but that was more than enough of a gap to pick on him.   

Atop Flora’s golden, curled head was a slim silver tiara, more of a placeholder for the elaborate crown she would inherit from Queen Valeria. Elan wondered if Flora picked it out herself or if Valeria chose it for her, as Flora’s provence centered around the silver trade, sure, but the girl she knew loved gold. 

Not my problem, not my problem, she told herself. She needed to let go, not concern herself with Flora or Valeria’s next steps any longer. It was difficult to break that old chain of thought, caring and planning while all three of them had lived together in the castle. Now she needed to switch to thinking on her inheritance of the Northern Province. 

Queen Valeria came forward, signaling with a raised arm for silence. 

“Our Kingdom today rejoices as we take this new journey towards further years of peace and prosperity. Princess Flora will be crowned queen within the next ten years, and what a great queen she shall be!” 

The crowd roared their support for a beat before fading off so the Queen could continue.

“Flora has shown she possesses all of the traits of a great monarch. Strong willed, graceful…”

Larent snorted in a very unbecoming fashion. “Graceful like a fish out of water.”

“Shut up,” Amelia groused at him from the corner of her mouth. 

“…poised, and intelligent, she will bring with her all the training of a Regent in Waiting along with her recognized talents. The kingdom could be in no better hands.”

Elan winced, but recovered quickly. It wasn’t about her, it was about the kingdom, and Valeria chose Flora over her. It wasn’t a decision made with malice and she knew those words weren’t a barb directed at any of the contenders, “Regents and Sovereigns in Waiting” no longer. 

“Today, let us celebrate this momentous occasion! One and all!”

The crowd cheered one last time before scattering in different directions. Elan knew the courtyard would soon be filled with food, drink, and music for the common people. She arranged a vast majority of the proceedings for the various parties around the city, calculating costs and directing the castle staff for the feast that night. 

Elan didn’t want to leave the balcony just yet, and she had a feeling neither did Amelia and Larent. Jalek ran off quick, no doubt to join the hunting party running out very soon. He dropped out of contention early on three years ago, knowing fully well he was ill designed to be a King. He preferred his hobbies over classes. 

As Elan turned to Amelia and Larent, she gave them both a warm smile. Amelia smiled in return, but Larent looked a bit sour. 

Larent shook his head. “I’m going to say it since no one else will. It should have been you.”

“Larent, no,” Elan said, shaking her head. “This is Flora’s big day and that’s not fair.”

Amelia crossed her arms as she said, “Larent could’ve been a bit more tactful,” she said with a glare towards the man, “but I kind of agree. You seemed the obvious choice to me. I love Flora, I do! She’s easy to love, I just don’t see her as a Queen? I suppose.”

Elan sighed. She rubbed her temples with her fingers. They were being kind, in their own way, wanting to support their friend. Historically, all of the Contenders for the Crown grew up with strong bonds, or so they’d been told. Amelia determined from a young age they would have the strongest of bonds. 

Elan finally said, “I can only tell you what Valeria told me, that the kingdom needs a figurehead as well as a good taskmaster. She found Flora better suited for all the diplomatic roles, whereas I wouldn’t be such a good fit.”

“Well, I say it’s bullshit,” Larent said. 

Amelia smacked his elbow, turning to make sure there were no ladies or lads in waiting behind them before she said, “It’s not bullshit! She went through the process just as we all did. She came out on top, not much we can do but support her now.”

“Not true, we could appeal,” Larent said. 

“No, absolutely not.” Elan said, her voice taking on a tone she learned from the Queen. “I will not allow you two to make such a rash and damaging act. The choice was made, and I accepted it, you will too.” 

Amelia opened her mouth to say something more, but Elan was done. She stomped away from them, ignoring Larent’s pleas for her to come back. She marched through the reception area and flung open the door. It wasn’t until she was halfway down the hall to her rooms that she paused to take a deep breath. 

She wanted to discuss their upcoming marriage, and how much she would love for Amelia and Larent to stay at the Northern Province for the Summer Solstice Festival for their honeymoon. She wanted to arrange a gift as well, and needed their input about what they needed from her and the Northern Provence to begin their union off right. 

Instead it all went downhill so fast. Elan entered her rooms with her head and shoulders down. Her mother, Lady Brienne, sat at a desk scribbling letters. She glanced up to see Elan, her brow scrunching up in worry. “What’s wrong?” 

“Nothing,” Elan said as she closed the door.

“Doesn’t look like nothing,” Lady Brienne stood up to walk towards the wine counter. “Would you like a glass?”

“Wine isn’t for ladies…” Elan felt immediately stupid for saying it. She drank wine often enough in the castle with diplomats, and her mother never adhered to that old fashioned way of thinking. “I suppose I should confess it wouldn’t be my first glass.”

Lady Brienne rolled her eyes as she poured two cups for them. “Please, you think I don’t know about last summer? You and Amelia make for poor thieves, giggling the whole time about it.” 

Elan ducked her head, smiling at the memory. “Forgive me, next time I shall endeavor to employ more stealth.”

“See that you do.” 

Lady Brienne brought over the wine to Elan’s hand. Brienne Altier stood only a few inches above her daughter, but Elan always felt as if the woman towered over her. Her blonde hair with some light brown hair was pulled up in a similar fashion to her daughter’s, but her hair in the back wasn’t as long or thick. She wore a simple, pale green dress with a silver sash draped shoulder to shoulder, much like the Queen’s. 

She took a small sip before walking back to the desk. “Or just take the wine with my blessing. One month changes nothing. Sit with me awhile? I don’t want to return to the guest rooms just yet. Your father is deciding between coats.”

“Oh dear,” Elan said as she took a seat across from her mother. “Let me guess, he’s leaning towards the war coat?”

Her mother curled her lip, and then took a deep swig of the wine. Then, she suddenly sat up straight and picked up a rather miniscule letter from her left. “By the way, we got the confirmation letter.” Elan took the offered paper in hand, setting down her wine to the side. Her mother said, “It’s from Ravenna herself.” 

Elan’s eyes widened. She carefully opened it up, eyes roaming over the delicate designs of silver leaf in the margins. The message was short: 

Dear Duke Nathaniel and Duchess Brienne Altier of the Northern Provence, 

I, Queen Ravenna of Ravenwood, formally accept your invitation to your wonderful estate for the Summer Solstice. I shall come on the eve of the festival at dawn when I hope you will receive me at the Altar Gate. 

I bring with me a retinue of no more than three in number. Please do make accommodations, as we intend to stay for three days. I think it long enough for us to renew our treaty as well as become re-acquainted with each other.  

Blessings to you and yours,

Queen Ravenna 

Elan flipped the paper over, and back again. “Nothing else?” 

“As I recall from our meeting twenty years ago, she was a woman of few words.” Lady Brienne shrugged. “The Fae aren’t ones for pomp and ceremony. Give them gifts, see to their needs, sign the treaties, and it’s all fine.” 

“Oh,” Elan said, not really knowing how to prepare for a “woman of few words.” She usually took the time to research likes and dislikes when preparing for guests. “I don’t suppose you recall how she received what you did last time?”

Lady Brienne’s face scrunched up. “It was so long ago, and I didn’t do most of that work. You were kicking my ribs and due any day, so I put Jaden in charge. You’ll have to talk with him.” 

“Oh,” Elan scrunched up her face much like her mother’s. 

Jaden was, well, an old man and his styles were generally reflective of his age. Bare carpets, bare curtains, he did without intricate details whenever possible. He would want to input his “vision” for the preparations…Well, Elan would have to cross that bridge when she got to it. 

She set the letter down among the others. She noticed a lot of them came as refusals, polite but firm refusals. Lady Brienne flung her hand out to motion to that pile. 

“They’re all ninnies, the lot of them.” She said with a mocking tone, “‘While of course Fae relations are important, I’m afraid we just cannot attend due to,’ and the inane excuses go in. All of these ingrates love that we host the fae and keep the treaty, but want nothing to do with taking part in keeping the peace.”

Lady Brienne stared at her daughter. “Of course, they wouldn’t have refused a Princess, but what can we do?”

Elan cringed at the words. Of course on the heel of her friends giving her a hard time about Flora’s ascension, her mother must also add her own barbs. She knew to expect them, but she dared to hope perhaps after the festivities the bitterness would come. 

Apparently not.

“Mother, I did everything asked of me and more. The decision wasn’t easy for Queen Valeria; she told me as much. We must abide by the decision and trust she chose wisely.” Elan said it all while suppressing the urge to cry out that she didn’t want to disappoint her, that wasn’t her goal. 

Why do you always think I intend to fail? She wanted to ask, but kept silent.

“I suppose so,” Lady Brienne said it in that way she did, implying she thought otherwise. She was very good at saying one thing but meaning another, something Elan never managed to inherit. “I find it difficult to craft letters in return with smooth lines all the same.” 

Elan set her wine down and stood up. “I need to attend to things.” She walked away without waiting for her mother to respond, a rude gesture of a sulking child but she couldn’t help herself. 

“If this is how you responded to all difficult discussions, I can see how you were found wanting,” her mother said as a parting shot. 

Elan said nothing, simply closed the door firmly behind her. 

~~~

For the next few hours, Elan didn’t allow herself to think. Throwing herself into her work, she coordinated with the staff on this event and that going on in the city. The guards discussed a couple of security issues – a drunk man tried to barge into the castle, a woman made idle threats about the Queen, and so on – all of which were handled with quick efficiency. 

An hour before the feast, she checked in on Flora, who was coming out of her rooms in hurry with her lad in waiting. 

Flora cried out when she saw her, “Elan!” She walked over to grab her friend in an embrace. “I’m so glad to see you. I’m sure you’ve been running yourself ragged. Come with me, my parents are wanting a chat.”

Elan attempted to protest, but Flora wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, Elan found her hand tucked into the Princess’ and whisked away. They entered the Main Hall together. 

In the middle of it were Flora’s parents, Duke Gale and Sophie Calden. They were both obviously happy, beaming with pride. Elan tried to detangle herself from Flora  and stand behind, but Sophie grabbed out to take her hands.

“Oh, honey! You look amazing.” Lady Sophie said, a pure compliment coming from her. 

She was the kind of person born without a single drop of malice in her body.. Her green eyes shone bright, her soft blonde hair falling in ringlets to her shoulders, and her face held the sort of beauty of a woman who laughed often.

Flora inherited much of her looks and charm, thank heavens. Her father was a nice man, just not particularly handsome in the classical sense. Perhaps he might’ve been at a younger age, or perhaps with a better trimmed beard. If not for his tailored jacket and pants, one would think him a lumberjack from his beard and deep cracks in his forehead. 

“Thank you, Lady Sophie,” Elan said with a small curtsy. 

“Darling, don’t you think she looks amazing? I can’t believe little Elan has grown up to be such a jewel.” Lady Sophie froze, realizing she might’ve caused offense. “I mean, you were a cute little girl, don’t mistake me! I just wasn’t expecting you to end up, oh that’s not right either, I mean to say-.”

Duke Calden cut in to save his wife, “She means it’s lovely to see you become such an wonderful and capable woman.” He smiled, his mustache and beard moving with the motion. “And yes, I agree, anyone would be lucky to be your bride!” 

“Gale!” Lady Sophie thumped his shoulder. 

“What? What did I say?”

“Honestly,” said Lady Sophie with an exasperated huff. 

Between the two of them it’s a miracle Flora is so well-spoken, Elan thought to herself. 

Flora interrupted her parents gently, “You said you wanted to speak to Elan about something?”

Lady Sophie cringed. “Ah, yes, well we forgot to send out our return letter to you. We’re afraid we cannot make it to the fae alliance signing. We-.”

“Mother,” Flora suddenly put up a hand and her demeanor completely changed, “why would you be missing the opportunity to help foster the alliance between human and fae kind?”

Lady Sophie shook as if struck. “Flora, dear, there is just so much to do! We can’t afford the two weeks of travel and stay.”

Flora frowned. Lady Sophie looked hurt and Lord Gale curled up on himself. 

Elan put a hand upon Flora’s arm. “It’s fine, Flora, really.”

“No, it’s not, because I love my parents but I know they tend to follow the crowd.” The Princess turned to Elan. “How many of the Lords and Ladies will be attending the Alliance Signing?”

Flora stared down at her, and for a split second Elan could see the Queen shining through her. The silence between them said much without words. 

Elan finally said with a sigh, “Only the Contenders have agreed.”

The Princess turned to her parents. “Find the time. I will not start off my reign by insulting the fae with the smallest welcoming party to be seen in centuries. I’m asking for now as your daughter. Do not make me order it as a royal decree.” 

Lady Sophie and Lord Gale bowed before her. The shift in their demeanor from happy to kowtowed in a matter of moments didn’t sit well with Elan. She knew Flora could be commanding, but she never expected her to use her power against her own family. 

Elan pulled on Flora’s arm. “We should go see to other matters.” 

Flora nodded and followed her out of the Main Hall.

~~~

Before she could really think about it, Elan took them towards the gardens, specifically the secreted away area just outside the kitchens. Elan nodded to the staff as they stopped to bow to Flora. 

Flora’s Garden grew high instead of vast. Roses stretched up, up, up the sides of the walls entrapping the castle and its inhabitants. Yellow, white, reds, they all intermingled in a contained chaos. 

Elan turned around to make sure no one was eavesdropping before she asked, “Was that really necessary? Your mother looked so upset.”

She adored Lady Sophie, the kindest and most gentle mother out of all the provinces. It was a secret adoration, as her mother would’ve been upset to learn that sometimes Elan wondered if she should’ve been born into Flora’s family instead of her own. It was not every day she wished it so, but on a day like today? Yes, a little.

“Yes, for the reasons I just stated and more.” Flora squeezed Elan’s hand before letting her go. 

