QUEEN OF GAMES
Written by Scott D. Harris & Hikari
Chapter 1: "The History of a Game"
The reign of the House of Tudor is viewed by many historians as a rather turbulent age in English history. It was a time of glamour and magnificence. It was a time of magic and the unknown. It was a time of monsters. The year of our Lord, 1547, saw the beginning of the reign of King Edward VI, a sickly child who spent most of what remained of his short life in bed. One day, the grand explorer Sir Maxwell Wyvern, a man of humble heritage but great merit, returned from the faraway Eastern continents with the inspiration to create a game. It was a very special, very certain game that would eventually garner great influence in the history of the world. With the legends of the mysterious countries fresh in his brain, Sir Maxwell gifted poor Edward with a card game he called Duel Monsters. Originally for his own amusement, Edward showed a French ambassador how to play and after an afternoon of enjoyment, he requested that its creator circulate his brilliant idea to France. Thus from slow private joy did Duel Monsters begin to take hold of Europe.
The Blackwood family were quite wealthy, though they had no notable breeding, they were successful landowners and it was not uncommon for members of the family to work for the aristocracy, sometimes the royalty themselves. They lived in a fairly charming house in Westminster with a small number of housekeeping staff. Presently, eight-year-old Sebastian Blackwood was playing with his younger sister Gwendolyn in the family's garden. Two women watched them from the doorstep.
"It's quite unladylike for young Gwendolyn to be roughhousing this way," said Mrs Nesbitt, the children's in-house nanny. "Not sure I approve of such behaviour."
"I understand, Mrs Nesbitt," said Candida Blackwood, the children's mother, "but I spoke with Sebastian's teachers, and they say he learns better when he has someone to compete with, so call it a…"
"A necessary evil?" Mrs Nesbitt asked, eyebrow cocked.
"Hmm…if you want," Candida nodded, though she did not agree with such a term. She never spoke aloud, but she knew both her children had the makings of greatness inside them, and dreamed pleasant dreams of them. Dreams that disturbed her in just one aspect, they were all haunted by the image of a mysterious golden eye that she could never make sense of.
In 1553, Edward died of tuberculosis and after a measly nine-day reign by his cousin Lady Jane Grey, the throne was passed to his older sister, Mary I, who tore down her predecessor's Protestant rule in favour of Roman Catholicism. At first, Mary was intrigued by Duel Monsters, and ordered Sir Maxwell to create powerful new cards for her own personal use. Disgusted, the explorer circulated the new sets among the court. Her association with Philip II spread the game to his native Spain, and then to Italy. At first, Protestant families were restricted from playing, but after discovering their creator's betrayal when an opponent played one of her creatures, she outlawed it completely, going so far as to have duellists imprisoned on trumped up charges.
In 1558, Mary died mysteriously after two phantom pregnancies. Ultimately heirless, the throne passed to Elizabeth, who had suffered her half-sister's wrath and immediately demolished the Catholic regime, reinstating Protestantism as the national religion. On 15 January 1559, Elizabeth's coronation took place. Despite the wind and cold outside, there was a distinct glow in the Palace of Whitehall as the new monarch was showered with gifts, including the shock return of Sir Maxwell Wyvern, who gave unto her what he described as, "A very special deck, for a very special Queen. I see a great many things in your future, Your Majesty." Elizabeth felt her cheeks heat up, but hid it behind stern professionalism and waved him off with a simple, "Thank you, Sir Maxwell." He knew, through the odd air of empathy he carried everywhere, what she really felt. That was good enough for him.
Sebastian Blackwood grew into a strong, athletic young man, and his sister blossomed into a fine example of womanhood. One bright day in the spring of Elizabeth's first year, the two spent the morning playing across the wooden table in the kitchen. Gwendolyn brushed a few strands of chestnut hair out of her face as she examined her hand and she smiled, slapping her winning card on the game mat.
"I believe that's another one to me," she said smugly, "you know, dear brother, since I'm better at this game I should really be the one going to court instead of you."
Sebastian scoffed, "You may have worked out how I play through all our practise games, but you'd never stand a chance against tournament players." He looked over at the clock on the wall and began to slip his cards back into their little protective case. "Speaking of which, I should take my leave or I'll be late. Mr Cecil will have my codling on a stick if I'm late." He gave his sister a quick peck on the cheek and took off, grabbing his coat and hat from the rack in the hallway. After hearing the front door pull shut, Gwendolyn rested her chin on her hand, puffed out her cheeks and exhaled. She got bored rather quickly and disliked the strict monotony of her home schooling, which was administered by the oh-so-loyal-to-the-family Mrs Nesbitt, who had in fact taught her mother when she was much younger. She liked to think Old Nesbitt was always there, like some inevitable landmark, and the house, nay, the whole city, had been built around her. Maybe if you flicked her hard enough she would crumble into dust…or explode! Yes, yes that would be most fun! To see her go up in a roaring fireball! Gwendolyn's face split into a wide, cat-like grin and her eyes sparkled mischievously.
"I know that look, dear-heart," said a velvety voice. Gwendolyn was jolted out of her manic dream state by the feeling of her mother's slender fingers on her shoulders. "And my answer is still the same. You are not to perform unsavoury acts on your mistress' clothing while she's taking her afternoon rest, no matter how funny it may be."
"Just one little matchstick? She won't even wake up," Gwendolyn asked playfully.
"You wouldn't get within ten paces of her before she asks what you're up to," Candida chuckled, patting her daughter's hair. "Now, I must speak with you regarding matters quite important. Let's go to my room." So they went. The bedroom of Candida and her husband was elegant, with a four-poster bed and fine curtains, a portrait of her distinguished father-in-law, the man who established their fortune, and other ornaments and the like. The window of the bedroom showed a far and wide view of the city outside. Mother and daughter sat beside each other on the bed.
"You worry about your brother, don't you?" asked Candida.
"Sometimes," Gwendolyn shrugged, "but that's normal, is it not?"
"Very," Candida pulled her offspring closer, "but listen, dear-heart, I am going to ask you to do something you may find unusual. I want you to gain employment as a maid at Whitehall. You will be able to keep an eye on your brother during these tournaments of his, for they are what concern me more than anything."
"But why, Mother?"
"I've heard…rumours, unearthly things. I'm sure it's nothing, but I want to be sure…if it helps, you can keep all your earnings for your dowery. Will you do this for me?"
"You really have to ask?" Gwendolyn smirked. "Of course, I've always wanted to see what happens at court anyway…anyway, how hard can a maid's work be?"
"Harder than you think and don't you dare to forget it!" a hoarse woman's voice yelled from the hallway. It could only, of course, have been Mrs Nesbitt. Candida and Gwendolyn looked at each other in disbelief.
"How does she do that?" they asked each other in unison.