The city was bustling. Talking and shouting filled the air in the vast elvish metropolis of Shèng Chéng. It was a hub of conversation and trade and politics. The people chattered about the day's news; the season's harvest of vegetable and grain, news from adventurers trekking to the eastern mountains, the clergy's use of magic and their practices, the high price of Shamrock Weed from the Halfling land, the rough play the children get up to after their school, the slowing acceptance of Wood Elves and Dark Elves into natural society. Shèng Chéng was alive with talk. It was beset by a large stone wall encasing the residents and protecting everything therein. Here in this great capital of the Eldars, overlooking the snow capped mountains in the east sits the royal castle, a great whitestone structure towering over the rest of Shèng Chéng. This was the Wěidà de Fángzi, the residence of the Elfinqueen and the royal family, a long generation of regal men and women call it their home. Outside the castle door vendors were selling their goods to anyone of standing and business with the Elfinqueen. An elf woman appeared in a rather large purple robe and very plain hood resting behind her head. Her pale skin and striking features were instantly recognizable, but as is the modesty of the High Elves no one drew any attention to the Queen. She walked towards the castle door via the vendors. Like shrieking nagas waiting to strike they all tried to earn their worth. "Lovely lady," a man said "I have treasured scents from all the corners of the earth." The woman passed by and shooed him away.
The second vendor, a Dwarf man tried his luck. "Ma'am, exotic treasures from the Dogedom. Shining gold trinkets and beautiful jewels."
This time the woman stopped to observe the jewelry. The vendor had a great mass of treasure; rings, amulets, pendants, necklaces - all manner of decorative metalwork was available. The stall glittered and sparkled in shining gold. She pointed at one and asked "How much for this one?"
"Ah!" the Dwarf exclaimed. "A lovely piece of fingerwear my dear." He took the ring she wanted and held it to her. "A cut piece of genuine Life Mana, this ring can provide a blessing enchantment freely to whomever wears it. A very valu-"
"I'm not interested in that." she interrupted "I'm interested in the price." She towered over the man, he became terribly frightened by her stature and began to sweat like a boar roasting over a fire.
He stroked his bushy red beard and replied "Ehehe, the price. Normally it is 200 gold pieces, but for a lovely lady such as yourself you can have this for 175."
"Do not appeal to my vanity. We Eldars do not believe in such a thing." She reached her hand over the vendor's wooden counter. "I like to examine the ring please."
"But of course." the Dwarf stretched up to reach the Queen's hand and passed to her the ring, confident that she was not going to steal it. She brought the ring up close to her and studied its features. It was a very basic ring; a gold band with the charged jewel in its center, miniature flashes of light discharged inside the circular yellow gem, it flickered the radiance of the sunlight and the hues of the crystal. That was it, no engraving, no fine detail, no latent magic she could detect; nothing.
"You know this is Xiao Jinglíng, home of the original magic wielders." the Queen began to explain. "We have perfected the art of using Life Mana for centuries, millennia even. Why on this earth do you think you can sell a simply magic ring like this for such a high price?"
"Ehehehehe." he could not think to do anything except laugh nervously. "My dear, it is because of the magic that the price is so high." His attempt to sell the ring at an exorbitant price was falling apart.
"Except this is a simple blessing." She then placed the ring onto the counter and while holding it by her chest she pulled down the sleeve of her left arm to reveal a number of rings on her hand. "This one here-" she pointed to her fourth finger wearing a silver ring with a different Mana crystal jewel, looking gold in colour. "has so much power in it it can ward off unholy curses and protects me from the undead. It is called 'Xié'ède Bǎohùzhě', the Unholy Protector. It cost less than 300 gold." she then pointed to the ring on the counter. "That ring there is substantially less powerful than Xié'ède Bǎohùzhě." he sweated through his brown tunic, he stammered for a while before she continued. "The fact is you are trying to cheat me out of my money. No one deserves to be robbed," she paused to lean over the counter and stare directly down above the poor soul. "Not even the Elfinqueen!" She sighed exasperatedly and left the merchant to continue into the castle.
The dwarf was left standing there thinking to himself the Elfinqueen? Why'd she mention her? The merchant never noticed her pale golden hair, the two golden earrings pierced on the side of her left ear, the necklace with a Jīn Bǎoshí gem. All the affectations and placings of Elfinqueen Tiáojie Rén.
