an idea that's been plaguing me for a very long time. i hope you all enjoy it and review. i might write more but i want to see the reception before i add more to these first three chapters.

All characters, plot, and places belong to me. Don't steal it!

To Live or To Die

In a time before guns replaced swords and cars replaced horses, there was a country which was a powerhouse of its time. Though an island, it was a nation of strong peoples. Rich in merchandise and growing enough to promise a good future, it was a destination for all. It was also a time before democracy replaced monarchy and the country was ruled by a family called the Argellas'. They were a special group of royalty because, despite being heirs to a nation, they were voted on. The eldest inherited the land and given four years in which to prove that he, or she, was a capable, passionate, and willing ruler. If the populace was not satisfied with their performance as ruler, they could be voted down and the next sibling, sometimes even cousin, was next to prove their worth. It was a good system and the land prospered from it. The ports of Gellas, which was the nation's name, grew and expanded with the export and import of goods, ships sailing into the island's bays at all hours. The ocean around it was always full of white masted ships with their flags waving in the ever present gentle breezes that swarmed it.

It was a beautiful country, a place where the rich could reside in peace and indulge themselves with their money, the middle class could vacation and work, and the poor could come to find work. The image painted of the wonderful island appealed to all. However, despite its outward appearance and sense of peace, the country was not all well.

The Argellas of this time, Roger, who was a direct descendent of the original Argellas, and his wife, Clarissa, had five boys with a sixth child on the way. It was on the day of that sixth's birth when things on the peaceful island began to go wrong.

It started off simply. Clarissa went into labor early in the morning and the midwives took her to her room where she could bear her child in peace. But the birthing would not go well. Everything was going as expected until the contractions began. Clarissa pushed and pushed but no baby came. The midwives tried to help her but nothing happened. There was shouts and cries and to Roger and his sons, the eldest eleven at the time and the youngests, twins, were seven, who were sitting outside in the hallway, the most frightening thing was hearing Clarissa scream for the midwives to get the child out of her before it died. It went on for hours, lasting all day and well into the night. By then, the whole capital city of Latika had heard the news and waited with baited breath for the result of the Queen's birthing. All trade had stopped, even the entertainment and eating houses were closed. No one could work with their Queen's screams on the wind.

Finally, twenty-six hours later, the results came.

Roger and his children hadn't moved from their spots in the hallway and despite trying, had not been able to fall asleep. So when the silence fell in the birthing chamber, they were the first to hear of it. But no baby's cries sounded. They knew the moment they had been waiting for had come and held their breath as the first midwife stepped out.

"The Queen will survive," she said solemnly and they broke out into relieved smiles. She smiled tightly with them though there was a hint of sadness in her aged eyes.

"What of the baby?" Roger asked worriedly once he realized the woman had said nothing of it. The midwife turned her eyes away.

"It is unclear. She is frail and weak and the chances that she will live are low. If she does live, however, it will not be a healthy life, that is what the doctor says." The midwife stepped aside from the door. "But the Queen is calling for you all."

With those words ringing in their ears, the six Argellas murmured their thanks to her and walked in to the Queen's birthing chamber. She was lying on the bed, holding a bundle in her arms as the servants changed the sheets. They tried not to look but it was difficult not to see the red stains of blood on the stark fabric. The Queen made no effort to acknowledge her family, intent on the baby in her arms. Even with her hair plastered to her face and neck with sweat and the tears streaming down her face, she could not give up a moment with her new daughter, who could die in her arms at any moment. The boys didn't know what to do and it was left to Roger for guidance.

Throwing caution into the wind, the King made his way over to his wife and moved her sweaty hair away from her neck, placing a cool hand there. At his contact, Clarissa turned her face toward him and began to sob into his shirt. Roger swallowed his manly pride and wrapped his arms around his weakened wife, supporting her and comforting her in the same breath. Quietly, the boys exchanged glances and made their cautious way over to their mother. Getting onto the bed, they sat around her and looked down on their new sister.

She was small, so small! With a chubby face and skinny fingers, she slept quietly, waking neither to scream for her mother nor to cry for affection. Her skin was rosy, but there was a tinge of paleness that was not healthy. As they watched, she yawned and stretched her little body as far as it could go before opening eyes for the first time that were startlingly gray instead of the trademark Argellas goldish-blue.

