Princess Perseverance really didn’t care for her receiving room. It was too small for someone as important as she was. Possibly that was a trick of her memory. It had been her mother’s parlor.
The light was kindly radiant out of the delicately vaulting windows, wire thin decorative lines of gold lacing and intertwining as they ran up them, joining the panes of glass together. The light always felt serene and airy as it played delicately across cherry wood panels that were chosen for their pale rose color. The wood grain itself had deep, large and soft, gently rounded swirls that perfectly accented the white-gray of marble inlay on the floor. A small hearthstone fireplace was at the heart of the room, it’s warmth gently heating it in winter. The entirety of the effect was to wrap all who entered the room in a warm, supple and protective embrace.
Perseverance looked at the whole of the room and thought...
How the hell is anyone supposed to be terrified of me the second they enter it?
“Master Alden Vespucci of the Huddleston and Harris Express Company,” the wonderfully and ethnically fashionable voice of the princess’ beloved swamp elf personal secretary, Muhira called out in a high, clear and carefully, precise accent. Muhira had been adopted by Columbian gentry as a baby and was at some pains to prove her authenticity. She had worked hard at it and her accent was almost natural at this point. Even though actual Elvish was completely beyond her.
A very thin and boyishly attractive young man with shining skin, thick framed glasses and wearing the latest cut of chausses made from imported denim, entered the princess’ presense. His cotehardie had been carefully tailored to appear as if it had been a faded thirty year old thrift store treasure find. Which he claimed it was although, those don’t usually cost more then three times the rest of the entire store’s inventory, plus the building itself.
Since this was a private audience he went into a full kneel giving royal honors to someone who reeeealy wasn’t supposed to be getting those anymore. But if you knew what was good for you...
Vespucci waited in a very uncomfortable full Dying Swan kneel. Sweat started to bead in glistening drops on his forehead. Perseverance kept her smile pleasant as she pretended to be too occupied with some particularly difficult bit of stitching to notice his discomfort.
She was waiting for his discomfort to turn into actual pain.
Perseverance had been reading up on the latest in non-destructive torture methods. Stress Positions were favored as a softening up method by the new thought leaders in the field. Both for fatiguing the subject and establishing psychological dominance over them. The old school didn’t seem to like it all that much. So far as they were concerned, pull a couple of fingernails out and you were pretty fucking dominant. But Persey favored the modern approach, she was above all things a Progressive.
She continued her stitching. The bright light made that easy but routinely gave her a migraine. She had always had those but they were more frequent these days. It made her more brittle then usual. She hated this room.
She knew in her inner heart that giving her, her mother’s old apartments had been a trick by her father’s second wife Queen Elizabeth or The King’s Filthy Chief Whore as Persey warmly thought of Stepmother. Certainly anyone who sought Persey’s favor better have voiced the same sentiment somewhere along the line. Not that the princess would allow them to say that to her face, you understand.
Everyone had pretended that it was nice gesture by the KFCW when Persey’s mother had died (and her queen’s crown had been promptly stolen), that she had gave Perseverance her mother’s chambers instead of taking them for herself.
Persey clenched her teeth hard at the memory. She had been vulnerable enough at the time to accept the poisoned apple. When she took the offer, Elizabeth had promptly moved her own quarters into Perseverance’s old ones that had been opposite of her father’s. Giving the KFCW a perfect chance to waylay anyone who was waiting to see the king. Persey had planned to hold on to those rooms as her official office space.
When Vespucci was actually starting to shake, she smiled coldly and then dropped her stitching saying in her low and gravelly voice, “Oh my dear Master Vespucci! Alden! Please! Please rise. How could I have not noticed you?” She didn’t bother with a convincing performance this wasn’t court. And the only spy of her stepmother’s here was on her payroll. There was always the question of to whom Lady Britney felt she owed her final loyalty. Which was the problem whenever you were running a double of course. But Persey was appropriately cautious around Britney. Perseverance probably had control over the flow of information that ran to Elizabeth. Which vaguely reminded her. “And dearest Alden, please remember you mustn’t kneel to me like that anymore. I am no longer regent.”
She then jerked her chin sharply and Alden frantically scrambled to his feet.
