The Prince of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
The Royal Chambermaid entered the Queen's quarters with breakfast. Setting the tray down she moved over to the curtains and opened them letting daylight in from the private courtyard.
"Your Majesty," she turned toward the bed to wake the Queen. "It is time to get up. I have your breakfast."
She walked over to the bed, reached down and gently touched the Queen, who was cold. Her scream of horror brought the two Red Guard stationed outside of the door running. Soon the word went out through the palace and the royal physicians were summoned. The Queen was dead!
"Most Blessed Mother?" an acolyte called out entering the Blessed Mother's bedchambers.
"Yes, my child?" the Most Blessed Mother replied a moment later, waking up.
"Most Blessed Mother, I am so sorry to have to inform you that the Queen, your niece, has died in her sleep," the acolyte informed her gently sobbing.
"What?!" Lady Rachel replied, now fully awake.
"Yes, her chambermaid found her dead this morning," the acolyte replied.
"Help me dress," Rachel commanded rising from the bed. "Have someone inform my daughters. Make sure Princess Eleni has extra shield-maidens of the Red Guard."
Rachel made straight away for the royal bedchambers within the Queen's wing and paused at the door to collect herself. After nodding at the two Red Guard of the Rose stationed there she entered her niece's bedchambers were she saw several people surrounding the bed.
"What news?" she barked out.
The head of the royal physicians, Lady Elisabeth, raised her head.
"Most Blessed Mother, she died in her sleep," Lady Elisabeth declared. "We can ascertain no outside cause of death, no abnormalities. We therefore conclude that she died of natural causes."
"A most tragic affair," Rachel announced solemnly. "When you are done have her chambermaid dress her in her robes of state. We will have two weeks of mourning before the coronation. The Queen's body will lie in state in the main hall for one week followed by a funeral and another week of mourning."
"Yes, Most Blessed Mother," Elisabeth replied.
Rachel left the royal chambers and made her way to her private quarters where she knelt before the altar of the Eternal Flame. The weakness of Cassandra having ended, she knew that it was now time for a renewal of the strength of the House of Whiterune, a strength her line would provide. After a silent prayer of thanks to her Goddess, she stood and turned to perform her morning ablutions. It was going to be a long day and she wanted to be as refreshed as possible.
Aaron awoke to the chirp of birds outside of the hut that had been made available to them during their stay. Easing his way out from under the covers of the pallet they slept on he tried not to disturb Tanith or Dana, who rolled over closer to the middle. Standing and stretching he smiled at his still sleeping mates. The dogs looked up at him expectedly from where they were laying and he took a moment to scratch their heads. They laid back down but watched his activities. He looked over toward a sleeping Kalliste on another pallet and tiptoed over to his possessions. After slipping on his trousers, shirt, and boots, he belted on his swords, then ducked under the covering of the doorway and out into the predawn morning. The roving sentry greeted him as Aaron surveyed the quiet village. Something was amiss, for it was not the birds that had awoken him.
"Black Rose, what is wrong?" Aaron's hand strayed to the pommel of his longsword.
"The Queen of Tarra has died, My Lord," Black Rose replied solemnly. "Long live the King."
"Long live the King," Red Rose echoed.
"When did she die?" Aaron asked.
"She died in her sleep, My Lord," Red Rose replied. "Sometime during the night."
"It was made to look as if she died of natural causes, My Lord," Black Rose added. "She did not."
"Who? Aaron asked, trying to control his anger.
"An assassin most likely, My Lord," Black Rose replied.
"That is all we know," Red Rose added.
"Then I am the last of Cassandra's line," Aaron replied. "Someone else will be made to pay. Someone will be held accountable."
"Yes, My Lord," Black Rose replied, acknowledging the oath.
Aaron meandered about the village with no real destination in mind. He noted an area set aside for weapons training similar to the many towns and cities on Andor. He remembered his sparring with Moira in that clearing by a stream and smiled. He wondered where she was and if she was well. He walked around the arena and made his way to the stables and checked on their horses. A stable hand was walking Bramble and Aaron walked up to watch. The horse nickered when it saw Aaron and the stable hand led the horse over toward him. Aaron scratched the horse's head and complimented the hand on the well kept look of his mount. He left the stables as the sun was just peeking over the rise of the horizon. The village had started to come alive in the short time that Aaron had been at the stables at the edge of the village. Seeing Tanith and Dana up and stretching he went over to join them. He smiled noting the dogs sitting up at attention, scanning for threats. Kalliste came out of the hut and watched the exercising with a bemused smile. That lasted all of about a heart beat as Aaron ordered her to get her weapon and join them.
