Posted in Talking about Books

And here’s Chapter Four! The last free Chapter for “The Queens of Ravenwood”

Thank you for your patience, I had a rough twenty hours. Between a lot of confusion about my work from home situation and general depression issues, it’s been hard to concentrate to get this re-write all smoothed out.

I finally managed to sit down to really edit this whole chapter out. Much like with Chapter Two, Chapter Four was originally supposed to be much longer. Thankfully, after a couple of revisions, I’ve gotten it down to a more reasonable length.

Please enjoy my adorkable main characters refusing to slow the fuck down.


Chapter 4: Temptation 

They walked together to the estate gardens. Other courtiers milled about here and there, all whispering when they caught sight of Elan with Ravenna. None of the whispers seemed to bother the fae queen a bit, she focused on the woman on her arm instead. 

“It’s fascinating to see the estate at full capacity,” Ravenna remarked, her dark eyes roaming around the gardens as she spoke. 

“That wasn’t originally the plan,” Elan said with a small sigh. 

“Oh?” Ravenna tilted her head in that bird-like way of hers. “And what was the first plan?”

Elan shrugged, making her headdress lines jingle. “A simple gathering, much like the one you had with my mother and father.”

Ravenna laughed to herself. “I suppose in comparison to this, it was simple.” She shook her head in fond remembrance. “Your poor mother, she was suffering. She won’t say otherwise now, I’m sure, but she continually ran off to her rooms. She was trying to play the part of hostess all the while losing every meal she ate.”

“I didn’t know that,” Elan confessed, shocked. How did she not know about this? Her mother never said anything about it. 

“Yes, so when we had the opportunity to be alone, I gifted her with a few bits of magic to help her along. It was the least I could do for her hospitality.” 

Elan stared up at her. She’d never heard of her mother being blessed with magic by the fae, but it made sense she never revealed it. People would forever gossip and fear monger about it. The fae were known, tolerated, but the old stories still held their sway. It was actually very surprising they weren’t being followed by a guard or two. 

Elan murmured, “Thank you, for helping her.” 

Ravenna waved a hand in front of her in dismissal. “Magic is my lifeblood, a bit of it given for peace is well worth it.” 

She tugged Elan gently towards a staircase. They walked up together to a high balcony, one that overlooked the ballroom and the guests below. Ravenna shot Elan a crooked smile before she waved her hand. The air crackled, shone before them for a moment, then settled with a fuzzy grey between them and the crowd. Elan looked around her, realizing they were encompassed inside a small ball of magic. 

“What is this?” Elan asked, a bit nervous. 

“I’ve made us hard to see and hear. Not quite invisibility, I think your parents would have a fit if you were suddenly gone. Still, keeps away unwanted eyes and ears.” Ravenna turned to encroach on Elan’s space. “We look like we’re just chatting.”

“Are we?” Elan asked.

“Perhaps.” Ravenna brought up a hand to smooth a single finger down the side of Elan’s face. “Perhaps not.”

Elan hated that she blushed again. She kept Ravenna’s gaze, refusing to turn away and be coy. She wanted her, she wanted this, whatever this was. The finger moved to skim over her red cheeks, and Ravenna looked vastly amused by it. 

“Tell me, do Contenders often dress so?” Ravenna’s eyes flickered down to the skin exposed by Elan’s dress. 

“Not at all.” Elan smiled, a winning one she perfected over years of training. “We usually wear whatever the Queen of our land prefers.”

“Is this what Queen Valeria prefers?” Ravenna asked, a brow quirking up.

“She wasn’t the queen I was thinking of when I dressed.” Elan said, ignoring her racing heart. She heard the phrase ‘weak in the knees’ before but never really understood it until this moment. She couldn’t believe she was being so bold! 

Ravenna got in close, her hand cupping the side of Elan’s face. “Do I presume too much?” She said as she drew her thumb along Elan’s bottom lip. 

“No,” Elan said, “you don’t.”

The kiss was warm. Elan sighed into it, bringing a hand to Ravenna’s shoulder to pull her just a bit closer. Ravenna obliged, pressing into Elan with her body, a line of heat somehow traveling through the layers of clothes to fire against Elan’s skin. 

A flyaway thought filtered through, ‘She tastes like winter.’ Mint with a hint of wine. She wanted to get drunk off it. Another part of her wanted to bite down, not to hurt, just to tease. Would the queen hate it though? 

Oh. 

Ravenna beat her to it, biting gently down on her lower lip in a soft squeeze. Elan couldn’t help but moan, a long and wanting note. When Ravenna pulled away, she chuckled with her teeth bared. 

“I could devour you,” Ravenna said, her thumbs tracing lines under Elan’s eyes, “and I rather think you’d like it.”

But then, Ravenna’s eyes squinted at her. Her form went tense, and her playful smile lost it’s form. 

Elan returned her gaze. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I suppose I do have to wonder why?” Ravenna licked her lips. “We’ve only just met…Would there be a particular reason you’ve decided to catch my attention?”

Elan’s face lit up red. Oh, the real why of it? She stuttered trying to express her truth. “Well, I, that is to say, I just thought you were quite, uh, beautiful. Yes, there are diplomatic things to discuss and to-.” What was happening? Where was her tongue! Why was this suddenly so hard? “But I don’t have anything that would, I wouldn’t use this for any of those things, I just wanted you…to see me.” 

Hands cradled her face, bringing her eyes back up to meet Ravenna’s. The Queen was smiling again, an absolutely gleeful expression. “I see you, Elan, I see you.” 

And they were kissing again. Ravenna gave no quarter, kissing Elan like she wanted to have all of her. All her words, her soul, her air, all of it. Elan couldn’t escape, and that worked because she didn’t want to. She couldn’t gasp, only moan into the motions with her own fervor. 

