Before the Beginning
It was difficult for Calanthe to remember when exactly she had fallen out of love with her husband, and there were days when she grappled with the uncertainty that she never truly loved him in the first place.
Taking Roegner as her husband had been far from her first choice, but he was the only man that had excepted her hand. Rumors had raged since she was crowned regarding affairs that she had had with both men and women, all of which notably were false. And in turn, those rumors had convinced many a man to politely refuse her hand in marriage. Calanthe remembered her hands shaking as she opened the letter from Roegner that would contain his response to her marriage request but was already half convinced that he would refuse her, just as everyone else had.
Mind you, Calanthe was not marrying by choice. Cintran law forbade women from ruling on their own accord, and the only reason why Calanthe was currently the Queen Regent was due to her father passing away before she had been old enough to marry. Calanthe remembered when her father first began to try to explain the way of things to her. She did not take it well.
“One day, when you are old enough, you will wed a fine young man. A prince, or a duke perhaps. And when I am gone, that man will be made king.”
“Why can I not be king?”
“Because you are a girl, Calanthe.”
“Then what will I do, Papa?”
“Like your Mother, you will be his Queen and bear his children.”
“And what else?”
King Dagorad looked quite stunned by his young daughters’ question.
“Well what else is there, Calanthe?”
She walked silently with her father as he held her hand while they made their way through the gardens. She was only seven years old, but already understood that she had no interest in living out her life in accordance to other people.
King Dagorad must have noticed the change in Calanthe’s expression as she hung her head in silence, for he said, “It is the law, my child. Cintra is ruled by a king. That is the way of things.”
Calanthe scrunched up her nose as she continued to stare at the ground. She had no interest in the current way of things.
As Calanthe grew, she had a hard time understanding why her gender was a deciding factor in her ability to rule. She was just as clever, if not more so, than the boys that her tutor mentored before her. To prove her point, when Calanthe reached the age of nine, she decided that she would learn to fight with a sword like her father. By the time she was twelve, she could fight better than half of her father’s own soldiers. And yet still, despite her intellect and fighting ability, the law stayed as it was. Princess Calanthe was not fit to rule within her own right and her education was soon adjusted to prepare her on how she would support her future husband. Surprisingly, at her mother’s insistence, she was allowed to continue her training.
“I do not make the rules, Adalia. And I don’t like them any more than you do.”
Calanthe came to a halt at the sound of her father’s voice when she was just outside the door to her parents’ chambers.
“I know.” Her mother said softly. “But please do not take that away from her.”
King Dagorad sighed. “You know I want nothing but her happiness, but…”
“If you want her to be happy, then at least let her continue her training. She will go mad if she is forced to spend her days learning how to sew and talk of nothing but dresses and hairstyles.”
King Dagorad chuckled then. “That she will. Alright, fine. She can continue to train, but she must learn how to sew as well. It will be expected of her.”
A smile spread across Calanthe’s face as she listened from the hall. While she had no interest in sewing, she could at least continue to train.
When Calanthe set the letter down from Roegner, she was delighted, at least at first. As the date of the wedding drew closer, Calanthe began to develop cold feet. Perhaps she was not quite ready for marriage after all. The idea of handing the power she held over to her husband terrified her. What if Roegner was not fit to be a king? And what was more, she had not changed her mind from when she was a child and was therefore still convinced she was perfectly capable of ruling on her own.
After contemplating for days on the most practical way to get out of her engagement, Calanthe eventually settled on attempting to make herself look outright crazy. Sure, it would hurt her marriage prospects for now, but she could not do any more damage to her reputation than what was already done. The morning that Roegner arrived at the palace to meet Calanthe for the first time, she decided that she would simply sprint around the palace, screaming like mad. That would most definitely scare him back to Ebbing.
When Calanthe’s eyes fell upon Roegner, her plan was halted in its tracks. He was seven years older than Calanthe, tall, built like a soldier, and was quite handsome with his long dark hair, warm brown eyes and soft smile.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, your Majesty.” Roegner said when he was introduced to her. He had dropped to his knee, and in a flash pulled a small box from inside his travel cloak, which he opened to present to her. “A gift for my future bride. I hope you’ll accept it.”
