The time for the transfer of power from one generation to the other has come. The rites require Queen Olwen to kill herself with the Queensblade in order to ensure the bounty of the kingdom. First, the Princess, Olwen's daughter Gwenlliant, must discover the powers in order to inherit the crown and the kingdom, for only in Gwenlliant rests the power to bring back the bounty of the land and the kingdom of the ages.
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April 01, 1988
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Excerpt from Queensblade by Susan Shwartz
Midwinter snowdrifts tumbled outside Queen Olwen's hall, almost to the eaves. Within it, huddled forlornly on limp straw, lay the Queen's white bear. Its harsh breathing rustled and rattled in its wattled throat until its fur, thinning and yellowed with age and firelight, shook. The elegant head, with its long, pointed muzzle and the crafty small eyes that were filming over now, lay in Queen Olwen's lap; and her own gaze was very far away.
At harvest, the bear had started to weaken. Already it was old, almost as old as the Queen's son, Mor, now half a world away while his father drilled him to rule an empire and forget his home in the Isles of Mist. It was older than Mor's sister, Gwenlliant, whose long, wayward hair the fire touched with a splendour that her mother did not see. At times, Gwenlliant thought that Queen Olwen had not seen much of anything since her return from Byzantium to take up her crown here, in her home, once again. Except, of course, her lands. And now her bear. It was twenty, and it was dying.
The harvest had been meagre, the stalks and husks dry. When the farmers came to cast the Straw Man into the fires that blazed on every hill, they had burned high, and will o' the wisps had danced down the slopes and disappeared in the depths of the forests.
Queen Olwen's amber eyes stared past the dying bear into the firelight. How fiercely the needfires had blazed that autumn. Their glow had made the ancient trees of the hawthorn nemet seem so sere and dark of leaf. A dreadful place! Gwenlliant had said, and, grown woman though she was, refused to enter. Olwen's bear had groaned, and crept into this corner of her hall, spurning food, turning its head away even from Princess Alexa, who had dwelt among the great bears, and who loved them.
The bear will regain its strength with the snows, she had reassured Olwen, her sister by marriage. But even when the silent, gentle snow fell, softening the harsh stubble that pierced each field in Penllyn of the Mists, the bear grunted and moaned. In winters gone by, the years when Mor and Gwenlliant were young, the bear would race them through the snow, pretending to nip at their legs. Now, the children were gone. Elen, Alexa's only living child, had withdrawn into her studies, her mother's daughter even to her silences. Of Olwen's own children, Mor had left for his father's city; Gwenlliant, though she remained in the land the Goddess had destined her to rule, was so remote that she, too, might as well be in Byzantium. Except, of course, when she tried to quarrel with Elen.
What had become of the loving children who had wrestled each winter with a bear the colour of snow?
Winter came, but now the bear refused to go outside. It lay in the straw, twisting and groaning as if its very bones ached. Its white fur dulled and fell out in patches. Yet it continued to follow Olwen about with its eyes until sight too began to fail, overwhelmed by the firelight, the shadow, and the aging of a queen who had once been so fair that bards sang that where she walked, white blooms fell and the fragrance of spring rose up to greet her.
Now the Queen smelled of faded petals. Weeds, most likely, Olwen chuckled dryly to herself. Her hall, bare now of feasts, smelted not of flowers but of ashes and the pungent herbs burned to purge the air of the smells of the bear's old age. No one complained. No one would. For the bear had been brought to Olwen as a cub by Audun Bearmaster in token of her right to govern; and it was dear to all who knew her.