Chapter 52: The Grand Game
Cecilia calmly walked into the reception room, she was wearing a particularly alluring dress. Her dress was striking crimson red with gold accents and shoals of black sheer silk. This dress was a statement. Red, black and gold were the colours of the Elysian Empire. Ever since the great fall these colours were never worn by a royal. At least by those that lived for long.
To wear these colours was to signify the wearers intention to mark themselves as heirs to Ancient Elysia. Cecilia took it a step further and even had the dress made in the style that was popular during the time of Ancient Elysia. The dress had a tight form fitting cutting with flowing translucent sleeves made of sheer black silk. This sheer black fabric went up to her shoulders and her neck. Meaning her shoulders and arms were completely visible. Not only that, the sheer fabric extended downwards towards her collar bone and ended just at the top of her chest showing off her ample bosom.
The skirt of the dress was also rather short ending only half way down the thigh. This was compensated by narrow sheets of silk that extended down from the waist to form a wavy curtain of black silk that partially hid her legs. Cecilia also wore matching black silk stockings. More commonly the ladies wore pantyhose, not the far more revealing stockings. Cecilia intentionally designed this outfit so that the skirt would end just above the stocking, revealing a small strip of her pale skin.
The great game is played on many fronts, words, mannerisms, bearing, fashion, even one’s state of grooming. The current style of court dresses are more conservative, with much less skin showing, even back then in Ancient Elysia few would wear this style of dress. It wasn’t that this type of dress was frowned upon due to it’s revealing nature. It was that few women could wear this dress and look good. You had to have exceptional beauty to fit well into this tight fitted, flowing dress. To wear this type of dress when your beauty cannot match it’s demands would invite mockery. But if one had the means to match this dress, both in body and bearing, one could be the flower of any gathering, the crown jewel of the noble ladies. A maiden who wore this dress would have the eyes of every man in the room, be coveted by many houses and give her own house much power on the bargaining table.
In Ancient Elysia a woman’s beauty and sexuality were things to be celebrated. This dress showed confidence through it’s revealing nature and the wealth through the artistry of its construction. Elysia was once the heart of high fashion, hats adorned with phoenix feathers, dresses of the finest silks sourced from Mugumma and jewelry crafted by master artisans. It was once a place of glory and splendour…
As Cecilia walked in she saw the other delegates and sovereigns look at her in shock. The other ladies from the other nations narrowed their eyes slightly in jealousy. The men on the other hand lingered their gazes a moment too long.
The meeting was to begin in an hour, now was the time for socialising and introductions.
Immediately an aging king walked towards Cecilia with his son in tow.
“You must be Queen Cecilia.” the king said with a small bow and Cecilia gave him a graceful smile as she returned his bow with curtsy. Her poise and posture, perfect and without flaw.
Cecilia saw his son was slightly struck dumb by her and she gave him a small smile that snapped him back to his senses.
“I am your grace, and you are?” Cecilia asked politely.
“I am King Leon Arune, this is my son Lionel Arune.” King Leon said as he gestured to his son who gave Cecilia a stiff bow.
“A pleasure your grace.” Cecilia replied with a nod.
Cecilia moved through the crowd greeting the other great men and women of the region. Making small talk, observing their mannerisms.
She noted the King of Marina seemed a little hostile, not surprising considering Averlon historically had the most issues with Marina. Their last war was with Marina after all.
Arune seemed eager to maintain good relations with her and Averlon. Perhaps they wanted an ally in the coming sea change. Cathay, Arune and Marina have historically been rivals vying for power in the region.
Cathay seemed eager as well, it would be bad if Arune found an ally in Averlon afterall. News of Averlon’s alliance with the great Beast of the Elysian Woods has spread by now. Averlon now had the power to tip the scales of any conflict in the region.