Calanthe was spellbound. His smile was hypnotizing, and something about him made her body feel as though she were tingling. When she tried to speak and thank him for the necklace, which she did truly think was beautiful, she found that her words caught in her throat.
“Tales of your beauty are whispered across the Continent, your Majesty. And I must say, the beauty you possess far surpasses them.”
That was when Calanthe was sure she fell in love with Roegner.
The night of their wedding was celebrated across Cintra with a feast that was the most elaborate anyone could recall from recent memory. Dances were held, gifts were received, and many a beer was drunk.
When Roegner took her to bed that night, Calanthe found herself not sure if she were more nervous or excited.
Calanthe’s education in regard to matters of the bedchamber had never occurred. When she lost her father, Calanthe ascended to the throne immediately, and any remnants of her education had been pushed to the wayside. That left her handmaidens to warn her that she may feel pain, but that her night would be filled with pleasure as well.
“Have you kissed him yet, your Majesty?” One of her handmaidens, Marina, asked as she began to unpin Calanthe’s hair.
“No.” Calanthe said softly as she hung her head for a moment. “We have not even been left alone yet.”
“Well don’t worry, there will be plenty of that going on in no time.”
Calanthe took a moment to stare at her hands in her lap before she quietly asked, “What is it like, Marina?”
“What is what like, your Majesty?”
Marina, who was several years older than Calanthe and married to a Cintran knight, glanced in the mirror then when Calanthe raised her brow and said, “You know…”
“Ahh. Well, it will hurt, but only at first. Hopefully he is gentle with you. If he is, that will help.”
Calanthe nodded her head as she gulped. She did not know it would hurt, and suddenly became even more nervous than she already was.
Marina must have noticed the sudden fear in Calanthe’s eyes. “Do not fear, your Majesty. I promise that it is not that bad, and before you know it, it will start to feel good. And just think, before you even start, there will be kissing, and sparks will fly.”
“Yes, sparks. I remember the first time I kissed my husband. It felt as if the whole world had stopped for a moment. My body felt as though it were on fire, and I could see sparks in front of my eyes. Neither one of us possess magical abilities, but in that moment, it was as if we did. It was magic, pure magic.”
“That does sound wonderful.”
“It was. They say that is what happens when you kiss your soulmate.”
“Soulmate?” Calanthe asked, unsure as to what Marina was talking about. She had never heard of a soulmate before.
“Your soulmate is the one person you are meant to be with. The problem is, destiny does not always manage to bring soulmates together. It is said that most people live their entire lives without finding the one person that is meant just for them.”
Calanthe frowned slightly as she stared down at her lap again. What if Roegner was the wrong choice?
“Do the sparks still happen when you kiss him now?”
Marina smiled warmly before saying, “Yes, every time.”
When Roegner kissed Calanthe for the first time when they were finally alone, Calanthe waited on bated breath for the sparks to start. Sure, she had not married Roegner with the hopes of finding her soulmate, but maybe he would be hers after all.
No sparks flew, however. Sure, there was plenty of lust between them, and just as Marina had said, the pain did not last long. When it was over and they both rolled to their sides and faced away from each other to sleep. Calanthe laid awake however, wondering who on the Continent her soulmate was.
The sun was hot on Eist’s face as he skillfully sailed his drakkar through one of Skellige’s narrowest fjords. The path he was sailing on his return to Kaer Trolde was not recommended due to the danger it possessed, but it was the fastest, and danger had never dissuaded Eist before.
Eist had been away from Kaer Trolde for over a month now and had been in search of a kraken, but to his dismay, had been unable to find one. He had kept a list in his journal of sea creatures he wished to encounter, and a kraken had been at the top of it since he was a little boy.
Before Eist had left on his most recent journey, his brother Bran had just been declared King of the Skelligan Isles. Now as Eist sailed in the harbor at Kaer Trolde and stared up at the castle that loomed before him, he wondered just what his brother was doing.
It did not take long for Eist to find Bran in the training yard, sparring with what appeared to be several inexperienced sailors.