When they broke apart, Elan sucked in air like she was drowning. Ravenna laughed. 

Ravenna released her face, instead taking her hands down to squeeze at Elan’s waist. “If we were in my own realm, I would take you here and company be damned..” 

Elan put her hands up to hold Ravenna’s shoulders. She felt unmoored, unbalanced, and those words, company be damned? As in having sex in public? She never imagined doing such a thing, but Ravenna made it seem like a good idea. 

“But alas, we’re not, so I’ll have to summon some form of patience.” Ravenna took Elan’s hands in hers. She kissed the backs of her knuckles one by one. “I think keeping good relations relies upon more than just pretty words. If you would indulge me, please keep your window open tonight so we may discuss further endeavors together?” 

Elan leaned in close to whisper, “If you can find my window, your majesty, it shall perhaps be open.”

~~~

Returning back to the ballroom, Ravenna released her with a small kiss to the back of her hand before returning to her fae entourage. The leathery winged man said something to her, and Ravenna glared at him. Elan had only a brief moment to herself before Amelia nearly tackled her from out of nowhere. 

Amelia hissed at her, “How did it go?” 

“Later,” Elan promised her with a blush. 

“No, now!” Amelia pushed. “Something happened, I can tell. You’re blushing worse than Larent did when he proposed!”  

Larent appeared to drag Amelia away. “You are the worst whisperer! I can hear you across the ballroom!” He took her off, the two of them sniping at each other until he pulled them into a new dance. 

Jalek took their place and extended his hand. “Can I have a dance now? Without the overflowing of lust and whatnot, of course.” 

Elan accepted, letting Jalek guide her onto the floor. Attending the rest of the ball, Elan couldn’t really stay in the moment. All of it was mechanical and automatic. She danced with people here and there, chatted with courtiers about this and that or the other. None of it really stuck in her memory, and Elan couldn’t force herself to care too much.

She’d never been kissed like that before, like she was the whole world and nothing else mattered. She wanted to just sneak off to her rooms early, but she knew that wasn’t a remote possibility. No, there was a feast to oversee, and it would last well into the evening. 

The Grand Hall of the Northern Province Estate wasn’t grand in comparison to Valeria’s Palace, but it had ample room for all the guests. It was to the left of the ballroom, and Lady Brienne told everyone to come and go as they pleased for food and drink until the official feast began. On the tables was a simple fare of breads and some cheese to hold off whining from vigorous dancers.

Flora would be seated at the tallest chair they could find in the estate, but it was nothing so lavish as the throne. Everyone ate and mingled together. Until Flora called for all to sit, they would simply mill about near their respective tables. Elan watched out of the corner of her eye as Flora slowly made her way to the Grand Hall.  

The other Contenders noticed, and moved as one, helping to bring the people towards the Grand Hall without having to shout for them to follow. Elan opted to make it obvious by standing near the entrance and welcoming guests as they entered. She loved chatting with a few courtiers, such as Jalek and Larent’s cousins from over the sea. 

Marina and Ash were twins. Marina liked music and poetry, but Ash liked to just drink while telling stories. In another life, both of them were probably bards traveling across the lands, but in this life they were simply the second in line to a Dukedom neither one of them even wanted. 

Marina asked Elan, “Did Valeria tell you why Flora was picked?”

Elan sighed. “You’re perhaps the tenth person tonight to ask me.”

Ash muttered into his cup, “I’m surprised it’s not more.”

“She’s capable of being Queen. Flora has the intelligence, grace, and all the other qualities of a Queen.” Elan could probably recite those words in her sleep. 

“Yes, but,” Marina shrugged, “you just seem like the person who’s the best at the rest of it. I mean, you put up this ball and this feast in mere days. That is very impressive. It’s all been so smooth because of you. She just doesn’t have that same element to her, I think.”

“Mere days?”

All three of them turned to the interruption. The dark fae with leathery wings stared at Elan in shock. “You did all of this in days?”

Elan stared at him in return. “Well, yes, there were some circumstances that required us to move venues. I’ll be discussing them with Ravenna and all of your comrades tomorrow, if that’s alright?”

The fae shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t handle the diplomacy part of things, I just make sure her majesty stays safe.” He rolled his eyes. “As if she’s not a vastly more powerful and magical force than I, but a job is a job.” 

Elan bowed slightly to him. “I’m Elan Altier, once Contender and Duchess in Waiting. Pleasure to meet you…?”

“Oh sorry, Garth. I’m not really used to parties.” He bowed as well. “I have titles, but none of them are terribly important. Just call me Garth.”

Ash tipped his cup to him. “Hello there, Garth, I’m Ash. This is my sister Marina.”

“Pleasure to meet you, sir.” Marina bowed a little and then motioned to Elan. “Elan did indeed prepare everything-.”

“I had help, all the other Contenders-.”

“-as I said, everything, in just a few days. Isn’t that just truly amazing?”

Elan gave her a side glare, but Marina just grinned back. 

“I will be horrible and tell you all a secret.” Garth motioned them all close. He whispered with a cupped hand as his wings flared out to shield them all. “Ravenna is awful at planning things, so she couldn’t have managed anything like this.” 

Marina and Ash gasped dramatically, “No!” 

Elan rolled her eyes as she said, “She’s a Queen, so surely she at least has a Court and people for that.”

“The Fae Court isn’t like the human world,” Garth said as he leaned back and tucked his wings to his sides again. “It’s more of a military council, not gentle folks milling about. The Court generally does meet for the solstice and such, but we haven’t had a good party in ages.”

“Sounds like you need to borrow Elan!” Ash said a little too enthusiastically. “We were just saying we’re actually surprised she wasn’t chosen to be Queen. Flora is a real nice girl, but Elan is just so much more-.” 

Marina smacked her brother hard in his gut. “Brother, you might want to consider shutting your mouth right about now.” 

Ash let out an “Oof!” and rubbed at his stomach. “What? It’s not as if it’s a big secret?”

Marina groaned as she grabbed her brother by the arm and dragged him away. “Please excuse us!” She grumbled things under her breath as she told her intoxicated brother exactly how he messed up. 

Elan turned to Garth with a forced smile. “Please pay no mind to what you just heard. We all love and adore Princess Flora, and she will make a great Queen, I assure you.” 

Garth tilted his head to the side. Elan took note that his eyes didn’t blink, but there were white folds that did instead. She also noticed his dark skin rippled a bit along his forearms, changing from a black-blue to dark violet. She wondered if there was a creature equivalent of him in her own world. She wanted to ask, but would that be considered rude?

“I’ve been standing around and listening. They’re right, it’s not really a secret.” Garth shrugged again. “Honestly, the human matters don’t affect us, so I see no reason to tell Ravenna about it. I’d bet my talons she already knows. She’s an inquisitive little bird.”