“Only the Contenders? Honestly, are we the only ones with backbones in the entire Kingdom?” She walked over to a rose bush and plucked a red flower from the stem. “I know how hard you’ve been working on this, Elan. I’ve seen the bags under your eyes and the ink stains on your fingers. I don’t appreciate all your hard work going to waste, and all because I’m Princess and you’re not.” 

Elan stood still as Flora walked back over to work the rose into Elan’s hair. 

“I can’t treat her differently just because she’s my mother, Elan.” Flora tilted her head back and forth. “One more.” She walked over to the white roses to pluck another. “Besides, I know your mother, and she must be displeased.”

“I can handle her ire. She’s not going to be pleased with me for a long time, I suspect.” Elan wrapped her arms around herself. “She’s never really seen me as anything other than a Contender for years now. My failure will just-.”

“You’re not a failure.” Flora snapped another rose off. “If she calls you anything of the sort, do remind her that I’ve no use for petty words in my court.” 

“You can’t just ban a duchess!” 

“As I recall, I was just crowned this morning, so yes, in fact, I can.”

Elan let out a groan of irritation. “All this power is getting to your head, I swear.”

“Hardly,” Flora said as she brought the flower over and worked it in beside the first one. “It’s unacceptable how these families keep trying to slither out of their responsibilities. It seems like every year we’re having to remind them these titles come with the burden of acting in the best interests of the realm.” 

“We can’t just force them into it, either, or go around banning people for just acting like parents do.” Elan put a hand up to feel the flowers in her hair. 

Flora batted her hand away. “Don’t pester them and they’ll stay in.” She turned to look at her rose bushes. “We’ll figure something out, but I refuse to just let this go.” 

Flora’s gaze settled on a small light blue shack off the side. It held the herbs and remedies that Flora experimented on when she had the time. Occasionally, she would also attempt poisons and antidotes, but those required far more trial and error.

Flore followed her gaze. “I’ve got some tonics in there. One moment.” Flora walked over to it. 

This time Elan didn’t go after her. She knew from previous ventures in there that it was a huge mess, and a bit dangerous sometimes if there were fumes. Flora came back out soon enough with a large glass bottle. 

“You can smile away all those courtiers, but I know you well. You’re running yourself ragged.” She held it out to Elan. “Drink.”

“Is that a royal decree?” Elan asked. 

“No, it’s just me, the pushy and demanding friend you’ve always known.” Flora smiled at her as she uncorked the top. “Besides, you can’t resist anything that tastes like strawberries.” 

There was a small bit of hesitation, but she had neither proper food nor drink for hours. Elan took the bottle and downed it in quick succession. It tasted heavenly, and she knew it would in fact help her get some energy back. Flora’s tonics weren’t magic, by any means, but they definitely helped her get through some grueling days. 

Elan passed the bottle back and said, “Thank you.”

“Am I forgiven then? For being short with my own mother?” Flora asked, as if the answer didn’t really matter because she already knew it. 

“You know I don’t stay mad very well.” Elan turned back towards the castle. “I still must gather things for your feast.”

“And I must go attend to the Queen, again.” Flora shrugged her shoulders. “Although it’s just as well. I want to have a chat with her about something I wish to do in the near future.” 

“Do you need me to attend as well?” 

“Not this time.” The way Flora spoke softly as she gazed at Elan. “I assure you it’s nothing very grand. More personal, really. Don’t fret over it. You’ll be doing enough of that today.”

~~~

Elan ignored all the whispers about the new additions to her hair. Everyone knew the Princess loved roses, and here was Elan holding fresh roses up in her tresses. My, my what a blessing! It took effort not to roll her eyes at all the nonsensical chatter from left to right. Flora always put flowers in her hair ever since they were children, but of course now that she was a Princess, oh my the scandal

Elan saw Amelia across the way. They waved to each other before going about their separate duties. Amelia would no doubt take her family into the Main Hall soon to prepare the feast. They brought the wild boar for the roast as a gift, along with the standard jewels and such. 

Just as she rounded the corner for the kitchens, the Captain of the Guard, Harlin Means, came in with his signature scowl and custom rapier strapped to his side. Harlin didn’t like complications, which was unfortunate considering his whole career focused on solving complications. He sported a more refined version of his fighting attire, a custom rapier strapped to his side instead of his old faithful short sword. 

Harlin stomped over to her, ignoring the couriers around him as he flung his arms up in the arm. “The fresh hell did you just plop in my lap?” He demanded to know.

Elan ignored the gasps around her and simply asked, “I beg your pardon?”

Harlin only spoke “politely” to people he hated. If Harlin cursed at you, he liked you.

Another guard came up behind him, a lad just turning into a man by the looks of him. “My lady,” he said with a quick bow, “excuse him. We’re just a bit short staffed since you placed guards at all the entrances. He doesn’t like the lack of security here in the castle itself.” 

Harlin grumbled. “What Tavin said.” He ruffled the boy’s curly hair with a heavy hand. “And yes, this is a new one, in case you’re wondering.”

Elan stifled a laugh. Harlin was a rough man, but he trained and often raised many of the boys into the castle guards. His husband, Keaton Means, had a bad habit of going off on patrol and coming back with orphans. In many respects, Keaton and Harlin had twenty some “daughters” and forty some “sons” within the castle. 

Well, some forty one now.  

Elan shrugged her shoulders. “It can’t be helped. The entrances need those guards in the event of an attack. Yes, the odds are slim, but I would rather have our people ready for it all the same.”

“They’re just collecting the shit from the elves!” Harlin proclaimed, making a few ladies in waiting turn to give him a glare.

Elan sighed. “So you’re really just here to gripe about playing the messenger then?” 

Harlin grumbled a few unkind words. His slew of profanity was interrupted by Tavin. “We have the gifts from the elves out back. We’ve given them to the staff as instructed. Many of them are for Flora, no doubt, but I think a few are for the Queen.” 

“I wouldn’t doubt it.” Elan shrugged. “The King always sends gifts if he can’t attend.” 

The Elvish King, Morliane, had been invited, but declined the invitation. It was expected, but the gesture mattered. To not invite him would’ve been insulting. Morliane came for the Queen’s coronation, and he promised to attend Flora’s as well. He wanted to send one of the Elven Princes, but both got tied up in other diplomatic affairs. Elan wondered if it was a slight, but if they needed a cart for the gifts? Perhaps not. 

“Let the staff hand over the gifts to Princess Flora and Queen Valeria. We’ll got about our own business.” Elan gave Harlin a soft glare. “And with perhaps a little less complaining?”

“Don’t count on it.” Harlin said as he gave a sloppy salute. “I’ve always hated parties and lords and ladies. Don’t see any reason to start liking ‘em now.” He turned his head and his eyes blew open. 

“DANIVAL! I know you ain’t slouchin’ on post, boy!” He stomped over in the direction of a very sorry looking guard. 

Tavin gave Elan an apologetic look before bowing slightly and running after Harlin. 

Elan shook her head before continuing her walk. As the sun began its descent, Elan wandered towards Main Hall. She waited for her parents to come down the stairs. As much as she dreaded seeing her mother again, the feast demanded they all walk in together. As usual, she could hear them before she saw them. Her father’s booming, jolly voice has a knack for carrying, and her mother subconsciously raised her own to get her point across to them. 

Elan walked down in the Main Hall in line her mother and father, the two of them still just chatting away. Lady Brienne held onto her husband’s arm while whispering to him that, “Yes, darling, I swear you look dashing.” 

“But are you really sure?” He asked. “I know I need to get out on the horses more, but my aching back never allows it.”

Duke Nathanial once held a collection of thick muscles, constantly horse riding and training with his younger brothers. Nowadays his waist was thicker, but it didn’t make him much softer with that padding. His bear hugs cracked backs and left people gasping for air. He also chose to indulge in a courtier’s mustache, waxed until it shone like a beacon in the night. 

He chose his war attire, as expected. Most of the Dukes fought in the five year war against the demons of the north in their youth. They held shiny medallions on their breasts boasting of this battle or that. Elan couldn’t keep track of them all, and it really didn’t matter. The Demon “Wars” were really more like overly blown up skirmishes, according to her own history books. 

Lady Brienne and Elan shared in a pale green scheme with long sleeves, while Duke Nathanial was decked out in black pants and a golden jacket. Elan was wearing family jewels of emeralds in her earrings, as well, an old gift from her mother. 

Duke Nathanial grasped his daughter’s hand and kissed the back of her fingers. “Sorry, love, I meant to say hello! How did everything go today? Any problems?” 

“Nothing really challenging, just the occasional drunkard making a mess,” Elan said with a shrug. “Essentially the same issues as all parties.” 

Duke Nathanial laughed. “Good, good! I’m quite glad to hear it. Enjoy yourself tonight, dear,” he leaned in close, “I know your heart must be a bit broken, but do remember that regardless you shall be a duchess.” 

“I know, father.” Elan squeezed his hand back. “I’m fine, I assure you.” 

They arrived at the Main Hall with no one before them in line. An attendant shouted to the masses of the hall, “May I present, the Duke and Duchess Altier, with their daughter Elan the Duchess in Waiting!” 

Everyone cheered as they entered. The Duke saw the Eastern Lands court, and shoved his way over to clap a hard hand on his old friend’s back. Lady Brienne rolled her eyes before going over to a group of ladies to the right. Elan headed to the front table to join the other once Contenders gathered around Flora. 

Queen Valeria would no doubt come later in regal finery and two ladies in waiting helping her with a trail or some such thing. Elan had tried to ask what she wanted, but Valeria had waived her off with, “Don’t you worry, dear, I have my own ways about me.” 

Amelia said something to Flora, who laughed and covered her mouth quickly. “You can’t say that to a princess! Amy!” 

“What? I’m just curious, your royalness.” Amelia winked at her. 

Larent sighed and smiled at Elan. “Hello there, please tell my fiance to stop torturing the princess as she now has the power to hang us all.”

“I would never!” Flora said as she smacked his arm. “Life imprisonment at worst, maybe.” 

Jalek waved at Elan. “We’re discussing future plans for the Queen of Surene, such as but not limited to future spouses.” 

“Ah,” Elan lifted one shoulder, “I would expect you’ve got your pick. Besides Larent, of course.” 

Flora and Larent blanched at the thought. “Ew!” 

All of them shared a good laugh. Elan knew the whole marriage aspect wouldn’t be a problem for Flora. She was neither poor for choice nor undesired by many in the kingdom or even outside of it. Still, friends were obligated to give each other a hard time about such things. 

Elan turned to look over her shoulder. “It seems as if everyone is enjoying themselves.” 

“Stop, stop it!” Amelia took two hands and turned her friend’s head back towards the 

group. “Enough with the working, it’s time to have fun.” 

Flora grabbed a wine cup on the table and shoved it into Elan’s hand. “I’m commanding you to drink this wine and feast upon food.” 

“See? It’s a command. You have to do it.” Larent said before sipped on his ale. “By the way, let us know when you’re heading back home. We’ll travel with you. Bigger numbers keep the brigands away and all that.” 

Jalek nodded and poked Elan in the shoulder. “You thinking about marriage lately?” 

“Not to you!” Elan said as she finally took a sip of the wine. 

“Ouch, my heart, oh no, it is broken.” Jalek’s deadpanned tone implied otherwise. “Seriously, don’t let your mother choose. She’ll pick some old, crumbling ghoul with a high title.”  

“Jalek!” 

“What? She would!” 

Larent and Amelia both nodded in agreement. Flora waved a hand in dismissal. 

The princess said, “Enough with the marriage talk. Let’s all go mingle and then go to our seats. I’m starving, but if I sit everyone else will and it’s not time yet.” 

They did as they were trained to do. All of them worked the room, talking with the heads of each Province. Elan ended up speaking far longer with Lady Sophie than she intended, but that always tended to happen. She rubbed elbows with some diplomats from the neighboring kingdoms, smaller in size but still just as important to recognize. At intervals, Larent or Amelia would whisper in her ear, and she would convey a message to Flora about an update on some region or another. 

When Flora sat down, everyone began slowly finding their places at the long tables around the hall. North and East shared a table on the left while the West and South shared space on the right. The diplomats and foreign dignitaries sat at the ends of both tables. Above them were balcony seats. If the elven king or princes designed to attend, they would often be up there, as most elves lived high in trees. They held the musical troupe instead, who played soft and relaxing tunes for the guests. 

The announcer shouted, “Her majesty, Queen Valeria Noblesse, daughter of Duke Jonal and Duchess Regina Noblesse of the Southern Province! All rise!”

Everyone stood from their chairs to clap as she entered the room. The Queen dressed in more loose attire this time, a billowing blue skirt attached to a white corset. Corsets were more indicative of her time, Elan’s generation preferred a tight bodice but no thick bones to tighten their lungs. Although in her late forties, oftentimes people commented she appeared older, with grey streaks already sliding through her brunette tresses. She conveyed wisdom and strength, but a solitary air as well. 

Valeria walked in the center to the high table. She paused before it to turn around, and Flora came around the table to stand by her side. The Queen and Princess of Surene stood shoulder to shoulder, heads held high with small smiles on their faces. Although quite different in face, their manner was much the same. 

“Welcome my friends,” Queen Valeria said with a voice that carried across the room. “I look forward to celebrating with you this momentous occasion. I am very pleased with Princess Flora, who I have seen grow into the royal we know today.” Valeria turned her gaze to roam over each table before her. “To the other Contenders, I must say, this decision was not easy. All of you possess the qualities of future leaders that we will need to keep this kingdom secure. Although you were not chosen for the crown, do not think yourselves any less vital to the kingdom.” 

“Indeed,” Flora said right after her, “I will need you as my allies in friends. Although we have lived in over two hundred years of peace and prosperity, I will call upon you if we should ever face trying times. To our allies from the Kingdom Yolfar, the Kingdom Petricor, the Elven Lands, and the Fae Kingdom, please know I will endeavor to keep our ties strong.” 

“Let us feast and be merry!” Queen Valeria announced. 

Everyone sat down to eat. Elan tried to concentrate on her food. She ate without looking to her left. Lady Brienne was conspicuously silent. Her father was laughing and chatting in his booming voice with their neighbors. 

Lady Brienne finally broke the tense silence, “If I had known the queen was going to wear a corset, I would’ve worn one as well.” 

Elan sighed. “She kept it a secret, I suspect for exactly that reason. She wanted to make an impression. Hard to make a grand entrance if everyone is wearing the same thing.”

“She didn’t tell you?”

“Indeed, and not Flora either.” Elan tried to cut off anymore barbs so she could just try to eat. As it was, the knot in her stomach made the task difficult. “It was a surprise to us all.” 

“I see.” Brienne dropped the conversation and the silence returned. 

Elan put her fork down and gave up. She picked up a goblet and sipped on the wine instead. She peered over at Valeria and Flora talking as they ate together. Flora smiled as she said something, and Valeria frowned as she responded. Elan watched them out of the corner of her eye. She could tell something was amiss. She pursed her lips together and wondered if she should go over to talk with them, but it would be hard to be discreet. 

Her mother interrupted her musings with, “Your father and I would like to leave tomorrow. When the sun reaches its zenith, I think. He will no doubt need to nurse his poor decisions in the morning.” 

Elan nodded, but still wouldn’t look at her. “Larent, Amelia, and Jalek wish to travel with us. I will let them know of the departure time.” 

“Of course,” Brienne said. “Do you wish to travel with them or with us?”

“With them,” Elan said a bit too quickly. 

Her mother sighed. “Am I so terrible to be around?”

“Do you really want an answer?” Elan stared down at her food. “I expect nothing but harsh words and jabs for a long time yet. Is it really so surprising that I would rather be in the company of people who like me?” 

Her mother threw her own fork down in anger. “Fine. Pout with your friends in a separate carriage. Do what you must.” 

The silence settled over them again. Duke Nathanial realized he was the only one talking on his end and turned to see his wife and daughter not even looking at each other. He rolled his eyes and gruffly asked them, “What are you two fighting about now?” 

“Nothing.” They both snapped. 

Her father gave them a flat glare. “Well, that is most reassuring.” He pointed to Lady Brienne. “Wife, quit harping on your only child about what’s been done. Daughter, eat and relax. And both of you, smile! This is a celebration, not a funeral.” 

“Did he just tell us to smile?” Elan asked.

“He did,” Lady Brienne gave him bared teeth. “Brave of him.” 

“Oh, don’t you two gang up on me!” 

Princess Flora suddenly stood up with a goblet in hand. “My dear people! May I have your attention?” 

Queen Valeria’s hand covered her eyes. Elan looked from her to Flora. What was going on? 

“I have spoken with our dear queen, and I have announced that I will attend the signing of the Alliance Treaty with the fae in the Northern Province! I thought it was such a shame that my fellow Contenders would be alone in their sojourn to the North.”

Elan’s jaw dropped. Her mother gripped her shoulder tight. Duke Nathanial coughed and sputtered. 

Flora continued. “I know it is a bit untraditional, as a princess of Surene has never before met a fae queen, only the monarchs. However, why not start off my reign by making history? If anyone would like to change their minds and join us for the Summer Solstice celebration, please do come. I would appreciate your support so as to show Ravenna that we do not allow for old prejudices or fear to guide us into our bright future.” Flora lifted her cup. “To strong bonds!” 

There was a loud clatter as people dove for their cups. “To strong bonds!” the crowd cheered. 

As Elan sipped on her cup, she turned in panic to her mother. Lady Brienne threw back her entire cup and slammed it down on the table. 

“Well…” Elan said with a wince, “you got your wish?” 

“We are not prepared.” Lady Brienne’s harsh whisper came out in a rush. 

Duke Nathanial leaned over them both. “The Solstice is but a week away!”

“We’re aware, dear!” Lady Brienne snapped at him. 

“I’ll leave tonight,” Elan said in determination. “I’ll ask Harlin Means to get a collection of guards and a carriage to see me safely North.” 

“Fine,” Lady Brienne nodded. “We will leave in the morning.” 

