Prologue-Twelve Years Ago-Part 3
Here is the next part of the Wildrose prologue. Sorry it took so long. This features the perspective of the main character’s mother and surrogate father. You may want to note that every detail is a hint at what may happen in the future. I’ve tagged all the people from GK and TPS, and if you are in that category and want to be tagged beyond the prologue, please say so. Oh yeah, it’s five parts now. Constructive criticism welcome, if you want me to tag, just ask:
In a lonely cottage in the middle of the Woods, Cateline Akirahin and Mirella Sader were preparing dinner.
The couple discussed trivialities. Cateline wondered vaguely whether another trip to the market was due, while Mirella gushed enthusiastically about the wonderful welcome home dinner their daughter would receive.
“Oh, it won’t be as fancy as her school meals,” said Mirella with an eyeroll, “but she was never a complainer. I hope she hasn’t got too used to castle life. That would be a shame.”
“Have you heard of her ranks though?” Cateline said brightly. “Dean Kinjari sent me a wonderful letter detailing all of her achievements. Do you know, she’s on track to be Class Captain!”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, cherie, but you fuss over her ranks far too much. Relax, my love.”
“How can I relax?” Cateline said passionately. “Our daughter cannot end up a tumbo tree! She deserves so much better than that. She has always deserved so much better than that.”
“I’m aware ma flamme éternelle, but all the same, she needs time to be an Evergirl.”
“Ma, I agree with Mom. You do need to stress out less.” a voice said. Wife and wife turned to find their teenage daughter grinning at them, finger glowing rose red.
“Really dear, how did you manage to sneak in so quietly?” Mirella asked, impressed.
“Advanced concealment spells in Surviving Fairytales.” their daughter said proudly. She hugged her mothers tightly, first Cateline, then Mirella.
“It’s been so long.” a misty-eyed Mirella said, brushing fiery red hair from her daughter’s face.
“Not long enough.” Cateline interjected. “Didn’t Dean Kinjari host a Trial-by-Tale simulation for interested students who didn’t mind coming home a few hours late?”
“Mo-ther.” the girl said, rolling her eyes. “Can I have five seconds to breathe?”
“Sweetheart, your mother has a point.” Mirella reminded her daughter. “How was your first couple of months at school, my princesse petit?”
“It was great, Mom.” she said. “I mean, there’s this one boy, Conor, who’s…” their daughter blushed.
“Well, dear,” Cateline said, resuming her furious chopping of vegetables, “The last two people on Earth whom you ought to be hashing out boy trouble with is us.”
“Agreed.” Mirella stated. “You can’t expect your poor mothers to know anything about boy-girl romance, darling.”
“I know.” their daughter said. “But, do you guys have tips anyway?”
“Um, summon flowers from thin air to make him giggle?” Mirella suggested.
“Give him expensive jewelry and perfumes to impress him?” Cateline cut in.
“Sweetie, we’re just kidding.” Mirella said. “Just be honest and be yourself. If he can’t accept that, you don’t need him.”
While Mirella whisked their daughter aside to teach her a few spells, Catleine finished preparing the dinner. It was pretty good, if she did say so herself. First up came rice in creamy coconut curry, with sliced plantains and shrimp infused with wine sauce. Then there was a rich, hearty veal piccata, followed by spicy lamb sandwiches. For dessert there was a mèlange of sugared fruits slathered in honey, and hot, right out of the oven apple pie with cool, sweet vanilla ice cream. After the lavish supper, when the pitcher of golden-rose milk was empty and the dishes lay in the sink, the whole family found themselves in the kind of lazy stupor that you often find yourself in after a fulfilling meal. Mirella yawned hugely.
“Well, Cate,” she said, “Should we head to bed?”
“Sure.” Cateline replied. She glanced at her daughter. “Darling, I made your bed. Tomorrow I expect you to be at your desk studying for the Trial by Tale by sunnup, understood?”
“Ma.” her daughter moaned in sheer exasperation. She trooped up the stairs, and as she reached the top step, she turned to her mothers. “Love you, Mom.”
Spears of white light began to slice through the scene, and suddenly Cateline felt as though she was seeing her daughter for the first time, with her caramel skin, glossy black hair, and shimmering gray eyes, their little girl smiling down at her as white streaks erased her away.
