For all the talk of how wicked the Barros were, their imprisoned heir is the only man you really feel interested in spending your afternoon with. When you return to his room, he smiles in a fashion that appears genuine.\n\n"Good afternoon, your majesty. Was court really so dull that you had to seek me out?"\n\n"Dull and frivolous," you reply. "Qualities that you do not share, so far as I can tell." He blushes, and gestures for you to sit down. Being the queen, you do not actually need his permission, but you accept it all the same.\n\n"Tell me," you say, "if you were the royal consort, would you go around starting fights over matters of honor?"\n\n"You should know better than that. Even my family's greatest enemies never accused them of starting public fights. Poison and sabotage, that's our game!"\n\nYou laugh at that. Almost against your own will, you find that you're coming to [[like Claudio Barro|rebel path]].
Four men seek your hand, and all that that comes with being your consort. Perhaps you should count yourself lucky to have so many handsome and powerful men desire you, but the risk involved in the situation makes it hard to enjoy. Each stands in a different spot in the crowd- except, that is, for one.\n\nThe Witch King was once known to you as little Fausto, in the days before his family was exiled for treason. You played together as children, and at the age of ten you promised to marry him. Now he returns to you, amid rumor and myth, to claim what was once promised. Marriage to him would mean an end to any war before it began, and the merging of the terrifying Myrkr warriors with your own- but at what cost?\n\nAmadeo is only five years older than you, but was your regent since you took the throne at thirteen. You have grown up together and shared your secrets, and you have seen his developement into a brilliant strategist and popular leader. Marriage to him would mean trusting in his force of arms to see you through, but it would grant you a husband you already like and care for.\n\nPrince Diego of Castia has also asked for your hand in marriage. His reputation as a womanizer proceeds him, but he has been a perfect gentleman since his arrival, and a charming one at that. He is very popular in court, and many are the ones who long for his attentions. Marriage to him would mean an alliance with Castia, with which you could stand against invasions.\n\nFinally, there is Claudio Barro. He resides in comfortable captivity within your castle, and his family has offered him to you as a husband. This is not as outrageous as it seems, for the Barros still have some sway in Fierano, though you have not yet been to see Claudio himself. Marriage to him would mean a unified nation, and an end to any threat of civil war.\n\nDo you greet [[Fausto|greet witch king]], [[Amadeo|greet general]], [[Diego|greet rake]], or [[find Claudio|greet rebel]]?
"Amadeo, please come with me." You take him to the side, speaking softly with your backs to the crowd.\n\n"You may be protective of me, but I can't say I approve of duelling on my birthday. Can he really have been that bad?"\n\nHe laughs quietly- a rare occasion for such a serious man.\n\n"I thought he was, but perhaps my sight was tainted by jealousy. I care for you deeply, Your Majesty- but I suppose you know that already. It is no excuse."\n\nYou respond by squeezing his hand. It is warm to the touch, and when you look up into Amadeo's troubled eyes, you do not have the heart to be angry with him.\n\n"Shall I apologize?" he asks, and you shake your head.\n\n"If you are telling the truth- which I trust you are- then you were in the right to make a challenge. But perhaps it was not [[yours to make|general path]]."
"What do you mean?"\n\n"Trust me, Amadeo. Just trust me."\n\nHe puts his hand upon your cheek, gentle despite his calloused skin. You lean into the touch, and he leans close enough to you that you find yourself waiting for a kiss...a kiss that, to your disappointment, does not come.\n\n"Of course I trust you, Your Majesty. How could I do anything else?"\n\nIn that moment, hearing the sincerity in his voice, all you want to do is take him in your arms. This was what you had wanted from him all along- a moment of passion amid the loyal soldier act, some sign that he really did see you as you wished to be seen. The kiss would wait until you had earned that trust he gave you along with his caress.\n\nTurning back to Diego, you annonce your intentions.\n\n"There will indeed be a duel to avenge your insult. However, there will be a slight change of plans- you shall be fighting against me."\n\nWill you [[fight with all your skill|duel well]] or [[be a bit trickier|duel poorly]]?
There is still a small amount of time in the day you have to yourself, and you decide to enjoy it while you can. For at least a few moments you can read or collect your thoughts or simply enjoy the privilege to lying down on your bed and not doing anything at all.\n\nUnfortunately, those moments are even fewer than expected.\n\n"Your Majesty! Something terrible has happened!" You have the authority to punish the maid who burst into your room without permission, but have no desire to. "Come quickly! They must be stopped."\n\nYou'll have to go see what the [[commotion is about|duel challenge]].
"I am surprised at you both, fighting on my birthday. If anything, that is the the insult to my honor."\n\nAmadeo hangs his head and mumbles apologies, while Diego's expression is harder to read. You approaches, and he gives you a smile- a genuine one, it seems, not the automatic smile produced by nobility on social occasions. It is hard not to return it, and when he extends his arm to you, you take it.\n\n"Do not be too angry at your General," he says. "He only wished to protect you from a terrible cad."\n\nYou lift an eyebrow.\n\n"Was he right to?"\n\n"Of course he was. Your virtue is imperiled merely by being in my presence. I am so wicked that goodness and purity erode with every second of proximity."\n\n"Then let us not waste any time in putting boasts to the test. Come, a walk will do us good."\n\nYour hand upon his arm, the two of you [[leave the murmering crowd behind|rake path]].
