Unexpected situations, like one I was in yesterday, sometimes lead storytelling to unexpected places. Still, the thought counts, in many ways, and so …
The chambers of the Court of the Realm were, as they tended to be, a quiet place at three o’clock on one particular morning. Most rational members of the Realm where off in their beds, or snuggled with their Eternals, or pets, or … well, to be clear, there were many places for them to be and, as such, that wasn’t an odd thing.
While the chambers were quiet—the walls in shadow, the night filling the space—off behind the throne there was a small alcove. It was the spot where, on occasion, in the past, an advisor of the reigning monarch would be positioned to listen to the goings on and, sometimes, whisper some needed fact or other tidbit so that the one making the decisions could do so with a good grasp of the situation. But, for quite some time now, it had not been used, because Tera didn’t feel like using the throne, or the chambers for that matter, when decisions had to be made. Oh, it was fine for pomp and ceremony, of course, but, for the most part, Tera would be out and about, meeting with others as needed and avoiding this place which wasn’t where she wanted to be.
On this particular night, however, someone was sitting in that alcove, and that someone was Tera. She reclined there, in a space where she was not really meant to be, and she remembered …
She remembered sneaking into the chambers one day, quite early, and wedging herself into the alcove long before her mother and father arrived to hold court. Being that, at the time, she was a child, her understanding of things was a child’s understanding, and she thought of the alcove as more of a hiding spot to see what her parents were doing. She smiled as she realized that, while a child could well hide here, an adult, such as herself, would have never been able to do so. Still, she recalled listening to the pages and others rushing about the room, none of them looking into the alcove and seeing her.
None of them, that is, until he spoke to her: “Princess Tera, what are you doing here?”
Queen Tera remembered him well. He was quite old, even all those years ago. His white hair had always fascinated her at the time, because, as far as she knew, he was one of the oldest of her kind there. He was a kind, patient soul, one that she loved dearly for all that he had taught her.
“Uh … I wanted to … sort of …. well …”
She remembered his red tail: how it always held a quill, and how she never quite understood how he managed to write with it.
“Princess, you shouldn’t be here. After all, your mother expects her advisor to be where you are, to assist her in matters of state.”
How she replied, was, as she thought about it now, a clear indication of who she would eventually become: “Can’t I help?”
She always wondered why he didn’t just take her hand and lead her away, or scold her for being where she was. Instead, he just nodded: “Very well. But you must not speak unless asked a question, Princess. This is important.”
She remembered zipping her lips and nodding enthusiastically then crossing her heart: “Promise! Thank you!”
She had scrunched herself up into a smaller space, so that he could be where he needed to be, but, instead of doing so, he walked away for a time. She had feared that he had gone to tell her mother what she had done, expecting her mother to appear and scold her for being inquisitive. What happened instead was that the trumpets sounded, the chamber filled, and then her mother, the Queen, was announced along with her father, the King. She didn’t have time to question why he didn’t return to his spot in the proceedings before she heard the voices of her mother and father as the day began for them.
Tera remembered how boring everything sounded, how there was all of this pomp and ceremony, how her parents spoke in such an odd way. She knew it was her parents, but it wasn’t how they spoke with her. It felt as if they were putting up a wall between themselves and those who approached them.
She managed to make it through the morning attendance, not even falling asleep, as she recalled. She remembered her father calling the proceedings to a close, bidding all in the room good day, and then hearing sounds of everyone leaving the room. Young Tera remained there, out of sight, but thought about how strange it was, how odd, and, eventually, she made up her mind that really all of this … stuff … wasn’t for her.
She didn’t move until she heard the last footsteps leave the room and the doors close. Once that happened, she wiggled herself out of her hiding space and looked around the side of the alcove, intending to leave for her room, this adventure having run its course.
Except it didn’t.
The sound of her mother’s voice was clear in the empty space: “Tera, come here, sweetheart.”
When Tera poked her head around to look, she found that the place wasn’t as empty as she thought it was. Not only were her mother and father there, but the white-haired incubus was, as well. Worse still, the entire court of the Realm was there, too. Two thoughts came with that realization. One was that it was a good thing she had dressed up a little—though what she was wearing would never be appropriate for the court—and the second was that it was a good thing she hadn’t said a word. Embarrassing her parents by being there would have been bad enough, but speaking out of turn at a wrong moment could have done a lot of harm. She remembered standing in front of her parents, fidgeting and knowing that every eye in the place was looking in her direction.