Cecilia got funny looks from the rest of the sovereigns when she received warm and friendly greetings from the Archmagus of Istland. Istland was usually a reclusive nation, as a state run by mages they were quite isolationist as they did not want to share their knowledge and expertise. Cecilia knew her Head Mage Georgia Merci was an old friend of the Archmagus. What’s more Cecilia being a talented mage herself would no doubt find favour from the Archmagus.
As for the other reclusive member of Elysia, it would be the Wardens of Warden’s Vigil, the only delegates wearing armour and carrying weapons. More commonly known as the Wardens of the west. Historically they guarded the Elysian sea from Ostayans and Zariman Lizardkin, although it was mostly from the Ostayan raiders. The Zariman Lizardkin hated the sea so they usually had little interaction with the Elysian states.
The Lord Warden of Warden’s Vigil gave Cecilia a neutral greeting but his eyes betrayed the fact that Cecilia intrigued him. It was no secret that the Wardens of the West longed for the reunification of Elysia. They were afterall a sacred order tasked with defending an empire that no longer existed. The Wardens had a powerful navy and were capable warriors. They say a single Warden is worth five mainland Elysians. They are sworn to only obey the commands of the ruler of Elysia, so in their eyes the other kings and queens in the region are no different from provincial lords.
Istland and the Wardens have a mutual defence pact, that was how these two small factions have remained independent. The Wardens provided the brawn and the mages of Istland provided the magic.
With all the other nations listed, that left poor discarded Averlin...
Cecilia narrowed her eyes when she saw Prince Silas of Tralis. He had just been snubbed by the Lord Warden who simply scoffed at Prince Silas’s greeting and walked off. Prince Silas was now speaking with the King of Marina and the Wardens in attendance were giving the pair dark looks.
Cecilia saw Maria standing quietly behind the Prince like a common servant. In contrast to the other Elysians who wore dark colours in the tradition of Elysia, she wore a dress of bright blue. The colors of Voleria…
Cecilia could sense the scorn from the other ladies as they gave Maria looks of disdain. It wasn’t that surprising, considering the Prince of Tralis has decided to humiliate her even more before the other great men and women of Elysia. Maria was wearing a poorly fitted Volerian style dress and what looked to be cheaply made Volerian jewelry. Cecilia knew for a fact Maria had better livery than the cheap gold she wore. She wasn’t even wearing her royal circlet. No doubt the Prince wanted to degrade her before her peers, signalling to the Elysians that Maria was now his property. Compound that with the fact that Elysians usually regarded Volerian goods as inferior and having poor taste and Maria was looking like a disgrace to Elysia.
Maria looked miserable, with her head down, fighting back tears as she tried to make herself look as small as possible. Her lord father didn’t even come, perhaps he was too ashamed so he let his daughter suffer in his stead…
Cecilia walked towards Maria, her strides with purpose and confidence. She was going to show that in her eyes Maria was Elysian, no matter what anyone else says or thinks.
Maria raised her head as she saw Cecilia approach and her eyes widened at the sight.
Cecilia gave her a gentle smile as she reached out and took Maria’s hand.
“Hello cousin, how are you?” Cecilia asked gently as she held Maria’s hand.
Cecilia could feel Maria’s ice cold hands shaking and Maria put on a stiff smile as she replied.
“I am doing well cousin…” Maria replied softly.
“That’s good to hear…” Cecilia said as she gave Maria's hands a comforting squeeze.
“Ah Queen Cecilia…” Cecilia heard Prince Silas say and Maria visibly flinched at the sound.
Cecilia didn’t reply immediately instead she gave Maria another gentle smile as she squeezed her hands. Then she turned her head to face him, not bothering to face her body towards the bandit Prince.
This was another veiled insult, Cecilia greeted Maria before Silas, then she delayed her response and now she can’t even be bothered to properly face him in conversation.
Cecilia felt Maria pull her hands back as she shuffled to the Prince’s side. Cecilia knew Tralis could kill house Averlin whenever they wanted. So Maria still had to play the part of the loyal vassal and concubine.
