For the first third of her life she was known only as Azma.
To the public she may have been Princess Azma, but other than the occasional painting of her, or a public appearance to give the daily scrolls something to write about, she didn't have much interaction with the public. There were only three people she had regular contact with, and to them she was simply Azma.
Firstly there was her father. When Azma was young, she didn't know about his no-tolerance policy on PARA. She didn't know that the public simultaneously loved him and found him utterly predictable. She didn't know that he was King Azzle, or that he'd only once sworn in public.
She didn't know about the fury he'd shared with the nation when he'd discovered a slavery ring being run under his nose, by one of his own Vizards. She didn't know that the scrolls talked about nothing else for weeks afterwards when he'd ordered the Vizard's execution.
She only knew that his beard sometimes made her face itchy when he kissed her, but his hugs were the best.
She only knew him as Daddy.
Secondly, there was her nanny. An elderly Fairy, Nanny had been around for thirty years longer than King Azzle had been monarch. This meant very little to Azma, to whom anyone older than 10 may as well have been a hundred, but it did mean that Nanny had access to a wealth of stories about the time before Daddy had been king.
Nanny had stories about PARA.
While technically King Azzle's ban didn't include anecdotes or fiction about the unliving, Nanny knew that if she was caught telling stories to Azma about the mermaids, vampires, dragons, and werewolves, it'd probably be the end of her prestigious job in the palace, and so most of the time, Nanny kept her mouth shut.
But on her eightieth birthday, she stumbled back to her quarters well after dark, and when she'd found Azma still awake, she couldn't resist telling a few tales. She told of vampires who had been around since before the Holy Revolution, and werewolves able to leap over a building without breaking a sweat. Nanny shared stories of the dragons who had worked for the palace - in the kitchen at mealtimes, hauling stones the rest of the time.
But the tales which had most entranced young Azma were about mermaids. Living underwater, trading sea creatures for Fairy tricks, singing beautiful, underwater songs, which land-dwellers could only hear with an enchanted head.
And the tails. Tails in every colour of the rainbow; shimmering, beautiful tails which a sailor would jump overboard just to get his hands on. They sounded beautiful, and Azma could barely sleep that night, imagining a mermaid friend of her own.
Instead of repeating the stories the next morning, or even conjuring up some new ones, Nanny just responded to Azma's pleas by holding ice up to her head and telling her to go away.
She never managed to talk her guardian into repeating the stories, but they never left her, the memories kept alive by being constantly replayed in the young Fairy's head.
It wasn't until years later that Azma realized why there were no mermaids in Az. The ban technically covered the entire Isle, but the Thlandish people rarely listened to laws or regulations. Strom, the Thebazian city furthest from Byntol, had the world's largest population of mermaids (land-based or underwater).
But Az, the province where the royal family lived, had none. And the most devastating moment of the young princess's life came when she found out why - her father, for reasons that she couldn't even begin to imagine, had banned the wonderful beasts.
When Azma discovered the reason she'd never seen a mermaid was because of her father's ruling, she confronted him about it. He was as angry as she'd ever seen him, asking where she had heard of mermaids, why she thought they were beautiful creatures, and when his good-natured daughter had turned into such a rebellious young wench.
She'd been terrified at the display of anger from her mild-mannered father, she didn't answer any of the questions and cowered in the corner until he calmed down.
He never spoke to her of this tantrum, and she never brought the matter of PARA up with him again. She did, however, learn that after a few glasses of jacaranda, she could loosen Nanny's tongue enough to hear more tales of the beautiful underwater creatures and their PARA friends.
From these stories, Azma learned that the palace had not always been in Byntol. Thebaz's capital city wasn't fixed; it would roam, depending on the nature of its ruling monarch. Under her father's rule, it was settled in Az, but Thander - the Queen who had ruled before her father's father - had ruled the country from Monstro, her palace right on the border between Th and Eb.
Nanny was fully aware of Azma's game, but her weakness for fine drinks meant that she turned a blind eye when Azma would sneak into the palace kitchen and steal her a bottle of whatever was going. After half a casket of sequoia, it was far too easy to justify the stories as harmless, and even as she grew, the princess never failed to be amazed and delighted by them.
