Fables never get it right. I have always known that I have the legacy necessary to wield the Weapon. Why else would my father have chosen a Queen 20 years older than himself. Or my mother wed a barely grown boy.
And there is no need to go on a quest to find the Weapon, it is safely locked in the royal vault. We are not careless enough to lose the defense of the realm.
What the tales don’t mention, and never will, is the complete tedium of having your life laid out in careful plans before you were even conceived. In Fantasies, the Hero risks death by dragon, or ogre, or dark magician. I am likely to die of boredom.
We do occasionally have people who delve into black magic, but that tends to be a self-limiting problem because they usually get eaten by the things they summon. And since the summoning ends with their death… Like I said, self-limiting. Except that someone has to clean up the dark circle, bodies, blood, and whatever noisome relics they used as focus. But that’s not me. As Princess of Abalem and Wielder, there are myriads of people who are devoted to seeing that I don’t as much as break a finger nail.
The realm was ecstatic when my parents first child was a girl, female Wielders being considered less likely to go rogue than males. A Wielder has only gone rogue once in the past, but that once was the bloodiest episode in the history of the realm. Rebellion after rebellion failed until the people finally just hunkered down and endured until the rogue Wielder died of old age. (The Weapon helps cure wounds and illness, but it does not otherwise extend life.) It took three generations before another Wielder was found—primarily because no one was looking for one. That ended in scurrying panic when the pirates started raiding from the Outlands.
But that was ancient history when I first assumed the Weapon, I have generations of righteous Wielders behind me, lending me the goodwill they had generated. So here I am, Princess Adava, Wielder, facing death by boredom.
I lean against one of the crenelations on the top of the tallest tower, just barely able to see the ocean, ignoring the nervous shuffling of my bodyguards in the background who are probably worrying that I might somehow fall despite the waist high wall. If by some anomaly of gravity I do fall, they will likely all jump after me rather than live to face father.
I’m Weapon Wielder, destined to lead in battle against any and all threats, and the Lord Advisors of the realm surround me with guards as if I were helpless. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it isn’t seemly for a twenty-three year old Princess to roll her eyes. Sometimes I do it anyway.
I understand that a generation without a Wielder, without anyone acceptable to the Weapon, made the whole realm nervous, but they have had twenty-three years to get over it.
The wind gathers and I can see clouds rushing in from the sea, a sheet of rain in the distance like a curtain, moves across the sown fields until it hides the nearest of the Spires.
“A storm is coming, your highness.” The sergeant on duty states the obvious. I ignore him. Doubtless he would like to form the guard around me and hustle me inside, lest I get struck by lightning or get wet or cold, but I broke them of that years ago. Broke a few bones, too. Nothing that wouldn’t mend.
They sometimes forget that I am warrior even without the Weapon. Understandable, I suppose, I certainly look no Amazon. Average height for a woman, which means that most men are taller, wiry rather than muscular, for which I am devoutly grateful, with brown hair and eyes. Very average. I wouldn’t mind having the golden hair and blue eyes that go with most fables, provided that I don’t get the rest of the baggage, like having to wait for some prince to rescue me from something or the other. Average, but still trained since childhood in all forms of combat. I finally decide to go back inside before I give my sergeant a nervous breakdown.
I wander down to the kitchens, followed dutifully by my guards, and listen to the chief cook complain as usual while he fixes me a cup of hot chocolate that I drink as I move around the kitchen nibbling, also as usual. It’s a game we play at least once a week. He is torn between gratification that I even know where the kitchens are, and the belief that I shouldn’t be there, that Princesses don’t bother with kitchens.
I wander everywhere, laundry, blacksmith, stables, library, and through the town, everyone smiling at the friendly Princess who is curious about everything from the proper way to shoe a horse to what spices to put in mulled wine. Only my training master and my brother know that what I am really doing is familiarizing myself with the streets and alleys and paths in case I have to fight in them. My parents work hard at ignoring what I do. I understand. It is hard to raise your baby daughter to use the most deadly weapon on the continent; much easier to pretend that you aren’t. My brother and I understand, and help their pretense. Our parents have had a hard duty driven life, for all that they have made the best of it.
I grab a plate of cookies just out of the oven and go to find my brother, followed by my guards. I have gotten used to leading a parade wherever I go—probably because I have never known anything else—and I have reached an agreement with the chief cook to keep my guards’ wardroom filled with snacks so I didn’t feel guilty about not sharing my cookies, which the sergeant would have fits about; a guard eating a cookie isn’t guarding. All four of the sergeants who rotate guarding me are paranoid—I think my parents selected them for that trait—and see dangers lurking in every shadow. I find my brother in the library, also as usual; he loves books.
“Ah, Adava, another successful raid on the kitchen.” Mynar moves away from the table where he appeared to be reading four books at the same time and taking notes, to a window embrasure where we can eat cookies without the danger of getting crumbs on his precious books. I ignore the sergeant looking around the room, in all of its nooks, before joining my brother’s guards in the hall. He will never find any lurking assassins, but he will always look.
We are the last of the royal line, Wielder and Heir, and protected, overly protected. I feel an eye roll coming on.
“The Lord Advisors have ‘narrowed’ the list to eighty-three.” My brother had mastered the dry tone of diplomacy well before he knew what diplomacy was, and I am likely the only one who can accurately read the underlying sarcasm.
“Do you know any of them?” The Lord Advisors have been planning my brother’s marriage since his sixteenth birthday, and now, two years later, their list of proposed brides is still ridiculously long. If it were to be left up to them, my brother would die of old age, unmarried, and they still wouldn’t be close to agreement. I am certain that Mynar has no intention of leaving it up to them.
My marriage, on the other hand, is still the subject of massive arguments; marriage means having children, and having children means being pregnant, and my being pregnant means the realm will be unprotected for nine months. Unprotected except for the royal army, the king’s knights, the royal guard, and the various fighting forces of the Lord Advisors. Not to mention irritated peasants with pitchforks. We were not a placid people. Sometimes I feel that too much importance is placed on the Weapon. The Dark Years, when we could field only a few battalions—too few to call an army—are long past.
“Maybe a third of the list have been introduced to me at one time or another,” he shrugs. We both know he will marry whom necessity dictates.
“I have a letter from Celeste.” I wait for Mynar to continue—a letter from our secret clairvoyant is bound to be interesting.
The small sheet of paper that my brother hands me has one sentence, “The red-headed woman will cause trouble.”
As always, interesting, but I had forgotten to add frequently cryptic. “So who on your list is red-headed?”
“I don’t know. At least two Stormborne ancestors and healthy is all the Lord Advisors care about. And how many siblings, as if that is inherited too.” If Princes rolled their eyes Mynar would have, but they don’t, so he didn’t. “It’s clear enough that there is a problem, but uninformative enough that it isn’t a catastrophe.” The way Celeste explains it, the more dire the future repercussions, the stronger the resonance reflecting back to her.
Once when the pirates had inserted an assassin in the keep’s kitchen with the intent of poisoning father, Celeste had described him down to the mole on his face, and added who paid him, how much, and where it was hidden. That one vision more than justified the risk father had taken in giving her sanctuary.
“How can we possibly tell the guards to look out for a red-head without explaining why?”
I am afraid my brother is right. We finish our cookies and watch the rain.