Cry for a Queen
Also by laurelinden
It was another beautiful day, Princess Shimra thought
as she gazed out of her window; the weather had been lovely for weeks. Birds
poured their hearts into songs lilting from the trees, and the trees themselves
quivered in delighted dances, urged on by the wind. Even the water seemed cheerful
as it bubbled in rippling laughter down the creek bed.
Shimra herself felt little like singing, dancing,
or laughing. She sighed, turning from the window, and absently covered it over
with a heavy curtain. The light that had been pouring in extinguished into dimness,
and the sounds muted almost to silence. Somehow, it was more comforting that
Her paws balled into fists as she felt the sting
of tears in her throat. What right had the rest of the world to be sunny, happy,
or bright? How could the birds sing so freely when it was all she could do not
to scream? The thought of all of Meridell's townspeople going about their daily
lives in ignorant bliss made her stomach sick with envy. The queen is ill, some
might say, making little shrugs of pity. But what was the queen to them besides
a name? Someone they must bow to, and call Your Grace... someone who sorted
out their abstract problems and petty complaints, and ruled from a distant castle.
Most probably wouldn't even recognize her if she were walking in their midst.
They did not know Queen Regine the Lupe as Princess
Shimra did. They saw her public face, her Queen face as Shimra thought it, but
they did not see the sides of her that were so like the rest of them -- the
mother, the teacher, the friend. They did not love her as Shimra did. How could
The Princess walked silently down the halls of
the castle, toward the room she had visited so many times of late. Shimra was
an Acara, like her father King Voren before her, who had died many years ago,
when she had been very small. When she thought of him, a distant memory of booming
laughter came to the corners of her mind -- and a warm lap when he pulled her
up on his knee. Her mother had never remarried, saying she already had an heir
for him: if she would have chosen a new king, and given him a son, the line
of Meridell would no longer carry King Voren's own blood.
Her mother had done this for her, for the King,
for Meridell. All those years she ruled alone, weighted beneath the burden of
Meridell's leadership with only her advisors to give her counsel. Now, at last,
the demands of rule seemed to be catching up with her. The fire had gone slowly
from her eyes, the power from her voice, and she'd fallen sick, confined by
Doctor Herbtree to bed until the life rekindled in her soul. If it rekindled,
had been his unspoken words.
Shimra looked up as she reached the end of the
hall. The guard standing outside moved silently aside to let her pass, but the
Princess didn't even look at him. She had eyes only for the sickroom door.
The bed was a neat one, with impeccable sheets
and fluffy pillows. Beside it was a small table with a huge bowl of fruit and
several small vials of a vivid red potion that swirled and shimmered in the
light of the sun. Two servants were huddled in one corner, mixing herbs and
other ingredients into a small cauldron.
The queen was frailer even than Shimra remembered,
almost as pale as the pillows cradled behind her head. The dull misery in her
eyes hurt the princess all the worse to see, especially with the song of birds
and rustle of trees still faint upon the wind -- sounds that even the thick
windows couldn't quite block out.
Her mother saw her looking out the window, and
smiled sadly. "Open it, please, Shimra," she requested softly, with a voice
quivering timidly as chimes. It was such a difference than the confident, clear
"Queen's Voice" she used to use in public... but then again, everything about
her was different now.
The princess gladly complied, but couldn't help
being surprised at the wish; it was what she would have wanted least. She cringed
as bright warm sunlight broke into the once-dim room, and the sounds of the
joyous outside world rose in volume on the air. The wind, newly allowed to enter,
ruffled in dancing eddies around the curtains, swirling them outward like giant
The sight made Shimra sick with anger to see,
but her mother only smiled and thanked her in that heartbreakingly weak voice.
"Lovely day," she whispered.
Her eyes filling with tears, Shimra's stomach
wrenched queasily. She should say something... but what? How could she possibly
describe to her mother her aloneness, her anger, her fear? Even if she could
put them into words, why should she be worrying about her own selfish problems
when her mother was already bedridden?
Muffled footsteps behind her spared Shimra the
urgency of putting her thoughts to words. She wheeled around, swallowing the
lump in her throat, and saw Doctor Herbtree come in holding a basket of medicine.
The white Lenny looked worn and haggard, but it was hardly a surprise. She knew
well what worry could do when dragged on and never lifted.
He managed a tired smile at the sight of her.
"My dear princess," he croaked. "You're in visiting again, I see; what a novelty."
There had always been something alive about the old Doctor's eyes; even now,
that trait had not left him. The young Acara couldn't help but feel that he
could read her unspoken words and thoughts that hung heavily on the air, but
he turned from her to attend to the queen.
Shimra watched him silently as he croaked to
her in low tones, changing her already pristine pillows and emptying a pouch
of herbs into a glass of colored liquid. His wing brushed against her brow,
measuring its heat, and the queen replied softly to his questions. After only
a few moments, the doctor turned to her.
"Shimra," he said. "It seems we are out of Wartroot.
Would you be willing to go into town to pick up another pouch?"
The first thought to flash through the princess'
mind was "Why me? We have servants to get it," but she kept it to herself. There
was a sparkle in the Doctor's eyes as he asked her, and some part of her wondered
exactly how far into her soul those living eyes could see. Her mother voiced
no objection from her sickbed, so Shimra found herself nodding her agreement.
* * *
In a few moments, the Acara was out the castle
doors, shrouded in a long navy traveling cloak with the hood raised. Despite
the sweltering heat, Shimra had no intention of displaying her status, and would
rather breeze through unnoticed, to get what her mother needed as fast as possible.
