Queen of Swords - Chapters 1-2
1 Ash Point Forrest, Arbouroth, Azulyria May 1985 A searing pain slashed across my face, the sensation rapidly spreading like an uncontrollable wild fire consuming everything in its path. I could hardly breathe over the nauseating stench of burning flesh now permeating the air all around me. It was quick and fierce as a lightning bolt, striking me down in the blink of an eye. There was no time to brace myself, all I could do now was bear with it, and hope that I survived. The contentedness I had felt only moments ago as I strung my bow for another day of target practice no longer mattered. Tattered screams echoed throughout Ash Point Forrest with such ferocity, it was truly remarkable that I had not passed out. My pleas were left unanswered, not that anyone could have helped me anyway. No creature, human or otherwise, could stop what was happening to me. Oh, if my grandmother could see me now, she would not be able to contain herself. I could hear it now; her overly insightful pestering would ensue, about how I should have paid more attention to her “cultural education.” Those stories of ancient magic and brave warrior priestesses that I had been so dismissive of came crashing back. All of the signs pointed to one thing. So this is what it felt like to become the next Queen of Swords. Yay me. Nothing compared to the feeling of a trail of flames running across your face for the sake of honor and duty. It was a fiery heat, right below both of my eyes where a concentration of pricks began their meticulous path. The sudden shock had been alarming. I hadn't even realized what was happening until I felt where the pain was coming from. And to be straight with you, I should have been the last person chosen for such a coveted title. I was a far cry from your typical Hedarian girl. My average day consisted of picking fights (usually with boys), using unladylike language, and hardly ever listening to my parent's many concerns. They were the usual rants in regards to my wanting to play with wooden swords over learning cross stitch. You name it I probably did it˗˗˗at least once. Proper Hedarian girls were supposed to be demure, never raising their voices, never questioning orders. I was overly independent and quite open with my opinions. If I thought you were wrong, you heard about it. Whether it was ever meant to be an insult or not, my parents would occasionally suggest that perhaps I should have been born a Fegrusitite. Now those were women with steely tongues and tempers to match. Men of the eastern Facet found those qualities to be endearing˗˗˗the feistier the better. They liked to work with their hands, and were expert marksmen. Sounded like a dream come true to me. At least I would have a healthier looking complexion instead of having skin one step away from resembling daisy petals. Unlike tall and willowy Hedarians, Fegrusitites had a bronzed golden pallor, and muscles in all the right places. Not in a grotesque or bulky manner, but it was quite obvious they had the brawn to kick your root stalk if they so desired. That was the popular term for you know˗˗˗bottom. Abrasive temperament aside, at least for the most part I looked like a sought after Hedarian bride. A flowing veil of teal green tickled my fingers when I walked, swaying back and forth in gentle waves. Beneath finely sculpted brows, a piercing gaze filled with curiosity lingered on every sight and sound. And as my mother liked to use as a selling point, twin pools of the clearest lilac that glistened with innocent naivety. She didn’t skimp on the overly flowery attribute summary. Yet below the surface, a vivacious and highly astute warrior bided her time until she was once again allowed to fully reign free. My boisterous skirmishes might have been adventurous, but were low in number. I only acted in defiance whenever I couldn’t keep up the virtuous good girl façade any longer. Maybe my parents were right, maybe not. This is who I was. Ivyssa: a spitfire with the tenacious personality to match. So there was no going back now. Perhaps my only saving grace from being a complete miscreant was my unwavering thirst for knowledge, especially herbal remedies and such. Having those particular skills on hand became quite a useful skill to have, like say, when you are trying to conceal the fact that you split your knuckle while in the process of punching someone. Like I said˗˗˗it very useful indeed. So now, perhaps you understand my guarded skepticism in regards to my being chosen as the next Queen of Swords. But somehow, for some reason, the Goddess Octrisia had chosen me. Perhaps I could finally give my parents a reason to be proud of me, instead of filling their lives with constant grief. It had always been Ivyssa don't do this, don't do that, or you need to set a better example for your sisters, blah blah blah. The little weeds were almost as bad as I was, except they had the forethought to behave like perfect little angels whenever my parents were around. Even if they ever suspected that my siblings weren't as innocent as they portrayed themselves to be, I doubt that my mom or dad would ever admit to the fact that they couldn't control their own children. Fresh tears no longer contained, fell freely from the corners of my eyes. Streams of salt trickled down, tracing the curvature of my cheeks. Every drop paused momentarily before cascading to the ground below. As the seconds ticked by it became increasingly imperative that I find shelter and someone, preferably the designated Masculirum, to bear witness to the completion of my first Ascension. To have this task bestowed upon you was a rite thought by some, to be just as sacred as actually becoming Queen. In addition to the physical closeness, a spiritual bond was forged between this individual and the soon to be Queen. And once established, this bond is everlasting, never allowed to be broken. That is, until such a time that the next Queen has been chosen. This is how I would spend the next two hundred years of my life. Yes, I did say two hundred years. Now before get your undies in a twist and start accusing me of spinning tales, listen. Living beyond the normal realms of humanity is one aspect that made the