A long story for #RemembranceDay: A Flower for Rolande - Part 1
Remembrance Day is a time to honour those who have fallen. While we in this realm honour our veterans with the poppy, Marridon honours those who gave their lives with the red pimpernel, their national flower. Jaina honours her brother Rolande on this day:
|The red pimpernel, the Marridon national flower|
It was Jaina’s first Remembrance Day, not the first from her memory, but the first she was required to consciously acknowledge and observe. Long had been her esteem and admiration for the Marridonforces and all their divisions, from the militia and the lord generals to the king’s men and the knights, and while she would gladly do anything that would put her in the way of decorated soldiers, speaking about them as those having given their lives to defend what was now her providence was a tradition she would rather not practice. She should rather spend the day lauding those who had fought for Marridon’s independence by watching the knights reenact ancient battles, go through their skirmishes, and practice their hastiludes, but the height of her office and the significance of her rank obliged her to address the nation, to say something for those who had been called upon to protect Marridon’s interests, to offer something by way of consolation to those who were still grieving their losses, to remember those cheated out of life by the trick of gallantry who were now guarding Marridon from an ethereal bough. The valiant men of Marridon who comprised the royal forces had graduated from being the champions of a nation, boasting its claims to martial vanity, to being the spectral aegis of a kingdom that had loved them better for their sacrifices than they did for their existence. Gratitude for the selflessness and commitment to their service was not wanting, for Marridon in general was a rather pensive and penitent nation, but they owed something more than what a few words said in honour of the day might profess. A day of true consideration must be honoured, and the penury of a sovereignty formed and kept on the backs of those who had lain themselves down must be heeded. A cenation worthy of their memories was to be prepared on their behalf, drinks would be burled and propinations made, but as Marridon was not reigned over by any spiritual motive, no prayers would be said, no offerings would be made, and it was at the discretion of the Duchess as to how sorrowful or joyous the day was to be.
A sincere but celebratory day was decided on, and Jaina saw to all the preparations belonging to the holiday before sunrise: she gave orders to the butler and housekeeper, delegated her servants to the various halls, to see that everything was properly arranged, and the Chambers was prepared to welcome its many guests. The lords and ladies would hold their own private celebrations at their family estates, and she left it to the Adjudicator to decide whether they should open the old part of Marridon Castle to those who would come and watch the jousts. She changed into her dressing gown and sat down at the tea table, to admire the garden below, watching the gardener manage about the flower beds, and to consider how she would address the nation upon such a sobering subject. Her speech must be formal but should be by no means sepulchering—she hated mourning, a dreadful business, something to be got over as soon as possible, a tiresome habit which could only summon wrinkles and agitation to those who would welter in the state—but the more she considered what she ought to say in honour of Marridon’s fallen, the more disheartened she grew. She had a claim in the day that went beyond what the modes of royal obligation might suggest, and the longer she sat beside the window, her own reflection the only company in view, the more her willful despondence surmounted her.
She stood therefore and went to the mirror, to turn her attention toward readying herself for the day, and while she was otherwise occupied with buttons and pins, she thought no more of sorrow and dejection and was content enough, the sight of shimmering silk and starched collars all her happy consolation. She had other reasons to be sanguine: a visit to the arena always evinced many smiles, and the parade and gallantry of the hastiludes, the sight of burnished armour and long lances, the flourish of caparisoned horses recommending the king’s men to the fashion of war made her as delighted as one could wish, but when she considered the knights, when she thought of their various liveries and the great families whence they hailed, all her previous agitation assailed her. Her eye fell on the Whilhem family livery mounted on the far wall, disquieting sensations revived, and the image of one whose absence forever plagued her appeared in her mind. It mantled over her from the mirror, the familiar spectre in the reflection straightening her lace and observing her with fond looks, a fondness which he had been always used to feel too much and appreciate too little.
She fastened her bodice and adjusted her dress, her motions mechanical and her heart oppressed, while ethereal eyes appraised and lauded her with commendations she could not but hear. It was nonsense, to think of him in this manner, for he was no longer with her, and fate had been cruel to two such siblings who had gloried in each other’s company, each being the other’s most fervent guardian, one being in the other’s confidence, each beholden to the other’s powers of secrecy. She glanced up at the ethereal image, hoping that when she turned from glass-gazing to the realities of an unmirrored life, his image should still be there, but there was no one beside her. There was only the bedchamber and her tea table, her window overlooking the high garden at the far wall, the long hearth of the sitting room nursing a noble fire, the vestiary and the private millinery, and Jaina’s spirits sunk again. He would never be here again, and be she ever so lovely and think of him ever so much, there was no ambition great enough, no aspiration so severe that would summon a return of the only one she loved better than herself. Rolande… was the prevailing cogitation, a name, which at any other time would be distressing enough, brought still more vexation. Rolande, dearest and moved beloved Roland… and she felt all the unquietness of a mind ruined by loss, the agony of a sister who had grown accustomed to his gentle manner and kind solicitudes, and all the compunction of one who had suspected her future solitude but pretended against its occasion.
