Revolving Door: Volume 2
The Story of the Queendom - I
This chapter contains depictions of childbirth and blood, and mentions murder.
It is known—as has always been known—that the Queen of Hearts’ throne stands on a pedestal of worm-eaten wood.
You see, the Queen of Hearts has been the supreme seat of the Queendom for merely five hundred and thirty-two years. Before her there was a True Queen, a queen with reign undivided—her blood a bond to the land, her body a wellspring of its power. So it was for millennia, before the other Worlds were known. So it was until Queen Candoresse.
Candoresse was the last True Queen. Then she made the original mistake, the mistake that ended the dynasty’s unbroken reign. It was by no misdeed of hers, only ill luck—but ill luck, in the eyes of history, is no different from villainy.
This was her mistake: she gave birth to quadruplets.
The order in which the four infant girls left their mother’s womb was a memory Candoresse could not allow to live in her mind. She realised this as she lay there in her blood, in the midwife’s chamber. For in this strange accident of birth, she knew she had seeded endless trouble. This was the way of the Queendom: everyone wanted a throne that held dominion in two worlds, and anyone would do anything to take or keep it. Among these daughters, the order of their birth amounted to a roll of the die. It meant choosing one daughter over the rest, and that choosing could only ever be unfair.
The only way around was murder—but how could she face her people after murdering her own daughters? How could that solution not be worse?
The Queen saw then, in a brief twinkling of clarity, that there was a way to craft a rule of succession that her daughters and subjects might accept. And the order in which these four children were born would irrevocably destroy that solution.
So as the throes of birth consumed her upon that marble table, Candoresse ordered her midwives to turn away. And these four children came into the world with their beginnings unseen, unknown, the memory of the moment lost forever to the obliterating sea.
The erasing of memories is not undertaken lightly, even less so than the process of transferring or confiscating them. By some mechanism that still eludes the universities of the Queendom, such a removal releases an explosion of force that cannot be contained by any structure we have ever built. The first time it was performed successfully, that force shattered every wall of the site where it took place, and brought the building down upon subject and performer.
The procedure in itself is deceptively simple, though I cannot claim to fully understand it myself: it is likened to a song, played on the strings of the Light, a vibration that disentangles the threads of the mind and shakes the memory out of the strands.
The scientists learned that the procedure of destroying a memory could only be done in the depths of the sea, where the water could dampen the force. This is where Queen Candoresse hastened off to, while her children were swaddled and fed their first milk. She, the Last True Queen, went in a sphere to the bottom of the Sea of Glass, to have that melody excised from the score of her mind.
On warmer days, Verna, Aula, Sol and Bernice played on the green in the palace’s shadow. The four sisters ran with ribboned kites billowing above their heads while their nurses smiled at each other and shook their heads, and Candoresse watched serenely through her study window. They lay on the grass by the swan pond, licking nectar from flower sepals and dreaming of the distant lands where swans saved girls from towers.
But the people knew these blithe days were numbered, and their grimness dimmed the prospects of commerce and diplomacy for the rest of Candoresse's life. The Queen herself only delivered vague portents to her daughters throughout their lives, but never quite revealed the gravity of the future she foresaw. While it was still the spring of their lives, and while the roses bloomed, they did not have to think of the fate waiting, like an executioner, for the time of choosing to come.
Those seasons of their lives fleeted by, thread from the spindle into the loom of history. Then all at once, the children were eighteen, and that day of fate—that long-dreaded time—drew nigh. That was when Queen Candoresse first revealed the solution she had crafted in the years before.
Her daughters would play a game.
A game of her devising, a game of strategy—a game whose outcome would fractionate the players by wit and merit. No dice would be rolled; none of it would come to chance. The winner would be named the queen; the other three accorded new titles in accordance with how they played.