Elan blanched at the last bit. Wasn’t it rude to comment on his Queen like that? Surely it must be? She scanned the room and found Ravenna walking up to Flora. The two of them bowed and began chatting seemingly in an amicable way. 

“I don’t see anything little about her, though,” Elan said, and then clacked her mouth shut. “That is to say…”

“Madame, literally everyone saw you on the dance floor, I get where you’re coming from.” Garth didn’t seem upset about it, but instead amused. “I also saw her jaw drop to the floor when you entered the room.” He sighed and put a hand over his heart. “Oh, I’ll treasure that moment for a long time, I assure you.” 

Elan felt a blush creep up her cheeks while she tried to remind herself firmly that she was a woman now, not a love sick child. She could woo and be wooed, it was fine. At the same time, it was one thing to want something, it was a whole other thing to realize everyone knew you wanted it. 

Her eyes flicked back over to Flora and Ravenna. Flora said something, and Ravenna’s smile faltered just a slight bit. When Ravenna responded, her smile no longer matched her eyes. Elan felt Garth beside her tense. 

“That’s not a good look.” He said softly. “Your Princess said something rather innocuous, though, I don’t get why she’s upset.”

“You can hear them?” Elan asked, surprised. “What did Flora say? Please tell me, I can fix it if I know, maybe?”

Garth shrugged and said, “Princess Flora said, ‘We appreciate your presence, Queen Ravenna, and will treasure you even when your absence comes about all too soon.’ It sounded fine to me?”

Elan scrunched up her brow. Depending on how it was said, perhaps Ravenna thought Flora wanted her gone? Surely, not, but still she had to make sure no one felt insulted. Elan bowed to him slightly before moving away. “I’m going to go over there to try and mend things.”

As she moved through the crowd, Elan kept her eyes right on the two women. She hated to think that the Queen of the fae realm might come out of this night thinking poorly of Princess Flora. It was fairly obvious that Flora wasn’t as beloved as Elan assumed, as everyone felt such keen surprise that Flora was chosen instead. 

“A divided Kingdom is a broken one, and a broken one is a dead one.” It was one of the first lessons the Contenders ever learned. 

Elan walked up, and Flora turned to her with a dazzling smile. “Hello dear! Queen Ravenna and I were just chatting. I don’t think I mentioned it, but you look rather spectacular today. I think Ravenna agress?” 

The Queen’s smile was more bared teeth than warmth. “Oh, that I do.” She nodded to Elan. “Red was certainly not my favorite color before, but now I must admit I like it far better.” 

Flora laughed with her teeth clenched together. Elan wondered why Flora was so upset about the compliment. “I must admit Queen Ravenna that I’ve always found the color red quite fetching. It is after all the color of passion and love. When it comes to both, I am very serious in my pursuits.” 

Ravenna nodded. “Of course, as the heir to the throne, your partner must be a good match.”

Flora’s grin only widened. “Better than, I intend to have the best.” 

Elan decided to gently interrupt. “Princess Flora, should we proceed to the feast? I believe my father is getting peckish.” 

At that Flora’s shoulders lowered a notch and the few lines on her brow went smooth. “Of course, how rude of me to keep everyone starving. After all the hard work you put into every detail, it would be a shame for everything to go cold.” 

Ravenna surveyed the long table. “Are we seated to the right as we were before?” 

Elan motioned towards a long table. “Yes, the right side of the Princess, please.” 

Ravenna held out her hand. “Would you mind escorting me to my seat?” 

Elan took her hand and tucked it into the crook of her elbow. “Of course, couldn’t have you getting lost.”

Flora rolled her eyes and shook her head as she turned towards the table. She walked along the back way towards the head of the seating arrangement. Ravenna and Elan trailed behind her, Ravenna asking a few questions about the people in attendance here and there. 

When brought to her seat, Ravenna pulled Elan down to sit next to her. Elan shook her head and tried to get back up.

“No, no, this isn’t the plan!” Elan said as she tried to get up. 

Garth appeared beside her. “I don’t eat human food, and I’d rather stand behind my queen as a good defensive position. No offense, my lady.” 

Ravenna kept hold of Elan’s hand. “I would appreciate your company over his, anyway.” 

Garth snorted. “And I would appreciate a better job, your majesty.” 

Ravenna gritted through her smiling teeth. “Get to the wall and hush, guard.” 

Elan giggled at the banter. Apparently, Ravenna and Garth must’ve known each other for a long time, for they spoke like friends or siblings rather than some servant and master. Garth’s skin rippled again, this time to an ebony with light blue lines running along his arms. Ravenna turned her head away from him with a scoff as Garth stepped back to the wall. 

Flora announced to the Grand Hall at large, “Dear nobility of Surene, it is a good day. We will sign tomorrow the treaty that has kept both the fae world of Ravenwood and Surene together in peace for over two centuries. May it be another two centuries yet, so that our grandchildren may know the blessings we have had in these years.” 

Ravenna stood up as well. “It is a great honor and privilege to once again reinforce these bonds between Fae Kin and humans. May the future reign of Princess Flora be full of blessings.” She bowed her head in respect to Flora, and she did in return.

“Let us feast!”  Flora announced with her wine cup in hand. 

Elan started off with her soup and bread. Ravenna watched the other nobles talk with each other at their chairs. She leaned over to Elan and asked, “How is Queen Valeria? Is she well?” 

“Oh, very,” Elan said as she dipped her bread into the broth, “and I expect Valeria will still be Queen for some time.” 

Ravenna moved in closer. “But then, why coronate a Princess?” 

“Ah,” Elan paused to think, “it’s just to secure someone in case something happens. Queen Valeria doesn’t want to leave anything to chance, even in this time of peace.” 

“I see.” Ravenna picked at her bread, only eating small pieces and ignoring the soup completely. She turned to Flora and asked her, “And how are you faring in your new role?” 

“Oh, I’m managing very well.” Flora sipped on her wine. “It helps that Elan has been with me for every step of the journey to where I am, and I know she’ll continue to be by my side even when I take the throne.” Flora gave Ravenna another rigid smile. “But of course, it won’t be without it’s challenges. I intend to face them all head on, and come out the victor.” 

Ravenna let out a small laugh. “I suppose that is the right attitude for an heir to the throne to have.” 

Flora laughed a little as well. “Yes, I have been told I’m a bit headstrong, but what contender isn’t?” She glanced at Elan out of the corner of her eye. “The only difference between us is what we’re willing to do in the end to win.”

“Such as?” Ravenna asked. 

“More than what is asked of us.” Flora motioned to the crowd at large. “No one here will ever really know what it takes to run a kingdom. You understand, of course, you’re a queen. The people will always judge and gossip, but they shall always be blind to the real mechanisms of politics.” 