“Just because you are sailors, does not need that you will not go into battle.” Bran said as he swung his sword, only to quickly pull back on his strike before plunging it through the young man before him.
After a moment, Eist cleared his throat as he ran his hand through his dark hair to push it out of his eyes.
Bran turned towards him then and smiled. “About time you came back, little brother. I was beginning to think you had lost your way.” Bran turned back towards his trainees then. “Alright lads, that’s enough for one day.”
“So, what did I miss?” Eist asked as he and Bran began to make their way back inside of the castle.
“Not much. We had trouble with a few drowners on Hindarsfjall a few weeks back, but that is about it.” Bran said as a pile of letters was handed through him from a courier just as they stepped foot inside the castle.
The pair made their way towards their separate chambers as Bran flipped through the letters in his hand.
“Here, open this one, will you?” Bran asked.
Eist glanced over and took the letter from his brother while simultaneously pulling out his dagger in a flash.
“You’ve gotten better at that. You are becoming quite handy with a blade.”
Eist chuckled as he flipped the letter over to see it sealed with navy wax and a lion embedded into it.
“This is from the Kingdom of Cintra.” Eist said aloud as he quickly popped the wax seal with his dagger.
“What does it say?” Bran asked as they reached the end of the hall.
“Apparently Queen Calanthe has wed Roegner of Ebbing.”
“Who is that?”
“I have no idea.” Eist said. “I’ve never heard of him.”
From there they parted, and each headed towards their chambers. When Eist entered his own, he stretched just before he walked towards the fire and tossed the letter into it. There was no need to keep it. The letter had no doubt been duplicated and sent out to every city and castle across the continent to announce the marriage of some queen that he would never meet.
It took two years for Calanthe and Roegner to conceive a child. Calanthe had all but given up hope and nearly made herself sick over it. It had been drilled into her from a very young age that she must produce an heir and was terrified at what would happen to her if she could not. That was when the nausea and vomiting began to start on a regular basis. When her physician confirmed her pregnancy, Calanthe waited until she was alone to cry over the sheer joy of it. When Pavetta was born, both Calanthe and Roegner were thrilled, but she could see the look in Roegner’s eyes that he had so desperately tried to hide.
He wanted a son. And to make matters worse, so did Calanthe.
Pavetta began to fuss then in Calanthe’s arms, and in turn Calanthe pressed her closer against her chest to comfort her as she pressed soft kisses to her brow. A son would come later, but for now, Calanthe was intent on enjoying being with her baby daughter.
Their first time in an attempt to make a child after Pavetta only reinforced what Calanthe had suspected. She did not love Roegner. He was kind to her, treated her well, and loved their daughter dearly. In turn, Calanthe was kind to him as well, in her own way at least. He had learned to stay out of her way in court, and it was well known that despite Roegner’s title, it was Calanthe who ruled. There was no love though, and the lust that they had had for each other in the beginning was starting to fade.
Two miscarriages came after Pavetta, and Calanthe was not sure if she had ever experienced such equally physical pain and mental anguish in all her life. The first had happened early on, barely two months in. The second happened when her stomach had already begun to swell, and her physician had to be summoned to ensure that Calanthe survived the ordeal.
After the second miscarriage, Calanthe was not able to conceive again. To make matters worse, that was when she felt herself begin to drift further away from Roegner. Soon they stopped sharing a bed, and when he would occasionally slip into her bedchamber at night, Calanthe was reminded that there was never any love between them at all. The spark that she had been told of had never come.
Now with Pavetta nearing eight years old, she began to see that she was living her entire life as she had feared and in accordance to others wishes. Calanthe looked down then at the sewing needles she held in her hand.
“This is ridiculous. I hate sewing.” Calanthe said to herself as she set them on the table in front of her.
The only thing that prevented Calanthe from flinging them into the fire was that they had belonged to her mother. Instead, Calanthe took a moment to find a small metal container to carefully store them in before placing it on a shelf in her bedchamber. Afterward, she changed from the dress she was wearing and into clothing more suitable for practicing her swordsmanship.