"Her Majesty, Queen Francesca of Fierano!"\n\nThough you've had the title for most of your life, today is the first day you can truly begin to appreciate what it means. It is your sixteenth birthday- the regency is over. From now on, it will be your signiture on official documents, your decisions that hold tremendous consequences, the weight of the nation on your shoulders. It is what you have been waiting for all your life, with a mixture of dread and desperate excitement.\n\nTrue, it is hard to feel very festive in the middle of a delicate truce. From the eastern window of your room, you can see the distant camps of the Witch King's army, while your own General (and former regent) Amadeo Novarina's forces are visible in any direction. If a full-scale war was to break out, it is difficult to say who would emerge victorious, and all this is without factoring in the powerful and duplicitous Barro family. It is only the imprisonment of their son that prevents them raising their own armies to take back what was once ruled by their corrupt hands, and a civil war is the last thing you need.\n\nThe true purpose of the truce is not simply to honor the Queen's birthday. It is to give you a brief window of time to decide which alliances need to be made in such a desperate situation. In other words, whom to marry.\n\nEntering the court, you do your best to look impressive. You aren't half-bad at it, either; your dark skin and lustrous hair are natural gifts, but your skill with cosmetics was hard-earned. There's nothing for it now but to [[see to your visitors...|meet and greet]]
In the time you have known him, Diego has seemed to you a charming man, and in all the time you have known her, Nicoletta has seemed to you a reasonable woman. Thus, when you see them talking together in a hall a few hours later, you assume he has finally won her over. Your illusions are cruelly broken when he leans down to whisper to her and she unveils a dagger. Before you can react, your friend has her blade pressed against your lover's neck.\n\n"Release him!" you demand. Both parties turn to you, but she continues to hold him at knife-point.\n\n"Do not call the guards," says Nicoletta. "I can kill him whenever I want. The beast was trying to seduce me before you arrived- just see what a terrible husband he would make! He would destroy the realm with his frivolity and liscentiousness!"\n\n"I was being sociable, no more!" gasps Diego. "Certainly nothing worthy of death!"\n\nNicoletta looks you in the eye.\n\n"Oh my queen, you may not see the danger, but I do! I do not fear guilt or punishment, only what such a prince consort would do to the country!" She presses her blade against his throat, her other hand gripping him by the hair.\n\n"Stop it!" you beg, and try to step forward towards them.\n\n"Come no closer! I mean you no harm, my Queen, but I will not see you blinded by love to who this man is!"\n\nWithin her grasp, Diego looks ruffled but unafraid. He winks at you- then twists within Nicoletta's grasp, knowing he can overpower her.\n\nIt is the wrong thing to do. As soon as she feels him start to move against her, Nicoletta drags her daggar across his throat. Diego falls to the ground in a spray of red, and his murderer looks down upon him without joy- only relief.\n\n"Oh Nicoletta," you cry out, loudly enough to alert the guards you had feared to summon, "what have you done?"\n\nShe does not try to resist as your guards drag her away, but holds her head high and looks at you for as long as she can. You do not return her gaze, but look down at your slain prince. Diego looks more peaceful in death than he ever did in life, more like the marble statue of a martyr than the fiery, tempestuous man you loved.\n\nWhat will all this mean for the country? What dreadful tortures must you put your former friend to? What recompense will be demanded from Diego's homeland? All these thoughts scream inside your head, but for the moment you drown them out. All you want to do is mourn.\n\nTHE END
The royal gardens are beautifully maintained, and though the day is hot, you and Nicoletta make a path between the trees where you can enjoy the shade and a bit of privacy. This is relative, of course- you can never be entirely alone on your grounds- but at least you aren't surrounded.\n\n"What a romantic fool you are." Nicoletta says it with a smile, and the light falling upon her from between the tree branches makes her look romantic as well.\n\n"Perhaps I am. Would you have me any other way?"\n\n"I wouldn't have you at all if you weren't. Now, how will we handle the Witch King? Is there any chance of diplomacy? Will you talk to him?"\n\n"I'll have to. But let's not think about that for now. For just a little while, can we think about each other?"\n\nShe kisses you in response, gently and sweetly. You only stop when she does, slapping the back of her neck.\n\n"What is it?"\n\n"A bee! Or something like it. I suppose it can't have been much, but it's not making me want to stay out here. Can't we find some cool, remote room inside?"\n\n"Wherever you want, darling."\n\nThe two of you turn back, but you don't get the chance to pass the rose bushes before your lover [[falls into a swoon|Nicoletta bad end]].\n\n[[falls into a swoon|Nicoletta bad end]].
The men of your court can be so tiring with their power plays. Did they really think they could win your heart through a petty display of arms? Seeing them grandstand only serves to remind you that marriage to any one of them would be unbearably tedious.\n\n In search of something resembling dignified conversation, you seek out Fausto among his soldiers. He gestures for them to step away, and offers you his arm. You take it, and walk down the halls together.\n\n"I don't know why you wanted to come back here," you say to him. "Sometimes I think I would run away if I had half the chance and a clear successor."\n\n"I know you do not mean what you say," he replies gently. "As long as I have known you, you have been a woman of integrity. Even if the rest of your court were nothing but vipers, you would still honor your duty to them."\n\nHe reaches out and brushes a strand of hair away from your face. Perhaps it is magic, but you could swear you feel a delicious heat emanating from his hand.\n\n"Thoughts of you are what kept me alive in the cold Myrkyr winters. Perhaps you do not feel the same- perhaps you despise me as a barbarian. Tell me truly, tell me that you hate me, and I will depart."\n\nYou cannot tell him any such thing. In fact, as you gaze into his stormy eyes, you begin to think [[marrying him wouldn't be so bad|witch king path]].