“Love you, Ma.”
Princess Cateline blinked blearily. It was so bright. It was-noon? Judging by the rustling lace curtains and the pinkish gray skirt that swished out the door, a maid had just yanked open the windows.
“Did you sleep well?” King Chase asked.
“I-” she struggled to explain. “I had a dream, about, well, it was confusing.” She squinted, trying to remember all of the details. Who was Dean Kinjari? What was Surviving Fairytales? A Class Captain? Trial by Tale? Why would her daughter live in a castle? All of it was so fuzzy and ambiguous, and the only thing she could really remember was how her daughter looked.
“Really?” King Chase asked. “What was it about?”
“Well, my daughter, who at the time was a teenager, had just come back from a…place? She was apparently on track to be a-what did I call it?” What truly unsettled Cateline was how in the dream, she spoke with such certainty, as though she knew and understood everything she was talking about. The disgraced ex-queen shook her head. “Nevermind. So, Chase, you wanted to know about Ezran?”
“But, Chase,” Cateline whispered, “Before I tell you what happened, you have to promise to tell no one. Not even my daughter.”
“But doesn’t she deserve to know her story?” the king asked. “And also, why shouldn’t you tell her?”
“She-she will be happier not knowing what her mother left behind.” Cateline croaked hoarsely. “And Chase-what you need to understand is that though I don’t love you, I know, that because of all you have done for me, I can be sure that you are my friend.” The princess spoke faster now, as though she thought a faster confession would carry with it less pain. “And as your friend, I am compelled to-to tell you the truth.” The young mother’s sick body shook with sobs, as she looked into the king’s eyes, seeking comfort, someone to relieve her from her emotional agony. “Chase, I’m dying.”
“What?” he said in shock. “No!” the King of Maidenvale yelled with such force that a maid scurried in, only to be shooed away impatiently by the king. “It…it can’t be true.” he continued weakly. “Cateline, tell me it isn’t true.”
“I’m sorry, Chase, but it is.” she told him glumly. “You probably have no idea how I became poisoned.”
“I swallowed a few dozen moonberries.”
“Why would you do that, Cateline?” the young king cried. “Why would you commit suicide? Don’t you love your daughter?”
“How dare you suggest that I would willingly leave my baby?” Cateline snapped, some color returning to her ghostly pale cheeks, voice no longer soft and wispy. “I had no choice! I had been bitten by a group of werewolves, and if I wanted my daughter to be saved from the same fate, all I could do was kill myself. So don’t even try to imply that I was somehow trying to free myself from the stress and pressure, that I would ever give up on my baby, when my daughter is the sole reason I’m even in this room.”
The king exhaled. “I’m sorry.” he said. “But still, if you are going to die, it is imperative that someone tells her.”
“Trust me, Chase, she’ll be happier unaware of her past, free from the burdens imposed by her blood.”
“Okay.” he sighed. “I can respect that.
“Chase, I’ve only told this story to one other person. But it seems crucial that before I die, someone knows what exactly happened. That is why I’m telling you. But I can’t if you don’t promise to never repeat it to anyone else. Swear to me.”
The young mother exhaled. She had been unsure that King Chase would agree. “Wonderful.” she said. “What do you want to know?”
“You were married to King Ezran, and went to live with him in his castle. What happened over there?”
Cateline shuddered. “I-” Horrible, graphic, blood.y images flashed through her mind, and she was almost glad she wasn’t upright, as she may have collapsed from the rush of memories. The princess took a deep breath. “The first night, a maid entered my bedroom. She called herself Tessa, and was about fifteen years older than me at the time, a woman of 28 or 29. I asked her, (rather rudely) what business she had entering the bedroom of the Queen. The maid raised her scarred and bloodied face, and I recoiled in shock. ‘To warn you.’ she replied.”
