The Alexandra Saga
By Jayson Peters
1. Thomas the Terrible
"Alexandra!" he snapped, running to grab the girl and turning her to face him.
"Ow!" she cried, giving him an extremely hurt look. Anger flashed in her young, dark eyes.
"Listen, Alexandra. If you don't behave, I'll have to send you to live in the convent at Zarasa!"
Alexandra became quiet, downcast, her feet suddenly of great interest to her. "Please, Father, don't send me to live with the boring nuns. I'll be good - I promise."
Thomas sighed. "All right, Alex. All right. But I can't have you misbehaving. There's too much at stake, and I need you to do exactly whatever Morgan and I tell you to do. Understand?"
No relieved smile touched her lips. "Yes, Father."
"Now off to bed with you."
She lingered, hoping he would hug her. This time.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Go!" he shouted, and she ran. A guard exchanged nods with his lord, then left to follow Alexandra.
Morgan was about to go, but he turned suddenly to address his master. "Thomas?" he ventured cautiously. They were alone, and he had permission to use his lord's first name when they were discussing personal matters.
"Yes, my friend?" The thane sounded exhausted as he rolled the maps and stuffed them back into their cylindrical cases.
Morgan hesitated. "It's about the girl, sir..."
Thomas looked up sharply. "Yes, what about her?"
His daughter's defender seemed exceedingly uncomfortable. "M'lord. Perhaps you shouldn't frighten her so." He started for the door again. "Life is fearsome enough as it is without Thomas the Terrible as your father..." With that he made a half bow and left, without being dismissed.
2. Morgan and Alexandra
Thirteen years passed...
The lady was in a foul mood. Dinner was unsatisfactory, the wine pure swill. Glasses and plates went flying. One servant girl was battered mercilessly. As the night wore on and calm finally returned to the small castle, Morgan the Defender was summoned by Lady Alexandra.
Morgan was a tall and sturdy old man, true local peasant stock, pressed into military service at a young age. He was now almost fifty, and he had spent the last twelve years of his life as the protector of an ambitious young woman.
Almost twenty now, Alexandra was the daughter of an exiled nobleman who had begun a war of attrition against his former king. He had died early into the campaign, however, and Morgan was forced to take up the reigns until the girl was old enough to continue the fight. That time had come and gone. Already she had claimed half a dozen townships for her banner. The campaign was gaining momentum, and her ego followed suit.
Morgan entered Alexandra's elegant private chambers, and he was not surprised to find her lounging on the bed, devouring grapes.
"Good evening, Lord High Marshal," she purred, leisurely sitting upright and casting the grapes aside. They came to rest wastefully on the floor beside the bed.
Morgan bowed slightly. "M'lady," he grumbled. She had many such formal titles for him: Lord High Chamberlain, Lord High Chancellor, Lord High Justice, Lord High Inquisitor.... Her use of his military title was intended to set the tone for this particular meeting. He had hoped, long ago, that she would outgrow her childish preoccupation with titles and regalia - the practical peasant in him versus the ostentatious noble in her. Obviously, she had not.
"You wish to discuss the Zering assault, I presume?"
Alexandra smiled. "So predictable, Morgan. Yes, I 'wish to discuss the Zering assault.'" She stood and sauntered over to her vanity mirror, where she sat down and began a strict routine of primping. "I know you're concerned."
Morgan hesitated. "I've already given you my opinion, M'lady."
"Yes," she said, turning to face him in the middle of brush stroke number thirteen. "And you're absolutely right. It would be a massacre." She paused. "All of our men would perish."
Again, hesitation. "So...you're going to call it off?" It was almost too much to hope for.
Again she smiled, fiendishly. "Of course not, you silly old dragon! I'm only going to delay it for a little while."
"And what do you have in mind?"
Alexandra leaned close to his ear and whispered conspiratorially. "You and I will take a small force and lead an attack to draw the king's men away from Zering. The main forces will then strike the next day, when the fortress will be virtually unmanned!"
Morgan thought it over. A sound plan, on the surface. "And what is this target that will convince them to abandon the fortress?"
Alexandra drew herself up to her full height, which wasn't very much. "The Tower of Zarasa!" she exclaimed.
Morgan gasped. "The convent!" She nodded enthusiastically.
The audacity! The cold, heartless wench! Morgan was sickened by the hard fact that Alexandra was serious about this. Deadly serious.
But I can do this, he thought. It is my duty to follow her orders. This woman will one day rule the entire realm...
