Author’s note: A rather rough draft for a story idea I may want to expand (and majorly fix up) one day.
I want to say “Once upon a time,” but that would be misleading. You would read it, and immediately your mind would fly to the Land of Fairytales, where the world consists of knights vanquishing dragons and magic spells turning pumpkins into carriages. But this is not a fairytale, at least not as we have come to know them. The magic here won’t help princesses find their true loves, and good will not always triumph over evil. In this world, there is a lingering darkness, which some say is more powerful than the light. There is no happy ending to this tale.
Welcome to the world of the Four Queens.
You may think you know them. Play a game of cards and there they all are, looking back at you with vacant stares. The righteous queens. The stoic queens. Hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs, a queen for every suit of nature. But these are not the queens as they began. The history of the Four Queens goes beyond a simple deck of cards. It is a history of love, scorn, betrayal, and banishment.
First, there were the Light Queens. Their true names have long ago been lost to the consciousness, and so they shall forever be referred to as the Queen of Hearts and the Queen of Diamonds. The Queen of Hearts ruled over the Land of Gold, while the Queen of Diamonds laid claim to the Land of Glass. Each queen was considered wonderfully good, each for very different reasons.
The Land of Gold was in the south and its people were called the Babochkas, who you would think of as sprites and fairies, for they were very small and had wings of glorious colours and patterns, much like the butterflies of your world. Babochkas were wonderful artists and they made the most valuable and beautiful art, wanted by all, and bringing much profit to the land. They loved their queen, for she treated them well. Her heart was open to all their problems, and her love gave them a wealth not even magic could conjure up. The Land of Gold was a happy, peaceful place, surrounded by an unbreakable wall that protected all who lived inside from any evils beyond.
The Queen of Diamonds, too, was much adored. From her sparkling gowns to the jewels glittering on her petite fingers and slender neck, this red queen knew what it took to be admired. Her castle was ever-expanding under her order, growing more dazzling with each addition. All of the queen’s pride rested in that castle, especially in the Grand Hall of Mirrors, where she was always throwing parties and other grandiose acts of entertainment. During these parties the queen could almost always be found admiring herself, finding the greatest joy in having her vision reflected one hundred times over. The Queen of Diamonds liked us all to believe that she had everything she could ever want, and perhaps she truly did. Her people were the Steklos, the inhabitants of the eastern Land of Glass, and they were a fragile bunch, being made entirely of glass, naturally. It was her sworn duty to protect them, and protect her little glass people she did, for she loved the way they sparkled and glittered in the sun, and she couldn’t bear to lose that.
Then there came the Dark Queens.
The Queen of Spades had many secrets, a fitting ruler for the Land of Illusion in the north. Nobody quite knew what her true form was, for it was rumoured she had the powers of shapeshifting. Many who saw her described her as having the face of a raven, with black wings cascading down her back. Others said she came to them as a ferocious black panther, ready to pounce at the slightest sound. But the Land of Illusion was a tricky place, as nothing was ever as it seemed, and both queen and land appeared as the people believed them to be. The Mags who lived here were all magicians and illusionists, yet none held the power to reveal the queen as her true self, nor did they dare rise against her, for the fear of knowing she could be lurking anywhere, disguised as anything, was an overpowering and numbing fear.
The Queen of Clubs was the darkest of them all. She ruled the Land of Shadows in the west, where lost souls were lured, hunted, and trapped. Upon first being captured, a lost soul became a Besserdechnyy, a creature of no heart, and without a heart, we know that one is powerless against the persuasions of evil. Once a Besserdechnyy remained imprisoned long enough, and with enough training bullied into it, it eventually turned into a Shadowling, a dark being of the black queen’s army. She sent her Shadowlings out to wreak havoc on all the other lands. They destroyed everything in their path, terrorized the villages, and collected souls to add to their queen’s vault. As long as there was darkness, Shadowlings could always roam.
Four queens, two of good, two of evil – for now a balanced world. But a balanced world it would be for not much longer. Stirrings were occurring, jealousies were growing; changes were already taking place.
The Shadowlings were growing in numbers and everyone could see that they were becoming more powerful and daring in their hunts. The Steklos lived in great fear, for they had not the strong wall which protected the Babochkas, nor the magic of the Mags. They ran crying to their queen – “Save us, oh angel, our queen, save us, your humble servants.” She raised her hand, straightening taller still with all those eyes upon her, and bid them have no worries; she would see what she could do.
