Chapter 17 Long Live the Queen
With a lot of help, they got Eric into the infirmary, and Ayla’s healers went to work on him. Jen wanted to help, but Ayla advised her that even though she now had the talent, for some things skill in using that talent was also required. Apparently, healing was kind of a tricky business.
The army and navy both occupied the village and the castle, while they tried to conduct an investigation as to where everybody went. It was if they had all moved away, even though they were battling with them only the day before. There was nobody left in the village to ask, nor was there anybody in the castle. Not even a servant or a cook. It was a mystery that they had problems cracking.
They held a council in the great hall, with the heads of the army and navy, Princess Nallah, the Andersons (except for Eric who was still in the infirmary) and the Carter girls. In fact, all of the leadership of their forces was in attendance. Even Duchess Landreth was invited, in case she had any insight into the location of the outlaw emperor, his forces, or his prisoners. They assumed that the villagers went with them because they were forced to do so, because Nallah could not imagine they would have gone with him willingly.
“The majority of muddy boot prints all lead to the dungeons,” Mr. Anderson said. “Maybe one of the prisoners saw something.”
“We can ask,” Mowbry replied. He told Budrick to bring the prisoners in, and that courageous young man did as ordered. The first prisoner did not appear to have all of his wits about him. “Do you know anything about where the villagers went?”
“Gone, all gone,” was the reply. He was a thin man, with barely any meat left on his bones. He seemed to have been starved, and tortured. There was an unhealthy look in his yellow eyes.
“Yes, I know they are gone. Did you see where they have gone to? Have you heard anything about their destination?”
“Faircraft,” the demented man said.
“Yes, I know they used faircraft. Where did they go?”
“Gone,” the lunatic again replied. “All gone.”
“Budrick, take this man to the infirmary. See if the healers can help him.”
“I don’t know about the healers, but the soap makers might be able to help him out quite a bit.”
“Agreed,” Mowbry said. “Tell Ayla that the man also requires a meal and a bath, not necessarily in that order.”
“May I question the next freed prisoner?” Princess Nallah asked.
“Absolutely, Your Highness,” Mowbry agreed, and the next man was brought in.
“Do you know me?” Princess Nallah asked.
“Yes, Your Highness,” the man answered. He was wearing rags, and his hair and beard were overgrown. He could barely open his mouth without his wild mustache dropping into it. “And you may know me. I am, or was, Mayor Grass.”
“Oh, of course. What have they done to you mayor?” Nallah seemed to be shocked to see the man who used to be very well fed, very well groomed, and very well dressed to be in such a sad state.
“You know, the usual. Starvation, torture, incarceration. I refused to endorse the usurper as the legitimate ruler of this great kingdom. So they arrested me and locked me up until I changed my mind.”
“I see that you have not,” Nallah said. “Did you happen to see anything out of the ordinary before we let you out?”
“If you mean the whole country disappearing down an oubliette as if they were running for their lives, I may have,” the mayor grumbled bitterly.
“Do you know which oubliette?” Nallah asked.
“The one right in front of my cell. They were fighting each other to get down there, as if their lives depended on it. I screamed and screamed for someone to please let me out, because I was scared, too. But do you think anyone would stop for just a second and open the cell door? NO! They left me to die. It took almost two full days for everyone to file through, and not a single one of them stopped, not even my own family.” His face was ashen as he spoke, his eyes focused on the scene of his misery.
Mowbry nodded to Budrick, and he left for the dungeons at a jog.
“The others, too. None of their families stopped,” Mayor Grass continued. “And you know what was the worst? The emperor himself, the one who caused all of this was the very first to go. He hasn’t been around since the night before last.”
“That coincides with the time we started our siege of the city,” Admiral Tock said.
“And the remainder of them are probably our fault,” General Mowbry explained. “We built a giant dragon, and used that in our attack.”
“Well, you are free now,” Princess Nallah smiled sympathetically. “And I want you to remain Mayor of the city.”
“It seems that there is no city if there are no citizens,” the mayor pointed out.
Budrick returned and interrupted. “Begging your pardon,” he started, panting slightly. “The central oubliette is not an oubliette at all. It has been expanded to a pretty massive chamber, and on one side it has a pretty massive slab of granite.”
“A portal?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“Of course,” Jen said. “It must be! That would be the only way to evacuate so many people at once.”
“That should save us another sea voyage,” Gina pointed out.
Picking up on the previous conversation, Princess Nallah addressed her military leaders. “General Mowbry, Admiral Tock, how many members of our armed forces are citizens of Tole?”
“Only about a fifth of the army,” Mowbry said.
“And not even a tenth of the navy,” Tock added.
“Let your forces know, that all who have served to bring us back are invited to stay in Tole as full citizens,” Princess Nallah declared.
“Begging your pardon, Your Highness,” Mayor Glass stated. “Do you have the authority to make such laws?”