"It shall be as you order, M'lady," he said. One thing still troubled him. "But...what about the troops sent to Zarasa? They'd be no match for any force the king may send to take back the convent."
Suddenly, almost too suddenly, Alexandra became serious. Her smile and enthusiasm vanished. Total transformation. She was good at that.
"I understand that, Morgan," she replied. "But some sacrifice is required if we are to realize my father's vision..." That got to him, as it always did. A cold and heartless wench she may be, but one day, he reminded himself, she'd be queen of the realm...
And he would defend her, as he had sworn to do.
Morgan and his small host thundered into the wooded valley and easily secured the land surrounding the Tower of Zarasa. They set up camp, and Alexandra occupied the largest and most luxurious tent near the base of the monolithic convent.
At sunset of that day, Lord High Marshal Morgan stood with his mistress before the closed gates of the nunnery, peering upwards. A pair of shutters opened halfway up the tower, and a black robed woman stood there, meeting their gaze. She was not young but she seemed strengthened by her years, and only her white face was visible in the waning light.
Morgan broke the stony silence. "The Lady Alexandra claims this land and this building and all things within!" When his booming announcement subsided, silence crept its way back in between the army and the nun. No one spoke, neither woman nor man. Someone's horse stirred. A great hiss erupted as torches and fires were lit throughout the camp.
Finally, when the sun had crept behind the rim of the valley and a harsh chill had touched all, the nun spoke. "I am the Mother Superior," she said, only her mouth moving. Exquisite control.
"As if that settles everything," muttered Alexandra, stepping suddenly forward. "You have until dawn to surrender and recognize me as sovereign," she called out, "or my soldiers will storm your tower and take it by force!" Alexandra had been clever in choosing the convent as a target; if the nuns yielded to her, then many in the land would support her by virtue of divine right.
The Mother Superior did not even twitch. Slowly she turned her gaze upon Morgan, who started to squirm as if eyed by a jungle cat. The woman appeared to see right through him. Then she looked back at Alexandra. "The Lord will protect us," she said. The Mother Superior turned and melted back into the shadows of the convent. Unseen attendants closed the shutters, and the wait began.
Morgan retired to his tent for a brief nap. One way or another, after the tower was theirs, he and Alexandra would quickly depart to join the main forces as they converged upon the Fortress of Zering. His sleep was light and troubled. He kept seeing the Mother Superior in his chaotic dreams. "The Lord will protect us," she had said. She seemed so confident, fearless. Perhaps she was the greatest adversary Morgan had ever faced.
Several hours later, an aide roused him from his fitful slumber. He briefed the troops one last time, seeing now that he had no choice but to obey his mistress and storm the Tower of Zarasa. It went against everything Morgan had ever believed in.
Morgan was not what the Mother Superior would consider a religious person. He kept his faith inside of him, as he thought a warrior ought to do. Nevertheless, attacking a convent was wrong! He could only tell himself over and over again that this was the path he had chosen for himself. But...had he really ever chosen for himself? Morgan was conscripted before he could even grow a beard, but he himself had decided to follow the exile's banner years later.
Once again, Lady Alexandra and Morgan the Defender stood looking up at the shutters halfway up the smooth tower surface. As the sun crept over the rim of the valley, the shutters opened and the Mother Superior of the convent appeared again. She looked at Morgan, and he thought he could see a silent plea in her emotionless eyes. It faded, to be replaced by stony determination.
This time, it was she who spoke first.
"The Lord will save us," she said, as if it were a matter of fact. Then she closed the shutters herself and withdrew.
Alexandra seethed, and to Morgan it was agony to see so much hate on such a young and pretty face. She screamed for the troops to attack. Before she could get out of their way, though, the Lord High Marshal drew a gleaming dagger and sent it flying. It struck the young woman in the middle of her chest. Blood soaked through her riding habit, and she fell to the ground, dying silently.
The host was in an uproar. Some soldiers were cheering; others were outraged. They had just watched the man who recruited them against their own king, for the destiny of this vain and selfish woman, kill her now for no apparent reason. One man moved to attack Morgan; another moved to defend his Lord High Marshal. So it began. Renegade against renegade, brother against brother. As the ground outside the Tower of Zarasa ran red with blood, the Mother Superior and her Sisters remained safe within.
3. The Lady of Zering
As night fell upon the land, a young woman in riding clothes limped through tall springtime grasses. She was clutching a sopping red wound in her chest.
