Author Topic: The Story of the Ice Queen  (Read 2210 times)

Offline tangocbear

  • Members
  • Posts: 41
The Story of the Ice Queen
« on: January 30, 2017, 02:22:50 AM »
OK, so I've really gone overboard on this whole Kislev business and now have an idea for a story about Katarin, the Ice Queen of Kislev.  It is premised on the fluff set out in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay; i.e. that the Storm of Chaos was turned back, the Old World didn't fall, and WHFB didn't collapse into AoS(hit).  Katarin is usually thought of as a very remote and aloof figure, but you get a glimpse of what she might have been really like underneath the cold exterior in the Ambassador Chronicles.   So - here goes:

Chapter 1

"Wake up, Mikhail, wake-up!" Katarin said as loudly as she could in whisper.  "You have to go.  it is morning." 

Mikhail rolled over and opened his eyes.  "Call my Miguel, that is the name I go by."

"Damn it, Mikhai.  Don't be difficult," scolded Katarin.  "The sun is already up and my ladies will be here soon.  They can't see you here, or me like this." 

"Damn your ladies, Katarin.  Let's stay here.  None of this damnable court business.  Just us."  Mikhail was only half-joking.  He had traveled much of the Old World and seen some of the rest and had never met a woman like Katarin.  He knew this could not last forever and he wanted to enjoy every second he could with her.

"We can't.  I can't.  I have to be at court this morning, every morning these days it seems" sighed Katarin. 

"Oh, Myrmidia, Ursen, Sigmar, and the rest of thene gods be damned"  grunted Mikhail, as got out of bed and started to dress.  Besides not wanting to leave Katarin, he had a terrible hangover from the wine.   It was putrid Empire swill. Kislev was not the country to visit if a man liked wine, which he very much did.

As he sat at the edge of the bed, Katarin rolled over and watched him.  For the first time, she noticed a terrible scar on his back on his right shoulder blade.  "Where did that scar come from?"

"Lustria.  A damned skink hit me in the back with a dart.  It made a terrible mess when they yanked it out.  I almost died from the filth and the poison smeared on the tip.  I shot the little bastard, though, right between the eyes with a pistol" Mikhail said casually.  It was all true, of course, but it was hardly the only wound he'd even taken, and not even the worst.

Katarin's eye's lit up. "Lustria?  You never told me you'd gone to Lustria" she said, quite excited.

"You never asked," Mikhail replied. "I could tell you all about it, if you let me stay" he said, slyly.

"I wish I could" laughed Katarin, "but you really have to go.  Not tonight, but maybe tomorrow I will send for you and you can tell me then."

"Why not tonite?  Have you another visitor coming?" asked Mikhail playfully.

"No, of course not.  I am hosting a dinner for General Spitzaner from Talabecland and some of his officers.  They are leaving soon and I have to thank them for everything they have done."

"Spitzaner?" chuckled Mikhail.  "Well, I know you will be sleeping alone tonight."

"You are so terrible," laughed Katarin, but then she became more serious.  "I wouldn't be alive without him.  Perhaps none of us would.  I owe him at least one more good meal." 

Mikhail had finished dressing and got up from the bed and turned around.  "Am I fit for court, your Majesty?"

"Certainly not," Katarin replied laughing.  Mikhail looked like a crumpled reprobate, which was not entirely inaccurate.  "But" she said with a smile, "you are fit for me.  But now you MUST GO!" 

Katarin rang a small bell on her night table and a young girl appeared within seconds.  When she saw Mikhail she looked mortified.

"Don't worry, Anastasia" smiled Katarin.  "Take this man through the back passage to the gate that leads out to the sewer that runs into the river.  He will find his way from there.  Say nothing to anyone about any of this."   The girl nodded.

Mikhail looked concerned, but Katarin re-assured him in Reikspeil "She is my cousin.  She has the gift.  We have nothing to fear from her."  Mikhail nodded - a girl with the gift would someday by an Ice Witch like Katarin and so they were  bound together by some secret code - and followed the girl out.

