As you surely know, House of Cards Season 3 recently aired on Netflix. The US show has always delved more readily into the relationship at its heart than the BBC drama which inspired it and the new season went further still. Some didn’t respond to the change in direction for the show, but the show’s fictional writer turned biographer Tom Yates is correct; the relationship between Claire and Frank is everything. In this piece, I imagine a similar power-driven couple not in the Oval Office, but in a fantasy world.
Don’t worry, there are no spoilers for the show.
The bells chimed out across the city early in the morn, not in mourning, as was so often the case, but in celebration; for today she would become queen. She remembered a day much like this one just three years earlier when she had watched her brother take the throne, heralding for her a life of servitude to another prince or lord of distinction.
That is what had been expected of her, and sure enough, she had stood before the altar of the gods and sworn her marital vows. Yet those vows had not been made to a man anyone expected. Her brother had been furious, confronting her with the raging anger of a bull trapped inside the flesh of a sickly boy. His death had long been expected.
“It is time, your majesty,” her chief steward, Lord Nassau, announced. He was an able man, and a loyal one. She needed that more than anything, which was why she kept him in her employ despite the secrets he had lurking in his brain. He could ruin her, but he would die for her first.
“I am queen, or will be, they can wait for as long as I decide they should. They cannot begin without me, after all,” she replied after a moment, her eyes still searching the city’s streets below for signs unknown to her.
“No, but do you think it wise to antagonise the Alliance before your reign has even begun?”
The Baron’s Alliance, the great and good of the land. More like the foolish and the weak, she thought. The argumentative and the inert. They have their uses, if I can control them, and controlling them is as easy as taming a pack of wild dogs. But I am a wolf.
“The Alliance will be working with me for many years to come, if they are not used to disappointment, they soon will be.”
“As you say,” Nassau bowed his head in deference.
She turned away from the city to face him, and saw that he looked proud of her, as he always did, like the doting parent of a well-mannered child. Nassau knew the depths of her thoughts, the hidden whispers, and the back room deals – he had arranged many of them – and still he saw her as someone precious, someone worthy of his pride.
“The speech you prepared for my coronation ceremony is exceptional, particularly the part about my brother.”
He chuckled, “where you lie and say you loved him?”
“As any good sister should,” it’s better than saying I killed him. “Come, I have a kingdom to rule and the sooner we can end the nonsense of this coronation the better.”
Her husband waited outside in immaculate dress, yet they embraced regardless. Such public displays of affection did not come naturally to either of them, they were, however, expected. “Are you ready to become a queen?” he whispered as their contact lingered.
“Are you ready to become a prince? Would that I could make you a king, but there are some laws beyond my power to change.”
“We both knew that I could not be crowned king as a commoner,” he shrugged nonchalantly, though she knew her husband well enough to see it bothered him more than he let on. “Princehood is not a poor position to find oneself in.”
“No indeed, yet you know I dream for more for you, for us. You shall get it all and more, I swear it. Somehow, even if we must wait many long years,” she replied, they spoke softly for too many eyes were watching, and too many ears were listening. It would do no good to antagonise the Alliance overmuch, at least not on the first day.
“Your majesty, your highness, the carriages await,” Nassau interrupted and she nodded curtly. “Let us proceed.”
“At your pleasure, your majesty,” Nassau interrupted, indicating she could delay no longer. Her husband trailing behind as she followed Nassau into the courtyard outside the palace. Though they were married, and the laws of the land and the gods decried the man the head of any such union, she was to be queen. She wanted nothing better than to link her arm in his or better yet, hold his hand as she walked to the waiting carriage but that she would not do. She could not give anyone that satisfaction; a queen needed no one.
She would travel alone to the cathedral, that was another tradition the origin and purpose of which had long since been forgotten. When I take the throne, I will abolish all these silly customs and laws and craft my own, a vision for a thousand years which will shape the future of the realm and change the course of nations. This is no idle ambition, there will be change, there will be resistance; but what I do, I do for their own good.
