Disclaimer – I do not own the characters. This is in response to a challenge in the forum – CAMP JUPITER.
Prompt Chosen – "Fragility and Elegance"
The Queen of Hearts
It was the winter of 1789 and France was in turmoil. The people were unsatisfied with the monarchy and many rose to oppose the tyranny of King Eros. Men and women took to the streets, protesting against the unnecessary splurge of their resources. A famine had struck the land, plundering the soil of its fertility and destroying the lives of people.
Through all this pain and suffering, a figure seemed to rise from the sea of suffering and every man and woman seemed to fall into her trance. She seemed to captivate them, making them forget all their pain with the promise of a glorious future. The people rallied behind her and within weeks of her rise to fame, she was crowned as Aphrodite De Beaute`, the Queen of France.
Lady Aphrodite, as she preferred to be called, sat on her ruby encrusted throne, its glow illuminating her beautiful face and giving her an ethereal look. She wore a dark purple gown with a bright pink satin scarf flowing from her hands. She adorned meagre jewels, as if to ensure that the attention remained on herself and not her riches. The queen sat erect on her throne and looked like the very symbol of elegance.
She turned her attention to her Prime minister, Lord Thoth who had stood up, asking for permission to speak.
"Speak freely. None of my people should ask for permission to speak to their own queen." She spoke in a sweet yet commanding tone.
"Your highness, it has been two glorious years since you ascended the throne of France. Your reign has brought prosperity to our land. The country which was suffering from famine has turned into the land of riches, where even the poorest have plenty to eat. Your..."
He stopped his speech when the queen turned her piercing gaze on him, her kaleidoscopic eyes seeming to glint with annoyance.
"Lord Thoth, you are well aware that I despise flattery. Stop wasting my time."
"Apologies, your highness." Lord Thoth nervously said. "The people are expecting to see a king on the throne who would rule along with you."
Aphrodite was surprised. She had definitely thought about marriage but she had sworn to marry for love.
"Why do the people think this? You claim they are satisfied with my rule. Why do they need a king?"
"It has always been customary for a king and queen to rule alongside each other on the throne. You have broken these norms but because of the condition France was in, nobody spoke against it. Now that France is prosperous again, people wish to see the queen with a king."
"If the people demand my marriage, then so be it. It is after all, a lesser burden to bear." Aphrodite said in an expressionless tone. "Minister, send out a royal proclamation that The Queen of France is inviting suitors."
Within days, princes and kings from all over the world rushed to France at the opportunity to marry the legendary queen. She was not just powerful and rich but also extremely beautiful. The King of England, Emperors from the East, princes from Greece, Scottish chieftains, everyone was greeted with extravagant ceremonies.
Aphrodite herself was not too pleased with these developments. She had always seen love as a deep emotion and while she enjoyed playing matchmaker for her courtesans, she wanted to marry for love and not as a mere formality.
Her suitors brought her the most precious jewels and gifts she had ever seen. The largest diamonds, brightest sapphires, gleaming ceramics, vast estates none seemed to capture her attention. Her ministers and advisors were concerned that all this effort would be in vain but their saving grace arrived in the most unexpected of forms.
One fine day, Aphrodite was out riding on her trusty stallion, Colombe (translates to 'Dove' in French) when an arrow came out of nowhere pierced her arm. Alarmed, she grasped the reins and looked around. A triad of masculine figures, enshrouded in black were approaching her.
She jumped down from Colombe and stood in a defensive position. She was trained to defend herself but she knew that she was no match for her assassins. The three men approached her with weapons raised and a malicious grin on their hideous faces.
When all hope seemed lost, she heard the thundering of hooves, as if a whole garrison had come to her rescue. As the sound got closer, she could see a lone rider charging towards them. With a few sweeps of his mighty sword, he brought down all three of the assassins.
To Aphrodite, their first meeting had seemed mythical and unreal. She felt a connection to him but the details seemed fuzzy. He had been very charismatic, introducing himself as Prince Ares Warthog, the heir to the throne of Sparta. She recognised his name, recalling that Sparta was the kingdom with the strongest military force.
He had escorted her back to the palace and tended to her wound. While she recovered, he kept her company, entertaining her with his heroic tales of bravery and strength. While Aphrodite did not care about his stories, she loved to spend time with him. As time passed, she convinced herself that she had fallen in love with Prince Ares and accepted his proposal.
The union of Ares and Aphrodite was deemed a glorious one. People of both kingdoms rejoiced at the news that two powerful kingdoms, one of love and the other of war, would unite in matrimony. The most powerful and popular people from all over the world were invited to their marriage. Gazettes and newspapers declared that it was the popular event of the decade.
A week after the ceremony, all the guests had finally departed and the couple could have some peace for themselves. Ares declared that he had been deprived for too long from hunting and left with his men. Aphrodite, though disappointed that he did not want to spend more time with her, decided that it would be a good time to look into the affairs of her kingdom.
As she sat in her chamber, writing letters of gratitude to their well-wishers, she heard a knock on the door.
Lord Thoth opened the door and stepped into the room. He looked at the queen and asked her in a careful tone-
"Your highness, may I ask you the whereabouts of your husband. Why is he not here spending time with his new bride?"
She looked at him and answered in a quiet tone that he had gone hunting with his men.
