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Laura Melissa Stirling (née Zosimus) was the queen consort of King Aldous and mother of King Richard and Princess Eleanor.

The daughter of Lord Gavin Zosimus and his first wife Melissa, she lived a privileged life in Tyr until the War of Succession, which cost her father his life and everything her family held dear. To survive, the teenage Laura wed the king and bore his heirs.

Beloved by her subjects, she was known as the "queen of peace" for her efforts to end the Fifth Exekian War. This was the fulfillment of a prophecy given to Dagda Vormund, making Laura a venerated religious figure among the Vormundists.

Biography

Birth

Laura was born in 164 AYZ, on the side of the road just outside Bodai. She was the only child of Lord Gavin Zosimus and his first wife Melissa. Her birth was facilitated by Leon Gorrister, the son of a local midwife. Leon had intended to lead them to his mother, but Melissa's condition was too advanced, and they were forced to stop along the way. Present at her birth were all major members of the cult of Vormund, save Kemet. Her mother died of hemorrhaging shortly after her birth.

Her father took her with him to Arza Kell, where he stayed with the rest of Vormund's followers. News of her grandmother's impending death was publicly announced when Laura was just five days old. Gavin decided to leave her in the care of Kemet and Clara Richter while he went to Tyr to reconcile with his mother. While Vormund and his other followers traveled to Hiberia, Kemet and Clara stayed behind with the infant Laura.

Approximately a month went by before Gavin returned to retrieve his daughter, taking her back with him to Isidore. His position was a precarious one, as he had been skipped over in favor of his cousin Lucan, who became the new Lord of Tyr. He had also agreed to take in a young blind boy, three year old Vincent, as his ward. While Lucan allowed Gavin to live with his children at the family estate, it was under certain stipulations. Namely, he pressured Gavin to remarry and produce a legitimate male heir, as Lucan himself was a lifelong bachelor and had no sons.

Thus, when Laura was three years old, Gavin wedded Beatrice, a widow with a daughter, Melanie, from a previous marriage. The couple produced a son, Balian.

Childhood

Under the care of her doting father, Laura led a luxurious and happy life at Isidore, the family estate, although she was not without fear. Persecution of Vormundists fluctuated as she grew older, and her father's enemies were numerous and unscrupulous. Gavin remained a devout follower of Vormund, practicing the outlawed religion in secret and raising his children in the faith.
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Laura as a child.

Due to her family's fortune, Laura began receiving betrothal requests when she was still very young. Her father politely declined all offers, claiming he wanted to wait and see what kind of woman she grew into.

As for her siblings, Laura was close to all of them. Despite his being of no relation to the family, Vincent was very much an older brother to Laura. The two were inseparable as youngsters, with her finding him easy to confide in. She considered her stepsister Melanie to be her best friend, and while she didn't always get along with her half-brother Balian, she loved him deeply.

Torn Asunder

When Laura was fourteen, Lord Lucan died, making Gavin the new Lord of Tyr. Laura began to see less and less of her father, but took great pride in his newfound position of power and importance. As she entered adolescence, she developed her first crush on Hilarion, her father's falconer, who humored her gift-giving and girlish affections with the sympathy of one who knows what it is to be bored.

Later that year, King Tristan visited Isidore along with his two sons. Laura was told by her governess Tamara that she would be presented formally to the princes Aldous and Claudius, one of whom she would likely marry. However, the festivities were cut short as Tristan was assassinated in the castle dining room by a sniper from the second floor. The killer was later revealed to be none other than Drusus Rolfe, whom Gavin had helped free from prison many years earlier. This connection placed Gavin under suspicion, and he was forced to travel to the capital for an investigation into his involvement.

With Tristan dead, the crown passed to his eldest son Aldous. Gavin refused to swear fealty to Aldous, finding him unfit to be king. Aldous was in favor of a genocidal war of the Exekians, and he was prejudiced against Vormundists. The War of Succession broke out when Gavin Zosimus and several other lords (who primarily wanted to avoid another Exekian war) supported Aldous' brother Claudius Stirling, who had proclaimed his intentions to make peace with the Exekians and end the persecution of Vormundists.

Before he left, Gavin gave Laura a key which unlocked a safe he had hidden in his study. The safe contained invaluable information he intended to tell her about when she was older. In the event something happened to him, she was to open the safe and peruse the contents.