This not being Alden’s first rodeo, he handed a plain wooden box to Muhira without looking at her. Muhira opened the box peaked inside and gave Perseverance a half nod combined with a half smile. Alden’s gift was sufficient to insure her official good nature.
“Thank you for receiving me your Highness. It is always joy to be in your radiant presence,” he chirped bright eyed. “Your hair like sunshine...”
Radiant, am I? Persey thought sourly. It had been a long time since anyone had bothered to lie about how beautiful she was. But she smiled graciously and let him continue to praise her, going on and on about how she was like this thing compared to another thing.
“Always let them lay it on with a trowel, Persey,” her father had told her. “Of course it’s all a lie but we know it’s a lie too.” He his jagged yellow teeth appeared through his thick blonde beard, “how a man lies to you, tells you a lot about that man.”
What she could mostly tell about Vespucci was that he was a pussy. It even said so in the Farley File she kept on him. Right there, at the top of the page, “pussy.” Not a product of the genuine aristocracy. No titles in his background that were on the right side of the blanket. But his family had been able to buy their way into the right schools for two generations. The great grandfather had been a successful river pirate who invested heavily in the fur trade right after the market in raccoon-duck pelts opened up. His great grandad’s red, thick blood had turned thin and blue fast. The kid was weak, he could never compete in an open market so he relied on Perseverance to make sure the market didn’t become open. The relationship was mutually beneficial so long as people like Vespucci remembered who the bottom-bitch was.
Persey herself had not gone to the right schools. Her father being the very minor grandson of a duke who had twenty nine other grandchildren. Life as a Career Captain’s daughter was all she had known until she was seventeen. A few rich second cousins that wouldn’t let her in the servants entrance. Second hand dresses, that were heavily patched. Thick wooden shoes that loudly clomped when she walked. A plain grey head-dress that was years out of style. No jewelry at all. Boys that never noticed her and mean girls that always did. No dowry and no prospects for a marriage. And those girls never let her forget it...ever.
She always lived up to her name. She didn’t have looks but she was smart or at least smarter then average. She had drive and she had anger, each always fueling the other. She worked hard for good grades. Much harder then those who had been born unfairly smart. She did all the extracurriculars. She did everything Even though she knew in the end that the only thing her hard work would get her would be a job as headmistress of another school filled with other mean girls.
And then almost overnight it all changed. James I, the third and final of the Three Bad Kings had gotten worried when the peasants got restless again and decided it was time to considerably thin out the collateral branches of the royal family. Leaving her father both a duke and the leader of the opposition. Matched against an utterly incompetent king that was demanding everyone take sides when he was obviously weak.
On her eighteenth birthday her father, King Ronald I, placed her Princess’s Tiara on her head. And then Princess Perseverance went looking for the girls from her school. Good times. She thought to herself. Finally some good times. Her hard work had payed off after all.
“...which brings me to the unfortunate matter of Leighland provincial loan?” Vespucci had finally stopped babbling long enough to get to the meat of matter.
Perseverance snapped back to the present. She had known this was coming.
She would rail against the power of the banks in public but the truth of it was outfits like Huddleston and Harris were barely half as brave as jackrabbits. It took next to nothing to scare them in the right direction.
“I...grieve for your misfortune Master Vespucci. The Regent’s youth leads to...(careful here)...exuberant and somewhat oversimplified solutions to very complex problems,” Persey replied cautiously.
Perseverance waited, harder.
The silence went from uncomfortable to strained. That was something else Perseverance had learned from her beloved father. The power of silence. “Silence is awkward, my Cupcake. It always demands to be filled. Put your fingertips over your mouth,” Her father’s basso profundo voice tried to whisper this advice to her but was fundamentally incapable of being quiet. “Make it clear you aren’t going to be the one to talk first.”
The war of silence went on for several minutes but the battle was never in doubt.
“What are you going to do about it!” He suddenly blurted in a panic and then in an even bigger panic clamped his hands over his treacherous mouth.
Perseverance stopped smiling and put down her stitching.
”Please I’m sorry, Your Highness,” Alden whinned pathetically. “I’m so, so sorry.”
Perseverance rose slowly to her feet. “Bitches leave!”
Like the silent beats of an owls wings there was a sudden flurry of delicate footsteps as her ladies in waiting rushed out of the room. Only Muhira remained.