She swore that when she ever ruled the country, she'd reverse the ban. Mermaids, dragons, vampires, werewolves: under her watch, they would all be welcome. Until then, "borrowing" a few drinks for her Nanny was as close as she could get. Her bodyguard knew what the two of them were doing, but as it seemed harmless, he let it be.
Oh, yes. Thirdly, there was her bodyguard.
Fairies are tiny little things, standing no more than .5m when fully grown. While maturing, they can be less than a fifth of that, growing steadily until their teenage years.
Ogres, on the other hand, are huge. The average Ogre stands 4m tall, however the particularly large ones have been known to get even taller. Without magic, a troupe of ten Fairies could effortlessly be wiped out by one well-trained Ogre...and even with magic, the odds are still pretty good for the Ogre.
Fortunately for Fairies, they're clever enough to avoid direct combat with an Ogre, and Ogres are rarely clever enough to be well-trained.
King Azzle had never been married. The full explanation for how Princess Azma came to be had never been made public - a lesser monarch would have been ruined by the scandal, but Azzle's popularity meant that the fact she clearly bore the royal birthmark was all that mattered.
His devotion to his daughter was unquestionable: from the moment the public became aware of her, Azma got everything that a Fairy princess could ever want and much more besides. Their brief conflict over the matter of mermaids was the only fight of significance between the two.
And so when it came to the matter of security, Azzle had spared no expense.
Despite being nearly ten times her height and well over one hundred times her weight, Thud was the most careful bodyguard one could imagine. Not once did he accidentally step on Azma, any of her possessions, or even the tiny little doll-houses she would make out of twigs.
And although the roof of almost every building in Az went up to his nipples at best, Thud managed to keep all three eyes on his young client practically every moment of every day.
He could patrol the palace in less than ten steps (less than five, if he was in a hurry), and he constantly had his "detect magic" bucket around his neck. As long as Azma was nearby, magic was completely banned - Thud treated each and every rattle of the bucket as the teleportation spell of an assassin.
The day that Azma had cast her first spell, he'd ripped the palace roof clean off. It would have cost most anyone else a fortune to repair, but the local roof-masters had considered it their patriotic duty to volunteer their services, and within two Fairy weeks it was back, more ornate than before.
Azma's relationship with Thud was as good as any relationship between two creatures of such different sizes. She found it extraordinarily comforting that she could look up, no matter where she was, and see him standing there, making sure that she was okay. On nights when she couldn't sleep, she'd walk over to the window, and watch his enormous chest rise and fall, as he lay on the ground outside the palace, his detect magic bucket carefully placed beside his ear.
Similarly, Thud had a strong fondness for Azma - his family went back ten generations of noble bodyguarding*, but he felt that none of his ancestors could have had such a perfect relationship with their clients.
*His great-great-grandfather, Kud, had moved over from The Heartland during the Human/Ogre war. Despite his protestations, he'd been dismissed by a royal Human family, who didn't want to put him in the position of potentially having to protect them from other Ogres. To this day, Thud got dirty looks from visiting Human dignitaries.
When the King had asked Thud who put the idea of mermaids into Azma's head, Thud stayed quiet. Firstly, it wasn't his place to say. Secondly, he quite liked Nanny, and thirdly, if she was fired, a new Nanny would have to be hired. And Thud trusted Nanny more than anyone else. Constantly second-guessing a new Nanny was a bodyguard nightmare, one that was certainly worth keeping silent to avoid.
Thud was more intelligent than the average Ogre. That wasn't saying a huge deal, but he'd topped every class at Bodyguard Academy. Patient, ever-diligent and strong, Thud was more than capable of protecting the palace against arrows, angels, dragons, and mermaids, all at the same time.
The one thing he couldn't protect her against, however, was magic.
Azma heard them talking about it all the time. Nanny agreed that it was unfair, but there was nothing that they could do about it. Ogres simply weren't cut out for magic - even if Thud spent a few hours every day (which he couldn't spare) practicing his magic, changed his God of worship to Solomon himself and turned his favorite weapon into a focus, only half of his spells would succeed at best.