“True indeed.” Ravenna picked at the bread again before turning to Elan. “But not everything about politics has to be difficult and full of conflict.” 

Elan shrugged her shoulders. “I like the more compromising and persuasive approach, myself. Finding some common ground and then moving from there.” 

“Hmm,” Ravenna leaned in close to whisper against the shell of her ear, “and what if I don’t need persuading?” 

Elan whispered back, “Then I suppose all that’s left is compromising myself.” She heard a disgusted noise from Flora, but ignored it. “My room is on the fourth floor. I’ll leave a candle burning for you to find me.” 

“Very good, I will see you when the moon is high.”


OK, and on that note, this will be the last chapter I’m putting up on the blog. Tomorrow I’ll be announcing which platform I’m finally going to commit and just self-publish the book. I think I’ll also do promotional things, like giveaways and such. I’m so new to all of the self-publishing tricks, so we’ll see how this goes.

I’ll also announce tomorrow for the day. I’m kind of torn on the exact day I’d like to post the book, and my cover art is still a work in progress from the person I commissioned for the book.

So yeah, final post for book week is tomorrow, see you then!

Posted in Talking about Books

We Get a Dance! Chapter Three of “The Queens of Ravenwood” is Up!

Sorry for the delay! As I mentioned in the previous post, I was dealing with a bit of a depression crash for the past couple of days. It happens sometimes, and I couldn’t push myself to get the re-write completed.

However, don’t fret, chapter four is still incoming. I’ll be posting it tomorrow in the late evening for me here in Japan. After chapter four I’ll announce a date and final decision on how and when I’ll be posting the actual book.


Chapter 3: The Dance 

With only an hour left before the ball was set to start, Amelia found Elan trying on her tenth dress. 

“What is going on in here?” Amelia asked with arms motioning to the dresses strewn about the room. 

Ken followed behind her, his eyes roaming about from dress to dress. “I was going to ask if you might need some assistance getting ready.” He picked up a shawl off the floor. “It looks as if I came just in time.” 

“I’m trying to find the right look, that’s all.” Elan said, as if it was not a big matter that she’d tossed half her closet about the room.

Elan couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought to request something new for the event, but she had no time. Between trying to become a Queen or trying to keep the kingdom running, why would a new dress matter? But now! Oh, the regret!  

“Oooooooh?” Amelia got that look on her face, the same look she had on before she suggested they go find the wine for just a taste

“Don’t get any ideas,” Elan said as she got out another dress to look at in the mirror, “it’s only for the sake of diplomacy.”

“I see, and would this diplomacy take place in the foyer or your bed?”

“Amy!” 

“What? Just asking.”

Elan went into her closet with a huff. She elected to ignore the fact that Amelia was coming in right at her heels. With quick hands, she went through two more dresses but hated them immediately. 

“Elan,” Amelia said, her voice losing its teasing tone, “you don’t need to impress her, you know that right? She’ll just be here and gone again anyways.”

Elan paused, but then went right back to shuffling skirts around. “I know that, Amy, but the kingdom needs her on our side. The signing of the Alliance Accords is a pivotal part of our peaceful relations. The Altier family has a reputation to uphold-Where are my damn belts?” 

 “Right,” Amelia said as she plucked out a red gown from the depths of the closet. “Which is why you’re so panicked, then?” 

“Yes, of course!” Elan grabbed the red dress, putting it in front of herself. 

With a slight wince, she remembered this particular outfit was a gift from a man out East who wanted her hand in marriage. He had chosen golden edges, a curvaceous design with a long dip between her breasts, just enough to show off cleavage without technically being too much, but it hinted at more. The fabric clung instead of flowed. 

Elan never wore it out in public, fearing the gossip. “It’s not our colors, and I would look like a harlot.” 

Amelia rested an arm on her shoulder, giving Elan a cheeky grin in the mirror. “And that’s a bad thing?” 

Elan stared at the mirror for longer than she cared to admit, a hand smoothing the fabric down onto her frame. “Perhaps with a bit of jewelry and coat it would be more acceptable.” 

Amelia shook her head. “No no, we need a statement.” She tapped her fingers on her bottom lip. “You want to match her in esteem and looks, play on an equal field…” She turned around to peruse the closet again. “A bit of jewelry. Yes! This will do.” 

She raced over with an intricate golden headdress in hand. She put it atop Elan’s head, settling it atop the crown of braids Elan created that morning. The headdress itself was molded like that of a flower crown made of roses.  

On each side of Elan’s face, two very wide and long lines of golden tassels fell down to stop just above Elan’s hips. The decorative lines held tiny roses here and there, sparkling in the light. The headdress hung just long and thick enough to cover up Elan’s breasts, but still teased about what was underneath. 

“Raven-kin supposedly love shiny things,” Amelia said.

Elan stared at the ensemble. “It’s risky, and it’s not a bit of jewelry. This is practically a crown!”

“It’s perfect.” Amelia said with a purr. “If you want a fae queen to pay you any attention, a safe outfit would be the wrong way to go.” She whispered up to Elan’s ear. “Besides, I think Ravenna would appreciate the risk. Admit it, you want her, and more than just some diplomatic rendezvous.” 

As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Elan quietly confessed to herself that yes, she did wish for more. Ravenna awoke desires in her she hadn’t felt in so long, not willing to compromise her place as a Contender for the Crown. Her mother would have been furious about her “getting distracted.” But she lost, and she did need to court before marriage anyway. No one would fault her for a little flirting before marriage.   

Elan nodded as she shifted the dress. “Help me get it all on, then.”

Ken sighed as he continued picking up clothes. “I shall get the makeup.” 

Amelia squealed. “I’ll get the perfume.” 

Just in time, they managed to get on the whole dress with its back laced up tight and the headdress secured with pins. Ken had taken two of the braids to allow some tresses to fall with the headdress’ tassels. Amelia worked on the last bits of makeup as Ken smoothed out the hair. 

Elan’s eyes were lined with very concentrated liquid charcoal, a relatively recent trend. Her lips were painted a deep purple to contrast with the red. With her fingers, Amelia put on a bit of light white powder on Elan’s cheeks to make a glowing effect. 

Ken noticed the look in the mirror and said, “I don’t think you’ve ever looked so stunning, my lady. Well done, Miss Amelia.” 

“Thank you! I think she’s got exactly the right amount of beauty and poise to pull this whole thing off. Don’t you?” Amelia moved to the side to let Elan get a real good look at herself.

“I do, my lady.” Ken put down the brush. “It’s perfect.” 

Elan breathed in and out. She’d never, ever dared to try and stand out to this degree in her entire life. Sure, a few pretty looks in court and she wore makeup before, but this look? It made her look completely different. 

“I hope it’s appreciated,” Elan said. “Thank you both for your help. We should go.” 