Queen of Swords different from everyone else. In a way, she becomes superior, but only symbolically of course. All lives mattered, and I would never intentionally place myself above any others. Gaining some fancy title did not make my existence more important than another. And you want to know what, if I had been nothing but some selfish little twit, Octrisia would never have given me this honor in the first place. Add another century or so to your life span, no big deal right? Well, that would a bit of an exaggeration. In the beginning it may seem like a blessing, but be wary, the inescapable misery of death still lingered in the shadows. It was a burden better left unsaid, yet it couldn't be avoided forever. There would come a time when I would have to watch on as loved ones perished from this world. I shouldn't fret about it now, wrinkles before the age of twenty would not be a good look for me. Every Queen of Swords began her journey at age fifteen as an apprentice of sorts, working and studying alongside the current ruler, absorbing knowledge and honing the skills of a warrior. Once the budding new Queen had reached the more mature age of twenty, a second Ascension/Sealing ceremony would be performed. This was a ritual that forever bound a new leader with the teacher that had gifted her with the knowledge and skills to keep Azulyria safe from those who would bring chaos. With a transfer of power and the fading of the former Queen into a pile of sparkling dust, that commenced the start of a new reign. “Queen” was so formal and snobbish sounding. A more accurate depiction would be a warrior priestess˗˗˗kindness that knows no bounds, and the moves of a master swordsman. Call her Queen, or Azurina, it didn’t matter, an official title would never curtail the spread of her generosity, her protection. Depicted as a public servant, she would roam her kingdom establishing and maintaining relationships with her citizens With those responsibilities came the unavoidable pull of attachment to those you will outlive. Smiling underneath the guise of cold indifference was impossible. Every sensible ruler knew this, so you couldn’t let that painful reality distract you from your duty. There were others that would still need you. Periodic trips become routine; dedicating time to each of the five Facets. The Queen became updated on everyday life, and any other business that needed to be addressed. Every complaint, grievance, or joyous announcement was handled with poise and compassion until a resolution could be reached. A lot could be gained from such interactions, like a new appreciation for a regional delicacy, or something mundane as the way women wore their hair. I will have to remain vigilant at all costs for the well being of the nation would soon be resting upon my shoulders. For those who don't like flowery speech, it meant that if I screw up, there would be dire consequences. Don't worry about me though˗˗˗I won't be alone on my journey. I will have my Masculirum by my side. 2 My strength was quickly fading with each step I took. At this rate I wouldn't make it back home. The 40 minutes it took me to get here in the first place would be impossible to attempt, given my current condition. That left the only reasonable option, head further southeast where I knew for fact several communities sat perched in the many clusters of Ceristham trees. They were one of the limited types of trees found in Arbouroth˗˗˗the northern Facet of Azulyria. The robust scent of cherries mixed with the more crisp scent of mint made for a tantalizing bouquet to those who noticed. Almost directly in the center of Ash Point Forrest there was a perfect little grove that had given me a sense of privacy as I practiced, but I knew on more than one occasion that I had an audience. Let them look all they wanted˗˗˗I knew I was pretty deadly with a bow and arrow. On the brink of collapse and with what was remaining of my strength coupled with fierce stubbornness, I ran southeast as fast as my legs could carry me. Grass crunched under my steady footfalls. Just keep running. Low hanging branches scraped against my arms. Just keep running. A grayish blue pillar of smoke appeared in the distance, the odd sight triggering an uneasy feeling, but my mind couldn't seem to grasp its significance. Several paper thin cuts adorned my skin, more appearing with each stride. I was getting so close now, the bluish tint of the massive plume becoming more pronounced. Again I felt like something wasn't quite right, but the full train of thought still evaded me. I sure hope their Masculirum was close by and not on the other side of Arbouroth, because I felt like I could explode from the energy building inside my body. His presence would help relieve my misery. Tested for his suitability, a male close to the same age as the newly ascending Queen was chosen, one who would act as a partner of sorts to the new ruler. Just before the beginning of the last full moon cycle of a Queen's reign, the next Facet in line for control will gather all of their young men who have reached their seventeenth year. Nerves and egos would flare with a competitive spirit. Once they were assembled, everyone would march off to fulfill their duty and face one of the daggers of Lapisera. If for any reason, the ascending Queen could not reach the designated Masculirum of her local region, alternates from the remaining Facets were chosen as well to ensure that the process was completed. Lapisera was the first ever Queen of Swords, so it fell upon her to create a process for selecting a future ruler and her protector. With the help of her Masculirum, five daggers were forged using materials from all five Facets in their construction. As each blade was heated and shaped, drops of their combined blood were infused into the molten mix, giving each a portion of their magic. Smooth pebble sized pieces of Taurulieum were placed in the Ceristham hilts. This was the stone that connected all of Azulyria. No other would be worthy enough to use. Buried deep in the ground along the borders of each Facet were deposits enchanted with a protection spell that kept outsiders away. Those who traveled near would only see a small barren speck of land