If one side grows stronger, she thought, the other must weaken. She certainly was none the weaker. “I shall visit my dear friend and fellow queen, of the Land of Gold, and see if she knows of anything.” She announced her great journey to her people, from her tallest tower, where she stood elegantly robed and absolutely spotted in shimmering diamonds, so even the furthest Steklo could make her out. The air rang out with cheers for their most humble queen, who surely would bring back protection to them all. As she walked amongst her subjects, she let them kiss her rings.
The two Light Queens met in the Castle of Gold, and, as was custom, played a game of cards while discussing the matters at hand. Each card had a value and a picture to represent that value, coloured in either red or black. Cards were always placed from lowest to highest – ace, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, jack, and last came the king. While playing, one queen could not but help notice a change had taken hold of the other.
“Why, whatever has happened to you?” gasped the lavish Queen of Diamonds. Her shocked exclamation was most certainly justified, as her fellow queen was looking rather sickly. Upon her face lay streaks of sadness, acidic tears burning tracks down her snow-white pale cheeks. It seemed as though Death itself had glanced upon this once astonishing beauty and proclaimed she could not be so, and his jealous gaze had cursed her into the depths of blackening despair. She was withered and coughing, fighting against her pain, but only just.
“My heart has been broken,” she whispered, and even as the words slipped sadly from her mouth, fresh tears came tumbling down her face, leaving their mark behind.
“But where is dear, sweet Christopher?” said the Diamond Queen, fluffing out her hair and patting extra colour into her cheeks. “Can not he mend it for you?”
The heart-broken queen wept some more, hiding behind her hands in shame. “It is he who has broken it,” she replied with a trembling voice, her big eyes peering out between her fingers. “He is gone; turned to stone by some wicked being, and with such a broken heart as mine, my powers are beginning to fail. I fear what this means for my people. My wall seems no longer able to keep out those dark Shadowlings; my Light is fading, friend.”
Every subject in the room wept bitterly, for they loved their queen truly, and their hearts were breaking too at the thought of losing her forever. The Queen of Diamonds looked around at all the crying Babochkas, and she wondered idly, could the Steklos cry for her? Her stomach convulsed at the sight of all this honest love for this angelic queen, and she began plans for a new set of ballrooms to be made in her castle. Even without her beauty, the Queen of Hearts was needed by her people, tittered the Diamond Queen, and she adjusted her jewels, making them shine upon her all the brighter.
“You are the only one of us to be lucky enough to have true love. You alone can know true love. What will happen to you without it? What will your poor heart do? I, who have never known love as you do,” she paused here, surveying the Queen of Hearts with a curious look in her eye and grasping tighter still to her diamonds, “Whatever am I to do in your place?” The sickly queen could hardly answer, weak as she had grown.
“Can not you heal yourself?” the Diamond Queen now asked, leaning forward in rampant anticipation of the answer. The Queen of Hearts’ greatest power was, as everyone knew after all, the ability to heal all wounds. “No?” said the Queen of Diamonds at seeing the slight shake of her compatriot’s head. “No, of course, you cannot use your powers for yourself.” She wiped her brow and gave a showing sob to any who stood by watching.
As this queen of broken hearts’ subjects left the room, they bowed to her graciously, and she to them, kissing them each on their cheeks with a loving smile, despite the pain she felt.
The Queen of Diamonds returned with no good news for the Steklos. Even they wept for the other Light Queen’s plight, their tears glistening against their glass cheeks. The Diamond Queen, upon witnessing this, shut herself up in her towers, for once turning away from something that sparkled.
As for the Dark Queens, what of them? They too heard of the Light Queens’ struggles. The news made the Queen of Clubs laugh, a laugh which echoed and stretched out far-reaching claws to grasp at and terrorize the already trembling Besserdechnyys. Soon, she chortled, soon that wretched little do-gooder of a queen shall be mine; her heart-broken soul shall be an excellent addition to my collection. And with that queen of broken hearts shall come all her precious Babochkas as well. The Shadow Queen nearly salivated at the thought. What a grand army I shall have.
The Queen of Spades was silent on the matter, as mysterious as ever. She made not a thought of hers known, except with the slight frown that eclipsed her face for the briefest of moments, and as to that, we can only guess at what a frown meant to her.
The question became, who had been the one to turn pour Christopher to stone, and thus doom the Queen of Hearts to her perilous fall? Which of the queens had cast the spell? The Queen of Clubs or the Queen of Spades? Never before had it been known for either of the Dark Queens to be able to cross through that magic wall into the Land of Gold, lit up as it was with love and purity. The Babochkas blamed the Illusionist Queen; the Steklos believed it to be the Shadow Queen. Only one knew of the truth, and she was neither Babochka nor Steklo.
Read part 2.