~~~

Princess Flora stood at the top of the stairs, her eyes narrowed at the lobby. When Elan walked up to her, Flora didn’t turn to see her. Elan’s eyes roamed over the princess’ dress. 

It was odd. Instead of her usual elegant dresses, Flora chose one with a thick, sapphire blue, and around her waist as a silver belt meant to tie in tight at the back. In the usual fashion, most women chose a dress with an open neckline to counteract the more fierce look of the high waisted belt. Flora chose one with shoulder pads and a sharp-V neckline instead. 

And of course, her hair was braided up around her head, holding the light silver crown stable. 

When Flora did turn to see her, for a split second Elan swore she saw fury cross over her face, but it was gone in the next. With a tight, small smile, Flora said, “Ah, Elan, you look fantastic!” 

Elan bowed her head, but kept her eyes locked with Flora’s. “Is something wrong? You seem tense.” 

Flora’s smile didn’t falter as she shook her head. “Of course not, I’m merely impatient to begin. Are you ready? Follow me in, your parents are already downstairs.” 

Flora motioned to a servant below. A man downstairs shouted out to the general attendees, “Princess Flora Calden, Heir to the Throne of Surene!” He also announced Elan and then Amelia. The Princess of Surene held her head high, her smile much brighter now. 

Following after her, Elan made more of an impression by stark contrast alone. She was aware of the gasps in the room, people immediately whispering to each other about her outfit and headdress. It took effort, but she didn’t look over at the fae across the way. Pretend you are above the people in the room, pretend you are above the people in the room, she kept telling herself. Valeria’s advice helped her immensely with this situation. 

She approached her father, who gave her a winning smile. He said something to a man beside him, who in turn rolled his eyes. No doubt, a poorly done compliment. Behind him was her mother who looked…displeased. Elan knew she would be hearing a very strong opinion from Lady Brienne about her chosen dress later. Oh well, too late to go back now. 

Her father kissed her on each side of her cheek and said, “Elan, my one and only, what a look you’ve chosen for tonight! You look absolutely dangerous. I didn’t even think this dress would suit you, ha! Look at what I know.” 

He took her arm, tucking it into his own as they walked towards the ballroom. Elan could feel her mother’s glare into the back of her head, but continued to just ignore it. However, she did try to see out of the corner of her eye if Ravenna was pleased with her.