~~~

After the feast, a lady in waiting requested Elan’s presence in the queen’s sunroom. Elan walked as fast as a lady was allowed in the castle to get there. When she rushed into it, Valeria sat upon her favorite chaise, leaning against the support with her head looking up to the starry sky. 

Queen Valeria motioned for Elan to come closer. Her lips were pinched together in disapproval, whether from the situation or Elan was unclear. Elan liked to think she’d become well versed in reading Valeria. After year under her personal tutelage with Flora, she knew that pinched lips meant serious business. 

Valeria said, “As you might’ve guessed, I don’t approve of Flora going North to meet Ravenna.”  She patted the cushion beside her. “But what can I do now?” 

Elan opened her mouth, then closed it again. She said, “Your majesty, shouldn’t Flora be here?”

“She is off galavanting, and I would be cross with her. Best to let her have fun on her big day.” Valeria trailed off, shaking her head. “Although, it will take some getting used to, only speaking with Flora. I’ve come to rely on you both in equal measure, that is perhaps not the healthiest of choices. All the same, she caused the trouble we’ll be discussing, so…” 

“Very well,” Elan said, acquiescing easily enough. She made her point without too much rudeness, although her mother would’ve boxed her ears for refusing the Queen, even as a token show of resistance. All the same, a reminder was necessary, as these kinds of talk were an old habit. 

Elan sat down beside her and said, “I have no reason to believe Queen Ravenna would be a danger to Flora. Do you?”  

“Ravenna wouldn’t, but humans are more my worry. Oddly enough, I don’t mind the thought of my assassination, but an attack on Flora.” Valeria shook her head. “I couldn’t live with it.” Valeria said the last in a hushed whisper.

Elan didn’t doubt her, as once she began to know Valeria she discovered that she loved greatly and felt loss keenly. She kept no family after her parents died, not because she lacked for lovers or suitors, but the thought of losing another person was abhorrent to her. 

“She will be fine.” Elan reassured her. “I will bring some of the castle guards with us, and our own staff are well trained to fight.” 

“I’m sure, I’m sure,” Valeria said absently. “All the same,  I hate the idea of a newly crowned princess straying so far from home.” 

Queen Valeria said after a small pause, “On a more personal note, Elan, what are your feelings towards Flora?”

“Oh, I…” Elan didn’t know what to say. Flora and her were close after essentially co-running a kingdom for the past year. They grew up together, looked after each other, and Elan often stayed at Flora’s estate. “She is a very good friend and confidant. I care for her as one would a close friend.”

Queen Valeria smiled, a beaming one used to charm others into her schemes. It confounded Elan, seeing as how there wasn’t a scheme at play. No sense in trying to understand what was going on in the Queen’s head when there were more important matters to attend to, honestly.

A knock on the door startled them both. Captain Harlin entered without announcing himself, a scowl set deep in his face. 

He said, “I suppose you’ll be wantin’ me and some of my ‘finest guardsmen or ladies’ to accompany you nitwits North?” 

Elan said with a smile, “You are optional?” 

“The hell I am,” Harlin wiped a hand over his face and started pacing about the room. “Keaton is thinkin’ it should be an easy job, but a new princess puts all kinds of kinks into that notion. I’m inclined towards the better safe than sorry ways of old. I heard you were wantin’ to ride off in the night?” 

“Yes, but how did you know that?” Elan wrapped her arms around herself. 

“Danival was behind you. He wants to come with. He figures Flora wants to sneak off with ya.” Harlin stopped to glare at her. “So, we leavin’ when everyone gets to bed?” 

Elan shrugged. “If you can be ready by then?”

“Sure, whatever.” 

The room fell silent. Harlin stopped at a window to gaze out into the crowd. The common folk were still celebrating down in the courtyard. Elan watched him watching them, and wondered if he was sizing up the crowd for possible dangers. 

Elan asked, “Is that all?” 

“More or less,” Harlin sighed and scratched at the back of his head. “Valeria, you good with this? Really?” He turned to the queen with a torn expression. “I know logically it’s gonna all work out, but it feels a bit fucked.” 

Queen Valeria glared at him. “Harlin, language.” 

“Your majesty, you hired me with colorful language, as I recall.” Harlin motioned over to Elan. “She don’t know what you were like back in the demon war days, but I recall a little princess turned new queen with a whip of a tongue.”

“Oh do shut up, Harlin,” Valeria said with a roll of her eyes. Then, she turned to Elan, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Actually, sneaking off with Flora and a contingent of guards would get you to the North faster. Waiting around for all of these people to collect their things and go? It would take too long. Go tonight, with my begrudged blessing.”  

