Her war vest shimmered slightly in the setting sunlight. For once, the vest was actually clean, and all the rips and tears had been skillfully repaired, thanks to the careful hands of some of the village women. They had fixed her jacket quicker than she expected and Parade paid them decently for their work.
It was a startling change for the young warrior. She was used to a bloody vest with some rips and tears. She preferred it like that, if she was being honest. It felt more like her.
The reflection in the mirror looked nothing like her. The face she saw was not the one she remembered. Everything was different.
That word mocked her.
She had been called different all her life. By her father. By her mentors. By her mother. By her brother. She was called different until she proved her worth. And when she did, nobody was around to tell her she was normal.
Her mother was long dead. She died the night the princess turned six name-days leaving her in the arms of an abusive man with no love left in his heart.
She was always told that she bore a strong resemblance to her mother. Golden hair, rosy cheeks, soft lips, and the courage to do what is right. She barely remembered her mother and the memories she did possess were faint and distant.
Those comments stopped by the time she was named general of Ironhaven’s army. She no longer was her mother’s innocent daughter who used to run around in the rose gardens. She was a battle hungry warrior who lost their childhood to the cool edge of an iron sword.
Outside of the room, she heard the crowd murmuring. The news of the crowing must have drawn a crowd. She wondered if her brother had felt with the same type of anxiety that she was feeling now.
She investigated the mirror, finally taking time to analyze her outfit.
Her war vest was tightly fastened over a black dress. The vest had multiple pins showing off her war victories and the gold fastenings had been cleaned until they shone. The dress itself reached the floor, pooling at her ankles. It was a soft silky black, with lace on the sleeves and intricate designs on the bodice that nobody could see. It had a small train but that wasn’t part of the design she wanted. On her neck, she wore a beautiful gold necklace with an amber pendant in the shape of a crescent moon, the symbol of her goddess.
She hated dressing up. It was her least favorite thing about being a part of the royal family, though she had been a soldier longer than she had been a princess.
From the stories that she had heard about her mother, especially from Monsieur Jacob, her mother would have worn something similar to her if she was the one being crowed queen. Parade hoped that her mother didn’t mind her never dressing up. Parade had grown up never wearing dresses. Instead of dresses and heels, she was used to wearing blood covered muddy riding pants with boots and her war vest. But now, pulled tightly over her dress, her war vest felt like it didn’t belong to her.
A knock pulled her out of her thoughts.
“Come in,” her voice sounded stronger than she expected.
“My queen,” a servant addressed her, curtsying politely. “Monsieur Jacob sent me to see if you are ready.”
“I am.” She turned towards the mirror once more, stealing one last look at herself before everything changed for her. “Let’s go.”
Her life was about to change. No longer would she just be the forgotten princess of her great country. No longer would she be the general.
She would be a queen.
The queen of Ironhaven.
If anything, the fact that she would be known as queen terrified her more than any other challenge she had to face.
Jacob, the head house servant, a man forty or so name-days her senior, met Parade down by the bottom of the stairs. He looked proud to see Parade dressed up nice. She looked presentable for once. She wasn’t covered in mud and blood. She cleaned up and the longer Jacob looked, the more he saw her mother than he actually saw the soon to be queen.
“What are you thinking,” Parade laughed a bit at the man. She knew what he was thinking by the way his eyes seemed to reflect better days. She noticed him right as she began to walk down the stairs and only began to question him when she was close to the bottom.
Jacob laughed and took her hand as she reached the last step. “I am proud to see the new queen of Ironhaven actually following a royal dress code for once.”
“HEY!” She scoffed and acted mock offended. She tried to keep the smile off her face, but it was impossible when Jacob was laughing the way he was.
Jacob had practically raised Parade, making him the closest thing Parade had ever had to a father. From the time her mother died to the day of her first battle, he had guided the girl through life in a way that her father had never bothered to even try.
“Are you ready,” Jacob asked. He cared for the young girl and it was obvious.
“Not really but it’s my time.” She took both his hands in her hands and then pulled him into a hug. It was the most comforting thing that he could imagine. His girl was grown up and even through all the death and destruction that has been caused, he was happy that she was taking the throne.
The older man pulled away from the hug and looked at the soon to be queen. Despite the scars, all he could see was her mother. Except in her eyes. He could never look her in the eyes for too long.