"Good morning love," Tanith smiled. "What have you been up to?"
"Just a walkabout," Aaron replied as he began stretching. "Trying to see the lay of the land."
"And have you?" Dana chuckled.
"Yes, I have," Aaron bantered back. "Thank you very much."
Conversation faded away as the four began to practice, going through the sword forms, moving seamlessly from one to the next. They worked as one as they progressed through the forms and then started to spar. It was two on one, with Dana and Tanith ganging up on Aaron. Aaron slowly began to increase his speed and smiled proudly when his mates were able to keep up.
The sword play was a blur to Kalliste who watched in awe of the mastery on display. Never in her life had she seen anything that came close to the display in front of her. In her wildest fantasies she wished to be that good. Watching Aaron's display of mastery was a real treat. Not that Tanith, or Dana for that matter, were any slouch in their sword skill, but Aaron was just amazing to watch. His movements were breathtaking, so fluid, so awe inspiring. Truly, she was seeing mastery at a level never witnessed before. Aaron told her that, with enough practice, she could be as good as any of them. He was surprised to find her a quick study and soon she was following along from form to form. They spent extra time after the sparing to help her to get comfortable with her weapon.
Aaron finished up practice and helped the others to cool down. They gathered their clothes and headed down to the stream to wash up. A little horseplay and a little washing and they were ready for the day. It turned out to be a very uninspiring day. Aaron told the others that the Queen was dead and not by natural causes. Kalliste and Dana openly wept while Tanith tried to console them. Aaron waited for Kalliste to compose herself and asked what the procedure was for burial and coronation.
She explained that the normally procedure was for one week lying in state followed by the actual funeral ceremony. Since the 'Hall of Kings' was not in Tarra, or rather, could not be depended on being anywhere since the Rose Throne disappeared, the Queen would be interred in the royal crypt below the palace. The actual crowning of a new Queen would take place after another week of mourning. The Princess would have already begun the day-to-day responsibility of ruling the kingdom and would continue to do so until the actual coronation. At the coronation, which was always held outside in the royal courtyard, the Princess would have to stand before the assembled and answer any challenge to her ascension to the throne.
Kalliste further described the ceremony with all of its pomp and circumstance and the festival afterward. The newly crowned Queen would then normally grant boons and petitions for a select few at the festival. There would also be a group of suitable males that she would select from for the mating ritual. The royal consort would be presented to the Queen in her bedchambers where he would perform his function. The relationship between Queen and consort depended on the whim of the Queen. At that point Dana stopped Kalliste's explanation and looked at Aaron intently.
"You said Ariel did not die of natural causes," Dana closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them and asked softly. "How exactly did she die?"
"I am not sure, assassination most likely," Aaron replied and then watched the color drain from Dana's face. "Why?"
"Aaron, did I not tell you that there were no assassins in Tarra?" Dana asked. "That the whole concept was forbidden since it recalled memories of when we were more warlike, more male driven."
"You mentioned that," Aaron replied understanding beginning to dawn. "You also mentioned that you sent the best Andorian assassins back to Tarra for your Mother's use."
"Yes, she created an organization, separate from the temple, separate from the Sisterhood," Dana smiled grimly as the dogs whined, echoing their mistresses mood. "I have done it again. I have caused you pain. Just like on Andor, it is my fault that Ariel is dead."
"Dana, do not even go there," Aaron cautioned and then tried to quiet the dogs. "You did not order the death of my sister. You did not know what your mother planned. Granted, you provided the tool, but that is no different than the weapons maker. Your Mother killed my sister, not you. Tell me everything you know or even suspect."
