Protection (a short story)

Important: I do not own this image!  I found it used as the background for a music compilation on youtube.  It is a part of a story/world artist WLOP is working on that is wholly distinct from mine.  I’m simply including the image for context.  If you like it (and how could you not? Its amazing!), go check out WLOP’s Patreon page or Artstation profile, because all their art is on this level.

Full Author’s Note

 

Protection

 

At least they aren’t throwing things yet.  That’s always the tipping point for the Princess—well, Queen now.  Trying as this week had been, her “loyal” subjects had done little to ease her already turbulent ascension to the throne.  Blessedly, we make it to the front steps of the chateau before the first stale roll bounces off my huge shield.  After our first short trip from the coach to the safety of the Chateau Politique with the smaller, more maneuverable shield I manifestly prefer in a straight fight, I’d promised the Princess (and myself, to be perfectly honest) that I’d never let another rotting peach splatter loudly against the side of my helm and ruin My Lady’s freshly washed and brushed-out hair—to say nothing of the silver and sapphire crown she’s polished every evening since inheriting it.  It’s a wonder she doesn’t launder her own wardrobe, too, though at that point her attendants might begin to rebel.

Villesav’s viceroy executes a complicated (and admittedly impressive) curtsy as the new Queen ascends the stairs, more inedible food flying from the surrounding crowd.  It makes a strange music against my oversized shield as her retinue falls into step. The Queen and viceroy lead the way into the imposing brownstone building; there’s no door barring the hall down which this royal parade disappears, but stoic guards closing the gap behind us block the way better than any wooden barricade ever could.

The Viceroy du Villesav (who’s always reminded me of a snake in an overinflated dress) begins her ever-so-slightly venomous wheedling even before we reach the debate hall.  She grows bolder each day, by my eye, but I’m simply a bodyguard.  I don’t know about politicians and their conniving ways.  I know about swords and flying spoiled food.

“I trust Her Grace slept well?” the viceroy begins.  It could be that she lingers too long on her s- and soft c-sounds, but that could also just be me.

“Passing fair.  The burden of responsibility is a heavy one indeed, but at least time remains the finest teacher,” our young Queen responds without missing a beat.

I smile inside my helm.  She may be new to this, but her short lifetime of training to fill this role was not wasted, even despite the series of tutors I saw leave in a huff.  Her parents knew it too.  Learning to fight teaches one to read people very quickly, and my limited experience with them told me the former regents also possessed that skill in spades.  They knew she’d learned something from everyone who left in a huff, and they’d stayed happy to continue finding new scholars to teach their progeny right up to the end.  Pity we’d been between coaches when… I clamp my eyes shut behind my visor, though my gait is unaffected.

“And Her Grace’s detail was sufficient for the coachride from the Manor Royale?  It feels terribly vulnerable to me, if you’ll pardon my audacity.”

Of course she will.  I, however, reserve my pardons.

“Quite sufficient.  You’d marvel at the insurance a crossbowman provides when he rides next to the driver with his string kept taut the whole way.”  She says it with such ease, such grace, as if it isn’t terribly clever; as if it doesn’t sweep away the viceroy’s probing questions without giving a thing away.  We’re not even to the throne room yet and my Queen has exercised a level of authority some monarchs can only dream of—even if she’s got no idea what to do with it.

“Yes,” the viceroy says without hint of admonishment, “Philipe does have a way with his eyes.  I’ve never been able to look him full in the face without my skin crawling.”

Perhaps it’s time to shed, my mind shouts, unbidden.

Our lady laughs, an echoing, musical sound that briefly fills the stone corridor.  “Indeed, though I count that among a marksman’s strengths, personally.”

“Indeed,” the viceroy says shortly as our procession arrives at the throne room.

As My Lady takes her throne on the stone dais, I can’t help but notice the Viceroy du Villesav standing on its second tier, her height keeping her head above our Queen’s.  It’s at odds with her courtly deference, though I’m not sure anyone else notices.  My Lady knows the steps to this governmental dance, but it’s the viceroy who plays the conductor.  Ironic, though, that my place is just behind the throne, at attention, putting my heavily armored head above that of anyone else’s in the expansive room.

I’m built for battle, not this exhaustingly involved verbal dance which takes place in the Senate chamber.  I wish I could, but I just can’t seem to muster sympathy for the citizens of Vacen who request more rock-cutting resources when those here in Villesav need the same money to fund the trade routes that have made our kingdom prosperous to begin with.  Down Bretna way they’re running low on feed?  I thought they grew their own.  It all hardly matters to me.  The Queen’s safety is my job, and here, in this fortress with every egress manned, I’m all but redundant.  Occasionally, a senator will raise his or her voice suddenly and pull me from my stupor (always at attention, of course).  It’s usually in the direct center of a complicated confluence of policy, allocation of resources, and direction of attention, which I don’t care to wrap my head around, whether or not I even could.

Eventually, it ends, and it’s time to escort my Queen back to her home at the Manor Royale.  Senate debates are the creamy filling of my days; I know they’re going to end with escorting her back to the Royal Coach and seeing to her safety through the dark, evening hours.  More thrown food, more leery carriage rides (with more glowering on my part than our new Queen will ever know), and more attention into the wee hours of the evening before I can let down my own hair and relax the muscles in my neck.  This helm sends a strong message, but it also takes a toll on the one wearing it.

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