Bound by Duty

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How I Met Your Mother

The room was a lot less imposing than the queen’s chamber. Danielle lay on the queen-sized bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering what on earth she was supposed to do next. There was no guidebook or manual about being queen. There was even less information about the events which led to being queen. As far as she knew, only one woman would be a complete authority on that subject — a woman who had gone through it herself. Helena Remington, the dowager queen. When she thought about that woman, Danielle was immediately reminded about a matter.

Two issues could touch Danielle’s bottom line, and one of them was about her mother. Danielle treasured every second she remembered being in her mother’s presence. The feeling of strength and a sense of belonging. The feeling of being needed. Everything she had ever wanted, her mother had given her. And although she had been with her for only seven years, Danielle could never forget her mother’s words and the ideals that Raelynn had held dear.

So, when Helena called her ‘Raelynn’s child’ the previous day, she automatically became defensive when the topic of her mother arose. But she thirsted for any new information about her mother, anything about her life she could know and understand. Eventually, curiosity got the better of her.

Dressing appropriately, she exited her room. Outside, at the door, stood two guards. For a moment, she was stunned. She then remembered her mild disagreementtheir first ever one — with Alex the previous day. “You’re now the queen, darling,” he had asserted. “It’s not done to roam around the royal pack territory without guards.”

For the first time in her life, she had met someone who could be as bull-headed as her, and someone who didn’t listen immediately to her barking commands. So it came as no surprise that she was temporarily off-balance and lost the argument. Ahem. Disagreement. Looking at them standing at attention, gazing ahead despite her blatant stares, Danielle blinked thrice. Shaking her head, she opened her mouth to ask, “Gentleman, I need to go to the queen’s chambers. Which way do I go?”

The blocks of ice moved. Both of them snapped their head towards her, their posture was deferential. “We’ll lead the way to your new chambers, Ma’am,” he said immediately.

Danielle’s eyes widened. She waved her hands hurriedly, shaking her head. ”My chambers?” She laughed shortly. “You seem to have a misconception. I’m not the queen yet. I was talking about the king’s mother.”

The guards paused, frowning. They exchanged a meaningful look. Then one of them nodded. “Please, ma’am, follow me.”

He led the way to Helena’s study. On reaching there, they knocked on Helena’s door, announcing, “Her Majesty the Queen requests an audience with Your Majesty.”

Danielle frowned irritably. Hadn’t she already made her stance clear?

A voice from within gave her permission to enter, “Come in.”

The guards opened the doors wide for her and bowed. Taking a deep breath, Danielle entered the study, looking in all directions at the grandeur and richness in the sculpting and painting she could see on the walls and the ceiling. These walls were ancient and so were the people enclosed within. Once again, the imposing architecture made her breathless. But this time, she could get a hold of herself better.

The guards closed the door behind her and once again turned into blocks of ice.

Danielle walked forward through a passage and just went where it led her. At the end of the passage was an opening to a huge room. In the middle of that room were a finely engraved table and chair on which Helena sat. She was already looking in her direction, beaming when Danielle entered.

Danielle gave her a small smile, entering hesitantly. Helena rose from her seat. She came around the table and walked up to Danielle. “You came much earlier than I expected,” she chuckled. “Come, why don’t you sit down?”

The younger woman nodded, assenting. She pulled out a chair before Helena’s and sat down on it. Helena seated herself too. “Do you want anything to drink? I didn’t see you at breakfast, did you have something to eat?” she asked with a look of concern.

Danielle slowly shook her head. So her presence and absence were being noticed? Dammit. “I don’t want anything, I’m fine,” she waved her hand, not really answering the question. Helena looked at her a second longer and then leaned back, relaxing.

“Alright, then. What can I do for you, Danielle?” she inquired.

Danielle hesitated. She didn’t want to open up this topic herself, she would rather the other woman volunteer the information; but that was in an ideal situation. She bit her lip and gnawed on it, looking around the room to buy some time.

Helena noticed her discomfort. She delicately coughed. “I heard you refused to enter the queen’s chambers, yesterday,” she remarked. “Was there something about it that you were unhappy with?”

