This was originally written in October 2005 as a response to a Halloween challenge, in which participants were to write a 1000 word story with a terrible opening sentence. The story has changed a bit since then, but the opening sentence remains the same. (And yes: it's what you're probably thinking it is.) I should also note that I play even faster and looser with the EU than usual here. (Revised note to go with the 3.28.13 revised version.) ------------------- Courtly Love “If you’re in as much agony as I am, please tell me!” Finally, Rollo Mabriee dared to look back at the woman he would give anything, anything at all, to spend his life with: Queen Kylantha. She did not respond. She looked pale through her fading white makeup. Her hands were folded together in her lap. Oh, how he longed reach over and take one of them up in a (gently suitable) grip, but he knew not to. Though he had been courting—as he hoped he could call it—the Queen for some time, he had never once touched her. He had never even been alone with her. One of the handmaidens, hidden inside her wine-red velvet cloak, was waiting over by the doors. She only seemed to ignore them. Rollo had never spoken with her, or any of the others, so he only guessed that they regarded him as a joke. Just as their mistress did. “Your Highness!” he said. “Rollo,” she said. She said in her regally beautiful, swan-song voice. But her meaning was clear. Rollo felt his heart crack, of course, of course. She had answered his question, and she was not in agony. She was not confused. She was not even interested. “Rollo.” The handmaiden looked away. “I have always been fond of you, as I hope you know. But I cannot—I cannot return your affections. I have my duty to Naboo, and to our people, and it does not leave m e room for that sort of relationship.” She gave him a slight, fading smile, cold as the woman who slept in the smallest and farthest away of the moons—the same look she would have given to the pirate lord who had sought her hand. Now, as she had then, she said: My duty is to Naboo. I live only to serve my world, and my people. “I would never doubt your devotion to our world,” Rollo said. “But I do fail to see why you must live like a nun to serve it.” “I do not like that tone, Rollo,” said Kylantha. “But, yes, I must. I know you will remember what happened to the last queen who thought she could remain in office after she married. She was the least popular queen in the last several hundred years. Yet she still made a run for reelection. She was defeated-- No, she was more than defeated.” Or: She was crushed by that election. Her career, which should have ended, as was proper, with her marriage, was over. She barely received five percent of the vote. “Things must have changed since then,” said Rollo. “And if they haven’t, you can make it so. Surely, surely, you can have another, private side of your life--” “Dear Rollo,” she said (with, he would realize later, a condescending sigh). “I cannot. You’ve chosen an area of study where you can play with ideas, but a politician has to be a good deal more practical. Our Queens have always known to be chaste. We’ve never even had to make it into law. This will never, ever change, regardless of what we might want. And I am not as secure in my position as I would like you, and myself, to believe. Amidala is more popular now, after her death, than I will ever be. And I have other cares to think of…” She did not have to say it: The Empire. Rollo felt his stomach echo as he swallowed. He should have known what her answer would be. It wouldn’t have mattered if she (in her bedtime thoughts, or while whispering in confidence with the handmaidens) did love him, because he would still watch, and never touch, her. No one could touch her. He thought of writing a poem for her, where this would all make sense, and then shook his head. No, he would never write it. He loved her, but he would not name another Kylantha’s Folly. He looked back at Queen Kylantha. She was still beautiful. She was twenty-five years old, and past being a young girl—and people, including his own mother and elder sisters, did still long for the days of Amidala, and even Apailana. She wore a severely new black afternoon gown that pooled around her feet, and a new moon-pearl headpiece. Her hair (her nightdark, silky-limp hair) was done up in one of her simpler hairstyles. But mostly, Rollo saw the scar of remembrance cut on her lower lip, and the two red dots on her cheeks. She was Queen. She had given herself to Naboo, and there was nothing left for herself, let alone him. “I understand, Your Highness,” he said. “Then this is how it must be.” “Yes, Rollo,” she said. “I understand very well,” he said. (And she watched him with a look that could have meant anything. She was right: he didn’t understand politics.) “You like to think of yourself as a politician, but you’re not. You’re only a doll for the populace to admire. If you were to ever show you were anything else, they would find another one they liked better.” “That is not true, Rollo,” said the Queen. He would let her believe that. Rollo realized that, for the first time since they had met, he had nothing left to say to her. Soon, when she dismissed him, he would be relieved to follow the handmaiden out of the room and back into the palace. This was the Queen’s personal drawing room, where she met only with those few people she considered friends, and he had always been flattered, so flushed and nervously pleased, to be amongst those friends. Now, he knew better. He looked over at her another, last, time. He could only see the dark inksleek silk of her dress, and the pearls shivering on her headdress. Finally, he knew how to look at her. Finally, he knew she didn’t see him, not truly, when she changed her face and smiled.