“Thank you, your majesty” Elan grabbed Valeria’s hand and squeezed it. “I shall endeavor to keep Flora safe.” 

~~~

When she arrived in Flora’s room, everyone was there. Amelia and Larent were seated at a tea table. Amelia changed, her daggers on each hip with training pants on, the brown and loose kind for sparring. Her hair was up in a tail, and her shirt was a sleeveless beige color. Larent had on something similar with his rapier strapped to his side. Jalek kept on his hunting gear, only adding a short sword. 

Flora sat in her lounge chair, dressed in her more updated training uniform, grey pants with a black shirt. Her tiara was gone, and her hair was pulled up into a tight braided bun.. She was writing in her journal with a quill in hand.  

Elan stared at all of them in shock. “Any particular reason everyone is in battle garb?” 

“Well, when one is running off into the night, better to be prepared. Don’t you think?” Larent asked with a cheeky grin. 

“Besides, it’s more comfortable for traveling than dresses,” Amelia said.  

Flora stood up while setting her book down to dry on a nearby table. “We were wondering if you were alright. We hadn’t seen you for over an hour.”

“I’m fine, just busy.” Elan decided not to share that she’d been with an irritated queen. No use in getting Flora riled up over what was done and decided. 

“Keaton came by and said most of the preparations are going smoothly.” She walked over to Elan and took her hand. “I’m sorry I made more work for you.”

“It’s alright, really.” Elan said, squeezing her hand. “You don’t need to worry.”

Flora gave her a small smile. “I always worry about you.” She tugged Elan over to the chair. “You work yourself to exhaustion on a day without chaos! This? I can hardly imagine how you feel.”

“She’s not wrong,” Amelia said, moving over to sit with them. “You look worn out, no offense intended.” 

“I suppose I am, but I had no time to think about it.” Elan felt the fatigue settle in as she sat down. Amelia poured her a cup of tea and slid it over to her. “Thank you,” she sipped on it. “I will rest once we’re in the carriage and on the way.” 

“Take a rest now, we still have a while before Harlin comes to fetch us.” Flora said, “We can wake you when it’s time to flee. 

Larent said, “After our escape, all the dukes and duchesses will follow after us tomorrow. Two days journey for them, most likely. Jalek and I will be carriage drivers. You ladies can stay in the carriage and just relax.” 

Amelia slapped his shoulder. “We’re not fragile dolls!” 

Jaleck put up a hand. “We are from the horse region! We’re brought up from birth to ride for long hours. Relax!” 

Amelia smacked him on the shoulder, too. “We all learned to ride horses!” 

“I would rather sleep,” Elan said.

“Fine, you sleep.” Amelia said. “Jaleck and Larent, too. If you’re volunteering yourselves as the riders, then you’ll need to rest up.” 

Flora pointed to her bed. “Elan and Larent there. Jaleck, take the lounge chair.” 

“I’ll take the reins in the morning, then.” Larent said as he plopped onto Flora’s bed. 

Elan finished her tea. Flora put a hand on her back and rubbed a small circle in the middle. She leaned in to whisper in Elan’s ear. “You can change into less formal wear in my bathroom.” 

Elan nodded and set about doing just that. She switched into loose pants and a shirt for training. Might as well match the rest of the party, she thought to herself. Flora’s clothes were a little loose on her, as Flora stood a good foot taller than her. Still, if she tied the threads up the pants didn’t fall down. She walked back out just as some food arrived. 

It was a simple fare of bread and soup. Elan sat next to Flora to eat. Flora poured her some tea and arranged the sugars out. Elan smiled as she nibbled on her bread. 

Amelia coughed into her hand. “Um, so, the plan is to keep Flora with us, then our parents come after, but then what? The Fae come and…?”

Elan put the sugar into her tea as she said, “We have a feast, again. My mother and father sign the treaty with their blood, as does Ravenna. They only stay for about three days and then head back to Ravenwood.” 

Flora put an arm around Elan’s shoulders. “You won’t be doing this alone. We’re all here, and we can help.”

“What Flora said,” Amelia reached out a hand to grab her forearm, “and then some. Two hundred years of peace, right? Nothing is gonna happen.” 

Elan nodded and gave them a weak smile. “Of course.” 

Flora pestered her to bed not long after she finished her soup. She fell asleep hard, and it was difficult to stumble down the stairs to the carriage an hour later. Flora and Amelia let her have one side all to herself. Larent and Jaleck set off at a fast pace, guards on either side of them. When the sun rose over the castle, the Princess and her once contenders were well on their way to the Northern Province.


This is more or less the polished version of Chapter One. Inevitably, I’ll be fixing grammar and spelling issues I’m ignoring in favor of trying to get the middle of the novel fixed and finished. Yes, I write the beginning and ending and then the middle, don’t at me.

I was going to set tomorrow as character day, but due to certain feedback in messenger form, Chapter Two is going up tomorrow instead. The day after tomorrow will be characters, and it actually makes more sense to wait, because Chapter Two introduces Ravenna and that’s where the fun really starts.

Stay tuned for more book writing shenanigans!

Posted in Talking about Books

Here’s the Rough Draft First Chapter of “The Queens of Ravenwood”

When it comes to this two plus year project, the rough draft didn’t start with the first chapter, it actually started with the second. This goddamn monstrosity of a first chapter had me tearing my hair out trying to get the set ups ready for things that would happen later on in the book.

Let me tell ya straight up: Fall in love with none of what you’re reading here, because tomorrow I’ll be posting the more polished version tomorrow, and believe me when I say it’s gonna be DRASTICALLY different from what you’re reading right now.

So here is the rough draft, see after the ending for more notes and etc.


Chapter 1: The Proclamation

Elan Altier, Heir of the Northern Province, watched as newly ascended Princess Flora stepped onto the  overhead balcony with Queen Valeria. The Queen waved demurely to the crowd, allowing them a moment to welcome their new Princess. Even from across the pavilion, Elan could see Flora was crying while smiling from ear to ear, elated to take her well fought place before the Kingdom of Surene. 

Up above, Flora’s dress matched her eyes, a deep dark blue silken fabric with diamonds along the skirt. Elan ran a hand over her own dress, a deep green silken attire with silver lining on the edges too, a reflection of the Northern Provence’s colors. It wasn’t layered as heavily as Flora’s, simpler to reflect her lower role as Duchess in Waiting. Her tailor chose a soft square to expose her neck and her chest, holding an emerald necklace gifted from the Queen. Her hair was up in her standard top bun with braids keeping it up, her longer brown hair falling down her back to her hips. 

 The Queen was dressed in her more regal attire, gold from head to toe, with a white sash draped from shoulder to shoulder. Her crown was bejeweled with rubies, but Elan only knew that as she’d seen it up close. 

Elan clapped for her friend along with the other Contenders. Amelia cheered more bosteriously than a Duchess should. “Congratulations Flora!”

Elan tilted her head back and laughed. “Amy, she can’t hear you all the way over here.” 

The balcony was situated across from the pavillion, above the throng of people from neighboring townships. The four flags of the four provinces hung from the edge: a green tree on silver for the North, a silver sword with a gold white striped backdrop for the South, a black serpent with wings on crimson for the West, and a white rose on a blue line with white edges for the East. 

Behind her, Jalek and Larent were murmuring on the other side of the balcony. They were no doubt already talking about the festivities afterwards. Amelia knocked Larent hard in his ribs, and Jalek chuckled at his pained expression. Elan rolled her eyes. 

“Will you two pay attention?” Elan chided them. 

Jalek leaned forward to stick his tongue out at her. “Make me, mother.” 

“Don’t tempt me, child,” Elan said. 

Jalek gave her a cheeky smirk before he leaned back into place. As the youngest they always called him “child,” “youngster,” and such. He was only three years behind them, but that was more than enough of a gap to pick on him.   

Atop Flora’s golden, curled head was a slim silver tiara, more of a placeholder for the elaborate crown she would inherit from Queen Valeria. Elan wondered if Flora picked it out herself or if Valeria chose it for her, as Flora’s provence centered around the silver trade, sure, but the girl she knew loved gold. 

Not my problem, not my problem, she told herself. She needed to let go, not concern herself with Flora or Valeria’s next steps any longer. It was difficult to break that old chain of thought, caring and planning while all three of them had lived together in the castle. Now she needed to switch to thinking on her inheritance of the Northern Province. 

Queen Valeria came forward, signaling with a raised arm for silence. 

“Our Kingdom today rejoices as we take this new journey towards further years of peace and prosperity. Princess Flora will be crowned queen within the next ten years, and what a great queen she shall be!” 

The crowd roared their support for a beat before fading off so the Queen could continue.

“Flora has shown she possesses all of the traits of a great monarch. Strong willed, graceful…”

Larent snorted in a very unbecoming fashion. “Graceful like a fish out of water.”

“Shut up,” Amelia groused at him from the corner of her mouth. 

“…poised, and intelligent, she will bring with her all the training of a Regent in Waiting along with her recognized talents. The kingdom could be in no better hands.”

Elan winced, but recovered quickly. It wasn’t about her, it was about the kingdom, and Valeria chose Flora over her. It wasn’t a decision made with malice and she knew those words weren’t a barb directed at any of the contenders, “Regents and Sovereigns in Waiting” no longer. 

“Today, let us celebrate this momentous occasion! One and all!”

The crowd cheered one last time before scattering in different directions. Elan knew the courtyard would soon be filled with food, drink, and music for the common people. She arranged a vast majority of the proceedings for the various parties around the city, calculating costs and directing the castle staff for the feast that night. 

Elan didn’t want to leave the balcony just yet, and she had a feeling neither did Amelia and Larent. Jalek ran off quick, no doubt to join the hunting party running out very soon. He dropped out of contention early on three years ago, knowing fully well he was ill designed to be a King. He preferred his hobbies over classes. 

As Elan turned to Amelia and Larent, she gave them both a warm smile. Amelia smiled in return, but Larent looked a bit sour. 

Larent shook his head. “I’m going to say it since no one else will. It should have been you.”

“Larent, no,” Elan said, shaking her head. “This is Flora’s big day and that’s not fair.”

Amelia crossed her arms as she said, “Larent could’ve been a bit more tactful,” she said with a glare towards the man, “but I kind of agree. You seemed the obvious choice to me. I love Flora, I do! She’s easy to love, I just don’t see her as a Queen? I suppose.”

Elan sighed. She rubbed her temples with her fingers. They were being kind, in their own way, wanting to support their friend. Historically, all of the Contenders for the Crown grew up with strong bonds, or so they’d been told. Amelia determined from a young age they would have the strongest of bonds. 

Elan finally said, “I can only tell you what Valeria told me, that the kingdom needs a figurehead as well as a good taskmaster. She found Flora better suited for all the diplomatic roles, whereas I wouldn’t be such a good fit.”

“Well, I say it’s bullshit,” Larent said. 

Amelia smacked his elbow, turning to make sure there were no ladies or lads in waiting behind them before she said, “It’s not bullshit! She went through the process just as we all did. She came out on top, not much we can do but support her now.”

“Not true, we could appeal,” Larent said. 

“No, absolutely not.” Elan said, her voice taking on a tone she learned from the Queen. “I will not allow you two to make such a rash and damaging act. The choice was made, and I accepted it, you will too.” 

Amelia opened her mouth to say something more, but Elan was done. She stomped away from them, ignoring Larent’s pleas for her to come back. She marched through the reception area and flung open the door. It wasn’t until she was halfway down the hall to her rooms that she paused to take a deep breath. 

She wanted to discuss their upcoming marriage, and how much she would love for Amelia and Larent to stay at the Northern Province for the Summer Solstice Festival for their honeymoon. She wanted to arrange a gift as well, and needed their input about what they needed from her and the Northern Provence to begin their union off right. 

Instead it all went downhill so fast. Elan entered her rooms with her head and shoulders down. Her mother, Lady Brienne, sat at a desk scribbling letters. She glanced up to see Elan, her brow scrunching up in worry. “What’s wrong?” 

“Nothing,” Elan said as she closed the door.

“Doesn’t look like nothing,” Lady Brienne stood up to walk towards the wine counter. “Would you like a glass?”

“Wine isn’t for ladies…” Elan felt immediately stupid for saying it. She drank wine often enough in the castle with diplomats, and her mother never adhered to that old fashioned way of thinking. “I suppose I should confess it wouldn’t be my first glass.”

Lady Brienne rolled her eyes as she poured two cups for them. “Please, you think I don’t know about last summer? You and Amelia make for poor thieves, giggling the whole time about it.” 

Elan ducked her head, smiling at the memory. “Forgive me, next time I shall endeavor to employ more stealth.”

“See that you do.” 

Lady Brienne brought over the wine to Elan’s hand. Brienne Altier stood only a few inches above her daughter, but Elan always felt as if the woman towered over her. Her blonde hair with some light brown hair was pulled up in a similar fashion to her daughter’s, but her hair in the back wasn’t as long or thick. She wore a simple, pale green dress with a silver sash draped shoulder to shoulder, much like the Queen’s. 

She took a small sip before walking back to the desk. “Or just take the wine with my blessing. One month changes nothing. Sit with me awhile? I don’t want to return to the guest rooms just yet. Your father is deciding between coats.”

“Oh dear,” Elan said as she took a seat across from her mother. “Let me guess, he’s leaning towards the war coat?”

Her mother curled her lip, and then took a deep swig of the wine. Then, she suddenly sat up straight and picked up a rather miniscule letter from her left. “By the way, we got the confirmation letter.” Elan took the offered paper in hand, setting down her wine to the side. Her mother said, “It’s from Ravenna herself.” 

Elan’s eyes widened. She carefully opened it up, eyes roaming over the delicate designs of silver leaf in the margins. The message was short: 

Dear Duke Nathaniel and Duchess Brienne Altier of the Northern Provence, 

I, Queen Ravenna of Ravenwood, formally accept your invitation to your wonderful estate for the Summer Solstice. I shall come on the eve of the festival at dawn when I hope you will receive me at the Altar Gate. 

I bring with me a retinue of no more than three in number. Please do make accommodations, as we intend to stay for three days. I think it long enough for us to renew our treaty as well as become re-acquainted with each other.  

Blessings to you and yours,

Queen Ravenna 

Elan flipped the paper over, and back again. “Nothing else?” 

“As I recall from our meeting twenty years ago, she was a woman of few words.” Lady Brienne shrugged. “The Fae aren’t ones for pomp and ceremony. Give them gifts, see to their needs, sign the treaties, and it’s all fine.” 

“Oh,” Elan said, not really knowing how to prepare for a “woman of few words.” She usually took the time to research likes and dislikes when preparing for guests. “I don’t suppose you recall how she received what you did last time?”

Lady Brienne’s face scrunched up. “It was so long ago, and I didn’t do most of that work. You were kicking my ribs and due any day, so I put Jaden in charge. You’ll have to talk with him.” 

“Oh,” Elan scrunched up her face much like her mother’s. 

Jaden was, well, an old man and his styles were generally reflective of his age. Bare carpets, bare curtains, he did without intricate details whenever possible. He would want to input his “vision” for the preparations…Well, Elan would have to cross that bridge when she got to it. 

She set the letter down among the others. She noticed a lot of them came as refusals, polite but firm refusals. Lady Brienne flung her hand out to motion to that pile. 

“They’re all ninnies, the lot of them.” She said with a mocking tone, “‘While of course Fae relations are important, I’m afraid we just cannot attend due to,’ and the inane excuses go in. All of these ingrates love that we host the fae and keep the treaty, but want nothing to do with taking part in keeping the peace.”

Lady Brienne stared at her daughter. “Of course, they wouldn’t have refused a Princess, but what can we do?”

Elan cringed at the words. Of course on the heel of her friends giving her a hard time about Flora’s ascension, her mother must also add her own barbs. She knew to expect them, but she dared to hope perhaps after the festivities the bitterness would come. 

Apparently not.

“Mother, I did everything asked of me and more. The decision wasn’t easy for Queen Valeria; she told me as much. We must abide by the decision and trust she chose wisely.” Elan said it all while suppressing the urge to cry out that she didn’t want to disappoint her, that wasn’t her goal. 

Why do you always think I intend to fail? She wanted to ask, but kept silent.

“I suppose so,” Lady Brienne said it in that way she did, implying she thought otherwise. She was very good at saying one thing but meaning another, something Elan never managed to inherit. “I find it difficult to craft letters in return with smooth lines all the same.” 

Elan set her wine down and stood up. “I need to attend to things.” She walked away without waiting for her mother to respond, a rude gesture of a sulking child but she couldn’t help herself. 

“If this is how you responded to all difficult discussions, I can see how you were found wanting,” her mother said as a parting shot. 

Elan said nothing, simply closed the door firmly behind her. 

~~~

For the next few hours, Elan didn’t allow herself to think. Throwing herself into her work, she coordinated with the staff on this event and that going on in the city. The guards discussed a couple of security issues – a drunk man tried to barge into the castle, a woman made idle threats about the Queen, and so on – all of which were handled with quick efficiency. 

An hour before the feast, she checked in on Flora, who was coming out of her rooms in hurry with her lad in waiting. 

Flora cried out when she saw her, “Elan!” She walked over to grab her friend in an embrace. “I’m so glad to see you. I’m sure you’ve been running yourself ragged. Come with me, my parents are wanting a chat.”

Elan attempted to protest, but Flora wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, Elan found her hand tucked into the Princess’ and whisked away. They entered the Main Hall together. 

In the middle of it were Flora’s parents, Duke Gale and Sophie Calden. They were both obviously happy, beaming with pride. Elan tried to detangle herself from Flora  and stand behind, but Sophie grabbed out to take her hands.

“Oh, honey! You look amazing.” Lady Sophie said, a pure compliment coming from her. 

She was the kind of person born without a single drop of malice in her body.. Her green eyes shone bright, her soft blonde hair falling in ringlets to her shoulders, and her face held the sort of beauty of a woman who laughed often.

Flora inherited much of her looks and charm, thank heavens. Her father was a nice man, just not particularly handsome in the classical sense. Perhaps he might’ve been at a younger age, or perhaps with a better trimmed beard. If not for his tailored jacket and pants, one would think him a lumberjack from his beard and deep cracks in his forehead. 

“Thank you, Lady Sophie,” Elan said with a small curtsy. 

“Darling, don’t you think she looks amazing? I can’t believe little Elan has grown up to be such a jewel.” Lady Sophie froze, realizing she might’ve caused offense. “I mean, you were a cute little girl, don’t mistake me! I just wasn’t expecting you to end up, oh that’s not right either, I mean to say-.”

Duke Calden cut in to save his wife, “She means it’s lovely to see you become such an wonderful and capable woman.” He smiled, his mustache and beard moving with the motion. “And yes, I agree, anyone would be lucky to be your bride!” 

