• Crusader Kings III Available Now!

    The realm rejoices as Paradox Interactive announces the launch of Crusader Kings III, the latest entry in the publisher’s grand strategy role-playing game franchise. Advisors may now jockey for positions of influence and adversaries should save their schemes for another day, because on this day Crusader Kings III can be purchased on Steam, the Paradox Store, and other major online retailers.


    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

stnylan

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Chapter 53

dark_melancholy

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Chapter 53: Abdication of Responsibility

With the grand sacrifice to the Old Ones over, Amazonia's warriors begin to return to their homes. For those that remain in Ganaina there is a sense that something is brewing. At first it is assumed that another military expedition is being prepared, but the rumours that gradually spread among the well-connected seem to disprove this.

While the queen sits upon Rigg's throne once more, most assume that she seeks to guarantee its continued custodianship. After all, the gossiping aristocrats reason, the grand assembly never settled the matter of the queen's regent or successor...

Thus it is that halfway through 2044 the nobility of Amazonia prepares to meet so they may continue their deliberations. Then it turns out the annual Serena Ritual happens to fall on the week leading up to the assembly, but there's no accounting for the whims of the Old Ones... The auguries are clear about when the celebration is to take place – and the queen intends to make it a grand one.



The war against Tlanxla has been vindicated by the blessings bestowed in its aftermath and deserves celebration. As does the return of Matriarch Calypso, having recovered from the wound suffered during the aforementioned campaign. And the matriarch is certainly not one to shy away from an excuse to party.

Food and drink of the most exotic varieties flow freely, for the queen spares no expense. Even the mutinous matriarch of Mamazo, Melandra Pantheros, is offered a seat at Lyssa's side. Whether because of the great honour of such a gesture, the copious amounts of wine or Chancellor Azu's earlier amicably couched threats, Melandra is uncharacteristically well-behaved.

Putting her companions to shame, the queen seems intent to outdo them all in excess. The gusto with which she indulges in the delights of her realm makes it clear to all that Lyssa is back to her old self. As the party grows ever wilder, no one pays much attention to Chancellor Azu and her cronies hovering around the monarch. Here they stand ready to interfere at the first sign of frailty – or whenever she seems to lose the thread of a conversation. A new dish brought to the table here, a message of supposed importance there...

As usual for such a grand celebration, the most avid – and, in Amazon eyes, the most virile – continue the revelry until the first rays of the sun shine over the great temple. Thanks to the wholehearted abandon with which they have indulged in both exotic and familiar libations, no one seem to care that Matriarch Calypso has at some point taken the queen's place as the centre of attention. One moment they are drunkenly complimenting the queen's wise rule, the next they gush over Calypso's fresh scars. What matters is the sense of camaraderie.


"Love you too, bro"

The queen's absence is not the only thing put far from everyone's minds by the sheer extravagance of the celebrations. With the fertility ritual itself concluded and the subsequent overindulgence taken to its most pious heights, the morning after comes with a rude awakening.

Although scheduled, the call to assembly catches many a devoted noblewoman off guard. One moment she is passed out in a palace hallway, the next she sits in council, wondering what just happened. She need not wonder for long. As soon as enough poor souls have been rustled up to provide an impression of quorum the agenda picks up where the last assembly left off: By addressing Princess Inanna's call to abolish the assembly entirely.

The implication is that the assembly has not been worthy of the responsibility given to them. This is not something the befuddled nobles are eager to admit, but most of them are too hung over to provide a good counter-argument.

Even beyond the shock and surprise, support also comes from surprising places. In the previous session she was the most avid of the insurrectionists, but today an uncharacteristically subdued Matriarch Melandra seconds the motion.

One by one, former conspirators come out in favour of deferring to the queen the authority they previously argued the aristocracy should possess. On the face of it a complete reversal of their previous position, but quite understandable when framed as a clarification of royal power. The nobles relinquish formal influence in matters of state, but in their own domains they retain unquestioned authority.


When the choice is either higher centralization or higher tribal organization, the matriarchs prefer the one that means the queen stays out of their business.


With the celebrations, fertility ritual and politicking over for this time, visitors from the outlying domains return to enjoy that authority. After all, once back to their tribes, who cares what goes on in far-away Ganaina.

In the end, perhaps buoyed by good feelings engendered by the fun and games, everyone goes home feeling rather good about events. Well, almost everyone...



