"What else is there?"
The sound of those four words kept echoing in Queen Uberta's ears as her maid removed yet another pin from her hair. Behind her, the servants were silent as they scurried about to prepare her bedchamber, fully aware of their queen's foul mood. Truth be told, Uberta wanted nothing more than to go and knock some sense into her son's head, instead of sitting at her vanity and getting ready for bed.
But she had already tried earlier, whirling around to face him and fully ready to release four paragraphs—maybe five—of reprimand. Instead of the expected tirade, however, her jaw had felt tight and clamped together, and she could do nothing but look at him in disappointment. And Derek, for his part, looked absolutely disappointed with himself, as well. He seemed to be one elbow-nudge away from lauching himself in front of Odette's horse to stop her from leaving, but Uberta had had enough of nudging him in the right direction.
"What else is there?"
She had raised him better than that!
And Odette knew it, too, if their earlier conversation in her bedchamber had been any indication. The girl had been on the verge of tears that she couldn't even successfully fold her dress. (The fact that she was busying herself with the chore instead of letting her maid do it for her spoke volumes of her frustration.)
"I apologize for my conduct today, Your Highness," Odette had said. "I just...I just..."
"Oh, my dear child, I have known you since you were but a babe," Uberta had reminded her, placing a firm hand on the princess' shaking ones. "There is no need to try to be so formal and proper in front of me."
The young princess had nodded, but stayed silent.
"On Derek's behalf," Uberta had begun, "I do acknowledge that that was rather...dumb of him to say."
"But that's precisely it! He is NOT dumb!" Odette had blurted out, finally giving up on her dress. "He is not dumb! He is a smart, intelligent, and talented prince! He is not some immature, irresponsible imbecile with no proper backbone, and yet he magically turns into one at the most crucial of moments and it is infuriating and sometimes I wonder how in the world I could have fallen for him!"
Uberta hadn't been able help but smile at the sliver of admiration shining through the princess' anger, not to mention the almost unconscious admission of her true feelings. "Perhaps he was just inarticulate in expressing his feelings," the Queen had suggested.
Odette had sighed, folding to sit on her bed. "Perhaps he doesn't have feelings."
"Derek speaks his mind when he wants to. He's opinionated and when he's determined to do something he finds a way to do it. Perhaps... Perhaps he doesn't love me."
"Oh, my dear! I will have none of that! Derek loves you, it's obvious even to a passing stranger! Why, he's loved you long before he realized it himself. He may not know how to explain it—I dare say, neither of you have shown your true feelings quite clearly. Perhaps in the coming days—"
"Oh! Oh, no! I can't face him again! Not after what happened..."
"Well... Then, perhaps next summer?"
Odette had smiled then, albeit sadly. "A lot can happen in a year, Your Highness."
A lot can happen in a year; this was true. If years and years of plans could be destroyed in a single day—nay, a single sentence—what more a year?
Oh, all those years! All the plans she and King William had had for their joined kingdoms. All that time and effort of preparing the citizens. All those summers of friendship—they truly were friends, neither Derek nor Odette nor anybody else could deny it even now. It was all for naught, wasn't it?
Time wasn't something that could be returned, and broken hearts were not an easy thing to repair. And as Uberta dismissed her maids so that she could have a moment's peace to listen to the rain and idly braid her hair, she could only hope that everything would be all right.
She didn't know how long she sat at her vanity, but when a knock came at her door to snap her out of her reverie, she found that her hair had been braided to the ends and that the candle by her mirror was already almost out.
The knock came again, and this time Uberta realized how heavy and urgent it was.
"Just a moment!" Uberta called, pulling her robe more securely around her.
"Begging your pardon, Your Highness," the servant girl outside answered in a most distressing tone, "but something has happened!"
Uberta recognized the voice of Mila, her maid that usually helped her fix her hair up in the mornings and let her hair down at night. The girl knew to not disturb her at night unless it was a matter of utmost importance.
Uberta pulled the door open to see Mila's pale face and, suprisingly, the Lord Rogers behind her. At the sight of him, Uberta felt her whole being rapidly fill to the brim with dread. If Rogers was here...
"I want to know what has happened, what is being done, and where my son is," Uberta declared, already sweeping into the hallway.
"King William's party was attacked," Rogers answered, quickly following her. "His captain barely made it back to tell us. The King... The King did not make it, Your Highness."
Uberta abruptly stopped, whipping around to look at Rogers. The old man only silently looked at her for a beat before closing his eyes and nodding sadly.
Closing her own eyes, Uberta took a steadying breath.
A second one.
And then a third.
In through the nose, out through the mouth.