“The maid said that she was Lady Tessa, daughter of the Duke and Duchess Hawkes. I was stunned. ‘Really?’ I had asked in shock. ‘Then why are you a maid?’. Tessa laughed bitterly. She explained that she had been married off to then-Prince Ezran. Upon her arrival, Prince Ezran’s first wife, Diedere, as in the famous Princess Diedere of Westeros, entered Tessa’s bedchambers in the same way Tessa had entered mine. Diedere had told Tessa she was the eighth wife of Prince Ezran, and that once the prince was done with Tessa, the marriage would be annulled, and she would be enslaved like all of Ezran’s other ex-wives.”
“‘How many of you women are there?’ I had whispered to Tessa. ‘Ten so far.’ she’d said. She informed me that only Diedere and herself would ever help me, and that all of the other enslaved ex-wives were either resentful of me for having what they believed was theirs or had a misplaced loyalty to Ezran. ‘Do not trust that man.’ she had warned me. Then she told me she had to leave. Lowly scullery maids such as herself were apparently not supposed to enter the chambers of the princess, and the punishment for illegal entry into the Royal Keep was too severe. After all, Ezran would hate it if his wife knew about her future as one of his slaves. ‘How did you even get here?’ I had inquired. Tessa had smiled wryly. ‘Sometimes, when he’s bored, Ezran orders some of his exes into his bedroom…’ the former noblewoman sighed. ‘Nevermind. I shouldn’t rob you of your innocence, my dear, even if you won’t be having much of that in the days to come. Good night.’ ”
“After Tessa had slipped out of the room, I curled up on my bed to cry. You can only imagine how terrified I was at the time. Here I was, a thirteen year old girl, doomed to a life of misery, abuse, and slavery. It was so unfair! I had done nothing to deserve this, I had done everything right, and here I was, the lapdog of a vicious tyrant! I cried myself to sleep.”
“The next morning, after breakfast I was summoned to the throne room. Ezran beckoned me to his side, and as his arm encircled my waist tightly, and I had to fight as hard as I could my instinct to run away screaming. I knew there was no point in resisting-the price was too great.”
“A group of sorceresses entered the throne room. The Sisters of the Soli Reginae Sanguine, they called themselves. They wore red robes of varying deepness, which I later learned indicated rank, along with matching hoods that kept their faces in partial shadow. At the front and center was a woman dressed in what looked like black, although when it caught the sunlight was revealed to have a reddish tint to it. She was clearly the leader, as her robes were also woven with thin gold threads at the edges and embroidered with tiny starlike diamonds, and instead of the high restrictive neckline, it was cut in more open style, revealing a stunning necklace of rubies that glowed as though lit by a fire from within. She also wore, as opposed to an opaque hood, a diaphanous veil of reddish black lace that flowed down to her ankles.”
“After exchanging pleasantries, Ezran and the High Sorceress exited to a side chamber, leaving me with the other sorceresses. ‘So,’ I said nervously, ‘Who are all of you?’”
“‘We are a centuries old sisterhood of sorceresses who act as your husband’s humble servants. My queen.’ a hooded figure in mahogany replied, the last two words edged with poorly concealed disdain.‘Our duties concern casting spells, killing rivals, and ensuring the eventual and well-deserved takeover of the Thirteen Kingdoms by His Most Wondrous Majesty, King Ezran.”
“‘Oh, that’s-that’s lovely.’ I replied weakly. ‘Well, if no one minds, I’ll just take a quick walk.’ As I made for the door, I was hit by a blast of painful violet light.”
“‘But we do mind, milady.’ a woman in wine said smoothly. ‘If you wish to take a walk, you shall be supervised-sorry, attended by one of our acolytes. She nodded at one of the girls in the back.”
“A teenage girl of about fifteen stepped forward wearing rose colored robes. She bowed low, and followed me out the door. ‘So, um, what’s your name?’ I had asked her nervously, trying to make conversation as my tutors had trained me. Of course, that wasn’t supposed to apply to servants, but I had a feeling these sorceresses, in particular their leader, were far more than servants to King Ezran.”
“‘Mirella, Your Majesty.’ she replied. ‘Mirella Sader.’”
“Wait a second. Mirella Sader?” King Chase asked in shock, interrupting Cateline’s story for the first time.
“Yes.” Cateline said in mild surprise. “Why?”
“Oh, nevermind.” he said hastily. “It’s just, here in the Endless Woods, that name belongs to a-how should I say this?- a very important family. But really, it’s nothing. Please, do continue.”