Nalixo

02.06.2044
Light streams into the darkened hut as Ixchel pulls aside the curtain covering the doorway. The only response is a pained groan – not pitiful, but very, very angry. Ixchel is unfazed by the growls from the bed, instead calmly placing a bowl on the nightstand. A towel is slung over her arm.

Seating herself on the bed elicits a particularly fierce snarl. “It's just me,” Ixchel states firmly.

“I know...” Inanna's tone is almost apologetic. “It just... urrgh!” The princess writhes onto her back with a frustrated roar.

Ixchel unwraps the towel and dips it into the bowl of warm water. She turns towards her lover to offer a sympathetic, if somewhat patronizing, look: “What did you expect, taking Serena's elixir but, ah, failing to complete the ritual.”

“That's easy for you to say... you've never been pregnant. Haven't had to... with... ugh, never mind. It's all awful!” After several failed attempts, Inanna's earlier pregnancy had been a hard and ultimately futile one. Above all, it had kept her away from the one thing she is good at: Fighting.

Briefly lost in thought as she watches Ixchel put the warm cloth on her abdomen, the princess eventually just sighs angrily: “But you wouldn't know, would you...”

“I don't. But then I'm not heir to the Queen of Amazonia.”

“Don't remind me...” Inanna growls before biting into a blanket against the pain. She may have evaded the fate her mother had planned for her – and now suffers the consequences of that deception – but there's always next year. And the year after that. And if she's unlucky, perhaps even a few years after that.

When she left the ritual bedchamber without fulfilling her duty she had not thought that far ahead – and she doesn't want to start doing so now.

“Ugh... Phaedra, why'd you have to lose your fucking mind...” Inanna laments, then sighs. “Even Maya is better at... all this queenly stuff than me.” Through clenched teeth, she channels her anger at her sisters, as if her own shortcomings are their fault.

Ixchel lies down next to the despondent princess and gently massages the warm cloth against her skin. “Hey, everyone has their strengths, okay? Maya might be easygoing and clever with words, but can you imagine her wielding a macuahuitl? Or lead women into battle?”

Inanna can't help but snort derisively at the thought, her chuckle devolving into a groan as she quickly regrets clenching her abdominal muscles.

“You're lucky the queen is recovering. That gives you time to study what your mother is doing, while finding your own way to be queen – when the time comes. You don't have to become your mother.” Ixchel gives her lover a mischievous look as she runs her hand across Inanna's washboard stomach. “In fact I'd prefer if you didn't,” she chuckles. “For one, I'd rather not be crushed to death in bed.”

About to give Ixchel a kiss of appreciation, Inanna quickly pulls back with a look of disgust on her face: “Nooo...! You made me imagine my mom... ugh... doing it!”

Giggling at her lover's discomfort, Ixchel hugs herself close. At least it takes Inanna's mind off her cramps for a moment.
 

stnylan

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I think Ixchel is taking entirely too much pleasure at this situation :D
 

dark_melancholy

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I think Ixchel is taking entirely too much pleasure at this situation :D
Taking full advantage of being one of the few people who can poke fun at Inanna without getting her face punched in.

Even in her somewhat impaired state, Lyssa remains just sharp enough to realize that she can still get her way when everyone else is brought down to her level ;)
She uses her powers of debauchery to full effect!

Wooooo!

Great to see this! Nice, soft fluffy update really if not very substantial.
I couldn't bring myself to writing another big council scene, so we get some fluff from the aftermath.


As always, thanks a ton for reading! I'll try to keep the updates coming as best I can :)
 
Chapter 54

dark_melancholy

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Chapter 54: Familiar Footsteps

The year 2044 has been one of uncertainty for the Amazons, not knowing whether their queen would live or die – nor who would succeed her should the worst happen. Her eventual recovery would not be a solitary blessing, however. Rather it heralded a series of events on the path to normalcy.

Queen Lyssa rose from the dead to bring the blessing of the Old Ones upon her people once more. Her position thus strengthened – and the conspiracy arrayed against her fractured – the queen wisely ensured the unity of the realm by abolishing the bickering assembly.

Content that things have returned to normal, the brave Amazons grow restless. Although recovered from the Tlanxla campaign, the new year does not bring them renewed warfare. While the queen busies herself with affairs of state, the chiefs sail forth with their tribes to raid. Some are more motivated than others.


