Of course, Viv had regrets about marrying an Alterran nobleman that she’d never met. She had so many things she wanted to do with her life. She could do all of them as an Underlandian woman but practically none of them as an Alterran queen. Underland was a fairly liberal kingdom. There were few strict protocols. Nobles could marry commoners without a problem, as was evidenced by the marriage of Viv’s parents. No one threatened to execute someone else for speaking out of turn, making idle threats, or complaining about Underland’s laws. The kingdom was built around the workers, since the kingdom had been built by, well, workers. The farmers were revered as heroes simply for keeping the kingdom fed. Fishermen lost at sea were given a kingdom-wide memorial service. The nobility recognized the hard work of their people and many holidays were created, celebrating the sowing and the harvesting, the farmers and the fishermen, the mothers and chefs. It was, in short, a commoner’s paradise. There were a few rules, of course. Women and men alike couldn’t walk around in public in their underwear without at least gossip. Maybe a small punishment. Viv didn’t have a strict daily schedule or hundreds of people shunning her for cursing, or wearing pants, or riding a mare through the palace halls simply because Victor had dared her to. But she still couldn’t get off with any of those without some sort of reprimanding. Alterra would be like Underland, but ten times more uptight.
Alterra was the southernmost of all the kingdoms, where Underland was the most western. Their way of living was more antiquated, since the kingdom hadn’t been founded by workers but rather soldiers. The men lived one way, and the women lived another. The traditional breadwinner family was the most common thing in Alterra. Women would stay home and cook and clean and raise the children while men went out to work. Since men made all the money, the men made all the decisions of their families. Viv wanted to visit all of the kingdoms, even the lesser kingdoms. Once she got to Alterra and married Reginald, all that would be over. She would be expected to stay by her husband’s side every day of their marriage. He could go wherever he liked for as long as he liked without her, but she couldn’t do the same. There would be very strict rules of what she could do, where she could go, what she could say, what she could wear, and of course, a strict when for each of those as well. All things considered, she’d be a slave to ceremony. Pants? Ha! Not while she had a uterus. A mare through the palace? Death to the mare and a sound lashing for Viv herself. Underwear through the gardens? Probably a divorce and a permanent whore label. Perhaps even imprisonment or execution. Viv had no idea how extreme they’d be. Alterra was a military kingdom, therefore its military was a force to be reckoned with. The other kingdoms didn’t approve of everything that Alterra did, but they stood in stark contrast to Encardia.
Encardia made Underland look like a concentration camp. If Viv wanted to walk around an Encardian town in nothing but her underwear, a few women would probably join her, and maybe a few men, too. Encardia was founded by a group of people who could only be described as hippies. Everything was very relaxed, even the laws. They didn’t need to have harsh laws because the few they did have were so easy to follow that nobody ever broke them. The Encardian prison, the one they had, was usually empty. They used it for sobering up the aggressively drunk or for having Jailhouse Rock parties. Yes, that was a thing that Encardia did regularly. The nobility of Encardia considered themselves no better than the rest of the Encardians. They just made all the important decisions after consulting everyone. The noble children went to public school along with every other child. When it came to the children, everyone had a hand in raising them. It was quite simple, an Encardian life. If you were hungry, someone would feed you. If you were thirsty, someone would give you a drink. If you needed a roof over your head, someone would allow you under theirs until the community could find you your own. Even the royal family followed those rules. The towns were always bustling with life. Every inn, tavern, home, and Community Park poured light, laughter, chatter, and music. Every time a baby was born, the whole town celebrated and every man, woman, and child mourned sincerely at every death. Rumour had it the king went out to till the fields nearly every day. The kingdom was such a well-oiled machine that it practically ran itself. The only reason they even had a monarchy was to deal with foreign affairs. Encardia was a peaceable kingdom, so their military strength was lacking. Since they were so well loved, no other kingdom even wanted to attack them. Encardia’s lax systems were complimented by Frosteria’s icy grip over their own citizens.
Frosterians were always sad. Always. Sad. And why not? They had very few reasons to be anything but. It was cold as a witch’s tit in Frosteria. After the Great War, the greedy nobles were cast to a barren land far in the north. A smaller war broke out among them, and a new kingdom was formed. The capitol city was halfway up a mountain and the Frosterian castle stood on the top. Very few Frosterian citizens even bothered to visit the castle. It was a perilous trek and the nobles wouldn’t listen to them anyways. This effectively cut off the nobles from the rest of the kingdom. Even though life in Frosteria was terrible, the peasants and commoners couldn’t change the way things were. They were all too poor even for pitchforks. They mainly lived off Encardian envoys. Every time one visited Frosteria, they brought enough food, clothing, water, and wood for dozens of families, but they alone couldn’t provide for an entire country. The royal family was blissfully unaware of their people’s struggles. They were content to live forever in their little bubble above the hunger and filth. They liked to play games, but not with cards or game pieces. With people. The nobility would take a starving peasant girl off the streets and treat her like a princess. They’d make bets about how long it would be before their nitpicking and criticizing made her snap. Not even the other nobles had protection from the games. It was sickening. The only reason the other kingdoms even so much as tolerated Frosteria’s presence was because they were a very rich country. The kingdom was peppered with gold, silver, and crystal mines. They had to trade for practically all their goods, since they had no materials with which to make any of their own. As much as the other Great Kingdoms would like to dismantle Frosteria, the worldwide economy would be extremely damaged by the loss of their riches.
As Viv neared her mother’s study, she pulled herself from her reverie about the other kingdoms. Though she knew her mother was expecting her, she knocked on the cherry wood door anyways. The door flew open immediately. There stood Luna, an expectant look in her eyes. Though she was nearing forty-three, she didn’t look much older than thirty. She was desirably plump, not a pound too thin or overweight. Her chocolate brown skin mirrored that of Vivika’s, and her charcoal black hair was piled atop her head and stuck through with ruby pins. Her gown, a myriad of red, orange, and yellow, billowed out from her waist and flickered like flames at the slightest movement. Her deep brown eyes looked her daughter over from head to toe. Luna’s thick red lips pursed when she saw her stockings rather than shoes.
“Vivika, do I want to know why you aren’t wearing shoes?” asked Luna, crossing her arms. She took a step forward and gingerly lifted a curl from her daughter’s head. “Why is your hair not styled? Why aren’t you wearing your jewels? And no make-up? Is Maisy still in bed? That lazy lump, I’ve half a mind to fire her. We have less than an hour to get you ready before the envoys show up.”
“Mother, it’s not Maisy’s fault. It’s Victor’s.” said Viv, defending her lady-in-waiting. Maisy had a habit of over-sleeping, which drove Luna to near-madness. Luna crossed over to her desk and pulled a handful of pearl pins from the top drawer. She then set to braiding Viv’s hair. She had a very strict belief in ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself’. “He stole my dress. ‘For old time’s sake’, he said.”