She turned back toward the mirror, to examine herself and arrange about her hair, but it was heavy work to deliberate over pins and combs when other more meaningful notions prevailed. She looked very well—she thought so, at least—her dress designed to mark out her slender figure and fluent grace, but while she was garnished with fur trimmings and a silk sash, she saw little more than a red gown whilst Rolande was in her thoughts. She accepted her own habilatory triumph with little apparent enjoyment, and while she would otherwise delight in her new creations, all her exultation rouse by new hats or well-placed ribbons, without her brother’s approval, without his full commentary on her abilities as a seamstress and milliner, it was all misery and dullness. Rolande, my good brother…the words echoed in her mind, caroming off that place where all her sororal affection slept, the dormancy of a leader’s life compelling her to keep her sorrows to herself. She betrayed no hint of anguish while her subjects were by; the Duchess of Marridon should never suffer to expose her sentiments to the littleness of mean men, her sensibilities on a subject which she should never discuss with anyone in the Chambers having been dearly earned. Roland would always be there, occupying the many corners of her mind where her fondness resided, and there was nothing more to do than to don her redingote and button her sleeves. It was time to have done with mirrors and the excruciation of fraternal woes, and she would have acquitted herself these justifyable sorrows had not the pimpernels resting on the dresser caught her eye. The gardener must have brought them in the night before, and in the subdued light of an autumnal evening, she had not seen them, but now, under the auspices of white morning light, they sat in full gratulation, waiting to be taken up and pageanted about the arena.
She moved toward the flowers with a hesitant step, knowing that donning one on her lapel meant the acceptance of the death of one whose absence was felt every moment. She would have to wear it, to honour all those who belonged to the holiday, and while she should be proud that Lord Rolande Shea Whilhem had died defending his kingdom, Jaina desperately wished he had been a coward just this once. She chose one of the pimpernels, their petals in full flourish and stems freshly cut, and fitted it to her lapel, pushing the stem through the slit and tucking it in place with a sorrowful air. Rolande…in his decease, he joined the thousands who had offered themselves in service of their kingdom, but in his desire to show his integrity as a dutiful servant of the king, he had abandoned a doting sister. They had done everything together, they talked together and laughed together, read their books and acted out plays, spent the long winter evenings discussing history and science, they debated new theories, challenging one another on every principle and agreeing on everything that proved the liberality and goodwill of their friendship. Rolande… He had been the only person who could meet her in conversation, and while there were doubtless those who could appeal to her genius, they could never equal his lively mind and avid curiosity. His character and manner had been unexceptionable, and though there were many men in Marridon who could entertain her in certain respects, the triumph of an engaging and scholarly partner was wanting.
Her eyes wandered along the wainscot and found their game board, depicting their invented seafaring battles, still set in the midst of naval confusion. It was the same as it was on the day he left it: they had been in the middle of a game when Rolande was called away, and though he claimed he could finish her ships off in two moves, he should not do so now, he should wait until the war were over to destroy her fleet. It should be a something to look forward to, a sign of his meaning to return, it would give her time to think of a strategy, and when he should come back to her alive and well, and Marridon victorious against the rebellion of Bellatrim, they should finish their game then, but Rolande had never returned, and his promise went unfulfilled. Never again did he step into the family chambers, nor did he sit with his sister to tea, nor finish his books, nor best her at their favourite game. And so, the board remained as it was, her ships at bay and his ready for attack with cannons pointed, their stagnation begging for a master to move them toward victory, but they must forever wait for one who had willingly left his command, and the ship now sat in immobile destitution, two leagues away from triumph with no hope of success. Her fingertips grazed the sails of her commander’s piece, and she sighed: there was no point in keeping the game board dressed, but when she distinguished her brother’s chair, whence he used to preside over merchant ships and privateers, she did not know whether she could ever close the battle. Tributaries lined her cheeks, she exhaled, her lips quivered: It did not matter that their country had lost a king that day, it only mattered that she had lost her greatest companion.