“Gale!” Lady Sophie thumped his shoulder. 

“What? What did I say?”

“Honestly,” said Lady Sophie with an exasperated huff. 

Between the two of them it’s a miracle Flora is so well-spoken, Elan thought to herself. 

Flora interrupted her parents gently, “You said you wanted to speak to Elan about something?”

Lady Sophie cringed. “Ah, yes, well we forgot to send out our return letter to you. We’re afraid we cannot make it to the fae alliance signing. We-.”

“Mother,” Flora suddenly put up a hand and her demeanor completely changed, “why would you be missing the opportunity to help foster the alliance between human and fae kind?”

Lady Sophie shook as if struck. “Flora, dear, there is just so much to do! We can’t afford the two weeks of travel and stay.”

Flora frowned. Lady Sophie looked hurt and Lord Gale curled up on himself. 

Elan put a hand upon Flora’s arm. “It’s fine, Flora, really.”

“No, it’s not, because I love my parents but I know they tend to follow the crowd.” The Princess turned to Elan. “How many of the Lords and Ladies will be attending the Alliance Signing?”

Flora stared down at her, and for a split second Elan could see the Queen shining through her. The silence between them said much without words. 

Elan finally said with a sigh, “Only the Contenders have agreed.”

The Princess turned to her parents. “Find the time. I will not start off my reign by insulting the fae with the smallest welcoming party to be seen in centuries. I’m asking for now as your daughter. Do not make me order it as a royal decree.” 

Lady Sophie and Lord Gale bowed before her. The shift in their demeanor from happy to kowtowed in a matter of moments didn’t sit well with Elan. She knew Flora could be commanding, but she never expected her to use her power against her own family. 

Elan pulled on Flora’s arm. “We should go see to other matters.” 

Flora nodded and followed her out of the Main Hall.

~~~

Before she could really think about it, Elan took them towards the gardens, specifically the secreted away area just outside the kitchens. Elan nodded to the staff as they stopped to bow to Flora. 

Flora’s Garden grew high instead of vast. Roses stretched up, up, up the sides of the walls entrapping the castle and its inhabitants. Yellow, white, reds, they all intermingled in a contained chaos. 

Elan turned around to make sure no one was eavesdropping before she asked, “Was that really necessary? Your mother looked so upset.”

She adored Lady Sophie, the kindest and most gentle mother out of all the provinces. It was a secret adoration, as her mother would’ve been upset to learn that sometimes Elan wondered if she should’ve been born into Flora’s family instead of her own. It was not every day she wished it so, but on a day like today? Yes, a little.

“Yes, for the reasons I just stated and more.” Flora squeezed Elan’s hand before letting her go. 

“Only the Contenders? Honestly, are we the only ones with backbones in the entire Kingdom?” She walked over to a rose bush and plucked a red flower from the stem. “I know how hard you’ve been working on this, Elan. I’ve seen the bags under your eyes and the ink stains on your fingers. I don’t appreciate all your hard work going to waste, and all because I’m Princess and you’re not.” 

Elan stood still as Flora walked back over to work the rose into Elan’s hair. 

“I can’t treat her differently just because she’s my mother, Elan.” Flora tilted her head back and forth. “One more.” She walked over to the white roses to pluck another. “Besides, I know your mother, and she must be displeased.”

“I can handle her ire. She’s not going to be pleased with me for a long time, I suspect.” Elan wrapped her arms around herself. “She’s never really seen me as anything other than a Contender for years now. My failure will just-.”

“You’re not a failure.” Flora snapped another rose off. “If she calls you anything of the sort, do remind her that I’ve no use for petty words in my court.” 

“You can’t just ban a duchess!” 

“As I recall, I was just crowned this morning, so yes, in fact, I can.”

Elan let out a groan of irritation. “All this power is getting to your head, I swear.”

“Hardly,” Flora said as she brought the flower over and worked it in beside the first one. “It’s unacceptable how these families keep trying to slither out of their responsibilities. It seems like every year we’re having to remind them these titles come with the burden of acting in the best interests of the realm.” 

“We can’t just force them into it, either, or go around banning people for just acting like parents do.” Elan put a hand up to feel the flowers in her hair. 

Flora batted her hand away. “Don’t pester them and they’ll stay in.” She turned to look at her rose bushes. “We’ll figure something out, but I refuse to just let this go.” 

Flora’s gaze settled on a small light blue shack off the side. It held the herbs and remedies that Flora experimented on when she had the time. Occasionally, she would also attempt poisons and antidotes, but those required far more trial and error.

Flore followed her gaze. “I’ve got some tonics in there. One moment.” Flora walked over to it. 

This time Elan didn’t go after her. She knew from previous ventures in there that it was a huge mess, and a bit dangerous sometimes if there were fumes. Flora came back out soon enough with a large glass bottle. 

“You can smile away all those courtiers, but I know you well. You’re running yourself ragged.” She held it out to Elan. “Drink.”

“Is that a royal decree?” Elan asked. 

“No, it’s just me, the pushy and demanding friend you’ve always known.” Flora smiled at her as she uncorked the top. “Besides, you can’t resist anything that tastes like strawberries.” 

There was a small bit of hesitation, but she had neither proper food nor drink for hours. Elan took the bottle and downed it in quick succession. It tasted heavenly, and she knew it would in fact help her get some energy back. Flora’s tonics weren’t magic, by any means, but they definitely helped her get through some grueling days. 

Elan passed the bottle back and said, “Thank you.”

“Am I forgiven then? For being short with my own mother?” Flora asked, as if the answer didn’t really matter because she already knew it. 

“You know I don’t stay mad very well.” Elan turned back towards the castle. “I still must gather things for your feast.”

“And I must go attend to the Queen, again.” Flora shrugged her shoulders. “Although it’s just as well. I want to have a chat with her about something I wish to do in the near future.” 

“Do you need me to attend as well?” 

“Not this time.” The way Flora spoke softly as she gazed at Elan. “I assure you it’s nothing very grand. More personal, really. Don’t fret over it. You’ll be doing enough of that today.”

~~~

Elan ignored all the whispers about the new additions to her hair. Everyone knew the Princess loved roses, and here was Elan holding fresh roses up in her tresses. My, my what a blessing! It took effort not to roll her eyes at all the nonsensical chatter from left to right. Flora always put flowers in her hair ever since they were children, but of course now that she was a Princess, oh my the scandal

Elan saw Amelia across the way. They waved to each other before going about their separate duties. Amelia would no doubt take her family into the Main Hall soon to prepare the feast. They brought the wild boar for the roast as a gift, along with the standard jewels and such. 

Just as she rounded the corner for the kitchens, the Captain of the Guard, Harlin Means, came in with his signature scowl and custom rapier strapped to his side. Harlin didn’t like complications, which was unfortunate considering his whole career focused on solving complications. He sported a more refined version of his fighting attire, a custom rapier strapped to his side instead of his old faithful short sword. 

Harlin stomped over to her, ignoring the couriers around him as he flung his arms up in the arm. “The fresh hell did you just plop in my lap?” He demanded to know.

Elan ignored the gasps around her and simply asked, “I beg your pardon?”

Harlin only spoke “politely” to people he hated. If Harlin cursed at you, he liked you.

Another guard came up behind him, a lad just turning into a man by the looks of him. “My lady,” he said with a quick bow, “excuse him. We’re just a bit short staffed since you placed guards at all the entrances. He doesn’t like the lack of security here in the castle itself.” 

Harlin grumbled. “What Tavin said.” He ruffled the boy’s curly hair with a heavy hand. “And yes, this is a new one, in case you’re wondering.”

Elan stifled a laugh. Harlin was a rough man, but he trained and often raised many of the boys into the castle guards. His husband, Keaton Means, had a bad habit of going off on patrol and coming back with orphans. In many respects, Keaton and Harlin had twenty some “daughters” and forty some “sons” within the castle. 

Well, some forty one now.  

Elan shrugged her shoulders. “It can’t be helped. The entrances need those guards in the event of an attack. Yes, the odds are slim, but I would rather have our people ready for it all the same.”

“They’re just collecting the shit from the elves!” Harlin proclaimed, making a few ladies in waiting turn to give him a glare.

Elan sighed. “So you’re really just here to gripe about playing the messenger then?” 

Harlin grumbled a few unkind words. His slew of profanity was interrupted by Tavin. “We have the gifts from the elves out back. We’ve given them to the staff as instructed. Many of them are for Flora, no doubt, but I think a few are for the Queen.” 

“I wouldn’t doubt it.” Elan shrugged. “The King always sends gifts if he can’t attend.” 

The Elvish King, Morliane, had been invited, but declined the invitation. It was expected, but the gesture mattered. To not invite him would’ve been insulting. Morliane came for the Queen’s coronation, and he promised to attend Flora’s as well. He wanted to send one of the Elven Princes, but both got tied up in other diplomatic affairs. Elan wondered if it was a slight, but if they needed a cart for the gifts? Perhaps not. 

“Let the staff hand over the gifts to Princess Flora and Queen Valeria. We’ll got about our own business.” Elan gave Harlin a soft glare. “And with perhaps a little less complaining?”

“Don’t count on it.” Harlin said as he gave a sloppy salute. “I’ve always hated parties and lords and ladies. Don’t see any reason to start liking ‘em now.” He turned his head and his eyes blew open. 

“DANIVAL! I know you ain’t slouchin’ on post, boy!” He stomped over in the direction of a very sorry looking guard. 

Tavin gave Elan an apologetic look before bowing slightly and running after Harlin. 

Elan shook her head before continuing her walk. As the sun began its descent, Elan wandered towards Main Hall. She waited for her parents to come down the stairs. As much as she dreaded seeing her mother again, the feast demanded they all walk in together. As usual, she could hear them before she saw them. Her father’s booming, jolly voice has a knack for carrying, and her mother subconsciously raised her own to get her point across to them. 

Elan walked down in the Main Hall in line her mother and father, the two of them still just chatting away. Lady Brienne held onto her husband’s arm while whispering to him that, “Yes, darling, I swear you look dashing.” 

“But are you really sure?” He asked. “I know I need to get out on the horses more, but my aching back never allows it.”

Duke Nathanial once held a collection of thick muscles, constantly horse riding and training with his younger brothers. Nowadays his waist was thicker, but it didn’t make him much softer with that padding. His bear hugs cracked backs and left people gasping for air. He also chose to indulge in a courtier’s mustache, waxed until it shone like a beacon in the night. 

He chose his war attire, as expected. Most of the Dukes fought in the five year war against the demons of the north in their youth. They held shiny medallions on their breasts boasting of this battle or that. Elan couldn’t keep track of them all, and it really didn’t matter. The Demon “Wars” were really more like overly blown up skirmishes, according to her own history books. 

Lady Brienne and Elan shared in a pale green scheme with long sleeves, while Duke Nathanial was decked out in black pants and a golden jacket. Elan was wearing family jewels of emeralds in her earrings, as well, an old gift from her mother. 

Duke Nathanial grasped his daughter’s hand and kissed the back of her fingers. “Sorry, love, I meant to say hello! How did everything go today? Any problems?” 

“Nothing really challenging, just the occasional drunkard making a mess,” Elan said with a shrug. “Essentially the same issues as all parties.” 

Duke Nathanial laughed. “Good, good! I’m quite glad to hear it. Enjoy yourself tonight, dear,” he leaned in close, “I know your heart must be a bit broken, but do remember that regardless you shall be a duchess.” 

“I know, father.” Elan squeezed his hand back. “I’m fine, I assure you.” 

They arrived at the Main Hall with no one before them in line. An attendant shouted to the masses of the hall, “May I present, the Duke and Duchess Altier, with their daughter Elan the Duchess in Waiting!” 

Everyone cheered as they entered. The Duke saw the Eastern Lands court, and shoved his way over to clap a hard hand on his old friend’s back. Lady Brienne rolled her eyes before going over to a group of ladies to the right. Elan headed to the front table to join the other once Contenders gathered around Flora. 

Queen Valeria would no doubt come later in regal finery and two ladies in waiting helping her with a trail or some such thing. Elan had tried to ask what she wanted, but Valeria had waived her off with, “Don’t you worry, dear, I have my own ways about me.” 

Amelia said something to Flora, who laughed and covered her mouth quickly. “You can’t say that to a princess! Amy!” 

“What? I’m just curious, your royalness.” Amelia winked at her. 

Larent sighed and smiled at Elan. “Hello there, please tell my fiance to stop torturing the princess as she now has the power to hang us all.”

“I would never!” Flora said as she smacked his arm. “Life imprisonment at worst, maybe.” 

Jalek waved at Elan. “We’re discussing future plans for the Queen of Surene, such as but not limited to future spouses.” 

“Ah,” Elan lifted one shoulder, “I would expect you’ve got your pick. Besides Larent, of course.” 

Flora and Larent blanched at the thought. “Ew!” 

All of them shared a good laugh. Elan knew the whole marriage aspect wouldn’t be a problem for Flora. She was neither poor for choice nor undesired by many in the kingdom or even outside of it. Still, friends were obligated to give each other a hard time about such things. 

Elan turned to look over her shoulder. “It seems as if everyone is enjoying themselves.” 

“Stop, stop it!” Amelia took two hands and turned her friend’s head back towards the 

group. “Enough with the working, it’s time to have fun.” 

Flora grabbed a wine cup on the table and shoved it into Elan’s hand. “I’m commanding you to drink this wine and feast upon food.” 

“See? It’s a command. You have to do it.” Larent said before sipped on his ale. “By the way, let us know when you’re heading back home. We’ll travel with you. Bigger numbers keep the brigands away and all that.” 

Jalek nodded and poked Elan in the shoulder. “You thinking about marriage lately?” 

“Not to you!” Elan said as she finally took a sip of the wine. 

