A Queen in Hiding – Sarah Kozloff

“Have you noticed anything different or unusual about the princella since our last conference?” asked Chronicler Sewel. “Not really,” Queen Cressa had to admit with a sidelong glance at her daughter, who was perched —with a sullen mouth—on the chair beside her in the chronicler’s private office. His desk, bookshelves, and stiff-backed chairs made the modest room cramped, or perhaps the queen’s physical discomfort arose from the subject at hand. This was the fourth time she had brought Princella Cerúlia for her Definition, and again the visit boded to be a failure. “She hasn’t shown extraordinary perception or navigational ability or skill at archery?” “No,” Cerúlia spoke for herself. “I haven’t.” Sewel nodded. His quill scratched against a piece of paper, his hand shielding his words. “Princella, do you know what I’ve written?” “Now, how could I know that?” she answered, the front of her shoe just reaching the floor, which allowed her to scuff her toes. “How would we recognize, Sewel, if she manifested as a puppeteer?” asked the queen. “That’s easy enough. Princella, use your mind to make me clap my hands.” Sewel’s hands didn’t move. Cerúlia made a sound of disgust. “What about a far-viewer?” Queen Cressa suggested.

“Cerúlia, can you see your father?” “Mamma, I would have told you if I could.” Although she didn’t move her feet, her mother heard the tiny snort through her nose and saw the way her upper lashes slammed against her lower. “Indeed,” said Sewel, rubbing his sparse goatee. “I imagine that you’ve become acutely aware of past queens’ Talents.” “Grand-mamma was Defined at four summers, and Mamma at six, and here I am at eight, and I can’t do anything.” “I highly doubt, my princella, that after having endowed all the queens of Weirandale with a special Talent, Nargis would abruptly discontinue the practice with you.” Sewel gestured toward the indicia of Nargis in the room: a waist-high, white marble column that broadened at the top into a bowl shape. Water continually overflowed the bowl, falling into a ribbonlike trough that circled back down around the base. “We must just not have recognized your ability.” Cressa found Sewel’s surety comforting.

“We keep expecting that you will be an Enchanter like me,” she said. “We may be overlooking something obvious or something rare.” “Mamma, can’t you use your Enchanter’s Talent to figure it out?” Cerúlia asked. Her face looked drawn in the pale light of a winter morning. “I wish I could. My own Talent is so limited.” “If you’d read more in The Queens’ Chronicles, Your Majesty, you would realize that all Talents grow over time. They typically start quite narrow, and then as the queen matures and faces challenges, she discovers that her Talent spreads into adjacent areas. Nargis does not want to overwhelm her queens with Powers they are not yet ready to wield.” Sewel’s gaze grew distant and he rubbed his chin again.

“Though no Talent is limitless. Each queen inevitably discovers blockages and exclusions. I’ve often wondered if Nargis places these there with some kind of design.…” “Yes, yes. I know I must make the time to look at the books on other Enchanters,” the queen acknowledged with a touch of frustration. “At any rate, I take it we can make no further progress today toward Defining the princella?” “Princella,” Sewel addressed her directly and leaned forward, “is there anything you can do that other people can’t?” “Last time I told you I like to make up stories—but lots of people can do that. And nothing happens when I tell tales; I mean, the giants don’t become real or anything like that.” Sewel nodded. “She’s got a good ear for music,” said Cressa. “But, we discussed this last year and I’ve paid close attention ever since; music may be a comfort in her life, but not a magical Talent.

” “I can talk to my horse?” Cerúlia offered hesitantly. Sewel leaned back, his head—because he was so slight of stature—not even reaching the top of the chair back. A smile reached his gray eyes. “Ah, that childish fancy.” “It’s not a ‘childish fancy,’” said Cerúlia, with an extra swing of her foot. “Oh, I didn’t mean on the part of Your Highness; I was referring to my own fancy, when I was young, that I could talk to my pony.” Sewel’s neat-featured face lost its habitual shrewd expression. “I used to whisper in his ears by the hour and imagine he understood me. I think such a belief is quite common among children.” “And he talks back to me,” Cerúlia said.

“Out loud?” asked the chronicler, sitting up straighter. “No. In my head.” “Does he speak the Common Tongue?” “No, not really,” her daughter faltered a little. “He just … well, thinks at me.” “Hm-mm,” Sewel shook his head. “My pony conveyed that he wanted a treat, or he wanted his neck scratched. Animals are remarkably good at communicating their desires nonverbally, aren’t they?” The royal chronicler brightened. “But this may show that you are on the way toward developing a branch of Intuition—which is a subset of Enchantment. Your Majesties, I’d suggest you stay alert for any more definitive manifestation.

In the meantime, I will do a little research.” He waved his hand at the arched doorway behind his desk that led from his office into the Royal Library. “Very well, Sewel.” Cressa rose, Cerúlia followed suit, and Sewel jumped to his feet. “Cerúlia, run along to your lesson chamber—Tutor Ryton will be waiting.” Once her daughter had left them alone, the queen, standing with her hands on her chair back, addressed her chronicler. “Sewel, tell me, should I be worried? Has this ever happened before?” “We must have faith. The Waters flow on the path they choose,” he replied. However, under her continued intense gaze, he withered. “Ah, no.

Not to my knowledge. Usually a princella’s Talent is marked by five, or six at the latest.” “And after the chronicler Defines her,” said Cressa, “he hoists the Queen’s Flag, so that everyone knows that Nargis has again blessed the line with some extraordinary power as a mark of the Spirit’s favor. That the whole palace marks us visiting you and yet the flag is never raised—this is becoming hard for Cerúlia.” She meant to excuse her daughter’s pouts; she didn’t add that the uncertainty also undercut her own rule; Sewel would understand this. Sewel made a helpless, baffled shrug. “As you said, Your Majesty, we must be overlooking something obvious or something rare. Nargis grants the Talents, but it is up to us to recognize them, and then it is up to you royals to learn how to wield them.

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