None could dispute the outcome of such a game—she thought—a test of the candidates’ shrewdness and foresight, all-important traits in a queen of singular power. At least for a time, there would be none who would come forward with a defensible objection. On the day the game was announced, the denizens of the Queen's City sounded out equally in agreement and anger, but there is no honour in a queen who goes back on her word, so Candoresse pushed forth with her plan.
The game unfolded on a pavilion in the Grand Park of the Queen's City. Four sisters, with all the fate of the Queendom in their eyes, played cards on a table of iron wrought and painted white. They were taught the rules in front of the audience. They passed cards and called their plays, and pondered with masked fury.
The game wore on, hand after hand. Bernice and Solice were not quite the strategists their siblings were; they made their plans plain in their faces. Aula played a psychological game, calling it from the looks of the two when they were trying to take all, gauging from their plays if they lacked a suit in their hands.
But Verna’s strategy did not involve the mind games of her sisters. To her, the suits and the glances were but smoke and mirrors—fancy dressing on a puzzle that was, at its core, mathematical.
As she played her cards, and as her sisters did, she memorised every single one that crossed the table. Two of Clubs. Ace of Spades. She remembered every trick her sisters won, and she held the Four and King of Spades close. By the last three tricks of the very last hand, she was sure Aula's hand contained the Queen of Spades.
She forced the unlucky Queen from her sister’s hand. Aula, all options exhausted, was made to take the deduction, and the game ended with Verna the winner.
Candoresse oversaw the proceedings of the game with serenity and a slowly welling fear. As had been written, she named Verna the first Queen of Hearts, absolute ruler of this Queendom without end.
So it was that the Queendom was split between four bloodlines, each sister given a station befitting her rank in the game: Aula the Duchess of Diamonds, Solice the Countess of Clubs, Bernice the Baroness of Spades.
“The Queen was selected through a game?” Dorian murmurs, letting just a drop of confusion slip through.
“Yes, but, no! That is not the point,” Orobelle snaps. “She was selected by Queen Candoresse, who saw that she would be a good queen.”
“From watching her play a game.” Vesper answers from across the room. When their gazes come to rest upon her, she rolls her eyes. “And I thought we had unusual stories of succession.”
“Shut up! No one invited you to speak!”
“I'm simply curious about this One True Queendom tripe you've been spouting since we met?”
Orobelle bares her teeth, and jerks her gaze away. “Fine, stay and educate yourself, ingrate. But not another word.”
"Now, as I was saying—"
Verna was a just queen, remembered fondly for her orderly and forceful rule. Her sisters, who were first ashamed that they had lost the game and the Queendom, slowly came into a quietly seething resentment, as she rebuilt the country under her rule.
They knew no challenge could be sustained, for Verna had won the throne fair and square, by the rules of their mother. Still they knew—as did the people—that they could not roll over and allow this to pass without a reckoning. They knew it must come someday.
Duchess Aula, who had played surely and slyly, was the one Queen Verna feared the most. That fear was in its right place—though Verna only feared her in the capacity of a woman fearing an enemy. What she should have feared was much greater than she could see, greater than the two of them alone, and greater than the brief decades in which they were alive.
Aula was austere and an adept keeper of secrets. While Verna had a daughter—the future heiress Rosanthe—Aula had Marinne, within five years of each other. She put on airs of grace and veneration for the Queen, but for every lesson Rosanthe was taught, Aula paid off the royal tutors in street-corner taverns to share their works, and taught Marinne the same in secret.
In her waning years, Aula at last pulled her daughter fully into the weft of her plans. “It will not be your war to win,” was the last wisdom she gave. “Let your fire smoulder. Prepare your daughters well. Make everyone love them, and let them love no one. Let my voice be carried unto every one of your progeny.”
So while Rosanthe was complacent, bred in adulation and praise, Marinne inherited the resentment of her mother, every spite spoken against the Queen of Hearts tangled into her living creed.
Long before Marinne took the mantle of Duchess, she began to craft her own plots, and to further those of her mother. She recorded each one in her most secret book of books, in the vault that only Duchesses could open. We call it The Diamonds' Playbook.
