Maisha stared at the thin roll of parchment, emblazoned with the blood red seal of her bloodline. She ran the tip of her finger over the azalea flower engraving as she gazed at the fire across the room. She could easily throw the parchment into the fire and play ignorant. Summonings exclusive to family members used the seal of the azalea flower. Only summonings requiring urgent action were fashioned in scarlet wax. With the King’s recent announcement, the urgency could mean only one thing, and it wasn’t something that she particularly looked forward to. She took a deep breath and cracked open the seal.
The rough parchment was scarred with pressing words in scarlet ink. Not only did this summoning call members of her immediate family, it called every member of the lower tiers as well. Some wouldn’t be able to make it, of course, but the Orias were the largest family on the continent.
Can this qualm palace hold three hundred people at once? Wouldn’t it be better to hold the meeting in Norah’s old palace? She swallowed, flattened the paper, and continued reading.
The remaining words tempered her blood until it simmered and boiled over. She crumpled the paper and threw it to the fire in disgust. “By the Daughter!” In less than three days the entire clan would fill their meager hall. In less than three days the entire clan would debate the qualities of four women. Those four women would stand in front of them all, paraded like a slave, examined from every angle, searching for the tiniest of flaws much as traders would contemplate jewels.
Among those four blessed names, last on the list no less, scrawled Maiselle Loroude, of Greshanl Miniais.
“Amelei,” she called, voice betraying her emotions. She cleared her throat and took a slow breath to calm herself. It would not serve her to be seen as rattled by the news.
Moments later her handmade walked through the door. “How may I serve you?”
“In less than three days we shall play host to the family, including the lower tiers.”
Amelei’s eyebrows arched. “Does it have to do with the king’s announcement?”
“It has everything to do with the king’s announcement,” Maisha replied, rubbing her temple. “I trust you to alert your fellows and being preparations. I’ll deal with Father.”
“Yes, my liege.” She bowed and quickly exited the room.
Maisha walked back to her quarters. Once the door closed behind her, she stomped to her closet and began pulling out every garment that long passed its days of elegance. If they were to examine her as a working ass, she shall look the part. Anything to keep them from having a reason to send her to the Imperial Court. Especially not to serve that abominable prince. Bloodline and legacy be damned!
The past four generations of the royal family bore only princesses, but this generation a male heir graced the Angeli name. Now he entered the age of kings and his brutish father devised an innocuous solution to the problem of marriage and heirs. Each of the royal families would send a representative to the palace and the prince would choose from the harem.
Did the females have the option of choice? No, they were all married off to the highest bidder, the past two of which were members of her family. But the current king wanted to do away with those dealings and give the prince a choice, a chance to fall in love. How fortunate of him. She highly doubted if dealt another female heir they would be given such an illustrious choice.
To make matters worse, the prince had yet to be seen outside the castle. The queen was reportedly outlandishly protective of her son and refused to let him leave the palace grounds. “He must be sickly and weak,” Maisha muttered, examining her oldest riding dress, pressing it against her body to check the size.
Perhaps all of her efforts to be unsatisfactory were in vain. No matter how long the family argued, she would be the one they settled on in the end. The other candidates were far too much of a risk. Glaide, at twenty-seven years, was senior to the prince by a considerable margin. Her face denied her age however, and her mind possessed as much knowledge as the scholars. She both fascinated and awed those who spoke with her. Had she been born a man, she would surely have a high place in the imperial court. And on paper, she was the perfect choice. Alas, her taste in lovers did not include any of the male variety. While Maisha never witnessed it herself, the rumors of her queer sexuality circled for years, and Glaide had yet to accept a proposal to prove innocence.
Next on the list of perfect candidates would be her first cousin, Saine. Daughter of the noble Kersi, the highest ranking man of the courts, she was known to have such a great knowledge of law even her Father sought her council at times. As a Queen she would rule fairly and justly, and may finally bridge the gap between the courts and the King. But she also had damning rumors staining her name. The rumors of her adoration of the male anatomy were plain enough, however, tinging those rumors were also those of incest, a true Father’s daughter, as they put it. Of course, those very rumors could be spread by her enemies to tarnish her name, and she could have her maidenhead intact, but if she did not, and if they sent her to the palace their family would be shamed and banished from the royal grounds.
Maisha wished she would be the next choice, and not the last resort, but Hihira bested her. In fact, Hihira’s perfect looks were known throughout the land. Young with fair skin and hair, brilliant blue eyes, impeccable manners and a charming smile no man could resist. Though her intelligence could best be described as average, beauties such as her didn’t need to speak or make their name in words. Only one thing blighted her, and that was her treatment of those of a lower social status. She owned no less than fifty slaves in a time when slavery was being debated as illegal that catered to her whims alone. When a drought claimed most of their crops last year, she cared not, famously saying “Let them eat grass” when questioned about her options. Such manners were hardly befitting a noble, let alone a queen.
And herself. Average looks, enough intelligence and common sense to get by, manners that either impressed or appalled depending on her mood, and the youngest of the four. She would not prostrate herself at the prince’s feet without reason. That was part of the reason the family dubbed her “Norah’s reincarnation”, a black spot on the family tree.
A hundred years ago, Norah became head of the Oria family after a riding accident took her husband. She took her title to heart, and instead of naming one of the other males in the family as the new head, she went against the norms of the times and took on all the responsibilities of her former husband. Attending the courts and deciding upon laws, expanding the empire, along with the vices of affluent men, such as indulging in the typical sleaze of opulence and greed. She never remarried. The family named her as their greatest embarrassment, a plague on the pure name they spent generations cultivating, a woman nary to be spoken of in polite terms.
In fact, she gave women enough rights to place them above hunting dogs, a major accomplishment that has yet to be retracted without facing dire anger on the commoner’s parts. Expanding the empire not only made the Oria family the largest of the kingdoms, it also quelled many a land war that plagued the people at the time. While rumors suggested she drank and bedded more men than a whore, no reports of those close to her witnessed one sip of alcohol and only two men were considered close enough to qualify as lovers, and their relations were never proven at that. After her death several laws were enacted so a women could never have a high standing as she ever again and the Oria name became tied to infamy until they became the family with the closest ties to the royal Angeli family through marriages.
“Norah’s reincarnation” was meant as a curse, but Maisha saw it as a blessing. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with a women as mighty as Norah? A woman who changed history so much so there are still books written about her to this day?
While the thought of being picked apart and insulted for hours churned her stomach in disgust, the opportunity to change history like Norah made her heart soar. She held up a dress grimy and old enough to make more than a few faint.
Let me run loose in the royal palace. You’ll see what I can do with only a sickly price to stop me. The name Maiselle shall be written for generations to come. Maisha laughed and twirled around the old riding dress like it was a silk masterpiece gown.
Her personality may be unpredictable, but it wasn’t consistent like her cousins.
And oh, how men loved to gamble.