In the time you've known Amadeo, he has gone from political necessity to best friend to potential lover. It has been hard to adjust at times, but now that you look at him in his finest attire, you can acknowlege that he is attractive. A scar runs across the right side of his face from brow to chin, a memento of the days before he'd mastered the art of war. His cheekbones look sharp enough to cut, and his short, straight black hair is roughly shorn. Whether or not you make an impressive figure, he certainly does.\n\n"My Queen." He bows as he always does when greeting you, no matter how many times you've told him to stop. You long for him to call you Francesca so that you might be on equal footing, but while you obey court protocal as a matter of duty, he treats it as a matter of conscience.\n\n"Amadeo. Have you been having a good time scaring the Witch King with dour looks?" You have often attempted to provoke a break from formality with gentle teasing, and it almost works this time, judging from the look in his eyes.\n\n"Oh yes, Your Majesty. The Myrkrian armies quail before my scowls."\n\n"They had better. They don't yet know the fury of your face when you're actually unhappy!"\n\nHe cracks a smile at last, and you can't help being pleased. Any other time, you'd want to talk to him about all your decisions and ask his advice, but you obviously cannot now. If only you could know how he really felt, whether he simply wanted to care for his Queen in all aspects of her life, or whether he truly desired you! And if only you were sure of your own feelings on the matter...\n\nNext, do you want to greet [[Fausto|greet witch king]], [[Diego|greet rake]], [[find Claudio|greet rebel]], [[mingle in court|court]] or [[retire to your room|rest]]?
Two faces in particular catch your attention. One is Gianna Tadini, the head of the Royal Bank and your sometime confidante. Though others find her stern and imposing, you consider her one of your few advisors you can always trust to look after your best interests. The other face belongs to your dearest friend Lady Nicoletta, who greets you with an excited wave.\n\nDo you [[speak to Nicoletta|greet Nicoletta]] or the [[head banker|greet Gianna]]?
“I am the queen, and I need no consort to justify my power. I shall be the finest ruler my country has ever known, and I shall do so on my own.”\n\nIt is recorded that Queen Francesca’s decision caused an uproar- but as a young monarch, it established that you would not be ruled by your advisors, and that you were by far stronger and cannier than your age would suggest. Using a network of political allies among foreign nations and your own, you ensured that none would impose upon your will, and your idealism and dedication was a legacy in and of itself. \n\nTHE END
“I have decided to accept the proposal of my true love, Prince Diego.”\n\nNo one wondered at your choice to marry the handsome and charming prince, but many were surprised at how well the match worked out. With the power of [Spanish country] added to your own, you took on all who opposed you and defeated them with ease, and the war against the Witch-King’s armies was easily won. For all the prince’s flirtatious behavior, it was clear that he was devoted to his queen, a lady of temper and passion more than equaling his own.\n\nTHE END
“I shall not marry. Not now, and perhaps never.”\n\nBefore the court can exclaim in shock, you hold the scrolls aloft.\n\n“In my hands are the scrolls of Cassilda, the great Magician. As well you all know by now, magic is a formidable weapon in war. I will raise and train my own troops if necessary, rather than taking on a man’s army. As for matters of the heart…”\n\nShall you [[live alone|Elizabeth]] or [[not rule out such things entirely|Catherine]]?
A duel. Amadeo has challenged Diego to a duel. With all the problems you have to face, all the delicate political relationships at stake, these two fools have decided to fight! The very idea that they would behave so rashly- but no, it shoudln't be surprising at all. With so many rivals in the castle on such a day, something like this was bound to happen. You order the men separated, then turn to Amadeo.\n\n"Explain yourself!"\n\nHe bows his head.\n\n"Your Majesty, that man has been disgracing himself since he arrived here! I have stood by idly while I could, but then I saw him flirting with several noblewomen- on the very day he demands your hand in marriage! I would be a poor friend to you indeed if I didn't demand satisfaction for this insult."\n\n"Is this true?" you ask the Prince. Diego sighs and shakes his head.\n\n"He doesn't lie, but he does exaggerate. If mere friendly conversation is enough to deserve a duel to first blood, I'd hate to learn what merited death! Perhaps your haughty General is offended by the sight of a man whose thoughts are not constantly on his work. I assure you, I have done nothing to insult you."\n\nThose around look from Amadeo to Diego, and then finally to you. Clearly, they are waiting for you to say something about all of this.\n\nDo you take [[Diego's|side with rake]] side, [[Amadeo's|side with general]], or simply [[leave them to their duel|leave]]?
"I have considered your proposal," you say to Claudio. "What do you think would happen if I accepted it?"\n\nHe can't hold back a boyish grin.\n\n"I would do my best to be a worthy consort. I don't imagine it would take us too long to fall in love."\n\nYou laugh at this, and sit down beside him.\n\n"Are you saying yes?" he asks. "Should I write to my family?"\n\n"Just how involved does your family have to be?"\n\n"That is entirely up to you. Honestly, I would be just as happy to keep them at a distance- trouble does seem to follow the Barros- but I can see why you would want them on your side. Either way, I"m glad there's at least one Barro you're fond of."\n\nYou lean in and kiss him gently, but the question remains unanswered.\n\nWill you [[follow his family|follow family]] or [[obfuscate with them|be unclear]]?
The truth is, none of your suitors are men you can imagine marrying, nor can you forsee any more attractive prospect offering his hand. When you think about who you want beside you for the rest of your life, the only person you could share your life with- your throne, your bed, your old age- is Nicoletta. Only she fills you with happiness whenever you see her, and only she offers you her devotion with no ulterior motive. If she loves you in return- and you pray she does- it would make everything else in the world seem trivial by comparison.\n\nWhen you ask to speak to her alone, Nicoletta almost bounces in her eagerness to hear you.\n\n"Have you decided who to marry? Who is it? You're so sweet to tell me first!"\n\n"I have decided," you say, reaching for her hand, "[[if she will have me|Nicoletta path]]."
