Early Draft: The Queen's Necklace

pile of booksEver wonder what doesn't make it into one of my novels?
The Queen's Necklace does not contain the following prologue.


In the declining years of the Magloire Empire

The Empress Sophronispa was dead, her black Goblin heart as still as a stone, In life, its stone-like qualities had been remarkable, had even (for the virtues of any great princess seldom go unnoticed) been justly celebrated, but now it was colder and harder than ever.

She had ruled for more than three hundred years: indomitable, extravagant, capricious, cruel. She had denied herself nothing that might nourish her
vanity . . . had decked herself in fabulous gowns of satins 'broidered all over with pearls and gemstones, delicate cobweb laces, tremendous farthingales, immense cartwheel ruffs . . . she had bedizened herself with rouge and with powder, to set off her not inconsiderable charms. But now she was reduced to a sad, withered husk, shrunken inside her linen bedgown, almost beyond recognition.

In that fact was revealed the scandal of her long, long reign. For it was characteristic of her race—and most particularly of her noble house—that in their great pride, their intense self-love, few among them could bear the sight of their own decay. It had therefore become customary, when the first signs of aging became apparent, to arrest the process in the only way possible—that is to neatly and discreetly suicide upon reaching middle age, a poisoned dagger or the ingestion of ground glass being the favored method.

But Sophronispa had, perversely, loved power even more than her own beauty, and her monstrous vanity had taken a most peculiar twist: She had convinced herself that she might live forever, that she might achieve immortality by the sheer strength of her monumental will, the sheer power of her determination. And so she had lived on, year after year, refusing to accept the inevitable, vowing that she would cheat death at last—while a long line of her near relations and presumptive heirs reached the age of suicide and gracefully made away with themselves, disappointed certainly, but every one of them still ravishingly beautiful—while she herself dwindled into a crabbed and crooked old harridan, grotesque in her brocades and laces, hair grizzled, eyes dim, joints still, with a face as dry and wrinkled and as yellow as a winter apple.

Yet at least her death had provided a suitable moral. For all her determination, in the end she accomplished only this: she made a most unlovely corpse.

small lamp

The palace was silent. The Goblin servants—the tiny Ouphs and the ridiculous Padfoots—did not dare to speak as they moved furtively through the marble halls on their various errands. The Goblin nobility, the beautiful Magloire, gathered in tight little knots in all the public chambers, holding intense, whispered conversations. While the death of the Empress had not, in the event, been unexpected, it was an undoubted change, a momentous change, and change was the one thing the Magloire, with their long, long lives and their vast globe-spanning Empire—with all its rusty, slow-moving, creaking political machinery—were ill-equipped to handle, or even, in these days, to fully comprehend.

"And yet, withal, she went so suddenly there at the end, I cannot help but wonder if the rumors be true—that Belphoebe wearied of watching her rot away, grew impatient for the throne, and finished our Sophie off by bribing one of the cooks to salt her soup," said the Vice-Chancellor to the Second-Steward. They stood a little apart from the other Councilors who had gathered outside the Imperial Bedchamber, in order to speak privately.

The Second-Steward frowned slightly. "That may have been pity more than impatience. Indeed, I think it very likely so. 'Twould be an act of kindness not out of keeping with Belphoebe's character."

"Aye. And that troubles me more than the other," said the Vice-Chancellor. "You may say that an act which serves pity and ambition equally well is well enough. And in the general way I see nothing wrong with compassion as a private act by a private person. But what business had the Heir to the Empire with pity, compassion, or compunction?" The Steward nodded thoughtfully, as his friend continued in a low voice. "She is too soft, Belphoebe. She will never hold the Empire together, as the old one did, by the sheer force of her terrifying personality."

"But then," said the Steward, with a shrug, "one of the other Imperial Princesses will simply step in and take her place. It will be no great matter, after all."

"Would that it might be so," said the Chancellor, fingering the gold and tourmaline medallion, the badge of his office, that he wore on a heavy golden chain around his neck. If one looked closely at the medallion, a fire blazed at the heart of the central gemstone, and it seemed that strange currents of power roiled and curled about that steady flame. In that company, however, the stone was unremarkable. All around the room, in other settings, in rings, tear-drop earrings, necklaces, and brooches, were gems of differing colors and sizes—rubies, pearls, garnets, topazes—which yet bore an uncanny resemblance to the Chancellor's tourmaline. "But if one of the others possesses the strength, the determination to best Belphoebe later, why has she not replaced her in the line of succession before this? I fear very much that Belphoebe is the best of the lot—and she is nothing compared to Sophronispa and those who came before her."

All this was disturbing to think about. The Steward began to fidget with the jewels on his fingers.

"You have only to observe the behavior of the lesser races," hissed the Vice-Chancellor. "Whose sense of future time is so much keener than our own. The Ouphs and the Padfoots are terrified. The Grants and the Wrynecks shake their hoary heads, and leaf through their musty old volumes searching for . . . I know not what. And out on the streets, the Human rabble are aflame with excitement. I have heard it said that some even speak openly of rebellion.

The Second-Steward laughed scornfully. "The Human vermin do not frighten me. They are ignorant and bestial."

"Yet they outnumber us a hundred, perhaps a thousand to one. It is difficult to say, for they breed like rats in their underground dens—and who has ever dared to venture into their warrens to make an accurate count of their numbers? Also . . . I wonder if they are all as ignorant as we are inclined to suppose? I hear disquieting rumors that some of them may have scraped up, stolen—somehow acquired—the first basic rudiments of natural philosophy and magical knowledge. They may be more dangerous than you know.

"I do not say that rebellion is inevitable. Far from it. I believe, as you do, as do all right-thinking Goblins, that the Empire is by its very nature immutable." It was impossible for even so restless and curious a mind as the Vice-Chancellor's to accept more than the bare possibility of future change. "Yet I think it will do no harm to take some precautions. You know that I have six daughters, and that their mother was distantly related to Sophronispa. Their mother's blood may count against them in the times that are to come. I am making arrangements to send the three youngest to some isolate place of concealment, at least until I am convinced that the present crisis is past. You have a young son, I know, who is very dear to you. Will you not allow him to accompany them?"

The Second-Steward considered carefully. Yet in the end he allowed his mind to be clouded; he retreated into the comfortable familiarity of the Immutable Empire and the Great Eternal Now. "No need for that, I think. I will keep my son by me, as he is dear to me, and I would be loath to part with his company."