Sparrows of the Night Queen

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Sparrows of the Night Queen is an Official GemStone IV Document, and it is protected from editing.

Intrigue is like a river in the courts of Ta'Nalfein. And like a river, its currents run deep. It is fed by tributaries, the branching streams filling the main body and bringing with it all manner of functions. Interwoven into this society are the whispered ways of the assassin. And do not be mistaken in thinking that there is only one kind of assassination. The loss of life is but a simple, easy thing that is over, done with, and moved beyond. The destruction of character, spirit, heart, or faith is not as easily overcome.

Her dance was that of a light spring breeze. Diaphanous and ethereal, the silks that hugged her frame moved as if they were petals and her body a tightly bound tempest toying with them. When her feet left the ground, they returned to the earth with an elegant grace that made it seem as if the very land rose to meet her; gravity could not contain her. The sinuous twists of her arms, the graceful curve of her fingers, the line of her body as it arched, and the sultry, smoldering gaze of her eyes caused her to be larger than life.

This is how the reviews spoke of her as she moved from stage to stage, but off-stage she was graced with a singular plainness that allowed her mobility and freedom. She was tiny for a Nalfein; none would believe that such a small woman could empower the stage as she did on a nightly basis, and beyond the gifts of her dancing talents, she was also gifted with a small cadre of agents, musicians, and friends that kept the secret of who she was so that her private life and public life never clashed.

In court, she was the epitome of demure. She neither dressed above her station, nor below it, and did everything in her power to remain a wallflower. Designers gifted their fashions to her through her agent and though she loved the beauty of them, the feel, and the elegance, she was not a peacock. Her privacy was her own and she would not cave to vanity.

Hiding behind her fan, as all proper Nalfein girls were taught to do, she would watch the eyes of said designers as they mingled in court. Casual whispers told her that they were looking to see their fashion, to be the one that finally won over the Sparrow's heart and to unmask her once and for all. Each deception filled her with a small thrill of excitement. She had succeeded in hiding who she was and reveled in its safety.

She would sometimes catch herself, though, for no matter her mindset the music always called to her. It was her greatest weakness. It was, she imagined, what the sailor felt for the sea, or the insane felt for the moon.

Her excitement when a new piece was played would almost betray her and she would force herself to leave, lest she give in to the call of the music and consequently reveal herself. On those nights, her agent would watch bemused as she would cajole him to find the composer and commission the piece. Once the permissions were obtained, her small circle of musicians would watch as her body became the notes and a new routine was born. Some thought of her as the phoenix in these moments, as if they were watching her be reborn, but she only ever thought of herself as the Sparrow.

As the seasons passed, her talents only grew, as did her control and grace. She often thought of teaching others her dance, but the fear of losing her freedoms swayed her from such an undertaking. Her generosity grew as well, providing each musician and agent she worked with an equal share in her earnings. In this way, she ensured that her secrets remained kept.

When her presence was requested outside of Ta'Nalfein, she was careful to not travel with her agents or musicians. She would sometimes arrive weeks in front of the engagement and take up separate apartments from those generously provided for her troupe. She let them accept all the accolades and gifts that her status afforded her, which only added to their gratitude and loyalty.

For twenty seasons, the Sparrow performed her dances throughout the nation. Never once slipping, never once misstepping, or erring. If a new piece of music was performed at court, then it was performed scant weeks later by the Sparrow. If a new fan design was released by an artisan, then it was utilized in the next exhibition. Color palettes of the season were reflected in the Sparrow's wardrobe the moment they were announced. Hairstyles were carefully orchestrated into her costuming needs within days of becoming trendy. She was at the forefront of every change, and at the center of it all was her dance. Some began to call her the Night Queen, for she reigned supreme in her craft.

It is not easy to sit for so long at the top without garnering some covetous thoughts by others. And despite the lengthy precautions that the Sparrow took, a jealous eye will find a way. It is especially true when titles are involved, even if they are unfounded and ignored by the one wearing them.

The play was subtle.

As the twenty-first season began, the Sparrow heard a new piece played at court. It tugged at her heart with its melancholy strings and the intertwining arias of flute and shawm. She did not notice the eyes that found her as she departed into the winter night.

She was elated when her agent greeted her the next day with news that they could obtain the sheet music within days, but at a cost. Anything, the Sparrow replied, thinking only of money and nothing more. Crestfallen that the cost was an audience with the composer, she tried to put the music from her mind, but within a week was plotting her audience. She would have her agent obtain a mask and they would meet at the theatre. Only she and the composer, no one else.

Hesitant at the prospect, her agent caved in light of the familiar passion within the Sparrow's eyes, and an appointment was made for the two to meet in a fortnight.

The stage was familiar.

Her years of carefully guarding her identity served her well, for she knew all the tricks to hide her natural mannerisms. Small flourishes of her hands where none were naturally present, tiny tells fabricated by the tap of her foot, and a deepening of her voice was already part of her repertoire. After all, she was a master of her own craft and acting was a part of that.

