The Winter Queen (Preview)

Alida walked.

She walked along the strand, at high tide and at low. Cold north winds blew brine and sand in her face.

She walked across meadows and lifted her long, white, skirts over farmers’ fences. She paid no heed to cows nor sheep, to chickens nor pigs. The hems of her cloaks and gowns dragged in the mud, exasperating the laundresses when she returned, eventually, to the castle.

She walked laneways and pathways, highways and byways.

She wore out slippers, she wore out shoes, she wore out boots.

She walked in weak, winter sunshine. She walked in rain. She walked in sleet, and hail, and snow.

As she walked her long, golden hair turned to white, and her blue eyes turned to grey.

Her people watched as she passed, and they whispered, and they wondered.

Would spring ever come?

The rumours began.

* * * * *

“My dear, people have taken to calling you The Winter Queen. It’s hardly flattering.”

Hortense’s black garments swathed her slight body from head to toe. Her matching lace veil confined hair the colour of steel, and her eyes matched her garments.

Her seat was the one closest to the fire, the best in the Queen’s parlour. Of course.

She had always reminded Alida of a raven.

“It’s true though, it’s what a feel. Ice Queen would be even more appropriate.”

“I believe that’s already taken.”

“I know. Winter will have to do. Silent. Cold. Unfeeling.”

“You’re one of the most feeling people I know!”

“Ha!” The Queen’s exclamation barely qualified as a laugh. “I don’t want to feel. I’d be more content if I were a block of ice.”

“But why, my dear? You have a life many would envy. A peaceful, wealthy country, albeit a small one. Loving family and friends. Excellent advisers. You are, I’ll allow, a mature woman now, but you could have many good years ahead of you.”

“Ha!” the Queen repeated. “Good years!” She sank onto a convenient couch. “Long, lonely years.” A single tear trickled down her pale, perfect cheek. “Celibate years.”

“Hrmph.” The older woman settled in her chair. Her feathers had been ruffled. “You could always marry again.”

“That’s out of the question. Everyone knows my son will be the next ruler, and he’s taken over some of the responsibilities already. Should I marry again the succession would become a problem when I die. I won’t put him – or my country – through that.”

Another tear joined the first.

“And should I conceive, it would make matters even worse.”

She stood, shook out her skirts, and began pacing the parlour.

“It’s infuriating! I don’t believe I’m unattractive, and I’m wealthy. I’ve received offers, both from within and without the Kingdom, but I’m bound to refuse them all.

“My body aches, Hortense! My lips ache for kisses. My breasts ache for caresses. My cunt aches to feel a good, hard cock deep inside it.

“Ferdinand, for all his faults as a husband, was an excellent lover. Sex every morning and every night for twenty five years, unless he was away fighting. I do believe a good battle was the only thing he loved more than fucking.”

The Queen almost smiled, for a moment lost in her very pleasant memories.

“But why, oh why, did the idiot have to get himself killed?” she wailed.

“Cease your pacing, girl!” exclaimed Hortense. “You distract me and achieve nothing.”

Age had its privileges. Hortense had been ancient when Alida was born.

“You could always follow Catherine of Russia’s example.”

“A succession of young guardsmen? No, thank you. This is a small kingdom, I’d lose the respect of my people.”

“A woman then? Does your lover have to be a man?”

“I’ve nothing against women who love other women, as you know. But what I crave a woman can’t grant me.”

“There are certain devices…” Hortense hesitated. “I could place an enchantment upon them.”

The Queen shook her head. “I want far more that. Nay, I need far more.”

Hortense fell silent. The Queen subsided unwillingly onto a settee, fists clenched by her sides. The fire hissed, the clock ticked long minutes.

“My Queen,” Hortense said. “When next you walk, walk in the Forest.”

“The Forest?” gasped the Queen. “But…”

“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Hortense smiled. “Have I ever let you down?”

To be continued…

 

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