“Better,” said her grandfather, but he didn’t say what it was beyond that. “I want you to keep it to remember me by, Oella. I want you to think of me whenever you look at it. I want you to remember all the wonderful times we had together and I want you to remember all the things I taught you.”
“I will,” said Princess Oella. She was only 9, but her and her grandfather had experienced many, many wonderful times together. And he had taught her a lot, both by explaining things to her and by his example.
That was the last time Princess Oella saw her grandfather alive. She kept the ring he had given her in a special wooden box hidden in the bottom of her wardrobe, and whenever she looked at it, she remembered most of the wonderful times she’d spent with him and many of the things he had taught her.
When Princess Oella’s mother Queen Selyse was almost dead, she called Princess Oella to her beside and gave her a golden necklace with a hand-shaped locket on it. “Why is it shaped like a hand?” asked Princess Oella.
“Because,” said her mother. “Hands are very important.” She didn’t elaborate beyond that, but Princess Oella supposed she didn’t need to. The importance of hands seemed fairly self-evident. “Listen, Oella,” said her mother. “Whenever you see this necklace and locket, I want you to remember how much I loved you, how I would have done anything for you, how I did everything in my power to protect you from cruelty and suffering.”
“I will,” said Princess Oella, who was now 13. She wasn’t exactly sure what her mother had done to prevent her from experiencing cruelty and suffering, but the truth was that she had experienced very little cruelty and suffering in her life except for the death of her grandfather and now the death of her mother, but she was sure that if her mother could have prevented those deaths, she definitely would have, especially her own.
That was the last time Princess Oella saw her mother alive, but she put the necklace with the hand-shaped locket on it in the box with the ring she’d gotten from her grandfather, and whenever she saw the necklace and locket, she would think about how much her mother had loved her, had been willing to do anything for her, and had shielded her from cruelty and suffering within reason. And then, since the necklace and locket were in the same box as the ring from her grandfather, she couldn’t help but see the ring too and think about all the stuff she was supposed to think of when she saw it.
When Princess Oella’s best friend Lady Mertrue moved away, she went to Princess Oella in her chambers and gave her a remarkable feather that not even the kingdom’s finest ornithologist had been able to identify. “Very pretty,” said Princess Oella. “Where did you say you got it?”
“I didn’t,” said Lady Mertrue. “But it’s quite a story.” She didn’t relate the story though, not even a small part of it, not even the climax, not even the beginning. “But whenever you look at the feather, I want you to think of me, Oella. I want you to think of the fun we had, how hard we laughed, how we had that inside joke where every time I said ‘no, m’lord,’ you said, ‘go onnnnnn?’”
“OK,” said Princess Oella. “I will.” She was 16 and she had no recollection of the inside joke to which Lady Mertrue was referring, but the girls had certainly had fun together over the years, so she decided she would mostly focus on that when looking at the feather.
That was the last time Princess Oella saw her friend Lady Mertrue alive or dead, but she put the feather in the box with the necklace and locket from her mother and the ring from her grandfather. And whenever she opened the box and saw the feather and the necklace and locket and the ring, she thought about the whole list of things she was supposed to think about when she saw them, which kind of took a while and started to make her hesitant to open the box. She didn’t open the box very often at all, actually.
When Princess Oella was about to return from a visit to King Dimitry’s kingdom, Browk, the head groom from King Dimitry’s royal stables, stopped her on her way over the castle drawbridge to give her a chunk of her own horse’s hair that he had pulled out of one of his brushes and affixed to a piece of parchment with some kind of adhesive.
“Browk!” shouted King Dimitry. “Don’t give that to the Princess! It’s revolting!”
“But Your Majesty,” said Browk. “This is a chunk of hair from what the Princess declared to be the greatest grooming any of her steeds has ever received.”
“That’s true,” admitted Princess Oella. “I did say that.”
“I thought Her Highness would want this as a memento of the occasion,” said Browk. “And I had hoped that whenever she looked at it, she would remember her time here with us in our kingdom and how her lovely horse was so well taken care of.”
