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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. She and her siblings were taken prisoner and held at Carthmere for the duration of the war. When King Aldous emerged victorious, he married Laura in order to obtain her fortune, but initially refused to make her his queen, as his mother still held the position. When the Tyran region broke out in open rebellion, apparently angered by the treatment of their former sovereign's daughter, Aldous was convinced to amend this and crowned Laura as his co-regent.

A controversial figure during her reign, Laura earned the moniker of "queen of peace" for her efforts to end the Fifth Exekian War, which included offering herself and the heir to the throne up as hostages of the enemy. This event was interpreted to be the fulfillment of a prophecy given to Dagda Vormund, making Laura a venerated religious figure among the Vormundists, but many considered it a traitorous and abominable action.

Her legacy was further complicated by accusations that her children were illegitimate and therefore had no true claim to the throne. Regardless, Laura's descendants hold the throne to this day.

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 Leonard Gorrister, the son of a local midwife. Leonard 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 complications shortly after she was born.

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 reached them soon after, and Gavin decided to leave Laura 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 more heirs, 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 usually declined these offers, except for one from the king requesting they agree to eventually have her marry his eldest son Aldous (or, in the event that Aldous died before he came of age, Laura would marry his second son, Claudius). Gavin felt that he could not refuse the king, whom he wished to please, and so he agreed to the arrangement.

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 Albrecht, her father's falconer, who humored her gift-giving and girlish affections.

Later that year, King Tristan visited Isidore along with his family. Laura was told by her governess Tamara that she would be presented formally to Prince Aldous, the man whom she would 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 son Aldous, who was in favor of a genocidal war of the Exekians and harbored a deep loathing for the Vormundists. Gavin refused to swear fealty to Aldous, finding him unfit to be king, and attempted to terminate the betrothal between him and Laura. The War of Succession broke out when Gavin Zosimus and several other lords 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 for battle, 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 politics, 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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Laura is taken by boat across the river to Carthmere.

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, including her stepsister Melanie.

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, where they were expected to placidly await their fate.

Life at Carthmere

After another failed escape attempt, Laura was kept under heavy guard and forbidden to go beyond 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 personal handmaiden, Hera O'Leary. Her treatment, which was more lenient and luxurious than Melanie's, indicated that Aldous still intended to marry her at the end of the war - a prospect she found unbearable.

Laura and Melanie, who had been abused by Aldous' men and was mistreated at court, began to drift apart. Thus, it came as something of a shock to Laura 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 Dr. Eugene Benedict, one of the few people who seemed genuinely kind at court. While she tried to suppress her feelings, she rapidly became infatuated with "Gene". As her impending marriage to Aldous loomed, Laura tried to convince the doctor to run away with her, but he refused as he did not return her feelings.

The Seven Days' Queen

Three years after Laura was captured, the war was beginning to wind down. With his armies decimated, Prince Claudius had gone into hiding. Aldous remained preoccupied with finding his brother and neutralizing the threat he posed. Meanwhile, his uncle Sebastian schemed to have his daughter Frances declared queen in his absence. Frances was even younger than Laura 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 her 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 again approached Dr. Benedict with the idea of eloping with him. This time, Laura was the one who was reluctant, 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 marry Aldous as a matter of survival. She gave birth to her first child, Tristan Stirling II, within the first year of her marriage. Now with an heir, Aldous seemed satisfied and left Laura alone, preferring the company of his mistress.
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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 four year old Tristan with him. Wanting to protect her son, Laura insisted upon coming along. 

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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 Leonard Gorrister (now a paladin) which fought to protect the Exekians.

Living in a bivouac with her son, 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 with Tristan in tow, arriving at Heliobas in the middle of the night.

Under the protection of Kemet, she was placed in one of the fortress' towers, where Clara visited with her. Both Tristan and Laura became ill during their willing captivity. As her fever stretched on into a third day, a desperate Clara traveled to the camp and convinced Dr. Benedict to come with her. Under the physician's care, Laura recovered.

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 heir) back. Negotiations were made to stop the fighting in exchange for their safe return.

Anticipating that Aldous would not honor the agreement, Clara suggested that Laura leave Tristan 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 carrying 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. Instead he spat in Laura's face and shouted, "You gave up your own child to these animals. What kind of mother are you?"

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 another 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.

Eleanor, Laura's only daughter, was born when she was twenty-nine.

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.

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

She and the doctor 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. 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 quite 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. Still, she endeavored not to become passive and docile even as she retreated to the solitude of her own thoughts and the confidences of a handful of close friends.

During the Fifth Exekian War, the spark of courage and rebellion was reignited in her. Disobeying Aldous 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.

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 Benedict - 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. I admire his intelligence and knowledge. On the other hand, many of his personal views and personality traits bother me. I don't think either one of us truly understands the other, and yet I fell in love with him so easily... does this mean my feelings for him are superficial? Have I simply fallen victim to his charms, turning every small act of kindness into a grand gesture of affection? More importantly, does he feel the same way toward me as I feel toward him?
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.
Albrecht - My father's falconer. Handsome and sweet-natured, 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 Albrecht 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, but he couldn't overcome his own personal weakness even for the love of his wife.
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. 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.
Leonard 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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