Jaellin sighed, shifting her shoulders slightly under the starched collar of her robes, and smothered a yawn. She had spent the afternoon, along with other nobles of the kingdom, in vigil in the great chamber where King Halyn lay in state, and the long day was not yet over. Out in the courtyard, nobles were gathering, and she needed to take her place there as well. She went out to stand in the open, among her equals, under a dull pewter sky to await the Choosing.
The white stone courtyard faced the palace’s main hall, where an enormous stained glass window glowed with color. Centered among glass roses and the bright colors of the sun and moon was the Golden Hart. It stared above the crowd, nothing more than a picture of glass and lead yet, at the same time, so much more. Around the courtyard, beyond the lapis inlay of blue roses, was a great assembly. Every citizen of the capital city who could find a place was crowded there to witness the Choosing of the next sovereign of Aldis. The assembled nobles glanced at each other, each one wondering, “Are they the one? Am I?”
There was no predicting who the Golden Hart would mark as monarch. It could even scorn all of those assembled in the courtyard and seek someone unknown; that had happened once, in a dark time when the kingdom’s nobles had been tainted by Shadow. As the last rays of the sun touched the stained glass, Jaellin stiffened. There was something suddenly present–an unheard note, an unseen light. Beside her, one of the nobles breathed a shocked prayer as Jaellin looked up to see the Golden Hart step out from the window crafted in its image.
It leapt to the courtyard with a clatter of hooves and began to pace towards the wide-eyed nobles. Skirts rustled as people shifted, some stepping away, others forward, in keeping with their ambitions and fears. The Hart walked among them, antlers reaching above their heads and gleaming in the light like gold. It was a massive, beautiful creature, eyes flashing with wisdom and power. Jaellin could not move at all.
Sayvin, the son of King Haylin, stepped forward, arms spread in welcome, bare head bowed in humility. He would be the fourth of Haylin’s line chosen as sovereign, next in a noble house that had ruled Aldis for generations. Without pause and with no more notice than it gave anyone else, the Golden Hart passed him by, moving closer, ever closer, to where Jaellin stood.
It stepped closer, and Jaellin found she still could not move. Closer still, and she could not look away from those dark, wise, sad eyes. When she felt the gentle touch of those horns on her head, hot and cold at once, a shock ran through her, as silent tears rolled down her cheeks. Even then, as the Golden Hart bowed on bended knee before her, Jaellin could not move.
All around her, robes rustled as the assembled nobles knelt on the cool stones of the courtyard. The sound seemed to break the spell of the moment. Jaellin turned and looked out at a sea of bent heads, with the Golden Hart kneeling beside her. A squire scampered to her side and lifted a velvet pillow, and the blue object it bore, toward her.
As if in a trance, Jaellin reached out her hand and lifted the Blue Rose Scepter, symbol of the sovereign, from its resting place. Azure light shimmered around its delicately carved petals, as she raised it to catch the day’s last rays of sun. The stained glass window transformed into blazing jewels in the light, but none so bright as the golden halo surrounding the woman standing before them, with the Hart at her side.
A call went up from the crowd. “Hail!” they cried. “Hail Queen Jaellin! All hail the queen!”
The new queen had been chosen.