Aendasia, Empress of Beinison, Duchess of Northfield, and Queen of Baranur rode west along the Kings’ Road at the head of her army. Her title of empress was merely a formality since her son actually ruled Beinison, but the title Queen of Baranur held real power. She had succeeded her great uncle King Stefan II upon his death, according to his wishes.
A short distance ahead stood Woldarun, a village under her rule, the last along the road before she would reach mighty Magnus. Caeron Tallirhan, her cousin and grandson of Stefan II, who had stolen the Baranurian crown while she was still in Beinison, had been killed outside the walls of Magnus in Deber, more than four months ago. Despite this, she did not hold the capital, for its citizens had stubbornly refused to surrender it and instead proclaimed Caeron’s widow, Dara, to be their ruler.
When two of her armies had been wiped out in Quinnat trying to capture “Queen” Dara, Aendasia had been forced to lift the siege she had levied against Magnus the previous year and wait until spring to resume her campaign. Now that the trees were in full bloom and the land was green once again, she marched towards Magnus.
Behind her, a force thousands strong stretched far down the road. It was comprised of professional Beinison soldiers and the citizen levies from duchies that recognised her as queen. The largest contingent was from Equiville, and Aendasia thought it very fitting that their livery colours were white, which to her mind represented the purity and truth of her claim on the Baranurian throne.
As she neared Woldarun, the town did not seem as joyful at their liberation as she expected. Yes, people lined the streets to greet her, but their faces betrayed unhappiness. They bowed only grudgingly when she rode past them, raising the ire of her battle captain, Raimundo Quikuches, Viscount of Marolleris.
“Exalted one,” he said, “we should teach these peasants proper respect for not only their queen, but an empress of mighty Beinison.”
“They will learn respect,” Aendasia said. She was sure of it. Caeron had been a powerful and charismatic speaker — she could not deny him that — and he had worked his magic on these poor, ignorant villagers. It would wear off eventually, though, now that he was gone.
As Aendasia scanned the crowd, her eyes came to rest on a youth with dirty matted hair, whose features smouldered with anger. He did not bow at all, and instead shouted, “Blortnikson! We bow only to house Tallirhan!”
Aendasia gasped. Such audacity! She couldn’t believe that she had actually heard the boy say that to her face. Wearing her diamond-encrusted imperial crown, she had thought she would overawe these peasants.
“King Caeron is our rightful ruler!” a villager out of view cried. A few others seemed to take courage from this and added their voices to his.
“Caeron is dead!” she shouted back at the villagers. The calls died down and the peasants became quiet. A small group nearby applauded. The voice of the angry, dirty young man reproached them.
“Don’t cheer for that Beinisonian witch!”
Duke Baldwin Equiville drew his sword. “Who called my lady queen a witch? By Nehru’s blood I’ll have you –”
“Exalted one, this is intolerable!” Raimundo Quikuches pulled his battle axe from his back and summoned the master drummer to his side with it. “We should kill these insolent dogs! Sound ‘to arms’.”
The master drummer beat out a tune on his large drum and his underlings echoed him. The deep, rich sound of the Beinisonian drums reverberated between the buildings of the small town. The army came to an abrupt halt and the clicking of hundreds of weapons being lowered from shoulders filled the air.
The villagers were now completely silent. They stared fearfully at the weapons arrayed against them. Everything was suddenly silent, until Aendasia shouted, “No! I will not have this. These are my people. As queen, I am their mother and I will not see them harmed, even for their show of disrespect.”
In truth, Aendasia would have been perfectly content to stay in Beinison, where she’d lived since she was wed to the Beinisonian emperor Alejandro VII at the age of ten, over a quarter of a century earlier. Baranur was a strange land to her after all these years, its people not nearly as disciplined as the militaristic Beinisonians. She had loved her uncle dearly, though, and she would see his wishes fulfilled. He wanted her to rule Baranur, so when she was widowed and her son rose to the Beinisonian throne, King Stefan had arranged for her to marry the Duke of Northfield, ruler of perhaps the most powerful of the Great Houses of Baranur. He had intended for h er to rule, and rule she would. It hurt her that she should leave her adoptive homeland for these people and they rebuked her.
“Exalted one –” Raimundo protested.
“I said ‘no’, and I meant it!” The words were curt, but she intended them to be. No one who was weak-willed could last long in the Beinisonian imperial court. “Now continue the advance.”
Read the rest of the story here: http://dargonzine.org/the-great-houses-war-part-4-the-empress-of-beinison/
Links to the rest of the series here: http://dargonzine.org/series/the-great-houses-war/