Hellothern


12.09.2044
Arm wrapped around the mast for support, Inanna stands on her toes and cranes her neck. As if getting just a little higher up will allow her to peer through the fog ahead.

Content to stand on the deck of the large war canoe rather than precariously perch herself on the thwarts, Ixchel keeps her attention on their flanks. To their right a pale blue light shines from on high, not enough to fully pierce the fog but sufficient to guide their way.

“We've passed the outer archipelago. If we are to turn around we have to do so now,” she warns the princess, but it is clear from her tone that she knows it is a perfunctory gesture at best.

“We won't turn back,” is Inanna curt retort.

Perhaps it's more accurate to say she will not turn back, but the princess is not built for that kind of introspection. Going home empty-handed would be shameful enough, but more importantly returning at all would mean facing her mother. No longer is it possible for her to hide the fact that yet again she has failed to conceive an heir, so the further away the better.

“If the fog lifts we'll be spotted immediately.”

“Wendala is with us,” Inanna assures her companion. “Besides, if Phaedra can do this so can I!”

As if on cue, large shapes appear in the fog to loom over them. In front of them, around them. A flickering light in the gloom, then another, then dozens more. Hundreds of lanterns lighting up almost as many elven ships lest they collide as they crowd into the narrow strait.

And then, rising up before them to blot out the night sky: The mighty Emerald Gate that blocks entry to Ulthuan's Inner Sea. The pair of gargantuan locks that denies entry to unwelcome guests are invisible to the Amazons thanks to the fog, but they know they are there. And they are closed for the night.

“Abandon ship,” Inanna says firmly.

Ixchel nods without hesitation. Soon urgent whispers spread throughout the ship. One by one the Amazon warriors slip silently into the water. The princess is the last to do so, climbing down to come up beside Ixchel.

In the darkness they can't see each other, but Inanna can feel her lover's presence and that's enough. “I'll see ya there,” she whispers, then curses herself for not thinking of anything more elegant.

What would mom say... the princess muses to herself, but there is no time for second chances. She feels Ixchel's lips on her cheek before she slips away. All they can do now is swim.



Even carrying her weapons and equipment, Inanna glides through the water with ease. However, even the strongest Amazon can see in the dark. Moving slowly and methodically she can try to use the faraway lantern lights to orientate herself – but patience has never been one of Inanna's virtues.

Realizing she has lost track of the lights in the swirling fog, Inanna quickly decides she never needed such a crutch to guide her anyway. Hardly missing a beat she keeps her eyes fixed forward, willing herself to swim in a straight line.

Stroke after stroke and still no land in sight. Doubt starts to creep in. She doesn't fear for her life, but what if she fails... She would return to Amazonia twice-shamed. Even her mother might be lost for words in berating her for her failures.

Unable to process her worries, Inanna starts slowing down. Then in the distance: a flickering light. At first glance a torch fluttering in the wind, but on closer inspection it twinkles in a curious pattern.

The sight immediately reinvigorates the princess, her woes quickly forgotten. Guided by the light she soon reaches the shore, where she is met with a helping hand. The faint glow of a dying High Age mana battery in her other hand reveals Ixchel's face. Its purpose served, she quickly stuffs it into her uniform.

Neither of them say anything. Instead Ixchel leads Inanna away from the water, feeling her way around the rocky outcroppings as she goes. Hidden in the broken terrain the rest of her troop is waiting. Only the occasional whisper betrays their presence, but it's enough to recognize that most if not all of them made it.

“Get ready to move out.” Even in a hushed tone Inanna manages to be commanding.

It is none too soon. Already by the time they are formed up to head out the night has become noticeably brighter. Dawn is approaching.



Inanna leads the way up the craggy hillside. There is just enough light to navigate the treacherous path, but the broken terrain also provides plenty of cover. Enough to keep them hidden from preternaturally keen elven eyes. Just as Inanna expected.

She might have been more tolerant of Phaedra's boasting had she known the tales of her exploits would later help her like this. Now Inanna is literally following in her sister's footsteps. The first Amazon to brave the Straits of Lothern.

That was almost two decades ago. The warband can hope it is enough time for the elves to have grown complacent, but even so there is likely to be more security on this route than it was back then. Elves might be fickle creatures, but they are not stupid.

