In a world where politics, passions and past events collide, you have to be tough to survive.
King Stephano Christophe Dracarys I arrived in our country and raised it from the ashes shortly after the demise of our previous King. The country was in uproar over the next in line and his majesty settled all disagreements, taking the throne for himself. He ruled for ten years before passing the throne to his son, King Pharneus VI, whose reign lasted a magnificent and peaceful forty years before his son, King Stephano Christophe Dracarys II came to the throne. Our good King's reign lasted only fifteen years before his trusted friend rose against him with an army supplied by the family of his newly wed wife. The war raged for six hard months but eventually the army of the usurper, Leopold Augustus Faramond III defeated the guards of the inner city and killed our beloved King. King Leopold began his reign witghout good grace, but when his wife died in childbirth a year later he became cruel and uncaring. His son, Prince Leopold Augustus Faramond IV, remains the only legitimate heir to the throne as the King has not remarried.
Pharneus Dracarys made his little sister Nieneve read the history of their family every morning when she woke. Even now, at twenty one years of age, she turned to it immediately after she had risen. She knew the words off by heart and could repeat them if ever her brother asked. Which he did. Often.
She closed the book and stood, going to the bowl which her maid Lovia had placed for her to wash herself in. Once she was fresh, Lovia appeared and helped her to dress in a blue dress, the neckline of which plunged to a point beneath her breasts, showing the clear creamy skin of her chest.
"Why this dress Lovia?"
"Your brother wishes you to wear it m'lady. He says it will do well for your portrait today."
"That is today?" Nieneve frowned slightly. Her brother wished to send a portrait of her to the King, in hope that he would choose Nieneve as a bride for his son, Prince Leopold. It was all part of her brother's plan to regain the throne that should have been his when he had come of age.
"Yes m'lady. Will that be all?"
"Yes, thank you Lovia." She curtseyed and left, leaving Nieneve to stare in to the gilt mirror in front of her. She was medium height, slim but curvy and with bright blue eyes framed by dark lashes. Her hair fell over the dress in long waves to her hips and she pulled some of it in front, in hope of hiding some of her exposed skin. Once she was satisfied she took up her book and left her bedroom.
The house she lived in was large, stately, fine enough for someone with money in their pocket and beautiful enough for someone with an artist's eye. She loved it here, the long sprawling fields and the stables, the trees which she had climbed as a child and still did, providing no one was around to watch her do so. She was happy when she was here, but she knew it could not last long. Her brother was unhappy, and she must help him to be happy. She loved him too much to let him suffer in misery and thoughts of the injustice of the past.
"Sister!" Pharneus Dracarys looked up as Nieneve entered the hall for breakfast. He rose, arms open and smiling. Then his smile faltered. "Darling sister, why are you hiding yourself? Why don't you sweep your hair back?"
"I thought this would make me look more innocent brother." She smiled, trying to placate him.
"The Prince is like any other man sister. We must lure him in." He hooked his hands under her hair and swept it behind her shoulders, leaving just one strand at the front. "There. You are beautiful."
Nieneve smiled embarrassed and thanked him. They sat side by side for breakfast, and her brother tested her on their history.
"Brother?" She asked once they had finished. "Why must the Prince see a portrait of me first?"
"When selecting a bride for royalty, no matter how false their claim to the throne, the possible brides must first be viewed by portrait in order for the Prince to choose a beautiful woman without resulting in public embarrassment for those he does not choose. It is diplomatic. He will of course know hwo well you are educated and what your attributes are before he decides."
"Before he has even met me, or decided he likes me?"
"Of course. This is not about like or love. This is about politics."
"And your plan?"
"Of course dear sister, although you mustn't discuss that if you are chosen to go to the palace. It is our secret yes?" He took her chin in hand.
"Of course." She smiled.
"Good." He released her hand. "Now. The artist is here and you must begin your sitting. I want your picture sent to the palace this evening. Go go." He ushered Nieneve through in to a leisure room. The artist stood and bowed from where he had been sitting.
"You are not to speak unless spoken to, understand?" Her brother told the artist. "I want all her beauty captured and you will not be paid until I am satisfied. Do you understand?"
"Yes my lord." The painter bowed again and stayed down until Pharneus had left the room.
"You may rise." Nieneve said softly. He straightened and smiled at her.
"Thank you my lady."
