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Warren, Wilhemina, and the weight of the world

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Wilhelmina Dawnchaser has always known that portraits portray idealised versions of a person. She sees it in the portrait that was painted for her wedding, her hair long and ears hidden; she sees it in the portrait outside her late mother-in-law's chambers, the regal figure in the painting in stark contrast to the frail and sickly woman in the bed; she sees it in the portrait painted shortly after Warren was named king - a toddler made to look like a sage ruler as best they could - and now she sees it still.

The advisors of Warren's court have decided amongst themselves that the people should be able to see for themselves how the child that rules over them is quickly growing out of his boyish ways and entering into manhood. Wilhemina, being his mother and privy to most if not all of his political opinions and flights of fancy, fails to see how much better of a ruler her son has become in the last seven years.

It isn't unheard of to release royal portraits to the people every few years, but Wilhemina does not think it should be a priority right now, not with all the bandits running rampant outside the city walls. She hopes that her son can freely wander outside his castle one day, but for now he is caged and safe; she can watch him here. Here, he is cared for.

Wilhemina is queen regent but she does not govern. Warren's advisors put a request for a new royal portrait and the boy signs it with a squiggle. It is a hasty affair, prepared right before Wilhemina has to host the rulers of the principalities of Tordun for their periodic diplomatic discussion of grievances and political ploys.

Wilhemina respects them as one respects acquaintances of similar rank and responsibility; they are capable leaders; they are doing their best. Every member on the council is acutely aware that a mere fifteen years ago, their ranks were made up of very different people. The fragility of their positions are counterbalanced with the power they now hold. They treat Wilhemina as one in their ranks; Warren has a difficult time understanding political drivel, especially when it is as drawn out as the council is wont to do.

Wilhemina has had to become much more politically aware in the last decade but even then she has moments where her upright posture and fortified mind falter. This would all be so much easier if Frederick were here. This would all be so much easier if all she needed to do was play the dutiful wife and whisper her opinions into the ear of her beloved instead of stating them before the ruling parties her son will one day fully belong to.

But they are not here yet, so she dresses Warren up in ceremonial robes, puts a crown on his head, and tries to ignore the itching feeling of placing pomp and circumstance on a child too young to understand how every decision he makes, every step he takes, will soon determine the future of all the people living in the city below.

Wilhemina Dawnchaser, queen regent, takes extra care to wear her hair down over her ears when she poses for the portrait with Warren.

The boy king and his mother stay as still as they can for four hours. (Warren's shoulders start to slouch after half an hour but Wilhemina has no doubt that the artist will keep his rigid posture immortalised. Portraits are always an amalgamation of beautiful lies.)

Wilhemina supervises the mounting of the portrait on the walls of the Dawnchaser residence, just another painting in a long hall of ageing canvasses. An alien Warren stares out at her, a face uncannily familiar and yet strangely wrong. Her painted reflection stares past her left shoulder; it is taller than she is, and the pupils do not waver from their target. The piece looms above Wilhelmina so that she needs to stand at a distance to behold it all or risk straining her neck from looking upwards at it. In the portrait, she stands beside Warren as queen regent, no hand on his shoulder; she guides him with his words but the portrait cannot show that. Warren in the painting stares straight and sure; the final product does not show how he fidgeted and squirmed, trying to get comfortable in a throne far too big for him. Even in the portrait his feet do not touch the floor. The artist has taken creative liberties and given the boy king a stool so that his legs do not dangle. Now that she looks closely, she can see why her son doesn't seem quite right when. The artist has made his hands thinner, leaner, more the hands of a man than of a boy. They hold the royal sceptre without a hint of effort or strain, completely unlike how Warren clutched it sitting before the canvas. He had to put it down after fifteen minutes, Wilhelmina remembers, and chuckles quietly to herself. He had gone red in the face after ten minutes but had managed to hold out far longer than she thought he would have. She was proud of him for that.

That night, she is putting Warren to bed when he asks about his father. It is certainly not the first time; Warren has grown up fatherless, only learning about the man from Wilhemina's stories. (Every time she tells him about his father, Wilhemina hopes her memory is not distorting itself so that the Frederick she knew becomes nothing more than an archetype of ideal leadership. But he was always so great, and it is hard to remember him as anything but.) Every time Warren asks for stories, Wilhemina makes sure to tell him that his father would have loved him, that his father adored him before he was even born, that if he were still here he would've given Warren the world just to see him smile. (Wilhemina knows it is true because she would too.)

"Your father always said he would fulfil his namesake, to pursue things that were beautiful and beyond his reach. To be patient in waiting for the good things to come, and to place himself well should opportunities for greatness greet him." Warren is barely listening - he has heard this one before - but still she keeps talking, stroking his hair as he plays with the edge of the blanket. Does it matter if it isn't entirely true? Bedtime stories just need to impart morals to children, and in this case, giving him a "father" to look up to shouldn't be a sin. Not to a boy who can barely understand that the weight of the crown remains even when he takes it off his head.

"What does my name mean, Mom?" Warren says, still very much awake despite his mother's best efforts. And in that moment, Wilhelmina has premonitions of running, of being chased, of hiding in a forest. While a warren is a home, she cannot forget the weaknesses of the creatures who call it so. Frederick may have sought to emulate his namesake, but his talents for blessing his son with a powerful label were somewhat lacking.

"It means 'safe' sweetheart," she says, and kisses him on the cheek before tucking him in and moving towards the door.

"Love you, Mom," Warren says, voice clearly not sleepy enough. He will be awake for some time after Wilhemina leaves. Perhaps he will look at the stars. Perhaps he will read a book. She will ask him about it tomorrow morning.

Wilhemina puts a hand on the doorframe, turns to look at Warren over her shoulder and says, "Love you too Warren. Goodnight."

"Night."

And Wilhemina softly closes the door.

Wilhemina is awake for some time after she leaves. She goes for a walk around the castle, pacing the halls for no other reason than to not be still. And again and again she finds herself walking past the portraits of her family, the portraits of Frederick's family, the generations of leaders whose positions she has now usurped. She looks at the portrait painted for her wedding and she feels indescribably tired. She looks at the portrait of Warren-but-older and wants her son to stay young just a little while longer.