The queen walked up to the castle, a massive wooden door rose above the open stone staircase, guards on each side of the door protected the entry point. As she approached the door the guards noticed her earrings and knocked on the door, he informed the guards behind the door that the Elfinqueen wished to enter. The guards were heavily armored pikemen; the polished steel breastplates gleamed in the sunlight. The tall men were fully outfitted, a complete suit of armor up to the neck with a little more than a steel hat to protect the head. They wore very plain looking attire, neither fashion nor aesthetic had a place in the military. Each guard held a very lengthy pike called Chángmáos, each man was a good seven and a quarter foot tall and their weapons towered over them and the door. The Chángmáos were also very basic things, twelve foot long wooden poles with a steel serrated spike at it's end, these objects could puncture through the bellies of ten fully grown men with a single piercing thrust.
"Zhùfú, Shǒuwèi!" Tiáojie Rén happily greeted the nearest guard to her.
"Zhùfú, Elfinqueen. How was your morning constitutional?" Guard Shǒuwèi replied. The noises of the locks, the other guards shuffling and the clacking of their armor traveled through the wooden door.
"Uneventful, although the Dwarf over there tried to swindle me." she poked her thumb behind her to the merchant.
He laughed as the door released and creaked open. "Dwarves and their gold." She continued into the castle and Guard Shǒuwèi bowed to her. "Have a good day Elfinqueen."
"Xièxiè!" she thanked him as she entered, the second guard held the door and swung it back into place.
THUD! The large wooden door echoed within the large stone structure. The Elfinqueen proceeded further into the hallway before her menservants arrived, three youthful elven men in proper black tuxedos approached the queen to attend to her needs. She disrobed to reveal her royal attire; a silky sky blue dress, frilly and laced all the way down to the floor. The robe covered the full splendor of the Jīn Bǎoshí necklace, a shimmering golden chain with the jewel as the centerpiece. As she moved forward her porcelain white shoes poked out with each step. One of the servants claimed her robe and walked off while the others tended to her daily routines. "Milady you have no business in the morning, you are free until the mid day for your daughter's coronation."
"Thank you Púrén." she replied "Can you please send Fílos down to the hearth and start a fire?"
"Fílos?" Púrén asked.
"Indeed, I wish to have a chat with him before I see Zhìyù Zhe." Púrén bowed and proceeded out and up the large staircase in the center of the fort. "Fúwùqì, prepare some tea for us. Earl Grey please."
"Very well Ma'am." Fúwùqì bowed and also left the room, leaving the Elfinqueen by herself. She walked over to the empty fireplace by the side of the hallway and sat down on one of the wooden chairs there.
After just a brief moment Púrén came downstairs and helped an elderly man to come with him. "Milady, Servant Fílos." he announced at the foot of the steps.
The man stammered his way towards the fireplace, clearly delighted to see Tiáojie Rén while Púrén proceeded to the hearth and began to ignite a fire.
"Fílos!" She got up and walked over to him, they hugged each other for a while. Fílos was an aged Archonian man, he was both the royal court's foreign advisor and a life long friend of both Tiáojie Rén and her husband Evimería. For a mortal man Fílos was a rather average height even at the ripe old age of 85, he wrapped his hands around her waist for her chest was at his eye level. Tiáojie Rén similarly tried to reach down and embrace her companion, even outstretched her arms were barely able to reach his back, so in stead her patted his head and brushed his long silver hair. "How has life treated you my friend?"
Still in her embrace Fílos replied with his decrepit voice "Oh, old man Chronos continues to steal away my good looks."
She laughed at his witty remark. "Come now. Asgardians don't care about their appearances, especially the men." They finished hugging and mutually pulled away from each other.
"It's not that we don't care my Queen, it's that we rather complain about it once we lose it." he quipped again.
They bother shared a laugh for a moment before she directed him. "Please Fílos, join me by the fire." She reached out to the fireplace now lit with a roaring fire. "Tea is getting ready."
"Ah!" he answered "Earl Grey is it?" she nodded in reply. "I'll have a pot and a yarn with you my queen." They both moved to the fireplace again. She helped Fílos to his seat, elf chairs are a good deal larger then mortal chairs, she lifted him off the ground slightly and placed him on the seat. He groaned slightly as he was put into the chair, he looked down for a moment to once again marvel at the sight. He sat on the edge of the seat and looked down at his feet, he could not reach the ground from his height although his wasn't so far that his vertigo affected him. He turned around to see the backrest, it loomed rather like a tall fence around a person's garden. It was quite literally an oversized chair by his perspective. She turned about and sat down by her seat opposite him.
Fúwùqì entered with a silver tray of tea and sweets. "Earl Grey Ma'am, with Baklava, Fairy Cake and shortbread biscuits."
Fílos was surprised. "You made Baklava for me? My favorite?"
"Chef Chúshī is well versed in Archonian cuisine." Fúwùqì responded "By the request of the Elfinqueen Chef created the desert since yesterday."