“We are all so proud of you,” he said, voice barely above a whisper. “Your mother and brother would be very happy to see their little flower take the throne. All hail the queen.”
“All hail the queen,” Parade responded, with her voice mimicking the whisper in his.
The crowd was standing as she walked down the aisle, like at a wedding, though Parade had only been to a few of those. A priest of her goddess, a fat old man with a distinct beard who always smelt faintly of cherry wine and fresh fish, was standing at the front of the church. The sun had set about an hour ago, when she was sitting in the room. Now, moonlight filtered through the stained-glass window of the chapel.
She walked slowly down the aisle, taking her time and evaluating every face in the crowd. She recognized majority of the faces as they were mostly diplomats that she had spent the last few moons meeting.
When she got to the front of the chapel, the priest placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, pulling her up onto the alter. The smell of fish was a lot stronger than she had been expecting and she could smell his sweat.
“Citizens of Ironhaven,” the priest spoke, confidence projecting from every word. His breath was right against the back of Parade’s neck and it made her want to throw up. “We have gathered to witness the beginning of a new era and the crowing of the new ruler of Ironhaven!” The crowd stayed silent, knowing that the priest was not over. The man was known for his long drawn out speeches and this was no exception.
“With the full moon tonight, Donmarkie shall bless our new queen. The once general of our army. The lost princess. Parade Franklin, daughter of the late King Greyson Franklin, son of the late King Michael Franklin, the son of the late King Franklin Jamison.
“Now lift your heads to the stars above you and pray. The goddess will listen and if she finds that our queen is of pure heart, she shall bless us with a crown or she will curse us with a storm.”
Parade could hear her heart beat pounding in her ears. She knew she was the rightful queen, but the goddess knew her heart. With the sins that she had committed and the wars that she had fought, she hoped her heart was pure or the goddess found a way to forgive her.
A moments silence passed by as everyone in the chapel prayed. Her breathing was ragged and shallow, anxiety coursed through her veins.
“The goddess has made her choice,” The priest shouted, making her jump. A seasoned warrior scared by the obnoxiously loud voice of a priest caused some laughs, but laughter was soon drowned out by a chant of praise.
“All hail the queen!”
A round of applause filled the chapel as the crowd stood for the new queen. She was going to be queen.
Queen of Ironhaven.
Queen of her future.
The anxiety coursing her veins and the fact that her eyes were squeezed shut during the prayer distracted her from the fact that she had a crown on her head now.
It was an unusual feeling of having something heavy on her head that wasn’t part of her battle armor.
This didn’t feel right.
It was never supposed to be like this.
She was back in that room again, staring at her reflection in the mirror. The wooden framed mirror showed a reflection that she was not ready to see.
She looked like royalty now and she had never wanted to be royalty.
Being born a princess and then forced to change into a warrior that previously filled her heart with disgust and then now, being forced to change back into a lifestyle she had forgotten more and more over the years. It was a startling change.
Her focus was drawn back to the mirror in front of her, eyes focusing on the crown so delicately placed upon her head.
The crown the goddess gave her was perfect, just her style.
It was gold. Gold that was braided beautifully. There were three rubies in the main places on the crown. The candle she was holding reflected in the gems, making them appear blood red.
It didn’t feel right.
It didn’t feel like 3 moons ago; her brother had died. Poisoning. He was poisoned at a party and suffered until his death.
The great King Revenge, taken out by a simple little poison. Someone had tried to kill both the king and possibly the general. Except Parade wasn’t at the party. She was with the King of Patron, discussing trade and their war alliance.
The party held for her soldiers and their families.
The war was over!
And yet the king had just died.
She found out right when she got home, the next morning. The poison made quick work of her brother.
She couldn’t take it.
So, she ran.
She ran back to her best friend, even though she just came from there.
She ran away, back to Patron, begging to the goddess in her mind to let her escape this cruel fate.
She didn’t want to die just yet.
The gates of Patron were a familiar sight, with iron gates guarding the castle from the people. She had been here hundreds of times before. Yet, something felt different this time. Thunder whinnied as she pulled him to a stop. The black horse stopped the ground, jerking his head away from the gate.
