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The Eyes of Thine Kingdom

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The people of Alexandria consider their Queen's greatest treasure to be her beauty. Though I am loathe to disagree that she is beautiful, even more so at twenty-one having matured in her features and developed a gentle strength about her bearing, ebony hair swept up into a bun that shows her crown and her face to their greatest advantage, I would count her other features as more precious. But then, I have the luxury of being my Queen's protector, a job I gladly inherited (or stole, depending upon whom you ask) from Steiner, and so I must admit that I have access to more than just the occasional glimpse of her on the balcony, or a fifteen minute audience with her to form my judgments.

Queen Garnet's beauty is legendary. Certainly, I do not dare argue, and in fact, I would rain holy wrath upon anyone who insinuates that the legends are undeserved, or exaggerated in some respect. As someone who has privileged access to the Queen, I simply prefer to enumerate the assets that make her shine as a ruler.

She is intelligent and educated, traits few assume go hand and hand with being the beautiful princess, never mind that only the foolish would allow a ruler to govern uneducated in the affairs of her country. If I had a gil for every time a farmer, looking for rights to till all his fields this year instead of leaving one fallow as is law, attempted to dupe the queen with false information, I could buy an armada of airships, and if I had another gil for every time they leave not only without that permission, but in full agreement that the prosperity of the kingdom rests on the farmers understanding that their important role of feeding all Alexandrians comes with great duties then I could bestow the entirety of Gaia to my Queen for her birthday. I watch the Queen as they leave the audience chamber, smiling a true smile at me and shaking her head. Pity might almost be a possibility for those farmers, if only they had not thought to affront my Queen's intelligence in that way. As it is, I must keep my laughter locked away in my chest, every time I see one walking away.

She has passions, and not simply for a particular simian rogue who has not shown up in Alexandria since the one time the words "marriage contract" and "monogamy" were mentioned one night at a royal dinner, accompanied by the gleam of a sword's mythril blade. No, she loves her kingdom and all its people, and serves it well. A century from now, when her name enters the history books, her reign shall be characterized not by conquest but by the building and infrastructure that even at this young age, she's already famous for. And oh, does she love her duty. If her people could see the way her eyes light up when the completed blueprints for the irrigation system came across her desk, or the small dance she did after she secured investors for the new Alexandrian airship project, they might understand how much she loves them all.

She calls the Eidolons, the summoned creatures of legends, in the protection of her kingdom. We have no need for them currently, nor do I hope that there shall never be a need for more than my sword to protect the kingdom, but she sometimes confides in me that she feels them under the surface of her skin, ready to leap out if ever something should threaten to destroy what she builds. She calls magic to her hands, and though the rumors of her resurrecting dead children is a bit of an exaggeration (the child was merely unconscious from a fall), many in the palace know that her abilities rival most city doctors, though she simply cannot spend her days tending to every kitchen injury that plagues this place.

Queen Garnet is Queen first and foremost, no matter what else she may be, and Alexandria is her beloved, if metaphorical, wife.

This is my reasoning for burning those letters before they can taint my Queen's eyes with their audacity. Minor nobles from the ages of 6 to 86 are presented as acceptable candidates for the Queen's hand. Acceptable? Dare I ask what type of person considers acceptable to be a suitable standard for the Queen? Dare I venture a guess that they consider their own family's interests to preside over the good of the whole kingdom or even worse, the Queen's own heart? They should consider themselves fortunate that I catch these letters before they slip into Queen Garnet's hand and stain her heart with thoughts of being reduced to a mere prize for a nobleman.

No, I think her deserving of choosing the course of her heart's affection. I think her deserving of the best match she can possibly make for both love and country, and if she cannot reach that elusive height or has other preferences (and oh, I beseech you, let her have other preferences), then she should have her happiness in the way she chooses. My duties as the Queen's protector extend past mere prevention of dire harm upon her body to the dedicated pursuit of her soul's fulfillment even if that fulfillment demands her choice of an unconventional path.

My Queen thinks no one notices at the soirees and shindigs that make up the tedious but necessary web of relations between all nobility on the Mist Continent how tepidly she takes the hands of the young counts and barons who seek to court her with a waltz. Perhaps no one does, perhaps there is nothing to notice, perhaps it's only her fondness for actors that makes her reluctant, but then perhaps when I witness the warmth with which she rehearses those same waltzes with debutantes in the name of easing their nerves, or the way she shines as basks in the glow of an elegant duchess my heart does not flutter in vain.

One might ask, what of an heir? What of the future of Alexandria? The lifespan of my Queen, though never to be cut short by a would-be assassin with poor judgment, is finite. Someone must exist to ascend to her throne. A Queen needs an heir, certainly, but blood is not the sacred bond to land that the commoners and lesser nobility imagine it to be. An orphaned child or an heir produced from an unofficial, unblooded consort serve as well if the resulting princess or prince captures the public imagination. Belief matters more than blood. Though this is not common knowledge, and of course never needs to become so, Queen Garnet is not the natural daughter of the former queen and king, and yet no one can dispute her ties to the lands of Alexandria.

My Queen inquires to me naught about marriages, arranged or otherwise. For the five years since her coronation, not once has she spoken one way or another about the necessity of the marriage contract.

Until that day.

We meet alone in her study, after the day's audiences have ended and before the evening's ball starts, and Queen Garnet rests her elbows on the desk and leans forward in a posture that manages to be lazy and anxious simultaneously.

"It is perhaps time for me to consider arranging a marriage, don't you think, General?"

I step forward. "It is Your Majesty's prerogative, whether or not you marry." My position has always been this. Though my preferences on this issue may be clear—at least to myself—they hold not the slightest bit relevance to the counsel that I must give her.

The Queen counters: "If she does not marry, and marry well, then the eyes of her people shall ever be upon her. If she marries, and the marriage looks well for Alexandria and makes her prosper, then the people shall look upon that prosperity and avert their eyes from her affairs of her heart."

Is this something my queen desires, affairs of the heart held away from the eyes of the kingdom?

My breath stills. Dare I ask? "Does Your Majesty not believe that you shall find love with your king?"

"I believe," my Queen wisely replies, "that I may yet find love with my king. The shared love of two rulers for their kingdom, the shared love of parents for the child to be born from the union. Yet, I also believe that there are other types of loves. Loves found perhaps, but unable to be pursued while the eyes of the kingdom remain fixed upon me. A well-chosen king shall distract those eyes."

By the stars, I swear her eyes at that moment look into my heart, at those letters burned over a candle's flame, and I swear, at that moment that my eyes stare into her heart at the same time and see the cage she has locked herself in like the proverbial canary. I wish to free her, and hold her gently in my hands. This marriage is not the freedom she valiantly paints it to be, but rather a delicate shackle and chain around her ankle, a slight loosening of the restrictions upon her.

"Shall I start compiling a list of suitable candidates, Your Majesty?" The words choke in my throat, and my heart weighs with the compromise she chooses to make.

"Please, Beatrix." She collapses her elbows, and makes a pillow on the desk for her head to rest upon.

My hands on instinct stroke her arms and curl into a quick embrace. "As you wish, my Queen."

Perhaps it is only a delusion that my touch relieves her of her burden, just a little bit, that the smile she gives me now is mine and mine alone. But then, perhaps I am not delusional after all.

My Queen has other virtues too, never to be made immortal in verse or memoir, except for those that I pen upon my heart's parchment, and those I anonymously commission for an anonymous lady. I shall only say those virtues provoke warm responses in this humble general.

And she is, as I have mentioned, passionate.