“Well, if she wants it, then I guess that’s fine,” said King Dimitry. “But Princess, if you don’t want it, don’t feel obligated to take it.”
“No, it’s fine,” said Princess Oella. “I’ll take it. I’ll put it with my other…keepsakes.” She was 19 at the time and it had been an excellent grooming, though she wasn’t sure she could truthfully say it was the best she’d ever seen. She had been speaking hyperbolically at the time and had not expected Browk, simple though he was, to take it literally.
That was the last time Princess Oella saw Browk – that she knew of, anyway – but she put the chunk of horse hair affixed to the parchment into the box with the feather, the necklace and locket, and the ring. She did not want to know what Browk had used as an adhesive to keep the horse hair on the parchment. But whenever she opened the box – an event that had become quite infrequent indeed – Princess Oella would see the ring, the necklace and locket, the feather, and the chunk of horse hair, and she would think about, well, not much, actually, because it was getting kind of difficult to remember which things were supposed to make her think of what, and since she didn’t look at them that often anymore, she was out of practice, so that made matching up what she was supposed to be thinking about with the correct item even more difficult. And as far as the chunk of horse hair affixed to the parchment with some kind of adhesive went, Princess Oella knew it had come from a groom, but she couldn’t remember his name nor what he looked like. And she certainly couldn’t remember what a chunk of horse hair affixed to parchment with some kind of adhesive was supposed to make her think of. She couldn’t even guess.
But these were not the last of the sentimental trinkets that Princess Oella accrued from relatives, friends, acquaintances, guests, and strangers. It seemed as if every few weeks, someone was dying or leaving or being left behind and deciding to give Princess Oella something by which to remember him or her. And, of course, the sentimental trinket was never merely a reminder of the person who had bestowed it upon Princess Oella. No, the trinkets were also supposed to remind Princess Oella of various virtues, values, experiences, and even fairly abstract concepts with which the bestower identified his or her self. All of which would have been a huge pain if Princess Oella even bothered to try anymore. Fortunately for her own sanity, she did not. Instead, she only ever opened the box to toss another sentimental trinket inside of it, and when, upon doing so, she caught a glimpse of the mess of sentimental trinkets within, she usually kept thinking about whatever it was she was already thinking about. That is to say, seeing the mess of sentimental trinkets usually did not alter her thinking at all. If seeing the trinkets did alter her thinking in any small way, it was only to cause her a brief moment of annoyance at everyone’s insistence on burdening her with their castoff knick-knacks, and yes, she was fully aware that some of them were probably very valuable in monetary terms, but she didn’t care. For a while, she had felt guilty about abandoning the sentimental trinkets she had once found meaningful, such as her grandfather’s ring and her mother’s necklace and locket, but at the same time, it was kind of their fault that all the other trinkets had rained down, and continued to rain down, upon her. The ring and the necklace and locket had opened the floodgates. And that made it difficult for Princess Oella to feel much fondness for them. They could stay closed up in the box with the rest of their kind.
Besides, Princess Oella didn’t need to look at a ring to remember her grandfather. Her memories of him were still quite vivid. And there was a huge portrait of him hanging right down the hall from her chambers. Princess Oella didn’t need her grandfather’s instructions for how to remember him either. She could remember him just fine on her own. And she could remember her mother just fine on her own too. And Lady Mertrue too, from time to time. And even some of the other people, when she felt like it. If they sprang to mind of their own accord, then great, but she wasn’t going to go out of her way to remember some groom or some awkward admirer or some mortally wounded tourney knight whom she’d never met before and whom she had been actively rooting against from her royal box seat before a broken lance slipped through a gap in his gaudy armor and pierced his armpit.
When the box full of sentimental trinkets filled up, Princess Oella transferred them all to a bigger box. A bigger, plainer box. And since the new sentimental trinket box didn’t really fit in her chambers very well and didn’t match the décor, Princess Oella had it moved to a storage room. Whenever someone gave her a new sentimental trinket, which was still discouragingly common, Princess Oella would have a servant take the trinket to whichever the correct storage room was and toss the trinket into the box. It was the most convenient way to deal with an inconvenient situation.