“Very well. I asked Mirella, rather timidly, how she became a sister. Mirella let out a deep, throaty laugh which seemed disproportionate to her slender stature, and that for some reason sent a surge of delight coursing through my body. ‘If you don’t mind me saying, milady, you don’t seem to know very much about your husband. ’ she chuckled. ‘Unlike most organizations,’ the acolyte said, turning serious, ‘Membership in the Sisterhood is not determined by wealth or status. Rather, all who wish to join may come to the Towers to participate in a series of Trials to determine whether or not they are worthy to don the Red Robe. The location of the Towers and the challenges in the Trials are a closely guarded secret known only to the Sisters and King Ezran. All who fail shall die a most miserable death.” she declared in a spooky voice, maintaining a haughty expression for ten seconds straight before dissolving into a fit of giggles.”
“‘And why did you participate in Trials?’ I had asked, partially out of curiosity and partially out of relief that there was at least one nice girl my age that I could talk to. The young acolyte sighed.”
“‘Well, as you might have guessed, Your Grace, I-I wasn’t exactly born into money.’ Mirella admitted, adjusting her hood. “My father left me and my mother when I was just a baby, and my mother, Berengaria of Hurklensanaut, was shunned by her local village for being a Mage, someone trained in the magical arts, and the two of us stayed in an icy stone house that grew hot in the summers and cold in the winters, with grime covered windows and the horrible smell of ghastly potion ingredients. Though her love for me compelled her to give up witchcraft, it came at a cost. You see, in our world, truly pure magic comes in two Reflections, Lux and Tenebris, four Classes (Regium, Bellator, Medicus, and Nequam), and seven Elements: Solis, Oceanum, Lunae, Stellaire, Caelum, Terra, and Naturae.”
“‘What?’ I had said in confusion. ‘I’m sorry, a princess doesn’t usually receive magical education.’”
“‘That’s alright.’ the junior sorceress said patiently. ‘An Element is a form of magic, a reflection is the side of the element, and a class is basically one style of a kind of Elemental magic. The two Reflections are Light and Dark, the Classes are Regal, Warrior, Healer, and Rascal, and the Elements are Sun, Moon, Stars, Sky, Earth, Ocean, and Nature. So there’s actually a total of 56 distinct types of pure magic.’”
“‘So your mother practiced the Dark side of magic and became evil?’ I guessed.”
“‘The thing is, the Dark Reflection isn’t necessarily the evil one.’ the acolyte corrected gently. ‘It’s just the one with dangerous power that can be used for both good and evil. For example, Light Sky Warrior magic is all about safety, like summoning a gust of wind to blow you and your friends to safety, whereas Dark Sky Magic could be something like shooting lightning bolts in order to impede a crazy evil dragon who wants to burn down your town. Dark magic is really just the side of an Element that isn’t tame and docile. The truly important thing to remember is balance. If you only practice Dark magic, you may begin to see violence as the ultimate solution and grow dependent on your power, whereas if you only practice Light magic, though you will never risk going power-hungry, when the time comes to fight evil, when you’re pushed against the wall and have no escape and are about to be killed, you will not be able to fight back.’”
“‘Thank you, teacher.’ I said jokingly. ‘So,’ I said, growing serious, ‘What did happen to your mother?’”
“‘Well, you see- that was pure magic.’ Mirella said. She hesitated. ‘I’m not sure if I should tell you this, my queen.’”
“‘Please do.’ I insisted.”