Among his troops, Fausto is unmistakable; dark where the Myrkr men are fair, slender where they are broad, wearing little armor and yet leading at the front. He stands out just as well in your court, with his hair worn long and skin tattooed in the Myrkr style and the sheer contempt in his eyes plain to all. It vanishes when he sees you, and is replaced with a far more inscrutable look.\n\n"Francesca." He doesn't bother with your title, and you choose to do the same for him.\n\n"Fausto. Is there anything I can say that will cause you to rethink your rash actions?"\n\nThe hint of a rueful smile plays on his lips.\n\n"That is not you speaking. That is the voice of your rank. Come, curse me for daring to threaten you, or call me a traitor as your parents did my father! Say anything, so long as it is honest."\n\n"Cursing you would not be." You search his heart-shaped face for any sign of the child you once played with, but years of struggle in the cold north kingdoms have long since worn him away. His voice still retains a bit of what you remember, but deeper than that of anyone else you have ever met.\n\n"Are you proposing, then, to give me what I ask? My family's lands, my title...my promised bride?"\n\nOf course you cannot give the first two, as your father gave them away years before you took the throne. As for the third...it would be an easier decision to make if you could tell the boy you cared for was still there, or alternately, if you hated the mere sight of the man who had replaced him.\n\n"I am proposing nothing- not yet. The truce is not over until the evening, or had you forgotten?"\n\nHe nods wearily.\n\n"Until then, I trust you will remember me."\n\nDo you wish to greet [[Amadeo|greet general]], [[Diego|greet rake]], [[find Claudio|greet rebel]], [[mingle in court|court]] or [[retire to your room|rest]]?
While no professional swordswoman, you have had enough lessons to get by against an average duelist. Prince Diego is not an average dueist, and even if he was, you wouldn't really want to hurt him. What would winning against him even mean? A bit of petty victory, and the beginning of a grudge between royal families. Such a thing would never do.\n\nAs such, you plan to lose. No, you plan to do more than lose- you plan to lose obviously and spectacularly, in a manner worthy of theater. You stand ready when Diego crosses his blade with yours; as soon as you do so, you let him knock the sword out of your hand and fly to the other side of the room.\n\nYou swoon melodramatically over your disgrace, and Amadeo catches you in his arms. There is a shocked silence, but Diego himself breaks it with his warm laughter. Within moments, all tension has been defused as laughter spreads throughout the room, and you stand up again with a smile on your face.\n\n"I respectfully concede, sweet Prince. Your insult may stand!"\n\n"A shame," adds Amadeo, "but we can't argue with the results! You may live to embarass us another day."\n\nDiego rolls his eyes good-humoredly in response, and you link your arm with Amadeo's.\n\n"Come, General. I must hide away from the shame of it all."\n\nOf course, the minute you two have the slightest bit of privacy, you leap into his arms [[and kiss him|general good end]].
"Your Majesty...you shouldn't make such jokes. They aren't very amusing."\n\n"I am not joking, Nicoletta. I love you."\n\nNicoletta's hazel eyes are wide, and she hardly seems to understand you.\n\n"But Francesca, you know we can't! I can bear you no children, I bring no armies, and I am a petty noblewoman at best! You must do what's best..."\n\nRather than answer her, you kiss her hand, then her cheek. When your lips finally meet, she wraps her arms about you and so tightly you can hardly breathe.\n\n"Do you love me?" you ask her.\n\n"I do. I always have, and I always will."\n\n"Then grant me the chance to convince you to accept my proposal. Come, take a walk with me, and we will discuss it."\n\nWill you walk [[inside|walk inside]] or [[outside|walk outside]]?
Just as you are about to kiss, you steel yourself and pull away sharply.\n\n"Prince Diego," you say, "I would be a very poor Queen indeed if I let indulgence overrule duty. I like you, and am favorably inclined to your proposal, but do not think I will be ruled by you. While you are in my home, you will behave yourself. That means treating my friends and guests with courtesy, whatever privilege you believe you have over them. Do you understand?"\n\nDiego looks surprised, but somehow intruiged.\n\n"I apologize if I have offended you, your majesty. Tell me, when we are married, will you bind and leash me in such a way?"\n\nYou smile wickedly at him.\n\n"For the good of my people. And perhaps for my own pleasure."\n\nThis brings an equally wicked smile to his face, and this time you allow yourself to be pulled in for a passionate kiss. Even being joined in the hallway by more courtiers does not embarass you, though out of the corner of your eyes you can't help noticing that Nicoletta looks dismayed.\n\n"Excuse me for a minute," you tell Diego as you go after her. She is your friend, and you wouldnt see her unhappy [[if you can help it|convince Nicoletta]].
“I shall be married to Claudio Barro.”\n\nA unified Fierano was an unstoppable force, with the Barros bringing in troops and alliances from every conceivable corner and country. Those who feared the Barro family’s return to power were horrified by this news, but they soon learned there was no need to fear. You dealt fairly and carefully with your political rivals, never allowing them enough foothold to take over, and Claudio stood beside you every step of the way. His innocence and humor were a welcome relief from the dangerous yet tedious game of politics, and the birth of your children forever ended the feud. Dealing with the Barros taught you to be a skillful political opponent, and without a war, you manipulated and schemed your way to victory. After all, a happy marriage and safety should go hand in hand.\n\nTHE END
One thing is certain now- the Barros no longer have any interest in plotting against you. They may have a reputation for wickedness, but they know more about politics than you do, as a young and untested queen. You and Claudio bow to their wishes, and they could not possibly be happier.\n\nThough you do not know it at the time, their comeback is marked by seizing the Fieranian lands that once belonged to Fausto's family, which he intended to reclaim. In a mysterious coincidence, every one of the elder generation turns sick and dies before your wedding can happen. By the time the source of their misfortune is identified as one of the Witch-King's curses, [[it is too late|rebel bad end]].