Princess Oella was now 43 and unmarried. That’s when her father King Yaret died and Princess Oella became Queen Oella. From his deathbed, Princess Oella’s father gave her another ring. Half of her sentimental trinkets were either rings or lockets. “Thanks, father,” said Princess Oella, putting more effort than usual into pretending to like the sentimental trinket. King Yaret was her father, after all, and she actually did love him.
“Whenever you see it,” said King Yaret. “I want you to remember my fairness, my justice, my impartiality, my lack of bias, my objectivity, and my-”
He died before he could finish, but Princess Oella was pretty sure it was going to be another synonym for “fairness.”
When Queen Oella had ruled her kingdom for three years, King Klark sent her a desperate message by means of an elderly cookware merchant. The message was a plea for assistance. His kingdom was under attack by something he called an “invading horde,” which Queen Oella assumed was just King Klark’s dramatic way of referring to some other army. He wanted Queen Oella to send as many soldiers as she could spare to help him out. He cited the time he had sold grain to Queen Oella’s kingdom at a below-market rate during a tough harvest while her father was king, which was a good point, and he also reminded her that his cousin was married to Queen Oella’s cousin, which Queen Oella couldn’t have cared less about, but still, the point about the grain he’d sold to her people in a time of need was a good one, so she sent soldiers to help King Klark against his “invading horde.” She was generous with her support. She sent the majority of her army, keeping only a small force behind as a precaution in case any domestic problems happened to arise while the bulk of her military was gone. She also sent her two best generals to King Klark because she had no faith in him as a tactician and didn’t want to end up with most of her army dead because King Klark had strategized them right off of a cliff or something.
She made the decision as she believed any Queen or King should: by considering the facts, considering other relevant circumstances, evaluating her own motives, and thinking about it until the time came to make a firm, detailed decision. And it wasn’t like she believed this decision-making process to be infallible, but that didn’t prevent Queen Oella from being stricken with guilt when word came back from the war that King Klark, his soldiers, Queen Oella’s generals, and Queen Oella’s soldiers had all been routed by this “invading horde,” King Klark’s kingdom was in the process of being overtaken, and the invading horde would probably be moving on to Queen Oella’s kingdom next since they now knew it to be almost completely undefended.
Queen Oella knew she needed to stay calm if she wanted to have any hope of keeping her subjects calm, but the situation was very bad. There only seemed to be two options: prepare to surrender to the invading horde when they showed up or try to get an ally or allies to send soldiers to help defend her kingdom. Queen Oella sent messengers to every queen or king that she could think of who might be willing to send help. She also sent messengers to queens and kings who lived nearby with whom she didn’t have the best relationships, but she figured they’d be able to see how an invading horde conquering her kingdom would leave them in a strategically tenuous position if and when the invading horde decided to come after them too, which, being an invading horde, they definitely would.
It was while Queen Oella was waiting for word back from one, some, or all of the kingdoms to which she’d sent messages that the Royal Physician told her a new disease had broken out in the neighborhood surrounding the central market in the royal capital. The palace Queen Oella lived in wasn’t situated far from that very neighborhood, in fact. The Royal Physician wanted to enact a quarantine and shut down the market. He also wanted permission to name the new disease after himself. His name was Lord Perz and he wanted to name the disease either “Perzy, Perzia,” or “Perzus.”
“You’re saying you want me to shut down the central market entirely?” asked Queen Oella. “For how long?”
“Until I discover a cure for this new disease,” said Lord Perz.
“That could take years,” said Queen Oella. “Or it might be incurable.”
“Perhaps,” said Lord Perz. “But I will say that I think I’d be able to find a cure sooner if we could come to some conclusion on the name of the disease because then I can devote all of my attention to curing it instead of being distracted by musings on the subject of whether or not Your Highness intends to allow me to name it after myself or not.”
“I just feel like it’s a bad idea to shut down the market with an invasion imminent,” said Queen Oella. “People need to be stockpiling food now. If we shut down the market, no farmers will be bringing food into the city. Instead of stockpiling food, we’ll already be eating through what little stores we have.”