"Oh my word!" he grasped "I appreciate the effort my queen. Thank you."
"Well I've been meaning to have a good talk with you Fílos, especially now." Fúwùqì passed a cup of tea to Fílos and then to the queen. "Thank you Fúwùqì. As you know,-" she paused to drink a sip of her tea, Fúwùqì left the room to tend to the daily housekeeping. "Today my daughter Zhìyù Zhe will be coronated to be the next Elfinqueen. Since it is my last day today I'd like to use my last privilege with you before I step down."
Fílos began his tea as well. "I'm honored." They both smiled and continued to drink.
She finished her sip and inquired "I have a couple of questions for you if you don't mind." She sighed as her smile sunk into a more sad expression "It is about my late husband and my daughter."
"Of course. Go ahead."
She sighed again. "You are aware of the tumult that happened in the Eldar population about my wedding to Evimería." He nodded "How was the wedding perceived by the High Men?"
He grunted as he drank more tea, he set down his cup beside him on the seat and answer back. "The marriage was very well received in Árchontikó. We found the marriage of an Eldar to a High Man to be perfectly natural, in fact we perceive it as inevitable."
"Inevitable?" she asked "How so?"
He laughed and rightly pointed out "Our relationship between our people has been that of strong and lengthy friendship. We have never had ill will between us and in times of great fear and terrible war we have stood side by side to repel against the Orkind. Frankly my queen if the idea of such a coupling strikes you as strange you discredit the entire history of our peoples." He laughed some more as she smiled again, Fílos always knew how to brighten anyone with his wit and good humor.
"Oh I never believed in the hysteria." she lamented "I fell in love with his generosity and passion for peace."
"I knew him personally." he added, he lifted his finger to make his point. "Evimería was a very good man, exactly how you described him. He was a proper Eldarphile." He paused to drink more of his tea, she reflected on Evimería and the time they spent together. "It's a terrible shame the Eldars are so progressive in philosophy, yet the thought of being wed to anyone other than an Eldar is considered heathen."
She grunted while she drank her tea, she finished the cup and set it down on the tray. "Indeed. The people needed to know Evimería to understand why I loved him so." she sighed "I miss him terribly." before she smiled once again "But you know I see a little bit of his soul in Zhìyù Zhe, it's amazing to see so much of him in her, his sweet nature, his thoughtfulness, his intelligence. Every time I see her she reminds me of him."
"She is certainly her father's daughter." he replied "She is also her mother's daughter too. I have had wonderful discussions about philosophy with her." He paused to hear her chuckle, it was the first time in a long time he heard Tiáojie Rén laugh. "She is a very intelligent young woman my queen. I have no doubt at all that she will lead the country to peace and prosperity. Her wisdom and intellect will guild the Eldars to a bright future."
Slowly she nodded to Fílos' observation. "I certainly hope so." She got up from her chair and walked towards him, preparing to lift him off the seat.
"Don't you have another question for me my queen?" he asked her.
"No." she shook her head "Not anymore." She reached out to him. "Do you need help getting up?"
"Oh no, I don't want to get up." He reached over and pointed to the tray. "Just pass over the Baklava and I'll get myself up. If I need to the servants can help me."
"Very well." she walked right up to him and they hugged once again, their friendship was made strong by their candid and open discussions of all things. The queen stood back up and turned about to hand over the sweets. "Would you like some cake as well?"
"Uh, yes. Thank you." she carved a slice of the bright yellow cake and the golden pastry. "Here you are." She handed him a full plate. "I'm going to visit my daughter before her coronation. I'll see you at the ceremony." As he was eating his food he replied with a happy grunt, an audible hum of delight. He mumbled something with his mouth full of treats. Tiáojie Rén smiled and turned about to leave her good friend to his desert.
Up in one of the turrets of the Wěidà de Fángzi a lone woman stood by the window of her room. She stared out to the mountains to the east and focused on the details of the scenery, the jagged peaks and deep troughs, snow capped and terribly high, a harsh and unforgiving part of the world. However one particular detail stood out and she focused on it deeply. It was a statue, a stone creation on the peak of one of the mountains. A cross with a thick circle outline on top, a simple design for a simple purpose - remembrance. The woman shed a tear, watching the statue from afar, when she heard a knocking at the door. "Zhìyù Zhe, are you ready dear?" the Elfinqueen inquired.
