- The Queen of Rhye
- The War of Rhye
- The Fate of Rhye
The dramatis personae (whom I'd cast as the prince, the princess, the robbers...) were already on my mind right from the start:
Rio Kastle in the role of Gerda
Thomas "Quattro" Arclight in the role of Kai
Reginald Kastle in the composite role of Kai/the Snow "Queen" (King of Rhye)
Byron Arclight in the role of "Gerda's grandmother" (Arclight father/guardian)
Christopher "Quinton" Arclight in the role of the good chancellor
Michael Arclight as himself
Aika Hanazoe in the role of the springtime enchantress (a part she shares with Chironex in the same chapter, see "gentleman in the floppy sunhat" below!)
(In her garden:
Fire Lily - Alitho's story
Raccoon - Girag's story
Snapdragon - Mizar's story
Larkspur - Dumon's story)
Katherine "Cathy" in the role of the "princess's pet crow" (Queen's pet cat)
Dextra in the role of the "crown princess" (Queen Dextra Aleksandra)
Nistro in the role of the "prince consort" (Lord/Prince Consort Sinistro)
Kite Tenjo as himself in the role of the commander of the Queensguard
Hart Tenjo as himself
Anna Kaboom in the role of the robber maiden
Yuma Tsukumo in the role of the robber "maiden" (robber boy)
Akari Tsukumo in the role of the robber woman/leader
Charlie McCoy in the role of the robber second-in-command
Scorch and Chill in the roles of robbers
Rokujuro in the role of the "Finmark woman" (Sage of the Summit)
Vector in the role of the "mirror troll" (Prince Raymund of Phecda/King of Phecda/Usurper of Rhye)
Vector's parents as themselves
Dumon as himself (the pegasus knight who whisked the pregnant Queen away from Rhye)
The story begins with a tribute to the Topelius novel series Stjärnornas kungabarn (The Royal Children of the Stars) for a good reason: in the realm of the Heartland, on a dark and stormy winter night, as Lord Byron Arclight and his eldest son and heir repair from the royal court to their estate in the provinces, and the former tells the latter of the shattered Mirror of Truth and its relation to the royals of the militaristic great power of Phecda (warning that it's no folktale, but real history!), their carriage winds up having run over a ragged yet jewelled beautiful azure-haired lady, who has just died protecting her infant twins, a boy and a girl. Feeling guilty over having orphaned both children, and no matter if his own wife Ada left him a widowed father of three, he decides to raise the twin orphans along with his own boys.
Raised at Arclight Hall with the three Arclight brothers, adopted Reginald and Rio thrive, wearing the silver star-lily pins that their birth mother had once worn as a clue to their heritage, the azure-haired boy becoming gradually more defiant and his twin bonding with middle child Thom, whom she calls Quattro, who becomes her fiancé... yet underneath the façade something is cracking; something that becomes more apparent when the patriarch does not return from a diplomatic mission to Phecda and his heir is made advisor to the underage Queen of the Heartland. Then, right as the youngest Arclights are coming of age, misunderstandings between Reggie and Quattro occur (due to shards of the mirror getting inside both of them), a fire breaks out in the garden arbour, both young men flee the château at different times, and Rio is left bedridden.
When she has recovered, our heroine, feeling both guilty and responsible, goes forth in search of her brother and her fiancé. What she doesn't know is that her quest is full of twists and turns, encounters with royalty and drunken outlaws, and a revelation relating to her, the silver star-lily (the crest of Rhye), Queen Dextra's parentage, and the southern/Antarctic island nation of Rhye... that changes Rio's life forever.
When at the ice palace of Rhye, she sacrifices her own freedom in exchange for Quattro's to her twin brother, now the rightful King of Rhye, Alkaid II of House Benetnasch, having defeated the Phecdan usurper... it comes to light that she must claim her right on a throne by his side as Queen Megrez; the Benetnasches marry brother-husband to sister-wife. This also explains why Dextra's mother chose to marry a prince of the Heartland. The arc closes as Quattro returns home to Arclight Hall, meeting royals, outlaws, and assorted friends in their wake and telling them of the maiden's sacrifice: the rash ones burn with desire for war, while the sensible ones cool their hot blood... the Heartland royal pair exemplifying both stances the best.