“Can you give me a hint as to which one you prefer?” asked Lord Perz. “‘Perzia,’ perhaps?”
“Leave me,” said Queen Oella. “But stay in the palace. I’ll have instructions for you soon. I just need to…I need to think and…try to-” She stopped speaking when she saw her steward enter the throne room looking irritable. Her name was Lavender and she could have had amazing posture if she’d had any inclination to try for it.
“Your Majesty,” said Lavender. “Two suitors have come seeking your hand in marriage. Unfortunately, they arrived at the same time and they and their men are now brawling in the courtyard.”
“What?” said Queen Oella. “Who are they?”
“One is Prince Dolph,” said Lavender. “King Yindel’s son, if you’ll recall? The other is King Wissick himself.”
“OK, Lavender, you have to help me think this through,” said Queen Oella. “What would be the strategic implications of those marriages? Which marriage would best help me to attain the soldiers necessary to fend off the invading horde?”
“Also, Lavender,” said Lord Perz. “Which name sounds better for a hot new disease? ‘Perzy-’”
“Get out, Lord Perz,” said Queen Oella. It was the scariest she’d ever heard her own voice sound.
As Lord Perz shuffled from the throne room, Lavender said, “Your Majesty, we can certainly discuss the merits of marrying either of these suitors in time, but at the moment, the brawl must be broken up or one or both of them may die, which could cause a heightening of tensions with their kingdoms in addition to our other troubles. But as they are royalty from important potential allies, I was afraid to order the palace guards to break up the brawl for fear that interference and rough handling may offend them, perhaps even mightily offend them?”
Queen Oella groaned. She took her crown off of her head and flung it across the court room where it struck a small brazier, knocked it over, and the spilled coals caught a tapestry on fire.
“Shall I put that out?” asked Lavender.
“Yes!” shouted Queen Oella.
Lavender grabbed a goblet of wine and used it to douse the flames that were just beginning to creep up the bottom of the tapestry. “It worked!” said Lavender, still holding the empty goblet. “Your quick thinking saved the tapestry!”
Queen Oella rolled her eyes.
“What?” said Lavender. “It was you who made the decision for me to put out the fire, Your Majesty.”
Queen Oella sat bare-headed and slouching on the throne, propping up her chin with one hand, her elbow on one of the throne’s golden arms. She gazed at the saved tapestry. “Actually, I should have let that one burn,” said Queen Oella. “Don’t you think it’s kind of offensive? Or maybe just bad?”
Lavender looked at the tapestry. “It’s art, Your Highness. And very valuable.”
“I guess,” said Queen Oella. “But I feel like anyone can weave a bunch of snakes.”
“But the children are skillfully rendered as well, Your Majesty.”
“I guess,” said Queen Oella. “What you can see of them. Under all those snakes.”
“Do you want me to set fire to it again?” asked Lavender.
“No,” said Queen Oella. “Go break up the brawl in the courtyard and send the suitors to guest chambers in opposite wings. And send Lord Perz in here on your way out.”
“Of course, Your Highness.”
“What do you think sounds better for a new disease?” asked Queen Oella. “‘Perzy, Perzia,’” or “‘Perzus?’”
“Is there a ‘none of the above’ option?” asked Lavender.
“Yes,” said Queen Oella, smirking. “Because I’m the Queen and I say there is. Is that what you think? ‘None of the above?’”
“No, I was just curious,” said Lavender. “I actually really like ‘Perzus.’”
Queen Oella had never before felt so much like she was floundering. Or was it “foundering?” She had heard both and didn’t know which was correct. Or if both could be correct. Or neither.
While the palace guards were breaking up the brawl between Prince Dolph, King Wissick, and their men, one of the guards inadvertently knocked out two of Prince Dolph’s teeth while trying to calm an alarmed mule. Actually, the back of the guard’s head hit Prince Dolph in the mouth and two of Prince Dolph’s teeth stuck in the guard’s head. It was an obvious accident and the mule wouldn’t have been alarmed at all if Prince Dolph hadn’t been brawling with King Wissick, but Prince Dolph took it very poorly. He declared that he expected such brutish behavior from the likes of King Wissick and his ilk, but that he had expected Queen Oella’s people to be better behaved, especially to guests, especially to honored guests who might soon be king, especially considering the precarious position Queen Oella’s kingdom found itself in with the rumored approach of an invading horde. Then he gathered up his men and left in a huff. The one good thing about Prince Dolph leaving so quickly and in such a bad mood was that he didn’t have the time or inclination to give Queen Oella a sentimental trinket by which to remember him and various admirable values for which he thought he stood.
