Story Saturday: Denise's Decision

This is a short prequel to The Stolen Jewel that delves a little deeper into the backstory of Lady Denise, a disabled character from the kingdom of Klingland. I was inspired to do this because I am currently working on the screenplay version of The Stolen Queen, a sequel to The Stolen Jewel about Lily, Charlotte's best friend. I discussed this project along with several others I've worked on in a recent interview with author A.G. Marshall. My ultimate goal is to create a trilogy that reveals what became of Charlotte, Lily, and Krystal respectively. Denise, who is Charlotte's aunt and Krystal's mother, had such a rich backstory that I wanted to pay her some homage as well. For more updates about the release of The Stolen Queen, you may sign up for my mailing list.

***

The Stolen Jewel: Denise's Decision

"I'm afraid I've done everything I can," said Margaret, a healing mage. Her green rune glowed eerily in the dim light of the small infirmary. "Your legs have been paralyzed by a combination of magical and physical properties to the likes of which I have never seen before. Under normal circumstances, my rune would have fixed them, but all I can do now is dull the pain."

"Are you saying I'll never be able to walk again?"

She gave me a solemn look. "I'm afraid not."

I was reckless. I ran after my sister and brother-in-law when they were hit by the cataclysmic blast that emitted from King Mercer's staff when it was unable to contain the magic he tried to steal from our land. I thought the worst of it was over. I didn't realize there would be an aftershock that knocked me right off my feet. This was how I would pay for my mistake. I needed to avoid being reckless again. Between my sister and my husband, I had already lost far more than I could afford.

"What now?" I asked.

"You hold a position of great importance, so I will have my craftsmen build you the most state-of-the-art wheelchair money can buy."

"You must be mistaken. I'm no one of importance. I'm a lady of nobility, yes, but my husband was a knight who died serving his kingdom in the Magic War. All I have left are my two precious children."

"You haven't figured it out? No one's told you?"

I gave Margaret a puzzled look. What could someone like me have to offer to such a powerful kingdom as Klingland?

"The king's only sister was married off years ago to a Marnian prince," she said. "The next in line for the throne is Princess Charlotte, who is barely old enough to know how to sign her own name."

"What are you saying?" I asked, dumbfounded.

"My lady, you are the sister of the late queen, which makes you the only eligible person to take control of the kingdom until Princess Charlotte comes of age."

If my legs had still been functional, I would have needed to sit down

"No," I said. "That can't be true. There must be someone else. What about Grand Chancellor Oscar?"

"He's far too preoccupied with his own duties to bear the burden of being a public figure as well. You shouldn't look so terrified. Most people would be ecstatic at the prospect of becoming a monarch."

"But I know nothing about ruling a kingdom!"

"Leave all of that to Oscar. All you need to do is attend some fancy parties and smile and wave at public events. I'm sure you can handle that."

"What about Henry and Krystal, my children?"

"Don't you realize how many servants work in the palace? They will be more pampered than they ever would have been if you remained at your estate."

"I need a moment, please."

Margaret nodded. She went into a storage room and came out with an extravagant chair containing two large gilded wheels on either side. It took me a moment to take in the fact that this chair would soon become an enormous part of my life. Actually, it would become an enormous part of Klingland's reputation as well if what Margaret said was to be believed. For the next ten years, the kingdom would have a paraplegic widowed regent who didn't even know how to negotiate a trade agreement. I knew what needed to be done. Princess Charlotte was the future. My niece would never miss out on a single lesson. There would be no games with her ladies-in-waiting and no days off. It was too late for me to become a great queen, but Charlotte was still young. She had time. I needed to give her the best chance she could get.

"Thank you, Margaret. I'm ready now."

Margaret placed her hands under my armpits.

"I'm going to lift you on the count of three," she said. "One. Two. Three."


I plopped down into my new vehicle, which was softer than I initially anticipated. Though it was freeing to be able to wheel myself about without being trapped on the infirmary bed, I knew deep down that nothing would ever be the same again. At least one advantage of living in the palace was that I would never be without help. As I wheeled myself outside, an older gentleman named Matthias who I recognized as one of my sister's servants raced over with a horrified look on his face.

"You mustn't strain yourself, my lady regent," he said.

He pushed me up a ramp that led to a fancy horse-drawn palace carriage.

"So it's true," I sighed.

"You didn't know?" he asked, genuinely surprised.

In the aftermath of the Magic War, I guess the palace officials forgot to inform me of my new role.

"I do now," I said. "Please take me to my children. I wish to see them immediately."

"Of course, Your Excellency."