Elan found those dark eyes open wide. Ravenna didn’t glance like a lady of the court would, quick to avert and stare from peripherals. She stared with obvious fascination. Her lips were parted as if she wanted to say something. Her guard beside her with the leather wings knocked his elbow into her side, and Ravenna shut her mouth into a thin line. She was interested, success! 

In the ballroom, Ravenna walked along with her group towards the edges of the circular dance floor. She said something to her entourage, and they all spread out along the outer line. The music began playing a soft warm up song, a simple and old tune from Lady Brienne’s time. Everyone began mingling about, but not yet dancing, it wasn’t that kind of song. 

Flora stopped the procession, turning around to whisper to Elan. “Elan, if anyone asks, my ankle is tender and I wish to let it heal.”

“Understood,” Elan whispered back. 

What was actually understood was, well, Flora perhaps appeared to be the most graceful of all the contenders. In reality, she simply could not dance. Not for lack of trying or for lack of careful instruction, the woman just lacked any semblance of rhythm within her movements. Flora once broke a dancing partner’s toe with the heel of her shoe when they were all about thirteen or so. Since then, it’s been an unofficial decree to never, ever let Flora twirl about with courtiers.

Elan turned to whisper to her father, “Be sure you and mother keep a close eye on the fae, try to keep them at a distance from Flora. They might wish to have some fun, but…”

“I understand, love, we’ll be discreet but forceful.” He quirked a brow and his eyes flickered to her dress. “So, what’s the story with your attire, may I ask?”

 Elan shrugged. “I just felt like making a statement.” 

The Duke Altier chuckled as he released her into the dance hall. “Then you’ve succeeded, love, good luck!” 

He winked as he took his wife’s hand quickly before she could shoot over to his daughter for a discreet tongue lashing. Brienne shot words at him as they went towards a stage meant for them to oversee the party. Princess Flora drifted away to mingle with her parents and their friends. 

Elan was moving to go closer to Ravenna when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned to see Jalek, his cheeks red and a hand held out for her. “If you wouldn’t mind, Elan, I’d like to steal your first dance. You look amazing.”

“Oh, Jalek,” she said with a big smile, “I don’t mind at all.”

Amelia coughed as she suddenly appeared by her side. “Don’t you think you should wait for a certain someone to come up to you?”

Elan looked out of the corner of her eyes to see Ravenna chatting with one of the other fae. Ravenna was looking at her, it was obvious, she didn’t even bother to try and hide her gaze. It bore into her, ignoring everyone else in the room. 

Elan grinned. “Somehow I doubt she’s going to let me get away.” 

Jalek’s eyes widened into saucers. “Are you serious? You’re trying to seduce the damn fae queen?” He hissed at her. “Elan! She’s a fae, and she’s a queen, what is wrong with you?”

Elan shrugged a shoulder. “I’m allowed to court who I please until engagement or marriage.”

Fae and queen,” Jalek said slowly and with force. “Not to mention, she’s got heartbreaker written all over her. She’ll love you and leave you!” 

Larent walked up to them and growled. “Can all of you just go around the room or something? It’s strange to see contenders on a dance floor all bunched up like this. People are getting nervous.”

Jalek said in a rush to his brother, “Elan wants to seduce the fae queen!” 

“And how is that a problem? She’s twenty years old, she’s allowed to court whomever she pleases.” Larent took his fiance’s hand and tucked it into his arm. “And furthermore, it’s in the name of diplomacy. You courted the princess from across the sea once.” 

“Hey, that’s different!” 

“Why?” Elan asked. “It’s not that different, I suffer no illusions about her temporary stay. It’s for a couple of days, what harm could it do? To have some fun?”

“Why are we all whispering and gathered around in a circle in the ballroom?” Flora interjected with her sudden arrival. 

“I will explain later!” Amelia hissed at her. 

“That’s not an answer!” Flora retorted. 

“Everyone, just shhhh!” Jalek put a finger to his lips. Flora glared at him and pointed to her crown. Jaleck rolled his eyes at her.  “Elan, listen to me, Queen Ravenna doesn’t look like the kind of person you court; she looks like the kind who wants to-.” 

Jalek gasped at something he saw over Elan’s shoulder. “Coming over, coming over, everyone scatter!” 

Amelia grabbed Flora’s hand and tugged her along with Larent. They went over to Amelia’s parents to talk. Jalek rushed over to his cousins who had some drinks in hand from the kitchen. Elan turned to face her. 

Ravenna stepped up to Elan, and the Duchess in Waiting tilted her chin up. The raven fae bowed at the waist with respect and Elan bowed as well. When Ravenna stood up, she took another step forward, and Elan could smell something like pine coming from her. Her black eyes gazed over everything, from the headdress and over her face, her lips curling into a devilish smile further down. 

“If I admit ignorance to your steps, would you teach me how to dance?” Ravenna held out her hand.  

Elan placed her hand in hers. “But of course. You’re in luck, your majesty. Dancing was my best class.” 

The fae queen grasped her fingers firmly and pulled Elan gently towards her. They were all of a breath away from each other now. Elan could hear people whispering furiously back and forth around them. Ravenna glared at the gossiping mob before returning her focus back to Elan. 

Ravenna said, “It is a disadvantage of our kind keeping to ourselves, that we lose out on the modern ways of your people.” 

“I doubt it would be the worst disservice to staying away.” Elan said as she turned to place herself beside Ravenna. She tilted her head back and puffed up her chest. “You might miss out on forming better relations. And wouldn’t that be a shame?” 

Elan saw from the corner of her eyes that Ravenna’s gaze lingered. 

“Yes, what a tragedy,” Ravenna finally said as she stepped in the dead center of the dance space. “I shall endeavor to make amends.” 

“See that you do,” Elan ordered with a slight tremble. 

