The revelation that my father had named me after a queen of old who had at one time ruled all of Altar did not shock me as much as I thought it would. My father was always cryptic like that drawing unusual connections. Nala the Seer had simply revealed another one of his ideas that I would someday find this circlet and wear it as the next Queen Sophia of Altar. Nala had foreseen that end as a possibility and my father had embraced it. I was now in the position of someone who does not believe much in destiny but I had to admit I loved my father the more for his high vision of what my life could be.
My father had raised me as a girl but he also through in a lot of things that a girl who was just going to be married off to some noble lord would never have to know. Battle tactics, history, leadership, riding, swordsmanship and many other things only a person in command would have to know. He was preparing me for this vision of me as Queen Sophia on the Throne of Altar. A tear started to form in one eye but I quickly wiped it away. I knew Nala probably saw it but she did not react.
“You spoke of an alliance with you and the Thieves Guild of Ragnar.”
“You would actually consider it?”
“My Father said it was always better to make friends than enemies and to never judge who would be valuable to you based on some misguided feelings of virtue or honor.”
Nala laughed, ‘Yes, that was quite like him. He was completely pragmatic about politics. I offer only any service we might be able to give in exchange for your protection should we need it.”
“Well, I have little protection I can offer.”
“You are the niece of the king and a noble. That is significant in Ragnar. We ask only that if it is within your power to protect us that you do so and we will do what we do to help you when we can.”
“What I need is information about who else had dealings with my father. Dealings that were secret and if the clue he possessed to this Crown of Sophia can be recovered that would be useful to me as well.”
“We will begin looking for these things at once.”
After exchanging a few parting pleasantries, Mya and I left Nala’s place. It was getting late but there as one person I had to see yet and that was Old Mary at the well. We made good time in the streets and we arrived at the main square with maybe an hour of daylight left. I found Old Mary not because I asked who she was but because I knew who she was just by looking.
She was not alone but surrounded by about five women who were much younger and dressed Nordic fashion. Their clothes were plain and unadorned indicating that they were from the Worker’s Quarter. Some of their clothing was worn tore or stained. In the middle of them was a woman dressed in black from head to toe with only her face showing. By Nordic custom this was the dress of the widow and a woman who wished no suitors. He face was etched with deep lines and whatever color her hair had possessed was swallowed up in a deep grey which matched her eyes. She was sitting on a stool near the edge of the central well. He hands were by her side and as we approached from afar we could see her responding to questions with short answers. The other girls seemed to be engaged in the time-honored tradition of gossip but she seemed like an old matronly crow rising out of the midst of a group of hens.
As we got closer the other women fell silent and Old Mary’s attention focused on our approach.
“Lady Rosenhall, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
“Well met Mary. I only wish to ask you a few questions about my father and mother.”
The women around Old Mary looked down but she nodded.
“Ladies, isn’t it late. Perhaps you should all get home to your husbands before they grow anxious about your whereabouts.”
I smiled. It was a polite way of telling her followers to go away and that she wanted to speak with me alone. The women said nothing but one by one got up and in a group headed toward the Worker’s Quarter. When they were well out of earshot, Old Mary spoke again.
“Child, sit beside me. Your banner bearer as well.”
Mya and I shuffled to sit on the right side of Old Mary. Mya leaned the banner against the lip of the well.
“Before I begin, I must tell you it is an honor to meet you. Your coming here brings me hope. These days of Altar have been long and filled with war. I am one of the few who remembers a time without war in Altar. The land bleeds and it must be made whole again. You are the key child.”
“I am not one for destiny.”
“As well you shouldn’t be. This is not fate but a possibility we must fight for.”
Her manner was so kind I fell in love with her at once. She was like a grandmother who I had at last found.
She then told me of my father and mother. That they had met twenty-five years ago when my father first came to Altar. Father had always been smitten with her but mother resisted. My Father fought alongside King Bjorn before he was king but his sister was never far away. My father had started as I was about to start, with a small warband for hire. In the space of three years he had becomes the king’s right hand. The king had originally wanted my father to be his royal advisor and perhaps even Marshal. Father however did not want this so much a s he wanted my mother. My mother for her part had been told it was forbidden for her to associate with my father. Mt father began to resent this treatment by Bjorn after all he had done for him. Bjorn was a fine warrior and leader but it was Father who was the tactician and strategist that put the crown on Bjorn’s head. In the end my mother and father started seeing each other in secret. Bjorn discovered this and put out a warrant for my father to be arrested. Mother convinced father to leave and went with him.
“I know most of this, what is it that no one is telling me.”
Old Mary gulped slightly.
“The reason you mother left with him was she was with child – you. She knew she could not stay behind because your father had to leave. I was asked, once it was known that she was gone, to do something I refused to do. Bjorn wanted to curse both your mother and father and sought me out to do so. I refused. My guess is he went to someone else.”
“My mother died giving birth to me and my father became a gambling drunk.”
“Such is the nature of such curses if they are done by some who cannot control the result. You lived because curses cannot touch the innocent.”
I leaned back against the wall of the well.
“How do you know all this?”
“I was your mother’s wise woman.”