It was surreal being pulled through the remains of the village after Mercer's attack in such an elaborate coach. He had surrendered as soon as he saw the unintended damage he had done, but the destruction remained. Margaret's infirmary was one of the only structures that still stood on the post-apocalyptic street. The horses galloped over rubble and broken wares from vendors that once sold their goods in this bustling village. There was an endless line of people at every healer's hut in the area. How could magic be so coveted when it could do so much damage?

***

Krystal and Henry were indeed being cared for by Elsie, a kind-hearted nursemaid who helped bring up my niece, Charlotte. The three of them played together energetically, but they seemed to be playing three different games. Henry ran around with a wooden sword, attempting to slay an invisible dragon. Krystal covered herself in so much jewelry that I was surprised she could still stand as she pantomimed dancing with a handsome prince a ball. I gasped when I realized what Charlotte was playing. In her hand was a wooden block with symbols etched onto it that I recognized from the runes that mages wielded.

"Your sword breaks on the dragon's scales, and then I freeze its fire breath with my ice rune!" Charlotte shouted at Henry.

"That's not fair!" cried Henry. "My sword didn't break!"

"Everyone knows that dragon scales are harder than diamonds. Of course it would break," retorted Charlotte.

"Ignore those brutes outside," Kyrstal said to her imaginary prince, "Who would want to slay a dragon instead of attending a royal ball?"

I turned around when I felt a tug on my skirt.

"Excuse me, Miss Denise. Can you please tell them they still need to find me?" said a small voice.

I recognized the little girl as Lily, the daughter of a noble family who lived near my estate. Apparently, she thought they were playing hide and seek.

"Oh no! The dragon has captured Lily and Mother too!" exclaimed Henry. He ran over and banged his toy sword against the wheel of my new chair. "Let them go, you big ugly dragon!"

"That will be quite enough, Henry," I said.

Krystal trudged toward me as well. Her jewelry jingled and clinked with each step she took. She looked at me with concern.

"Mother, why are you in that fancy chair? Did something happen?"

I had just enough upper body strength to scoop up Henry and Krystal and place them on my lap.

"Henry. Krystal. My dear sweet darlings. Things are going to be different from now on. The three of us will be living in the castle with Charlotte."

"Oh boy!" exclaimed Lily from near my foot stand. "Does that mean I can live here too?"

"I suppose Charlotte could use another lady-in-waiting," I said, considering the request.

"Yay!"

"That isn't all. My legs have been permanently damaged in the aftershock of the magic blast. I'm afraid I'm never going to be able to walk again."

Henry shrugged. "You're still our mother. It doesn't matter," he said.

"Why would you need to walk when you have servants? Can't they do everything for you?" asked Krystal.

"Yes, I suppose they can. Still, we're going to have to take some time to get used to all these changes."

Krystal's eyes lit up.

"Does that make me a princess now?"

I laughed at her innocence. She always had such a one-track mind.

"Not officially, but you'll always be my princess."

Krystal gave me a hug. She and Henry went back to their games. Charlotte stood by and listened, but she seemed to instinctively know that her position was different from Henry and Krystal's. She tried so hard to pretend her parents' death hadn't affected her, but I knew better. I had also lost my parents at a young age, though not quite as young as Charlotte.

"Charlotte, come over here please."

Charlotte strode up to me with all the regal elegance of a queen, despite being only eight years old.

"Yes, Aunt Denise?"

"Charlotte," I said, "I'm so sorry about what happened to your parents. It isn't fair to be forced to grow up so fast."

Charlotte closed her eyes as if deep in thought.

"I'm the queen now, aren't I?" she asked.

"You're very smart for such a young girl," I said. "Yes, Charlotte, you will be queen, but right now, your Auntie Denise is going to keep the kingdom safe for you until you turn 18. In the meantime, I need you to stop pretending to be a mage."

I took the toy rune out of her hand.

"Things like this are what caused you to lose your parents and why I can no longer walk. Do you understand?"

"I think so," said Charlotte. She seemed uneasy.

"Good. In order to keep you and the rest of Klingland safe from more accidents, I am going to confiscate all magic runes from the land and lock them away somewhere where they won't be able to hurt anyone ever again."

"No more magic?" Charlotte hesitated. "But I love magic! I want to become a mage someday."

This wasn't going well.

"Listen to me, Charlotte. You can't be a mage because you already have a very important destiny on your shoulders. You are the future queen, and one day, everyone will depend on you for their happiness and safety. You need to be strong and do this for your parents. It's what they would have wanted."

"I won't let them down," said Charlotte.

"Good."

I hoped that I had made the right decision.

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