In this book she wrote of her machinations. How she gave the Countess of Clubs servants from the Cracked Land; how she attended the birth of the city mayor’s son and, at the banquet, began a partnership of favours for political influence. How she joined the donor roll of the Queendom University, so that her allegiance to that bastion of learning was recorded on its walls.
And she recorded her anger at the injustice that was the bedrock of this new, cloven Queendom. All the theory and plots she amassed over her lifetime’s planning—all she would seek—she wrote here, for future Duchesses to learn.
It is through the Playbook that we know how she found inroads in all municipalities to the loyalties of the people, made sympathisers of mayors and counsellors, and positioned the Diamonds as their friends and supporters. It is an intricate art, and one I have learned all my life. The Duchess of Diamonds holds control of the World Gate--and though the Queendom officials came and went through it as they pleased, the Diamonds army guarded it well, for Marinne knew it would someday prove a bargaining piece.
The Diamonds Playbook was a cornerstone of my education. This I inherited from her and her mother, and those mothers of mothers between us, forming the chain of birth from her to myself.
“I did not know that all your enemies shared blood with you. It is…” Dorian halts.
“Inevitable,” Orobelle answers. “Our families diverge and fragment easily. Sisters turn on sisters, children on their parents, almost as if war were in our nature.”
Something of the beginnings of understanding are dawning in Dorian's face.
“This is Candoresse's injustice, the original mistake. It needs to be righted, and my mother's purpose was that, always that.”
Forty-two years after her ascension, Marinne was succeeded by her own daughter Arminella. Queen Rosanthe had long begun to read the warning signs in the way each Duchess of Diamonds conducted herself in diplomacy. It was when Arminella took the seat of Duchess, years before she was ready, that relations grew terse.
Duchess Arminella was not like the two who had come before her: she was easily swayed to anger, and her mind was not the right place for a legacy like Aula's. Her younger sister, Alintora, had a better temper than her sister's, but she had come five years later and was never considered for the succession.
Old Queen Rosanthe saw, in Arminella, a weakening of the Duchy and a chance to nip the threat in the bud. She began to march armed contingents through its streets. Mayors began, unusually, to refuse the Duchess' bribes. Not long later, the Queen requested to station her own guards outside the World Gate.
Arminella, of course, could not help but make clear her rage. Against her sister's advice, she delivered a greater insult, by decrying Queen Rosanthe's request before a public audience.
Her story does not have a pretty ending. Though she successfully bought the Barony of Spades over to her cause, she is remembered for the way she died—tumbling off a mountain cliff, on a carriage driven by a mysteriously switched driver.
No court could ascertain the accident's connection to Queen Rosanthe—but of course they could not, how could a puppet incriminate its puppeteer?
Still, to the council of the Diamonds, and to those sympathetic to the house, the bloody transgression was stark as day. And right then, from the dredges of Rosanthe's crime, crystallised an unsolvable vendetta.
And so it was that not one Queen of Hearts could ever think she was safe in her seat. Indeed, all in the Queendom know it is inevitable, like the burning-out of a candle, that her throne must fall one day.
This all happened five, four hundred years ago. Many ancestors of mine have come after, some shrewder, some more authoritative. Each one carried that legacy, that game of waiting, to her daughter's time...
"...till it came to me. That day of collecting our due is nigh at hand, because of a singular person in my genealogy: my mother’s mother, Cotaria."
The door clicks shut, stirring Orobelle out of reveries of the past. Vesper has vanished from the room. “Where is she off to?” growls the Duchess, gaze pinned to the suite door.
“She said something about a map,” Dorian answers. As his last word falls away, a strain of snoring drifts over from the sofa.
Orobelle glowers, pulling her lips tight. “Alright, then. We shall continue this tale at a later time,” she says, rising smartly from her seat. “Where is my stationery?”