It tore through the air like a cat’s claws through tree bark. A scream. A wretched, ear-prickling scream.
I was nibbling on my favorite grass by the stream that fine afternoon—lying in my favorite clearing, the sun bathing my perfectly white coat—when the desperate squeal annihilated my peace. I raised my head and perked my ears, hoping I wouldn’t hear it again so that I could ignore it and go about enjoying my lunch.
My time belonged solely to me. I did with it what I chose, and I chose to keep things simple—as simple as they possibly could be. My life had been complicated before, but now I was carefree and I spent my days in the sweet solitude I was entitled to. Saving damsels in distress was written into my DNA, but I found fair maidens to be rather conceited and annoying. I avoided rescuing them whenever I could.
To say I was irritated when that scream stung my ears again would be an understatement. I rolled my eyes as it struck my heart with an instinctive obligation to do something. Snatching one last mouthful—the last mouthful—of that delicious grass, I leapt up and bounded off in the direction from whence the screaming came. I hoped I wouldn’t regret it.
My mother taught me to always look where I was running. It was a lecture I endured several times a day as a filly, usually after my hard head bonked against her knees. Compared to my mother’s poise and grace, I was a complete klutz. I would never accept that though, even after I ran head-on into a princess that afternoon. I doubted I’d ever be able to swallow again. I choked, gasped, and coughed—the princess flew back and tumbled to the fern-covered ground where she rolled several times before stopping at a tree’s trunk.
As soon as I caught my breath, I glared at the frazzled, gowned girl. “Why would you do that?” I rasped, neck stretched out in an attempt to make breathing easier. I felt like a stone was blocking my airway.
“Me—you!” she stood, breathing hard, not even bothering to look at the individual with whom she spoke. She frantically brushed dead leaves from her dress. Her efforts were futile. The prissy pink gown was plagued with smears of dirt and smudges of green. One cannot merely brush away stains. I know because white coats aren’t easily maintained, even with the help of a little magic.
I watched her pull her tangled blond hair away from her soiled face and cram it behind her small ears. She flicked her brown eyes up at me, finally recognizing me for what I was. “Why—you’re a unicorn!”
I lifted up my head and held my shoulders taut. “And you’re filthy,” I snorted in reply.
Damsels in distress weren’t the only people I tried to avoid—I avoided contact with any and all humans. It had been fifty years since I had spoken to one. Or had it been longer? I allowed myself to get distracted for a few seconds while I tried to remember the last human I had spoken to. A flurry of blurred faces flashed through my mind.
“I’m a princess!” She stamped her petite bare foot into the spongy ground. “Ouch!” she shrieked. She grabbed her right foot and plucked out a small thorn. “You must help me.”
I stared at her as her chest rose and sank with her swift breaths. She had said no ‘please’ and offered no ‘thanks in advance for taking the time to help me.’ She seemed to be exactly like every other princess I had ever met in my eight-hundred years: quick to make assumptions, selfish, proud, and spoiled.
“Were you the one screaming?” I asked.
“Well, good luck then.” I scanned our surroundings with my keen eyes. They had the ability to see what mortal human eyes were incapable of seeing. There was a hog searching for mushrooms about half a mile away, but she’d be harmless so long as the princess kept away from her three screeching piglets. I started to walk away. “I see no immediate danger, so I’ll just be on my way—”
“Hey, wait! Aren’t you supposed to help fair maidens?”
I turned back and looked her over. I tilted my head to one side. “Yeah…if you were fair,” I snickered, swishing my gorgeous, silky tail at her. I was, of course, lying, because as much as I’d like to deny it, she was fair. Underneath all that filth, there was indeed a beautiful young lady, probably about sixteen years old, which coincidentally would be about as old as I would be if I were human. A unicorn knows beauty when one sees it. But she interrupted me. As a general rule, unicorns are interruption-intolerant. My brothers, cousins, and uncles would’ve tolerated it because of her beauty, but I had no weakness for fair maidens. My innate responsibility to help them when they stood in need was the only reason I gave them any thought at all.
“Well, you must help me, you must!” she said. I dreaded the sound of her footsteps following behind me as I walked away. Each crunching branch caused my eardrums to hum. Her intermittent cries of pain sounded like a strange bird’s strange song as she hobbled along.
“Look, I’m retired—go find someone else to help you,” I groaned, snatching a tender fern and chewing it. It wasn’t as tasty as I was hoping it’d be, so I allowed the green mush to drop from my mouth. If my mother had seen it, she would probably have me thrown into the Abyss: a never-ending hole and the ultimate punishment for horrendous deeds. As the bitter taste of the fern lingered in my mouth, I looked forward to the sweet grass that was awaiting me by the stream.
“I don’t have time to find someone else!”
I wished she would stop shouting.
The princess managed to catch up to me and was now walking at my left side. If I had the joints of a cow, I would have loved to side-kick her. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I would never really want to be a cow anyways though, even if my worst enemy was walking beside me. His image flashed before my eyes. I jostled the memory away.
“There’s a witch,” she whispered, “and she’s following me. She wants me dead.”
“Tough,” I said. I was ignoring her. If I had actually been listening well enough to hear the word ‘witch’ come from her pouty lips, I would’ve been fifty-four miles away by that point. Not because I was afraid of witches, but just because witches are an enemy to be taken seriously and I didn’t feel up to a challenge. “Why don’t you just run back to that snazzy castle of yours?” I suggested.
“You know my castle?”
