A/N: A bit of a different ,5 chapter in the sense that this more of a part of the main story instead of a sidestory. You'll know what I mean when you read it. ">
Queen Amaranthae looked at herself in the mirror. She wasn’t as young as she used to be. She wasn’t old by elven standards, less than a thousand years old in fact, but she wasn’t exactly a little girl anymore either. Her children had grown up, and were well functioning adults that didn’t rely too heavily on their heritage. She had made sure of that, because she despised nobility whose only job was to be a noble. She considered those people parasites. She had tried to give her children the best possible training and education, and her children had luckily taken to that training, eagerly trying to make something of themselves. Only one of them would be the next queen after all, and as things were going even that was in question. Was there a need for a separate queen for the Moon Elves after she was gone?
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. “Your majesty, your guests have arrived. They’re waiting in the conference room.” The sound of her most trusted aide came through the door.
“Thank you Merethyl, I will be there in a moment.” She replied. She took a last look at the image in the mirror and smiled. “I might not be as young as I used to be, but I still like what I see.” She mumbled to herself.
As she entered the conference room, she saw the gathered advisers of both herself and her guest. ’Speaking of my guest, now there’s someone who is still young.’ Amaranthae thought to herself as she looked at the Sun Elf queen.
“How nice that you decided to come, Queen Solana. I hope your trip wasn’t too hard.” She said in greeting.
“Hardly. The Nexus makes travel within the continent almost too simple. I actually miss the scenery a bit.” Queen Solana replied with a warm smile. The two of them had become rather close friends in the last ten years. Solana had been new and inexperienced when she took the throne, and Amaranthae had helped and advised her through the first difficult years.
The two exchanged some platitudes before they got to the gist of the meeting. “You invited me here, so it is only fair if you speak your mind first. How do you feel about the changes our empress is instituting and the way the three elven clans are coming together? I imagine the nobles here are just as reluctant to let go of the privileges they’ve grown accustomed to. In turn, they try to make your life difficult by forcing you into making a stand. That’s my experience at least.”
Amaranthae gave a small smile. She already knew Solana’s opinion on these matters, as Solana knew hers. The reason they were meeting in such an official way was to make their position and unity on the subject clear to their advisors. “I am glad it is happening. The unifying of our clans is more of a nice bonus in my opinion, welcome but not really my goal. However, what I find really important is the almost systematic dissolution of the noble class. The best I can say about them is that they are a nuisance, and at worst they are a plague on the society.”
The two monarchs could see several questions and arguments rising from among the advisors, but Solana pre-empted them with her own question. “But surely they are necessary for governing the provinces? And is it not a little hypocritical to judge them, seeing as we are monarchs ourselves? Most would consider us nobility as well. And nobility is a nice way to reward people for their meritorious actions.”
“There is merit in having people to handle the matters of the provinces, but there are ways of doing it that doesn’t include leeching off a large portion of the province’s wealth. Skipping the second part for a moment, you are correct that giving honorary titles as recognition and having capable people administer the provinces can be a good thing, but the mistake we made was to make those titles hereditary. The unfortunate fact is that most nobles aren’t assigned by merit, but instead inherit their position, which results in them being more interested in sucking up as much of the province’s wealth as they can get away with. Now, properly governing a province can be hard work and should carry some reward, but this has gone too far. The current nobility are leeches and parasites on the society instead of protectors and guides that they should be.” The disdain in Amaranthae’s voice had become clear towards the end, shocking some of the advisors, who for the most part were composed of nobles albeit the ones that actually got things done.
“You’re suggesting a sort of governor system, where they are hired for life or as long as they manage their duties adequately? And when they either die or lose their position, a new governor is selected instead of their children inheriting the position?” Solana asked with feigned curiosity in her voice. The whole charade had been planned ahead, but she still managed to make her eyes shine in wonder. Amaranthae had to admit the young queen’s gift for acting.
“Something akin to that. Though there would most likely be a need for a training of some sort arranged for the prospective candidates. One of the supposed advantages of inherited position is the ability to train the next generation for the position since birth. Most nobles actually don’t do that properly, but you learn by observing. Some people are born with the skill to lead, but even they need some instruction to avoid some of the less obvious pitfalls.” Amaranthae pretended to think out loud.
