You can die of boredom in Nova. This was something Elodie discovered to her detriment on a rather overcast day in October. In a world where poison is hidden in every tasty treat, pitchfork-bearing mobs roam the land, and fear rules supreme, one would surmise that boredom wouldn’t be a problem. That would probably be the case if lessons in Court Manners didn’t exist.
The thing about Court Manners is that you have to learn to behave, and while misbehaving can be outrageously fun, simply behaving is not that exciting. There is nothing particularly riveting about learning how to properly carve a piece of meat. Especially if you have to repeat it, say, 500 times.
People have been studying court manners for eons, and they have written lengthy tomes about suitable hairstyles, general gallantry and genuflection. All of the material has to be studied, important passages have to be underlined and the parts favored by the tutor have to be memorized and read out loud.
When you read a lot of boring text over and over again you tend to get sleepy, especially if your composure is under 50. Elodie had been studying Court Manners all week in a valiant effort to escape public shame and stay alive a little longer. When Friday rolled around she simply couldn’t take it anymore. Her eyelids grew heavier and heavier as she tried desperately to recall how to rebuff an inappropriate marriage proposal politely. Her head fell down on the desk and stayed there.
No matter how hard the Professor of Court Studies tried to shake her she didn’t wake up. Elodie was simply not having any of it anymore.
Slice of Death
There are a lot of feminine virtues befitting a queen, like elegance, manners, flattery and the ability to not slap guys like Banion in the face. Then there is cooking, the most feminine virtue of them all, according to some. It might not be something that is necessary for a queen to know, but some advisors had whispered quietly in Elodie’s ear that cooking might be soothing and distracting for the depressed mind.
One day after a particularly grueling lesson in accounting, Elodie made her way into the giant royal kitchen. It didn’t look particularly inviting. A huge stone oven beamed evilly in Elodie’s direction. There were a lot of appliances - perhaps 'implements' might have been a more appropriate term - that looked sharp and pointy and dangerous. But Elodie was determined to not let the ever-present fear of death rule her life. She was going to make pie.
And pie she made. A huge pie filled with elderberries, macadamia nuts, star anise, keythong and butter. It smelled delicious when she cut it open and she pondered if she would dare to offer the Earl of Lo a bite as a small peace offering.
The pie wasn’t as tasty as she expected it to be, but Elodie still wolfed the whole slice down. The room started to spin a little and she felt slightly nauseous. She dropped the fork and fell into the darkness.
Apparently food made of keythong is very poisonous. Who knew?
A Song of Light and Fire
It wasn’t like Elodie wanted to set the library on fire.
It just happened.
She probably shouldn’t have been playing with the matches. And she definitely should not have brought in the teddy bear. And dousing everything in gasoline out of uncontrollable anger was really not the best idea she’d ever had. She cursed all those times she chose to play sports. She should have attended a service in the chapel instead.
But then again, she would probably have set the chapel on fire as well.
Everything was going to be different this time. Elodie was not going to succumb to something pointy, or poisonous or humiliating. Finally, she would triumph over all, obliterate everything in her way and impress everyone with her dignified demeanor. It was time to claim her rightful place on the throne.
This time, she had a new strategy. A secret weapon of sorts. She was going to learn the most important skill of them all. She was going to study Falconry.
Falconry was clearly the answer to all her problems.
“Beware of the magnificent powers of birds, Ixion soldiers,” she roared as she entered the courtyard with two small bags of bird seeds in her hands. The falcons were not impressed. In fact, they ignored her completely.
“I think falcons are more apt to go for smaller birds or other animals, Your Highness”, her tutor gently proposed.
Elodie, who had learned to prepare for all eventualities by now, deftly procured two small rodents from the pockets of her boarding school uniform. The falcons suddenly became very interested.
Two large birds descended on her outstretched hands and started pecking at the animal corpses. More falcons happily gathered round her, eager for a tasty slice of dead rat. Elodie felt jubilant; it looked like she was finally able to learn Falconry and subsequently rule the world.
Alas, the birds were very hungry and they were soon craving more than simple rodent. They now longed for tasty regent-to-be and they were very determined to still their hunger.
The tutor fled.
Elodie was now alone with 200 starving birds of prey.
The falcons would remember that splendid feast for years to come.
Suitors are very important. Or so they say. Elodie had no interest what so ever in the never ending throng of suitors and courtships and wooing and presents and looming engagements. She had a vested interest in the future of her country, however, so she had to pretend.
One of the most reliable ways of acquiring suitors was to learn to dance. Boys like girls who dance, especially if they are also able to steer and save their partners the trouble. Unfortunately, Elodie was born with two left feet, so she had to put a lot of effort into her dancing skills.
There was a giant ballroom in the castle. Elodie liked to go there, because the ballroom had lots of pretty tiles. Tiles made Elodie cheerful and in a perfect mood for dancing.
She would often practice dancing by herself, which was preferable to dancing with a partner since she didn’t have to deal with any suitors that way. She fetched the court musicians, told the harpists to turn it up a notch and twirled around for a while.
The cheerful ballroom visits ended rather abruptly, however. Elodie was doing her usual thing at the dance-floor – a little shake here and a little twist there - when something happened. She couldn’t pinpoint what it was at first. The music sounded more and more inviting and it was as if her feet moved on their own. She didn’t want to stop moving.
No, it was more like she couldn’t stop moving.
The musicians looked on in horror. The last outbreak of dancing mania had resulted in them not being able to take a break for a week, and that was more lute-strumming than most of them could handle.
“The Crown Princess has fallen ill,” a kind flutist yelled out. “We must call for a Court Physician at once.”
Elodie wasn’t having any of it. She hadn’t had so much fun in weeks. She even got to tango with herself, which was a tremendous improvement over the usual dreary lessons in flexibility.
“The Crown Princess will stab you in the eye with a pointy, sequined shoe, if you don’t let her dance in peace," she said and that was that. Nobody dared to intervene with a girl who was known for her prowess in polearms.
She danced for three days.
In the end she collapsed in a heap on the floor. A kind servant carried her dying body out to the main hall. Her toes were still moving slightly.
There was also that time Elodie didn’t die. She thought that she would, but in the end she didn’t.
They were standing in the outskirts of the Old Forest, huddled together for warmth and for comfort. Elodie clumsily stroked Biony’s green hair in an effort to calm her down. Briony cried. Large, ugly tears streamed down her cheeks and her pretty little dress was ripped to shreds. Regardless, Elodie thought that she was very cute.
They were standing so close that she could sense Briony’s soft breath. Elodie knew that they probably should hurry home or else there would be repercussions, but she didn’t want to. She wanted to stand close to her, with their bodies pressed together and Briony’s warm exhalation close to her face.
And then Briony kissed her.
Elodie really thought she was going to die. She knew that feeling because she had felt it many times before - in other lives and under other circumstances. It was a feeling of blankness. Her mind was empty, but all of her emotions whirled around like a storm. But this time was different. Her emotions had nothing to do with terror or a relentless, impending sense of doom. This time she was overcome by a powerful sense of happiness.
And while there are many things you can die from in Nova, happiness is not one of them.