not worthy of notice, but even for the more curious, it would be a fruitless endeavor. Because you see, not only did the enchantment obscure Azulyria's full glory, it acted as a wall that prevented any foreign vessel from reaching its shores. You could paddle or row with all your might and never gain any ground, or I guess in this case, water. Eventually the news of numerous failures discouraged future attempts. Each dagger was kept within a shrine located on the Temple grounds where each Queen lived alongside her Masculirum and Shard. Each of the five Facets had their own Temple, built in the local aesthetic to maintain unity with the surrounding landscape. Making the short journey to these shrines was the easy part, but once you entered, that's when someone's life was going to change. At the entrance a Shard of Azulyria would stand sentry, waiting with a knowing grin for the visitors she was about to receive. Shards of Azulyria acted as the region's primary healer, and administrator of most ceremonies you would encounter amidst our culture. While the Queen tried her best to be everywhere at once, she was only one person, so it was up to the Shards to act as her eyes and ears when she wasn't around. Being a Shard was a long term commitment lasting for as long as you lived. This role was then passed down from Shard to whomever she saw fit to train as a replacement. Every step became a hindrance. New waves of searing pain flickered across my skin slowly, my eyes stinging when I tried to blink. Trees and rocks that were so easy to distinguish transformed into distorted masses of color. I could make out just enough to where I could stumble along without getting into a head on collision with a tree. Even with my blurred vision, I could make out the forms of several people gathered near the pillar of blue smoke as I reached the outskirts of the community. That nagging feeling from before roared deeply, this time it resonated with a glimmer of a memory from my childhood. It was a gleaming warning bell, but in my current state of mind I paid it no heed. Random images of the past were a mere distraction keeping me from reaching the center of the crowd. I pushed forward through a sea of greens and golden coppers that made up the first outcropping of citizens, keeping my head bowed as to project the illusion of obscurity. Moving closer to my target under the cloak of anonymity was my strategy. Let them think I was some meddlesome beggar or an insolent child behaving in a most uncouth manner. “Move, let me through,” I yelled in a hoarse staccato. To hell with politeness, these people were in my way, and I was going to do whatever was necessary to get by. To my utter dismay, my pleas had little effect and seemed to fall on deaf ears. Everyone around me remained still as a statue absolutely enthralled by what was going on just up ahead. The source of their trance-like state seemed to emanate from the same location as the blue smoke. I had to keep moving. Careful as to cause the least harm to anyone, I pushed through the dense crowd with the precision of a master acrobat, taking one delicate step at a time. My feet felt like lead weights, yet glided almost rhythmically across the uneven ground. A darting left here, stumble drag, and a twisting right there. The syncopated pattern was like a sensuous dance that led with a gentle sway of the hips, but with a bit more urgency. As the vibrant glow of a flame came into view, onlookers that had blocked my path became sparser the further I trekked. I was so close to finding my way out of this earth hued maze. So close now, almost there. A flame on its own wasn't anything spectacular in my opinion, but one built to this magnitude was a perplexing sight. The use of fire was restricted to cooking and other essential tasks, with the caveat of being contained within a pit at all times. There probably was an exception to this rule, but what I was seeing definitely did not fit in with the rules. Or at least that's how my fog filled brain perceived it. Arbouroth flourished even with a dry climate, as much of it was covered with lush Ceristham trees. It was quite the puzzling conundrum how they coexisted so well with each other. The juxtaposition of sweltering heat and rich vegetation was poetry in motion. Under these conditions guidelines were put into place, especially here, as precautionary measures to protect both the land and the people who called it home. With all the trees, there would be plenty of fuel should a stray spark wander off. The idea was to keep a catastrophe from wiping Arbouroth or any of its neighbors off the map permanently. I finally reached the front of the crowd, a sigh of relief breaking past my parched lips. “Somebody help me,” I cried out with what minuscule energy I had remaining, no longer caring about the odd sight of the enormous pillar of smoke. With elbows flying to and fro, the last remaining obstacles I faced were no more when I breached past the final spectators. A cacophony of strangled sounds had poured from my mouth. Not a peep in response, although from my previous attempt, I should have anticipated the same deafening silence. I kept moving closer to where the blue smoke was. That was when the harsh whispers and murmurs wafted past my ears. “Who is she?” “What is she doing?” “How dare she interrupt our ceremony?” Quick as a blade hitting its mark, the reproachful chatter ceased. A shrill feminine scream rang out, resounding with a heart wrenching echo. I don't know if it was the sudden jarring sound or my brain coming back from a tea break, but the cloying fog that had ensnared my thoughts lifted away opening my senses to the scene before me. A very familiar looking alter came into focus accompanied by the fresh floral scent of lilacs. I knew what the smoke represented. Like a river bursting at its seams, a raging torrent of recognition flowed across me. Lilacs, blue smoke, and a raised alter placed over a fire, Oh my Goddess what have I done? The last thing I heard was a young boy crying his eyes out before I felt myself descending towards the ground, my eyes drifting closed. Sweet oblivion, take me into your inviting clutches, for I was no longer worthy of seeing the light of day.