“Hmm, you really should suggest something like that to our divine empress. She might enjoy the idea. As for ourselves, I think much depends on how far the planned unification of the clans goes. I already feel something like a representative my clan instead of the ruler, so our own position might change as well." Solana said seemingly coming up with the thought on the spot.
“I agree. With most of our clans already living within the lands ruled exclusively by the empress, there’s little point in calling ourselves the rulers of our clans anymore. Although the situation with my clan is a little clearer with many of the empire’s resources still coming exclusively from our forests and mines, I imagine the trend will only continue in the future. And that is fine with me. The empress is doing an excellent job, so I’m happy to instead be a representative instead, trying to monitor the benefits of my people by advising the empress on matters that concern us.” Amaranthae herself wasn’t all that interested in whether the empress had divine origins or not. All that mattered was that she was governing as if she did.
“Perhaps we could form a sort of board of advisors to help the empress, which each of us representing the interests of our clans. The clans are probably not the only ones that should be represented. Maybe Yunalesca and the current head priestess?” Solana suggested.
“The head of academies in Nan Yanoi would also be a good option. Maybe Alduin Rhys? The old crow is still head of the Hunter’s guild. If the empress approves, she will most likely suggest Estelar and someone from the Order to represent the military matters.” Amaranthine suggested as well. Of course all of this had already been run by Neleh, and they knew exactly who would be on that board of advisers.
“We should probably talk more about this in private. Make some plans, so we can make a proper suggestion to the empress.” Solana said standing up, while Amaranthae did the same in agreement. During the whole conversation their advisors hadn’t managed to get in a single word of disagreement.
As the two of them exited the room, they giggled like schoolgirls. Their little show had gone exactly as planned. Now the two of them simply planned on spending some time together. Amaranthae’s aide Merethyl discreetly ignored the two holding hands as she followed them from behind. The two had often spent time ‘negotiating’ or ‘planning’ together in the last few years. All the closest servants knew about it, but Merethyl made damn sure none of them uttered a single word about it to anyone on the pain of death. It had been almost hundred years since Amaranthae’s husband died, and Merethyl would rather be damned than let anything spoil any happiness the queen had found now.
“Thanks for your hard work.” Delia said with a smile as she saw Elsaria come through the door and throw her scouting gear in the corner. It was early morning and Elsaria had been on mission the whole night and several days before that.
Elsaria simply grunted in reply to the amusement of the two people at the table. “Hard mission?” Nimue asked in curiosity, directing her question to Delia.
“Aren’t they always? Our dear Elsaria is also our little master scout, always sent on the most difficult missions. Not that she ever tells me anything about them, mind you. Usually goes straight for the bath, like just now.” Delia replied with a small smile, as she heard the door to the baths close. They were currently within their manor inside Nexus, so at least the baths were nice.
“Good. I’d be worried if she did blab about her missions. It’s not a secret if more than one person knows about it.” Nimue said satisfied.
“Well two if you count Neleh of course. Sister dearest usually reports straight to her. I would imagine Shiori might hear most of it too.” Delia pointed out.
“Yeah, I don’t think we have to be worried about those two blabbing. You on the other hand…” Nimue replied with an amused smirk and a raised eyebrow.
“Oh please. I talk once to Kanako and I have to hear snarks about it for the rest of my life.” Delia replied rather disgruntled, but couldn’t deny the charge either.
“Well you have to admit that you really bungled that one. What happened to Kanako anyway?” Nimue asked with some curiosity.
“And I learned from my mistake. I don’t even tell Aneirin about anything confidential anymore. She’s not too happy believe me. As for Kanako, Neleh finally sent her back home to be judged by the Eternal Empress. Said something about not being impartial enough to pass judgement, though that’s pure hogwash. Neleh is excellent at keeping her emotions out of her judgements. I don’t know what happened to her after, because I didn’t want to know. She was my friend. On one hand she betrayed us all, but on the other hand I don’t want to hear about something bad happening to my former friend.” Delia said a little sad.
