Queen Laveth, a milk-white maiden from the region of Glynnis Fen, was half the age of her husband. While on a hunt, William had espied her gathering wood from a royal forest, but instead of hanging her, he took her to bed. It had been a chilly afternoon and Laveth had needed firewood to warm her chamber.
No ice flowed in her veins.
She could claim noble blood on her mother’s side, the late Lady Falene; indeed, it was her uncle’s barn like structure, Castle Glyn, where William and his men had lodged, but Laveth, growing up motherless in a backwater depleted by war, had for all practical purposes been raised a peasant.
William believed the golden-haired maiden had dropped from the sky. That she lacked a lady’s education, had unrefined tastes, and was ignorant of all but the merest essentials of court protocol mattered not one whit to the battle-weary King.
Castle Ursaulis had long been a womanless place, and Laveth had literally been a light in a dark spot.
The men came round first, rough nobles with whom the King had warred and hunted; men who wore dirty boots and came into the Great Throne Room with hounds yipping at their heels; men who tugged and twisted their hands and blinked at her as if they’d just seen daylight. Laveth had smiled sweetly at each one.
The wives came next, curious and painfully overdressed, already resentful in the presence of the girl they’d dubbed “The Peasant Queen.” Laveth’s smile cooled and they left angry at the absence of humility in one so young. Meekness was missing because Laveth, having made a clear-sighted observation, saw no need for it.
The famed Castle Ursaulis was not that far removed from Castle Glyn. The tapestries, though larger and more ornate, were just as dirty while cobwebs, heavy with skeletonized flies, hung everywhere. The day she found mouse droppings in the kitchen cupboards was the day she’d ceased to care about her lack of pedigree.
She’d kept those of the staff who would work and dismissed the rest. Individuals of higher rank were also treated equitably: the nobility who attended the fledgling functions of the “Peasant Queen” were warmly welcomed; those who chose not to come were never invited again. Now, especially after the birth of an heir, The Court at Ursaulis flourished, and Laveth, young and golden, was at the center of it all. She was in control, save for nights like these.
Laveth despised Open Court. It was a waste of time and effort. Her husband was too ill to be doing this; he’d closed last night’s session so exhausted she’d actually feared for his life. Secondly, none of it made any difference. The peasants would return, dragging the same tales with them. A scrub bull had escaped and freshened a farmer’s prized herd, with a look an old hag had soured milk, a young lord had refused to settle an innkeeper’s bill.
During these sessions, Laveth would have gladly welcomed her entrance into the Deep.
Once, when she was at the height of her powers, when the King was well and hung onto every word she said, Laveth had asked him to discontinue Open Court. She couldn’t have chosen a subject more contrary to his purpose.
William had assumed a kingly posture under the bed covers, thumping his chest while expostulating on his duty to his people, who loved and trusted him with their very lives. She couldn’t dissuade him of his romantic notion of the underclass.
He believed Open Court to be his sacred duty before the Elyon. The people’s complaints would be heard before a King and a Queen, he further added, and so Laveth had obediently attended the sessions. Her face had burned blood ripe under the scrutiny of the court, of the coarsely dressed men who smelled of garlic and manure and the gap-toothed women whose breasts hung like half-filled flour sacks.
No one breathed her nickname, though she knew it was not forgotten, least of all by herself. But Queen Laveth, twice yearly and dressed in finery, was reminded not of what she’d become but of what she might have been.