With Prince Dolph gone, Lavender gave King Wissick his pick of the available guest chambers in the Royal Palace, which was all of them, and sent servants with first aid supplies on polished brass trays to him and his men so they could patch up their brawl injuries. Then King Wissick settled in and started making demands, making noise, pestering the servants, letting his men behave poorly, and generally being a bad guest. His courtship of Queen Oella consisted entirely of sending her messages in which he offered to grant her the use of some of his “good poisoners” to assassinate the leader of the invading horde, although the details of his offer were vague and he didn’t seem to have any more information as to who the invading horde was than Queen Oella did.
Meanwhile, responses to Queen Oella’s pleas for assistance began to trickle in from her allies and neighbors. They were not promising. Most of them were excuses as to why they couldn’t offer assistance. Some of them offered conditional assistance, but their conditions were impossible to meet. Queen Milas replied with a cryptic message that said, “Have you forgotten what you offered to me the last time I asked for help?” Queen Oella had no recollection of whatever it was that Queen Milas was talking about, so she supposed her answer to Queen Milas’s question had to be “yes,” although, as much as she wanted to, she decided not to send that one-word response to Queen Milas. Queen Oella began to wonder if she had phrased the requests wrong? Had she not conveyed the proper amount of urgency? Had she asked the wrong people?
And news was not good on the Perzus front. Queen Oella had insisted that those known to be infected with Perzus be quarantined, but that the central market stay open so that people could keep buying food in preparation for the strong possibility of a siege in the near future. But it turned out that people infected with Perzus didn’t show symptoms for a few days after they were already contagious, so the disease spread like crazy and many of the farmers who had come into the city inadvertently carried the disease home to their families and small communities, which made it impossible for them to bring more food back to the market, and the farmers who weren’t sick didn’t want to become sick and infect their families and communities, so they didn’t come to the market either, so the food supply dwindled exactly as Queen Oella had feared it would with a stricter quarantine except a lot more people caught Perzus than would have with a stricter quarantine. Also, according to some of her sources, citizens had initially not been as cautious as they should have been around Perzus because they didn’t think the name of the disease sounded very alarming. Also, some of them assumed that Perzus was a disease that actually improved one’s health because it was named after the Royal Physician, and why would a disease that hurts people be named after someone whose job it is to heal people?
The final indignity came when Queen Oella, desperate for any help at all, formally requested that King Wissick come to the throne room so she could speak to him on the subject of accepting his marriage offer. It was an act of desperation, she knew, but she was at the point where a doofus husband with dubious connections to poison-based assassins seemed like her best option. And she hoped that she could talk him into a more substantial contribution to the defense of her kingdom. She would reason with him. Or maybe she would charm him. Or some combination of the two. Or she would never have the opportunity to reason with him or charm him because as soon as he walked into the throne room, he would see the partially burned tapestry, wrinkle his nose in disgust, announce that he could never marry someone who would display such a tasteless tapestry, and then turn and march out of the throne room, gather his men, and leave Queen Oella’s kingdom to deal with the invading horde without the assistance of his “good poisoners” or any other assistance he could have been talked into providing, which is exactly what happened. As King Wissick left the throne room, he dropped one of his gloves on the floor. “I want you to remember me whenever you see this glove,” he said. “Every time you look at it, I want you to think about how you drove away a man who could have saved your kingdom and made you happier than any other woman on Earth because you couldn’t bring yourself to part with a repulsive tapestry with no artistic merit that is also an affront to morality and decency.”
“I hate that tapestry too,” said Queen Oella. “I didn’t hang it there. I’ll have it taken down right now.”
But King Wissick didn’t listen. He was already gone.