She looked at him, then over at Mowbry, Budrick, Tock and Sir Dave. “He’s correct,” Mowbry said. “Before we go changing any laws, we must first have a coronation. I overheard Dame Jennifer discussing female monarchs with you, and I think it is a grand idea.”
“There has never been a reigning queen in Tole, or any of the civilized kingdoms before,” Nallah objected.
“Is there anyone else who would have a legitimate claim to the throne?” Mr. Anderson asked. “Because I don’t see a whole lot of people here.”
“Your Highness?” Mayor Grass spoke, “I was present when he, they, your family... As awful as it was, you should know they did not suffer.”
“Where?” Princess Nallah asked.
“In the courtyard. All of your cousins, too. You are the last of the line, and the line should not die with you.” The mayor was openly weeping.
Princess Nallah took a step toward the great doors, two stories high, which opened onto the courtyard. Two young soldiers anticipated and ran to the doors and opened them laboriously. She stepped into the sunlight with the entire procession right behind her. Several trees of various species and sizes pushed their way up through the heavy flagstone pavement, taking root deep underground. Princess Nallah appraised them as she walked around. “Father,” she spoke to a mighty oak that towered majestically in the center of the courtyard, it’s massive gnarled branches spreading benevolently over a wide area. “You were always like an oak in life, strong and immovable. Please give me the strength and wisdom to rule in your stead.” She approached the trunk and kissed its bark. She opened her arms and embraced it, watering it with her tears.
Then she turned to the spreading mountain ash, gracefully displaying an abundance of bright orange berries. “Mother,” she said, “You look so elegant, as lovely as ever. Please grant me the grace to temper my strength with poise and compassion, as you have always taught me. Help me to consider all sides of any dilemma before making any final decisions. And please help me to remain flexible and pliant as your branches.” She kissed and hugged the mountain ash, and watered it with her tears.
Mowbry, Budrick, Mr. Anderson, Jen, Gina, Julie, and even the faun Bleat, all cried shamelessly as they watched her move on.
She turned to the blue spruce, it branches hanging to the ground and very thick, full of cones and very healthy. “Brother, you were always flashy, a little prickly and a little sticky. I must say you smell wonderful, as you ever did. I know you were the crown prince, successor to the throne. I will never forget that I am taking your place. I promise to rule to the utmost of my ability, to make you proud.” With the branches so thick and full, she could not hug the trunk as she wished so she gentle caressed a few of the spruce needles.
She then turned to the weeping willow, its tall trunk and wide branches hidden by a curtain of long dangling outer branches heavy with the long willow leaves. “Sister,” Nallah said, easily recognizing her, “You were next in line behind our brother. I will always remember the love we shared, the fun we had when we were playmates in the nursery. And later we competed for everything. You brought the best out in me. You forced me to always work harder, do better, to try to excel. I swear I will never quit trying.” She disappeared under the drapery of willow branches, and the other girls heard a loud, wracking sob. Then she emerged and looked around. She pointed to an osage orange sapling and asked, “Who’s this?”
Mayor Glass stepped forward. “That is your sister’s fiancé,” he explained.
She then turned and pointed to a shriveled chokecherry tree, its bark flaking off from insect infestation. “And this?”
“Your brother’s fiancée,” the mayor replied.
Nallah again addressed the spruce and the weeping willow. “You both could have done so much better!” A breeze gently wiggled their branches, and Jen interpreted the motions as shrugs.
Next to the outer wall, Jen espied several different trees; a hazel, chestnut, walnut, pecan and almond. Nallah spotted them too, and pointed at them as she spoke. “Who are these?”
“I believe those are some of your cousins,” the mayor replied.
She squinted again at the various nuts. “Oh, yes. Now I recognize them.” She turned and started slowly walking back toward the great doors, and her council walked with her. “I want the stones around those trees raised, a little rock wall placed around each tree, and their names and titles engraved. This courtyard shall be a park in their memory.”
Budrick ran off to organize a work crew to see that her wishes were carried out.
“I need your help,” she said, speaking to Mowbry, Tock, Mr. Anderson and the girls. “Now that we know that all of my citizens are in the giant realm, I am of a mind to pursue Rokko into that realm and rescue my country.” She stated. “Thoughts?”
There was an awkward silence as they approached the great doors, which were again laboriously opened by the two soldiers.
“With all due respect, Your Highness,” Mowbry broke the silence, “We just brought several citizens back from the giant realm. It might be wise to send the giant delegation back to retrieve them. We had to fight our way here. If you remain here on the throne, they will have a safe and welcoming place to return to.”
Nallah turned to Admiral Tock. “Do you agree?” she asked.
The admiral scratched at his white beard. “My men and I are up for anything, but what the general says makes sense. We should stay here and protect ourselves in case that madman returns.”
“Your Highness,” Jen broke in, “You are my friend, and I am yours. And as your friend, I can assure you that we can take care of things in our realm. We have already freed hundreds and hundreds of your people. We can find and return the rest.”
