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Harbard warms himself by the fire in the Hawk's Cry Tavern. He looks to the Innkeeper

Thank you again for the place by the fire for the night. As always, Torvi was no trouble at all today, and i'm always glad to educate him. May I trade you a story for dinner tonight? It's a sad one. Thank you.

Harbard reaches into his sack and pulls out a small log, placing it on the fire. After a moment, the flames turn blue and bathe the inn in a somber light.

This is the lonely Tale of Queen Ironroot.

Queen art

Once, many years ago, but not too many, Caroline Ironroot was born to our former King and Queen. She was a happy baby, and a happier child. She spent her days learning to rule, when she wasn't out scouring the castle grounds looking for fun. She would bother the squires and pages about their duties, and she would force them to teach her what their knights had taught them of fighting, until eventually her Father was informed, and he was forced to discipline her by forcing her to attend these same lessons alongside the squires. It was not much of a punishment, but it was fair, and our king was always fair.

She was taught every aspect of nobility, how to curtsy just low enough to be respectful, but just high enough that all who saw knew she was still in charge. How to set a table and prepare a banquet, only so she could instruct others in how to do so, How to greet visiting nobility and wandering peasant. How to deliver justice and judgement with an even hand and how to tip that hand just so when they laws did not fit the situation. In a word, she was raised to be the Perfect Queen, to perfectly compliment the perfect King she would one day rule beside.

One day, one of the squires she had tormented so as a child entered her Father's throne room. She sat near his side, watching how a king and queen did rule day to day. That squire, it seemed, had grown into a knight, a truly honorable and worthy man, and that worthy Knight knelt before her father and told him of his deeds. The villages he had saved, and the beasts he had defeated, and with each take, he presented a trophy of that victory to the king. He also spoke of his failures, of which there were few, though stil significant. He spoke o fthe village he could not save, of the beast that eluded him still. And for these he dis also present a token of the event. At the end of his tales, he presented to the king his spurs and his blade, and he said:

"My King, every great deed and failing in my life has all been towards one goal. I am unworthy of this goal and shall never be worthy of it, but I have done all i can. My King, since the day she first bedeviled me to teach her to swing a waster as my knight had taught me, I have only ever loved your daughter, Caroline, and have only ever desired her hand in marriage. But as i said, I am unworthy. For a chance to prove my worth to her, i ask that you take my trophies, my spurs, and my blade. Take them and let me spend every moment of every day proving to all in this kingdom that I am worthy of her love."

The hall was silent, and the knight stayed knelt before the king. No one such a station had ever made such an audacious claim as this knight had to the king, or to any king they could remember. The king stood he looked to his Queen, and she nodded. He looked to his daughter, Princess Caroline, and a tear rolled down her face. The king looked to the knight.

"Rise, Ser Roderick. Rise and take your spurs from my floor. strap your blade to your waist once more. The man who will marry my daughter must be ready to defend her life and this kingdom at a moment's notice. If she will have you, you have my blessing."

The knight, Ser Roderick donned his spurs and blade and stood still as a statue, waiting for Princess Caroline's answer.

Princess Caroline rose shakily from her seat and approached the knight. She looked him in the face, tears streaming gently from her eyes. "Ser knight, if you think a dunderhead who hasn't even asked me for my hand in marriage would EVER be worthy of it, you are sorely mistaken."

The knight's eyes went wide and his knees started to shake. He had not prepared for this and he began to stutter over his words before she raised a finger to his lips. "But i shall give you the opportunity to prove your worth every moment of every day for the rest of our lives".

The hall erupted in cheers as he took the princess in his arms and kissed her. The knight and the queen were married in the spring, and they birthed a son almost two years to the day. They reigned in honor for seven years, the best seven years the kingdom had ever known.

Then one day, the king fell ill... He was never able to shake the illness, though as a small blessing he passed peacefully, with Prince Zachary's and Queen Caroline's loves on his lips and in his heart.

Since that day, she has never been the same. Prince Zachary never truly understood why his father was taken, and how can you tell a young boy of that? Queen Caroline did her best to show he was still so loved by indulging his every whim to try to keep him happy. She does her best to keep the kingdom together, but it has all been so hard... so hard. Everything was taken from her when her king passed.

So now, when you see her on the throne from which she rules, you will never see the weight the burden she carries. when you see her walk the halls, you will never see the pain she must endure. But, in that soft moment, at the end of the banquet, just after farewells have been said, her mask may slip a moment, and you will see the pain of having had to live without the man she loves for all these years bt being unable to give up. She keeps going every day, for us, her people. We are all her children, and whenever we have the chance, we must all thank her for all she has done for us to raise us and keep us safe without her husband, our father, at her side. We must all be the children she deserves. If ever you get the chance, Thank Mother Ironroot. Bring her some trinket or treasure from your travels to remind her that her knight waits for her, just a little further down the Path.