Katarin rolled onto her back and put her arms out and smiled.  She had not been happy like this in what seemed like an eternity.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2017, 12:30:55 PM by tangocbear »

Offline tangocbear

  • Members
  • Posts: 41
Re: The Story of the Ice Queen
« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2017, 01:44:15 PM »
Chapter 2

Katarin sat at her dressing table, trying to brush out her long black hair, which was a mess.  While she always looked impeccable at court, the truth was it took her ladies a lot of effort to tame her hair into something appropriate for a monarch.

She had put on her grey woolen nightgown and her soft fur boots.  How ridiculous she looked; the Ice Queen of Kislev dressed like a peasant's wife, but the nightgown and boots kept her warm.  It was always so damned cold inside the Bohka palace.  Besides, her ladies could not see her naked, other than in a tub.  It would have been scandalous in and of itself, let alone if they knew the reason why she was without clothes. 

Katarin was the supreme ruler of Kislev, with unchecked power, but here she was having to follow a dress code in her own bedchamber.  She sighed.  There were so many rules she had to follow, but they were necessary to maintain her majesty and with the country in near ruin, her majesty seemed to be all that was holding the nation together. 

There was a knock at the door. "Come in" said Katarin, without turning to look around.

"Good morning, Majesty."  It was Irena Stepanova.

"Good morning, Boyarin," replied Katarin.

The formality of the exchanged greetings masked the closeness of their real relationship.  Irena's father had been one of the great Boyarin of Tzar Boris' court.  He had been a particular favorite of the Tzar because they were so much alike; loud, prone to drinking and brawling, but valorous and skilled at war, though nearly helpless in the realm of politics and government.  Irena was almost than two years older than Katarin, but they had been presented at court at the same time.

Katarin was then a shy girl of barely sixteen years.  She was tall, skinny, and awkward.  Irena was beautiful and much better proportioned and she was already well-versed in the social graces when she arrived at court.  She had taken a liking to Katarin and befriended her.  Not that Irena needed the friendship of a princess to maintain her position at court.  Her father was the Tzar's friend and companion and her family was among the largest landowners in Kislev.  Rather, Irena had looked past Katarin's teenage struggles and saw an intelligent, passionate young woman in need of a friend.   Irena had helped her master the ways of the court and they remained fast friends until Irena married three years later. 

Now Irena was back at court.  Her father died shortly after Katarin took the throne; too much kvas, too much food, too many women, too much of all the things that ultimately killed almost as many Boyarin as the servants of the Dark Gods.  As befit her rank, Irena had married a promising young Boyarin and they had two sons and a great estate when the Spring Driving began. 

Irena's husband was killed leading his pulk against the Kurgan invaders.  He died like a true Boyarin; Resplendent in his magnificent armor and twin feathered wings, bellowing curses and challenges, his sword in hand, and surrounded by his picked men and a pile of dead Kurgan.  Still, now he was gone, like so many others. They had not even been able to recover his body.

Irena's estate had been overrun and decimated by the invaders.  Although it was being rebuilt and restored, it would take years, if not decades, before it would be returned to something approximating its former glory.  Worse, who would work the land?  So many people had died that estates and stanzas were collapsing from lack of population.  Irena was thus a 28 year old widow with two sons and a very uncertain future; hardly a prize for the few remaining eligible men of any rank. 

Katarin could not bear to see her friend suffer, so she asked her to return to court and serve as the mistress of Katarin's household.  It caused some discontent amongst the Boyarin, as that post usually went to a promising young daughter of the high nobility, not a nearly destitute widow with two fatherless children.  The more perceptive of the Boyarin, however, understood and accepted Katarin's decision as an act of love for a friend who had lost everything at the hands of the Kurgan; something any Kislevite could appreciate.  Besides, Irena returning to court meant that her sons had come with her and it had been a very long time since the palace had echoed with the sounds of laughing, rollicking young boys.