Her father asked, “Tera, why were you hiding?”
Her answer, as she thought about it now, was truthful: “Wanted to help. But … this place isn’t for me.”
Tera smiled in the present as she remembered how blunt her words were then, a clear message to her parents and the assembled court that she was going to be a pain in the tail: “I can’t hide me. Don’t want to dress up, be something I’m not. Want to help as me.”
Tera realized that she got her little quirk of tilting her head to the right from her mom, as she remembered her doing the same thing, but to the left, before she replied: “Tera, you don’t have to dress up. You don’t have to hide yourself. But you do have to be yourself.”
The chuckle from her father echoed in her thoughts even now: “But next time, no running shoes please? They squeak when you are hiding.”
She blushed as she recalled that first time that she remembered her father chiding her gently: “Yes, Father, I promise.”
There was the sound of a door opening and a ray of light from the outside hall etched itself across the chambers to where she reclined. A figure called out to her in a familiar voice: “That place is too small, you know.”
Tera sat up and looked at him across the way. So many years had passed and yet he was still the same as she remembered him: the only one in the Realm with shockingly white hair and a red tail.
“I don’t believe my tail is all that fat.”
She watched him enter the chambers, the sound of his walking stick clicking on the floor as he did so. When he saw Tera getting up, he waved his hand at her: “I’m fine. No reason for you to get up.”
She paused at these words. She was the Queen, she didn’t have to do as he asked, but she was going to. They had an understanding, one that she respected and cherished. “I was just … thinking.”
He stopped to her right, looking past the throne and where she rested: “About that first time you snuck in here?”
“Yes. Why did you let me stay?”
She saw him scrape the tip of his cane on the floor before he replied: “You were the Princess of the Realm. You had every right to be there with your parents, to rule with them, to advise them.”
She knew that he would see her tail making a question mark as she answered: “I was a child. I didn’t know the first thing about what was going on.”
Turing to look at her, he replied: “You knew enough to know that you wanted to change things. While that took until you became Queen …”
She narrowed her eyes, knowing full well that he knew how she felt about being called by her title and not her name.
Still, he continued nonetheless: “… Speaking your mind showed that you weren’t going to be a pushover, which is what your parents wanted the court to see.”
Tera blinked: “You set me up, didn’t you?”
She could just make out his smile: “You granted the opportunity. I had concerns that you might be influenced by others, that you would allow yourself to be pushed around, guided, told what to do.”
Tera sighed and ran her fingers through her hair: “The crown weighs heavy upon those that wear it.”
“It does. But then the crown does not weigh upon you like it did your parents. It is there, you accept it, to a point, but you do not allow it to become you, Tera.”
She could just about here the word “Queen” in his voice: “I’m too stubborn for that.”
“True. But you have something that your parents did not. Something I was not.”
Tera just looked at him. He was their closest advisor, he was family, he did so much and more for them all.
“I was not their heart. The one you call your heart has done more for you than anyone in this court could.”
“He’s family … He’s …” Tera shrugged: “He’s my heart.”
He nodded: “Precisely. He knows the Realm, your soul, that of your Eternal. He knows when things are not well, when you are not true to yourself. He does not influence you, he speaks truths that you know.”
Tera brushed off her legs and stood up: “My heart is wise, and I trust in his wisdom.”
He nodded: “But the choice is yours, the decisions are yours. He supports you in whatever that will be. He is the Queen’s heart, the only one that has ever been.”
She walked over to her old friend and trusted advisor, placing her hand on his that held his cane as he continued: “Did you know there is only one koi pond in the entire Realm?”
She smiled: “It is, as you know, a rather large one. I don’t think we need a second one that big.”
He patted her hand: “Quite true. We would have run out of room by now.”
Tera leaned in and kissed his cheek: “Thank you, uncle.”
He gruffly answered as he turned around to leave the chambers: “For what?”
“For telling me.”
He gave her a hug as they walked away from the spot where Tera’s reign started so long ago: “You deserved it. Besides, you’ve been listening to my ranting this long.”
“Ah, but I love hearing from you. So, tell me, how did your team do today?”
As the doors closed, from out in the hallway his voice could be heard … ranting about hockey, of all things … and Tera’s voice, giggling softly as they both went on their way …
For no king, no queen, no counselor, not even one’s heart can match the thoughts shared between an uncle and his niece …