She looked up to see Guile standing above her, disgust etched in every line of his face. He hacked at her again with the sword. She fumbled backward out of its way.
“Your parents should have drowned you the day you were born,” he said. “Such hours should not be suffered to live.”
The princess inched back on her hands and knees trying to find a weapon or tool or plan of escape.
“I would have followed your father into hell itself, if he’d been reasonable and banished you. All these years of blight and infighting could have been side-stepped, but the old goat couldn’t do that to his own daughter. Well today I’ll see his line banished from the earth.” He raised his sword for one last time. She had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Anger and malice and greed burned in his eyes. But as his sword hung in the air for just a moment, her searching fingers found Count Riverton’s discarded sword. She swung its blade toward him and heaven. Guile saw the sword too late and though he tried to swerve out of its biting grasp, he could not counter his own motion and fell upon the upraised sword.
Sir Doyle and Roddie arrived in time to pull Guile off of the Queen. “Are you alright, my lady,” Sir Doyle asked as he helped her to her feet. She held on to the count’s sword.
“We must get you out of here,” Roddie said.
“No,” she said, “I live or I die right here.”
She took stock of herself and the situation. The fighting was hot and heavy in the perimeter of the assembly but was relatively calm at the moment near the platform. As Galahad might have put it, everyone had a dance partner.
“Roddie, I require a trumpeter,” she said.
“I think I see one cowering amongst the tables and chairs,” he replied and went off to find the poor lad.
Sir Doyle and Lilly were both engaged in sword fights by the time Roddie returned. Roddie grabbed Lilly’s opponent from behind while Sir Doyle knocked out his opponent with a blow to the head from the hilt of his sword.
The trumpeter stood shaking in his leggings when the queen turned on him. In reflex he turned to the side and puked.
“Play!” she shouted, “play as loud as you can!”
When he continued to look in horror at her face she replaced the veil to prevent any further distractions.
The trumpeter raised his instrument to his lips and played a not so loud and long that it could be heard over the din of battle. Combatants stopped and looked toward the source of the noise.
“What is your name?” She asked quietly.
“Errrrr… Ummmm… H-H-Henry,” he said.
“Well done, Henry,” she said, then turned towards the combatants.
She held aloft the Count’s sword.
“We all have something in common,” she shouted. “We all came here looking for a fight.
“I came to carry on my father’s legacy in the best way I can. Some of you came to help me do that. Some of you came to stop me. But either way we both love this kingdom, we would fight and bleed for her hallowed lands.
“Count Riverton is dead. It is not what I wanted, but he gave me no choice. I wish no further harm to come to anyone on my account.
“I would be a sorry queen if I hoped to slay my subjects in order to rule them. Please lay down your arms. I vow to pardon any and all who would swear their fealty to myself and my house.”
The crowd was silent. It seemed almost everyone looked to someone else for an answer. Then a grubby peasant was pushed forward.
“Begging your pardon, errrr… Ma’am, but we’ve hear that you’re, well…a beast…a hideous monster from-from the pit of hell. They say that to look at you is the same as looking at the devil himself.”
Lilly looked from one face to the next.
“It’s true,” she said. “I am hideous.”
An unsettled quiet fell across the crowd.
Lilly forced her voice to be steady, calm, and matter of fact.
“I’m sure you’ve heard the rumor that my mother’s maidservant fainted and died when I left my mother’s womb. That story is true, but only because she hit her head on the corner of the hearth when she fell.
“If I had been born in another house, regal or otherwise, I probably would not have reached my first birthday. I am ugly, ugly enough to cause vomiting on command.
“I will not be the queen suitors seek from across the great seas. I will not be the queen every young prince would give half his kingdom for. I will not be a queen whom stories are told about for generations. But I will seek to be fair and honest. To treat you as you want to be treated and to help our kingdom prosper and grow. In short, I will be your queen. But before I can ask you to do that, I want you to see me, to see my face.” With that she lifted the veil for all to see.
There was no great applause after this, no standing ovation for this heartfelt speech, and only a few people threw up, though a tinge of nausea passed through most of the crowd.
The soldier who had spoken turned to look at his comrades then back at Lilly. He walked forward toward the foot of the platform and just before he reached it stopped and unsheathed his sword. He stood there for a moment as if at a crossroads. Then he kneeled and offered his sword up in both hands.
“I swear fealty to you, my queen,” he said.
A second man followed the first, then one of Riverton’s commanders. More and more followed until the field was empty except for kneeling soldiers.
Not everyone knelt that day nor did everyone who did so do it honestly. There were many long days ahead of rebellion and insurrection as pockets still held out against the queen so ugly she must be demonic. But she handled all of these with both grace and cunning and, once convinced of her virtues, no one could think of questioning them again.
But before the victory was chalked down nearly five hundred were lost including Galahad. The wound the count had given him had been torn open by his attack on the count and he lost far too much blood to be saved, even if their medical techniques had been more advanced. She held onto the final words he spoke to her and in troubled times, with the stresses of ruling pressing in on her she would sit back and smile with her hair lip for Galahad had looked at her with honest eyes and an iron stomach and had said, “You are beautiful.”