“‘You see, 500 years ago, the High Sorceress herself discovered a-a third Reflection. Well, not exactly a Reflection. Rather, another, another form of magic. Twisted Magic.’ Mirella said slowly. She sighed. ‘I’m sorry, it’s just, I’m not supposed to be…’ she trailed off. ‘Nevermind. Dark Magic and Light Magic are both Pure Magic, by-products of ancient laws essential to the fabric of both our world and-’, she paused giving me an odd glance before she spoke with an air of careful deliberation, ‘And any potential worlds beyond it. After all, a fundamental principle of our universe is that you cannot have light without shadow. However, somehow, Her Most Mystic Fantasticness discovered another Reflection. Instead of being organized elegantly into Classes and Elements, Twisted Magic instead comprised raw, untamed power. This power came from extracting the life force of any plant, animal, or person that possessed even a shred of elemental power. According to Her Illustriousness’ research, it could then be reconverted into Twisted Elements and Classes, although Twisted Classes are a little different. My mother was one of the High Sorceress’ most devoted disciples, a practitioner of a kind of Twisted Earth Poisoner brand of magic. The thing about Twisted magic is that it is not in accordance with the laws of our realms’ magic. Light magic and Dark magic are mere components of nature, and a body suffers no adverse effects from the usage of them. However, Twisted magic, on the other hand, possesses…certain side effects. It in a way poisons the soul, corrupting the user so that he or she grows increasingly unhinged and ***** on power, dependent on the constant draining of others’ life force. When one stops using it after decades, the withdrawal often results in…’ the hooded maiden choked, as though she couldn’t bring herself to say it, and I found myself squeezing her hand tightly. After a few seconds of silence, she continued. ‘Though my mother had her faults, in the end all she was was a woman who wished she could have had another chance. The last words she said to me were ‘Don’t repeat my mistakes.’”
“‘But Mirella,’ I asked in confusion, ‘Why are you a part of the Sisters?’”
“The girl stiffened, pulling her hood over herself more tightly. ‘It’s complicated.’ she replied coldly.’You wouldn’t understand.’ We walked in a chilly silence before she apparently decided that perhaps I would understand. ‘Look, Queen Cateline, not every woman was born royalty. Some of us are from humbler origins. Though a peasant man might, through sheer luck and cleverness, gain some status and respect, a commoner girl like myself has only two options. Since I had no interest in wedding some ghastly old nobleman and becoming basically his property under the law, I had only one choice.’”
“‘But was it truly worth it?’ I inquired. ‘You admitted that Twisted magic could poison the soul. Surely it would be safer to go for older, ancient, Pure magic.’”
“Mirella laughed bitterly. ‘Your Majesty, the last true Pure mage died 600 years ago, around the same time that Twisted magic started to rise. Everything I told you came from forbidden texts that if anyone finds out I’ve read, well, it was nice knowing you. Being at the top, you may not be aware of this, but in the Thirteen Kingdoms, a woman has very few ways to move up in the world. Some, like you, get to be queens, while others, such as myself, have to find peace and stability in…other ways. Besides, what choice did I have? After Mother died, due to my blood, not even the village orphanage would take me in. In addition, my mother’s servants Zaref, Valerius, Absinthe, and Misaja, saw no reason to continue defending, serving, and caring for both Rosethorn, the cold stone residence on the edge of the wood my mother owned, or Rosethorn’s heiress, me. Since whatever mage they had required safety from was long dead and they owed the debt to my mother, not to me, I was left to maintain my family’s ancestral estate all by myself. It might have worked okay, and I may have been able to survive. But one day, a representative of our province’s Lord came to my house. He held up a fancy piece of parchment which I was incapable of reading, having never been allowed in the local girls’ schoolhouse. He asked me if I knew what it said, and after struggling for a few seconds to make out the strange symbols written in glossy griffin-claw ink, with embarrassment I shamefully admitted I did not. He informed me, with incredible condescension, that since I had not paid the royal and provincial taxes for two years, I would be evicted from the place that had been my home all my life. I pleaded, begged, promised to give anything and everything if they would only let me stay at my mother’s house. But to no avail. Before I knew it, I was a seven year old on the streets, struggling to survive, incapable of seeing even a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Until…she came, on the day I turned thirteen.’”
“‘Who?’ I asked Mirella, knowing the answer perfectly well.”
“‘The High Sorceress.’ she said. ‘As I sat on the curb of the market, well-dressed passerby avoiding my pleading gaze, a woman enrobed in black with the barest hint of red breezed past me. Not saying a word, she dropped a bunch of ruby red coins in the palm of my hand. I was at once disappointed. I couldn’t even buy a loaf of bread with this money, if it could even be called that. Yet as I threw the money onto the ground in disgust, an inscription gleamed on the coins, flashing brilliantly. My curiosity piqued, I gave my whole dinner to a boy who knew how to read in exchange for him decoding the words. The message she gave me was:
Through the mighty green forest, past the rivers of filth and debris,
Over and ‘round the mountains, at the edge of the land and the sea
Lies seven magnificent towers, a world of magic and power
Where those worthy of freedom shall be freed.’”