She put a hand on Ravenna’s hip, then brought the fae queen’s other hand up to hold. She stepped back on her left foot. “Do you know the waltz?”

Ravenna nodded, following Elan’s movements, going forward. “Easy, a boxed pattern timed in four, switch out partners after five rounds.” She sounded disappointed by the idea. They moved together in the simple box pattern for a couple of beats, against the mellow music playing. 

Elan shifted to Ravenna’s side, surprising her. “We’ve made some adjustments. This dance is timed the same, but the movements change and the music speeds up, then your feet move faster as well. If you can keep up with me, it should be easy enough.”

Ravenna laughed low. “I think I can manage. I’ve been told I’m light on my feet.”  

Elan glanced over at the musicians. Ken was there, awaiting her signal. When she nodded her head, he said a few words to them, and they all grinned. The tempo changed abruptly. 

Everyone moved at once. Husbands and wives left strangers for their loved ones. Partners stood side-by-side, facing away from each other, in three circles around Elan and Ravenna. This dance demanded mirrored actions, closeness, and more. 

Elan slid a hand across the middle of Ravenna’s back. She loved how her dance partner’s eyes widened in surprise. “Do the same to me,” Elan said, “just do as I do.”

“Exactly?” 

“Exactly.” 

Ravenna caressed a line along Elan’s back. “I will endeavor to follow your lead.”

One of the musicians strummed his fingers along the strings of a large lute, while the harpist tugged on one thick string, holding a bassline. A violinist added another layer off the lute’s melody. After a minute to allow everyone to get in positions, they began the Final Affair

Elan moved into the simple box step, Ravenna following in time. She released and twirled, and Ravenna caught her back up in her arms smoothly. Elan let her hand travel across the small of Ravenna’s back. The queen squeezed her hand, and smirked. The fae queen kept up as Elan moved them two steps around. As the song picked up, she did another release and twirl. The other courtiers moved around them in the circles, but Elan and Ravenna stayed in their small space. 

“In two more measures.” Elan told her, we’ll break apart, twirl, and then return to each other.”  

“How scandalous,” Ravenna said dryly. 

Elan rolled her eyes. “Be a bit patient.,” she said as they moved again, “that’s not the end.”

“Hmmm,” Ravenna stared into her eyes, “good. I would rather like to keep seeing you move.” 

Elan stopped herself before blurting out, “I would like that too.” She bit her lip instead. She didn’t want to seem too wanting, Ravenna might not like that, or might get the wrong idea about her being clingy. A bit more teasing seemed more important. 

At the right moment, the violinist let out a long note, and the dancers parted to twirl around. Just as Elan and Ravenna came back to each other, the pace sped up yet again, and the beats allowed for little time to twirl and return. Elan pulled at Ravenna. 

“In three, two, one, support my back.” 

Ravenna moved her hand just as Elan bent backwards. They shared a knowing smile, and then Elan was back up and sliding back into the waltz. 

Elan liked how much skill it took to get the next part right, as well as how close it brought the two dancers. 

“And now, we are going to need to trust each other,” Elan said.

Ravenna squeezed her shoulder. “I think I can extend a measure of trust.” 

Elan blushed and smiled in return. “Good, I’ll try to be worthy of it.”

She grabbed Ravenna’s hand. “Go back!” 

The fae queen did as told. 

“Now twirl quick and come back.” Ravenna laughed. She executed a perfect twirl on one foot, then grasped Elan’s hand once more. 

Elan moved two quick beats right and whirled on her foot. She caught Ravenna’s hand right on beat. The music sped up again, giving them no mercy. They had to be in sync, moving in their circle and doing their twirls right. 

A few other dancers laughed as they side stepped wrong, unable to keep up. Elan couldn’t be bothered to see who they were. She was winded, needing to focus on her own moves, even though she was more interested in the queen catching her.

Ravenna looked like she was excited. Her smile was all bared teeth from ear-to-ear. Unlike Elan, she wasn’t breathing hard, but her feathered hair stuck up in odd ways with each new move. 

“Next?” Ravenna asked.

“We come back together to put our arms around each other’s necks,” Elan said, panting and rushed. 

Ravenna’s face scrunched up in confusion. “What?” 

The music slowed. Ravenna’s eyes widened as Elan got in close, wrapping her arms around Ravenna’s shoulders. Ravenna laughed gently as she wrapped her arms around Elan’s waist. 

“I like the additions,” Ravenna said as they rotated together slowly. 

“Me too,” Elan said, “Would you like to know the story?”

“Of?”

“The dance.”

“If it means we stay this way, yes.”

Elan rolled her eyes and laughed a bit. “It’s the story of a lady who wants to marry an elven man, but her parents refuse to let them even see each other.”

Ravenna rolled her eyes. “Why is it always the elves?”

“Perhaps because we actually see them more than once a decade?”

The queen nodded her regal head. “Hmmm, true. So, let me guess, it ends in tragedy?” 

“Yes, he goes to their meeting place in the woods, and she isn’t there, but a basket with a baby is.” 

“Ugh,” Ravenna eyes nearly rolled into the back of her head. “Why do you humans have to always make them have babies in these tales?”

“Perhaps because we’re mortal? So babies mean a part of us lives on?” Elan shrugs. “I think humans desire stories with legacies, but I’m not a great storyteller, too. Perhaps if someone else told it-.”

“No, it’s fine, really..” Ravenna’s gaze changed to a more contemplative one. “The child of a Duchess, so a Contender for the Crown.”

“Yes, precisely,” Elan said as she ducked her head, trying to ignore the bit of pain that stung from her failure. 

Ravenna got even closer, surprising Elan into looking back up. Her lips were close enough to kiss, but Elan didn’t dare, not in the open. People would accept her flirting in the name of diplomacy, but not outright kissing intimacy. 

