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A Woman's Trial, A Man's Trick
“You don’t believe me, do you?” I couldn’t stop the words from tumbling out. “You want proof that my people are worthy, don’t you? You want to know where my loyalty lies--is that it?” My words take me back through the years, to where there was peace and the crops were healthy. Norsemen stayed away from our shores and the stars foretold good fortune. Then the plague came, decimating my people, and the wheat and barley withered. The stars turned cold and foreboding and the norsemen strayed from their borders. Ever closer their ghastly shadow comes, marring the peaceful land.
“Now my villages are about to be under siege and my people murdered, and you want me to pay homage and provide you with a sacrifice?” My voice rises and echoes down the grand hall. Echoes like the many arguments I have picked with Lord king Dorian of Comely about the high taxes issued upon my land, higher than my people should not have to pay. Nevertheless he insists, even though our ranks are the same, because I am a women and therefore below his stature. He feels he can make a formable profit from my kingdom.
“I know you Lady Queen Morgana, your people have no fighting skills nor enough men to use them. Not that they would fight given the chance to.” His sneer matched that of his insulting words. Mocking. He had been taunting in the past, but now he seemed determined to make a show of my title and kingdom, strange even for him.
“You know the plague has hit my village hard, diminishing my people, thats why we pay you taxes to repay what you have lent us years ago during the Great Purge. However, if you do not help us defend ourselves against the norsemen we will be all but wiped out, and you shall receive no payment.” I lower my voice to keep it even, under control. “I have personally trained all of my people who are of age to fight. They will not let you down.”
“Women? Have you trained women?” He starts to pace across the polished marble floor of his grand courtroom like an actor across a stage. The court nobility watching him like hawks, waiting for a morsel to gossip about, “You know how I feel about women fighters, Morgana.” Whispers fly around the room.
“Yes, but they have the skill of trained warriors they can fight as well as any man.”
The whispers are louder this time accompanied by snickers and laughter.
Curse these horrid fools! Can't they see I’m trying to save my people. I can’t concentrate with them hovering around all the time. I gaze into his eyes and see a flicker of something I’ve not seen in him before.
“Prove it,” He challenges gesturing to a nearby table. “I might believe you when you say that your people can fight, but what I really want to know is if you have the intellect to lead them.” He barks out a few orders and two goblets are brought out along with a young woman. The court nobility disperse, no doubt to spread rumors of our meeting. I hear a snippet of conversation from some of the nobility as they pass through the door,
“Her kingdom won’t last the night, not with women trained warriors, king Dorian practically said so himself...”
Lord King Dorian stops pacing and stares at me with a queer look about him.
“The game is quite simple. There is a deadly poison in one of the goblets. You can drink from one goblet only but all of the liquid must be consumed. One of you must die.” He gestures for me to sit by the young girl; I do, glad of the now almost empty room.
“Tell me child, do you have a family?” I speak the words soft, soothing.
“I have none except the Lord King. He has taken me in as his ward.” The girl looks down at her hands and I flash back to my own daughter.
She was laughing only seven weeks ago, but taken suddenly from me by the plagues. She had the same light blue eyes as the girl sitting next to me now. Her sixteenth marking was not but a fortnight ago. I think of other mothers who have lost their children, and all the more who will be lost when the norsemen arrive. I need to pass this test. I grab both goblets and pour all of the liquid into one and down it in a few short gulps. The young girl jumps up surprised and Lord King Dorian steps up behind me.
“Very good Queen Morgana, you have passed the test.” He reaches out with strong hands, surprisingly gentle, as my body slips out of the chair.
“Do not be afraid Morgania your people will be safe, I will fight with you. You have proven to be a honorable leader and I will treat you justly.”
I try to speak but my tongue jumbles up my words like trying to speak around cotton.
“Do not trouble yourself Morgania, when you awake we shall go over battle plans and matters of war. You have simply consumed a sleeping draft, the test has been passed.” He smiled as he said it, “And no doubt when you wake, you’ll have a few choice words for me.” He chuckled merrily. “Gwendolyn child, please accompany lady Queen Morgana and send for me when she wakes.”
Darkness crouches in the corners of my vision and shapes blur together. Lord King Dorian tricked me into thinking he was a heartless ruler, how could I have been so naive? The signs were all there! Why else would he keep such foolish court nobility. He obviously cares for his ward, oh how a child can change a man! With a start I realize the expression on Lord King Dorian’s face was respect. Respect for me.
“I’m sure you will understand that I had to maintain my reputation, for the safety of my people, I needed to be the biggest man...I knew you for what you were Morgania, I’ve suspected it for years, I just couldn’t let the world know that I admire a woman as a leader, until now. I believe in order to save both our kingdoms we need to let the people know of the value in respecting a woman.”
His words fade away and the shadows spring from the corners of my vision and all sensation fades away. God what a tiresome but marvelous man.