The Duty of a Queen
For Astrid of the
Grey Stones, her island was her world. The only child of King Iain, she was his
heir, and as such was trained in the arts of combat, diplomacy and strategy,
all of which she was told she would need to protect her people. What none had
foreseen was that it would require far more than those three to save the People
of the Grey Stones.
With her sunset-orange curls and smoky gray eyes, Astrid was the
very image of her beloved mother, the queen who they said had been born of fire
and ash. The princess was as wise, kind and strong as she was beautiful and
many men wished to win her hand, though only one had ever held her favor.
Astrid had always believed that he would be the one she chose to be at her side
forever, and if things had remained the same, perhaps he would have been. But,
in the summer of her nineteenth year, the invaders came.
The People fought with all they had, the war raging through the heat
of the summer and into the cold of winter. No family was left untouched. When
the king was injured on the eastern shore a year after the war first began,
Astrid intervened. As the first day of summer dawned, the princess approached
the invaders with terms of surrender. The day of her birth would be the end of
And so it would be a marriage between the conquering prince and the
heir of the People of the Grey Stones. She saw him that day, on the battlefield
as he accepted the alliance. He was close to her age, maybe a few years older,
and handsome, she supposed. He was tall, even more so than Astrid's lover who
was the tallest of their people. With blue-black hair and eyes the blue of the
field flowers, Prince Oliver's coloring was not like that of her Jonas who had
eyes as black as coal and hair the color of wheat. The prince was, she had
heard, an honorable and decent man, one whose company she would likely enjoy.
Had it not been for Jonas, Astrid might have had a greater appreciation for the
match. As it was, she did not balk at her duty. She could not place her heart
above the good of her people.
Jonas opened the door to his home before she even knocked. He had
been waiting for her to return from the meeting. The wedding was to be at
sundown the next night. The arrangements had been set into motion immediately
after the alliance had been struck. Delays could be seen as an attempt to waver
commitment. It could also allow the other side to change their mind. Astrid
knew she could not allow that to happen. At first light, the preparations would
begin and she would travel from the village to the shore where the ceremony
would be conducted in the sight of her people and his, making the Isle of the
Grey Stones a part of his empire.
The weight of her sacrifice was heavy upon her as she stepped past
Jonas without a word. She had spent many days and nights in this place, but she
found herself looking around with new eyes. The main room looked the same as it
always had. A roughly carved table and matching chairs in front of a low
burning fire. The summer night was warm, but damp enough to need the flames. A
bench that Jonas's father had made sat off to one side and a rug made of the
pelt of a bear covered part of the wooden floor. She knew that there were two
rooms off of this one, one where Jonas's parents had slept until the sleeping
sickness had taken them both four summers ago. The other room was where Jonas
and his five brothers and three sisters had grown up. The ones who had survived
into adulthood had their own homes.
“It is done?” Jonas broke the silence with a flat question.
“It is.” Astrid turned to face him. He had known, of course, what
she had intended to do.
She had always thought of herself as a strong woman. She had not
cried when her mother and baby brother had died fourteen winters ago. She had
not shed a single tear when she had received her ma'sgi , the marks
showing the start of her training, or the more elaborate and painful ka'sgi when she had