It was such a tragedy.

oo oo oo oo oo

It had started when the younger princess died, so young, so unexpectedly – by assassination, some rumors proclaimed, but all guards had sworn that no one but the royal family had entered (or indeed could have entered) the royal suit, that night, and as he had chosen each of the men himself, General Lonot believed them. Whatever the cause of the child's death, though, something had snapped within the Queen that day.

The Consort had wept openly at his daughter's funeral, perhaps inappropriately so, but as a father of three himself, the general could sympathize with the Othersider. The marble mask the Queen – and in imitation of her mother, the Crown Princess – had donned for the occasion was a bit too perfect, on the other hand. As one of the pallbearers General Lonot had been close enough to see that, while the princess bore hastily concealed tear marks, the Queen showed no sign of ever having shed a single tear for her dead child. The funeral had been an oddly rushed affair, too. As the child had never come even close to being a ruler of the Zone, she had not been interred in the Gale Crypt, but the general would have still expected something more… memorable. As the Queen had secluded herself to her rooms afterwards, not to be seen by anyone even once in the next two weeks, Lonot had attributed her behavior to shock and thought nothing more of it – until much later.

The odd behavior had continued, however. Before the mourning annual was over, it had become obvious that a rift had formed between the Queen and her consort. Not two annuals later, he had been banished, for reasons everyone in the palace recognized as flimsy pretext. The true reason, General Lonot suspected, was again to be found in the youngest princess's untimely demise. Yet, he was a sworn Protector of the Realm, and whatever the Queen's reasoning, he would not question her decision.

Not until a small hand had reached shyly for his arm, in the aftermath of a more or less routine council session concerning border disputes. The Crown Princess, barely more than a child herself, had looked up at him with eyes far older than her actual annuals and asked, in a hushed whisper, "Did she do it right, my mother, I mean? She has been… strange, since Deege…" He had reassured the worried girl, of course, but it had started him thinking.

The Queen had failed to take any actual action since her younger daughter's death, restricting herself to purely representative duties and decisions made in the seclusion of the palace. When a strange malady had infected the fields of the Papay, and the gentle farmer race had begged for the Queen to use her Light to restore the health of the fields, she had not come. She had not even allowed her daughter to go in her stead. Instead she had sent engineers and strange inventors. The Crown Princess had gone anyway, her face the very image of defiance when she had cut in, on him taking the guards to task, for letting the princess ride so far from the palace without a proper escort. "I ordered it," she had said, every inch the imminent queen. He hadn't realized until then, how much the princess had grown up in the last few annuals. Except for the over-the-top imperious expression, there was nothing childish in her, anymore. But she wasn't the Queen, of course, even if she tried to pick up the slack, admirably. For every tree the princess managed to restore, two others succumbed to the plague.

The lack of proper care – and proper demonstration of the Queen's power – had stirred up unrest in the realm, unrest the Queen would not allow to be put down decisively. Again and again the Crown Princess would ask for his opinion after increasingly difficult council sessions, and though the general would have never dreamed of opposing the Queen in court, he could no longer dismiss the princess's worries as insubstantial. Without really noticing, he slipped into the habit of discussing military decisions with the Heir Apparent, instead of with the ruling Queen. When the Crown Princess decided to revive the tradition – dormant for the last few generations – of establishing her own regiment, General Lonot supported the idea whole-heartedly. Traditionally the regiment wore the Crown Princess's own colors, but as the princess had never come out of mourning since her beloved little sister's death – a fact the general was starting to attribute to the Queen faulting her older daughter for surviving when the younger had not – it now wore black. Though initially uneasy with the color choice, the general had to admit that they were very successful in restoring order in the unruly parts of the Realm, sometimes by their mere intimidating appearance. And if the princess had a tendency to encourage the younger, glory-hungry officers that led to the occasional regrettable incident – well, she was young and would soon learn to keep the glory-hounds in check.

The Queen continued to squander her time with insignificant activities, not the merest among which was to actively sabotage her daughter's attempts of defending the Realm. It pained Lonot physically to see his beloved Queen – who had aged visibly since the younger princess's death – publicly accuse the Crown Princess – whom he had sworn to protect with his life within the hour of the princess's birth – of warmongering. The princess, bearing the accusations with strained politeness, ever so often sought his reassurance afterwards, that she was doing the right thing, by keeping the O.Z in the firm grip of the House of Gale. The general, remembering well his history lessons about the warring states preceding the union of the Zone by the Grey Gale, always set her mind at rest.

Another considerable portion of the Queen's time was spent with her increasing obsession with inventions. She had even named one of the growing gaggle of inventors surrounding her, an incredibly gifted but equally irritating young man, her most trusted advisor. General Lonot, quite inured to the arrogance of courtiers over his long career in the Royal Guard, had mostly ignored the haughty boy, even if he begrudged him the time the Queen spent with the inventor when she could have spent it with her daughter. He had come down hard on the slanderous rumors that the Queen's obvious affection for the young man, barely older than the Crown Princess, was anything but motherly – such insults to the Queen's honor could not go unpunished. When the Crown Princess had come to him with tears in her eyes, however, seeking his advice, because the young idiot had insinuated that things would change quite a bit, once he was Consort – that had been the final grain of moritanium that broke the munchkin's back. His poor beloved Queen had clearly gone out of her troubled mind.

oo oo oo oo oo

It was such a tragedy, but for the continued safety of the Realm, the Crown Princes had to assume regency.