"Lady Aphrodite, I have something important to show you. Our soldiers intercepted this letter and I want you to read it yourself."
Aphrodite took the letter Thoth was holding in his hand and looked at it, to see that it had the seal of the kingdom of Sparta.
Prince Ares Warthog, Sparta
Lords Phobos and Deimos ,
Advisors of the Prince'
As she read these words, a look of pure fury seemed to cross her face.
"Thoth" she shouted in a commanding tone "Who gave you the permission to read the private letters of your king? This is treason"
Lord Thoth spoke in a nervous tone,- "This letter is of high priority, my Lady. Please read it before you come to any more conclusions"
Aphrodite knew that Lord Thoth would never betray her, so she decided to listen to him. She opened the envelope and unfolded the piece of parchment in it.
Our plan is successful. The queen is just as gullible as we predicted. She thinks that it was a coincidence that I was there to save her. Those men we paid did a good job acting as her assassins, but they can no longer enjoy the money we gave them.
NO WITNESSES. If someone in their family knows of this, make them keep their mouths shut. If they refuse, silence them forever.
Now I just have to wait for her to fall in love with me and make me the king. Then France will be ours forever.'
As she read the last word, the piece of paper fell from her fingers. 'How foolish have I been?' she thought. A sharp pain arose in her chest and she felt her eyes moistening.
She remembered that Thoth was still in the room and controlled her emotions. The queen could not look weak. Her voice was contained yet full of emotion when she spoke.
"Lord Thoth, make a royal decree that Prince Ares shall be given the title of royal consort but he shall have no true power. Till my last breath, France will only have a queen."
It had been a year since their marriage and Aphrodite had refused all the requests for a celebration. She just replied that- "That is not something worth wasting money on."
Ares had been enraged when the royal decree was announced and tried to convince Aphrodite to make him the king but it was all to no avail. In her eyes, Ares had now lost his charisma all she saw was a man who had tricked her and broken her heart.
France continued to prosper under her reign but things were not the same as before. The influence of the violent and blood-thirsty Spartans had increased the crime rate in her country. Violence was more common and she had increased the police forces to control the chaos.
One night, unable to sleep, she sat in her chamber looking at a few records when she saw a silhouette pass by the door. For the past few days, Aphrodite had seen Ares sneak out of his chamber at night but she had not thought too much of it. After some time, having nothing better to do, she decided to follow him.
She dressed in a simple gown and asked a soldier to escort her. By the time she caught up to Ares, she realised that something did not feel right. He was returning from a house which had belonged to one of the blacksmiths but was abandoned after the blacksmith moved to the city.
After waiting for him to leave, she rushed towards the house. The door was open and she could hear the muffled sobs from inside. Panic rose in her chest. She asked the guard to stay by the door and entered the room. The sight before her eyes shocked her.
A group of women and young girls were lying on the floor, undressed and exposed to the cold wind. Their bare skin was red and they had bruises all over their body. They were huddled together and were sobbing endlessly. Her distress rose when she saw that some of the girls were as young as thirteen.
Tears were flowing from her eyes and her voice broke as she asked "What happened here?"
The women were started at the sound and a few of the girls started whimpering. Aphrodite looked at the oldest in the group and asked her again in a more controlled voice.
"Tell me. What happened here?"
"We do not know. One night, we were sleeping in our beds and when we woke up, we were bound in this chamber. A man came that night. He tore away our clothes a-and..." The girl collapsed on the ground and burst into tears, as if the memory itself was too painful to remember.
Aphrodite rushed forward and hugged the girl, an endless stream of tears flowing from her own eyes.
"Guard" She screamed" Go to the palace and bring the royal carriage here. Bring some gowns and blankets too and ask the doctors to be ready. But be careful. Ares should not be aware of this"
At the sound of her command, the guard rushed to the palace. Within minutes, she could hear the sound of the horses drawing the carriage. She rushed outside and brought in the clothes. After making sure that the all the women were clothed, she helped them into the carriage.
Through all this, her heart did not cease to hurt from the pain.
"Forgive me." She said "I have failed you all"
The first time since her rise to power, Aphrodite felt an uncontrollable rage as she looked at the bruised faces of the girls in the carriage. She decided that she would put an end to this - once and for all.
Ares slept soundly in his chamber at the royal palace. He was satisfied after visiting all those women. He grinned with pleasure as he remembered their screams. Just then, he heard the door creaking open.
Drowsy from the sleep, he slowly looked up to see Aphrodite standing in front of him. His eyes clouded with anger as he looked at her. She was the reason he had not conquered France yet.
"What are you doing here?"
Just then she raised her hand and something seemed to glint. His eyes widened as saw that it was a dagger. A small dagger which he had always thought was useless because it was thin and fragile, just like Aphrodite. Now, as he was at the receiving end of it, he realised her true power.
"You see Ares, you can hurt me all you want but the moment you hurt my people, the moment you hurt those women, you lost the right to live. You lost your humanity."
The last thing Ares saw was the thin blade coming down onto his chest and as it stabbed his heart, blood as black as coal flowed out. Death claimed him and Hell welcomed its new resident with glee.
This was a bit dark, but I like how it turned out. What do you think? Share your opinions by reviewing the story.
In this one, I have tried to include some elements of history and mixed it up with mythology. Can you guys try to find them? ;)