A slight change in tactics is necessary. Which is why the Amazons now huddle together under a rock shelter overlooking the bay. The sun has risen enough to reveal the outline of myriad sails, a forest of masts of stately elven ships at anchor. They come in all sizes, but there is one small craft whose silhouette is noticeably out of place.

Inanna assumes the elven mariners have begun to notice this by now and she can imagine their confusion. Perhaps a few of the Lothern Seaguard will be sent to investigate. Barely a diversion. For now.

“Let's see if that dirty foreign magic is any good...” Inanna almost spits, but she can't keep hopefulness out of her voice. Amazon magic is obviously better, but the Sisterhood jealously hoards anything from the High Age. Foreigners on the other hand are easy to fool, or so Maya says...

Suddenly the derelict war canoe disintegrates in a thunderous explosion as the fuse finally touches the barrels of gunpowder onboard. The flash of light completely banishes the murky gloom of the early morning hours – if but for a moment. Still, it is long enough to temporarily blind anyone who sees it. The elves most of all, with their keen vision. Or so Inanna likes to think, not without a measure of glee.

“Oh I could kiss you, Maya...” the princess grins as the harbour descends into confusion. Several ships have caught fire and as the first alarms start to sound, the Seaguard scramble to close the gates that had just begun to open for the day. Procuring all that alchemical powder has left Inanna deeply indebted to her sister, but the results make it all worth it.


Prepared for this moment the Amazon warband wastes no time heading out. Under the din of chaos and the sound of warhorns they crest the top of the hill and come up along the walls of the great fortress itself. The Emerald Gates were built to withstand attacks from the sea, leaving its flanks vulnerable to a small force – as proven by princess Phaedra's raid. Against the rocky hills to the east, where no army could advance, there are no bastions or war machines. The elves are not the kind of people to change the design of their millennia old fortress just because of a minor incursion by some uppity apes.

Finding the place where the wall is lowest, the Amazons throw their grappling hooks and quickly climb up it. Inanna leads the charge as always, vaulting over the feeble parapet to catch the few guards stationed there by complete surprise. By the time the next shieldmaiden scales the wall, two elves have already fallen to the princess's mighty macuahuitl.

Inanna's sisters make quick work of the others before the hapless militia can give as much as a cry of alarm. Clearly it is not Ulthuan's finest that get saddled with the ignominy of watching this unimportant post.

“Where to?” one of the shieldmaidens asks her commander.



Inanna pauses to look around. Ahead of them the magnificent white towers of the Emerald Gate rise to the heavens, surrounded by a bewildering maze of redoubts and bastions. Even with the element of surprise the fortress cannot be taken, even by a force one hundred times their number. Fortunately they don't need to.

Here in the shadow of the massive fortress the ancient spires do nothing more than help them orientate themselves. In that direction lies the sea and, by now, thousands of guards. That leaves the opposite direction as the most obvious choice.

Barely even thinking that far ahead, preferring to act on instinct, Inanna gestures for her warriors to follow. Resting her macuahuitl on her shoulder she starts jogging along the wall. In a matter of moments the battlements blend into the city wall surrounding the city itself. The town guard are even less of a threat, busy gawking at the smoke rising up from beyond the Emerald Gates when the Amazons storm their little keep.

Before they know it the warriors are pouring into the maze-like merchant's quarter. The curious blend of elven and non-elven architecture squashed into each other is quite lost on the Amazons, but they know to appreciate the cover the narrow, winding streets and lurching buildings affords.

“It's almost like being back in the jungle,” a fresh-faced shieldmaiden exclaims.

There is no time to admire the sights, however. The warband quickly splits up into designated teams, with no mission other than to smash and grab as much as they can. The hard part is over. Now it's all about getting enough loot to make it all worth it.


Surprise!

Let loose in the city's winding streets, there's not much an army of Lothern Seaguard can do to stop the Amazon raiders. By the time the elves realize what is going on they have already looted enough shops and storehouses to have more than they can carry. The occasional city guard patrol does little to dissuade them.

Laden with plunder the warband hit the same keep on the way back. Opening the gates from inside they slip out of the city and into the hills. Now there is nothing left to do but travel overland to where the rest of the fleet lies in wait... and sail like hell.
 

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Sounds like a most successful venture.

Some top-notch accompanying art too.
 