"How is Your Majesty this morning?" asked Irena, as she walked over to Katarin and took the hairbrush from her.  Katarin could see Irena in her mirror and was a little jealous.  Irena was older and had had two children, but she was still more beautiful than Katarin, especially because Irena was already fully dressed and Katarin was still in her night clothes.

"I slept well, Irena."

"Did you, Your Majesty?"  Irena asked somewhat skeptically.

Katarin could keep up the game no longer.  "He is wonderful," she said with a big smile.  "Just wonderful. He is handsome and has seen so much of the world and tells the best stories of his travels.  He makes me happy."  How many young men at court had they gossiped about before the Spring Driving?  Now, as grown women, they were doing it again.

"I am glad, Katarin," replied Irena, as she brushed out Katarin's hair.  "You deserve to be happy, after everything that is happened."

"What about you?" asked Katarin.  "I understand the Boyarin Ivan Radovic finds you to his liking."

"Katarin, stop!" giggled Irena.  "He is old enough to be our father!  Besides, I have my boys and such good boys they are.  That is enough, for now."

"I am happy for you Irena.  To find any happiness after all this tragedy is no small thing" replied Katarin. 

"Is of no matter" replied Irena. "Come, I will have some hot water drawn for your bath."
« Last Edit: February 11, 2017, 10:40:19 PM by tangocbear »

Offline tangocbear

  • Members
  • Posts: 41
Re: The Story of the Ice Queen
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2017, 04:56:24 PM »
Chapter 3

Katarin was bored.  Holding court was pure drudgery.  Petitions, drafts of edicts and laws, and reports were read to her, one after another.  When Tzar Boris sat on the throne, he would ask spontaneous questions and pass judgment on the spot.  That, however, had too often resulted in poor and inconsistent decisions and also to interminable question and answer sessions that led nowhere. 

Katarin had reorganized everything after she took the throne.  She would sit with her Chancellor every afternoon to prepare for court the next morning.  Her questions would be answered and her decisions made in advance. 

The following morning, business would move quickly, as the Chancellor would ask rhetorically whether it was her pleasure to do a particular thing.  Most of the time, Katarin would answer yes, though sometimes she would modify the Chancellor's recommendation in a way that made her seem more just, or merciful, or severe, as the circumstances warranted.  After reports were read to her, Katarin would sometimes ask a few probing – but thoroughly rehearsed -- questions and the Chancellor would give intelligent -- and well-prepared -- answers. 

The trick was for Katarin and the Chancellor to act as if everything was spontaneous.  The more they could do that, the more confident her court was in her rule. As a result, almost every morning Katarin had to act as if she was paying attention to things she'd heard the prior afternoon and act as if she was making a decision on the spot, when she had already made up her mind the prior day.  This required a degree of acting Katarin found tiresome.

Court, however, was now much more thorough and organized, and the quality and consistency of decisions were much better.  The general sense was that Katarin was intelligent, dedicated to the welfare of the country, and hard-working.  Tzar Boris had commanded loyalty with his valor and charisma.  Katarin was nothing like him, so she had to cement loyalty to her with the tools she did possess; a strong work ethic, intelligence, knowledge, and insight.

Katarin had been removed from court at the age of five, when she first manifested the gift, and had been sent to live with her great aunt Tatyana, herself a powerful Ice Witch.  She was a humorless and strict teacher and Katarin was scolded, slapped, and even beaten and starved, throughout her childhood.  She did, however, learn.  Katarin learned about Ice Magic, of course, but her great aunt also schooled her in letters, numbers, literature, poetry, history, science, geography, and even Reikspeil.  After Katarin had turned fourteen, her great aunt began to instruct her in politics as well.

