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Cry for a Queen

by precious_katuch14


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 way.

     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 they?

     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 ribbons.

     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 buy some."

     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 always be.

     "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 now."

     "But Mother," said the Acara, cracking a small smile, "these are tears of joy."

The End

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