Over the next two years, while the war raged on, Laura threw herself into studying warfare, geography, and history. Against her father's wishes, she unlocked the safe while he was away at war. Reading the documents inside, she learned the extent of her father's history with Vormund, the prophecy that she would one day marry a king, and her father's continued correspondence with Kemet and Clara, her godparents. Despite the overwhelming destiny foretold in the prophecies, Laura remained hopeful that Claudius would emerge victorious and her father would return home unscathed.
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The captured Laura is held by Aldous' soldiers.

Everything came crashing down when Aldous Stirling arrived at Isidore with his army. To the shocked and horrified household, he revealed Gavin had been slain in the Battle of Kirk's Bluff. Taking the family prisoner, he ordered his soldiers to loot and destroy their home. The children attempted to escape in the chaos that followed, but all were recaptured. Aldous himself chased and caught Laura, who was then thrown into a cart with all the underage girls found on the premises.

Separated from the rest of their family, she and Melanie were picked out of the group of girls by an agent of the king, who then took them to Carthmere Castle, where they were expected to placidly await their fate.

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Laura is taken by boat across the river to Carthmere.

Life at Carthmere

After another failed escape attempt, Laura was kept under heavy guard and forbidden to leave the castle walls. She was placed under the care of Princess Helen, Aldous' sister, who "supervised" all aspects of the girl's life. Helen employed a vast network of spies to ensure her every move was watched.

As a well-treated political prisoner, Laura had a legion of servants waiting on her, including her own handmaiden, Hera O'Leary. Her treatment, which was more lenient and luxurious than Melanie's, indicated that Aldous intended to marry her at the end of the war - a prospect she found unbearable, even though it meant a fulfillment of the prophecy.

Melanie was abused by Aldous' men, but kept her injuries and suffering hidden from Laura. Thus, it came as something of a shock when Melanie suddenly eloped with Lord Malcolm Sutherland, a much older nobleman loyal to Aldous, as a way of escaping the torment she had endured at the castle.
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Laura viewing the castle for the first time.

Lonely and frightened, Laura reached out to the physician Eugene Verne, who was one of the few people who seemed genuinely kind at court. While she tried to suppress her feelings, she rapidly fell in love with "Gene", who was fifteen years her senior. As her impending marriage to Aldous loomed, Laura deliberately limited her contact with him.

The Seven Days' Queen

Word reached the castle that Prince Claudius was alive but had gone into hiding. While Aldous was preoccupied with finding his brother, his uncle Sebastian schemed to have his daughter Frances declared queen in his absence. Like Laura, Frances was only a teenager and wanted no part in the conflict, but she and her husband Zachary Guildford were dragged to Carthmere, where Frances was crowned and Zachary was named consort.

With Aldous' right to the throne having been legally forfeited, Laura's status came into question. Most of her servants were given to serve Frances instead, and when Laura visited her to ask what she wanted, Frances told her she was free to do as she pleased. Laura's first thought was to flee the country, and she approached Eugene with the idea of eloping with him, but she was reluctant to go as she still did not know what had become of her two brothers and stepmother.

After just seven days, however, Aldous returned to Carthmere with Claudius in chains. Frances willingly stepped down and submitted to imprisonment, where she wrote letters pleading with Aldous to let her and Zachary go. But Sebastian, determined to keep his daughter on the throne, mounted a doomed second rebellion. The attack failed and Sebastian was captured and thrown into prison himself. Claudius, Sebastian, Frances, and Zachary were all sentenced to death by Aldous, who gladly rid himself of his enemies and prepared to claim Laura as his bride.

Marriage

After five years, the War of Succession was finally over. By then aged nineteen, Laura agreed to wed Aldous as a matter of survival.
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Laura at age 19.

Once she became queen, the ban preventing Laura from leaving her place of residence was lifted, and she was permitted to venture out so long as she had an escort to protect her. She immediately began searching for Vincent, eventually discovering him surviving on the streets on donations in exchange for his music. Making him into an honorary member of the royal household, she brought him with her back to the capital, where with her patronage, he became a beloved minstrel.

Aldous had difficulties readjusting to life after the war and began entertaining his old notions of eradicating the Exekians. To this end, he had Laura knight several young men. One of them she recognized as Balian, who had been taken captive and pressed into service. She tried to reconnect with him, but not long after the ceremony, he disappeared. 