“Fair enough, I suppose I wouldn’t’ want to know either. And you’re right to keep things secret from Aneirin. That is the most common way for secrets to get out. People talk to their spouse, and the word gets out that way. As for Neleh, I think you’re very mistaken. She is good at hiding it, but she is one of the most emotional people I’ve known. It just takes more to move her than most others, but when she does get going…you should see her when she deals with rapists for example. I’ve never felt as sorry for a criminal before. And I think it takes something out of her every time she has to suppress her feelings for the good of the rest of us.” Nimue said in a quiet voice.
Delia sighed. “I know. She makes it look easy, but I can see the pain her eyes sometimes. I just wish there was something I could do for her.”
“You’re already doing it. Just treat her normally. She’s mentioned several times how much of a relief it is that you and Elsaria still treat her normally.” Nimue smiled comfortingly, and sipped her tea. The two changed subjects and gossiped until Elsaria got out of the bath.
Elsaria had just helped to locate and eradicate one of the final pleasure cults in the elven continent and just wanted to get some rest for now. She walked to the kitchen dressed in nothing but skimpy underwear, hoping to hunt down something light to eat and drink before going to bed. Delia gave a small whistle. “You should dress like that more often. You might finally follow the example of your illustrious big sister and finally get married." After Delia and Aneirin had gotten married, Delia had started to drop less than subtle jibes at her other sisters.
As Elsaria only grunted in reply, Nimue could do nothing but laugh. “Oh you weren’t aware? Elsaria gets proposals by the dozens every day. I think every unmarried male noble and son of nobility has proposed to her in an attempt to keep a hold of their position by being related to Neleh.”
“And half of the women as well.” Elsaria said disgruntled, eliciting another laughter from Nimue.
“And you go around traipsing in the woods instead? Well, you never were much for romance. Just don’t’ end up like Selene please. I think the only person she would even consider is Neleh, and that she would consider to be her religious duty.” Delia was only half joking.
“Don’t worry; I consider it to be my duty to be the only sane person in this family. Not much time for romance between that and doing my job. And not like I’m interested in those slimeballs that only want to hold on to their wealth and position.” Elsaria said with a small grin.
“Hey I resent that! What makes you think you’re the only person who’s sane?” Delia asked half amused half serious.
“Well, you married Aneirin and that alone disqualifies you, not to mention your other quirks. I assume I don’t’ need to mention anything about Selene or Elluin, do I? And Neleh is Neleh, no other explanation required. She’s many things, most of them positive, but I think we can all agree that sanity is not one of her strong suits. Wicked smart, but definitely insane.” Elsaria said simply.
“Well how about mothe…oh, right. Huh, I guess you really are the only sane person in the family, though I would call that to question as well. You just hide it better than most.” Delia mumbled almost to herself.
“How is Asheara anyway? I haven’t seen her for months.” Nimue asked suddenly.
“Ok, I guess. She’s training with that group of monsters Neleh has gathered. I heard she’s been trying to get back in contact with Neleh again. I really hope they’d get along a little better.” Just as Elsaria was saying this, they all heard a sudden message, sounding a general call to arms, basically saying that the elves were marching for war.
“I guess that’s it for your rest.” Nimue mumbled apprehensive. She knew what was going on because she had been expecting it, though not yet.
“Screw that. Neleh can get a war started even without my help. I’m getting some rest so I can bail us all out with the real thing starts.” Elsaria countered, going to bed.
Asheara had tears in her eyes. Tears of both happiness and sadness. She was starting to remember! For the last three years, she had been secretly working with Elune, to get her memories back. The goddess wanted it to be a surprise to Neleh, a sort of reparation for what had happened with the bond. She only had part of her memories back, but every day the memories grew more. The only difference was that now her emotions were no longer colored by the bond, which was gone.
It was unlikely that Asheara and Neleh would return to the old relations between them, but if she managed to get all her memories back, then at least she could be Neleh’s mother again. Properly this time. She might be able to become the rock she had sworn to be, without becoming a liability. Assuming she did regain the rest of her memories. The path was now open and this was a start, but her memories were nowhere close to being complete. In time they would be. And then she could go to Neleh and really give her the hug she needed. They both needed.
Suddenly a wave ran through the special training grounds they were staying at. The signal had just come. The storm was here, and they would finally be able to act. There was a hunger in everyone’s eyes.