Queens receive gifts. This story is about an occasion of a queen receiving gifts on her birthday. Any of you from the UK should immediately spot the inspiration. While I’m not necessarily a royalist, I’m a huge admirer of her majesty. To have served her country for so long and with no real choice about doing it is a great achievement. So, that brings us to the story and a question. What gift would you give to someone who almost literally has everything? Well, that would very much depend on your motives, as we find out in this little tale.
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Upon a throne of carved granite hewn from the rock on which the castle stood, sat Queen Ferguick as she received her subjects on her six hundredth birthday. Although this was a significant day, she was still only young for an elf. Like her ancestors, she was tall and slim, with silver-white hair down to her waist, which was plaited and adorned with all manner of jewels and trinkets. At the very tip was fastened a thin tube, carved with a golden dragon. Her eyes were amber and glowed like the sun. She was considered a rare beauty by all who looked upon her.
The doors to her audience chamber were wide open this day to allow a procession of guests to bring their gifts to their beloved queen. Anyone could enter, but only those considered worthy could approach the throne and give their gift directly to the queen. Already, several side tables creaked under the weight of items, everything from a lowly basket of fruit to a finely carved prancing unicorn made from a small piece of pearlstone.
Forming a semi-circle in front of the throne, her silver-armoured guards stood watching, allowing only those approved by her chamberlain to breach the wall of steel. One of them stood aside as she watched to allow a young elf access. She finely dressed and bedecked with jewels, an elf of lower status, a second cousin to the queen. She was tall and thin and bore some resemblance to the queen, although her hair had a touch of green. She was carrying a small box of a size large enough to hold a goblet.
“You may present your gift,” the queen said pleasantly as the guest bowed.
“My queen, I bring you this.” She opened the box and pulled out the statue of a rearing cobra. “It’s carved from a single piece of jade and has the finest rubies for eyes.”
“Thank you. This is a beautiful gift.” The queen smiled warmly.
The next guest approached as the elf departed. He looked familiar, another relative and brother to the last visitor, a male version of his older sister. He carried a wicker basket as large and round as a pumpkin.
The brother spoke. “My queen, I bring you the kitten of a snowcat, with the softest and purest of all furs to warm your hands and heart in the cold of winter.” He opened the basket and on a felt cushion within sat a tiny ball of white fur.
“Thank you. It is quite enchanting.”
The next visitor was a human male, dressed in fine leathers that were as close to being armour as he could get away with. He was old to the queen’s eyes, grey at the temples and had lines in the skin of his face. He carried the statue of an eagle.
The human spoke, his voice rough and deep. “My queen, I bring you the carving of a noble mountain eagle, the wood from the rarest of trees grown only on the other side of the world.”
“Thank you. It is a lovely piece made with considerable skill.”
The man bowed and left, leaving his gift on the lower step of the dais with the others.
After a pause, another elf appeared, one the queen immediately recognised. She was the mother of the two previous elven guests. She too was tall and slim, with a thin fuzz of hair covering her head as if she’d recently been shaved. Her eyes were blue with a hint of purple, her dress slightly shabby and not a jewel in sight. The queen knew this to be an affectation, her cousin was more than wealthy enough to dress in silks.
The visitor spoke, her voice deep. “Queen Ferguick,” she said. This form of address wasn’t strictly appropriate, but she was of high enough status to get away with it. “I have something for you.” She reached into her sleeve and pulled out an orb made from a milky crystal. With the orb in one hand, she began to circle her fingers over it while whispering something in a language ancient even by elvish standards. The orb began to glow. A light within pulsed and changed, the glow brightened and sent beams of light around the room like butterflies in a summer meadow. The queen smiled.
The light grew bright and moved faster until everyone in the room was forced to cover their eyes. There was a final flash and a pulse of white that seemed almost solid. Everyone in the room fell to the ground, their clothes smoking. Only the cousin and the queen were left conscious.
“You think I am so easily assassinated?” the queen glared at her attacker.
“No, that was for the lower ranks,” the elf woman said looking around.
The globe glowed again, and the kitten sprang from the basket growing instantly into a mighty red tiger. The eagle statue also grew, its body animating until it formed a giant living bird. The cobra swelled in size and began to sway back and forth, its eyes on the queen. There was a third pulse of intense light, and the three animals were dragged into the orb. Silence fell.
“Is that it?” the queen looked at the elf like a parent questioning a child.
As the queen spoke the orb went dark, then cracked down the middle. A two-headed creature emerged, growing instantly until it was larger than a horse. It had the body of a tiger, a tiger’s head and an eagle’s head side by side, and the wings of an eagle. Its tail was a rearing cobra, the ruby eyes glowing with malice.
“That is my throne,” the female elf said. “I have come to claim it.”
The queen laughed. “You think you’re worthy of it? I think not.”
“I’m sure the bloodstains will wash away and disappear down the drain like all memory of your life.”
The elf gestured and the creature leapt at the queen, spreading its wings and attacking with both heads. The tiger head roared, the eagle screamed and its wings sent storm winds blasting into the throne. The snake’s head struck, fangs springing forward like twin daggers. All three of the heads hit an invisible barrier, a flare of magic lighting up the chamber with a red flash.
The queen smiled, “you think I haven’t prepared for such an attack? How foolish.”
The elf woman smiled back. “You think I haven’t?”
The eagle raised its beak and screamed, rising in volume and pitch until the protective bubble around the queen cracked like an egg and turned to mist. The three creatures struck again, this time there was nothing to stop them.
The queen raised her hands and gestured towards the beast. A wall of fire appeared, then blasted into the creature, scorching the eagle’s feathers and driving it back several paces. It soon recovered, once again leaping forward to attack the queen.
But the queen was no longer there. Instead, a golden dragon lay curled around the throne, its scales glowing softly, its mouth open wide, its wings spread across most of the chamber. One of its clawed feet shot forward and grabbed the eagle’s head, the other the tiger’s. The dragon released the breath it has been holding and blow white-hot fire into the open mouth of the attacking cobra.
The cobra tail withered to ash, the talons pulled the heads apart, and the whole beast fell to the ground, turning into shards of wood and jade fragments. The dragon turned to the elf woman and lifted its foot ready to crush her.
The elf woman smiled. She was holding the two halves of the orb. “Impressive, but that was merely a diversion.” The globe began to glow again, sending its rays into the dragon, which was caught in a magical net. The dragon fought with all its might but was unable to free itself, nor breathe fire through the magical trap. It quickly shrank and was soon small enough to fit inside the orb. The orb snapped shut and the chamber fell silent once again.
The elf woman walked over to the dais and climbed the five steps, shaking with anticipation. Slowly, eyes wide and a slight smile on her face, she lowered herself onto the throne.
“At last,” she sighed.
A glint of metal caught her eye and a sudden pain flared in her chest. When she looked down, she saw the handle of a thin blade stuck through her ribcage. A hand appeared holding the blade, quickly revealing itself as belonging to the queen as the magical invisibility wore off.
“Oh, you thought I’d turned into a dragon?” the queen smiled, taking the orb from her attacker’s dying hand. “No, that was just a diversion.” The queen pulled open the two halves of the orb and retrieved the golden dragon ornament, returning it to her hair as guards began to rush in.