"Who is that?" Bethraia asked her Queen, leaning in to make her words heard over the tumult of cheering masses. Before the pair, a sea of Youlbans laved against the barrier of Legionnaires, an ululating mass of rapturous faces all gathered in the Valley Square to bear witness the return of the King. The people roared with one voice, at once turbulent as a summer hurricane and soothing as the gentle waves of the River Youlba.
Unmoved by the mid-wife's inquiry, Queen Preaneis had eyes for only one of the procession, the honoree of the Triumph; her husband, King Pesh. Drawing her eyes up the rose marble square – this part empty save for the row of silent knights of black stone – toward the chariot leading the Triumph, she squinted against the glare of the noon-tide sun in hopes of recognition. Two white chargers, at the fancy trot of their standardbred bloodline, bore the vehicle toward the great stairwell sequestered beneath an immense wooden arcade struck dead center between the twin hills of the Youlban Heights. Within the chariot, that could only be he, waving to the masses in the slow twist of royalty that prevented waving royalty from growing tired. That was her husband, King Pesh, victorious in both action and title. The man's face was drawn, dour as a King's should be, and powdered white to match the simple white robe he wore over his cuirass. Penitence to the gods superseded even the armor of the warrior. But above even the white robes of the pious, he wore a golden cape, bearing, no doubt, the dragon of Youlba. "Give his slaves praise for the cape," she commanded to the mid-wife. "It well befits His Majesty."
"This is a Triumph, Your Grace," the mid-wife replied in the smug boldness of one to whom love whose love was not the love shared by blood. "Now you've seen your man, give the other his due."
"Watch your tone, slave, lest you find yourself eating it."
"Better I eat my shoe; more meat in that, I dare say."
Preaneis sucked back a shudder of mirth; laughter ill-became a Queen in public, lest the people think her mad. Not that she cared what the people thought. She was queen after all, not some petty peon cowering behind the outrage of a lesser's opinion. Madness, it was said, was honesty in motion; defined by the reemergence of Cadous from behind the Wall. Five hundred years' imprisonment had not changed the Province's people too much; or so the bulk of Laonic thought. The stories bandied about with nearly religious zealotry locked Cadouns into the fires of the Red War; its people unchanging ciphers of walking madness, given up to grotesque acts of banality and prejudice. For Preaneis, the peace offering between the two lands, there was a fine line between discrediting bias and establishing oneself as a walking cliché, but madness made public would ill-support her ambition.
"I think not, no child of mine will wean itself on leather." Summoned by its mention, the child flushing her womb stretched a fist into her bladder. Wincing against the push, Preaneis shifted herself upon the collapsible chair.