In fact, one of the few pleasures Katarin had been allowed as a child was access to her great aunt’s considerable library. In the eleven years she lived with her great aunt Katarin had managed to read a large percentage of the books in the library, some of them two or three times.  When Katarin was recalled to court she was too tall, too skinny, awkward, and mostly ignorant about the social graces and the ways of court, but she was already better read than almost everyone else, including all of Tzar Boris’ counselors, who were far better soldiers than they were scholars.

She was also good at listening and watching.  Her great aunt had enforced long periods of silence during which Katarin was forbidden to speak, but allowed to see and listen to everything that went on in the house, including her great aunt’s meetings with other Ice Witches.  Afterwards, Katarin would be questioned about what had been said and done and why, and also about the various people with whom her great aunt had met.  Katarin had thus learned form a young age how to understand situations and their context, as well as to assess people; learning to weigh their motives, objectives, strengths, and weaknesses. 

Katarin had put these skills to good use after she had arrived at court.  One of the men who had caught her eye was Militsa Skvortskova.  He was of common birth and had been a middling bureaucrat under Tzar Boris, but he was smart, hardworking, loyal to the crown, and dedicated to the service of his country. 

He was also courageous and was one of the few people at court who would tell Tzar Boris hard truths.  He was frequently berated and threatened by Tzar Boris for his candor and Tzar Boris had even beaten him one day at court for accurately reporting that the treasury was nearly empty and that there were no monies available to buy a large artillery train from the Imperial forges in Nuln.  Nevertheless, Skvortskova was back at court the following morning, bruised and clearly in pain from having had his nose broken.  Katarin decided that day that he would play a large role in her government. 

When Katarin came into power one of her first edicts was to put Skvortskova in charge of the treasury.  He did not disappoint her and within two years he had somehow untangled the financial mess Tzar Boris had left behind.  In addition to putting the country on a much sounder financial footing, his work won Katarin the loyalty of the many Boyarin from whom Tzar Boris had “borrowed” money throughout his reign as Skvortskova had somehow found the funds to repay all of those forced loans, with interest. 

It had also won Skvortskova the grudging respect of the Boyarin, who had viewed him as a grubby commoner who counted money like a miserly shopkeeper.  The Boyarin came to see that a man who could handle money made them richer too, and the Boyarin were by and large a greedy lot.

After Pjotr Losov had been revealed as a traitor, Katarin had promoted Skvortskova to Chancellor.  He had served Katarin faithfully and well throughout and after the Spring Driving and Storm of Chaos, especially while she was away from the city leading relief columns.   He had also been essential to the city’s defense when D’aagron the Exalted had laid siege.

Katarin was lucky to have such a man in her service and she was grateful for his work.  She was also proud of herself for seeing Skovrtskova's talent and elevating him to positions worthy of his skills.

Katarin firmly believed that one of the great injustices of the world was than men like Skovrtskova were too often born into obscurity while men of far less talent and character were born into the ruling class. Katarin could not change that reality - that was far beyond even her formidable magical powers – but she could find places of importance for men like Skovrtskova whenever she encountered them. 

In fact, Katarin desperately wanted to delegate even more responsibility and authority to him and be free of more of the drudgery of governance, but she could not.  Unlike Tzar Boris, her legitimacy derived in large part from the fact that she was actually good at ruling the country, however mundane and tedious that could be.  Her great aunt’s strict tutelage had prepared her well for the task, but it was still a wretched thing.

As Skvortskova went on about the progress rebuilding the docks at Bolgasgrad, Katarin looked over at Irena and the rest of her ladies.  Irena was almost 29 and thus old enough to be the mother of the youngest of Katarin’s ladies, who was barely 14.  Still, she was easily the most beautiful of all of them.  Indeed, Irena was more beautiful than any woman at court, including Katarin. 