Princess Nallah looked at Mr. Anderson. “Sir Dave?”
He nodded. “You can count on us, Your Highness.”
“Very well,” Princess Nallah agreed, though it was obvious that it was with great reluctance. “We can have a coronation tomorrow. Sir Dave, I would like to speak to you about the hybrid government solution you told me about.”
“Certainly, Your Highness,” he began. “You will be the reigning monarch, with your hereditary lineage, but you will have a parliament and a prime minister or president who will be elected by the people.”
“The nobility, you mean?”
“No, by the ordinary citizens, those who are old enough to make reasonable rash decisions.”
“What age would that be?” she asked.
“You are the one who can tell me. The customary age in your land when young people are considered to be adult,” Mr. Anderson shrugged.
“Fifty,” Mowbry said.
“But I’m barely fifty myself, and I think I’m way too young to be the queen,” Princess Nallah said, and the girls gasped. They had always assumed she was only a few years older, if that. She appeared to be Gina’s age, and Gina was not yet fifteen.
* * *
Since they did not have time to make formal invitations, they sent messengers to the other sovereigns in the other kingdoms, and they sent town criers out through the city of Tole inviting all to the coronation. They hoped for word from Dool that Mayor Dorf and Tula’s family could make it, but word had not come when the coronation commenced.
With all the pageantry they could muster, a dais was built in the courtyard where a path between the trees was marked. The dais was festooned with brightly colored blossoms in the colors of the royal house, and a large banner with the family crest was the backdrop. A grand throne, ornately carved, was in the center of the stage. Comfortable chairs were placed up front for the other kings, queens, princes and princesses who would be in attendance, as well as the nobles from the neighboring kingdoms. Benches filled the rest of the courtyard, except those places where the trees were standing. Nallah was a little irked at the crown prince for taking up so much room. It was just like her brother to take up more space than anyone else.
On one of the foremost benches Jen sat with her family and her friends. Eric had been released from the infirmary just that morning. While he still had a slight limp, at least he was walking again. He sat next to Gina, and she seemed delighted with the seating arrangement.
With all of the chairs and benches filled, the rest of the tiny kingdom’s population stood in the streets outside, and as the ceremonies went on, someone from near the gate would restate what was said, or actions that were performed, and the news would travel through the crowd like water in a creek, gently cascading to the very end in hushed whispers.
Mowbry, being the highest ranking member of the kingdom, took the stage and held his arms up, some trumpets blared a few choice notes, and the conversation ceased. It took a few seconds for the information to reach those people sitting behind the spruce tree, because they could not see the stage. When all was silent, he spoke in a loud, clear voice that echoed off the walls of the courtyard and castle. “Hear ye, hear ye, welcome to the coronation of the Kingdom of Tole’s next sovereign. As you know, the evil Emperor Rokko executed most of the royal family, leaving only their most capable member in exile in the giant realm. Returning from the giant realm with a mighty army and recruiting a great navy, Emperor Rokko was defeated, and is now in exile, presumably in the giant realm.
“Without further ado, I call Her Royal Highness, Princess Nallah of Tole forward.”
Jen almost fainted when she saw Nallah enter the courtyard from a side door, sitting side-saddle on the back of a stunning white unicorn. She was wearing a beautiful white gown, and over her shoulders and around her neck was a white fringed purple fur cloak. “I thought they didn’t have any horses here,” she whispered to her father.
“Not a horse,” Mr. Anderson whispered back. “Shh.”
Budrick ran forward with a small staircase and placed it under her feet when the unicorn came to a halt in front of the stage. He then offered her his arm, which she took as she gracefully walked down the stairs, then back up the stairs onto the dais. She stood on the left side of General Lord Mowbry. Mowbry held out a large book, which Jen did not recognize. Nallah placed her hand on it, and Mowbry again spoke. “Do you, Her Royal Highness Princess Nallah of Tole agree to take on the responsibility of ruling this kingdom to the utmost of your ability henceforth in perpetuity, and to use wisdom and sound judgment, to be the champion of the people, and keep this nation safe from all threats, foreign and domestic?”
“I do,” Nallah said.
Mowbry escorted her to the throne where Budrick stood waiting with an impressive crown. She sat on the throne and Budrick placed the crown on her head. “I now present to the kingdom of Tole, Queen Nallah the First, the first reigning queen of this or any other land.” He handed her the royal scepter, and she raised it high in her right hand. Budrick and Mowbry in unison made a very low bow. When they arose, Mowbry again addressed the crowd. “Long live the queen!”
“Long live the queen!” the crowd in the courtyard jumped to their feet.
“Long live the queen!” the people in the streets outside started shouting, and from a nearby bell tower, joyful bell ringing commenced.
Eric was surprised, but not upset, when Gina’s lips locked with his own, and her arms squeezed him tight.