“I will marry my beloved General Amadeo Novarina.”\n\nYour wedding was the finest affair ever known in court, and the smile on your face shown brighter than the jewels on your gown. Together with your allies, the Castianish, you formed a power bloc all the more fearsome for its powerful and capable leaders. The great Prince led the armies abroad, while his Queen was no less stern and disciplined at home. Invasions were crushed before they could even begin, and Amadeo always returned to you (albeit with a few new scars.) But you had more than a conqueror in your marriage bed- you had your best friend, almost unheard of in political marriages. You were a couple both loved and feared, but and all was right with the world.\n\nTHE END
“There shall be a marriage between myself and Fausto, the Witch-King of Myrkr.”\n\nThere was an audible gasp when you related the news, but after all, the court was still reeling from the shock of the great general's betrayal. (Having escaped and regrouped easily, you sentenced him merely to exile, in memory of his years of service.) Your beloved Fausto brought with him more than just the magical and military force of his adopted people, enough that any other nation or faction declaring war upon you was unthinkable, he also brought cultural customs that were soon adopted by your nation so thoroughly that by the next generation they went unquestioned. Yours was a model match, the heavenly queen and her rugged king, and would be remembered as one of history’s great love stories. More than just love was at stake, though, and in times of trouble, he taught you a few special tricks to ensure your unchallenged position. Though unknown, you were Fierano's first Witch-Queen.\n\nTHE END
"Let us suppose," you say playfully, "that I accept your proposal. What kind of husband would you make me?"\n\n"A dangerous one," he replies with a cool smile. "Not for you- never for you- but for your enemies." He raises his hands and you can see the air around them flicker, as if distorted by the Witch-King's very presence. Fausto is no longer the little boy you once pledged your love to...he is something far more intruiging.\n\n"Magic is a frightening thing," you say. "I might have a hard time convincing my court that one who practices it is a good match for the queen."\n\n"And the fact that I also control an army of bloodthirsty northerners? Is that not scandalous?" The question is a gentle one, but you can tell he truly cares about your answer.\n\nIf he had to use it, would you [[prefer his magic|magic]] or his [[military might|military]]?
Once, you had been able to see the Witch King's camps from your eastern window. Now you see Fausto's forces from your balcony, under heavy guard. All your efforts at preventing war were for naught- whoever wins, your country will suffer. People will be slaughtered, homes will be burned, destruction will run rampant. And, without even your army loyal to you, there is nothing you can do about it.\n\nIn generations to come, epic poems will be written about the war for the love of Queen Francesca, and the whole thing will seem terribly romantic. But at the present moment, all you can see is the horrible waste, and the loss of everything you have worked for.\n\nTHE END
The scrolls of Cassilda are a legend. She was the Royal Magician in the days of King Agostino, and with her words [country name] saw miricles it has never witnessed since. If not for her, the King never could have solidified the nation, not the least because his armies were bolstered by the battle spells spoken from her scrolls. Upon her death, she had them hidden within the castle and said their rightful owner would find them when the time was right.\n\nThe scrolls must be forgeries. They must be. But as you whisper the words written upon them, something comes over you- your skin is growing ever warmer, and if you look closely, you can see the walls of the room swaying ever so slightly.\n\nSuddenly, all of your problems seem to have a very easy [[solution|decision]]...
You would greet Nicoletta with a hug if you didn't both have to preserve your dignities in front of so many people. As it is, you content yourselves with a shared smile.\n\n"Happy birthday! Oh my sweet Francesca- I mean, Your Majesty." She blushes at her public mistake, but you laugh it off. Nicoletta looks stunning today in her yellow gown; taller and lighter-haired than yourself, you have always admired each others looks without competition. She likely wants to look her best on such an important occasion, but you enjoy the thought that she dressed up specifically for you.\n\n"Yes, happy birthday to me. A fine, relaxing afternoon with nothing but thoughts of levity on my mind. If only I could talk my way out of trouble with the world as you do with your parents."\n\n"Don't be silly. You're clever, you'll find a way to work things out." She lowers her eyes and her voice. "I know you'll do what's best for your country when you marry."\n\nIt might be just your imagination, but Nicoletta seems less pleased by the prospect than her words would indicate.\n\nDo you wish to [[speak to the head banker|greet Gianna]], [[greet your suitors|suitors]], or [[retire to your room|rest]]?
When you think of your suitors, what you feel is not excitement but exhaustion. There is no path you can choose that will make you happy, and no way you can think of to get out of your decision. You cannot run and hide from it forever- but you can temporarily.\n\nThis is exactly what you do, as you make your way to the distant staircases of the northern tower. The castle has existed since anyone can remember, but every dynasty has remodeled it to some extent. As a result, it is a confusing network of rooms and passages built into each other. You have grown up inside it and can navigate the halls and towers with ease, which is something few others can say; as a result, if you want to be alone, you just need to get lost.\n\nAt first you walk, but as all thoughts of the day begin to sink in you find yourself running. You are not running to anywhere but away from your obligations, as if you could find somewhere with an answer. All you want is an alternative, and all you can find is more walls surrounding you.\n\nExhausted, you sit down upon a step and put your hand on the wall beside you. Your hands graze a stone that seems out of place- on a hunch, you try pulling it. It comes out easily, and within the hole behind where it sat, you find tightly-rolled parchment.\n\nWhen you open the scrolls, you can hardly believe [[what you see|scrolls path]].