She sat in a halo of light created by a single lantern strategically placed at her back, the table before her, and her attire was a favored piece from the season before. With proximity being an issue, she had laid the foundation of her makeup as thickly as possible without causing it to cake or stick to the mask she would wear. She had even purchased lenses to change the color of her eyes. Her choice of green was only by chance. The only pieces of the Sparrow that were real for this meeting were the color of her hair and the soul of her talent.

At first, the encounter was casual. Light pleasantries, laughter that neither were genuine in executing and casual eye contact. Yet as the hour progressed, there was a seriousness, a challenge. How do I know that I meet the true Sparrow?

In truth, she'd have been disappointed if the question had not arisen. Anyone in passing could present themselves as her. Anyone could paint their face and claim to be her. But none could match her poetry in motion. And so, she stood and issued her own challenge. How do I know that you are the true composer?

His lips parted in a smile, and she found her own twisting to match, the first genuine thing that either had shared since the meeting. He hummed a simple bar, his fingers cupped to his ear to find his pitch and then sang. His wordless song was the piece for which her attire had been crafted, and so she moved into the corresponding dance.

She wove her performance around him, he filled the air with music, and neither faltered or tired for a moment as between them they crafted artistry. In his music, she found herself anew, and a loneliness that she never knew existed within her suddenly seemed filled.

As the dance ended, sweat dripping with the pigments of her makeup, she remained frozen in the final pose. She wanted the moment to stretch to eternity; she wanted to remember this joy always. When finally she dared to move, she found that he was gone.

The plot was as twisted as the vipers of envy.

In the weeks leading to the debut of her newest performance, she found herself distracted. Her thoughts wandered to that one encounter frequently. At court, she found herself looking for the composer instead of maintaining her normal disinterested airs. She once thought she heard his voice in a hallway near her apartment, but when she went in search of the owner found no one there.

Wreathed in a framework of melancholy drama, the Dance of the Sparrow is once again elegant and refined. Never a stray step, the performer is of the highest caliber and unparalleled in her craft. Yet, having reigned on top for so long, has she become wanton? There was of this performance an air of fragility that was at odds with the theme of the musical piece. Has the reign of the Night Queen come to an end?

She listened as the review spilled from the lips of her agent. Her arms hugging her small frame as she gazed at the troupe that surrounded her with wide eyes. They offered objections, stating that they did not and could not understand what this critic could possibly mean, and even offered up inspirational phrases from other critics that had attended the opening. Inspiration! Dazzling! The Night Queen has done it again!

She smiled politely at their efforts, thanked them for their wonderful work, and asked that they find a new piece to begin working on. She recommended a lively, new Loenthran piece for the spring and feigned excitement for the newly announced colors of season. Remaining facetiously jubilant, she engaged the costumers and stylist with grand designs. If she seemed saddened, then only her agent seemed to notice. He had, after all, been with her the longest.

At court the next week, she listened reservedly to the chatter as they spoke of her performance with all of the usual excitement. Her fan fluttered as she canted her head to the side, her eyes and ears training in on every bit of conversation.

I found the review to be sinister at best. She heard from a familiar voice amid the crowd.

Weaving through the throng, she heard a woman ask which review that was and was able to peek through the fluttering fans, colorful shawls, and stylized hair of those around the original speaker in time to hear another voice recite the review as if it were a university poem. The composer was in the heart of the gathering and listening to the speaker, but his eyes met hers and held them.

Insidious, he stated, and then, his gaze moved on.

Long years on the stage, fear of discovery, and some instinct of body forced a shallow breath from her lungs. She nodded politely, watching him from the corners of her eyes, and tarried not a moment too long. When she felt it was not only polite but politic to do so, she parted from the crowd.

As was tradition, she performed the piece several more times while working out rehearsals and routines of the new one. She followed the same patterns and routines as she had for twenty years. Performance, court, home, rehearsal, and so on in a time-honored routine that had served her well. If she thought overly long of the composer during her commute between engagements, then only her agent noted the slight distraction. Her form never lied and her instinct remained pristine. She was, as she had always been, poetry in motion. He gave no more thought to her minor distraction than a gardener might a falling leaf in fall.

Light and lofting, the musicians have outdone themselves in embodying the characteristics of spring and have brought to life the art of Cydalle from Ta'Loenthra in a way that must surely please his homeland. The subtle hues of the costumes and the artistry of the fan patterns are, as always, unrivaled. With a singular control of muscle, sinew, and body, the Night Queen's acrobatics were elegant, yet uninspired. Where has the soul of our sovereign of the arts fled to?

Thunderstruck, her troupe hid the newest review from her and showered her with praises. There was some plot at work here that they could not fathom, some dark design to undermine their Sparrow, and though they could not fathom who or why, they knew that someone was trying to harm her. Her costumers entreated designers that had favored her with gifts in the past to create her a new dress of veils and scarves for the summer gala. Her musicians sent her flowers, anonymously, over the intervening weeks. And her agent selected an arrangement that wove the tale of the phoenix in three parts.

Sparrow remained blissfully unaware of any criticisms in her artistry. That there were more flowers than usual was unnoticed as seasons shifted and flowed and with them the outpourings. She was elated by the beauty of her newest costume and more than thrilled to slip into her role as a phoenix. As always, the music called to her, and she responded in kind.