“‘Wow.’ I said, attempting to keep up with Mirella’s brisk pace. Curse those stupid gowns! ‘So, what did you do?’”
“‘Well,’ said Mirella, clearly sweating under her thick red robes, ‘It turned out there were also coordinates. Latitude and longitude. Now, my mother, despite her vow to never use magic again, did give me a little bit of training in arts that weren’t strictly magical but were generally studied by mages, such as navigation. No,’ she said in amusement at the expression on my face, ‘I can’t tell you where exactly the Towers are located. I’m not in the mood to get executed today. But long story short, after making my way over to the coordinates, I discovered I had arrived just in time for the Trials. Given my mother’s extensive training, I performed fairly well on the non magical components, allowing me to gain a place as a junior acolyte, with robes of the palest garnet. I was instructed not just in magic but in reading, allowing me to gain access to a whole world of noble knights and wicked assassins and fair forest maidens. I was overjoyed. How on earth was Mother’s usage of magic a mistake? One night, after a feast with then-Prince Ezran and Princess Diedere, I took a wrong turn and found myself in the private study of the High Sorceress. Now, my first inclination was of course to leave; not only did I adore the High Sorceress, but the punishment for being caught involved the loss of a few vital organs. But as I turned to rush out, I noticed a leather bound book with the words A History of Elemental Magic in the Thirteen Kingdoms by a man called August Sader, emblazoned in gold lettering. Now, according to my mother, my father’s surname was Sader, and if I tried asking about how he was like, I would promptly receive a smack. My curiosity aroused, I walked over, opening the book. You see, we had been taught that elemental magic was the worst form of magic possible, one practiced only by the vilest people in the Thirteen Kingdoms. So why would the High Sorceress ever possess a book on it? My curiosity got the best of me, and I walked over and opened the book.’”
“Instead of words, there were dots. I fell into despair. You see, I thought I had become an excellent reader, but when I saw these dots, I was stumped. Figuring that it would cause me no harm, I pressed one of the dots. A burst of white light surged through the creamy paper, forming into a misty scene whose imagery reminded me of a painting I had seen sometime long ago. A gentle voice, that of a male, filled the chamber. Everything I have told you about magic I got from the book. But there was more. According to the book, other worlds existed. Some possessed magic, others did not. Some were separated only by thin veils that could be easily evaded with the right ancient spell. Others required the usage of portals and relics in order to gain entry. Some only permitted those who were born of it to ever enter. Many are separated by uncrossable divides, unbreakable barriers. Worlds can merge, and worlds can separate, though the former is often just more of one magical world being discovered. According to August Sader, whoever he is, though the rules of magic in different worlds may vary, all things that can be considered magic are defined by a few unalterable laws.’”
“‘What are these laws?’ I asked Mirella in a hushed voice.”
“‘I don’t know.’ Mirella confessed. ‘I heard the High Sorceress coming down the hall with a few of her top-ranked attendants and promptly closed the book shut and rushed down a back exit. I believe that Her Eminence suspected something, as when I snuck back in a week later, the book had disappeared.’”
“‘Wow.’ I had said, my head spinning. After all, Chase, you must understand it seemed utterly ludicrous to my thirteen year old self. Other worlds? Elemental magic? Mysterious all-knowing sorcerers? As we headed back to the throne room, I wondered, not for the last time, whether or not this was one of Ezran’s cruel games. Still, there was only one question on my mind.’”
“‘Mirella, can I join the Sisterhood?’ I asked. ‘I know it’s evil, but I don’t care. I want power, I want freedom, and I don’t care what I have to do to get it. Look,’ I said quickly, struggling to decipher the expressions flitting across my new friend’s shadowed face, ‘I know you think we princesses and queens have all the power, but in reality we are treated with even less respect and are restricted to a far greater degree than the average working girl. I didn’t ask to be born royalty. I didn’t do anything to deserve marrying a monster. Please, could you try and convince the High Sorceress to take me in?’”