Marrying Claudio Barro is no longer much of an option. He knows what happened was the fault of the Witch-King, but it was still your impending marriage that caused it. Though he does not accuse you of anything, neither can he look you in the eye anymore. He can hardly even look at you at all.\n\nWar is inevitable now; the Witch-King has attacked your citizens, and it does not matter how many within their own country would have gladly seen them dead. You have lost the chance for peace, you have lost your powerful allies, and you have lost the love of your intended husband. Every day, you curse Fausto's name; if only your curses has as much power as his.\n\nTHE END
Amid the crowd in the courtroom are friends and strangers, all eager for an audiance with the Queen. The men who seek your hand await you, as do others you know and respect- or at least whom you'd be better off not avoiding. Indeed, if you are to make a wise decision, you know you should speak to as many of your guests as possible.\n\nDo you [[mingle among the court|court]] or [[address your suitors|suitors]]?
"Well," you say at last, "I'm not in the market for any more adversaries, but that doesn't mean I'm anyone's figurehead. Of course your family will be informed of our upcomming marriage...but perhaps any requests or suggestions of their should be answered without a clear yes or no. What do you think?"\n\nHe laughs.\n\n"I think I'd like to see their faces after a direct no...but you're right, diplomacy is best."\n\nIndeed, to deal with the Barros you will have to think like a Barro. If you can be polite and yet still keep them at an arms length, that will be a useful way to have allies without bowing to them. Perhaps you can talk your way out of the With-King's invasion in a similar manner!\n\nYou discuss the situation with Claudio, and he ultimately [[agrees|rebel good end]].
Though you can never be entirely alone in your castle, there are enough twists and turns among the stairs and attics that you can enjoy relative privacy. You and Nicoletta hold hands as you walk; you've done so many times before, but it means something different now. All the day's problems may not be solved, but at least you might have someone to take them on with.\n\n"To tell the truth, Nicoletta, I don't know how I'll solve everything. But I love you, and I'll not have you as my mistress while I lie in another consort's bed. And I'm sure there is a way."\n\nShe stops and leans against a stone wall with an enticing smile on her face.\n\n"Have you considered diplomacy?"\n\n"With the Witch King?"\n\n"With everyone. I doubt your General will rebel is you don't marry him, but perhaps there will be no need for war. Where your ambassadors have failed, perhaps a personal appeal will succeed."\n\nShe reaches out and strokes your long hair.\n\n"You once wished you were as good at getting out of trouble as I am. Well, why don't you let me talk to him? I'll be as heart-rending as possible, innocent and sincere about why you can't possibly accept his proposal."\n\n"But darling," you say, "aren't you putting yourself in some danger?"\n\n"Don't worry about me. With enough at stake, I can [[talk anyone out of anything|Nicoletta good end]]."
You cannot bring yourself to chide your handsome devil, especially not once you are drawn into the power of your kiss. You don't even mind that others pass you by and are shocked at your brazen display of affection- let them be as shocked as they please! You are the Queen, and Diego is right; being royalty is no fun if you can't indulge yourself.\n\n"Enjoy yourself, troublemaker" you say to Diego. It is then that you notice one of the people watching you is Nicoletta, and you can't help but be a little saddened by her horrified expression. You excuse yourself and pull her aside to speak to her.\n\n"I thought you would make the right choice..." she says mournfully.\n\n"And who would that be?"\n\n"I don't know, but not him! He's a vicious rake, and you know it! If you wed him, he'll do nothing but shame the nation, and if you become like him-"\n\n"My choices are my own, Nicoletta. I care for you, but you are not my advisor."\n\nAt this unofficial dismissal, your friend [[runs from the room in tears|rake bad end]].
It is a Witch-King you fell in love with, and a Witch-King he shall stay. Perhaps, you suggest to Fausto, he might even teach you some of his magic.\n\n"Whatever you desire, my darling. All I wish is to be by your side." The kiss he pulls you into is deep and intense, like nothing you have ever known before, and the choice to accept his proposal suddenly feels like the most natural one in the world- the only choice, in fact.\n\nYou decide to inform your former regent of your betrothal- he has been so concerned about a possible war, it will be a relief for him to learn of the alliance- but he does not take the news as you had expected.\n\n"A monster! A sorcerer! He will destroy you, and our nation with you." You have never seen him so angry, not in your entire life. "No, you cannot marry him. Not as long as I draw breath!"\n\nHe seizes you by the arm, and before you know it he has unsheathed his sword- but it is not pointed at you. Instead, he uses it to defend himself as he drags you away, fighting off youg guards single-handedly. Many of the soldiers do not even try to rescue you, afraid to go against a man they respect and defer to.\n\nIn what you are coming to realize is a coup, Amadeo locks you in your room and vows to keep the Witch-King away from you even if it costs him his own life.\n\nYou have only been under house arrest for one evening when a door appears on your wall where there had been none before. It opens, and you see that it leads to the Witch-King's camp...and Fausto stands there to greet you.\n\nOne can never keep a sorcerer away [[from his beloved.|witch king good end]]
“As my consort, I have decided to extend my hand in marriage to my darling Nicoletta Donato.”\n\nYour decision to wed one who could not provide you with heirs- not even a woman of noble birth!- was not uncontroversial, but such a love match ensured that there would be no betrayals or coups within your household. But you did not consider such callous benefits when you married- you thought only of your beautiful wife, and the happiness you found with her by your side, a woman you could trust with your heart and your soul, and for whom you would move the world itself. The Witch-King himself withdrew his suit gracefully, though none save you and your wife knew why. Portraits of the royal couple show two stately, elegant women, one in a crown and one in a circlet, and it is impossible to say which looks the more majestic.\n\nTHE END