Chapter 55

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Chapter 55: Home, Accursed Home


The Three Islands. Triad Islands. Kavana. An archipelago by another name...



21.09.2044
With the setting sun ahead, the small Amazon fleet rounds the southern cape of Xocibiki island. Out of the jungle the town of Pe-acuil comes into view. Before its liberation it was Ville Mêlée, pirate capital of the Three Islands. Thankfully, most of the ramshackle flotsam shacks have since then been cleared.​
Since her recovery, Queen Lyssa has increased efforts to restore the underlying Amazon architecture. A few years before, Xocibiki was the focus of a large-scale uprising by the island's males. Now banished to the quarries of the realm, the surviving rebels help provide the necessary construction materials to rebuild Pe-acuil.​
As her flagship heads into the harbour, it warms Inanna's heart to see a beautiful Amazon town rise up from foreign filth. The islands were already in pirate hands by the time she was born, making this a reincarnation of a past the princess has never witnessed. That hardly matters, of course. Her imagination has granted her a better vision of the good old days than mere reality ever could.​
“At least mom gets something done...” Inanna mutters to herself. As usual, at first the princess had been agitating for war instead – preferably to liberate their sisters in Qurveza. Admittedly, she never imagined that such a construction project was even possible. But now that her mother has proven that it was it seems like the most natural thing.​
Not that Inanna knows exactly how it is done, but she understands enough that she prefers a measure of ignorance. She does not mind the many males that must toil in Amazonia's quarries to realize the queen's ambitions. They threw in their lot with dark gods and deserve much worse. All she knows is that foreign elements are involved in this Amazonian resurgence – as evidenced by the welcoming committee that awaits her.​
Her sister Maya stands ready to meet Inanna on the docks. As usual, that two-faced ex-pirate is at her side. With Tiziana's garb becoming more and more Amazon and Maya's outfits increasingly inspired by comfortable Eastern styles, the two seem to grow more alike each time Inanna sees them.​
The princess keeps her concerns to herself, however. She owes too much to her sister this day – and unlike Maya she will not besmirch her Amazon dignity.​
“How did it go?” Normally languid, the rotund royal greets Inanna enthusiastically. No doubt excited to have her sister indebted to her.​
Inanna grows tense in Maya's embrace, and for a moment she worries the pirate is going to follow up with a hug of her own. Is it anathema to kill your sister's companion if that companion is a foreign convert, she asks herself. Just in case.​
Fortunately it doesn't come to physical contact, relieving her ability to answer that hypothetical. Inanna's grasp of Amazon tradition is more emotional than cerebral and ill suited to that kind of introspection.​
“I got you some spices...” Inanna mutters once she is released.​
Maya replies with a soft chuckle. “That's very thoughtful, but I was thinking of the flashpowder I got you.”​
Inanna hesitates, torn between her need to brag about her exploits and her desire to downplay her sister's involvement.​
“Well, why don't you join us for lunch and you can tell us all about it!” Not waiting for an answer, Maya puts her arm around Inanna's waist and starts leading her along the pier. “Don't worry, I've told the cooks to prepare all your favourites. Remember how cranky you'd get when you had to share the grilled peppers?”​
Inanna is blind-sided by the sudden reminder of their childhood and finds herself following along without protest. As strange as it seems now, Maya was much bigger and stronger than her younger sister back then. If little Inanna didn't want to share something, she could do little to stop her. Not that this has led to a lingering sense of inadequacy or anything, of course!​
Troubled by the excesses she will no doubt be exposed to should she stay, Inanna hesitates. “I should get going...”​
“Inanna, you've been off scrambling around in enemy territory for Rigg knows how long. You are allowed to take a breather every now and then, you know?”​
“Tell that to our mom...” Inanna grumbles. She might return in triumph, but no matter how many riches she brings with her, her mother will not be satisfied until she brings her a granddaughter.​
Maya shrugs and gestures towards the palanquin waiting to carry them up to the old governor's mansion that she now calls home. “She's just jealous that you are out fighting and pillaging while she's stuck in Ganaina, tending to boring matters of state like an old woman relegated to garden duty.”​
As always Inanna is taken aback by the casual disrespect with which her sister can refer to their mother, the Queen of the Amazons and Custodian of Rigg. Presumably it is the audacity that comes with being the one that can do no wrong in her mother's eyes – even after literally failing her trial to become an Amazon. Nevertheless, the way Maya's words makes a human out of the nearly mythical queen does offer Inanna a measure of comfort.​
“Well, maybe I can stay for a bit...”​

* * *​

There is definitely a measure of jealousy to be found in Queen Lyssa's mood. It is as if aching joints, fainting spells and affairs of state conspire to keep her trapped in her palace. On top of this, Inanna's defiance weighs heavily on her mind, keeping her distracted even in her most lucid moments.