“Don’t blame yourself, Your Majesty” said Lavender, stooping to pick up King Wissick’s glove, which was the first antagonistic sentimental trinket anyone had ever given to Queen Oella.
“Blame myself for what?” asked Queen Oella. “For everything?”
“No,” said Lavender. “For telling me to extinguish the tapestry when it was burning. It made sense at the time. You can’t predict the future. No one can.”
“But people can make good decisions without knowing the future,” said Queen Oella. “I used to make good decisions all the time.”
“You’re just on a cold streak right now,” said Lavender. “You just need to make a couple good decisions to turn things around and then you’ll be back in your groove.”
“Or we’ll all be dead or enslaved before I get the chance,” said Queen Oella.
“Start with something easy,” said Lavender.
“Like what?” asked Queen Oella. “Deciding to keep a tapestry you’ve accidentally set on fire from going up in flames sure seems like it would be an easy one.”
“Easier,” said Lavender. “Here, Your Highness, look at this food tray. Which would you rather eat: this fresh piece of bread or this stale piece of bread?”
“The fresh one,” said Queen Oella. She took the fresh piece of bread from the food tray and took a bite. It was so fresh that it burned Queen Oella’s mouth and she spat the half-chewed bite of bread onto the floor.
“Oops,” said Lavender. “Well, in a few more minutes, that would have been the correct decision for sure.”
“I don’t have time to make easy decisions,” said Queen Oella. “The invading horde could invade at any moment and I need to have some idea of what to do next. I need to make a correct decision that matters.”
“Well, you’ve known a lot of wise people in your day,” said Lavender. “They haven’t all been perfect, but they all had good qualities, you know? Maybe you could think about what they did in similar situations. Or what they would do in your situation.”
“What are you suggesting?” asked Queen Oella.
“I know where the box is,” said Lavender. “I know which closet it’s in.”
“No,” said Queen Oella. She was desperate but she wasn’t that desperate. But was that true? She had almost married King Wissick and he was a total dud. And didn’t she owe it to her subjects to explore every possible means of arriving at a correct decision on matters of such grave importance? “All right, fine,” said Queen Oella. But she couldn’t help wondering if, in what was turning out to be a long series of bad decisions, this might turn out to be one of the worst.
Queen Oella had Lavender carry the box of sentimental trinkets to her private chambers. Or rather, she had Lavender direct the two servants required to carry the heavy box to take it to her private chambers. After the servants placed the box on the rug next to Queen Oella’s bed, they took their leave. Queen Oella stood looking at the box from across the room and Lavender stood looking at Queen Oella from next to the box. To Queen Oella, the box did not look like the answer to her problems. It did not look like it contained the answer to her problems. It did not look like a box full of wisdom. It did not look like a box full of clarity. It barely looked like a box full of nostalgia. At most, it looked like a box that was maybe a quarter full of nostalgia and three-quarters full of trash.
“You’re gonna have to open it and look through it, Your Highness,” said Lavender.
“I know, I know,” said Queen Oella.
“And I don’t mean to rush you,” said Lavender. “But it might take a while for you to find the right sentimental trinket to inspire you to make the right decision. So you might want to get started soon, Your Majesty.”
Queen Oella groaned, but she crossed the room and sat down on the edge of her bed, her feet dangling on either side of the box. The she removed the box’s lid and dropped it on the floor. Inside the box, filled almost to the brim, Queen Oella saw a bunch of little objects that meant nothing to her. She reached down and picked up – what else – a ring. It was made of pewter and carved to look like a fish.
“All right, Your Highness,” said Lavender. “Who gave you that one?”
“I have no idea,” said Queen Oella. She tossed it onto the bed beside her.
“Hold on,” said Lavender. “You aren’t even going to try to remember who gave it to you? What if that one’s the key?”
“It isn’t,” said Queen Oella. She reached into the box and pulled out a statuette of a knight.
“Who gave you that one?” asked Lavender.
“I think this one was from Sir Bloss,” said Queen Oella.
“When did he give it to you?”