“I didn’t mean it!” Please!”
His expensive glasses flew across the room and shattered against the fireplace. “Ow!” he sobbed like a small boy who just skinned his knee. “Owwowoo!” he cried again as he fell to the floor and curled himself into a fetal ball.
She really shouldn’t have to do these things for herself anymore. The Princess brought up her foot and then stamped it down hard on his unprotected short ribs. She was getting on in years. Now, Alden Vespucci was screaming in genuine pain for the first time in his pampered life. She had a husband, wasn’t he supposed to take of stuff like this. Perseverance savagely kicked the point of her shoe into his now cracked ribs again. Then again father would occasionally cuff his ministers in the face with his own hand, Daddy liked the personal touch.
“It’s hurts! It HURTS!” Alden gasped.
“It’s supposed to,” Muhira purred at him. “That’s how you know she’s doing it right.”
After two more kicks to same spot. The princess adjusted her tiara and clomped back to her chair. Thick wooden shoes had their place in the big scheme of things. She actually found them surprisingly comfortable now.
“I only did that because I truly care Alden,” Perseverance said with something as close to sympathy as she was remotely capable of producing.
Alden blinked at her in agony and shock.
“Get up!” Muhira ordered. “Her highness is speaking to you!”
The young Vice President of the Huddleston and Harris rolled painfully to his knees. Tears gushing down his cheeks.
Perseverance picked up his Farley File and underlined one word, (right there at the top of the page), before continuing. “Now Alden, I need you to think about the answer to this next question carefully” She said in her gratingly motherly voice. “What have you done for me lately?”
Alden whirred while Princess Perseverance stared at him. Smiling at him. Her blue eyes just a little too open, her smile just a little too wide.
“I don’t do those anymore,” she said. That had become a little a bit embarrassingly obvious in recent months.
“I...uh...” Alden flailed desperately, his breath coming in ragged gasps. “ ...meant for the Lady Cheapside to ah....”
“Xheepseid!” Muhira barked at him. “Get the pronunciation right dumbass!”
“Xheepseid,” he annunciated a few syllables slightly differently trying to pronounce the trendy and chic elven name that Perseverance had chosen for her only daughter. Which wasn’t that easy to do even when you didn’t have freshly cracked ribs.
“Well I think that, that...” Persey waited just a bit for Alden’s panic to start building again. “...is a wonderful idea.”
“Oh good,” Alden sighed in relief then winced. “I’ll see to engagement myself.”
“Engagements,” Muhira snapped.
“Sorry?” Alden said frightened again.
“I think three speaking engagements at the usual rate of charitable donations to my foundation should be sufficient,” Perseverance nodded as she picked up her stitching.
“Oh yes,” he blubbered in gratitude. “She doesn’t even have to actually do it.”
Perseverance rolled her eyes, put down her stitching again and picked up his Farley File. She underlined the same word again twice more, (right there at the top of the page). Then she nodded at Muhira.
Muhira, gracefully returned the bow and picked up a beautiful inlaid box of gold and ivory that was nearby and presented it to Vespucci. “Her highness has a gift for you.”
Alden viewed the beautiful box in horror. There were stories about the kind of gifts you could receive from Perseverance.
“Open it,” The princess invited as she returned to her stitching.
This gift did not disappoint. Alden screamed in horror the moment he lifted the lid.
“Don’t drop it! Blood will be hell to get out that carpet.” There was a reason that Persey had kicked him in the ribs and not the face. “You will notice that upon one of those fingers is the seal ring for the leader of the Leighland delegation. Without the men of their families to run the dam and mill, that loan which was so harshly adjusted by my half-brother will fall into default. You may sue their families for their entire assets including the dam, mill and their free-bodies to satisfy the debt.” Perseverance smiled as she worked her stitching. “You should turn a fairly nice profit when all is said and done.”
Alden closed the box and tremblingly bowed.
“Keep the box Alden. I expect it to be prominently displayed whenever I come to visit.” Perseverance held out her hand. Alden shuffled forward to take and kiss it. She clenched his hand in hers as she did so. “Master Vespucci, everyone know that Princess Perseverance never forgets. Just kindly remember, that goes both ways.”
A few moments later after Alden had scrambled out, Perseverance asked, “how much did El Ruyined, charge for that job?”