However that is not the failure that preoccupies her the most. Just as she looks to the future in exhorting Inanna to bear an heir, Lyssa sees a way to redeem the conquest of Xahutec. What was intended to be her crowning achievement became anything but, with the great temple-city turning out to be an empty ruin.

Steward Azu has been out there for years now, trying to resettle the ruins in order to salvage the situation – and soothe the queen's pride. So far her efforts have made little headway, lending credence to the belief that the city is cursed.

Eager to reassert herself, any mention of curses only serves to make Lyssa even more determined to defy it. If the ruins are too remote and vast to colonize on their own, perhaps assistance could be found elsewhere. Even if that means sending out another Azu to do the convincing.


At least Xahutec now has the largest population of Azus in the Warhammer world


03.05.2045
Kriemhild's voice is a distant drone to Lyssa, preoccupied as she is with tugging at the sash on her resplendent gown. She deeply regrets agreeing to have the council meeting in the throne room. It is a show of health, certainly, but so much more comfortable to hold court in her bedchamber. Instead her back aches against the hard stone of Rigg's throne, forced display her wealth and power in this uncomfortable outfit.​
Above all Lyssa regrets sending Azu the Younger out to Xahutec to assist her mother. At least the chancellor knows not to annoy her sovereign, unlike oblivious Kriemhild. To be sure the woman is a genius when it comes to military organization, but could she shut up about it for just one second...​
Giving up trying to adjust the pageantry in which she is clad, Lyssa looks around for a servant. She's already had a few cups of wine, but perhaps something stronger could get her through the day. Sadly there is no salvation in sight. Yet another reason why sending Azu away was a mistake.​
“Pressing so many shieldmaidens into garden service is making it hard to keep enough women under arms,” Kriemhild argues. Always harping on about the same things, unable to see the bigger picture of running the realm.​
If anything we need more women on garden duty, Lyssa notes to herself, a wry observation on how her snack platter has somehow become empty again.​
“We'll have to make do,” the queen says instead. She is no mood to explain for the hundredth time how resettlement efforts and construction works skew the availability of warriors and males for other tasks. At least she feels like she explained it earlier. Or was it the other day...?​
Lyssa stifles a groan through clenched teeth and rubs her forehead. The council looks at her in apprehensive silence. It doesn't last long, but it is not they who break it.​
Bursting into the hall, Matriarch Calypso II wastes no time waiting to be admitted, just as she clearly wasted no time coming to the palace. Her clothes show the wear of a long campaign, and the trinkets that adorn them show it was a successful one.​
“Forgive the intrusion, friends,” the matriarch says, but there is no humility to trace in her voice. In fact the grin on her face only grows more smug as she continues: “I just returned from Araby and couldn't wait to share its bounty with you all!”​
While Calypso continues to list her successes, the councillors look to their queen in wary anticipation. They are aware how stir crazy she has been getting the last couple of months, exacerbated by each report of successful raids.​
Indeed upon seeing how proud and reinvigorated Calypso looks, the discomfort of Lyssa's throne seems to grow tenfold. Considering how long the queen has wanted to repeat her grand voyage across the ocean, Calypso's triumphant return is like a slap in the face.​
It is, however, also a welcome relief from the tedious meeting. Swallowing her pride, Lyssa seizes the opportunity and puts on her most genuine of false smiles. “We're merely surprised to see you back so early,” she assures the matriarch.​
“We did make very good time – both ways in fact! Sailing to Araby the winds take you far enough south to avoid any Elven interference too.”​
“Oh really? Well this certainly calls for a celebration!” Lyssa's enthusiasm is getting more and more sincere. She bids her advisers to handle the necessary preparations and makes it clear the meeting is adjourned by motioning for two servants to help her to her feet.​
“We can talk more about your travels at the feast,” the queen tells the matriarch, carefully concealing her fatigue. It's not quite the repeat of her grand voyage all those years ago, but if reaching Araby is as easy as the Quetzlpan matriarch makes it out to be... “You simply must tell me everything about it!”​