Behind her, the distant mountains were a twisted purple ribbon embracing the dark horizon. She had crossed them alone the night before, fending off vicious predators and evading royal patrols. The troops weren't looking for her, though. Not specifically. The troops...
The mountains. The grassy plains, the wild forests. And the castle arrayed before her with its immensity, its moat, the lords and ladies who reveled within, and the peasants dwelling near and far. All evoked a memory dim within her. A memory of dreams. Dreams of empire, killed in an instant...
In the middle of the night, freezing rain slammed down upon the Fortress of Zering. Sentinels paced upon the battlements, watching the horizon for any sign of friend or foe. As the full moon broke free of a roiling sea of clouds, a scouting party returned, heralded by a thundering of hooves that pierced the brooding silence of the scene. The party, a handful of mounted soldiers, was led by the master of the fortress, Lord Benedict. A tall man in his prime, he was utterly devoted to his king, and to guarding the strategic mountain pass which was the gateway to the Inner Kingdom.
Leaving his horse with a stable boy, Benedict immediately ascended to his chamber. Still dripping from the heavy rain, he began to compose an urgent letter to his king:
Having just returned from the carnage at Zarasa, I am most appalled. My scouts arrived to find the land about the Tower littered with bodies, just as Your Majesty had feared. Upon hearing this, I immediately set out to see it for myself.
When he was finished, Benedict sealed the letter and sent it off to his royal master with all due haste. The king was anxiously awaiting word of the recent incident at Zarasa.
The sight was most grim. It would appear that the renegades, preparing to storm the convent, began fighting amongst themselves, for what reason I do not know. Among the slaughter, I regret to inform Your Majesty, I identified the corpse of Morgan, sworn enemy of the realm. The traitor, I'm afraid, will never stand trial for his crimes as Your Majesty had wished. Of the Lady Alexandra, however, there was no trace.
By sundown of the following day, a messenger arrived with the king's reply to Lord Benedict's report:
Well done, our loyal servant. It is indeed regrettable that the traitor Morgan has escaped punishment in this life, but at least the matter is finally closed. Continue the search for traitors in the area of the convent. As for our renegade cousin, concern yourself no more. Alexandra has already found us.
Several very bloody days later, Benedict stood before his king in the throne room of the magnificent royal castle. Much had transpired since His Majesty's revelation that Alexandra was indeed alive.
"We found the remaining renegades in the woods near Zarasa," reported the soldier. "Those who were not captured or killed were driven off." When the wrinkled old man on the throne made no reply, Benedict quickly added, "But they are being pursued and will soon be in our hands, My Liege."
After a longer pause, the monarch responded. "You have done well, Lord Benedict," he said. "This threat to our kingdom is at long last...eliminated." The king was a small, thin old man with a grating, nasal voice that wore away at listeners until they could stand it no longer. Benedict, however, had grown accustomed to the effect, and stood proudly at attention in the large, nearly empty chamber. "Is there anything you would have as a show of our...appreciation?"
Benedict blinked in surprise. "My Liege, I only wish to continue serving as I always have, by guarding the pass at Zering."
The monarch smiled, showing a mouth full of rotten teeth. "Of course. But we think you will have one thing more."
The smile continued, relentlessly disgusting. "Before you leave this castle, you will have our cousin's hand in marriage."
Within the high walls of her garden courtyard at Zering, a healing Alexandra strolled among her rose bushes, pruning them as she sang quietly to herself a bouncy tune and pondered her new home, her sudden marriage, and her crushing defeat. Her Lord High Marshal, her "silly old dragon," was dead, the result of his own act of betrayal, and her vision of a glorious empire in her father's name was forever shattered.
Suddenly, Alexandra stopped singing.
"A prison," she said to herself, softly at first, as she continued to care for her flowers. Rapidly she descended into anger and forgot about them.
"A prison!" she screamed, over and over again. A young serving girl heard her cries and arrived just in time to see Alexandra turn the pruning shears upon herself.
"No!" cried the maid, picking up her skirt and running to her mistress, knocking her to the ground. She fought to grab hold of the shears.
That was the girl's first and final mistake, before Alexandra plunged the shears into her gentle young neck and forever cut off her life.
For a long time afterward, Alexandra just lay there in the sun, staring up at a clear blue sky.
"Such a beautiful prison," she whimpered.
Will the saga of Alexandra continue? Perhaps...