Katarin loved Irena dearly, but she had nevertheless always been somewhat jealous of her friend’s great beauty.  Katarin had many gifts and talents and she had matured into a reasonably attractive woman, even if she was still too tall and too thin, but she lacked Irena’s natural good looks, as well as her curves.  Instead, Katarin had to rely on her wit, her fashion, and her demeanor to project the sort of image people expected from a queen.  Still, even with all of Katarin’s efforts, Irena always outshined her at court, no matter how hard Irena tried not to.

Katarin, however, could never be angry with Irena, let alone send her away in a pique.  In addition to being her closest – and perhaps only – friend, Irena ruled Katarin’s ladies with an iron fist, bringing some semblance of order and decorum to their service. 

Indeed, other than Irena, Katarin’s ladies were a sorry lot.  Many Boyarin and their families had been killed in the Spring Driving, so Katarin had been forced to accept girls as young as 13 into her service. Even then, Katarin had far fewer potential recruits from which to choose than she would have liked.   

Besides being too young and immature for court, many of Katarin’s ladies had been a source of scandal before Irena had returned.  So many young men had died in the Spring Driving and Storm of Chaos that girls’ prospects, even those of girls of the Boyarin class, were limited.  These days, many girls of all classes, including those of Katarin's court, were overly free with their favors and affections in their efforts to find a match among the limited pool of suitors. 

Katarin and Irena had certainly flirted with young men when they were girls at court. On occasion, both had more than flirted, but the behavior of Katarin's ladies had too often gone too far and they had also been far too careless about it.  Given her own affair with Mikhail, Katarin could not completely begrudge them – good men of any rank were scarce and love was even more difficult to find - but she could not tolerate their lack of decorum and their recklessness.  The Frozen Court was built on a foundation of majesty and Katarin would not see that undermined by the indiscreet dalliances of immature teenage girls. 

In fact, one of Irena’s principal tasks as the mistress of Katarin’s household was to enforce some measure of discipline over the ladies of the court, and enforce discipline she did.  Irena had a kind heart, but she was also stern and uncompromising about matters of decorum and propriety.  It had served Katarin well as a teenager when Irena had taught her the social graces and it was serving her well once again now that Katarin was queen.

Ladies who did not meet Irena’s high standards were regularly lectured, sometimes punished, occasionally beaten, and, on one occasion, even matched with a mediocre suitor and sent from court in disgrace. Irena’s efforts had made a huge difference in the behavior of Katarin's ladies and the quality of their service.  Katarin was grateful that her friend was willing and able to manage such terrible girls and teach them the things their mothers clearly had not.  That was a distraction with which Katarin could not burden herself, yet the work had to be done. 

Besides, Katarin had no idea how to mother a teenage girl, or anyone else for that matter.  She had no children of her own, her mother had died when she was only 3, and her great aunt had been more of schoolmaster than a parent. The closest experience to parenting Katarin had was her custody of her cousin Anastasia.  Even there, however, Anastasia had a governess and a tutor.  Katarin's only responsibilities to Anastasia were to instruct her in Ice Magic and to teach her the ways of the Ice Witches.

Katarin looked around the Frozen Court.  Ivan Radovic was, of course, present, eying Irena, but most of Tzar Boris' Boyarin were gone; either dead from old age or war, or at home in their dotage, or because they were anachronisms in the new order Katarin was trying to build. 

Ivan Radovic made Katarin laugh, at least on the inside.  He was typical of the loud, pugnacious, and uncouth Boyarin of Tzar Boris’ generation.  In fact, he had been somewhat out of place even in the rough and tumble court Tzar Boris had maintained.  More out of respect  for Tzar Boris' memory than for Katarin's authority, Ivan Radovic had tried to master the new ways of Katerin's court, but he could not.  Indeed, he was very much the country rube even in his own time, let alone these days. 