Azma was shocked to learn the difference between their magical abilities. She'd never, ever had a spell fail - her natural racial ability was boosted by her royal birthmark, and magic was something she never even had to think about. If she entered a duel with Thud, his spells would succeed about as often as hers failed.
No wonder he was so nervous about magical attack - if he didn't get to the perpetrator in time, no amount of shields or weapons would stop it, and she'd be...
She'd be dead.
Even as a teenager, Azma struggled to wrap her head around the idea of death. As a child, her father had told her that her mother had gone far far away, but she had assumed he meant Narcarbia or some other equally far-flung land. When she'd asked Nanny about this, the elderly fairy hadn't been able to shed any light on the matter; for all she knew, that's where Azma's mother was.
But Azma had learned early on that once you were dead, you weren't coming back. And she knew that if she were assassinated, she would never take her father's place as King.
So why didn't he listen, why didn't he do what Thud suggested and do something smart like ban magic. If no one could cast non-approved spells, there would be no chance of magical assassination. Besides which, it didn't seem fair. Magical creatures, like Fairies, Angels or Elves - why should they be allowed to cast magic, Ogres or Orcs couldn't?
She'd brought it up with him, once, but he'd just suggested that her bodyguard invest in a Dispel charm of some kind. Before Azma could explain the flaws in his plans, he'd moved on to the next item of business, and Azma felt no closer to safety than she had before.
As a teenager, Azma spent a lot of time making plans about what her first actions as Queen were going to be. Even as she grew, she knew that welcoming mermaids and the unliving into the kingdom would be a top priority, but shortly after that...she would outlaw magic.
Sure, some people would be angry at first, but it wouldn't take long for them to work out that she was just creating a fairer world for all.
Princess Azma was 19 when her father died. Everyone was crying, and Nanny - for the first time in her living memory - was refusing drinks. Thud was still patrolling the palace, but he had a huge, conspicuous black arm-band on. In the colourful land of Thebaz, nothing stands out more than a big black arm-band (except perhaps the Ogre who wears it).
She'd known that the public would welcome her rule, as a breath of fresh air to a dying monarchy. The depth of sadness at her father's passing, however, had taken her by surprise, and so she gave the public three Fairy weeks to mourn before accepting the Fairy Crown and the responsibilities that came with it.
At first, everything went according to plan. Her policy changes were widely celebrated: a slight tax decrease, two more annual holidays, and the rewelcoming of mermaids into Fairy society. Six months into her rule, public opinion of the monarchy was at an all-time high: the citizens were happy, tourism to Thebaz had significantly increased (many of the new visitors mermaids), Thebaz was now known for its celebration of diversity, and she was loved.
Queen Azma took advantage of her popularity to announce her next ruling: As well as mermaids, dragons, vampires and werewolves were allowed unfettered entry onto the Isle.
As expected, there had been an initial outcry, but Azma was confident that everything would sort itself out. After all, she was the Queen. Queen Azma, ruler of Thebaz, the latest of the royal line that descended right back to the beginning of creation itself. There were some who believed that she was actually descended from the Gods. She knew what she was doing, and it wouldn't take long for her citizens to realize that.
When she had started as Queen, she had relied upon Nanny for advice - what to wear in certain social situations, how to best present difficult news, how various rulings would affect different sections of the country. But after a year of ruling, she'd learned all that she could, and Nanny was dismissed.
The elderly fairy was still welcome to live in the palace she'd called home for so many years, and as soon as Queen Azma had royal children she knew she would have work again, but Azma knew that managing a country of millions was work for those of the royal bloodline, not those hired to watch babies.
Nanny accepted the offer to stay but began leaving her room less and less, while the piles of bottles that the servants sneaked out every morning grew more and more.
Thud had disapproved of her letting Nanny go, but while Azma had nothing but respect for his work as a bodyguard, he was hardly someone she was going to take political advice from. She knew what she was doing when she let Nanny go, and his attention was better focussed on making sure that no one killed her. She couldn't afford to die, not when she still had so much more planned.
It took over a year for the public to calm down - longer than she'd expected, but she was happy to wait. Most people, of course, weren't of the royal bloodline, and the brilliant simplicity of her actions weren't obvious to them. They weren't to be blamed, just pitied.