Within the fortress-like ice palace, Rio, Megrez, is now trying to break free from her destiny as a crowned sister-wife, escaping on her own back home, as the Heartlanders (after much deliberation) declare war on Rhye; and the ruler of Phecda, who stirs up the war in the first place, does exactly that by scheming undercover at the court of the Heartland... among other things, by trying to convince the prince consort, a former officer of fortune, that his queen has an affair with Kite, her childhood friend... which leads to a fatal Uriah gambit and to the declaration of war. The reason why so many children, such as Hart (later on revealed to be a Drakharin) and Charlie's niece, are critically ill in the first place, also comes to light... All of that happens in the second and third installments: The War of Rhye and The Fate of Rhye...
A leitmotif that also occurs in parallel is the most popular fairytale in Rhye (both Dextra -recalling her mum's telling her favourite story- on her deathbed and Rio -reading and watching it on stage- before fleeing the royal castle are pretty fond of it), a cautionary tale against outbreeding about star-crossed lovers that has even been brought to the stage as an opera (which even begins with the shout-out prelude in which a character playing the author of the show introduces the premise as "Two lineages, alike in dignity, once more renew their ancient enmity. A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life, their misadventures sealing decades' strife. This tale of shattered hearts and storms of rage is to be shown two hours on this stage."). The reason there are forbidden relationships across ranks is because of a legend of love gone wrong. Sunrise Crownleaf (the highest rank, then a high-ranking court lady, who consorted with royalty) and Moonlight Deeproot (the lowest rank, a male cleaner and errand-boy) become mates, but jealousy and resentment have festered in the troop and fight, war, breaks out between the different ranks. Sunrise is killed in the fight, killed by her own Council, and Moonlight dies of a broken heart. Thus, they forbid the inter-rank romances with their saying: "Moon and sun shall never be one."
This story, Sunrise and Moonlight being as familiar even to the youngest Rhyean children as Cinderella is in our world, is mentioned a lot as a way to inquire philosophically about the issue of exogamy vs. endogamy... Though the adult Queen of the Heartland, knowing that her husband will kill her before dawn, recalls her late mother telling her the story night and again during her childhood... and the younger Queen of Rhye has not only read it time after time, but is even obliged to see it on stage, as part of her engagement festivities, as the opera Sunrise and Moonlight, in which both the lead roles are played by young actresses, as per Rhye custom; starring Rio's handmaid (and bastard half-sister, later, even her ersatz following Rio's flight) Iris in the role of Sunrise and britches-role heartthrob Luna as Moonbeam (to add a little more depth, Luna is in an unrequited, harsh relationship with Reginald!).
Though the resented Usurper Raymund is by no means the only antagonist. Consider the hinge character, and relevant catalyst, of the "sharply-dressed gentleman in a floppy sunhat", a disgraced healer first met when drugging Rio during her stay at Hanazoe's tea-garden, and his use of the witsbane flower (as fictional as midnight howlers, and equally psychotropic), first as "painkilling medicine" he gave to the exiled Queen of Rhye after her childbirth that fated winter, causing her to get hit by the Arclights' carriage while protecting her fortnight-old infants (as revealed in the climax of the poisoning plot in The Fate of Rhye!)... then, in The Queen of Rhye, in Rio's first cup of tea and her depilation soap, in very low amounts, to either poison her or keep her in the tea-garden to protect her from the consequences of her actions... then, in The War of Rhye, the same witsbane poison is actually given in the Othello plot, first to Kite in a glass of lemonade, when the young blond is on guard, to discredit him and make him lose his post as Nistro's aide; and then to the Prince Consort himself in his shaving cream (like in Christie's The Cretan Bull), as literal poison along with the idea that Kite and Dextra are having an affair... Finally, Rio and Reginald themselves are subject to witsbane poisoning, and lotus-eater prisons, in The Fate of Rhye...
(Also; the same gentleman plies Cathy with catnip for a while... until she snaps and comes through her addiction on Queen Dextra's deathbed, in a heartwarming moment)