The younger courtiers mocked Ivan Radovic and the others of his generation, often openly, though never in Katarin’s or Irena’s presence.   Tzar Boris and the Boyarin of that generation were great heroes who had rescued Kislev from anarchy and whipped the country into firm enough shape to survive the Spring Driving and the Storm of Chaos.  Many of those that survived into their late middle age had been killed in the Spring Driving or Storm of Chaos leading Pulks on too-often hopeless missions, but invariably taking at least a handful of Kurgin with them in final combat.  Even if such men were relics of the past, they deserved respect, especially from those who had accomplished far less and suffered relatively little. 

It was for that reason that Irena tolerated Ivan Radovic’s absurd and sometimes crude advances.  It was also why Katarin always made sure she put him and others like him in places of honor whenever they attended court and to grant them whatever favors and honors they requested.  Katarin was determined to build a new future for her country, but it could not come at the expense of the heroes and traditions of the past; no Kislevite would tolerate such dishonorable behavior or respect any ruler who did.

Besides, Ivan Radovic and the other Boyarin like him were still of value to Katarin.  Whatever they lacked in social grace, sophistication, and education, they usually more than compensated for in their knowledge of war.  Tzar Boris had always been at war; against greenskins, beastmen, servants of the Dark Gods, and anyone else who had invaded and infested the land.  He had waged 2 campaigns almost every year he was on the throne and had regularly dispatched his Boyarin on independent expeditions.  Those who had survived, like Ivan Radovic, had a wealth of military experience. 

Indeed, while they lacked the formal training and knowledge of the more esoteric aspects of the art of war that an Imperial commander like General Spitzaner possessed, the older Boyarin understood perfectly well how to fit out a pulk, get it moving, keep it supplied, and lead it in battle.  They also had been on so many campaigns that they were a wealth of knowledge about Kislev's enemies and the armies they fielded, the land itself, and all the various other practical aspects of war that could only be learned by waging it. 

Such men may not have been suitable for Katarin's government, but they were extremely valuable in times of war, which in Kislev was most of the time.  One of Katarin's better inventions had been a permanent council of war. Aside from Katarin, all its members were Boyarin of Tzar Boris' generation. It was an honor, of course, to be selected, but the council also served a real military purpose, planning campaigns, assessing military intelligence, and monitoring the readiness of fortifications, standing bodies of troops, and supply deports and magazines.

The council also was yet another school for Katarin and the old Boyarin her latest teachers.  She learned something about the art of war at every meeting. These men would not live forever and she needed to absorb as much of their knowledge and experience as she could before they were gone. She had to be ready for the future, which was likely to be at least as violent as the past and present, and there was no guarantee that the Boyarin of her generation would ever be as knowledgeable or experienced as those of Tzar Boris' time.

The other function served by the council was to mostly separate military and civil administration. That was both a matter of getting the right men in the right jobs and also preventing any of her servants from accumulating too much power and influence across the many instruments of state power.  Katarin would never be a hostage of or vulnerable to any of her subjects. 

Katarin sighed on the inside.  Even now, there was still a wealth of talented men in Kislev, but matters of class, rank, and tradition made it very hard to place them all in the right positions, where their talents would be of the most use to her.  Breaking down barriers and changing expectations was something to which she devoted tremendous effort and the Spring Driving and Storm of Chaos had made it somewhat easier, as so many men of high station had been killed while many men of lower status had truly distinguished themselves, which made it easier for Katarin to advance them into positions that would otherwise have been beyond them.  But, the work was hard and it had to be taken slowly, so as not to cause too much discontent.

Still, Katarin was barely 27 and so she was likely to sit on the throne for many years.  She could afford to be patient and thorough, as well as determined.  Kislev would change and she would change it, but it had to be taken in steps.
Katarin’s mental wanderings stopped when Skvortskova finished his report on the Bolgasgrad docks and paused for any questions.  Katarin smiled at him and said, “thank you Chancellor, you may proceed.”  Inside, however, she was in misery.  It would be a long morning.
« Last Edit: February 13, 2017, 01:35:43 PM by tangocbear »