Not every tradition would be swept aside of course, some were useful. It was, after all, the nature of the heredity monarchy that had brought her here – the reason she was about to rule. Her brother had been a weak and pathetic king, but a dozen weak kings were worth the temerity of their rule for the chance of one strong queen. It would not be her brother’s name remembered in song and history book, not when her’s was writ large.
She took note of the nobles who had gathered; Lord Edward and Lord Grafton, bitter rivals in the Alliance yet their animosity was no more than a show. They stood to gain much from each other and from her, and they both knew it. For appearances sake, they stood far enough part but she knew the truth; the two men were lovers, and for so long as she held that information, they were hers. Nearby stood Lady Gardiner, who had most unexpectedly deigned to appear in public. Even for the coronation of a new monarch, this was strange behavior for the old crone and she was not quite sure what to make the noblewoman’s presence. Nassau would have to investigate if he had not done so already.
She stepped into the carriage and the heard the door shut behind her by a steward, she was alone; that was what power meant, to be alone, and it was a price worth paying. Her stomach churned as the motion of the wheels on the cobbled streets reverberated around the carriage but she remained dignified. To show any sign of weakness would be unforgivable, even to the peasant mob who had gathered along the route to welcome their new monarch. They screamed and roared in jubilation, more so when she waved, yet their joy would not last – by this time tomorrow they would complain loudly of her taxes and her laws. Everything would be the “bloody queen’s” fault and they would expect her to weave magic and solve their problems, no matter what those problems were.
The ceremony passed in a blur of pomp and dry declarations of fealty. Many hours later, though it felt like days, she stood alone on a palace balcony as the revelers celebrated long and drunkenly into the night. The temptation to join them was strong, to have a night when nothing mattered, only what she desired. Everything mattered now.
“Your majesty,” an armoured Lord Dawson said as he walked to join her, “you should return inside. Your brother’s killer eludes us still, he may be here tonight.”
She looked the portly man up and down, he might have been a fine soldier once but long years so ceremonies and sitting around fawning over the Alliance had crushed that spirit out of him. His wife and softened him, and his children too. He would not do at all and his assumption that her brother’s killer must be a man irked her more than she would admit.
“I shall be fine, but changes will be required and urgently at that.”
“Yes indeed your majesty, we will need to discuss your secur…” he stopped as the queen cut him off with a brusque wave.
“Changes to personnel to begin with, no? The war in the south demands a fresh perspective, I believe you would be the perfect source of insight they need.”
He visibly paled and she watched the beads of sweat dance across his brow. “I… I… I have long served here… faithfully, in the capital. Your grandfather and father, your brother!”
“Whose assassin you are no closer to finding, are you? You have served my family well,” she admitted in a more conciliatory tone, “but.”
“But changes are necessary, as you say, your majesty,” he said sweating more violently now. “May I ask whom you intend to replace me with, at least?”
“Who better to protect me than my own husband?” her words shattered him, yet he saluted after a moment and left her with nothing but the sound of the music wafting out from the party. For the first time all day, she was content. That was a small change, but an important one, there would be many more.
“Sending people to the south won’t solve every mess you know, some of them might come back,” her husband declared cockily as he approached her.
“No, but war has its uses, as does peace,” she embraced him for a moment and anyone looking would have sensed that she seemed oddly cold, yet she took her head in her arms and kissed – their lips lingering for a moment before she broke away. “We should return to the party, if only so those still sober enough to comprehend can see you close. Though I’ve no doubt Dawson has already broken the news to any who will listen.”
“It was a little cruel, no? He’s held the position for years.”
“Too long, and if cruelty had been my aim, I would have dismissed him before the entire court,” she wrapped her arm in her husband’s and returned to the glittering ball. A surprising number of guests were sober, yet it was the ones feinting inebriation while they watched with steely eyes who worried her.
Image source: Lita