Good to be Queen

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          Once upon a time, there was a king

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Once upon a time, there was a king.
He ruled the lands of Avaritia, a prosperous and beautiful kingdom with hills and valleys that rolled right into the sea. The realm owed most of its wealth to the merchandise ports along the edge of the water, strategically placed and manned to surpass the other kingdoms' in efficiency and reputation. The people of Avaritia were happy and hardworking, and loyal to their generous and kindly king, who was just and fair and respected by all.
As generous and kindly and fair as the king was, he was also getting old and was expected to pass away before winter came. The king had three beautiful children: his eldest was a handsome young man, with a head full of chestnut curls and even more knowledge. His second eldest was also a son, whose dark hair and good looks made the ladies blush, and whose bravery put even the most courageous knight to shame. But his youngest child was a daughter, with hair like woven gold and eyes that sparkled like the sea, whose smile was as sweet as the first taste of a strawberry and whose laughter was like wind chimes in a light breeze. She was lovely and charming, and was adored by all of Avaritia. Her name was Serafina.
If not for these qualities, the people of Avaritia would never have given her a second thought when they debated on who should inherit the throne. Firstly, her two brothers were fully capable and well-suited to lead their father's kingdom, and then there was the matter of Avaritia never having had a female ruler in all its history. A queen? No. It was unthinkable. And yet.
          The day before his death, the king called his three beautiful children to his chambers, where he lay on his deathbead.
          "Children," he said. "As you know, the time has come for Avaritia to begin a new era under a new ruler. I have summoned you here so that I may choose one of you to take my crown when I die.
"Each of you are to perform one task to impress upon me your worthiness of the throne. Good luck, and know that I have faith in each of you."
So the tasks began. The elder son played a game of chess with the king's head strategist and won in fourteen moves. The younger son left the castle and returned an hour later holding the tooth of a dragon he had slain. When the king turned to his daughter, however, she merely took a frog from the palace gardens and kissed it. "For you, father," she said, smiling her sweet smile, "I would kiss a frog."
          The children were dismissed, and the king lay in his bed, thinking long and hard. Finally, precisely as the sun began to crest the Avaritia hills and tinge the sky pink, the king whispered only one word—"Serafina"—to his attendant, and died.
Thus began the reign of the Golden Queen, the first female ruler in the history of Avaritia, and it seemed as though the entire kingdom--queendom--had turned up for her coronation. Her hair was the same shade of gold as the crown, and she smiled and waved at the crowd and she was beautiful.
And so Avaritia continued to be one of the most wealthy and wonderful realms for miles and miles. The new queen was as generous and kind and fair as her father was, and all was well.
But one day, on her birthday, when the queen stood to give her usual speech of thanks addressing her subjects, she instead said this, in her wind-chime voice:
"Lovely people of Avaritia. I look at you all, hardworking husbands and harder-working wives, you young children with your little faces upturned and your tiny hands made for chopping wood, or cooking stews. I look at you all, and I think to myself: we could be so much more.
          "Look at Avaritia. Look at our lush green hills, our glittering sea, our marvelous ports. Look how other kingdoms are mere villages in comparison, and cower in our shadow. The moon is at our fingertips, so why should we be content with the stars?
"Our realm is hundreds of  thousands fine men strong. Imagine the army we could muster! We could easily take our neighboring kingdoms, take their land, their gold, their people. Avaritia will grow stronger and larger than ever, and soon all the land will be ours. Are you with me?"
The people of Avaritia had always been peaceful, but something within them stirred at their queen's words. She stood, beautiful and powerful, her arms spread wide as her smile and her eyes landing on each of her subjects, making them feel special, needed.
          Thus began the greatest rise and farthest fall of any realm ever known.
          Only months later, maps had to be redrawn. The borders of Avaritia grew and grew, and the neighboring kingdoms fell one by one under the great fist of Queen Serafina.
          As her army and queendom grew, she began pushing harder. Squeezing her subjects of their gold to fund her army. Commanding that army to traverse mountains and vast swamps without resting. Ripping young men from their families the minute they became of age to serve. Soon, she had conquered a total of seven kingdoms, without a single loss.
          Without a single lost battle, that is.
          The people of the now-sprawling Avaritia were poor now, and very tired. In villages built on mass graves, babies who would soon become slaves to Serafina's cause wailed and screamed because their mothers could not afford to feed them. Soldiers on both sides were dying by the thousands, and soon the soil they fought over became so stained with blood that crops would not grow.
          Still, Serafina wanted more. Avaritia grew and grew until finally all thirteen kingdoms were under the rule of the Golden Queen.
          On the final day of her conquest, when the final enemy soldier had been slain, Serafina stood at her bedroom window overlooking the never-ending sprawl of gray villages stretching towards the horizon. The villagers near the palace saw her there, on her balcony, reveling in her victory, cold and proud and beautiful. Serafina smiled and looked proudly at her new queendom, but the villagers below saw what her brilliant blue eyes could not: the Golden Queen was nothing but a queen of ashes, a lady of blood, a girl who, for her dying father, would only kiss a frog.

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