Welcome home, oh bard of my heart!
I have been counting the days until your return. Two hundred and sixty-three, in fact, as of this letter, which you should have found by now resting on the fireplace mantle.
I remember fondly evenings spent sitting in the small tower watching across the gardens for your return as I worked my needle craft. Not now of course. I meant when I was younger. Those first few years after we met. I’ve spent most of these last two hundred- and sixty-three-days making changes, as you’ve probably noticed by now.
I thought about what would best please you and how to make this home the refuge you deserve. I’ve known you for ten years, and I like to think that, as wives go, I understand you better than most do their spouses. I certainly have learned a lot about you in the past two hundred and sixty-three days! Ha, ha!
But I digress. Silly me, you hate when I do that. I am ever here to please you!
First, don’t fret about not being able to attend my father’s funeral. I completely understand, and the fruit basket you sent was welcome. His death did, after all, come as a great surprise. Well, not a surprise, more like an unwelcome truth that had run on too long. He’d lived a hundred years more than planned, waiting for the curse cast upon me to be broken. His doctors had told us many times before you left that he would not live out this year. But your mind must have been focused on all the places you planned to visit. No one would have expected you to realize the end of his life had been so near while you were planning your next great adventure. Pay it no mind, my love.
It was quite the memorial. Thousands came to say their goodbyes to the kindest ruler they’d ever known. Mother and I wept for days. Well, I wept. Mother mostly floated around in a gray cloud of sadness.
It’s okay that you were not here to support me, love! I know you never liked him, so his death must come as a relief to you. You’ll no longer have to put up with his long speeches, his invitations to join him for fox hunts, or his snoring at state dinners. Or the way he doted on you and encouraged you to speak your mind, which you took great delight in doing around him.
Frankly, he and mother never understood the animosity, and he tried to curry your pleasure at every opportunity, all to make me happy. For example: he made you head of the bards’ college despite…
- your lack of formal bard college training
- your inability to cast the simplest cantrips
- your horrendously out of tune singing (though you do play the lute well enough to get gigs as backing instrumentalist for better vocalists; have to give you that)
“Nothing is too great for the husband of my darling Esme,” he liked to say when I would ask him. Truly a kind and gracious man. I’m so lucky to have had him as a father.
Still, despite his repeated attempts to bring you into the family, you consistently and endlessly treated him like farts. You demanded we spend as little time with them as possible. As a member of the royal family, I could not cut off all contact, but I limited it as much as possible, all to please you. I gradually lost contact with most of my friends and many of my cousins. Mother, though, made sure I kept a small mirror with which we could converse through the Shadow Realm whenever I felt lonely. We even visited there for brunches at one of the Misty tea shops in Nether City. They make the most wonderful pâté; you should try it!
Oh, before I forget. You expected something from his will. You certainly kept hinting that you did when you realized how sick he’d become. Spoiler alert: he left you nothing. Maybe he forgot? On the other hand, as his only living child, I of course am now in charge of the kingdom. I have offered mother the position of Queen’s regent while I set my affairs in order, which she has graciously accepted.
Let me repeat so it’s clear: I am in charge of the kingdom, along with mother.
By now, you’re running for the door, ha ha! Calm, no worries, love, you have nothing to fear! Well, nothing from me anyway, though I can’t speak for mother. But I suggest you finish this letter first before you mount up whatever nag you’re riding these days and head off “questing” again.
I should probably call it what it was: drinking and whoring.
I’ll never forget your first kiss. Waking after a century of sleep to find you leaning over me and smiling your—I feel I should be completely honest with you now, as you were with father—infantile and smirking grin. It makes you look smug and condescending, with that weak chin of yours and bloodshot eyes (I know you tried to hide them, but you weren’t fooling anyone, dear). But you broke the spell, and I felt, well…I suppose grateful, to be honest. The witch had been very specific about my marriage prospects, so I allowed you to do whatever you wanted right there on that dusty bed. You were going to be my husband and it seemed I should provide you with some pleasure for your troubles. After all, you did brave the forest of thorns and best the guardian troll. What courage and fortitude!
Although, in all honesty, my father had kept a path cleared in case a suitable knight should arrive. And the troll was old, blinded by cataracts, and suffering from arthritis. You didn’t even fight him, you simply snuck past him during his after-dinner nap.
But you did it, no one else! I’m not taking that from you! So, I smiled and told you it was wonderful when you were finished, and that seemed to make you happy. I’ve been lying ever since.
You get pretty good at it after a while, it turns out.