When the plague began to ravage the Continent, Calanthe and Roegner were certain that it would not come to Cintra. The borders were closed and anyone living outside the city were no longer permitted to enter. The palace went on an even stricter lockdown, with the servants and nobleman being forced to stay inside the place walls.
The plague did come though, and when it left, it took Roegner with it.
Calanthe was there when he passed, and almost wished she hadn’t been. Despite how distant she felt to him now, she did care for him, and he was the father of her only child. As Roegner lay dying, coughing so badly that he could barely speak, Calanthe found herself shaking.
Years ago, before Calanthe had discovered that she was carrying Pavetta, Roegner had fallen into a ravine while on a hunting trip. He had nearly died but had been apparently saved by a man called Duny. According to Roegner, Duny invoked the Law of Surprise as payment for saving his life. Roegner had thought nothing of it, that was until he arrived home to Calanthe, who had been anxiously waiting to inform him that she discovered that very morning she was with child.
“What are you saying?” Calanthe whispered in an attempt to quell the rage in her voice.
“I am saying that our daughter is a Child of Surprise. And one day, she will be claimed.”
For a moment, Calanthe lost focus as her vision blurred. Tears stung her eyes at the thought of some man arriving to Cintra to claim Pavetta as if she were his property. Calanthe would not allow that to happen. No one would take her daughter from her.
“How could you?”
“I did not know.” Roegner pleaded just before he began to cough again. “Please, you must understand. I did not know that the surprise would be our Pavetta.”
Calanthe pursed her lips together in an attempt not to scream. She nodded quickly then, breaking her eye contact with Roegner. Despite wanting to march to the training yard and hack a dozen targets in half, she stayed and held his hand till he passed, but never met his eyes again.
Pavetta was twelve years old when her father died. Calanthe found herself in tears as she attempted to explain to Pavetta, who had not yet had to confront death, that she would not see her father again.
“Papa is gone?” Pavetta asked, her voice shaking as tears fell down her cheeks.
“No, my sweet child. He won’t.”
Calanthe opened her eyes wide in an attempt to stop her own tears when Pavetta flung her arms around Calanthe and clutched at her waist.
“You won’t go away too, will you Mama?”
Calanthe’s tears fell as she dropped to her knees and held Pavetta close. That night, and many nights after that, Calanthe clutched Pavetta in her arms while she slept. It was the only way to keep her nightmares at bay.
To Calanthe’s dismay, Pavetta was quickly growing into a gentle girl with a love for music, dance, and art. Calanthe tried repeatedly to all but shove a sword into Pavetta’s hand, but she would not have it. Instead of being found in the training yard as Calanthe was as a child, Pavetta could be found with the court musicians dancing away, or in the library, reading as many books as she could consume at once.
The one interest that they did share was horses. They both loved to ride and when Calanthe realized this, she took full advantage at finally having a shared interest with her daughter.
“Come.” Calanthe said one day after a long, stressful morning in court. She had eaten her midday meal with Pavetta and found herself wanting to do nothing more than take her white stallion down to the beach. “Do you want to go for a horseback ride?”
Pavetta’s smile always warmed Calanthe to her soul and this time was no different.
“Yes Mama!” Pavetta said excitedly as she stood from her chair and took Calanthe’s hand.
The stable boys were quick with readying Calanthe’s stallion and Pavetta’s pony. When they rode out Calanthe chose the path that led to the sea.
As they approached their destination, Calanthe took in a deep breath, letting the scent of salt fill her lungs. There was something about the smell of the sea and the sounds it made that she loved. In many ways it relaxed and comforted her, but she did not understand why. The few times that Calanthe had attempted to set sail, she became violently seasick, resulting in her quickly returning to shore. There was something about the smell of the salt though. Despite being born in a palace, the smell of the sea air made her feel at home.
Calanthe allowed her head to fall back as she closed her eyes and took another deep breath.
“Are you alright, Mama?” Pavetta asked.
Calanthe hummed, still not yet opening her eyes. “It’s so relaxing here.”
For a moment they sat atop their horses in silence until Calanthe opened her eyes and glanced over at Pavetta.