“Keep still Thunder,” She murmured, letting some of the tension in the reigns out. “They don’t know I’m coming. Don’t look so panicked.”
The war horse didn’t understand a word she was saying but Parade found it comforting to talk to the horse.
“General Parade why are you here?” A guard appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. “Didn’t you just leave?”
“I need to speak to the King. I have to inform him of a tragedy that has occurred.”
“Couldn’t you have sent a messenger?”
“No!” Her voice was strong, startling the guard. “I will speak to the King. It is not your business what we will speak about. Do I make myself clear?’
The guard nodded and opened the gate for the general.
Her boots clicked against the marble floor. Afternoon sunlight was beaming in through the windows that lined the palace hallway. She could hear voices in the throne room.
“How is trade, Monsieur Mojave?” The even voice of the King was loud enough for her to hear it from halfway down the hall. The voice of her old war buddy was comforting to hear.
“Trade is well. Ironhaven is behind but they have insured that they will be back up the quota by the next moon, like you and the general discussed in your meeting.” If only that man knew. She hated to break a promise like that.
“What about our soldiers, General Shrike, are they adjusting well to being back home?”
General Shrike was a foul old man. Parade hated working with him. He always shoved her ideas away, saying that she didn’t know what battle was really like.
“They are fine, my king.” Even his voice was disgusting. “If that young general hadn’t interfered, I believe we would still have more soldiers to bring home.”
Parade was closer to the throne room now. The doors were open, but she feared that if she went in, she would hit the general to prove a point.
“That young general has a name. General Parade Franklin and she has led Ironhaven’s army for many moons. Her youth offers a new outlook on thing.” The King was usually very calm, but she could hear in his voice that he was done with his general. “Speaking of which, General Parade, why do you linger at the doorway?”
She stepped into the room, bowing to the man on the throne. “I’m sorry my King but, I bring sad news from Ironhaven. News that I must share with you. And not to the prying ears of old men who don’t know how to respect people.” With the last sentence, she glared at General Shrike, silently challenging him to say something so she had a reason to fight him.
The King sighed and waved a hand to dismiss his diplomats.
“Come here, Parade. What is this news?”
“King Revenge is dead, my lord.” Her voice was surprisingly steady, even though she wanted to cry. “I’m telling you this as a friend. Not as a war enemy or a war partner. You were a dear friend to him and you are one of my best friends. I expect you to understand.”
The King stood and walked over to where she stood, not too far from his throne.
“I am saddened by the news of this passing young Parade. You are welcome here as long as you need to stay. Patron will always stand by Ironhaven.”
“I’d never thought I’d live to see the day that Parade Franklin willingly in a dress.” The same voice that comforted her three moons ago drew her away from the crowd of diplomats she was forced to have a conversation with. Turning, she was greeted with the sight of the King of Patron.
“Oh, my King.” She smiled and curtsied to him. A sign of respect between the pair.
“Old habits die hard, I guess. You are aware that you no longer have to bow to me. We’re of the same rank now. It doesn’t make much sense.”
“Shut up King. It’s a habit and it shows that I respect you.”
“If you insist, my queen. Care to join me away from the ears of diplomats?” He was hilariously formal as he extended his arm out for the queen to take.
“That would be fantastic.” She made a dramatic show of taking his arm and walking away from the diplomats.
The balcony that overlooked Ironhaven’s courtyard was surprisingly clear, minus the King and now Queen. It was a colder night for summer, so she assumed people were staying in the castle for a fair reason. In the hall where the party was being held people talked amongst themselves, a band was playing music that was too pretentious for Parade’s taste. She never really like the “royal” lifestyle.
The King stared out into the courtyard, that was illuminated by the full moon and a few lanterns that lit the paths through the rose gardens that her brother had spent time restoring, just so he and Parade had a glimpse of their childhood.
“This reminds me of my brother’s crowning,” Parade broke the silence. “He should still be king. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“The gods have their own narratives Parade. It was your time.” His voice was smooth like silk and he stared out into the courtyard, eyes not wavering from their focus on an invisible spot.
She nodded. If this is what they wanted, this is what they got. Then it was back to silence. The King was a man of few words and at a time like this, she appreciated it.
“There you are Parade,” a familiar voice interrupted the duo.
