Queen Temalina the Second, Sovereign of the Realm, stood before an upper floor window looking out upon the palace grounds. Behind her, a young servant girl cleared her throat, ground a boot against the grainy palace floor, and crinkled the parchments in her hand. But no matter what noise the poor girl made, the queen’s attention remained upon the view below.
At this point, the girl worried that the housekeeper would be thinking that she’d gone astray from her simple messenger task. As the minutes ticked by, the chance of a disapproving glare became the chance of a flogging, or outright dismissal from Her Majesty’s service. The girl hummed to herself, quietly at first, but with a volume that gradually increased until she could have rivalled the string section at the royal orchestra.
Suddenly, the queen spoke. “I think I miss the goats most of all.”
It was such an odd statement that the servant girl held a high-C for ten seconds while parsing it. “Goats?” The girl’s hand covered her mouth, too late to prevent the word from getting away from her. It was an unpardonable crime for someone of her station to speak in the queen’s presence without first being directly addressed--unless that thing about the goats had been meant for her, in which case she’d only just been unspeakably rude by asking her monarch for an explanation.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, My Queen,” she added.
The queen turned, apparently noticing the girl for the first time. “Oh, hello there. Were you thinking about the goats as well? What an odd coincidence.”
“Yes, Majesty. I mean, no, Majesty. I mean, t’would be, but what I mean to say is—”
“You’re not sure the goats you’re thinking of are the same goats I’m thinking of,” the queen stated.
It wasn’t at all what the girl meant to say, but she was relieved to be able to nod her head and avoid further embarrassment. Now, perhaps, she could deliver her paperwork and escape back to the laundry.
The queen took the parchments but did not look at them. “How old are you, child?”
“Thirteen, Majesty,” said the girl. And no longer a child, is what she would have added, had anyone but the queen herself called her that. She had a job and responsibilities, after all, and would soon be of age for marriage and childbirth. “And how old are you?” she found herself asking, because up this close, it was hard to believe the queen could have been more than a handful of years older than herself.
The queen shrugged. “You tend to lose track after the first epoch or two.”
“Ah.” The girl nodded, figuring that epochs where probably a kind of fancy party where royals and nobility could blunt their childhood memories with expensive alcohols.
The queen turned back to her window. “When I was your age, this land was our hunting grounds. By day, the men would hunt with spears and slings. The women would gather wild berries and roots. By night, we’d gather around the cook fires and look up at the Ogre, Great Mammoth, Mother Tree…”
“I see.” The girl edged away. She’d heard whispers among the palace staff that the queen was touched in the head, but she had no idea how far gone she was. “There’s an ogre in the sky, you say?”
“Oh, not anymore,” said the queen. “If you wait long enough, the stars move this way and that, so it’s been ages since the Ogre looked anything like an ogre.”
Moving stars. Totally bonkers. The girl took another step back and faked a smile. “I can see why you might miss those days.”
“Before that odd mystic arrived from the east? Before I drank from his immortality tonic? Before I became ruler of the Unified Tribes? Before agriculture, cities, and silk-lined robes? Back when life was brutal and short?” The queen sighed. “Yeah, a little, but what I miss most are the goats. We used to farm them right outside the palace, you know. Just a few centuries ago. They stank, and they were noisy, but so much better company than my current cabinet of advisors.”
“Goats.” The servant girl tried to imagine a smelly goat farm within the stately walled capital city of Temopolis. It was inconceivable, and what was that part about centuries?
“Take a look out this window, girl.”
“Marnette,” said the girl. “That's my name.”
The queen’s eyes bugged out a bit. “Marnette? Really? Marnette? That’s what passes as a name these days?”
“Aye,” said Marnette, a little warily.
“Okay fine, whatever. Just take a look and tell me what you see.”
Marnette found it hard to look, given the number of times she’d been smacked from behind by the housekeeper for even the most furtive glance toward a window or other direction where eyes of her station were not meant to turn. “The confectionaries are up close, and the tobacco plantations stretch out into the distance.” Farther than Marnette had ever walked from the palace in her entire lifetime, she noted to herself.
“Candy and cigarettes, the two main exports of our kingdom’s modern economy. Now you tell me which is better, a herd of darling billy goats or a population of toothless, bloated, bronchitis-infested peasants hacking up their blackened lungs on the steps of my palace?”
“The…goats? Majesty?” Marnette winced, figuring that she had a coin flip’s chance of guessing right.
Queen Temalina beamed. “I like you, kid. How’d you like to be my Minister of Foreign Affairs?”
The servant girl blushed. “That would be wonderful, Majesty. With a lot of hard work and advancement through the ranks of household staff, and with more luck than I deserve, perhaps someday I may earn a chance to demonstrate my loyalty in a series of increasingly responsible positions that might lead to someday holding such a rank.”
“Someday, someday, someday.” The queen waved her hand. “You’ll be jaded and useless by then. What I mean is, how would you like to be my Minister of Foreign Affairs right now?”
“But Your Majesty! You already have a Minister of Foreign Affairs. Lord Brimley von Barleymelt has been in your employ for decades, and his family have served in that position for generations!” Marnette was only aware of this from having to dust the Von Barleymelt family portraits in the third floor main hall of the west wing. Each painting was accompanied by a name and dates of service on a brass plaque that needed twenty minutes of polishing every other week.
“Ah, yes. Von Barleymelt. Your first task will be to tell him that he’s been fired.”
Marnette blanched at the thought of even approaching the imposing nobleman with such news. “Majesty?” she squeaked.
“Your second task will be to formulate a new foreign policy,” the queen continued. “Shake things up. Break off all of our current alliances and form a bunch of new ones. It’ll be ever so much fun!”
The queen reached out to stroke Marnette’s soft brown hair. “There’s just something about you, child. Perhaps it’s the shape of your face. Perhaps it’s the tone of your voice. Perhaps it’s the time that’s elapsed since your last bath. But somehow, in some way, you remind me of a goat I used to know.”