The Queens: Part 1

And so begins this first draft. I have no idea where I’m going, and barely know my characters and world right now, but I’ve found part of the fun is just writing and exploring. Thanks for reading!

The Warlord’s palace was bustling, and An Lan was hurrying with the rest of the servants, her heart in her throat. It had been years since the city had last been attacked, years since their Warlord had reached a tenuous peace with the others in the Eastern Kingdom. But, with the Eastern Throne still vacant after three years, peace and harmony could not be maintained.

An Lan nearly tripped over the hem of her pale pink skirt, her heart jumping out of her throat because a tear in the linen would mean a beating later on. She gasped and flung her arms out to her sides, thankful she wasn’t carrying a tea service on her tray any more.

“Careful,” a sharp voice barked as a strong hand gripped her elbow. “There is enough chaos today. Do not create more.”

An Lan didn’t dare look up as she bowed, her tray clasped at her middle. She knew the voice of the Warlord’s most trusted commander, Li Feng. Everyone knew his sharp voice, and most with any sense ran from it. He wasn’t a mean man, but he was demanding and tolerated very little.

His cloak swished as he continued on his way, his feet silent. An Lan waited a moment to let her heart settle back into her body, but the hustle of her fellow servants around her quickly prodded her back into movement. At these times, it wouldn’t do to be found standing still.

Her feet carried her over small bridges arching across serene streams and around the gardens that would be blooming in just a few short weeks. Spring was coming, and so was war. Everywhere she walked, she heard whispers. Some said it was the Warlord to the north who had decided to descend and attempt to expand to warmer waters. Others said it was from the west, the Warlord there seeking a sea route despite his lucrative land trade routes. But she didn’t care. All that mattered was serving well, and staying alive.

Her hands had stopped their trembling by the time she returned to the kitchens. There, it was madness as the servants there had begun to prepare for an influx of people from the city. Thousands of mouths would need food, and soon.

“Here,” the woman who led the kitchens said, thrusting a new tray into An Lan’s hands. “Take this to the Warlord’s daughter.”

An Lan bowed and quickly traded the trays. She liked the princess, who had been trying to convince her father to let An Lan serve her, but, with three other attendants already in her service, it was difficult, especially when An Lan was dutiful and easily ignored as she served the men and women the Warlord hosted.

She quickly crossed through gardens and over bridges, heading for the quieter north wing. Well, it had been quiet, but the princess was a skilled archer and would insist on manning the walls with the soldiers. Armorers were hurrying through, carrying armor and bows and arrows for the princess to look over. Other servants were carrying bundles of cloth and closed baskets.

An Lan followed the other servants to Faithfulness and Tranquility, where the princess lived. The doors were wide open as servants flowed in and out. Inside, she could hear the princess’s voice, clear and commanding, but never hurrying.

The wood floor creaked slightly under her feet, but, under the noise, it went unnoticed, though An Lan noted it would need to be repaired. She carefully wound her way around two men arguing over which arrows the princess should use, but they looked exactly the same to An Lan.

She found the princess sitting on a dais, conferring quietly with a matronly woman An Lan recognized as the Warlord’s wife. Just behind her was a slightly younger woman with worried eyes. The Warlord’s concubine was the princess’s true mother, but, as the only child, the princess had been taken to be raised by the Lady.

“An Lan,” the princess suddenly called out, turning her head slightly. “Is Li Feng here yet?”

An Lan bowed, the tray still clasped in her hands. “Yes, Princess. I just saw him not long ago.”

“Excellent. Have him come here and deal with those two men,” she said, waving a long, graceful hand. They’re giving me a headache.”

“Oh, darling,” the Lady cooed, reaching out a hand. “Really, your father and Li Feng will take care of everything. There is no need for you to endanger yourself.”

An Lan silently ghosted forward and set the tea tray on the table between the princess and Lady. A nod from the concubine quickly dismissed her to do as the princess asked.

“An Lan,” the princess called out, stilling the girl’s feet.

She turned and bowed her head, her empty hands now clasped at her waist. “Yes, Princess?”

“Am I better shot than half of my father’s archers?” the princess demanded.

An Lan bowed her head. “Yes, Princess. I have seen you best nearly all of them.”

“It’s too dangerous,” the Lady stressed. “Stay here where you will be safe.”

The princess rose. “I am a Warlord’s daughter, Mother. I have a duty, as do you. An Lan, please summon Li Feng.”

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