You have been putting it off, but it cannot be avoided forever. Claudio Barro lives in the east wing of your palace, guarded on all sides from potential rescue. Their faces are impassive as you demand access to him, and when the doors are thrown open, you honestly don’t know what to expect. An angry rebel? A poor soul wilting and wasting away under your capture?\n\nThe heir to the Barro dynasty doesn’t look as fearsome as he should, bent over his writing desk. The family prided themselves on their imposing presence, with delicate but imperious looks immortalized in mythic-style paintings. the olive skinned and curly-haired Claudio Barro has the delicate part down, but not so much the imposing aspect. His eyes are large and full of curiosity as you enter; perhaps his imprisonment is what contributes to his innocent appearance, though he does live in relative comfort.\n\nWhen you are announced, he stands. This deferance may be pleasing, but you cannot forget the reason he was arrested- if freed, his family would gladly replace you with their golden child.\n\n“Your majesty. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”\n\nIt must be sarcastic, coming from a prisoner, but it doesn’t quite sound like it.\n\n"I thought I would come to see my suitor in the flesh. Or did your parents tell you about your proposal?"\n\nHe laughs, looking somewhat embarassed.\n\n"They did tell me. But I have no objection to it, if that's your concern. Especially not now that I've actually seen you!"\n\n"Indeed? Flattery is all very well, but why don't we just come to the point- you want to marry me, and I want to know why I should."\n\nA sly look crosses Claudio's face, and it is easy to see the famous attraction of the Barro family. He might appear innocent- might even be innocent- but his parents must have taught him something about how to play to an audiance.\n\n"I imagine my parents have laid everything out for you, Your Majesty. But why don't I put the same question to you? Why should I want to be your husband? I seem to have forgotten."\n\nIt wasn't a question you expected to be asked, and you're not sure whether to be insulted or amused. If he is arrogant in pretending to take back his proposal, though, you can respond in kind.\n\n"Are you holding out for a better match? Do you really expect to find a more tantalizing blend of beauty and soverignty?"\n\nClaudio laughs again, and offers you a mock bow.\n\n"Well put, my Queen. Well put."\n\nDo you wish to see [[Amadeo|greet general]], [[Fausto|greet witch king]] or [[Diego|greet rake]], [[mingle in court|court]] or [[retire to your room|rest]]?
"You do seem to attract trouble, don't you?" you ask, your voice playful and light. Diego's smile is too charming to fault.\n\n"I try not to take life quite so seriously as some. We are royals, after all! Of what use is that if we cannot indulge every once in a while?"\n\nHis reply scandalizes you a bit, but it is a welcome bit of relief from the seriousness of court. You begin to give serious thought to Diego's proposal- here is a husband who would never bore you, certainly! As he puts his arm around your waist, you lean in to his touch gladly.\n\n"You are so beautiful," he whispers, and he leans in for a kiss. In the moment before your lips touch, you know you should set down a few rules for how he is to behave if he is to be your consort...but must you?\n\nDo you [[let him have his way|have his way]] or [[give him a piece of your mind|lecture]]?
Gianna curtsies when you approach her.\n\n"Congratulations are in order, my Queen. At last you are under your own control."\n\n"It doesn't feel that way," you say quietly. Gianna shakes her head, a sardonic smile on her face.\n\n"It never feels like it, but that does not mean it is not so. Rules and constraints force you to control your life, rather than flounder in indecision. have you read the book I gave you?"\n\n"I began it," you tell her. "It's a great deal to take in." A few days ago she had given you a treatise on politics as an early birthday gift. Its author was reviled for describing manipulation and tyranny in frank detail, and rumor has it the Barro family tried to have him poisoned for revealing their secrets. But Gianna was always one for harsh but necessary lessons.\n\nIt is for this reason that you feel comfortable asking her a personal question.\n\n"I can't help but be frightened by the decision I must make. But you made a different one- what has that been like?"\n\nThe Royal Bank holds a sacred place in Fieranese society, but its members must give up many things for its sake. They must take a vow of celibacy before joining, in order to prevent embezzelment for the sake of heirs. It is a respected position, but one typically held by second sons or landless nobility, who have little or nothing to pass on as it is.\n\nGianna only takes a moment to consider her answer.\n\n"There are some who consider the vow of celibacy to be a burden. I do not. I have my friends, and I have my duty. With passion channelled \n\nWill you [[speak to your friend|greet Nicoletta]], [[greet your suitors|suitors]], or [[retire to your room|rest]]?
“I am the queen, and I need no consort to justify my power. I shall be the finest ruler my country has ever known, and if I take lovers, it shall be on my own terms.”\n\nIt is recorded that Queen Francesca never married, but yours was not to be a lonely life. You filled your court with favorites (including a dashing general, a charming lady in waiting, and a former pretender to the throne), and among your diplomatic allies there were several (such as the Prince of Castia and the Witch-King of Myrkyr) whom you were perhaps closer to than others. Even grander than your love life was your reign, and your legacy of wisdom and might earned you the a place in the history books- and all lived through your reign agreed you more than deserved it.\n\nTHE END
You drop your rapier, and the sound of it clattering to the ground is magnified one hundred times in your mind. Amadeo rushes forward to shield you, as if expecting foreign assassins to rush at you immediately. How foolish of him. They'll come later.\n\nDiego didn't desrve this. No matter what Amadeo tells you later, you know the truth.\n\nAnd you know what is to come- war. For the sake of showing off, you have ruined everything you hoped to work for. With the Witch King's armies on one side and Castia's on the other, the man you love has little chance of defending the nation, or even of surviving. All is lost, and you can see no way out.\n\nTHE END
"I expected better of you, Amadeo" you say before striding from the room. Unspoken hangs the implication that you expected no less of Prince Diego.\n\nIf they wish to make fools of themselves on your birthday, that is their affair. You need not dignify their displays of bravado with an intervention, not when there are other matters to be attended to. One thought in particular remains in your mind, and pursuing it seems a far better use of your time.\n\nAre you thinking of [[Claudio|visit rebel]], [[Fausto|visit witch king]], [[Nicoletta|visit Nicoletta]], or [[none of them|explore]]?
