ThreeMature

There was a painting which took pride of place in the main drawing room. For the most part there weren’t many superfluous rooms in the castle; it was primarily intended for defence after all, not holding parties and entertaining nobility like the vast decorated palaces in cities further south. There were armouries, training yards, a vast hall used for feasts and for feeding the castle staff and soldiers. There was the throne room, the various bedrooms and other facilities for the people who lived there, and then there was the drawing room.

It had been the library when Hadassah had first arrived, dusty and somewhat neglected other than for consulting maps or the occasional enterprising student. She’d kept the books, of course, but they’d mostly been arranged on new shelves built into the walls. That left space for armchairs and low tables and a grand piano, perfect for entertaining the more notable guests after a feast. As Queen it had become her duty to think of these things. In order to stay relevant it was important to pay attention to how other people in the appropriate band of society were conducting themselves, and in Hadassah’s time in the southern kingdoms she had found they had drawing rooms.

The painting took pride of place on one of the walls - not the one facing the entry door, because that would be overly forceful and somewhat vulgar, but so that it would be on the left of anyone entering the drawing room. It depicted Hadassah and Lior’s wedding ceremony and showed the throne room, decorated with flowers and draped fabric and full of people. It was also clear that the painting portrayed not only a wedding but an alliance. Behind Hadassah stood her wedding party, largely made up of family and advisors; many of them dark skinned and tall, watching with unsmiling pride and quiet dignity. In contrast, Lior’s party behind him looked as though they were already mentally preparing themselves for the feast afterwards, with merry grins and puffed chests. Despite being a more unruly looking lot they did seem to belong there, especially with Lior at their head. Dassah thought sometimes that the artist had taken too much licence when it came to exaggerating the contrast between the two groups - she didn’t remember her family looking quite that grim, and Lior’s bunch hadn’t been quite so wild looking either. But at the very least they’d got Lior right. Hair tamed temporarily and dressed in his military best, the hand that he held out to the painted Hadassah was large and square but somehow gentle. He had looked to her that day like maybe he could be a king.

Looking away from the painting for the first time in what felt like hours, Dassah sunk down lower into her armchair with a sigh. Currently unused as it was, the drawing room was quiet; a welcome relief from the current state of the rest of the castle. They knew she was here, of course - a queen couldn’t just disappear, especially in the midst of something like this. But it seemed they were allowing her this escape for the moment. A modicum of peace in the midst of chaos.

There were things that the painting couldn’t show, of course. Hadassah knew, for instance, that the couple in the painting had only met twice before. The first time she’d met Lior she’d thought him a little foolish - kind, but flighty. Her tutor would have said that he was too concerned with trivial matters to be a serious threat to anyone. This turned out to be half true: the king’s biggest weakness had been his tendency towards jollity - slightly too much fondness for food, drink and pleasant company. But he had always listened to sense, even if he did have a finely honed kicked-puppy expression for when she scolded him for his overindulgence. Hadassah to temper Lior’s indulgences, and Lior to soften Hadassah’s sharper edges: their parents had made a good match.

Closing her eyes for a moment, Dassah rested her head against the back of the armchair. She hadn’t yet wept for him, but there were still things to do. The people needed to see a strong Queen in the wake of their losses, and being puffy and red-eyed would not help with that. Letting out a long breath, she stood and walked over to the door but paused next to the painting again. Turning, she rested her fingertips on the frame, looking up at the couple as they stared into each other’s eyes, hand in hand. Then, straightening her back, she headed for the door.

The End

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