“When the music ends, what do we do?” Ravenna asked, her lips nearly brushing against Elan’s. 

“I suppose,” Elan said as she tucked a stray feather out of Ravenna’s face, “that’s up to you, your majesty.” 

Posted in Talking about Books

Let’s Talk about Characters: There Be No Spoilers Here, Just Backstory

When it comes to “The Queens of Ravenwood,” the characters really fuel the narrative. While the world building is fun, I tend to overthink even small details, and that can grind everything to a halt real quick. Also, plot points are fun, but I can’t share those, obviously. Therefore, let’s get into some of the characters you’ve met so far.

Elan Altier is the kind of person who everyone kind of expects to succeed. This trait is honestly expected of all the Contenders for the Crown, but Elan was born with the kind of “get shit done” attitude she inherited (by force) from her mother, Lady Brienne. Her father, Duke Nathaniel, doesn’t really have this kind of attitude.

Duke Nathaniel Altier married Lady Brienne twenty two years before the events of the book. Lady Brienne married into the Altier name, but she’s the one who runs this estate, make no mistake. Duke Nathaniel was actually not supposed to become a Duke, but due to reasons I’m not at liberty to discuss right at this moment, he ended up getting his position through war heroics in the Demon Wars (which wasn’t really even a war, it’s a long story in and of itself).

Elan grew up immediately expected to learn anything and everything necessary to compete with the other Contenders. Why is the crown a contention competition instead of a monarchy through family blood lines? Blame the fae.

The Rift Wars is exactly what is sounds like, wherein there were rifts that just suddenly-BOOM!- hit this world like a ton of bricks. The humans of this world were here first, but suddenly then there were demons and fae. Why did the rifts happen? Let’s just say sometimes gods get bored and decide to mess with the boundaries of their spheres and shit goes down in not a good way.

Due to this, the fae eventually claimed Ravenwood as their “domain” which is more or less the forest which holds a whole other parallel world. That’s to the west of the Northern Province. The demons ended up taking over the deserts to the far north. Note, not the Northern Province of Surene, but the Demonic Wastes of the Far North. They live close to some sulfur pits and a volcano, where the royal family of the demon line lives.

So as you can imagine, the Northern Province is kind of the place for battles and what not in the past. However, things are getting lax in this day and age. Ravenna ascended to power after overthrowing King Varen (who was a dick and no one misses him), and that was two hundred years ago. The Demon Wars got settled a year before Duke Nathaniel and Lady Brienne got married, so everyone is kind of in a peace state of mind.

This long explanation is basically to get to the point that the fae helped to mold the monarchy of the human world. The fae don’t go by bloodlines, because they live too damn long, so they have the Contender system that the humans ended up adopting.

Elan grew up with basically all the Contenders. Flora is the oldest at twenty-two, Elan and Amelia are twenty, Larent is nineteen, and Jaleck is eighteen. Flora, Elan, and Amelia were shuttled off in summers to hang out together. Larent and Jaleck kind of hung out with their HUGE plethora of cousins well into their teens. It wasn’t until The Call for Contention came out that the kiddos all came together at the castle.

Elan and Flora became the obvious top two contenders pretty quick. It took about two years of training before Queen Valeria finally just took them both into her inner circle to mold them into future queens. Usually, it would only take one, but it’s also unusual for two contenders to excel like Elan and Flora did.

Elan can do a bunch of things well. Horseback riding, dancing, painting, singing, playing the harp, you name it she is at least decent at it if not really good. However, does she particularly enjoy doing any of those? NOPE!

Elan is like that popular kid you knew in high school whose parents were always throwing them into after school activities to look good on college applications. If you asked Elan what she enjoyed doing in her free time, her answer would probably be, “What free time?” She’s always doing something, for her future, for the kingdom, for her mother, and it never really ends.

The other contenders had more or less normal upbringings. Their parents were strict, but fair, and allowed the kids chances to discover things they liked and allowed them chances to make mistakes. Flora and Amelia were allowed to have a childhood full of imagination and creativity. Flora fell in love with botany, and in fitting with her namesake, she ended up accumulating a lot of gardening and medicinal knowledge. Amelia can sing like an angel.

Larent and Jaleck’s parents kind of assumed their adorable baby boys weren’t up to snuff for the King role, with Larent preferring to read rather than interact with people, and Jaleck tends to run off into a hunt rather than study literally anything. The only reason Larent didn’t drop out with Jaleck was because he adored Amelia and wanted to spend time with her.

Meanwhile, Elan was dealing with a mother who started her training early, teaching her history and strategy from the moment Elan could basically talk. Also, Duke Nathaniel got her into fencing and shooting arrows at a young age, too. As a child of both the Northern Province and a Contender, Elan had to deal with a lot of high expectations. No matter what she does, she’s always gotta be moving up, or she’s punished.

And these punishments will play a role in a lot of stuff later on.

Flora being crowned Princess of Surene was kind of shocking to everyone for a multitude of reasons that probably won’t make it into the book, but the key reason being that the Northern Province has done SO MUCH for the kingdom. It was kind of assumed that Queen Valeria would recognize the sacrifices of the North during the Demon Wars to name the child of that province as heir to the throne. With Elan being the super capable person she is, it seemed like a slap in the face to choose Flora.

We’ll be delving into the the consequences of all this history, both the personal and the cultural, in chapters three and four.

Apologies in advance, I’m not feeling like myself today. I suspect I’m heading into a small bit of depression. I might take tomorrow off to just relax and do nothing and post Chapter Three on Monday (Sunday for people in the USA). I appreciate your understanding, as in the midst of a pandemic, the stress be very real.

Stay tuned for more!

Posted in Uncategorized

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.