"Mother," breathed the third boy, Gary. "Look!"

The Queen stifled her sobs long enough to look at her child and gasped. Though the baby's body was sickly and weak, her eyes were bright, taking in the world with sage like quiet. Her wandering eyes fell upon her mother and the eyes seemed to brighten and smile.

"She's calling for you, Mother," the eldest, Westley, said. Clarissa reached down with experienced hands and pulled her newborn child out of the bundle. The baby gurgled in reply.

"So full of life and so little time to live," Roger murmured as he watched his daughter for the first time.

"She'll live!" Clarissa said fiercely, wrapping protective motherly hands around her child. "She'll live a life if I have anything to say about it."

"Doesn't she need a name to live?" Olly asked, the youngest brother, bending backwards on the bed's frame. His twin, Max, tickled his brother's exposed stomach. Shrieking, Olly came back up. The baby looked at Olly, then at Max, and gurgled again.

"She's a funny baby," said Gary. "Maybe you should call her Clown."

"Or Fuzzy, cause her head's all fuzzy." Max giggled.

But it was the second oldest, Henry, the most studious of them all, that suggested her name. "I think you should call her Charlotte, because it means free. And that's what she is. Free to live or not. It's her choice."

"I think that's a wonderful name, Henry!" Clarissa exclaimed. "Then that's her name, Charlotte." She raised the baby to eye level. "You hear that, little one? Your name is Charlotte."

"And a good name it is," Roger said, placing a hand on his wife's shoulder. "Welcome to the Argellas family, Charlotte."

"I'm gonna call her Charlie!" Olly cried.

"Me too!" Max shouted as well, not to be out done by his twin.

"I said it first so I'm the only one who can call her that!"





"Boys," Roger said warningly. Olly and Max stopped arguing, settling on glaring at each other instead.

"Fine," Olly said stiffly. "You can call her Charlie too."

Charlotte lived through the night. And the next, and the next, until all the nexts added up to a week. She wasn't without problems, her weak body wouldn't allow that, but she didn't seem to ever be near death. Soon the week turned into two, then three, and finally a month. After that first month, the healers and midwives who had attended her said she would live, but only to her eighteenth year. Her body was too fragile to hold on farther and she would always be in danger of dying. They also warned that Charlotte would always be unwell and it would be best to keep her in a rolling chair. Though it would be restrictive, her life would have a better chance of lengthening.

Charlotte herself was a very agreeable child. Even as a baby, she didn't complain at the healers' poking and prodding and took her medicines without coughing them back up. Clarissa didn't leave her side, always afraid she would miss her little girl's last moments. Roger was with her when he could but he was often called away to attend to stately matters and to tutor the boys in matters of kingship. Sometimes, Clarissa would bring Charlotte to Roger at his meetings and she would sit on her father's lap, watching the meeting with clear eyes and looking at the face of people who spoke.

The boys were smitten with her and despite Olly's protests, the name Charlie stuck. Charlotte was too big a mouthful and too proper a name for the easy going sickly baby girl. And as time wore on, her personality didn't match the elegance of the name either.

Charlotte never learned to walk, only crawl, before she was ordered by her doctors to use the rolling chair specially made for her. But the fact that someone always was with her, usually her guards, Alex and Michael, and the servant who doubled as a emergency doctor, Jeffery, didn't stop her from disappearing and returning hours later on horseback, face a flush with giddiness. Or found asleep on the floor of a fencing room, sword across her lap. Or sometimes, even in the kennels, playing with the dogs. Clarissa and Roger would only grin at her and tell her not to run off but it was her brothers who seemed to be the stand in parents of those types of situations. Westley was always the first to hear of it and would storm off to get his counterparts, even when he was in the middle of a lesson. Then the five of them would go off on a huff and tell Charlie that she was endangering her life, she should be more careful, and so on and so forth. Charlie would only smile and nod and the next day the same thing would occur again. Alex, Michael, and Jefferey could often be seen running around, looking for the gray eyed, brown haired, princess.