Everyone felt the call, from the king and queen in their throne room, to the stable hand across the river, to the royal jeweller, but it was felt strongest in the gypsy camp outside of the city. The gypsies stopped as they felt the pounding in their blood, the awakening of an ancient spell. Then after a brief moment of utter surprise, they let out a great cheer, throwing their scarves in the air with joy,
"The queen will return!" they shouted." The queen will return!"
For it was known throughout the whole of Astrais that the pounding meant a new Gypsy Queen would be found after almost thirty years of an empty position. The Gypsy Queen was the most powerful of people, someone chosen by the Gem Goddess to help rule Astrais. As soon as the gypsies had ceased dancing, they swung each other around and looked for the Sign of the Gypsy Queen, an inch or two below the hairline on the back of the neck. Suddenly a cry went up and the gypsies swarmed around a girl who had been hauling water from the river. She was shaking a bit, her pale face paler still and her green eyes wide.
"The Gypsy Queen!" they whispered and knelt before the astonished adolescent.
"Court is adjourned!" the king said, dismissing the assembled audience. They departed the throne room, whispering as the pounding began to settle. Queen Elistora looked at her husband worriedly.
"A new Gypsy Queen?" she said. King Therrin nodded thoughtfully.
"I wonder if this is ill for our kingdom?" he said, drumming his fingers on the arm of his throne. "We've only just stabilized society, this may throw the balance." The queen clicked her tongue.
"Rebels are so distasteful. Perhaps, though, this Gypsy Queen will prove to be more...willing to cooperate than the last?"
"Even so, we do have certain...bargaining chips which can be used." She continued.
"So we do, but either way, I think we have our fortunes well set." Therrin took his goblet from a servant standing beside his seat and raised it. "This will not upset our rule. And if need be..." he trailed off.
"Everything is replaceable." Elistora concluded and touched her goblet to that of her husband. "As it has been proven in the past." The two tyrants downed their drinks, plans already in formulation, urged on by the fading pounding.
Jade entered the Gypsy Queen caravan, blinking her eyes in the dark.
"I'll leave you now," said Ladon, the advisor of the Gypsy Queen, who would be guided in his duties by Ophel, the old advisor of Danaë, the previous Gypsy Queen. Jade nodded once and Ladon bowed, then left her.
Jade opened the shutters of the caravan, letting the sun touch what had been dark for twenty-seven years. As she regarded the interior, Jade rubbed the Sign on the back of her neck. The Sign was a four pointed silver star, the silver representing moonstones, with a small drop of colour at each point, where the points went in, and one at the centre; each drop represented a different Gem.
It had felt like fire when she had been marked. After a second of the pounding, Jade's neck felt as if someone had placed something very cold followed immediately by a burning torch. The feeling of flames spread all the way down her spine, uncomfortable but not painful. Jade had gasped and dropped the bucket of water she held. The feeling increased until she fell to her knees, overwhelmed by the power of the Sign and the sense of both danger and responsibility.
The Sign still tingled strongly, but at least she could move. Jade dropped her bedroll and flute on the floor and went up to the wall of the caravan. On it was the poetry of the ten Gems, a poem every gypsy and scholar knew by heart.
deep sleep of the Onyx
The healing of the Opal
Shall mend your wounds
The grace and love of the Amethyst
The serenity of the Aquamarine
Shall sooth and ease your way
The clarity of the Diamond
The wisdom and memory of the Emerald
Shall guide you
The creativity of the Topaz
The passion of the Ruby
Shall inspire and fuel you
And may the power of the Amber
And the protection of the Moonstone
Keep your duties and keep you safe
Jade sighed, the feeling of responsibility rising and increasing the tingling in the Sign. She took her eyes away from the ornate wall and looked around the caravan.
There was a single bed against the wall, the blankets almost as intricately woven as the tapestries on either side of the large window. The floor was covered by soft and thick rugs; foreign, Jade could tell. There was a shelf with a cedar box containing all of the Gypsy Queen jewels, a collection that grew with every Queen and a chest against a wall. Jade approached the chest and opened it to find elegant dresses, travelling clothes and warfare garments folded neatly inside along with a collection of books. Jade looked at the titles; some myths, diplomacy books, Gem books and the memoirs of past Gypsy Queens.
A soft knock on the side of the caravan awoke Jade and she turned her gaze to the open door. Ladon stood there with Sahryn, Jade's friend, holding so many clothes her face was not visible.
"I am sure you have many questions," Ladon said. Sahryn swayed behind the tower of garments.
"I certainly do!" Jade said. "What are my duties? Why me? What am I supposed to be? And by the Gems, why is Sahryn drowning in clothing?" Ladon glanced at the red haired girl beside him.
"Oh, these are Gypsy Queen garments that will fit you." he explained. "Those in the chest would be much too big. Danaë was very tall, I am told." He turned to Sahryn. "Can you go exchange the garments?" Sahryn made a noise that sounded like 'of course' and moved into the caravan. Jade looked back to Ladon. After a moment he cleared his throat.
"This is new to me as well, your majesty." he said. Jade covered her face with her hands.
"Must you call me that?" she said softly, suddenly tired as the events of the past hour caught up to her.
"Apologies, but it is necessary. It would hardly be appropriate for me to address you by your first name." Jade nodded.
"I understand, but right now I need some familiarity."
"Alright...Jade," Ladon agreed. "As for your duties, basically you are of higher status than the king and queen of Astrais because of your power, which you are to 'discover as you continue along your journey,' as Ophel said," Ladon told her. "As to why it was you..." Ladon shook his head. "I do not know, not at all. Maybe you have certain qualities that the Gem Goddess looks for. Maybe it was where you were standing. The rest of your questions I suppose, are things you will discover on your own."
Jade nodded again and Sahryn emerged from the caravan once again laden with clothing.
"Thank you." Jade said, and Sahryn replied with a muffled sound, staggering through the camp to a storage caravan.
"Actually, it will be necessary to make several public appearances soon," Ladon continued. "Right now we should go to the palace to confirm the new Gypsy Queen and tonight I imagine would be an opportune night for festivities. And tomorrow we must go over political matters such as-"
"Tomorrow, tomorrow!" Jade interrupted him, waving her hand as if to send the words away. Ladon nodded.
"Tomorrow, then. Now you must change into one of the more formal garments, and we will depart." Jade retreated into the caravan once more and closed the door and shutters, the only light coming from a beautiful oil lamp. She rummaged in the newly restocked chest and pulled out a loose green dress adorned with gold scarves. Jade noticed that all of the dresses had necks that dipped very low in the back to show the Sign, excluding warfare outfits.
She felt exposed as she slipped the green dress over her head. She tied the gold scarves, of which there were many, and pulled her hair up in another gold ribbon, which she found in the chest with the dress. Giving the dress an experimental swish, she admired how the material felt light and moveable. Jade began to exit the caravan when she noticed something she had not seen before.
A dark bow hung from the wall, carved with curving vines. Beside it hung a full quiver with wickedly sharp arrows, and two daggers, one longer, the other an obvious throwing knife. Jade swallowed. Danger, they seemed to say. Protection.
Picking up her silver flute, she doused the lamp and left the caravan.
Another thing the Gypsy Queen commanded were the archers. Highly skilled, this elite group of gypsies fought for their queen alongside any allies. They spent countless years honing their skills and were more dangerous than a heavily armed cavalry.
"Tomorrow I will deal with that." Jade thought, quickly pushing the thoughts from her mind.
The return of the Gypsy Queen could only mean one thing. Change was approaching the country of Astrais and the gypsies would need a powerful leader to survive it.