Ryan Yellowing stepped out of the party, bowing to the pair. Her best friend for many years and fellow warrior always seemed to have a talent for interrupting peaceful moments.
“Hey Ry.” She was more relaxed around him, even though she sometimes questioned his morals. Her nickname for him was simple, something carried over from childhood.
“So, as the queen now, does that limit the amount of times we get to go out and have fun?” Ryan smiled slightly as Parade began laughing.
The joke with them always was that when she became queen, she would have to give up going out because ‘that’s not how queens act’. The joke itself wasn’t usually funny, but tonight, under all the stress that she had been under, she hadn’t had a chance to laugh in almost a moon and that had worn her out. There was a comforting presence when it came to Ryan, something she couldn’t describe, but she felt fine laughing around him.
“I don’t know Ry!” She managed to choke out in between giggles. The King was also laughing a bit at his friend which quite different from his normal stoic behavior.
“After you finish laughing, my queen,” Ryan regained his composure, still trying to contain some of his laughs. “The assassin would love to speak to you and join the party, but the guards won’t allow her through.”
She shook her head and stood up from where she was against the wall, sitting on a bench. The happiness that she had just felt from that dumb joke left her in that moment and her queenly duties began. Her first duty as queen, she had decided in that moment, was to beat the ever living shit out of those dumb foot soldiers that guarded the door.
No rest for the wicked.
“I’ll deal with it. Thank you, Commander.”
The five guards that usually stood at attendance at the front gate of Ironhaven were pretty much the most useless humans that Parade could think of at the current moment. They were scrawny, underfed, foot soldiers who didn’t understand friend from foe. And to add to their list of faults, they now apparently cannot read.
“What’s going on here?” She glared at the soldiers, rage burning her eyes. “I specifically put Ms. Everdragon on my guest list. Why is she not allowed in?”
“Ma’am,” one soldier spoke up. “She’s an assassin! She killed the former king! We can’t let her in!”
“No, she did not.” Her voice was full of determination. “She did not kill King Revenge. We proved her innocence the day after she went on trial. If you didn’t have your own head up your ass, you would remember because you were there. So do us both a favor and Let. My. Friend. In. Or you will face the consequences and trust me, you don’t want to fuck with me because I will make you suffer. You know this. So, for once, do as I say.”
“Yes, my queen.”
The soldiers parted and the young fae pushed past them.
Lila Everdragon was a beast of a fae. Small yet deadly beyond human knowledge.
“Ms. Everdragon! I’m so sorry for all that. They’re dumb,” Parade smiled and placed an arm around her friend. The fake formalities was something Parade was not really used to, but something that she would use when she was trying to be sarcastic.
“Cut the shit Parade,” the girl glared at the queen. “It’s bullshit that you didn’t have me on the list.”
“I did but they don’t like to read. You know how they are.”
Lila huffed and rolled her eyes. Parade understood why she was upset. The Everdragons had always been close friends of the royal family. When Lila was accused of murdering King Revenge, the family was offended and threated to expose the family for their wrong and malicious claims. Parade stood by her best friend, knowing full well that Lila would never do something like that to the people she considered a friend.
The party was still in going strong as Parade and Lila walked through the crowd. Most curtsied or bowed to the queen as she passed by, some even addressed the new queen, but Parade didn’t really stop to talk. Music echoed through the hall, but they could barely hear it over the sound of people talking and laughing. It had been many name-days since Parade had seen a party like this. The last one she remembered was when he brother was crowned king. But now, here on her crowning day, she was shocked by the amount of people here.
She hadn’t realized that she had walked over to the balcony looking over the courtyard again. Lila wasn’t at her side, but she assumed that she had found a group to talk with or she had just snuck off to escape the crowd. The King had left the balcony, and now, she was there alone.
Parade truly felt alone. In this sea of people and friends, she felt like a solitary island, standing alone amongst the ever-turbulent waves of the sea. She turned and investigated the crowd from the open doors of the balcony.
Groups of people passed her by and not one stopped to look at the queen. She faded into the shadows of the party and that made her happy. Fading away was Parade’s specialty and she hoped to fade away for a long time. Not die per say, but disappear into the shadows.
The moon was setting over the horizon and the dawn painted the sky a pastel pink.
She was now the queen and her reign would create a new Ironhaven.