Cecilia seeing this turned to face Prince Silas, it was a good thing Maria was still calm enough to know what the smart thing was to do. In truth Cecilia was in a way ensuring the safety of House Averlin. Although humiliating, this showed Prince Silas that House Averlin was still subservient to them.
“Greetings your majesty.” Cecilia said with a sweet smile moving on as if her insult never happened. Cecilia just used the honorific of a royal not a sovereign, implying that he was below her in station. Well if this Prince wasn’t going to bow to a queen, then Cecilia wasn’t going to give him any courtesy.
Cecilia could see the Prince was annoyed, he had after all just been snubbed by a nation as small as Averlon.
“Hmm… you are a pretty one aren’t you?” Prince Silas asked with a twisted smirk.
“Why thank you, your majesty…” Cecilia replied with a smirk.
“You sound pretty nice too, I wonder what sounds you will make in my bed?” Prince Silas said.
This statement made the room go silent as everyone turned their gaze to Cecilia and the Prince. Her royal guards must be surely stunned by that statement, because they didn’t react immediately. A moment later she heard the sound of swords being pulled from scabbards.
Cecilia shot her hand to the side and her guards stilled. She saw the Tralis guards all had their hands on their swords.
“Calm yourselves, there is no reason we can’t be civil.” Cecilia said calmly, as she extended a hand out to gesture to the Tralis delegation. She wasn’t worried at all. Afterall, she could turn the entire Tralis delegation to paste if she so desired.
Cecilia channeled a spell and her hands glowed blue as Prince Silas lifted off the ground scrabbling at his throat. His guards leapt forward, but with a wave of her hand his guards were on their knees bound by magic chains.
Then Cecilia saw Maria grab her hand as she looked at Cecilia in panic.
“Cousin please release him…” Maria stammered, her voice quivering.
Cecilia paused for a moment and then she released the spell.
“As you wish, cousin.” Cecilia replied calmly.
Cecilia smiled coldly as she watched the bandit Prince scramble to his feet, his face purple with rage.
Then Cecilia heard armoured foot falls from behind her as she turned her head slightly to see the Wardens standing next to her facing the Volerians. The Warden’s prowess in battle was legendary, they fought the fierce Ostayans in the Elysian sea every season, of every year for the past few millennia. They were probably the best warriors in both Elysia and Voleria.
The Wardens were loyal to Elysia and as far as they were concerned the Volerians had just insulted one of their own.
Cecilia saw the Prince glance at the Wardens as his rage cooled. He may be a brute but he wasn’t stupid…
The Lord Warden could probably kill all of them just by himself…
“I will remember this Cecilia of House Averlon… when my armies march south and I get my hands on you. I will tie you to my bed and make you scream till your throat tears.” Silas said venomously.
“Noted your majesty, then I suggest you conserve your men in your little war with Beralis. You will need every soldier you can get your hands on if you think you can break Elysia.” Cecilia replied with a cold smile.
“Hmph…” Prince Silas said as he turned his gaze to Maria.
“Perhaps a preview on what I will do to you.” Prince Silas said as he grabbed Maria. He spun her around and tore the back of her dress open. Maria screamed as she grabbed the front of her dress to stop it from falling. Her tears now flowing freely down her cheeks, ruining her makeup.
Cecilia’s gaze turned to ice as he watched the bandit Prince spin Maria around to reveal her bare back. Cecilia saw bite marks all along her back…
At the sight of this the Lord Warden drew his sword with a growl and the Volerian guards all rushed forward to shield their prince.
“I could carve through the six of you like I am carving a cake…” the Lord Warden growled at the guards as he stepped forward sword drawn. The guards all took a shaky step back from the two meter tall armoured Warden, his black and red armour clinking ominously with each step.
“Lord Warden, let him throw his petty insults and indulge in his barbarism. What else would you expect from a Volerian?” Cecilia said her tone dripping with disdain.
“Go home little prince, come south when you wish.