It had taken her a while to dismiss the guards who often accompanied her, and
an even longer while to convince them that she would be all right, that nobody
would recognize her as the princess.
She sighed underneath her hood, resisting the
urge to pull it off as she began searching for a shop to buy some Wartroot.
The bustling Meridellians barely took notice of her, much to her relief. She
vaguely heard the sounds of their conversations washing over her.
"I say! Queen Regine's been cooped up in the
castle for a long time!" came a voice from the Ultimate Bullseye area. It belonged
to a blue Blumaroo who was taking aim, beside a watching Turtum.
"Rumor has it that she is sick," said a green
Moehog in an apron, walking past them with a basket of vegetables balanced on
her head. "Poor thing."
Shimra looked around, raising her hood slightly
so that she could see better. There was a small cluster of shops not too far
away, and the Acara princess quickened her pace. Tidbits of conversation floated
about like leaves blown by the wind.
"Her Majesty hasn't made much of an appearance
in a while," discussed a Ruki with two more companions underneath a tree.
"I'm worried about the queen!" said a yellow
Kacheek in overalls, herding a couple of Babaas in front of Shimra's path. He
seemed to be talking to a shadow Wocky who was nearly dozing off in her stall.
"So am I," she yawned in reply. "I wish I could
do something, but alas, I am but a poor shopkeeper."
"Excuse me, but do you have any Wartroot?" asked
Shimra to the Wocky, somewhat barging into their conversation. "I'd like to
The shopkeeper blinked and sat up straight. "Finally,
a customer! Hmmm... I think we do have Wartroot in stock... let me check."
Patiently Shimra waited as the shopkeeper rustled
through her bags in search of the Wartroot. Here, outdoors, the sunlight basked
her and the voices of the crowds were inescapable. There were no doors or windows
to shut out the world here.
She thought she'd hate it. She thought that actually
being here amid the unsurpassable joy and bustling of the town would only sink
her deeper into her depression and worry and make her want to return to the
castle all the more.
Somehow, inexplicably, it had the opposite effect.
The warmth of the sunlight, the gentle tickling of the breeze and the voices
of people with whole and happy families of her own brought a smile to her lips
instead. She remembered her mother's whisper. Open the window, please.
Perhaps it made sense after all.
As she waited, the words of the nearby speaking
townsfolk became clear. Before she'd been too focused on finding the root to
pay it any mind, but now that she stopped to listen... her mouth dropped open.
A yellow Kacheek joining a Ruki to talk about... yes, it was beyond a doubt.
They were discussing the Queen.
Even more astonishing were their faces. Those
creatures, who had probably never looked on the face of Her Majesty themselves,
had sincere worry in their eyes. Two young Rukis next to the first, brothers
perhaps, looked near tears. Here they were, in the middle of market day, sharing
her feelings for her mother -- they, who had never so much as met her.
All this time, she'd thought the queen's actions
were unnoticed, her sacrifices met with indifference... could she have been
wrong? Could these pets in the marketplace feel a hint of what she, too, felt
with every moment?
Her thoughts were interrupted as the shopkeeper
Wocky turned around, smiling triumphantly. "I've found your Wartroot, dear..."
"Ah," Shimra stuttered, snapping out of her trance.
"Thank you very much." She drew a small pouch of Neopoints from her pocket and
placed several in front of the Wocky, who nodded.
"You look quite familiar," said the shopkeeper
thoughtfully. "Have I seen you before?"
The princess bit back a gasp before answering,
"No. I... I guess I better be going now."
The trek back to Meridell Castle seemed much
easier than the trip towards the marketplace, especially now that Shimra's suspicions
seemed to dissolve and dissipate into thin air. So they cared, after all...
she just hadn't seen the truth. Excitement bubbled up inside her as though the
Acara had been on a thrill ride instead of a walk into the Meridell countryside
as the guards opened the drawbridge for her, and she walked inside.
"Your Highness," asked a sentry, "are you hurt?
Do you need to send us to take care of some cur too stupid to respect royalty?"
"No, no," said Shimra pleasantly, making her
way through the castle corridors to her mother's sickroom. She was greeted instantly
by a rather delighted Doctor Herbtree.
"You have done well, Highness," he said, taking
the pouch of Wartroot from Shimra and walking over to where he was concocting
the queen's medicine. "It should be ready in a few minutes. Perhaps if your
mother is awake, I daresay that's enough time for a little chat."
The Acara princess barely hesitated as she gently
sat on the edge of the bed, looking into that emaciated, fragile face. Queen
Regine managed to smile, and her daughter could see those thin cheekbones move.
"I cannot stand to see Meridell making such a
big fuss over me, Shimra," whispered the Lupe, turning slightly so she was looking
Shimra in the eye. "I don't want them to be miserable when I am. I don't want
them to cry their hearts out when they should be happy and gay, as they should
"I know you've always wondered why Meridell doesn't
seem to care about me, let alone know me, my dear. But they do. I can tell,
even when all you see is carefree gladness. Do not persecute them for that,
Shimra. They can publicly mourn when I am completely gone."
At first, the princess was struck dumb by these
words, either too astounded by the trust Queen Regine put in her subjects, or
too surprised to realize that she knew what had been bothering her. She reached
out for the frail Lupe's paw resting on top of the blankets, and clutched it,
tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I do not wish to see you unhappy on such a lovely
day like this," added the queen softly but firmly. "Please, Shimra, no tears
"But Mother," said the Acara, cracking a small
smile, "these are tears of joy."