“Ouch, my heart, oh no, it is broken.” Jalek’s deadpanned tone implied otherwise. “Seriously, don’t let your mother choose. She’ll pick some old, crumbling ghoul with a high title.”  

“Jalek!” 

“What? She would!” 

Larent and Amelia both nodded in agreement. Flora waved a hand in dismissal. 

The princess said, “Enough with the marriage talk. Let’s all go mingle and then go to our seats. I’m starving, but if I sit everyone else will and it’s not time yet.” 

They did as they were trained to do. All of them worked the room, talking with the heads of each Province. Elan ended up speaking far longer with Lady Sophie than she intended, but that always tended to happen. She rubbed elbows with some diplomats from the neighboring kingdoms, smaller in size but still just as important to recognize. At intervals, Larent or Amelia would whisper in her ear, and she would convey a message to Flora about an update on some region or another. 

When Flora sat down, everyone began slowly finding their places at the long tables around the hall. North and East shared a table on the left while the West and South shared space on the right. The diplomats and foreign dignitaries sat at the ends of both tables. Above them were balcony seats. If the elven king or princes designed to attend, they would often be up there, as most elves lived high in trees. They held the musical troupe instead, who played soft and relaxing tunes for the guests. 

The announcer shouted, “Her majesty, Queen Valeria Noblesse, daughter of Duke Jonal and Duchess Regina Noblesse of the Southern Province! All rise!”

Everyone stood from their chairs to clap as she entered the room. The Queen dressed in more loose attire this time, a billowing blue skirt attached to a white corset. Corsets were more indicative of her time, Elan’s generation preferred a tight bodice but no thick bones to tighten their lungs. Although in her late forties, oftentimes people commented she appeared older, with grey streaks already sliding through her brunette tresses. She conveyed wisdom and strength, but a solitary air as well. 

Valeria walked in the center to the high table. She paused before it to turn around, and Flora came around the table to stand by her side. The Queen and Princess of Surene stood shoulder to shoulder, heads held high with small smiles on their faces. Although quite different in face, their manner was much the same. 

“Welcome my friends,” Queen Valeria said with a voice that carried across the room. “I look forward to celebrating with you this momentous occasion. I am very pleased with Princess Flora, who I have seen grow into the royal we know today.” Valeria turned her gaze to roam over each table before her. “To the other Contenders, I must say, this decision was not easy. All of you possess the qualities of future leaders that we will need to keep this kingdom secure. Although you were not chosen for the crown, do not think yourselves any less vital to the kingdom.” 

“Indeed,” Flora said right after her, “I will need you as my allies in friends. Although we have lived in over two hundred years of peace and prosperity, I will call upon you if we should ever face trying times. To our allies from the Kingdom Yolfar, the Kingdom Petricor, the Elven Lands, and the Fae Kingdom, please know I will endeavor to keep our ties strong.” 

“Let us feast and be merry!” Queen Valeria announced. 

Everyone sat down to eat. Elan tried to concentrate on her food. She ate without looking to her left. Lady Brienne was conspicuously silent. Her father was laughing and chatting in his booming voice with their neighbors. 

Lady Brienne finally broke the tense silence, “If I had known the queen was going to wear a corset, I would’ve worn one as well.” 

Elan sighed. “She kept it a secret, I suspect for exactly that reason. She wanted to make an impression. Hard to make a grand entrance if everyone is wearing the same thing.”

“She didn’t tell you?”

“Indeed, and not Flora either.” Elan tried to cut off anymore barbs so she could just try to eat. As it was, the knot in her stomach made the task difficult. “It was a surprise to us all.” 

“I see.” Brienne dropped the conversation and the silence returned. 

Elan put her fork down and gave up. She picked up a goblet and sipped on the wine instead. She peered over at Valeria and Flora talking as they ate together. Flora smiled as she said something, and Valeria frowned as she responded. Elan watched them out of the corner of her eye. She could tell something was amiss. She pursed her lips together and wondered if she should go over to talk with them, but it would be hard to be discreet. 

Her mother interrupted her musings with, “Your father and I would like to leave tomorrow. When the sun reaches its zenith, I think. He will no doubt need to nurse his poor decisions in the morning.” 

Elan nodded, but still wouldn’t look at her. “Larent, Amelia, and Jalek wish to travel with us. I will let them know of the departure time.” 

“Of course,” Brienne said. “Do you wish to travel with them or with us?”

“With them,” Elan said a bit too quickly. 

Her mother sighed. “Am I so terrible to be around?”

“Do you really want an answer?” Elan stared down at her food. “I expect nothing but harsh words and jabs for a long time yet. Is it really so surprising that I would rather be in the company of people who like me?” 

Her mother threw her own fork down in anger. “Fine. Pout with your friends in a separate carriage. Do what you must.” 

The silence settled over them again. Duke Nathanial realized he was the only one talking on his end and turned to see his wife and daughter not even looking at each other. He rolled his eyes and gruffly asked them, “What are you two fighting about now?” 

“Nothing.” They both snapped. 

Her father gave them a flat glare. “Well, that is most reassuring.” He pointed to Lady Brienne. “Wife, quit harping on your only child about what’s been done. Daughter, eat and relax. And both of you, smile! This is a celebration, not a funeral.” 

“Did he just tell us to smile?” Elan asked.

“He did,” Lady Brienne gave him bared teeth. “Brave of him.” 

“Oh, don’t you two gang up on me!” 

Princess Flora suddenly stood up with a goblet in hand. “My dear people! May I have your attention?” 

Queen Valeria’s hand covered her eyes. Elan looked from her to Flora a couple of times. What was going on? 

“I have spoken with our dear queen, and I have announced that I will attend the signing of the Alliance Treaty with the fae in the Northern Province! I thought it was such a shame that my fellow Contenders would be alone in their sojourn to the North.”

Elan’s jaw dropped. Her mother gripped her shoulder tight. Duke Nathanial coughed and sputtered. 

Flora continued. “I know it is a bit untraditional, as a princess of Surene has never before met a fae queen, only the monarchs. However, why not start off my reign by making history? If anyone would like to change their minds and join us for the Summer Solstice celebration, please do come. I would appreciate your support so as to show Ravenna that we do not allow for old prejudices or fear to guide us in Surene.” Flora lifted her cup. “To strong bonds!” 

There was a loud clatter as people dove for their cups. “To strong bonds!” the crowd cheered. 

As Elan sipped on her cup, she turned in panic to her mother. Lady Brienne threw back her entire cup and slammed it down on the table. 

“Well…” Elan said with a wince, “you got your wish?” 

“We are not prepared.” Lady Brienne’s harsh whisper came out in a rush. 

Duke Nathanial leaned over them both. “The Solstice is but a week away!”

“We’re aware, dear!” Lady Brienne snapped at him. 

“I’ll leave tonight,” Elan said in determination. “I’ll ask Harlin Means to get a collection of guards and a carriage to see me safely North.” 

“Fine,” Lady Brienne nodded. “We will leave in the morning.” 

~~~

After the feast, a lady in waiting requested Elan’s presence in the queen’s sunroom. Elan walked as fast as a lady was allowed in the castle to get there. When she walked into it, Valeria sat upon her favorite chaise, leaning against the support with her head looking up to the starry sky. 

Queen Valeria motioned for Elan to come closer. Her lips were pinched together in disapproval, whether from the situation or Elan was unclear. Elan liked to think she’d become well versed in reading Valeria. After year under her personal tutelage with Flora, she knew that pinched lips meant serious business. 

Valeria said, “As you might’ve guessed, I don’t approve of Flora going North to meet Ravenna.”  She patted the cushion beside her. “But what can I do now?” 

Elan opened her mouth, then closed it again. She said, “Your majesty, shouldn’t Flora be here?”

“She is off galavanting, and I would be cross with her. Best to let her have fun on her big day.” Valeria trailed off, shaking her head. “Although, it will take some getting used to, only speaking with Flora. I’ve come to rely on you both in equal measure, that is perhaps not the healthiest of choices. All the same, she caused the trouble we’ll be discussing, so…” 

“Very well,” Elan said, acquiescing easily enough. She made her point without too much rudeness, although her mother would’ve boxed her ears for refusing the Queen, even as a token show of resistance. All the same, a reminder was necessary, as these kinds of talk were an old habit. 

Elan sat down beside her and said, “I have no reason to believe Queen Ravenna would be a danger to Flora. Do you?”  

“Ravenna wouldn’t, but humans are more my worry. Oddly enough, I don’t mind the thought of my assassination, but an attack on Flora…I couldn’t live with it.” Valeria said the last in a hushed whisper.

Elan didn’t doubt her, as once she began to know Valeria she discovered that she loved greatly and felt loss keenly. She kept no family after her parents died, not because she lacked for lovers or suitors, but the thought of losing another person was abhorrent to her. 

“She will be fine.” Elan reassured her. “I will bring some of the castle guards with us, and our own staff are well trained to fight.” 

“I’m sure, I’m sure,” Valeria said absently. “All the same,  I hate the idea of a newly crowned princess straying so far from home.” 

Queen Valeria said after a small pause, “On a more personal note, Elan, what are your feelings towards Flora?”

“Oh, I…” Elan didn’t know what to say. Flora and her were close after essentially co-running a kingdom for the past year. They grew up together, looked after each other, and Elan often stayed at Flora’s estate. “She is a very good friend and confidant. I care for her as one would a close friend.”

Queen Valeria smiled, a beaming one used to charm others into her schemes. It confounded Elan, seeing as how there wasn’t a scheme at play. No sense in trying to understand what was going on in the Queen’s head when there were more important matters to attend to, honestly.

A knock on the door startled them both. Captain Harlin entered without announcing himself, a scowl set deep in his face. 

He said, “I suppose you’ll be wantin’ me and some of my ‘finest guardsmen or ladies’ to accompany you nitwits North?” 

Elan said with a smile, “You are optional!” 

“The hell I am,” Harlin wiped a hand over his face and started pacing about the room. “Keaton is thinkin’ it should be an easy job, but a new princess puts all kinds of kinks into that notion. I’m inclined towards the better safe than sorry ways of old. I heard you were wantin’ to ride off in the night?” 

“Yes, but how did you know that?” Elan wrapped her arms around herself. 

“Danival was behind you. He wants to come with. He figures Flora wants to sneak off with ya.” Harlin stopped to glare at her. “So, we leavin’ when everyone gets to bed?” 

Elan shrugged. “If you can be ready by then?”

“Sure, whatever.” 

The room fell silent. Harlin stopped at a window to gaze out into the crowd. The common folk were still celebrating down in the courtyard. Elan watched him watching them, and wondered if he was sizing up the crowd for possible dangers. 

Elan asked, “Is that all?” 

“More or less,” Harlin sighed and scratched at the back of his head. “Valeria, you good with this? Really?” He turned to the queen with a torn expression. “I know logically it’s gonna all work out, but it feels a bit fucked.” 

Queen Valeria glared at him. “Harlin, language.” 

“Your majesty, you hired me with colorful language, as I recall.” Harlin motioned over to Elan. “She don’t know what you were like back in the demon war days, but I recall a little princess turned new queen with a whip of a tongue.”

“Oh do shut up, Harlin,” Valeria said with a roll of her eyes. Then, she turned to Elan, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Actually, sneaking off with Flora and a contingent of guards would get you to the North faster. Waiting around for all of these people to collect their things and go? It would take too long. Go tonight, with my begrudged blessing.”  

“Thank you, your majesty” Elan grabbed Valeria’s hand and squeezed it. “I shall endeavor to keep Flora safe.” 

~~~

When she arrived in Flora’s room, everyone was there. Amelia and Larent were seated at a tea table. Amelia changed, her daggers on each hip with training pants on, the brown and loose kind for sparring. Her hair was up in tail, and her shirt was a sleeveless beige color. Larent had on something similar with his rapier strapped to his side. Jalek kept on his hunting gear, only adding a short sword. 

Flora sat in her lounge chair, dressed in her more updated training uniform, grey pants with a black shirt. Her tiara was gone, and her hair was pulled up into tail. She was writing in her journal with a quill in hand.  

Elan stared at all of them in shock. “Any particular reason everyone is in battle garb?” 

“Well, when one is running off into the night, better to be prepared. Don’t you think?” Larent asked with a cheeky grin. 

“Besides, it’s more comfortable for traveling than dresses,” Amelia said.  

Flora stood up while setting her book down to dry on a nearby table. “We were wondering if you were alright. We hadn’t seen you for an hour. 

“I’m fine, just busy.” Elan decided not to share that she’d been with an irritated queen for the past hour or so. 

“Keaton came by and said most of the preparations are going smoothly.” She walked over to Elan and took her hand. “I’m sorry I made more work for you.”

“It’s alright, really.” Elan said, squeezing her hand. “You don’t need to worry.”

Flora gave her a small smile. “I always worry about you.” She tugged Elan over to the chair. “You work yourself to exhaustion on a day without chaos! This? I can hardly imagine how you feel.”

“She’s not wrong,” Amelia said, moving over to sit with them. “You look worn out, no offense intended.” 

“I suppose I am, but I had no time to think about it.” Elan felt the fatigue settle in as she sat down. Amelia poured her a cup of tea and slid it over to her. “Thank you,” she sipped on it. “I will rest once we’re in the carriage and on the way.” 

“Take a rest now, we still have a while before Harlin comes to fetch us.” Flora said, “We can wake you when it’s time to flee. 

Larent said, “After our escape, all the dukes and duchesses will follow after us tomorrow. Two days journey for them, most likely. Jalek and I will be carriage drivers. You ladies can stay in the carriage and just relax.” 

Amelia slapped his shoulder. “We’re not fragile dolls!” 

Jaleck put up a hand. “We are from the horse region! We’re brought up from birth to ride for long hours. Relax!” 

Amelia smacked him on the shoulder, too. “We all learned to ride horses!” 