"Yes mother." she replied. Tiáojie Rén opened the door and entered her daughter's chamber, a small circular space compared to her own bedroom. Her bed rested off the the side, a simple bed with blue satin sheets and covers, on it the crown her daughter would eventually wear for the next hundred years sat quietly by itself - the Jewel of Xihe. Above the bed one of her paintings hung, her interpretation of a White Dragon. Zhìyù Zhe herself stood by the window opposite the door, beside her the easel rested on the stone brick wall with a heavily stained rag drooping off the stand. She wore her specially made dress for the day, the same sky blue dress as her mother's, with the same frills and lace. Unlike her mother's dress her attire had an embroidered design around the edges of the fabric, white triangular shapes in a seemingly random pattern created a border all along the bottom of the skirt and the sleeves. Also unlike her mother her sleeves were flared and hung low from her hands. Beside her easel she possessed a desk with a raised surface. It was in fact a drawing desk, a triangular surface to rest her books or papers on the sill and quietly work on her artistry or calligraphy or whatever it was she felt inclined to do. Beside the desk on its left was a torch for her to work at night, on the left side of the desk was a wooden coat stand where her night clothes hung off one of the hooks.
Noticing the crown Tiáojie Rén walked over to the bed. "Ah, I see you're not ready yet." She reached over to it.
She sighed "I won't ever be ready mother."
Picking up the crown the Elfinqueen walked towards her daughter. "You know, I remember my coronation quite well. It wasn't too long before the Race against Peace." Standing beside her daughter she handed her the crown; it was a magnificent piece, a shining golden headband, dazzling in polish and beauty. Around the band were sixteen short spires extended outwards, each one was short and stubby. The shape of the crown reflected the sun shining down onto the wearer for the sun was Xihe herself, the great Goddess in the sky who formed the earth and fashioned the elves in her likeness. As a final detail, sitting inside the front spire was a jewel of Life Mana, an eternal blessing cast over the wearer from Xihe. Zhìyù Zhe took the crown from her mother and examined the beautiful shape while her mother continued her story. "I was so scared I genuinely thought I was going to plunge us into terrible despair."
She continued to stare at the crown and asked her mother "Am I ready to become Elfinqueen mother?" She looked down to see Elfinqueen, this towering child watching over her own mother by a clear head.
She smiled at her "My dear Zhìyù Zhe, no one will ever truly know if they are ready to be a leader. I certainly didn't know when I ascended, but I was able to affect a peace treaty, end all violence and maintain the existence of those poor Orcs." She sighed and grabbed a hold of her daughter by the waist, she looked up to her and replied. "I was ready to be Elfinqueen, Zhìyù Zhe. I believe you are ready."
She sighed herself " I wonder about my people mother." She looked up and out the window again, she focused again on the statue in the mountains. It was a tombstone, that of Elfinking Evimería the Mortal - Zhìyù Zhe's father and Tiáojie Rén's dear husband. She watched her father's resting place and began to cry. "I wonder about all the trouble and tumult of today. A rising sense of hatred and racism is brewing. The people see me as a freak of nature, a half breed. They call me dirty, giant, muddy hair and darkened eyes."
"No Zhìyù Zhe." she comforted her despairing child. "Not everyone. A few random bigots who are stuck in the Second Age." She paused, watching her daughter break down was too much for her to bare. She became angry herself. "Those angry men still think Wood Elves are abominations, that Dark Elves are unholy freaks, and that the Eldars are the superior race over all humanoid races. We grew this insane systemic complex all that time ago that we were better than everyone. We are not that! The Wood Elves are not that and neither are the Dark Elves! We, the mortal men and the lesser races; we cannot let ourselves be labelled by other people's perceptions. Instead we must lead by example and label ourselves by the actions we take." She paused to reach up and turn her daughter's head to look back to her. "By their logic I am a traitorous whore who married a lesser and destroyed the future of the royal line. Instead I am the Elfinqueen who brought peace to the entire world, began to establish trade partners with every single race and inso doing integrate all other races into the country. I effected change that I didn't even dream I could do Zhìyù Zhe. So my sweet, intelligent daughter, what do you want to make of this world?" Stunned by her mother's words she was speechless for a few seconds, it was a long time since she saw her mother speak with such passion and truth.
Eventually she calmed down and spoke candidly herself. "I don't want for much mother. All I want is to rid this land of bigotry and hate. To create a world where all are equal to the eyes of all men and women."
Tiáojie Rén smiled at her words. "An impossible dream." She reached over and took the crown from her, she turned it around and stretched up to place the crown on her daughter's head. "Zhìyù Zhe, you have the academic and philosophical intelligence to achieve that in your Centurion Rule." She let go and relaxed her arms, she took in the vision of the future, the incoming Elfinqueen Zhìyù Zhe, the Second Monarch of the Fifth Age. "You are ready to become Elfinqueen my child." She smiled back at her mother, buoyed by her confidence in her and the prospect of shaping the future in her own image.
"Thank you mother." Zhìyù Zhe whispered softly into the air.