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Laurels and Gold

Anastasia Kharlamova lives in Saint-Petersburg, Russia with her parents and grandmother. She is studying for her PhD in linguistics, her thesis focused on the language situation in the town of Selenice in Southern Albania. Apart from her studies, she enjoys books, music, and cooking, and she has been writing poems and stories since her early childhood. "Laurels and Gold" is her second professional prose publication, the first one being a story in Timeless Tales Magazine.

He got the throne. He was born two years earlier than me, it was natural. Even though he was born with a limp (some enemy wizard's curse gone awry on my mother), he was trained to wear the crown.
Meanwhile, I was trained to be the spare. Meredith the additional. Meredith the always second-best. Meredith the "just in case something happens to Anatole": the nicest title my parents could give me.
Anatole was weak, limping and melancholy, but the golden crown was put on his head while I watched from the crowd of courtiers. Our parents looked on, from their newly painted portraits. The portraits that were hung to face the king and not me.
When the rebellion began, Anatole, with his limp, couldn't even ride a horse to inspire the royal soldiers for the battle. He couldn't lift his weak, pale little hand to cast even the simplest of battle spells. The Field Marshal said he wouldn't obey a seventeen-year-old like this. He'd rather join the rebels.
As much as I resented Anatole, I couldn't stand our house being humiliated in such a way.
"Obey a fifteen-year-old, then!" I shouted and jumped on my horse, and rode in front of the lines, and went with them to battle.
My banner rose triumphantly while the rebels' banners lay crushed on the ground. I was shot in the leg and was now limp as well, but the soldiers hailed me and carried me in their arms.
The Field Marshal crowned me with laurels as the rebel leaders fell to their knees and pleaded for mercy.
I wore a crown of golden laurels as I rode into the capital. The rebels had occupied it for rather long because I had been busy freeing our major port. "We need aid from other countries," I said.
The Chief Advisor met me and told me with sadness that my brother King Anatole had died in prison where the rebels had kept him.
I wept and condemned them forever for murdering a king.
It's very easy to condemn such a murder when it's the rebels who do it.
I was crowned with golden laurels on the day of my triumph--Queen Meredith the only, Queen Meredith the victor. Queen Meredith who defied her female nature and went to battle to save her land.
Queen Meredith who somehow failed to save her brother--but then it was the rebels' fault, so nobody bothered to mentioned it.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

Author Comments

The idea of conflict between highborn siblings is hardly new, so what I wanted to do was keep the extent of that conflict and the winner's active involvement in it ambiguous. One of my chief sources of inspiration was Handel's "Julius Caesar in Egypt": in particular, the different interpretations of Cleopatra's character and her fight with her brother for the throne in different productions.

- Anastasia Kharlamova
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