“Do you want to walk on the sand?” Calanthe asked as Pavetta turned to her and smiled while she nodded earnestly.
After tying the horses to a nearby tree, Calanthe and Pavetta preceded to hold up their skirts and sprint through the waves. While Calanthe admittedly was pleased to be ruling on her own now that Roegner had passed, it brought along its own stresses with it. Times like these were rare and treasured dearly by her.
Calanthe moaned softly as she stirred in her sleep.
Calanthe’s eyes snapped open as she sat up to see Pavetta standing at the edge of her bed, her eyes wide with fear. Her blond hair had all but completely come out of its braid, causing her curls to look wild as they stuck out all over the place.
“What is it?” Calanthe asked as she quickly lit the candle on her bedside table.
“Something is wrong.” Pavetta said quietly. “I am bleeding.”
“Did you cut yourself?” Calanthe asked as she swung her feet over the edge of the bed.
“No.” Pavetta said softly as she shook her head.
“Where are you bleeding from?” Calanthe asked as she blinked a few times in an attempt to wake herself further.
When Calanthe glanced back at Pavetta she could see she had gone paler than usual. When Pavetta pointed to where she was bleeding from, Calanthe froze.
“I’m scared, Mama.” Pavetta said as her eyes filled with tears. “Am I dying?”
“No, no, no.” Calanthe whispered as she snapped herself back to reality and pulled Pavetta into her arms.
Explaining to Pavetta what the bleeding meant was easy but finishing the conversation with how a woman comes to bear a child was not. While Calanthe spoke though, she could not get out of her head as to what this meant. If Pavetta was bleeding, she could bear a child. And if she could bear a child, she could be married. When Pavetta had been young, Calanthe herself had arranged for several different engagements for who would wed Pavetta, all which offered Cintra different alliances. However, all of those engagements had already been broken by Calanthe herself. In the end she was not able to bring herself to commit her daughter to a man she did not choose, no matter what advantages doing so could bring to Cintra.
“I don’t think I want to bear a child.” Pavetta said as she scrunched up her face, causing Calanthe to laugh, but her face quickly became serious again.
“Pavetta, did you bleed on your bedding?”
“I think so.”
Calanthe sighed as she took Pavetta’s hand in hers. When they entered Pavetta’s chambers, Calanthe pulled back the blanket on her bed to see the small stain of blood there but was relieved that as she pulled back the sheet, it had not stained the bed.
“Change into another nightgown.” Calanthe said as she stripped the sheet off of Pavetta’s bed and tossed it into the fire.
“What are you doing?” Pavetta asked, startled while she slipped her nightgown off and handed it to her mother, who promptly added it to the fire.
“Pavetta, no one can know of this. Do you understand? You cannot tell anyone that you have begun to bleed.” Calanthe whispered urgently.
“But you said its nothing to be ashamed of.”
“It is not, my sweet child. But if anyone learns of this, things could move very quickly.”
“What does that mean?” Pavetta asked as she slipped on a fresh nightgown.
“It means that a husband could be chosen for you to wed.”
Pavetta’s eyes went wide with fear. “Mama, I don’t want to get married.”
“I know. I know.” Calanthe said softly as she pulled Pavetta into her arms. “Everything will be fine. I won’t let anyone take you from me. Just do not speak of it unless it is to me and me alone, okay?”
“Okay.” Pavetta said softly as she held her hand to her stomach. “Is it always this painful.”
“Usually.” Calanthe sympathized while she pulled an extra blanket from a shelf and laid it on the bed. “Sleep on this. It will keep it off the mattress.”
Pavetta yawned then as she climbed into bed while Calanthe tucked her in. When Pavetta winced as she tried to make herself comfortable, Calanthe gently rested her hand on Pavetta’s stomach and rubbed softly until she fell back asleep.
Calanthe swallowed hard as she made her way back to her own bedchamber. Rumors spread quickly in court, and it would only take a linen servant to see blood on Pavetta’s sheets or nightgown before the whole palace would be aware that Pavetta was, according to Cintran law, of the age to be married. Calanthe had been warned years ago, if she did not take a new husband, then when her daughter was of age, she would. And whichever man was chosen would be the new King of Cintra.
