“Will he live?” Lady Cheapside was breathless with concern.
Princess Honor had just trudged back from the crowd of centaurs that were still surrounding Prince Branadoc. She sighed in despair as the not-exactly-men of the regiments tried to impress her as she stalked past them.
Some were turning sideways with hands on hips with one knee cocked forward, the expensive skin tight hose encasing their legs shimmering in the afternoon sun.
Are they trying to show off how bone thin and girlish their thighs are? Are they really hoping to excite me by that? Honor asked herself in bewildered despondency. Those that were capable of growing them fluffed their atomically precise beards and few casually stroked the delicate and intricately quaffed “war-buns” atop their head.
When that didn’t arouse Honor, one them came up with a surefire winner, “an absolutely disgusting display! This is toxic masculinity at its absolute worst.” That young lieutenant smiled at her, his right eye twitched and then he caught himself just in time. “Your Highness, may I have your consent to wink at you in a non-threatening, respectful and yet inviting manner?”
Honor’s hand was still throbbing from backhanding that one as she approached her niece, Cheapside. She spared the victim of her own toxic masculinity a quick backward glance. He was still rolling on the ground crying. Honor once again reminded herself to find out where Perseverance she got her wooden shoes.
“It’s just a mild concussion, Cheapside. Your husband-to-be, will be just fine,” Honor assured her.
“Fuck!” Cheapside shrieked.
The girl’s face was a mask of spoiled, petulant outrage. “Can’t those fucking pigboys get anything right?”
Honor glanced around quickly to see if anyone had overheard Cheapy’s fairly illegal ethnic slur. Given the vast amount of virtue points that Cheapside had had heaped on her she probably could get away with a hate-word like “pigboy”. After all it was only referring to orcs and orcs had refused the high honor of victim status repeatedly. Which naturally made them genuine objects of hatred and derision by all right thinking people.
It’s not hate speech when you hate the right people.
However, royals weren’t ever supposed to use it. And certainly never in damn public. Honor caught Perseverance’s eye and arched her own eyebrow meaningfully. Persey scowled quizzically and then Honor cocked her chin slightly at Cheapside.
Perseverance, sighed. Nodded. Then snapped her fingers. There was a circle of deafening silence that emanated from that snap like the expanding rings of a stone thrown in perfectly still pond. Everyone stopped what they were doing to see who, had attracted the former regent’s ire this time.
Cheapside heard it with dread and looked up to see her mother glaring at her balefully. She dropped her head and dejectedly plodded towards her parents. When she reached them she would be whisked away for a private and prolonged barracking.
Honor could have felt sorry for her niece. It was theoretically possible. And if Cheapy wasn’t the most spoiled, over-indulged, stuck on herself, shallow as a plate, utterly useless and ridiculously silly girl on the Wide Earth, she would certainly have tried.
“What happened?” The warm contralto voice breathed over her shoulder.
Honor turned precisely and unthinkingly into a curtsy that neatly planted her nose in Queen Elizabeth’s cleavage.
No walking this one back, Honor thought to herself as she was momentarily caught in a panicked paralysis, her nose still stuck between the hills. A small part of mind also noticed that she had changed perfumes. It was something simple and cheap like the old queen had worn all her life. It was something that her father could still appreciate.
“Up dear,” Queen Elizabeth was barely keeping a straight face. “People will talk.
“They’re probably talking already, your Majesty,” Honor was trying not to giggle. Giggling would make this so much worse. She was usually good at poise when she wasn’t accidently molesting close relatives. She rose and looked down into her step-mother’s deeply blue, in fact nearly purple eyes. Her full red lips were canted slightly trying to keep a straight face. The Queen was a still a beauty.
You could see where Branadoc got his looks but on his mother it worked. At five foot three she was a little on the short side, with a natural and opulent, voluptuousness that was only barely kept in check with a severe regimine of diet and exercise. Elizabeth’s hair had clearly been jet black at one time but was now waves of salt and pepper. The Queen’s smile was warm and deeply natural, having reached an age where her character had carved itself into her face, enhancing the warmth that radiated from her. Perseverance was nearly the same age as the Queen. Enough so that the same process was in effect with her, which was another thing that wasn’t working out so well for her.
