Underground, Under Crown

By: Anne Boleyn

Writing Prompt: Yes

Date: 4th Dec 2021

A queen – be it of England, Avalon or Brooklynshire – could hardly represent her divinely appointed office without the proper headwear. Tiaras and circlets were the stuff of childish fancy and jumped-up baronesses with designs on the throne, but only a crown truly commanded the respect of all the classes. The leather left over from the Belted Championship of Brooklynshire would serve for excellent fist covers, perhaps with exposed fingernails for easier eye-clawing. Anne taught the pigeons, but the pigeons also taught Anne.

 

The New York City sewer system sprawled beyond infinity, with slime-soaked masonry not entirely un-medieval and a surging shit-river fed by millions and millions of chamberpots. Anne regretted leaving the building without a clothespin to guard her nose from the stench, but work parties were an awkward affair under the best of circumstances and it wasn’t every evening she stumbled into a coworker with a hookup on ye olde timey blacksmith beneath the Big Apple. Alice seemed a pleasant enough source, though Anne suspected she exchanged telepathic communiques with the furry vermin. Anne’s own loyal sky-vermin chirped and cooed at her from the streets and sidewalks above every time she passed beneath a grating. Her birds were eager to help, but their effectiveness would be sorely limited underground. Alice’s methods would take precedence, though Anne did take the time to grab a sword and give her ankle-length black dress a series of strategic cuts that made it more maneuverable and less likely to be dragged through the ever-present shit puddles. “You know,” said Anne, holding up her sword for emphasis. “People often confuse the short sword with the arming sword. The blacksmith and I will laugh about it later, I’ll wager.” 

 

Despite her regal bearing, Anne was not above a certain amount of nervous chatter, but Alice was less conversational than she had been at the tower, at least on a human-to-human basis. Navigating an endless lavatorial labyrinth couldn’t have been easy, but a vital part of any quest was to know exactly where one was going. Her queendom was still in its infancy, and there was much to be done. The milk flowed freely, providing a steady stream of trade income. The winged militia brought the queen secrets and protected her interests from the skies above. And the bountiful pizza kept the queen and her minions fed. Soon enough the rapid expansion would call others into her service. Alice had the makings of a court wizard or spymistress, provided she wasn’t lying about the blacksmith and planned to drown Anne in the ever-flowing excess of excrement. “Ew,” said Anne, the thought dancing unpleasantly through her mind. Paranoia was an essential part of ruling, but too much could drive a person mad. Alice gave her a look, puzzling and accusatory at once. “Sorry, still getting used to the shit-river,” Anne said, waving a hand in front of her face.

 

“Suppose I should be more supportive,” Anne said, as the walk continued. “Quite impressive actually, that you’re able to live down here. Among… All… This…” They had just stopped at an underground intersection and the queen waved her hand in the directions she thought to be north, south, east and west. “This being the haphazard masonry, of course,” she said, an unconvincing play at diplomacy. “I must confess, I don’t think I would have the fortitude to — AH!”

 

A creature lunged from the river, beaver-sized and armored in pure filth. Anne’s bewilderment was intense, but brief, as her instincts took hold and she arced the blade of her arming sword, intercepting the massive rodent’s trajectory and separating the head and body. The body’s moment saw it skid to a gory halt on the wall-adjacent walkway. The head seemed to hang in the air for a moment, before dropping incisors-first back into the river from whence it came. Anne stepped over the bleeding, headless corpse, but Alice stopped her with a hand to the chest. Not an attack, but rebuff enough to halt the queen.

 

“You do that again,” Alice said, “And it’s fire in the hole, ya?”

 

Anne quirked an eyebrow. “Ya? Yeah? Yes, certainly, affirmative. No more beheading the ratkin, if at all practical. But if you’re in league with the beasts, I’d be ever so delighted if you could broker a non-aggression pact between our two powers. No shit-water ambushes from them, and no beheadings-by-sword from me. Fair, equitable, agreeable. I look forward to their response, and feel free to mention that I have a certain pizzeria under my thumb that is a veritable treasure trove of meats and cheeses.”

 

Alice nodded back. “We have an accord,” she offered, before rounding a corner out of site.

 

Anne rounded after her and stopped in her tracks, the sword nearly slipping from her delicate fingers. Before her were rows upon rows of booths stocked with clothes, weapons, strange looking fish, Mets memorabilia and undercity guidebooks. Alice was already browsing, but Anne was too taken aback to join in. If a marketplace could function beneath New York City, then a blacksmith must be amid the underdwellers. Soon enough, she would have a crown again. But still, Anne couldn’t help but remark upon the situation. “How bizarre.”