With his campaign planning complete, Aldous prepared for war. He decided to take the pregnant Laura with him, defying the advice of the court physician. 

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Fifth Exekian War

War broke out between the humans and the New Exekian Empire when Aldous began raiding the southern border. He fought against Nechtan in various skirmishes, camping near the ruins of Fort Heliobas. It was there that he learned several of the young knights had since switched sides, joining a human force led by Leon Gorrister (now a paladin) which fought to protect the Exekians.

Heavily pregnant and living in a bivouac, Laura learned that Kemet was in command of the fortress. Motivated by a desire to reunite with her godparents and stop her husband's invasion plans, she fled the camp, arriving at Heliobas alone. The vigorous ride triggered her labor.

Under the protection of Kemet, she was placed in one of the fortress' towers, where Clara and Leon tended to her. As her labor stretched on into a third day, a desperate Clara traveled to the camp and convinced Eugene to come with her. Under the physician's care, Laura gave birth to a baby boy.

In the meantime, Kemet's comrades pressured him to demand a ransom for Laura's return. Aldous was under the impression that the Exekians had abducted his wife and was becoming desperate to have her (and his newborn son and heir) back. Negotiations were made to stop the fighting in exchange for Laura's safe return.

Anticipating that Aldous would not honor the agreement, Clara suggested that Laura leave her newborn son behind and take an Exekian child in his place. The superstitious Aldous would call off the invasion altogether, knowing that his son was still in the hands of the Exekians. Laura reluctantly agreed, naming the Exekian infant John.

Aldous greeted his wife with open arms, only to find her nursing an Exekian child. Shocked and horrified, his first instinct was to kill John, but after Laura explained that his son's life was bound to that of John's, he stayed his hand.

Word spread through the camp about this "cursed exchange" and Aldous' disgruntled, terrified troops began deserting by the thousands. A member of the king's guard was sent to Laura to see John for himself, and the conversation he had with Laura, in which she pleaded with him to stop the war for the sake of her son, caused the entire king's guard to abandon their posts. It was this event that earned Laura the moniker of "queen of peace".

Birth of Richard and Eleanor

The family returned to Carthmere, where Laura gave birth to a second son, Richard, two years later. With the birth of a healthy boy, Aldous' attitude toward John changed from fear and loathing to begrudging acceptance, as the life of his firstborn was still tied to that of the Exekian's.

The following year Lucien Florescu, Aldous' mentally ill grandfather, died in confinement. A lavish state funeral was held and Aldous' aunt Lucia traveled to Apicarta from Thun to attend. Laura was drawn to Lucia, and the two women found they had much in common. Both had lost their fathers at a young age, and both had been forced to marry brutish men in order to survive. Lucia offered Laura some advice - to take what she could of love while she could get it. This sentiment finally convinced Laura to give in to her passion for Gene, and the two began an affair.

Eleanor, Laura's only daughter, was born when she was twenty-one. Rumor has it that Eleanor is in fact Gene's daughter, not Aldous'.

Later Years and Death

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Laura's dream of death.

The last years of Laura's life passed rather uneventfully. She focused on raising her three children, teaching them courage and compassion. In each of them she instilled a strong belief in peace and coexistence between peoples. Her sons adored her, but Eleanor was often disobedient and appeared to dislike her mother.

Laura died suddenly at the age of twenty-eight. She caught a sickness from Gene, whom she was nursing through a fever. Delirious, she envisioned her father's spirit had come to welcome her to paradise, and she joyously embraced him.

She and Gene were found dead in his room, lying in bed together. While the circumstances of her death were kept hidden from the public, rumors were soon swirling that she'd been having an affair with the doctor for some time. Because of this, the paternity of her children (and by extension the validity of their claims to the throne) would later be brought into question.

Description

While she was somewhat mousy as a child, as an adult Laura was known for being extremely beautiful. She was tall and slender. Her fair skin, delicate features, and mane of curly brown hair were considered very attractive. Her daughter Eleanor bears a strong resemblance to her.

Personality

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Laura's famous wit.

In her youth Laura was carefree and mischievous, always wanting to have fun. The loss of her family and her being thrust into the role of wife and queen at a young age took its toll, and she became passive and docile, almost apathetic to what the future might hold for her. While she still had her own opinions, she kept these to herself.

During the Fifth Exekian War, however, the spark of courage and rebellion was reignited in her. Disobeying Aldous, whom she had come to fear, marked a turning point in her life.