No worries, darling, I never mentioned the first-kiss sex to anyone. Not even father, bless his kindly heart. He was a gentle man and wouldn’t have understood nor approved. He made sure mother truly loved him before he took her to bed, which is important when dealing with certain forms of demons. He most assuredly wouldn’t have groped her unconscious sixteen-year-old body before engaging in sex with her upon first meeting.
Now that I think of it, I may have let slip the details of your many indiscretions to mother during father’s funeral. There was a great deal of drinking, and I can’t remember all that we discussed. Did I ever get smashed! So, yes, bit of a blur there.
Anyway, here I go, prattling on again about myself, when this letter is about you! I’m so sorry, my beautiful man. I want your arrival home to be an occasion of joy for you!
Here is some joy! Going forward, you no longer have to sneak around to enjoy the many pleasures you hold so dear. You are free to sleep with whatever woman will have you.
Like the farmer’s wife in Stockbridge. Oh yes, I heard that tale, love! A hay loft, while her husband slept soundly in the house? I had no idea you were a traditionalist when it came to cuckoldry! Remarkable! And the tavern owner’s niece in Farmington? Her uncle would be happy to introduce you to your son, Edgar, when you return. She still believes you’re single and is waiting for you to sweep her away on the back of your noble steed, by the way.
Her uncle might have some additional words for you as well. Some business proposition involving chickens and roofing tar? Well, it’s complicated and you know I’m not that bright, which you happily shared with some of your lovers. At least the ones who knew you were married. Although I really don’t understand how you could also say I’m a prude, given all that I acquiesced to during our years together. Did you not enjoy the wide array of costumes I donned at your request? You seemed particularly charmed by the bar wench outfit I’d sewn.
Well, I guess I know why now.
I believe there were also comments about my face being horsey? Oh, and I’m flat chested, yes. That one I stuck in my head, given how buxom some of the women I spoke to were. I had no idea you favored well rounded women! I might have eaten more instead of starving myself to stay thin in order to please you, had I known.
I haven’t met all of your special friends yet. But I’ve talked to a dozen women you seduced with various promises of immortalizing them in song and verse, even spell (though again, your skill with magic is non-existant). You even promised to marry some of them if it got you into their bed. I do believe there are serious penalties for bigamy per father’s decrees, although thankfully it doesn’t seem you followed through.
You never were good at follow through.
Anyway, you’ll see that the house is completely, utterly empty. I took everything that belonged to me. Since father paid for all of it, it’s mine. All the furniture, the trinkets, the clothing, the shoes (you did love your shoes, didn’t you; my goodness, you had hundreds of pairs!). I also had the garden dug up and distributed the food to the needy, along with your barrels of ale. After all, you had promised to drink less. I want to help you keep that promise. You could do to lose a few inches on that waistline. I remember when it used to be tight and trim! Your ass swayed beautifully underneath your too tight tights, and almost compensated for your smug grin.
No, no, you’re not getting fat, love! Well, not much anyway. Okay, perhaps you are a bit rounder these days. You could bill yourself as Bardi Beltrane the Barrel Bottomed. It has a ring to it, don’t you think?
I’m sorry, that was mean. I didn’t want this letter to be mean.
You may keep the house. There are too many lonely memories there for me.
I’m off to the castle. I’ll take a few months to decide what I wish to do with the rest of my life. I may pursue that necromantic degree I’ve been putting off, and I have a ton of dinner plans with old friends I need to catch up with. On top of which, there are so many mundane activities I must manage. For example, as newly crowned Queen, I get to annul marriages when petitioned by aggrieved spouses, for reasons of violence, infidelity, or abandonment (I shall also be adding irreconcilable differences; no one should be forced to spend a lifetime with someone they no longer enjoy being with).
I know you’re a bit slow, so let me clarify: our marriage is hereby annulled. You are stripped of any titles and are no longer head of the bard’s college. You may, however, keep your bard’s license. You’ll need it to make some sort of living. I wouldn’t want you to starve.
One last thing. Now that father has passed, the spell mother cast upon herself has worn off. You may want to keep an eye out for shadowy, winged shapes with very sharp claws; not nice to encounter at night. Not that she would stoop to actions like petty revenge, but she does tend to have more of a temper in her old body now that father’s love no longer locks her in human form. The first thing she did after he died was invite the witch who had cast the curse on me to a luncheon. Mother promptly ate her. Very messy business, it took us days to wash all the blood from the castle floors. I still don’t know how we’re going to clean the tapestries.
So that happened.
You are welcome to stay here of course! I would not dream of taking from you the home you’ve known these past ten years. But, given mother’s anger and some of the things she’s said about you, running would probably be much safer. It would be difficult for me to sell the place once it’s been decorated with your entrails.
Queen Esmerelda Ella Marie, First Named and High Queen of Menterry