“Probably right before he died,” said Queen Oella. “Or right before he left. I can’t remember if he died or left. Or, actually, I think he left and then he died while he was gone.”
“And of what does it remind you?” asked Lavender. “Of what did he want it to make you think?”
“I think he said he wanted me to remember how strong he was when I looked at it,” said Queen Oella. “It’s a little fuzzy in my memory.”
“Strength,” said Lavender. “Strength is good. That could help in your decision-making, right?”
“No, he specifically meant how much weight he could lift,” said Queen Oella. “He just meant his physical strength. And honestly, I never saw him lift anything very heavy. He bragged about lifting heavy stuff, but I always suspected he was lying since he never demonstrated it. And he didn’t look that strong.”
“Hmm,” said Lavender. “Well, you could put it in the ‘maybe’ pile, I suppose.”
“No,” said Queen Oella. “It’s useless.” She tossed the statuette of the knight on the bed next to the pewter fish ring.
“But you could interpret ‘strength’ however you want,” said Lavender. “You could interpret it as internal strength. Strength of character. Strength of convictions. Those seem like they would all be helpful when trying to make tough decisions.”
“But I don’t need to look at a sentimental trinket to know that,” said Queen Oella. “I mean, if I’m going to stretch to make the trinkets fit with concepts I’m already thinking about, then what’s the point of involving the trinkets? That’s working backward. That’s me giving meaning to the trinkets, not taking meaning from them to use on big decisions. I don’t have time to sit here giving meaning to meaningless trinkets. My kingdom is on the brink of disaster!”
“But Your Majesty,” said Lavender. “I think you’re approaching the sentimental trinkets from slightly the wrong angle. They aren’t supposed to give you new information that you’ve never known before. They’re supposed to refocus you on information that you know, but may have lost sight of. We know that you’ve always made good decisions in the past, but perhaps you’ve lost contact with whatever it is within you that guided those good decisions. The sentimental trinkets are supposed to remind you to concentrate on things that you may intellectually know to be true, but which you may not be actively pursuing as much as you used to.”
“Like this old piece of bark,” said Queen Oella. “That someone – I don’t even remember who – gave to me so that whenever I look at it, I’ll be reminded of how he or she was smart or loyal or spontaneous or something.”
“Your Highness,” said Lavender. “Why did you agree to do this if you’re just going to be disdainful? If you aren’t even going to give it a chance, then it is a total waste of time.”
“I am giving it a chance,” said Queen Oella. “If I see a sentimental trinket and it inspires me to reevaluate how I’m making decisions, then great. But I’m not going to pretend most of these sentimental trinkets have value when they obviously don’t have value.” She tossed the piece of bark on the bed with the other rejected sentimental trinkets.
“But what if it’s more about the collective power of all of them?” asked Lavender. “What if, by taking a little piece of wisdom from each one, you arrive at the well-rounded revelation you need?”
But Queen Oella was finished arguing. She took a locket that wasn’t attached to a necklace out of the box and opened it up. There was nothing inside of it. She tossed it on the bed with the other rejected trinkets. Then she picked up a small velvet pouch tied with a red cord. She didn’t bother to open it up and look inside before tossing it on the bed. She knew who had given it to her and knew that no associations she could possibly have with that person would be of any use to her. Queen Oella didn’t look at Lavender as she took another trinket from the box and tossed it aside, then another. She didn’t want to see the disappointed or judgmental or exasperated look that Lavender was probably giving her.
Queen Oella started taking more than one trinket out of the box at a time, barely pausing to glance at them before tossing them aside. At one point, she encountered the ring her father had given her, and she remembered how he had told her that it was supposed to remind her of his fairness and objectivity and all that, but Queen Oella dropped it onto the growing pile on her bed along with the other trinkets she had deemed worthless, eliciting a scandalized gasp from Lavender. Queen Oella didn’t look up. Instead, she plunged her hand into the box and grabbed a whole handful of trinkets, depositing them on the bed. Then she plunged both hands into the box and pulled out two handfuls of trinkets at the same time. Her hands were overloaded, so some of the trinkets fell back down into the box or fell onto the floor as Queen Oella turned to dump them on the bed. Then she stood up, stooped to pick up the box, which was still heavy despite now being half empty, and overturned it on the bed, pouring all the remaining sentimental trinkets out on top of the trinket-heap that was already there.