Calanthe had no intentions on marrying again. If she had learned anything through her marriage to Roegner, it was two things. First, while she had cared for him, she had never been in love with him. Second, she did not need a man by her side to rule, and in fact, she did much better when she had no one by her side at all.
“Care to head upstairs?” Eist asked as he stumbled towards the fire-haired woman.
“Of course, but are you sure you’ll be able to perform?” The woman asked as she slinked her arms around Eist’s neck. “You are barely able to walk.”
Eist chuckled as he downed his beer, loosing track of how much he had had to drink.
“Don’t you worry about that. I am filled with vigor.”
“Alright sea hound, prove it.”
When they finished, Eist laid on his side to face away from her. He could feel the woman, whose name he could not remember, roll to her side as well and soon the room was filled with her soft snores as she slept. Eist sighed happily to himself, pleased with his conquest. Long ago he had lost count of just how many women he had been with. Women found him irresistible wherever his ship took him, and when they approached him, he was more than happy to give them what they desired.
Eist frowned then as he sighed. He was thirty years old and all around him his fellow Skelligan's were settling down, including his brother. Each of them described a connection, a feeling when they were with their wives and husbands, a feeling that was unmistakable: love. Bran described it even as something like a spark. With each woman he spoke to and bedded, Eist waited for the feeling to start and for the spark to ignite. It never did.
Now Eist was beginning to suspect that he was not capable of loving a woman or feeling that love in return. Sure, he had loved his parents and loved his brother and sister, but the kind of love that Eist believed he was incapable of was something more. Surely there was something wrong with him if he had not felt it by now.
“You’ll find the right woman, I promise.” Bran would say.
While Eist appreciated his optimism, as time went by, he believed him less and less.
“Well, that was fun.” The woman said when she woke the next morning to find Eist already awake beside her. “You were certainly full of vigor as you had promised.”
Eist chuckled but did not respond. He was exhausted from lack of sleep, and he had woken from the little sleep he did get with a heavy feeling in his heart. Even with the fire-haired woman laying just beside him, he still felt lonely.
“So, you’ll be off to more faraway lands again I suppose?”
“Yes.” Eist said as he glanced up at the open window. “I’ve been on the mainland for a while now, and I must return to Skellige soon.”
With that Eist stood and began to pull his linen pants and shirt on.
“Oh, how I wish I lived your life,” The woman said. “To sail the open seas whenever I wished. You must feel so free.”
“I suppose that’s true.”
“Do you wish for some company on your journey home?”
Eist turned then to look at the woman. She was beautiful, that was for sure. But when Eist looked at her though, looking for something more, there was nothing left but her beauty. Eist did not wish to share a conversation with her or learn about her, and when he looked at her, he felt nothing.
“Something must be wrong with me.” Eist thought to himself. “This woman is beautiful and seems kind enough, and yet I am not interested past sleeping with her.”
“Thank you for the kind offer, but I am afraid I must decline.” Eist said as he looked away to find his leather vest. “But thank you for last night.”
When Eist stepped foot on his ship, his spirits lifted instantly. It never ceased to amaze him how the sea calmed him. Living on a ship the majority of the time was lonely, but relaxing and calming at the same time. Eist was beginning to suspect that he was only ever meant to love the sea and nothing more.
“You know, as Jarl, you really should not disappear for months on end.” Bran said as Eist made his way back inside.
“Ahh.” Eist said, waving him off. “I did not disappear. I was in a marked ship off the Nilfgaardian coast. You could have found me if you needed too.”
“Ha!” Bran scoffed. “Well I am afraid you can only stay in Kaer Trolde for one night.”
“Why is that?” Eist asked as he picked up an apple out of a nearby bowl and took a bite out of it.
“There are some bandits that need taken care of. They are intercepting our supply ships from the North and have sunk several of them in the process.”
Eist nodded as he took another bite. Another journey that would no doubt keep him away from home for a month on end. At least it was a distraction though, anything to keep his mind off of something more that was surely never to come.