“I would rather sleep,” Elan said.

“Fine, you sleep.” Amelia said. “Jaleck and Larent, too. If you’re volunteering yourselves as the riders, then you’ll need to rest up.” 

Flora pointed to her bed. “Elan and Larent there. Jaleck, take the lounge chair.” 

“I’ll take the reins in the morning, then.” Larent said as he plopped onto Flora’s bed. 

Elan finished her tea. Flora put a hand on her back and rubbed a small circle in the middle. She leaned in to whisper in Elan’s ear. “You can change into less formal wear in my bathroom.” 

Elan nodded and set about doing just that. She switched into loose pants and a shirt for training. Might as well match the rest of the party, she thought to herself. Flora’s clothes were a little loose on her, as Flora stood a good foot taller than her. Still, if she tied the threads up the pants didn’t fall down. She walked back out just as some food arrived. 

It was a simple fare of bread and soup. Elan sat next to Flora to eat. Flora poured her some tea and arranged the sugars out. Elan smiled as she nibbled on her bread. 

Amelia coughed into her hand. “Um, so, the plan is to keep Flora with us, then our parents come after, but then what? The Fae come and…?”

Elan put the sugar into her tea as she said, “We have a feast, again. My mother and father sign the treaty with their blood, as does Ravenna. They only stay for about three days and then head back to Ravenwood.” 

Flora put an arm around Elan’s shoulders. “You won’t be doing this alone. We’re all here, and we can help.”

“What Flora said,” Amelia reached a hand out to grab her forearm, “and then some. Two hundred years of peace, right? Nothing is gonna happen.” 

Elan nodded and gave them a weak smile. “Of course.” 

Flora pestered her to bed not long after she finished her soup. She fell asleep hard, and it was difficult to stumble down the stairs to the carriage an hour later. Flora and Amelia let her have one side all to herself. Larent and Jaleck set off at a fast pace, guards on either side of them. When the sun rose over the castle, the Princess and her once contenders were well on their way to the Northern Province. 


WordPress hates tab, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that this whole thing is formatted correctly in my doc.

You’re gonna probably noticed this chapter’s pacing is AWFUL, and you would be correct. As mentioned previously, I was frustrated as hell writing this entire thing. I was also trying to write a different novel while working on this one, which is always a mistake (I can’t even read two books interchangeably, why did I think I could write two books that way)

As I was re-reading, I realized the parts I hated the most were the “action” parts. I’m not good at writing intrigue or action at the best of times, and it felt supremely out of place here.

Therefore, I needed to do a complete re-haul, and fuck intentions. It helped that I wrote an outline and figured out I didn’t need to set up every little thing right at the beginning chapter.

Tomorrow I’ll show off a polished version, and explain changes. The day after, I intend to get into characters and backstories. All the while, behind the scenes, I’ll be having a panic attack about putting this all out in public.

Posted in Talking about Books

Let’s Talk about a Book I’ve Been Writing for Over Two Years, YAY!

Hi, I’m terrified, how are you?

Fun facts, I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was eleven years old. After going through all of K-12 education being told my writing was never really “good enough” by teachers, I basically talked myself into continue writing anyways, somehow. I’ve sent off poems and short stories with some success here and there, but the whole process of sending queries and rejection letters always puts my brain in a corkscrew.

Basically, getting to publication seemed like an impossible task, and it doesn’t help when you know the publishing game is really, really goddamn rigged.

Lindsay Ellis’ success story is actually horrifying

You get to a point in your life in the midst of a global pandemic, though, where you realize that there is a distinct chance that as a person with asthma you could die in two weeks after coming into contact with the wrong person. It makes you really think: Do I want to go out with this dream unfinished? Or do I want to just get the thing out there and fuck it?

My answer is FUCK IT, yes in all the caps. I’m tired of putting off something I love because I’m worried about…I don’t even know, rejection isn’t really the issue. It sucks that I’m kind of holding my own damn self back over “waiting for the right time” or “when the doc has been edited for the 10,000th time.”

In the digital age when literally anyone can publish anything, why am I bothering to dither around and just not doing that? Honestly, I don’t even have an answer! I’ve looked into options, IndieBound and Amazon and all that, but in the end the research is just another excuse to procrastinate. I should just get the thing done and be DONE WITH IT.

And so, guess what? I’m doing a book week.

Is this book related to Japan? No, not all, but it’s my lesbian Tolkien romance story and I want to write about it. My blog, my rules, get over it.

Tomorrow I’m dropping the original first chapter of the book. The rough draft can maybe show you if you’d be interested in the end result or not. Prepare for a fun week!

Posted in Uncategorized

Challenging Myself Artistically in Quarantine

I’m not an artist, but I dabble in sketching and such. When I was in both high school and university, I got high praise for anything I did in black and white. I still prefer the monochrome medium to this day.

However, in the past year or so I’ve been trying to get into colors…which for some reason messes me up so completely in shading it’s not even funny.

Not bad, not great but not the worst
Ok, we shade and layer, like the tutorials said!
Well…it’s something?

I don’t know, it’s something about taking it the next step up, bringing shadows into hue, I just can’t quite “get it.”

When I was in high school I tried, but even my art teacher at the time would put up the Halloween art on display (black hollowed out trees in front of a haunted house with a cresent moon) but then would oh-so politely ask me to “treasure” the pastel creation I worked on (it was supposed to be a man and woman dancing, but came out like demented Picasso).

In university, my art teachers drove me to keep torturing myself with new ways of making color enter my work. It was hilarious, because both of them would be really excited to see my speed sketches, but then blanch at my collages, paintings, and etc. I think the only “successful” thing I did was a model in theater design, and that’s because “Waiting for Godot” could have literally any backdrop at all.

I feel cursed, because it’s like somehow bringing colors into it reverses me. I devolve, ending up with drawings that resemble middle school me rather than the me with years of experience. It’s just so FRUSTRATING.

What even are these lines?! Proportions?!

I miss having art classes, but I figured YouTube tutorials would get me there. Problem with that logic is most people I’m watching have hundreds of copic marker sets, as in hundreds of dollars spent on having this big ol’ collection of drawing instruments. I wish I could talk myself into it, but I can’t afford something like that right now.

I can finally draw hands, though, so progress had been made!

I’m gonna keep trying to get this right, or at least passably good. It might take longer than even quarantine is around, but why not? I enjoy it and it’s not like me to just give up on a project.

I should also quit with anime faces. I’m oddly better at “real” than cartoon figures.
At least nature doesn’t completely abandon me.

Maybe someday soon I’ll be able to get something really good, until then, it’s practice, practice, practice!

Posted in Dusty ALT Diaries, Slice of Life

Dusty ALT Diaries: The Big Decision

Once upon a time, I actually didn’t intend to ever live in Tokyo. I even told the JET Program people not to place me in a big city, because honestly I used to hate them. I still don’t particularly like the center of Tokyo. The noise, all the people bumping into each other, that all feels so claustrophobic.

After spending most of my life in the countryside and the small town that was Paducah, Kentucky, I felt most comfortable with greenery and wide open spaces. To this day, I think back to my placement in Itako, Ibaraki and miss the rice fields, the long walks along the river at night, and the smell of iris flowers.

I found an old journal entry that comes close to the time when I made the leap to big city life.


January 18th, 2014

I’m listening to Frozen’s “Let It Go,” and I’ll be honest if it weren’t for this song, Frozen would’ve just been alright. Luckily, this song exists and the world is a better place for it.

I’m heading off to Tokyo again on the bus for Stacey’s B-Day party at T.G.I. Fridays. Stacey is excited about the party, I think. She was in China so she wasn’t over here to celebrate on the day of.

I’ve made the decision recently that I’m going to move down there, get a job teaching English and maybe a part-time something else. I would like to get some experience in the business sector, somehow. I haven’t don’e much research, so I need to get on that.

The bus ride to Tokyo used to be a heart pumping experience for me. I couldn’t sleep on the first ride out. I wanted to see everything, soak it all in, memorize every little post and sign with kanji on it. I thought the signs were fascinating in year one. Both kanji and romaji displayed displayed on exits and destinations, learning through living this new life, going some odd kilometers ahead.

It’s the Kanto-Express Highway from Suigo-Itako to Tokyo. Itako is the inaka, so as one travels towards Tokyo the green grass and sparse trees slowly get replaced with buildings growing taller and taller. There’s more harsh concrete, drab grey stuff that contrasts vividly against a bright blue sky. Cars increase in both size and number, so the lanes go from four to six, sometimes eight at certain exits.

Tiny little four door Toyota’s mingle with Honda semi-trucks along with those obnoxious boxes on wheels Daihatsu makes. I believe the model is called “Move,” which is highly ironic because no one moves fast in those at all.

On the road, there are airplanes flying high and low because of the Narita and Haneda airports. I’ve never used Haneda, just Narita.

So of course, the hotels pop up near Narita. Narita is one of the bigger towns that has a lot to offer, but I couldn’t find any jobs there. I drove there the other day to buy some things in their foreign food store, KALDI, for things I couldn’t get around me.

A foreign couple, I suppose killing time on a layover, came into the food court. They complained loudly about how they couldn’t read anything and nothing looked delicious. I felt a strange mix of amusement and frustration. I knew they were just tourists who didn’t need to understand the language if they’re only going to stay for a few hours tops, but to be twice my age and acting like five year olds throwing a tantrum at the dinner table? A little too much for me to handle.

They never asked me for help, either, and I would’ve given it, too. Instead, they just went around complaining, neither one of them bothering to suggest going somewhere else. There are literally ten Italian restaurants in the downstairs of the Aeon Mall.

Under my breath, I laughed at them and I ordered a sushi-soba bowl set, because I wanted to show that not all foreigners were so ridiculous. And the sushi-soba was delicious, too!

The highway gets a little crazy outside of Tokyo. The bus has to get on and off several ramps. I nearly hurt myself more than once using the restroom in the back when the bus was doing those strange loop-de-loops through traffic.

I’ve been considering what I should do, future-wise. Moving to Tokyo, sure, but after that? I’ve been thinking maybe of moving to England, but I’ve seen Kris and Jillian’s struggles to get Jillian a spousal visa. So much money, so many documents, and they lived together for so long over here! They had a legitimate wedding. I don’t understand it. It’s been almost a year since they left, and it’s still a struggle for Jillian with the job hunt.

My crush on Benedict Cumberbatch is also at play, but that’s a crazy reason to move to another country, haha!

I can see the Tokyo Sky Tree and the bus is slowing down to a crawl in the usual traffic. I’m already late. I knew I should’ve left earlier. My New Year’s resolution should be to commit to being on time more often. I should go to the Sky Tree when I live in Tokyo.

I’ve never lived in a big city, but I’m ready to try.


Obviously, I never moved to England. The dream died the next year, when I realized that in order to really get a job outside of teaching I would need to increase my Japanese skills significantly. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch is married with a child, so that ship has sailed.

In all seriousness, when you’re on the JET Program they’ll often try to keep you in your placement for as long as possible. If you’re good at what you do and you’re well liked, going all five years is easier for the school than trying to prep for a new person.

However, you know when it’s time to go. I couldn’t take the textbooks anymore. I distinctly remember a class when I realized I wasn’t even reading the words to be a tape recorder, I could just do the dialogues from memory after doing the same lessons for two years. I thought to myself, no, I can’t keep doing this, it’s not enough.

Besides that, I was running down to Tokyo every weekend to be in Nichome, to be with my queer people. I was closeted in Itako, only telling maybe a few foreign friends and that’s it. And even then, two of the closest ALT’s near me in year one didn’t believe me when I said I was bisexual. I couldn’t really be fully myself out there.

Leaving when you know it’s time to go is for the best. You might feel pressure from your teachers and supervisors to stick around, but in the end you know what’s best for you. The worst case is sticking around and making yourself miserable. I’ve met people who did all five years purely for the money, and they hated the job by year five because they’d been wanting to leave since year two. Don’t torture yourself for the benefit of others, don’t gaman yourself into settling into a role that doesn’t fit you at all, but instead go forth and try out something new.

I love Tokyo life now. Sure, I miss the old scenery, but I can be myself here. I see myself living here permanently, if all goes according to plan. Big decisions are sometimes anxiety inducing, but they can be worth it in the end. Hopefully, you won’t be afraid to take the leap when it’s time to move on.

Posted in Uncategorized

BLINDNESS

A friend posted about bullying and harassment he experienced here in Japan. This post is also a possible first chapter to a memoir.

The Black Narcissus

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I first met Mr K around twenty years ago. As one of the most experienced and knowledgeable English teachers in the school, he could explain the finer grammar points to me better than I understood them myself, and he was valued by the company for his ability to instill this impractical but necessary English in students for the higher level entrance exams. Suspicious of me at first, his narrow, deep set eyes watching me closely in his snide, if humorously and appealingly hippopotamus-like face as I walked into the room, with his faltering, heavily-accented English that he was obviously quite self-conscious of, he hesitated to address me directly, but gradually let down his guard and began to take to me –  and me to him. I found him amusing. We had a similarly absurdist sense of humour, a general skepticism, a playful mockery and politically left of centre tendencies (he…

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Posted in Uncategorized

Dusty ALT Diaries: Keeping a Teacher Log

One of the many projects I undertook while in self-isolation for COVID19 was to go through all my notebooks and digitize all my writing bits and pieces.

I stumbled across pages of my old ALT years, which was inevitable. I never throw notebooks away, which is why I constantly suffer when I move house, filling a whole suitcase with mostly scribbles and nonsense.

However, teacher logs aren’t nonsense!

Also known as teacher journals, teacher logs are when you write down classes that you’ve planned. How did they go? What went well? What went horribly awry?

I was super thorough for this lesson, probably because I really wanted to figure out why it went so horribly wrong. You can tell, because I usually put my mistakes in red and those pages are like a murder scene.