“About half a speaking engagement, your highness,” Muhira answered while examining her nails.
Persey frowned ruefully. “Way too much.”
“It was the disposal fee that really jacked things up. What with his own people not being allowed to loot the bodies,” Muhira explained with pleasing shrug. “He had to make up for the lost revenue.”
“Necessary, if Bryan finds out about this little venture, somebody is going to the block. Obviously not us,” the princess stated the obvious. Then she added, “Even so it was still too much. Promise him a blowjob when you are negotiating next time.”
“Ew and gross, my lady.”
The princess chuckled, “but he likes you.”
“He’s my half brother,” the secretary stated what the Princess already knew.
“Would that matter to him?”
“No but this isn’t Westeros.” Muhira eyelids then descended delicately to half closed. “Besides my lady,” she purred in a husky whisper as she took her lady’s hand and turned it over, elegantly lowering her head over the exposed in flesh “I believe I’m already spoken for,” the swamp elf girl said as she kissed Perseverance’s sensitive wrist with an exquisitely deft lightness that made the middleaged princess shudder.
Perseverance licked her lips. “If there is no more court business this afternoon my dearest...”
At that moment the doors to her receiving room burst open and her husband stormed in. The Earl Earl was encased in tourney armor. Thickly plated with a heavy target shield on his shoulder. His long sword at his side. He clearly beheld Muhira kissing his wife’s inner wrist, the girl’s hand groping his wife’s upper thigh. There could be no doubt all as to what was transpiring before his very eyes.
The Earl Earl bellowed, “not now!”
Perseverance was on her feet was on her feet, instantly back on the clock, “what’s wrong?”
“Branadoc is trying to get himself stupidly killed. Way ahead of schedule!”
A short time later an out of breath Princess Perseverance and Earl Earl had hustled themselves out to the tourney field in time to see a groaning prince Branadoc being roused to consciousness by a group of delighted centaurs from his regiment. Slapping each other on the shoulders and side flanks, a little unsure of this newfound masculinity thing but enjoying it none the less. The Crown Prince’s...traveling companion, Trelvis hugging the prince and crying with joy. Next them a strikingly blonde centaureen kept repeating in an irritating gasp, “Give him air! Give him air!” As she pranced, jiggled and bounced around them in complete and unutterable uselessness.
“That crazy, stupid fuck, is supposed to marry our Cheapside!” Earl Earl snarled. “How is he going to do that if he’s dead?”
“Xheepseid, Muhira corrected automatically from behind them.
“Shut. The. Fuck. Up.” Earl’s voice growled.
Muhira dropped her gaze and scuttled backward.
Perseverance ignored the exchange, concentrating on the scene before them. Considering carefully before she spoke, “Cheapside, really doesn’t want to marry him you know.”
“How in the Fallen One’s asshole does that matter?” Earl Earl blurted. “You and I sure as glutch didn’t want to get married. We made it work, damn it!”
“Different problem my passion,” Perseverance put a genuinely lovingly hand affectionately on his arm. “If we could get our daughter married to her half-uncle,” She said dispassionately. "It would be a way to repair the breech in the royal house.” She thought some more and continued, “Bryan is dragging his feet on the matter but even the KFCW sees the merit in it. The problem is Branadoc and Xheepseid have to successfully have sex once, before Faire Witnesses according to Canon law. Cheepy can get anyone else into her bed to produce an heir after that but we need that one time to make things legally plausible.” She took a breath and held it while vaguely drawing his attention to Lord Trelvis with a glance. “I am no longer of the opinion that that is even possible.”
“Hrrrm,” Earl Earl growled noncommittally.
“On top of that I think we have another problem.” In the distance, she could see a dark elf girl that was being bellowed at by Bryan’s pet orc. “The Orc regiments are getting restless. They want Bryan on the throne.”
Earl was enough a politician that he didn’t say, anything stupid at that point. The Orcs weren’t supposed to have that kind of power in Columbiana but these days they did. The big question was, did they know it.
Earl Earl was the one who stated the obvious. “We can’t play the long game anymore, Persey. It’s time to go with plan B”.
Princess Perseverance clasped her husband’s hand hard. The price for her would be beyond bearing...
...But she would pay it.