“‘The soft, pitying kindness of her smile made me aware of her answer before she even opened her mouth. ‘I’m sorry, Queen Cateline.’ Mirella said sincerely. ‘Even if we could somehow overcome the technical and political barriers, I don’t think I could forgive myself if you suffered any of the adverse effects of Twisted Magic described in Sader’s book. I can stand my soul being damaged beyond repair, but, your soul, my queen, is young, and fresh, and is going to be scarred enough by that vile king. Twisted Magic just isn’t for everybody, you know. But-’ she added at my look of despair, ‘Maybe we can, meet tomorrow? If you want to of course.’ she said, suddenly looking extremely nervous. ‘Actually, if you don’t want to, that’s completely fi-’”
“‘I would love to.’ I said, feeling myself go red, though at the time I couldn’t understand why. ‘Royal kitchens?’ Mirella nodded, and under her hood I could see pink spots. ‘Oh, and, Mirella?’ I whispered, right before we reentered the throne room, ‘Could you please not address me as Your Highness?’”
“‘What would you prefer me to call you?’ she whispered back.”
“I paused. I had no nicknames. My family just didn’t do that kind of thing. ‘Cate,’ I whispered as we entered the throne room. ‘Just call me Cate.’”
“As her hand brushed mine oh-so delicately, I felt a kind of electric tingle, a spark of joy and freedom and something else. I looked at Mirella in surprise, but already she was taking her place among the other low-ranked Sisters. My husband strode up to me, an awful gleam in his eyes. “It seems my queen has returned.’ he said with an awful leer, pulling me into a kiss. Get away from me, I wanted to yell. I wanted to tell him to crawl back to the filthy little hole he came from. But if I was to make it to tomorrow night, then I needed to play it safe.”
“After an awkward dinner between me, Ezran, and the High Sorceress, I headed back to my chambers. Though my body longed for sleep, I stayed awake. Sure enough, Tessa came, along with another woman who introduced herself as Diedere. The first thing Diedere asked was why I was smiling so much. ‘I heard you had dinner with the High Sorceress. Smiling would be the last thing I would do.’”
“Barely able to conceal my grin, I told them about Mirella. As I continued talking about my new friend, Tessa and Diedere’s faces grew steadily darker. ‘I don’t like this.’ Tessa said, when I had finished. ‘Cateline, if there’s one thing you need to know about the Sisterhood, it’s impossible to know anything about them. Look, as Ezran’s wife, your only goal is to remain a queen for as long as possible before you become like the rest of us exes. By going to the kitchens you are risking everything. Everything. If it really is a plot, then your best bet is not to go. That way, this Mirella will be punished for spreading gossip, as she is only a junior acolyte.’”
“‘But what if it’s not?’ I asked, upset. I had thought they would react differently. ‘I know you two women have experienced…things that make it difficult for you to trust others, but not everyone is out to get us. Why not trust? Take a chance? Besides, better dead than in this situation.’”
“‘I suppose your precious new friend failed to tell you the history of the Sisterhood.’ Diedere said in an icy voice. ‘You see, they believe in a prophecy. Now, as you may know, the vast majority of these so-called prophecies are merely legends made up by elite families to make themselves more important. Their prophecy is no exception. You see, the Sisters are believers in the Legend of the Blood Sun. I know nothing about the legend, except that it concerns a king who is destined to rule over the whole world. They believe that that king is Ezran, and that the wife who is deemed capable of bearing him a son shall be essential to his power. The only reason he is even keeping you around is so that the second of his conquered kingdoms falls nicely into his lap. No one ever joins the Sisterhood without genuine belief. So whatever this Mirella girl told you, at the end of the day she’s a diehard Ezran loyalist who you had best avoid.’”
“I don’t care!’ I snapped, suddenly losing patience. ‘I am sick of being forced to be silent and submissive. I want to think for myself for once. I am tired and fed up with cowering and bending to the wishes of that vile little **** Ezran. I respect your opinions and advice, but I am going to go to the kitchens tomorrow night anyway, and you can’t change that.’”