Anways, teacher logs are especially great for ALT’s who intend to stay for longer than a year or two. You can keep track of things that worked, things that didn’t, and what needs improvement. The teacher logs can also help you just generally improve as a teacher.

Since it’s usually really hard to get good, critical direct feedback from most JTE’s, being able to self-analyze will be the main way you figure out what your weak points and strong points are. If you’re running into the teaching gig blind, like I did, then it’s going to be helpful to stumble your way into creating your own teaching methods.

You also get an idea for a reward system? Sketch it out, jot it down! I thought about this classwork reward system stamp rally. When u did some research online, I actually managed to find a few that could work. I never ended up implementing it as an ALT (my JTE’s said no, booo) but I did end up using a version of this in my high school teaching a couple years after JET.

Teacher logs helped keep my memory of students and teachers, too. I could look through it and remember names and faces better than if I just looked through a student name sheet. I could keep notes on who needed help and who excelled in the class. With the log, it worked as kind of keystone for creating good relationships at my schools.

In general, keeping a teacher log worked really well for me. Some people think they’re kind of a waste of time, because writing down every lesson would be so tedious. To that I say, you’re right, so just write down the important stuff and leave out all the rest. It’s meant to be a tool for you to use as is beneficial to you, so therefore it doesn’t have to be used daily or anything.

It’s up to you, but I liked having a place to keep all my thoughts together. For the self-analysis, self-improvement, and memories, I think a teacher log is a good tool to utilize. Consider making a digital one instead of a notebook, though, because if you move those kind of pile up.

I’ve been thinking for a while now that I should dedicate a good few throwback or diary flashbacks posts of the ALT times. As I continue through these notebooks, I’m sure I’m going to find more remnants of the past. Hopefully, somebody will find these old papers useful somehow.

Posted in Japan News, YouTube Videos

News from Japan: Two Vlogs for the Price of One Blog

Recently, friends and family have been asking a bunch of questions about the situation here in Japan. Specifically, a lot of Tokyo people I know are left confused and bewildered by the information we’re getting. I decided to hit YouTube with what information I knew, even going so far as to put up two videos two days in a row (which for me is pretty intense).

Yeah, the thumbnail ain’t great, so sue me. I’m learning!

I ended up with my longest video to date, clocking in a about 42 minutes. It’s mostly a response video to a bunch of misinformation happening about COVID19 in Japan, as well as reacting to a recent press briefing given my Tokyo Governor Yumiko Koike.

I was harsh in this video on Koike because I felt like the advice to avoid nightclubs and bars to be really empty and useless. Also, I think everyone was frustrated that she didn’t do a lockdown, because at the time even though I knew it wouldn’t be a lockdown like other countries, she could still punish businesses for operating in a time of crisis.

Turns out I was wrong, as the next video-which is about half the time of the previous video, you’re welcome- I talk about how the powers of the governors is actually really limited in scope, to the point they kind of don’t really have any legal control to make people stop doing much without the national Diet making a call.

Yes, it’s still not a great thumbnail, shut up.

When it comes to a national emergency sort of lockdown, that’s when transportation can be shut down with amended laws. The Influenze and Infectious Disease Laws were both amended in March to allow for more stringent measures to be used. Now, if Shinzo Abe announces a complete lockdown on April 2nd, the rumored date for it, then he can grant powers to the governors and city halls to take out public transport. If people can’t get to work by train, bus, or car, odds are then businesses will have to be shut down.

In other news, I also talked about the JET Programme attendees are pissed at CLAIR and MEXT for not assisting them in this time of crisis, so much so that the US Embassy received complaints and put out a response.

The Tokyo Board of Education is keeping schools closed until after May 6th, as in after Golden Week. For ALTS and teachers, that means emailing and calling up people to see how your schedule will look in the coming month.

And finally, the Japan Post will stop sending mail to certain countries in the coming month due to airline restrictions.

Those are basically the main points. Hopefully soon we’ll get our lockdown, and if so, the increasing cases will slow down. However, I am worried that as this point the cases have increased to a point where mass spreading is bound to continue for the next couple of weeks, if not longer. Japan is starting off like New York, but hopefully it won’t have the same outcome. We’ve been lucky so far, I pray it holds, even though I know logically it’ll probably get worse before it gets better.

We’ll see how things go, I guess.

Posted in Japan News, Slice of Life

The Obligatory COVID19 Update

I don’t really know where to start, but I guess the situation changed from “something to keep an eye on” to “really concerned” about mid-February.

I remember when the news feed about the Diamond Princess hit my timelines on Facebook and Twitter at the start of February. My colleagues and I talked about it. We speculated about the quarantine efforts. Were they enough? Too much? How long would they keep people in there?

All these conversations took place between lessons. We drank coffee, complained about this class issue or another. I was having a couple of problem students, one of which involved a kind of serious incident. The homeroom teacher and I were strategically figuring out how to help the kid get through the next few classes.

During that time, I was concerned with actually finishing up my curriculum for the third semester. I was struggling to get my test together, too, because with only two months of subject matter to cover I wasn’t sure how to grade it out of 100 points.

Little did I know, very soon, it wouldn’t matter at all.

As the death toll kept increasing abroad, murmurs and tension started to rise. What tipped the scales from nervous to frightened for us was the news about the teacher who caught it in Chiba. Japanese teachers at my school pushed back against a formal top-down decision from the administration to continue holding the last classes and finals as normal.

I talked about it with co-workers and we all seemed to have the same concerns.

“If one student catches it, then that’s it, right? That’s the whole school?”

“For sure, the kids never wash their hands. They have sports clubs together, and that’s always how the flu gets around. One basketball player gets it and then half a team goes down.”

“So-and-so sensei has a family member with leukemia living at home. He’s terrified of passing it along to them!”

“Did you hear Racist-sensei? He doesn’t want the half kids at school, especially the half-Chinese kids. He thinks I don’t understand Japanese. Should’ve punched him in the face.”

“Don’t bother, he’s old. With any luck he’ll die off like all the other dinosaurs. The school is talking about only parents at the graduation ceremony. That’s a bit half-assing it ain’t it?”

Xenophobia is of course all over the place by this point. Restaurants denying foreigners is a time honored tradition in Japan, so of course in these stressful times it’s best to just swing that racism card harder than ever.

Sign in Nakano taken by Stuart Neilson

The “foreigner seat” effect took a strange turn for me. Up until February 2020, I never really experienced people avoiding to sitting next to me on a train before, but since the start of the pandemic hitting Japanese people would leave extra space around me when going to and from work. It’s of course nothing in comparison to the Asian discrimination that is getting people beaten and thrown out of their homes in other countries. All the same, it’s there, and I’m more pissed off it got thrown around behind my students’ backs than anything else.

When Shinzo Abe made his astounding out of left field announcement that all schools should close by March 2nd, it really hit my school hard. I went in early the next day to catch the morning meeting. The announcement on that Friday was essentially this:

Grades for third semester don’t count. Put in absences. Get out.

Well, get out company employees. Direct hires to the school would still come in, but with an irregular schedule. As most of the Native English teachers were company supplied, we had the weirdest stressful day. We scrambled to find team teachers or class books and get everything in order. I was rushing around trying to get things back to students before they went home (even if it didn’t matter, it was the principle of it).

When we clocked out on February 28th, we were told school wouldn’t start until April. Have fun, see ya, good luck!

The next couple of weeks were…strange. I don’t know how else to put it. Although the Japanese government kept telling people not to gather in groups, people did. Although Icheon and Seol got put on lockdown, I was going out to see friends at a restaurant. I spent days at home, but yes I would make plans to see people.

Some friends took the advice to stay isolated seriously, and others not so much. One of my friends stayed inside for a whole week before going out, too anxious to risk it. Another friend was at high risk, so also stayed at home unless absolutely necessary. He ended up deciding to leave for the UK because he didn’t trust his company after they offered homemade masks and demanded people return to work after only a couple of weeks off. I don’t blame him, as that company in particular is notorious for not caring about employees.

Other friends were taking the opportunity to go around and have a fun vacation. And again, I don’t blame them, either. The government’s lax as hell stance on anything besides shutting down schools prevented no one from going out to bars, restaurants, concerts, and even still traveling abroad. I went to Werq the World, an arguably smaller venue and concert, but I can’t claim I was some kind of quarantine saint.

I noticed the news abroad. I would stay home for a couple or three days at a time. I went over to a friend’s place and played video games with her for three days straight, then went right back home. I stayed off the peak hour times as much as possible, never taking the last train home or morning trains. People were, and are, still going to work and commuting.

I didn’t have a mask for a while. I only had a limited supply in my emergency bag, and the stores were emptied out. Even today, masks are hard to come by, with only a few select drug stores allowing one pack per day and per person. Finally, I found a set of masks in my old backpack. Even though they were the ones only good for keeping out dust and pollen, that’s actually what I desperately needed.

The allergy season hit me hard, so I was coughing and sneezing. I was getting very tired of the glares and whispers. Allegra helped push the symptoms away, but if I missed a single dose then my eyes would water, my nose would run, and the coughing would come back.

Then, I managed to get a sinus infection because I made the mistake of dusting my apartment (I’m highly allergic). No fever involved, just an annoyance with a side of anti-biotics. Coupled with seasonal allergies, I sounded sick, when really it was just bad timing. After about a week on antibiotics the sinus issues went away, but the itchy eyes problem never left and continues to plague me.

Image result for covid 19 symptoms vs flu

The news of Europe getting a few cases, then it hitting Italy seemingly overnight like a hammer really shocked me. The American cases grew and grew, and with the travel restrictions placed on Americans to Europe and visa versa, I decided to just stay at home for days at a time.

I called Delta Airlines around March 11th, as I was very concerned about my plane ticket to the U.S.A. Would I still have a flight? What about coming back? I heard people were getting rejected, flights getting slashed to Japan and other South Asian countries, quarantines, and travel bans.

Delta told me at that time, “Sorry, no changes and no refunds as stated in your receipt. However, if we have to cancel it because of a coronavirus issue, we will refund the ticket price to you.”

Frustrated, I could only accept that answer and move on. My mother, on the other hand, was very worried about me trying to travel over. The panic buying in Japan had taken toilet paper and masks in my Tokyo area, but in Las Vegas it was cold medicine, it was food, it was everything. It was honestly shocking to see the dystopian pictures of shelves emptied out.

I heard other places were wiped clean in Japan. I saw it on Twitter and on the news, but I guess I got lucky. My stores all around me only had the usual instant noodles and water bottles gone, but everything else was fine.

My mother had to drive to California to find toilet paper, though, so going home to America was looking like a grim prospect. Events all over Las Vegas got canceled, until it reached a point where even if I got there, the whole city would’ve been shut down upon my arrival. I would still have to wait and see about the ticket. I held out hope I could make it, but I also hoped I could eventually change it if I bothered Delta enough.

I wish I could claim I didn’t go outside at all anymore, but I would be lying. I did stay away from large crowds, though. I went over to my friend’s place for more video games, and then returned right back home. Plans for other events got canceled, so I stayed home some more. I was careful, washing my hands at every opportunity, using my mask when out and about, taking allergy meds and vitamins to try and keep healthy.

This past Sunday, I noticed my flight with Delta had changed. Due to the changes, I wasn’t sure if I would be making it home to Japan in time for work. The operator informed me that Delta was allowing any changed flight due to the company to then, and I quote, “be allowed to change to any date until December 31st of 2020.” I took the chance and moved my flight to August, because fuck the Olympics.

After the change was made, I told my family and cried. I felt torn between bittersweet relief that I wouldn’t have to go through the health screenings or get thrown in quarantine, but I also was really looking forward to seeing my family. After three years apart, I was so excited to finally be with them. I knew logically it was for the best, but it still hurt.

Nowadays I’m trying to stay good, practice social distancing. I’m staying home for days at a time. If I’m going out, I try to limit it to a few people or a person at any one time. Again, when going out I’m washing my hands at every possible chance (even though Japanese toilets have a 50/50% chance of having soap). But I’m limiting it to hours out and then right back home. Just friends, no one with kids or elderly people.

It’s still crazy to me how little has changed in Japan since the pandemic started. Everyone in general will use their masks, sure, but I still see pictures of bars packed with party people. I see people having hanami parties, bunched in together under the trees. Kids are playing around, free from school but going on play dates. Hell, I saw a child run up to a train partition door and lick it…so fear and panic isn’t really happening here.

Seeing the stories now of people dying from COVID19, people all ages, these kinds of crowds seem almost criminally dangerous? I know I might be throwing stones in a glass house as I haven’t been a perfectly isolated individual, but I also couldn’t imagine surrounding myself with hundreds or thousands of people if I could avoid it right now.

I’m not saying there should be panic. I do think there should be more steps taken to just shut things down. Even for just a week, shut down all non-essential work. Japan, in my opinion, has been lucky. The masks have been possibly helping to keep the numbers down, but it’s not enough. The shortages and the false sense of security could potentially bring on a second wave.

But maybe this country will stay lucky? Maybe it will stay the strange exception? I don’t know what the future holds. All anyone can do is try to be careful, stay home whenever possible, and just keep an eye out on the news. I’m trying to be pragmatic and realistic about my expectations, but it’s tough when everyone knows the government is under-testing these cases and we see pics like the ones in the parks.

For now (knock on wood), I’m healthy. If I catch symptoms similar to COVID19 I know my action plan, I know the hospitals around me, and I know enough Japanese to get help. I’m going to keep being cautious and do what I can to stay unaffected, but I’m a “prepare the worst, hope for the best” kind of person. Avoiding all human contact forever just isn’t feasible, and I’m supposed to go back to work in April.

Here’s hoping the pandemic has hit its peak here, but we’ll see I guess. I’ll update more in the coming months, because I’ve just got a feeling this thing isn’t over.