At court, she was a more controversial figure. While many described her as charming, others found her cold. She was intelligent, with a sharp wit and a biting sense of humor. Her stances were sometimes radical. A few among the nobility considered her a threat, while others saw her as merely a nuisance.

Vincent became a source of comfort and support to her. Gentle, warm, and more level-headed than she, he was able to rein in her more destructive impulses. As long as he was there to confide in, she felt secure.

Her relationship with Gene, while intensely private, quietly became one of the great romances of Apicarta's history, even finding its way into literature via the songs of minstrels.

Known Associates

Gavin Zosimus - My father. Our bond was always stronger than his with my other siblings, even Balian. I had a special place in his heart, as his firstborn and the child of his beloved, my mother. He was never a good conversationalist, but just being in his presence was a comfort and a joy to me. I miss him terribly, and always think of what he would say or what he would do in every situation I find myself in.
Beatrice Zosimus - My stepmother. I could never be as close to her as to my own mother, and this is a fact both of us have always known. But that has not stopped us from getting along well enough. She is kind and gentle, but also wise and able to see the silver lining in every cloud. I can see why my father chose her as his wife.
Vincent Apothik - My father's ward. He was raised as my elder brother. His blindness was never something I resented; in fact, at times I envied him. His unique perspective is always welcome, and he is such a good listener. I feel as if I could tell him any secret and he would keep it locked away in his heart forever, no matter how terrible it was.
Melanie Sutherland - My stepsister. While I didn't like her much at first, we soon became friends. I expected us to become closer through our shared experiences, but the opposite happened. We've grown so far apart, I hardly know her anymore. She is hiding something, I know it.
Balian Zosimus - My half-brother, and the baby of the family. I've always held great affection for him, even if he did get on my nerves most of the time. Now he seems a broken man, submissive to Aldous and anyone in a position of power. I blame myself for what happened to him.
Anne Zosimus - Balian's wife. She is a very strong woman to have survived all the injustices she experienced during the war. But I am worried that she manipulated Balian into marrying her purely for her own personal gain. He needs a wife who will care for and love him, not a cold and steely noblewoman only looking to move through the ranks.

Tristan Stirling - The former king. My father was wary of him, but I found him jovial and good-natured. It's a shame he came to such a violent end.
Deirdre Stirling - Tristan's widow. I felt sorry for her, but after meeting her at court I realized how strange and frightening she could be. Her foreign ways and beliefs are extremely off-putting. Unfortunately she has filled her son's head with these ideas.
Claudius Stirling - The tragic prince. To think I could have married him instead, if only he had won the war! Daddy was completely in the right to support him, of course, but he simply didn't have the luck or the prowess to defeat his brother.
Aldous Stirling - He is hateful in every possible way, but I must try to forgive him for what he has done. Now that he is my husband, carrying a grudge against him would only worsen things between us. I only wish he was less childish in his beliefs about marriage and women, and less bloodthirsty. Arguing with him quickly becomes tiresome. He despises greed and avarice, which surprised me - I thought he married me mainly for my fortune. But as it turned out, he wanted me for my good breeding and physical beauty... though I hardly consider that a positive aspect. He is a superstitious, ignorant fool who should never have been king.
Helen Stirling - I grew to loathe this woman during my captivity. She had spies everywhere watching my every move and was constantly nosing into my business. But knowing now that she was working with Claudius all along, and of the torture she received at the hands of Aldous once her treachery was discovered, I can't help feeling sorry for her. Still, hers was an unpleasant, cloying personality, so I can't say I'll miss having her around.
Sebastian Stirling - Tristan's brother. He seemed trustworthy when I met him at court, and I admit I didn't think he had it in him to betray his nephew. His political machinations came as a surprise to me. I must not let men like him slip by unnoticed in the future.
Frances Stirling - Sebastian's daughter. I was surprised by how plain and solemn she was. Though she was clearly intelligent, she had little agency and no confidence in herself. The way she and her husband were treated was shameful. Much like me, they were no more than children thrust into an incredibly dangerous, unstable situation by their parents. How could anyone expect her to do anything other than obey her father? Yet Aldous still mocks her subservience to this day, as well as making crude, disparaging comments about her looks.
Zachary Guildford - Frances' husband. I never truly met him, but I did see him around during the whole affair. His looks reminded me so much of Vincent. He seemed quite gallant, and from what I could tell he truly cared for his wife. As I said, the way the two of them were treated was abominable. Aldous claims he broke down in tears just before his execution, begging for his life. He may find it funny, but I don't.
Lucia Stirling - Tristan's sister. I met her only once, and at her father's funeral at that. But we have much in common, and she had some interesting insights to offer.