“Normally, the courtiers would prattle and cheap for days over this, but given the events of the last ten minutes a spot of semi-lesbian demi-incest won’t raise an eyebrow,” Elizabeth observed.
“These days it wouldn’t likely cause a ripple with that crowd anyway,” Honor noted mournfully. “Let alone be worth a cheap.”
“Speaking of,” the Queen said, “get out in front of that duel if you still can. We’ll talk afterward.
Princess Honor was already flipping open Lady Xheepsied’s compact and was chattering inanely into the mirror.
Little Birds compacts were something excitingly new, unique to the age and obscenely horrible. The Grand Master Magician Ashetaay had invented a spell that almost anyone could use. All it required was one of Ashetaay’s Little Birds spell scrolls and a mirror, a compact would do.
Once cast it would let you broadcast your thoughts, babblings and few mental images to anyone who was an inquotes-friend. Cheapside had been the first to use it and had thousands of inquotes-friends. After a string of honest opinions of various things her mother took her compact away and gave it to Honor for safekeeping. But everyone still called those mini broadcasts cheaps.
“‘ ‘Goofy man practice fight went totes so wrong today! My poor Bran! I hate myself when I cry, so cringe and minj! I wanna date you all and never breakup. Love my life. So ME!!!’ heart-face, kissy-face, kissy-face, and send,” Honor said with disgust and snapped Cheapside’s compact closed. “I need gin and a shower.”
“Courage dear,” Queen Elizabeth allowed herself a smile and a chuckle. “You are doing the Lord’s work.”
“The Lord of what, I wonder.”
“Anyway, what was that fight all about?” The Queen was back on the clock.
Honor filled her in.
“God in heaven what was he thinking?” Elizabeth gasped.
“Thank god Banner Sergeant Grod kept his head,” Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief.
Honor wasn’t all that sure that he had but she kept that to herself.
“Maybe we should get him transferred here permanently,” Elizabeth mused. “Make him Bran’s private bodyguard.”
“No, Mother,” Honor needed Queen Liz to know she was serious. “Absolutely not.” Elizabeth hadn’t borne her but she was the only mother that Honor had ever known. She didn’t use that term unless she needed to get through to her.
“Why?” The Queen demanded.
“Divided loyalties. The good Banner Sergeant’s first loyalty will be to the orc legions. And the orcs want Bryan on the throne,” Honor said analytically. “Think that one through, Mother.”
After a moment’s consideration. “Quite,” Elizabeth said.
Honor decided it was time to cross a big line. She glanced around to make certain no one was nearby before whispering, “would that really be such a bad thing? I mean…”
“Never. Mention. That. Again.” The Queen was smiling but her eyes were lancing fire.
Honor said nothing. This was stupid. Maybe the orcs were right. Actually there was no maybe about it. They were right. Bryan should rule when father dies. He’ll be the best king we’ve had in a hundred and fifty years, Honor thought treasonously to herself. Why the hell should I spend the rest of my life trying to keep air headed and spoiled Queen Xheepseid in line?
The simple problem with Cheapy is that her mother, Perseverance, wanted her have her drive and she just didn’t. In fact Cheapside had spent her entire life punishing Persey by being an obstinately good for nothing party girl
Why in hell was Mother so determined to put such an incompetent pair on the throne when there was a much better option available? She is too sharp for this.
Bryan qualified under the really old laws. Just take an oath at the ancient Round Table swearing to his parentage and…
Elizabeth was sharp. Sharper then Elven molecular wire. “He would have to to take the oath under a geas spell. He wouldn’t be able to lie even if he thought the lie was completely true,” she whispered to her step-daughter urgently.
Honor’s eyes grew wide as the implications of that set in.