Chapter 1 - A Ridiculous Request
I hate these bloody events. Every time I have to come to them, a part of me inside shrivels and dies. How will I cope much longer, listening to this drivel?
The man stands before the court in shabby, old clothes, with his greying hair unkempt and stubble darkening his chin. He could have at least made an effort, for Goddess’ sake. A chance to meet the Queen and her court, and he turns up like this.
My face shouldn’t portray my disgust; I’m meant to be impartial. But a sneer still draws itself across my lips.
“Please, your Majesty,” the man bows low for about the tenth time already. Doesn’t he get it? Royal protocol says bow once when you come in, and once when you go out. “I ask on behalf of my fellow men who toil away till our backs break. Could your Majesty allow our wages to be as high as the women who toil away with us? We work the same tasks as they do. We just ask that we are recognised equally.”
I bring my hand to my face to hide my smirk. Pathetic. This idiot has no chance with the Queen; I’ve known her all my life, and I can guess what she’s thinking.
I glance sideways across at her, and my suspicions are confirmed. A hand heavy with rings raises to her mouth as she makes a half-hearted attempt to cover her yawn. Her eyelids are drooping and she’s already downed a glass of wine. She’s enjoying this just as much as I am.
With a haughty cough to clear her throat, she asks, “are you finished, Mr...”
“Mr Janedaughter, your Majesty.” The peasant clenches his fists beside him, a frown of hopeful determination on his face.
“Mr Janedaughter,” she repeats, her mouth working its way around the syllables as if they taste disgusting to her. Such a common name. “Thank you for coming here today with your...request. But I will spare you the lengthy explanation that our Court has come to many a times when we’ve considered what you’ve asked. And we have considered this many times before, as we always want to make sure that all our citizens are properly represented. I’m afraid the delicate and complex economics of our Queendom just can’t permit such an increase in expenditure, which is what your request would mean. How would all the businesswomen keep their companies running if they suddenly had to pay out so much more? I don’t expect you to understand, of course, but think: whole families could be homeless and without bread to feed their children.”
“Besides,” I add, from my position on the right hand side of the Queen’s throne, “women are much better at the jobs than men. They deserve to be paid more.”
The man’s face drops, a heavy scowl drawing itself across his forehead as he grapples with his disappointment. The veins in his forearms tense. “But...I...”
If he’s looking for sympathy, he doesn’t find it among us. His feelings start to morph, from disappointment into anger. He clenches his fists and takes a step forward, looking ready to punch something.
The guards are there before he is, anticipating his reaction. They each grab an arm and yank the peasant back, keeping him a safe distance from the Queen.
“Let me go!” he cries, his voice raising. “I said, let me go!”
The guards do no such thing, and after a few moments of grappling, the man finally backs down. I roll my eyes - typical men not able to control their anger. Why can’t they just speak civilly instead of feeling the need to let their fists do the talking?
He gives a tense bow before storming from the room with a growl that sounds something like, “thank you, your Majesty.”
One of the guards closes the heavy doors of the throne room behind him, and as she returns to her post, a chuckle runs through the courtiers. The Queen hoists herself up from the throne with a relieved sigh. “Thank Goddess that’s over,” she says, tossing a dark curl from her face. Her comment incites more laughter from the courtiers. We managed to keep a lid on it while the peasant was here, but now we can’t help but marvel publicly at his fanciful ideas.
I wonder how he even managed to get an audience with the Queen. It’s meant to be random, of course, an impartial representation of her citizens. But still, I would have expected them to filter out the time-wasters.
“He said he came on behalf of his fellow men,” one courtier says. Lady Anna is tall and blonde haired, a duchess of somewhere or other. ’But how many men could be in agreement with him?”
“Don’t worry, there’s not many. They just like to shout loud, that’s all.” The Queen waves a hand. “But come, we have better things to discuss. I’m retiring to the entertainment hall before the events later, I hear we have another boring evening ahead of us!”
The Queen has only just ascended the throne, and she still dislikes the responsibilities it carries. We all do. It was only last summer when her and I used to spend hours just watching the sunset across the water, all the time in the world. We didn’t have to listen to stupid masculist men back then.
But then we also didn’t live in the most beautiful palace in the Queendom. I take a glance out of the arching window, rising high above my head. Below us sits the historic city of Casidor, its buildings a patchwork of shapes, sizes and colours. I marvel the view for a moment.
The Queen steps down from the throne platform and my gaze snaps away from the window. She walks to the doors, and her court follow after like a loyal dog trailing its owner.