The court was light and uneventful. She did not see the composer amid the gathering crowds, nor did she hear much chatter about her performances. If she were being honest with herself, both relieved her. There was no room in her life for a love interest; her craft consumed all that she was, and teetering on the edges of conversation to catch every stray wisp of criticism was exhausting and unhealthy.

As the season progressed, though, she noticed that the lights on the stage seemed brighter, and she could not see her beloved audience. Due to the heat and brightness, she found she did not linger in the wings to listen to the applause or watch her musicians take their much-deserved bow. Instead, she let her agent and makeup artists usher her to the dressing room so that she could cool down.

Summer unfurled in heat and longer evenings, and she felt a sense of excitement. The practices for the new piece had been exhausting, and she felt as though she had finally reached the pinnacle of her craft. In truth, her entire troupe believed as she did, and they knew that her critics would not be able to deny her majesty. Whatever sinister plot was at play against her, they would rally around her, and the praise would be everything she deserved.

The Summer Gala was traditionally performed on a raised stage on the green. Both the King and the Queen would be in attendance, and as she peeked from the curtain, she saw that indeed the lawn was packed with blankets and faces turned her way. She was introduced.

The Night Queen Presents for your Gala a piece titled simply The Rise of Fire.

She soared across the stage in hues of azure, goldenrod, and crimson, the veils and scarves resembling wings of flame under her minute ministrations. They had arranged for the fall of the phoenix to take place at the moment of sunset, while the rise of the phoenix was arranged to happen as the first stars were released from the uncertain hues of twilight. As the final pose was held, her lungs heaving exertion, the cacophony of applause assaulted her. She eased her pose, slipping into a full-body bow, and for a brief moment, her gaze crossed the green to fall upon a yawning Queen.

Her heart hammered in her chest, not just from exertion.

The Rise of Fire is an inspirational piece that has brought new levels of artistry, pageantry, and skill to the musicians of the Night Queen. As the sun touched upon the land, it was as if the music brought to life all that a dying day promises. The softness of a lover, the breath of relief after the toils of a day, and then as the stars bring with them a promise, so too did the music inspire hope and the revealing of an unspoken covenant. The marvelous enchantment of the music was spoiled by the less than stellar performance of the Night Queen herself. Tired and unenergetic, her grace and elegance were completely gone from the performance. As if her uninspiring spring performance were not enough, the fall of the phoenix to ashes at twilight should have gifted us with a new performer to the stage. In this, we would have at least been spared the death of our beloved artist.

Sparrow was standing near the wall in the Grand Hall when she heard the review shared with a mocking sneer amid a circle of courtiers. She was paralyzed by its brutality, wallowing in the insecurity that had been festering since she had seen the Queen's yawn. Her own thoughts had been tormenting her with the review from the fall, and now to hear that not only was her best work being savagely torn apart by this critic but that her spring had been as well, was too much for her. She slipped from the hall, at her back a quiet whisper rippling through the crowd of the Queen's response, even as the first tears slipped from her eyes.

He found her in a service hallway, a friendly voice and a balm for her vulnerable heart. The composer drew her close, his hands cupping her face, his thumbs drawing the tears from her eyes, and his rich, warm voice spilling over her. He cooed wordlessly to her, and she felt herself melding to his form, taking comfort from him in a way that she had dreamt of but never allowed herself to truly feel. When their lips touched there was a thrill in her stomach, an icy chill across her skin, and then nothing more.

Oh, delicate, beautiful Sparrow, he whispered as the poison on her lips turned her limbs rigid. I wish that you had never allowed them to call you Queen.

The funeral of the Sparrow was small. Her agent for the first time spoke her name at the eulogy that consisted of her troupe and a single composer. Of her fan base, there was nothing save for a lavish bouquet of black roses in a viridian urn.

Seasons came and went, the leaves unfurling, blossoming, withering, and falling all in their course. Some say that she died of a broken heart, others that her body had given out, and those that were cruel would simply say that she died of embarrassment. Other, more knowledgeable circles would say that it was the Queen's master assassin that had found her for her blasphemy of wearing the title of Night Queen; for all knew that in Ta'Nalfein there is only ever one Queen. She became a cautionary tale to young artists, reminding them that there is always a time to quit before everything is taken from them.

Her musicians, costumers, and stylists were absorbed by other troupes with ease. They had, after all, been praised in her final performances and, other than broken hearts, were unscathed by her passing. Of her true identity, none ever shared and each remained loyal to their dying days. Oddly, each time a member of her old troupe performed, they would receive flowers accompanied by a single star-spangled calling card that was marked with a cobalt blue sparrow.

The composer, if ever he was one, did not stay long in the courts of Ta'Nalfein. He had gained an uneasy, odd friendship with the Sparrow's agent. The two retired together, years later, at a country estate.

Some circles, too few to be overly loud, say that the Night Queen lives on and that she collects young women to her banner. They say that she trains them to be both performers and anti-assassins, protecting those that would fall prey to the courts of Ta'Nalfein. And what do these rumors call this clandestine group?

The Sparrows of the Night Queen.