Dana spilled her guts, so to speak, about the organization her Mother created. She described Sister Calliope and several others of the more notable recruits she sent back. How Calliope was sent to her to learn the art of the assassin. Calliope was a skilled Adept and had discovered a spell that she said would allow her to plane shift and move freely, through walls or other obstacles, in this alternate plane to anywhere she wanted to go and then reappear on the Material Plane. That Calliope wrought amulets of protection because of the inhabitants of this plane.
Tanith smiled at Dana's description of what she supposed was the Shadow Realm. Aaron looked at Tanith, who nodded, and then explained his unique abilities as SwordMaster, Master Thief, and finally Master Assassin. He also told her that he wore a ring that made him a Lord of the realm that Calliope moved through.
Aaron reassured Dana that it was not her fault that Ariel was dead and that he would extract retribution from Calliope and Rachel, and to not worry. Tanith also helped to reassure her sister-mate. They went back to their hut were breakfast was waiting.
"What are the chances that Dana's mother will send the assassins after us?" Tanith asked nobody in particular.
"Probably pretty good, considering she sent Diana and Kalliste after us initially," Dana shrugged.
"Actually, she did not send me," Kalliste confessed. "Lady Diana, the Huntress, always worked alone. I told her that the Most Blessed Mother wanted me to accompany her, although it was I that wanted to go."
"Why?" Aaron asked while little alarm bells in his head began going off but then Kalliste's explanation quieted them.
"While I have always had the kingdom's best interests at heart," Kalliste had a small smile on her face, "I may not have held those of the Most Blessed Mother in the same manner."
She went on to explain that she was more loyal to Queen Ariel than to the Most Blessed Mother. She occasionally provided the Queen with information not normally found outside of the temple, such as information concerning Rachel's activities if Kalliste felt that they ran counter to the Queen's. She went further and confessed to what the innkeeper had told her about Aaron - well, about a WitchLord who wielded flaming swords. She kept the information from Lady Diana, thinking to use the information to elevate herself out of where she was. She had planned to tell the Queen everything and hoped the Queen would reward her somehow.
Kalliste had her head bowed by the time she reached the end of her confessions. She waited for Aaron's condemnation or even Dana's reproach, but she did not expect Dana to wrap her in a tight hug.
Aaron held no contempt for her and the three spent several moments reassuring Kalliste that everything was as it was a moment ago. Their feelings about her had not changed. Her loyalty to Aaron and the throne was not in question. They served up breakfast and encouraged Kalliste to eat.
After a small breakfast Brenn showed them around the village and the rest of the small vale. He explained that the various clans lived an autonomous existence in harmony with the natural world. All of this Aaron already knew having dealt with Cael's clan on Andor. He asked about Cael's clan, but Brenn did not have any information. He explained that spring gathering was still months away. They spent the rest of the day relaxing and recharging.
Queen Ariel's body was prepared and dressed in her formal court attire before being moved to the Central Hall and placed on a catafalque. A glass cover was set in place over the top and roses were laid on the top of the cover. Four members of the Red Guard of the Rose stood at each corner with heads bowed and weapons inverted with their backs turned towards the coffin. They would be replaced every hour while the body was laying in state. Other members of the Red Guard were positioned at the doors of the palace to allow mourners to enter and pay their respects. Other important doors were guarded to prevent wanderers to other areas of the palace. The official word went out to every temple in every city so those interested could make the pilgrimage to Cumbra during the lying in state or the actual public burial.
Inns in the city were already preparing for the large influx of people to the viewing, funeral, and the coronation. Vendors were ordering an increase of stock on hand to facilitate the throngs of people that were going to invade Cumbra.
The squad of Nightshades dispatched to determine the threat of the anomaly and locate Lady Diana and Sister Kalliste had arrived in LaRoche. They searched the village for signs of either the anomaly or Diana and Kalliste and came up empty on both counts. Part of the problem with being an invisible organization was the part about being invisible. They were having trouble investigating without actually interviewing anyone. It was determined that one of them would have to take on the guise of a priestess and interview any witnesses.
They did not learn anything of value from the acolyte they interviewed at the temple. When they went to interview the innkeeper they found that she was missing. Several of the workers at the inn mentioned that a sister matching the description of Kalliste had been there and interviewed the innkeeper. Right after that the innkeeper disappeared. The only real information of value was that there were three of them heading east and that Kalliste and Diana had followed them. The Nightshades left the village and continued east.