Character creation part 4: Luka, a second look
When first creating Queen Viarraluca, I borrowed a narration and character motif from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What I’ve essentially tried to do is give readers a hyper-intelligent, insightful character, but only give glimpses of her intelligence and insight through the point of view of other characters. In the same way that readers only get glimpses of Holmes’s intelligence through the lens of Watson’s narration, I try to only give glimpses of Viarra’s intelligence and insight through Zahnia, Elissa, the queen’s soldiers and army officers, and various other characters. (To give credit where it’s due: I also based this a great deal off of Timothy Zahn’s character Grand Admiral Thrawn, an infinitely insightful military genius who is always shown through the POV of his subordinates.)
I think Viarra’s key motivation in all things is the protection of her people and becomes a warrior queen for this reason. She’s an accomplished archer and horsewoman, but prefers to fight on the front line beside the hoplites. She marches into battle beside her soldiers, knowing the motivation it gives them to fight for and protect their queen—knowing that it gives her soldiers heart to see their queen and commander sharing the same dangers they face. I want readers to see her as self-sacrificing in this way, to know that she is willing to die to protect her subjects, this willingness being tempered only by the knowledge that she can’t protect them further once she is dead.
As well as being hyper-intelligent and charismatic, Queen Viarra is incredibly tough. I try to show her toughness early on in the prologue during and in the wake of an assassination attempt on the royal family. All of her family is murdered and Viarra is critically wounded by the assassins. To show her subjects what she is prepared to endure for their sakes, the queen rides through the streets wearing just a sheet and her bandages and stitches. And despite the pain and blood-loss, she publicly confronts the duke behind the assassination.
“Your majesty?” Ronnius inquired, looking up at his copper-haired queen. Viarraluca set her right hand on his shoulder, then nodded down at her escort. Derron signaled to the honor guard and took the reins of the queen’s horse. The honor guardsmen stepped to form a box around their new monarch, and the procession stepped off at what Ronnius hoped looked like a slow, stately pace. In truth, it was a slow, gingerly pace to keep from further agitating the queen’s injuries.
There was no cheering from the crowd as the honor guard made its way to the assembly hall—no cheering and only the occasional whisper. Indeed, an overwhelming sense of awe seemed to have fallen over the crowd on either side and behind them. Any conversation or commotion ahead of them immediately ceased as citizens moved to make way for the procession.
The lack of colorful clothing in the crowd seemed to add to the somberness of the situation. Ronnius remembered a merchant friend once telling him that the variety of colors in a group of citizens is one of the most telling indicators of a city’s economy. Most of the assembled citizenry wore earth-toned garments or that red-violet color that came from those bitter, wild berries that grew on different parts of the island. The only exceptions he saw were faded colors that the islanders no longer had access to. And with no new merchants selling dyes or dyed textiles in their markets, the color shortage was likely to continue for a long while. Ronnius took this as a sign of things that needed to change—of trials their island faced and problems their new queen would need to overcome.
Periodically Ronnius looked up to check on her majesty, her unkempt copper hair gleaming in the morning sun. She kept her right hand on his shoulder and left hand on her knee as she rode sidesaddle next to him. She never looked down at him, but kept her jade eyes and elegant face fixed forward. While most of the buildings in the city were bare of paint, a few of them bore paint or whitewash as the procession neared the assembly hall.
The procession stopped only once on the journey, when the white horse stumbled over a loose cobblestone in the agora, eliciting a gasp from the crowd. Ronnius felt the queen’s grip tighten on his shoulder and he looked up in horror to see that elegant face contorted in agony. Viarra sat hunched forward, left hand clutching a wound on her right side. Her eyes were clinched shut, but tears rolled down each side of her majesty’s nose and down each cheek. Derron noticed as well and signaled the vanguard to a halt.
“Your majesty?” the general asked quietly.
“Don’t move,” came the rasping whisper from between clinched teeth. Ronnius set his left hand on her arm to steady her and placed his right hand on the hand clasping his shoulder. Her breaths came in and out as painful hisses.
The procession stood still for what seemed like ages, concerned murmurs fluttering throughout the crowd. Someone gasped as scarlet drops oozed from between her majesty’s fingertips. Ronnius realized with sickening dread that the small but sudden jolt had torn her stitches, not just on the surface, but possibly internally as well. No one moved for agonizing minutes, Viarraluca’s battle with the pain playing out on her face. It was agony that would have felled a lesser human being. In the back of his mind, Ronnius doubted whether a greater human being existed.
The escort and crowd finally began to relax as her grace slowly straightened herself out. She let go of her side and of Ronnius’s shoulder to tear a large section of her skirt to use as a bandage. The tear exposed nearly all of her right leg, but the makeshift bandage held, to the relief of all present. Viarraluca wiped her hands on what was left of her skirt and signaled the vanguard to continue.
“Give me your hand,” she whispered to Ronnius. He extended his left arm up to her, and she grasped his wrist in her right hand, using her left hand to hold the bandage tighter against her wound. He could feel her squeeze tighter whenever her pain increased.