The Four Courts

By @Kath_Street
The Four Courts

For as long as anyone can remember, the seasons have been at war with each other. Winter and Autumn clashing with Spring and Summer. Yet no one can remember why. Trouble is brewing within the courts and it's up for the heirs of the court to dig up the past. Will the truth soothe old wounds? Or shall it break them anew?

Chapter 1

Anastasia

“The legends say once there was a time of peace and harmony among the courts.” The Great Tapestry needed to be mended. As in tradition, the Queen of Winter herself would mend it during the sewing hour, and as in tradition, she would narrate their history. As she pulled a stitch through, another piece of history would slip from the Queen’s lips. 

Biting her lip, Anastasia stopped her sewing for a second to quickly glance at her mother. Her mother’s long white hair hung loose, wavy from hours of being in braids. Tradition dictated the Queen’s hair be braided during all hours of the day except for when she went to sleep and during sewing hour. Her mother did not often speak during sewing hour but Winter Court was strong in her traditions, so her mother spoke – her pale brown eyes never wavering from her needlework. 

“In these peace times, trade was abundant and travel was free. There was no war. There was no bloodshed.” Her mother droned on about other trivial details – marriages and parties between the courts, Anastasia focused on her needlework during this time, sewing herself a new dress for the upcoming ball. Her pointed ears perked only when her mother’s tone changed. “But then everything changed.” 

For a moment, every lady of the court paused their sewing. Every servant stood still with bated breath. “Summer Court sent agents to kill our Princess. They slit her throat in the dead of the night and disappeared without a trace.” Anastasia’s throat felt as though it might close, she bit her lip and imagined her great-great-great-great-great many times over aunt having her throat cut. Simply for being born in the same position Anastasia herself was born in. “And thus began the War.” 

With the history spoken and finished, everyone let out the breathes they were holding. The court continued with their sewing until the Queen finished mending the Great Tapestry. “There, I think that will do nicely.” the Queen lifted the tapestry in the air, examining the mending in the light. 

The ladies of the court filed over to compliment the Queen’s work after they had packed away their sewing baskets. “A marvelous job, your highness.” chattered one. “Why it looks even better than before!” hummed another, giving the Queen a beautiful smile.

Queen Tatiana took the praise with a wave of her hand. “Please, the skill of my ancestors far surpasses my own.” A traditional response, one that everyone accepted. “Anastasiya, let me see your work.” At the sound of her traditional name, Anastasia looked up from where she was packing up her sewing basket. 

A blush bloomed across her pale cheeks, her pointed ears flopping downward with her earrings clinking against her shirt. “Yes, My Queen.” she gathered up her dress and walked over to her mother’s throne. The ladies of the court parted as she stood before her mother and dropped into a deep, traditional curtsy before the throne. 

“You may rise, my daughter,” Like all the times she was made to present her sewing, Anastasia was glad for her long skirts, they hid her shaking knees. Gently, she draped the dress over the Great Tapestry on her mother’s lap and took a step back. Her mother scooped up the dress immediately, not allowing it to touch the Great Tapestry for less than a second, and held the dress to the light. Anastasia chewed on her lip with anticipation, doing her best to not bounce on her heels and wring her hands as her mother examined the dress she had been working on for weeks. 

At long last, the Queen smiled. “Excellent work, Anastasiya,” Anastasia stepped forward to take her dress away from her mother, gently folding it and stuffing it in her sewing basket. The Queen began to roll the Great Tapestry and when it was all rolled up, she stood. “Now, please enjoy your free hour while I go hang the Great Tapestry.” with her long rabbit fur coat trailing behind her, the Queen left the sewing hall and Anastasia followed after her, her cheeks red. It was a tradition the princess followed after her mother. 

Some might say that the Winter Court was a rigid, hard court clinging to their traditions. In a way, this was true, they were traditional and change moved at a pace slower than a mole digging its way through the snow, but the Court of Winter was used to their traditions. Now, it was not traditional for the Princess of the Court to visit the kitchens however there were no traditions demanding the Princess of the Court did not visit the kitchens. 

“So it went well?” Amalina, the head baker, asked as Anastasia tied her apron in place and rolled up her long sleeves. Amalina didn’t waste an hour stitching, instead, she used her sewing hour making wonderful pastries. It was a tradition she brought over from her court. Amalina was from Autumn Court, Winter’s ally in the war, as well as her mother’s…companion. Anastasia didn’t really have a word for Amalina’s and her mother’s relationship, it wasn’t traditional for sure.

 

“It did actually. Mother mended the Great Tapestry.” in the kitchens, Anastasia was less careful about what she said. Servants were less cutthroat on the Princess dropping some traditions, they were far too busy with work.

 

“Ah, that’s when your mum’s gotta recite that history story all over again?” Autumn Court was not traditional, not by the Winter Court’s standards. The season was fickle and the Court was as well. Laws, fashion, taxes, and more changed at the drop of a leaf, nothing was rigid. Change flowed like a running river instead of a frozen lake that was Winter Court. Even after nearly fifty spans spent in the cold court, Amalina did not always have a grip on their traditions. Anastasia was pretty sure she didn’t care that much either. 

“It’s not a story, it’s history.” The Princess insisted as she covered her hands in flour and began to knead the bread Amalina put in front of her. Was it traditional for a Princess of the Court to knead bread like a common servant? Certainly not! But it was her free hour and Anastasia could do whatever she wanted during it. 

Amalina rolled her dark eyes, running a scared hand through her short hair. “Aye, it is.” She joined her in knead another loaf. Amalina had warmed her mother’s bed for as long as Anastasia could remember. Her father, a man she barely remembered, had been killed in the War. It was tradition for Queens after their mourning years to remarry but Queen Tatianna broke this tradition. Instead, she took a not so secret lover – an autumn court baker. Traditionally, there would have been outrage and a scandal but there was an heir born. It was allowed to slide and Amalina was Anastasia’s second mother even if she was never allowed to speak of it. And her second mother liked to tell her traditions from her home court. “Autumn Court may not have traditions like you do, but we do have a mourning ceremony.” 

“A mourning ceremony?” Her pointed ears perked up, lifting the heavy golden earrings from their resting place on her apron.

“Aye. Once a year, we gather at the temple and sing a song of sorrow for our lost princess.” Song was a constant in Autumn Court, even if the tone and the pitch changed, the people of Autumn Court loved to sing their hearts out. 

“The one that Spring stole?” Anastasia paused from her kneading, blinking her mismatched eyes. Each was a different shade of blue, the left being of the color of the sky on a clear day while the other was of the deep sapphire traditionally worn by Winter Court nobles. 

Amalina nodded, her scared face grim. “Aye. Princess Lucilla, she was murdered the same days as your Princess Olga.” 

“It’s strange, isn’t it? That Autumn Court lost a princess the same night Winter Court did?” she asked. Mother didn’t mention this, she thought with a frown. 

Amalina stayed quiet, staring out the window that showed the gardens covered in snow. “Aye, it is,” she said at long last, “but let’s not speak of such grim things.” Her tone was firm, end of discussion – there would be no more mention.

Anastasia bit her lip and kept her mouth shut, continuing to knead the dough but she couldn’t help but think about how very strange it was that two princesses died on the same night, both assassinated by their opposite courts…

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