But before you go look into my eyes… you see the colour? Some say they see roses, some say they see rubies, others say they see fire and blood…
I look forward to the day I gaze upon your capital with my own eyes…” Cecilia said.
“Oh you’ll see it little Queen… you’ll see it bare and naked as I march you through the streets… you will rue this day…” Prince Silas spat as he turned around and began marching out. Cecilia could only watch as Maria scurried after him clutching the front of her dress.
Although this pained her, she knew Maria would have to pay for this in some way. But this was the only way to save Maria in the long run. That little dream of his that he wants both Maria and herself bare on his bed will keep Maria alive. When all is said and done, she will give Maria a razor and jug of weak acid. Then Cecilia can just leave her in a room with the Prince…
She can take her vengeance then…
If Cecilia wasn’t here Maria’s life would be a dead end. If Tralis won Maria would be a toy for the Prince of Tralis, eventually ending up with his progeny in her belly. If Elysia won then Maria and her family would either be executed for turning traitor or dethroned and their lands assimilated. Most likely by Marina due to their shared border. The only way for Maria to have a decent future was for Cecilia to defeat Tralis and bring the other Elysian states in line, while at the same time ensuring heaven views this war as a war of self defence by Elysia. A delicate game but one Cecilia has the confidence to play even if she had to endure some… unsavoury consequences…
“Tell your mediocre craftsmen and artisans to build me a bath in your palace. One day soon I will bathe in your capital. Also have them put a mount on the wall, I will need somewhere to put your skull. I want to look at it as I enjoy the hot water.” Cecilia said to Prince Silas’s back, goading him further. Cecilia didn’t really want the bath, she just said it to mock the prince and put the picture of her bare body in her mind. Lecherous men think with their balls more than their heads…
The Prince paused as he turned to look over his shoulder at Cecilia. He gave her a cruel smile, no doubt fantasizing about what he thought he was going to do to her. Cecilia had heard from Sarana that he liked to choke his partners. His gaze shifted to her ample chest then he turned and walked out…
The fool… he had no idea what was coming… there was a reason no one here has seen her dear friend yet after all…
Cecilia wanted Tralis to underestimate her and march south. Then when her friend joins the fray with his army, the plains of Elysia will run red with Volerian blood and Cecilia isn’t kind enough to return the bodies... They will fuel her dear friend’s Hive as they march on their Capital.
There’s going to be a lot of empty coffins…
Although this may cause some outrage and indignation from the surrounding nations. The very recent memory of the slaughtered army will keep them in line. The war with Tralis will cement her and her dear friend’s rule in the region. Nothing like a little fear to keep the sheep in line…
“Have you gone mad girl?” the King of Marina, King Edric Marina said.
“Your grace, do you truly think that Tralis will leave Elysia be, if we show him deference?” Cecilia replied calmly.
“I just did all of you a favour…” Cecilia said as she calmly turned to face King Edric.
“A favour?” King Edric asked hotly.
“Would you rather Tralis march down hastily in spring or would you prefer they march down after annexing the other Successor Volerian Kingdoms and bringing their men and resources to bear against us?” Cecilia asked.
“Yes, Tralis also will not be able to send their full might south with their borders less secure.” Lord Warden Gabrion Alder said gruffly.
“Thank you Lord Warden.” Cecilia said with a small nod. The Wardens lived and breathed war, it was in their blood and no one knew conflict better than them in the region. So his words on tactics carried a lot of weight.
“An angry and impulsive foe is a foolish enemy.” the Archmagus Reag Malik of Istland added calmly.
“Shall we head for the gardens? We should discuss the future…” Cecilia said calmly.
Cecilia watched as the Lord Warden looked at the Archmagus, the Archmagus gave the Lord Warden a wry smile and the Lord Warden nodded in return.
Cecilia turned and began walking towards a nearby door that led towards the garden. Cecilia heard the sound of the heavy armoured footfalls of the Lord Warden and the Staff of the Archmagus tapping the ground as they followed behind her.
This is where it gets interesting…