"What of Princess Odette?" Her voice cracked. Inhale, exhale.
"Our best guards are looking for her."
"Where is Derek?"
"He is outside with the guards, Your Highness."
A pause. A swish of clothing. And then Uberta was again purposefully striding through the halls, very much the Queen that she was regardless of her loose braid, her comfortable robe, and the lack of her crown upon her head.
"How many guards?"
"Five of our best, Your Highness."
"Do we know who the attackers were?"
"King William's captain said it was... a 'great animal', Your Majesty."
"He passed before he can say anything else."
"Any other survivors?"
"...None that we know of, Your Highness."
"Do you mean to tell me, Rogers, that my son is out there, in the rain, looking for the princess while a 'great animal', one that killed every single one of King William's armed guards, prowls about? With only five guards to suppport him?"
The Lord Rogers flinched under Uberta's sharp glare, and the Queen had to remind herself that he was, in fact, the royal musical director and Derek's counselor, and not the Captain of the Guard.
Inhale, exhale, steady strides. Almost there.
"Mila," Uberta addressed the servant silently following her, "make sure the healers are ready. Make sure they have enough helpers in case all the guards have been wounded or worse. Station them near the entrance through which King William's captain entered, and make sure they have plenty of blankets and hot water."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
As Mila ran off to her task, she turned her attention back to Rogers.
"Is the captain of the guard here?"
"Yes, he is readying another two units of guards to relieve the ones outside."
"Tell him to make it three, and to alert the archers at the gates to be at the ready for defense, just in case."
"Yes, Your Highness."
By the time Uberta reached the entrance where King William's captain had entered and collapsed, Mila was there, as well, bustling about with the healers and arranging the place so as to have the most efficient flow of people in the room. Uberta made a mental note to promote her to something else other than fixing her hair.
From the corner of her eye the Queen saw Derek's best friend Bromley, who looked desperate to help, and yet rather lost. Not to look down on the boy, but Uberta was quite sure that Bromley had tried to offer assistance, but only ended up tripping over something.
"Lost to Derek again, I see," Uberta quipped after stealing a glance at the chess board.
"Eh," Bromley shrugged, scratching the back of his neck. "sometimes I wonder why I even try. Princess Odette's the only one who can beat him."
The Queen allowed herself a small chuckle. Bromley was always nice to have around in times like this.
"Bromley, might I request that you do a task for me?"
"Anything, Your Highness."
"I would appreciate it greatly if you went to the kitchens and had them prepare hot soup. Lots of it."
Bromley, who always enjoyed it when sent to a royal task, smiled widely, and opened his mouth, probably about to thank the Queen. Whatever he was supposed to say, however, was drowned out by the sound of the doors bursting open, letting in the wind, rain, the sound of thunder, and three guards helping a man, one that Uberta is most familiar with, limp into the hall.
Uberta all but flew to her son, helping him settle into the nearest stretcher. She barely had the mind to yell, "Go, Bromley!" to which the lad responded by running full-speed to the kitchens, before giving her son a hasty once-over.
Derek's breathing was heavy and ragged, which was both a relief—oh, thank God he's alive!—and a worrisome thing. He was shivering and drenched to the bone like all the other guards; the servants were already removing his heavy, wet clothing to replace it with dry ones. There were no suspicious red blotches anywhere, thankfully, but there was mud splattered on his arms, torso... even his head! His boots, once grey in color, were now completely dark brown. All of his limbs seemed to be in a correct angle, so perhaps nothing was broken...
But, as Uberta discovered the moment she touched him, he was burning up with a fever. And that his voice was weak and hoarse, and yet he kept calling for the princess over and over, as if it were a prayer.
As the Queen held her son's clenched hand in her own, Uberta wondered, "What on earth happened out there?"
Author's notes: To be continued? Yes? No?
After a recent rewatch of The Swan Princess, I was reminded of how I used to think that Uberta was...I don't know...less than supportive of Derek's search for Odette. I mean, surely Uberta thought of her as a daughter, and considering that she had spent years pushing the kids together, I thought that she must have gone through a process before she decides that Odette is gone and that her son should find another bride. This fic is an imagining of that process.
This is The Swan Princess from Uberta's POV, but it won't be simply the movie from another angle. Most of the stuff here won't be from the movie, but this isn't AU, either. There won't be much of Odette, but I suppose there will be a lot of Derek, seeing as it's his mother who's the main character.
In this chapter I tried to tap into her motherly side, as well as her Queen-ness. Although most of us remember her just as an incredibly happy-go-lucky queen, there were many hints that she was stern, and commanding, as well.
Like it? Hate it? Please leave a review!