Danielle was startled. It took her a few seconds to regain her bearings. “Did Alex say this to you?” she asked quietly.

Helena just smiled. “You need to get used to one thing if you are going to be here in the long run,” she began. “Nothing ever stays a secret in the royal pack. Nothing. The walls have eyes and ears and not many things stay hidden for long.”

Danielle blew out a breath. “Wow,” she said, not knowing what else to say. “That’s... a gross invasion of my personal space.”

Helena’s brows knitted. “By everyone, I mean those who matter. Not the masses. Of course, there are ways to circumvent this... situation. And those measures are in place,” she commented. Then she raised a brow. “Coming back to my earlier question...?”

Danielle closed her eyes, rubbing her forehead. There was a full minute of silence. “I... I don’t know,” she said finally. “I’m not really sure what that was about. It wasn’t about just one thing.”

Helena remained silent for a while, trying to understand her vague words. “Then what was it about?” she asked softly.

Danielle then looked up, finally looking the older woman in the eye. Her intuition told her that she could trust her. “It’s not something I’m ready for, being queen,” she revealed. “I know it’s my duty, and I know that I will have to take on the responsibility someday. But not right now."

Helena’s face cleared in realisation. A slow smile crept across her face. “I had a hunch you aren’t the kind who runs away from what you’re supposed to be and supposed to do,” she leaned forward with a gleam in her eyes. “If it is time you want, there is plenty. Don’t feel pressured. We can slowly take you through the path until you are ready to actually wear the crown.”

It was as if all the air from a balloon was let out. The pressure and unhappiness at being thrust into this situation were relieved instantly because of her words. She sagged forward covering her face with her hands. After a while, she looked up seeing Helena looking at her with... understanding. A more genuine smile appeared on her face. “Thank you,” she said fervently.

They sat in companionable silence. Seeing that Danielle had no desire to speak right away, Helena bent down, scribbling away at something.

“Ask her,” Lupa urged. ”Go on! Ask her! Isn’t that why we came here for?”

“I don’t know if I really want to know,” Danielle hesitated. “The chapter about my mother is closed. Do I really want to open that can of worms again?”

“Our mother isn’t a can of worms, you fool!” Lupa reprimanded sternly. ”This is something you have craved for all your life. If you don’t take this opportunity, you will regret it."

After some thought, Danielle decided that her wolf was, in fact, wiser than she was. She looked up to glance at Helena. Ahem. She cleared her throat. “I... actually came here because... I have some questions?” she began, her statement ending as a question.

Helena kept away her pen and listened with rapt attention. “Tell me, what is it?”

“How—” her voice came out hoarse. She cleared her throat again. “How did you know my mother?”

A complete change of expression occurred in Helena. She had always been polite and gentle. But with that question, her demeanour became infused with passion. Her face became animated and her expression was filled with child-like wonder and amusement. “Raelynn Wilson,” she whispered. “What a woman. What a woman she was.”

Helena was no longer in the present. She was now two-three decades in the past. She was reliving those memories, those times. She was savouring them. It was a time she didn’t wish to come back from. “Rae and I met after Archer died. I had many people coming in and giving their condolences, but she didn’t say anything of that sort. Her silent support, her understanding made me heal better from the loss.”

Danielle frowned, thinking. “Why was she in the royal pack? Wasn’t she supposed to be in the Topaz Pack?”

Helena stood up, walking near the wall, staring at a painting absently. “She had been invited by Alex. Your mother was famous for training regiments in packs. She had this unique charisma because of which everyone listened to her. Alex wanted to exchange ideas, battle tips and tactics so that he could improve the royal pack”

Danielle’s forehead cleared as she nodded in understanding. She was feeling secretly pleased about how her mother was held in high regard by such important figures in both their times. After a few seconds of hesitation, her head turned towards Helena. Her expression was that of a starving, thirsty woman in the middle of a desert. “What... what was my mother like?”

Helena’s smiled, but there was no mirth in her eyes. “A firebrand. A revolutionary. A star that shone too bright for its own good.”

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