“At first, Tessa and Deidere looked stunned, but slowly, Tessa nodded. ‘I see what you mean, Cateline. It is better to die fighting than to live enslaved. I’ll sneak you a knife tomorrow morning, though, just for safety’s sake.’”
“Diedere exhaled. ‘I suppose it’s your choice to make.’ she conceded reluctantly. ‘However, do take care to ensure no one unwanted finds out about your meeting.’”
“On that note, they left my chambers, and I curled into bed. The next morning, I woke up wondering why I felt so happy, when I remembered meeting Mirella yesterday. When the chambermaids entered to change me, I didn’t even bother to fight. After all, nothing mattered as long as I could make it to the kitchens and meet Mirella. When Ezran asked me why I was so happy, I made up some nonsense about a pretty new dress. Finally, after a painfully stiff dinner, I headed to my bedroom, pretending to fall asleep, keeping my stolen steak knife hidden under my chest. At ten to midnight, I stood up, put on a black silk cloak I had discovered in the back of my ballroom-sized closet, and slipped out of the room.”
“For all the terror I had and would experience there, I still could not help but notice how beautiful Ezran’s castle looked at night, moonlight spilling through the tall, elegant windows, the scent of the lavender detergent the Laundry used prevalent. I clutched my knife tightly, adrenaline coursing through my body. What if Tessa and Diedere were right about Mirella? What if it was a trap? I froze at the entrance to the stairway that led down to the scullery. Was this the right decision? Suddenly, I was reminded of the tingle, the burst of joy I had felt upon her touching me? That had to mean something. Taking a deep breath, I entered the empty Scullery.”
“A horrible smell greeted me. A cart of clean dishes stood ready to go by the door, and ***** dishes lay in stacks around the dingy wooden chamber. Two tiny rooms branched out of the main one, the first, judging by the disgusting stench, was the restroom, and from the second came the snores of three or four dozen scullery maids. I felt sick. Was this really what their lives were like, confined to this horrid place at all hours? But still, I felt a surge of delight upon spotting the hooded figure in the middle of the room. ‘Mirella!’ I exclaimed, a sensation erupting in my chest that I had never felt before. What was this strange, nervous giddiness inside of me? ‘You came!’”
“‘Of course I did, Cate.’ she said, in an amused voice. ‘How could I not?’”
“‘No, it’s just-’ I blushed, unsure whether I should continue.”
“‘You thought I was an evil sorceress plotting to enslave you.’ she finished smoothly. I gaped at her in shock. ‘It’s okay. And it was a good idea for you to bring that knife. So…how’s it going?’”
“‘Would you believe me if I said the only good thing about being a Queen is meeting you?’ I asked.”
“‘I know. Being Ezran’s queen is no picnic. I’m sure it must be difficult for you.’ she said sympathetically. A devilish grin began to bloom on the part of her face I could see. ‘You know, maybe what King Ezran needs is a bright young sorceress to teach him a lesson.’”
“‘Mirella, no!’ I said, laughing. ‘I hate my husband, and wouldn’t mind him dead, but it’s not safe for you.’”
“The two of us talked and joked for a few hours, before Mirella glanced up at the narrow shaft of light and gasped. ‘Cate, you need to head back upstairs fast.’ she said. ‘Same time, same place next week?”
“‘Okay.’ I agreed. ‘But before I go, Mirella, can I ask you a question?’”
“‘What is it?’ she said, curious.”
“‘Could you show me your face?’”
“She suddenly stiffened, the hot, boiling room filling with a kind of chill. ‘I-I’m sorry.’ I stammered. ‘I didn’t mean any-’’
“A few dozen wine glasses exploded, momentarily haloing Mirella in shimmering glass dust and fragments. A dove soared down from the rafters, struggling violently against the spell. Slowly, an invisible force squeezed it throats, suffocating it, the sound akin to bones cracking underneath a boot. With a sudden burst of energy, the beautiful creature fought harder, to no avail. Suddenly, the spell stopped. At first I thought it was mercy, but as the little bird fell to the ground dead, I looked up at Mirella in horror. The young sorceress was shaking slowly, her robes suddenly shining scarlet, like blood. Slowly, my friend exhaled, raising her shadowed, hooded face to mine.”
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