"Hush Xander, you know I hate it when you call me my lady." She grinned and hugged him. Alexander Thimbist was the youngest son of a farmer who kept his land nearby Nieneve's home. As a young girl Nieneve had played with Alexander, teased him that she could beat him at anything, and then often did. But she had never been able to beat him at drawing, and had given him money when they were older to go to school to become an artist. He had returned to visit his father and had heard talk of a painter being needed for Nieneve's portrait. Eager to see his friend again he had applied immediately, and here he stood.
"But Nien, you really are a lady. Look at you." He grinned, surveying her at arms length. "You are beautiful." She flushed and pushed him gently.
"You've grown up Xander. I thought artists were supposed to be lean and weak, not as strong as you." Xander was indeed strong, and tall to match. He had made extra money for his tuition in the city by carrying barrels of ale to a brothel, and his time there had made him grow up fast.
"I worked hard. I can never repay you for what you did. Sending me to school; not many noble men and women would have done the same."
"Not many noble men and women could beat you at everything but art."
"I could beat you now." He teased, his eyes twinkling.
Nieneve felt a mischevious urge to call his bluff, and opened her mouth to challenge him, but then remembered her brother and why she was here.
"Perhaps another time. You have a painting to do. Let us see if my money did you any good."
"Alright. Are you, um, wearing that?" His eyes skimmed the dress before he jerked them back to her face, embarrassed. Nieneve raised one eyebrow.
"Alright then." He coughed awkwardly and motioned to the chair in front of her easel. "You can sit if you would like."
Nieneve glanced around the room and frowned. It was a beautiful sunny day outside and she did not wish to be cooped up inside.
"Let us go outside. You could paint me on the swing seat, remember?" She grinned cheekily. Xander returned the grin and nodded.
"Lead the way m'lady."
"Cut it out." She chuckled and opened the doors that lead outside. "Come on."
Once outside, Nieneve sat on the swing seat she had loved since they had first fled to this place of safety. She remembered nothing of the war, having only been young, but her brother, several years older, told her often of the horrors he had witnessed. She was glad she had only been young. The swing seat had been a place of joy in her youth, and in her later life. She loved to sit and look up at the branches of the tree it hung from. Birds often flew close to her, perched nearby, and she loved to watch them and hear them singing. It was on this seat that Xander had kissed her when they had been fourteen. He was her first real romance. Her brother had never found out, or else he would have had Xander beaten, or killed, depending on his mood. She was glad that day that he had not been around. There were not many days she felt that way.
"Will you be able to paint me here?" She asked, twisting one arm around one of the ropes and laying her head contentedly upon it.
"Perfectly." He smiled. She wondered if he was remembering that day he had finally gotten up the courage to ask if he could kiss her. "This is much better than some stuffy room. Much more you." She smiled shyly and watched him set up his easel. "Are you comfortable?" He asked her.
"Well then. I shall begin."
The sun was fading, and the servants had brought two meals out to Nieneve and Xander before Pharneus returned from his day's business and realised that they were not inside the house. He came looking for them, and discovered their little hiding place.
"What on earth are you doing here? I told you in the leisure room!" He yelled at Xander who was just finishing his painting.
"Brother dearest. I encouraged him to come outside," Nieneve hurried from her seat before her brother could reach Xander. "I wantde my portrait taken here. I thought-" She searched her mind quickly for an answer which would please him, "-that it would make me stand out from all the others. That way I am more likely to be chosen am I not?"
Her brother frowned but stopped in his tracks. She could see he saw sense in the idea.
"Perhaps. Let me see the painting first!" He declared.
"I have just finished my lord." Xander cried, stepping back from the painting and allowing Pharneus to view it. He pursed his lips and stroked his chin with his finger. Nieneve glanced nervously at Xander; she had not yet seen the portrait.
"Good. This will catch his attention. You may pack your things and then come and see me in my study to be paid." Pharneus said and then turnde to go inside the house, kissing his sister on the forehead as he did so. as soon as they were sure he had gone Xander chuckled.
"Still not changed has he, your brother?"
"He cares for me, that is all." She frowned.
"Of course." He stopped teasing. "Would you like to see it?" He gestured to the painting. Nieneve nodded and approached the painting tentatively.
She was sitting on the seat, an endearing smile upon her face, a twinkle in her large eyes. Her face was tilted slightly, watching the small bird that perched in the picture. The tree surrounded her, making a frame for the picture before one had even been put around it. She looked beautiful in the soft light, and he had made the low neckline thinner than it actually was which pleased her.
"I look..." She began, but could not find the words.
"Beautiful." He finished, smiling affectionately at her.
"The Prince is very lucky." He said, the smile faltering slightly.
"He has not chosen me yet." Nieneve murmured, still looking at the portrait.