Thud wasn't surprised when Azma declared magic illegal. As her constant shadow, he was privy to all of her private meetings. He wondered how the sweet little girl he'd seen grown up had turned into this parody of an insane monarch.
He watched as she cut taxes repeatedly, desperately trying to win back public favor, even as the vampire kill rate increased. He watched as she transferred what was left of the budget into a "defense force", political jargon for "army". He couldn't do anything but watch as his only friend drank herself sick each night.
All he could do was watch, until the palace coffers had completely emptied.
He wouldn't leave, not as long as he got food...but he knew that few others would have his sense of loyalty. And he couldn't say anything - the last time he'd tried to interfere Azma had made it abundantly clear that if he did so again, he'd soon find himself out of a job.
But when he watched her declare magic illegal, he got as close to quitting as any of his ancestors ever had. Azma thought that she was the last one left of royal bloodline, but Thud knew how it worked - the second she was found dead, ten people would turn up sporting the royal birthmark, and not all of them would be fake.
He would be spending so much time thwarting assassinations, he'd be lucky to get more than an hour's sleep each night.
The people of Eb were the most shocked by the news. The land between Az and Thland was full of misfits from all around All-That-Is, many of which had moved to Thebaz for the constant presence of magic to be found. The colors, the people, the very houses* - they all depended on magic to function, and within a few months of the law being passed, the entire nation had been thrown into disarray.
*Houses built by hand were extremely rare in Thebaz, with most living in magically-grown flowers. Getting a licence to do something as simple as growing a flower was costly, and could take up to a year to process.
Their shock had quickly turned to practical action - the bounty on Azma's head broke records, with entire regions banding their finances together to fund it, and Thud's prediction of an hour's sleep wasn't met for several months. He had to survive on a few minutes wherever he could get it and call on the army several times to save his monarch's life.
Azma wasn't happy when she found Thud giving instructions to a small portion of her army. She had formed the task force to ensure the new law was followed, and if they were lollygagging around the palace, how would people realize she was serious?
Thud's skill at preventing Azma's death became a thing of legends - at one point, his bounty grew to almost half the size of hers.
Azma, meanwhile, remained blissfully unaware of all threats to her existence. Her focus was on people who refused to fall into place in her glorious plan. It was working - slowly, of course, but Haboothah didn't fill in a day. Her people were weak, and the only way to help them was by making examples of the rebels.
And then there was Frankel.
Azma had been too old when the Uncle Chum and Aunt Lovely scrolls had come out - not that she would have been allowed them anyway. Her father vaguely disapproved of her reading about Humans. But she'd heard of them, and (her father's prejudices aside) she understood that they were extremely well-regarded.
When the Vizard of Az had come out, she'd thought she had found an ally, someone who understood her new regulations, someone who realised that the royal bloodline was more than just a Blessing from the gods, it was an assurance that she knew what was best for her country as well.
But then things had turned nasty, and Frankel had put a thinly-veiled mockery into one of his scrolls.
Maz was the bane of her existence. The little fictional wretch was the exact opposite of her, in every way. Where Azma was clever, this character was stupid: where Azma was dedicated, this character changed her mind each time the tides reversed, her whims being carried out haphazardly. Azma was focused and proud of it.
Worst of all, the Peedling had left town before she could have him executed. If you were going to slander someone's name, the least you could do was stand by your words.
She had declared him dead, and rounded up a Peedling of her own: Plumley. Plumley had never written children's scrolls before but had worked for her father's propaganda department for a good ten years. Admittedly, her father hadn't used a lot of propaganda - his laziness, Azma told herself, meant that he hadn't ever had cause to.
Azma didn't even notice when Nanny stopped leaving her room. She didn't even notice the black band around Thud's arm. No, Queen Azma had a plan, and she didn't have time for anything else. She would need the co-operation of every Fairy in Thebaz, and if that meant killing anyone who refused to cooperate, then so be it.
Queen Azma had been born in Thebaz, and she would order one thousand executions, and watch one thousand Fairy deaths before she let an inept public ruin the country she loved.
Fantasy city by David Revoy, licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.