"Nicoletta! Nicoletta!"\n\nYou continue crying out her name until your throat is sore, but she will not respond. The crowd around you has parted, and the shouts in the distance fill your ears. You do not care, and your arms have to be pried off of Nicoletta's lifeless body by your own guards.\n\nHours pass with you nearly catatonic in your room, until Amadeo arrives to tell you that an assassin has been caught. Under torture, he confessed to being a Barro spy, who pricked his victim with a poisoned needle when he feared she would ruin the chances of your marriage with Claudio. It was a rushed and sloppy job. In the old days, the Barro patriach would have seen to it that his assassins cover their tracks.\n\n"Is the Barro boy still in our grasp," you ask at last, "or have my guards bungled that as well."\n\n"He is."\n\n"Kill him."\n\n"My Queen! Without him as a hostage, what is to stop the Barros from raising an army against us? You must be practical..."\n\nBut you cannot be practical. All you care about is gone, and where there is no care there can be no consequences. All there is left to do is make sure the to shed the blood of one Barro for every tear you cry.\n\nTHE END
If Prince Diego is not the most handsome man you have ever met, he is in the top ten at the very least. His long auburn hair is tied back with thread of gold, and his lightly tanned skin makes his bright green eyes stand out even more. The people of Castia are often portrayed in literature and theater as hot-blooded, fierce in love and fierce in war. You know there is little truth to it, but Diego has always seemed happy with the stereotype. Alone among your suitors, he actually seems to be having a good time on your birthday!\n\n"Your Majesty!" He makes a sweeping, theatrical bow.\n\n"Your Royal Highness," you return. "Paintings do not do you justice."\n\n"They never do, in my experience! Portraiturists want the royal families to look eminent, dignified, as if ready to be laid out in the crypt. The fact that you yourself managed to captivate me from a picture alone speaks very highly of you. Your beauty is so great that not even a portrait could destroy it!"\n\nYou cannot help laughing at that. The compliment was obviously overblown, but it was delivered in a spirit of fun.\n\n"Are you as good with a sword as you are with flattery? I've heard of Castia's reputation for producing great duelists."\n\nHe kisses your hand, and for a minute your breath catches in your throat.\n\n"If you wish for swordplay, my lady, I will be only too happy to oblige. And that is a promise."\n\n"I shall hold you to it," you manage to say at last.\n\nDo you wish to speak with [[Amadeo|greet general]], [[Fausto|greet witch king]], or [[find Claudio|greet rebel]] [[mingle in court|court]] or [[retire to your room|rest]]?
Fausto accedes to your wishes that he maintain his military power over magic- that is the only way the people of your country can see him as anything other than a monster. Before returning to court, you grant him a kiss- and it is a kiss so sweet that you forget why you ever feared him\n\nThe first to be informed of your decision is Amadeo, your general, regent and confidante. Though he never seemed a jealous man before this day, his face upon hearing you have accepted Fausto's proposal is something from a nightmare.\n\n"A monster! A sorcerer! He will destroy you, and our nation with you." You have never seen him so angry, not in your entire life. "No, you cannot marry him. Not as long as I draw breath!"\n\nHe seizes you by the arm, and before you know it he has unsheathed his sword- but it is not pointed at you. Instead, he uses it to defend himself as he drags you away, fighting off youg guards single-handedly. Many of the soldiers do not even try to rescue you, afraid to go against a man they respect and defer to.\n\nA coup. House arrest. Betrayal. The words swim through your mind, but it is the last one that hits the hardest.\n\nIn the worst moments of your relationship with Amadeo, you had never dreamed it would [[come to this|witch king bad end]].
"Nicoletta, wait!" you call after her as she rushes from the hall. She turns around, and you take her hand comfortingly.\n\n"What troubles you?" you ask her.\n\n"What troubles me? Why, seeing you ensnared by a wicked rake! Everyone knows how decadent that man is. Can you really mean to marry him?"\n\nYou sigh, but decide you at least owe her the courtesy of reassurance.\n\n"I know what kind of man Diego is," you tell your friend, "and I also know what kind of woman I am. I will not let him do anything I find objectionable, and in time you may come to see the benefit of a royal consort with an easy approach towards life."\n\n"I don't know..."\n\n"Nicoletta, do you think I will be a good queen?"\n\n"Why of course!"\n\n"Then will you trust me to make my own decisions?"\n\nAfter a moment, Nicoletta nods. It looks like she's convinced- [[for the time being|rake good end]].
The chance to put the arrogant Prince in his place is too much to resist. You are the Queen of [country name], and you will show your court that you are not to be trifled with! All your swordsmanship lessons that you never thought you would use are about to pay off.\n\nDiego is an accomplished duelist, and it is not an easy bout. It is hard to say whether he is fighting at his full strength or holding back for your sake; either way, the duel is turning your way. With any luck, you will emerge victoious.\n\nBut you have overestimated your skill- or perhaps you have underestimated it. When you mean to scratch the side of his cheek and draw first blood, your sword hits lower and strikes at his exposed throat. What just happened only sinks in when the blood starts to flow, and there is a scream when he staggers to the ground, rivers of read pouring down him. The scream, you realize, was your own.\n\nDear creator, [[what have you done|general bad end]]?