Missed the first part? Find it below today’s. Thanks for reading!
With a bow, An Lan quickly retreated from the hall, leaving the Lady and the princess to argue and the two men to raise their voices to shouts. More than anything she wanted to place her hands over her ears, but the rest of the palace was no better. The news must have worsened, because there was a state of panic in the way the servants moved and the quick clip of the soldiers’ steps. In the distance, she could hear the loud creak of the palace gates being pulled open.
Her heart quickened as she began her hunt across the palace grounds for the commander. If the people flooded in before she could find him, well, she wasn’t sure she would be able to fulfill the princess’s order.
“I said to be careful,” a voice snapped as she once again tripped on her hem and a strong hand gripped her elbow.
“Apologies, my Lord,” An Lan said breathlessly as she managed a proper bow to the commander. “The princess requests you attend to her.”
Li Feng muttered darkly under his breath, but An Lan didn’t dare peek up at him through her lashes. There were numerous drawings of the commander and his famous scowl, the one that darkened his handsome features and lowered his dark brows. His long dark hair would be tied up in a knot on top of his head so tightly the frown lines on his forehead wouldn’t even be visible.
“Smelling salts,” the commander snapped. “Do you carry them?”
“Yes, my Lord,” An Lan said with another bow.
“Good. Come with me. The Lady will probably need them.”
“The princess requests you deal with the men arguing about arrows.”
“I’ll deal with them, too. Hurry up, girl.”
An Lan quickly followed after the commander, keeping her head down and her hands clasped at her waist. It was easy following him; his sheer presence forced the servants from their path, so there was no one for her to weave around.
If the princess’s hall had been quiet before, it was impossible for An Lan to say the same now. The two men were shouting and waving their arrows in each others’ faces and even the Lady and the princess could be heard practically yelling. It wouldn’t be dignified to truly be shouting, but their voices had risen to do battle with the mens’.
An Land watched through lowered eyes as Li Feng strode towards the two men and snatched the arrows from them. They both quickly bowed to the commander, finally growing quiet.
“What’s this about?” Li Feng demanded. “We’re about to be attacked and you’re arguing about arrows?”
“The princess will require the finest arrows we have,” one of the men said. “Mine is surely better than his.”
“The princess will use any arrow she sees fit. Leave them outside her hall. Now, go!”
With hasty bows, the men scurried off, the hats on their heads nearly falling off in their haste. But the commander didn’t pay them any mind; he merely gestured to An Lan before striding in to deal with the Lady and the princess.
An Lan scurried after the commander. Now that the two men had left, the Lady and the princess had quieted their voices, but they still argued even as Li Feng strode in, his cloak shifting behind him, one hand on the hilt of the sword at his side. She saw the princess standing on her own, the long, billowing sleeves of her robe swishing as she gestured towards the palace walls. On the other side, the Lady was supported by the concubine, who looked about ready to cry.
Li Feng offered a deep bow, drawing their attention.
“Commander,” the Lady called out, “please talk some sense into the princess.”
“Don’t you dare,” the princess snapped. “Li Feng knows as well as everyone else I’m a better archer than most. He’ll need me on the walls.”
“But you’re the princess,” the Lady said, her voice strained. “There’s no one else to take the Warlord’s place when he dies.”
“The princess is correct,” Li Feng said, smoothly cutting in. “We require her skills. But do not worry, my Lady. She will be well protected.”
“There,” the princess said as she crossed her arms, her voice triumphant, “you see? I’ll be perfectly fine.”
“But, my dear,” the Lady started.
An Lan didn’t hear the rest of the Lady’s sentence. Her attention had been drawn to a sudden warmth in her hands. Startled, she looked down at where they were tightly clasped at her waist and pulled them apart as a golden light suffused her skin. Her hands trembled, but it didn’t shake off the glow.
“The Eastern Queen,” someone breathed, even as An Lan shook her head and took a step back.
“You are,” the princess said as she grabbed An Lan by the arms and forced the servant to look up into her bright eyes. “You’re the fourth Queen. Quickly, we must get you to your throne. The Eastern Kingdom needs you there if we are to survive.”
“No, Princess,” An Lan said, shaking her head. “I can’t be. I’m just a servant.”
“The Thrones do not care,” the Lady said softly, her voice full of gravity. “They select who they wish. The Princess is correct. You must hurry.”
“I don’t,” An Lan began, her hands beginning to shake harder as the light refused to dim. “I’m not…”
She squeaked in surprise as Li Feng, the Warlord’s most trusted commander, went down on one knee before her and bowed his head. With her hands shaking so badly, she couldn’t clasp them again. So she took another step back, her eyes wide as she took in the kneeling commander, the princess with her glowing eyes, the solemn Lady, and the concubine who looked like she was ready to faint.
“Three years ago,” Li Feng said, “I made a vow upon the death of the last Eastern Queen. It will be my duty and honor to serve as your protector, to guide you to your throne, and protect you and your life thereafter.”
“But,” An Lan said, her eyes darting around, fear making her lips tremble and her voice quiver, “what about the attacking Warlord? Ours needs you.”
“Then quickly travel to your Throne,” the princess said, “and the land will know peace.”
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.”
3 thoughts on “The Queens: Part 2”
Well done in your description of Li Feng. He commanded the scene, no pun intended.
If you look at doing more with this down the road…editing, publishing, etc….you might build up to the change in An Lan. The shift here was a bit sudden. Just a suggestion. Great scene, Kat!
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Thank you! He kind of took over, haha. I don’t think he was even supposed to be a commander in the first place. Then again, I lost control of the story from the very beginning. I had planned on setting the stage with An Lan a little more since I consider her my main character, but I guess either she or I decided at some point to just jump right into it.
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It’s awesome that your characters are so pushy right from the start! As odd as that sounds, it helps the story 🙂
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