04.05.2045
Laughter and drunken boasts emanate from the main hall of the royal palace. Spirits are high as the promised celebration grows increasingly rowdy, fuelled by the queen's personal stores and exotic delights from Araby.​
“So it's the desert people who make these?” the queen inquires before languidly popping the delicate sweet into her mouth. Powdered sugar lingers on her lips and fingers as she chews with great deliberation.​
“I would assume so,” Calypso shrugs. Her nonchalance quickly turns to boisterous laughter as she adds: “I don't think there were anyone left in that town to ask!”​
The women seated around them at the head of the table join in the laughter, all but fighting amongst each other to toast with the returning raider. Finding herself outside the centre of attention for a change, Lyssa does her best to grin and bear it. She finds distraction in delicacies both foreign and local while the nobles offer their congratulations.​
Carefully inserting herself back into proceedings by handing Calypso a fresh cup of red wine, Lyssa pretends she is simply making conversation: “And the journey was not strenuous at all?”​
“The most exhausting part was transporting all the loot!” Calypso boasts, pausing to gulp down half the cup before she continues. “You haven't tasted even half the spices we grabbed. Not to mention... wait a minute... ah, there it is!”​
The matriarch shifts unsteadily on her cushion and with some difficulty manages to fumble a dagger from her belt. The steel seems to run like water across the blade, reflecting the light from burning braziers in a mesmerizing pattern.​
“Do you have more?” Matriarch Melandra of Mamazo asks greedily, nearly spilling her drink as she leans in to look at the exotic weapon.​
Only Lyssa seems unfazed by the display. There's no denying the elegant beauty of the blade, but she has more important things on her mind. Her apparent disinterest does not go unnoticed by the guest of honour, however.​
“Not to your liking, Your Highness? I'm sure we brought back something other than sweets that will be of interest to you. Oh, we also found this exquisite fabric, so soft it might as well be blessed by Serena herself! I'll have some sent over...” Calypso takes a sip of her drink. A small smirk forms around the rim of her cup as she examines the queen. “Although, considering how well you've... convalesced while I was away, we might have to go back for more!”​
If Lyssa takes offence at the jab she does not show it, instead making a point of laughing the hardest. As if to congratulate Calypso on her “hilarious joke”, the queen leans over and puts her arm around the matriarch. “I'm feeling much better, thank you!” she smiles as the grip on Calypso's shoulder tightens.​
“Now... if you were in fact going to go back to Araby, how long would it take to prepare an expedition?” The question is quite direct, leaving Calypso little room to wriggle away from it – both physically and figuratively.​
“I didn't mean it like that Your Highness. You'll have all the fabric you want, I swear. There's no need to go back right away, really.”​
“But if you were to do so anyway?” Lyssa does not relent, although this goes largely unnoticed by the other guests who have already moved on to other conversations.​
“A few weeks, maybe. If you're in a hurry.”​
Realizing she has perhaps been a bit to eager, Lyssa lets go of the matriarch and makes to relax. “Oh these sweets are just so good, you know?” she says off-handedly, rather than admit how desperate she is to 'get out of the house'.​
For good measure Lyssa reaches for said treats – but what she finds is Kriemhild's hand. Taking advantage of the queen focussing on her conversation with Calypso, the marshal has made off with the sweets. And she shows no sign of ending the plunder.​
Instinctively Lyssa swoops down to steal back a bowl of sweet porridge, but Kriemhild doesn't seem to take the hint – despite how defiantly the queen devours the reclaimed dish. The skirmishing continues for a while until the marshal realizes what she has gotten herself into. This is now a duel and honour dictates there's no backing down.​


It was at this moment that Kriemhild knew she fucked up
 

stnylan

Compulsive CommentatAAR
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Lyssa is getting quite crotchety, don't you think?
 

dark_melancholy

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Lyssa is getting quite crotchety, don't you think?
Lockdown takes its toll on us all (I swear it's all been planned out for a long time, but I bet recent experience has bled into the writing of this chapter...)
The Queen is clearly aching for a fight of some sort, and if she can't get the fight she wants, then she'll at least take the fight she can get.
And poor Kriemhild is gonna suffer for it. Or... wait... did you mean going to Araby? ;)