Queen Rosa had been given little time to herself, even before Cecil's illness. For all of her departed husband's bravery and compassion, he had not been trained in the intrigues of politics. To him everything had looked very black and white, with little room for compromise. He had learned very quickly that it was wisest to defer to her in matters of state.
When one's time to oneself was rare, one had to learn to treasure it. Her spare moments were more often than not found in the training grounds, with a handful of guards just out of sight as she oiled and strung her old bow. She cared for it as best she could, even when she could not train; the meticulous old ritual reminded her of her father's lessons, and even when her hands ached from the effort she still found it soothing. Deadening the pain was still easy enough with her magic, although she did need to take care not to push herself too hard.
Sadly, she did not have nearly the time she had hoped for. Her fourth arrow was still quivering near the center of her target when her consort and her maidservant came to fetch her. She regarded the old target for a moment even as she heard them approach, shaking her head slightly. “I do not take nearly so much exercise as I should,” she said, half to herself. “My aim is not near what it was five years ago, much less twenty.”
“The burdens of royalty, I suppose.”
She turned back, a wry smile on her lips. “One of many,” she replied. “You must have seen them all by now.”
Kain shook his head. “I doubt that watching you and Cecil navigate these difficulties is quite the same as navigating them myself.”
“True enough.” She sighed and lowered her bow. “Am I needed, then?”
“I am sorry, Rosa. The ambassador and her entourage has arrived. She has not demanded an immediate audience, but given the circumstances, I thought we should arrange one regardless.”
Rosa raised an eyebrow. “Oh, dear. The situation must be more dire than I had expected.” She laid the bow down, and one of the other servants took it immediately. Normally she would've taken care of her weapon herself, but this was an unusual circumstance. “I assume you have everything ready?” she said, turning to young Aelee.
“Of course, Majesty,” she said quickly. “Your court gown is prepared.”
“Good. Thank you, child.” She looked again at her consort, his long silver hair striking against his dark turquoise uniform. His only armor was ornamental now, and the spear he carried was ornately tooled and decorated; she imagined that he would be no less deadly with it, should the need arise. She hoped that she wouldn't ever see that day. “And you are obviously prepared as well, Sir Highwind,” she said lightly.
“Something else I learned from you and Cecil, Majesty.” He gave her that old, familiar smile, his grizzled old face twisted around a scar that a lunar beast had given him long ago. He was not the young man that he used to be, impulsive and envious and desperate to prove himself. But that man would not have come back to them from his journey, and he would not have agreed to her late husband's dying plea to stay by the Queen's side.
She wondered if age had changed her so much; she still felt the same as she had ever been, for all of the aches and catches that she sometimes felt in her bones. The world had changed more than she had; things had been quiet for many years. She hoped that things weren't about to change. “Well, then. Lead the way, Aelee. At least preparing myself will give our guests a chance to rest.”
“Yes, Majesty,” her servant said, and Kain fell in step beside her as she turned away from her exercise. Hopefully she would be able to come back soon enough. Court and politics had been good to her, but there were times when they felt like burdens, as Kain had said.