At the very top of the sentimental-trinket heap she saw the feather from Lady Mertrue, which was mangled, the locket on the necklace from her mother, and the ring from her grandfather. There was also a piece of discolored parchment and a bunch of dark, loose hairs for which Queen Oella could recall no explanation.
“Well, Your Majesty,” said Lavender. “Was that cathartic, at least?” There was a distinctly non-servile edge to her voice. Not that Queen Oella demanded servile tones of voice from her subjects, but still, she noticed it.
“You know what all of these sentimental trinkets have in common?” asked Queen Oella. “Every single one of them would be more useful to me as a person who could call in a favor or swing a sword or help hold a gate closed against a battering ram or play me a soothing song on a lute.”
“But they’re gone,” said Lavender. “They didn’t give you these sentimental trinkets instead of leaving. They were leaving regardless. They gave you these sentimental trinkets instead of nothing. All of these people would be just as gone if they’d never given you a sentimental trinket.”
“Exactly,” said Queen Oella. “That’s what I’m saying.”
“I dunno,” said Lavender. “Maybe you’re just not the right person for sentimental trinkets. They just don’t work on you.”
“Then why do I have so many?” asked Queen Oella. “Why?” She was shouting now. “These people didn’t want to help me! They didn’t want to grant me the virtues that they wanted people to believe they possessed! They didn’t want to give me something tangible that might help me persevere in troubled times! They wanted to leave me in charge of a piece of their own immortality! They wanted to use me to dictate how they were thought of after they left! They were trying to cheat!”
“Your Majesty,” said Lavender. “Do you want to sit down in your chair? Or the other chair? Can I bring you some wine?”
“No,” said Queen Oella. She stood looking at the useless heap of sentimental trinkets. Maybe Lavender was right. Maybe Queen Oella could have given the sentimental trinkets significance. Maybe she could have given each one a little slice of herself. There were a lot of them, but she could have kept records. Or maybe if she had set just a few aside to be meaningful. Or maybe if she had set just one aside to be meaningful, if she had maintained one sentimental trinket into which she could have poured every aspect of an idealized, mythological version of whoever had given it to her, which would end up being an idealized, mythological version of herself, of course. Then, maybe, a sentimental trinket would have something to offer her: a standard by which to judge her decisions. But Queen Oella hadn’t done any of that and she wasn’t about to start now. That ship had sailed, as her grandfather used to say before he left via dying.
“I know what I need to do,” said Queen Oella.
“Are you going to tell me?” asked Lavender.
“I’m not going to die and I’m not going to leave,” said Queen Oella.
“You can’t just decide that,” said Lavender. “That’s too vague. You have to make decisions that will prevent you from dying or leaving. What if the invading horde kills you? Or captures you and takes you away?”
“Then you can have that to remember me by,” said Queen Oella, pointing to the heap of sentimental trinkets on her bed. “And every time you look at it, you can remember how wrong I was when I said I wasn’t going to die and I wasn’t going to leave. But until then, I want you to go to Lord Perz, tell him to find five or six contagious Perzus victims who haven’t yet begun to show symptoms, and have him send them with a message of surrender to the invading horde. But I don’t want them to actually surrender. It’s a lie to get in among the invading horde. Because once they get in among the horde, I want them to touch, breathe on, and cough on everyone and everything that they can.”
Lavender looked stricken. “You want them to spread disease under a flag of surrender? That’s terrible! Your Majesty, what are you doing?”
“Something none of the selfish people who gave me that pile of garbage would ever have wanted me to associate with my memories of them,” said Queen Oella. “I’m violating my principles. I’m tarnishing my legacy. I’m giving future generations ample opportunity to hate me if they want to. And maybe saving some of my people in the process.”
Queen Oella coughed. It hurt. Was she coming down with Perzus? She looked at the pile of sentimental trinkets on her bed and was reminded that such a decision was hers. She decided, then, that she did not have Perzus and never would.