Eugene Verne - The court physician. While I was being held captive at the palace, he was the only person at court who seemed truly kind and sincere. After hearing about his exploits with pirates and the tales of his drinking, gambling, and whoring, it bothered me more than I thought it would. Sometimes I wonder if he obscures the truth in order to protect my innocence. Surely he must know that I'm not nearly as naive and sheltered as he thinks. He says he doesn't understand me, hasn't a clue what I want - and that I don't seem to know, either. Maybe he's right.
Hera O'Leary - My handmaiden. She's not very bright and can be a bit obnoxious, but she does have principles - she refused to work for Helen no matter how much money she offered. I've grown to appreciate her loyalty and fighting spirit.
Hilarion - My father's falconer. Handsome, charming, and exotic, he was my girlhood crush. I still hold great affection for him. He and Wilbur saved Vincent's life, and for that I am forever grateful.
Lindsay - The cook at Isidore, and later my personal chef. It is strange to see one so thin in her profession, but she is definitely among the best. No one else knows how to cook the way she does. She even won Aldous over with her famous lamb stew.
Tamara - My old governess, an ancient woman from the island of Neroga. She was never too strict, but she had her own way of doing things. Some of the things she said and the ideas she had confused me.
Wilbur - A stable boy at Isidore. He and Hilarion saved Vincent from Aldous' men when Isidore was razed, at great risk to their own lives. I never took much notice of him before, and never would have dreamed he was so courageous and compassionate.

Kemet - My godfather. My father never spoke of him, but his letters are proof of their great friendship. Still, I was uncertain if he could be trusted, and gambled when I placed myself in his hands. He proved a true friend and a fine leader to his people, though I confess I was shocked at his infidelity to his wife, even if she is only human.
Rasvan - This one made my skin crawl whenever he opened his mouth. I believe he was the one who orchestrated the rift between Kemet and Clara, on the orders of his Empress. People like him make me sick to my stomach, but they are to be found everywhere, especially where power resides.
Arsinoe - The one with whom Kemet committed adultery, and the true mother of John. I want to see her as just another selfish, evil temptress, yet I cannot help pitying her. She was Rasvan's pawn in a game too complex for her to understand. All she saw was an opportunity to find shelter and safety in the arms of a commander... she didn't understand that it would do so much harm to Clara. Though perhaps she would not have cared even if she did know. She certainly paid no heed to her own child. The ways of the Exekians are strange indeed.

Vormundus Richter - I hardly had a chance to hold him before he was swept away by Clara. I know we will never meet again, yet I still hold such love for the son I never knew.
John - My adopted son. Oh, I was so afraid to hold you... I thought nothing could fill the hole in my heart that was left when they took away the baby I birthed. Yet the god sent you in his place, and you have proven a blessing in disguise. Always look out for your brother and sister, and don't let Aldous wear you down. You are the strongest of my children, remember that.
Richard Stirling - My sweet darling boy, the son of my yearning. You look so much like your father, but you are nothing like him at heart. No one should fear a world where you are king.
Eleanor Stirling - Daughter, I wish I knew you better. You are the spitting image of me, yet I can't seem to get through to you. There is something in your nature which eludes me. Perhaps it comes from your father... sometimes I don't understand him either. But throwing a tantrum is no way to solve it, young lady. I suppose I should find it ironic that Aldous spoils you. At least I can say you are a princess, through and through.

Clara Richter - My godmother. Of her I knew even less than Kemet, yet I also placed my trust in her. She came to my aid numerous times and watched over me when I labored, yet I can't help feeling she wasn't thinking of me at all when she suggested the changeling arrangement. I understand her pain and confusion over what happened with her husband, but she behaved callously. Now the son of my body is in her care, she who could never bear children of her own... I hear she and Kemet have since separated. A shame that my boy should grow up without a father to look up to.
Leon Gorrister - This is the man who brought me into the world. And what a life he has lived, full of such adventure! They say he is the last of the paladins, and he commands the knights like a hero out of legend. Yet he is humble to the point of self-effacement. Would that there were more men like him in the world.

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