“Duh. Fairwin Kingdom, I’m assuming. You can see it from five-hundred miles away.” I’d never really put my sharp sight to that particular test, but I knew I could see distances of at least one-hundred miles.
“Excellent! That means you can take me there,” she assumed, clapping her delicate hands together before her smiling lips. I eyed her. I personally would never put those black fingernails that close to my face. The disgust made my nostrils flare.
I stopped and gave her my most blatant expression. It makes me feel stupid to give people idiotic expressions, but sometimes a foolish countenance is the only way to get through to daft people. “Do I look like someone who wants to go all the way back there?” I said.
“It’s only ten miles. Besides, do I look like someone who’s asking?” she said. She moved faster than I expected her to. One second she was scowling at me, and the next, she was straddled on my back. I could presume she was an experienced rider. Most royals seemed to be.
“Hey, hey—what do you think you are doing? Nobody rides this unicorn!” I snapped. “Nobody rides any unicorn!” Every muscle in my body prepared to launch her from my back. I knew the tuft of my ultra-smooth mane to which she clung would easily slip between her soft fingers. I imagined a blur of pink flying high into the air, over my head, and onto the ground. I smirked; the image was satisfying.
“I need to get back home and warn everyone before it’s too late,” the princess said.
“Oh, now you need to warn everyone,” I scoffed. My hindquarters were ready to launch. “Where’s this supposed witch of yours?”
“She’s right here,” a creepy hiss seeped like poisonous fumes from behind the trees. All the birds and squirrels, who had been happily singing and chirping in the trees above, dropped silent. One bird even dropped dead. Its body hit the ground with a nearly silent thump. I didn’t know if it was just coincidence or something the witch had done, but I knew enough to know that we were in some serious trouble.
I could feel an icy presence lurking in the shadows. It was enough to make my knees and hocks buckle. I shouldn’t have wasted any time looking for the source of the voice, but I did. I should have accepted the fact that I was a coward and ran away while I still had the chance, but I didn’t. I wanted to be courageous—like I was before. Like I was expected to be.
A hooded, hunched, ancient-looking figure emerged from the trees, a knotted staff clenched in her knobby fingers. Green snot dripped from the tip of her pointy nose. Her black garbs of clothing reeked like the dead. And garlic.
Her deep eye sockets housed two beady eyes the color of rotten cabbage surrounded by yellow retinas. They flicked to me and lingered. She shoved her hood back and grinned, deep wrinkles and crevices forming at every corner of her face. I could smell her foul breath from fifteen feet away and presumed her diet consisted of radish and rotten potatoes. Her hair—what was left of it, that is—was coarse and stringy and black as grease. And greasy as grease, too. She was, quite possibly, the ugliest thing I’d ever laid eyes on. And just like I knew beauty, I unluckily knew its opposite as well.
“Naughty Vivian—I told you there was no escaping me,” she said, shifting her gaze up to the petrified princess. Her voice sounded like there were spikes lining her throat. She cackled.
I pawed at the ground in my most threatening manner, flicking bits of mulch into the air. “Hey, witch, stay away from her or I’ll—”
“I’ve got a better idea,” she interrupted me. I scrambled to find a retort to snap back at her, but she, despite her apparent age, was quicker. “What’s your name?”
I don’t know why I answered her. Probably because I really liked my name. My mother received a lot of praise for thinking of it and naming me so. It was a worthy and valuable name among unicorns. Renowned—if for the wrong reasons. But if a magical creature knows one thing, it’s to never share your name with a stranger, especially if that stranger is a magic-wielding stranger. Names can be powerful things.
The wicked smile she gave us, and that dark twinkle in her eyes, made me realize I had to get out of there if I wanted what was good for me. I whirled around and that silly princess fell off my back. “Oh come on, get back on! Hurry—hurry!” I stammered.
Vivian had only just stood up when the witch started slithering closer, dragging her left foot across the forest floor and protruding tree roots as if it were paralyzed. She continued creeping closer, at a bone-chilling diagonal direction, holding her left hand out in front of her while her right clutched the staff. She was chanting a spell. I didn’t understand any of her gnarled words, except Vivian’s name…and mine.
The second Vivian was on my back, I sprinted forward, weaving between trees and dodging branches. Now I heeded my mother’s advice and placed my feet carefully and also looked ahead to assure I wouldn’t collide with any trees…or princesses. But even I could not outrun the witch’s spell. “I hope it’s not our destiny to die today,” I shouted. A wave of skin-tingling magic washed over the two of us. I heard a sizzling electric noise, then an explosion that sounded like a bolt of lightning was bouncing between trees. Vivian screamed. My vision blared white, then faded to black, along with my consciousness.
Waking up as a princess can seriously ruin your day.
When I opened my eyes, I was lying in the grass on my back, staring up at the sky. Wisps of clouds floated around leisurely, washed with vibrant colors from the sunset. I rolled over onto my hands and knees. Hands and knees. That was strange. Definitely not normal. I looked down, baffled by the shortness of my neck. I lost my temper for a bit when I saw two, pale-pink palms in place of my sturdy, solid, sparkling, silver hooves. I was going to scream, but I fell forward instead, landing on my face in the grass.
Balance. A new beast to defeat. One I was never challenged with before because having four legs is much more practical than having only two.
I pushed myself onto my hands and knees again, then carefully lifted my hands off the ground, balancing on my wobbly knees. I cautiously straightened my back and lifted my head. Rose bushes and hedges grew all around me, all dwelling in the shadow of a great castle. Towers, elegant terraces, and glowing stained-glass windows decorated the castle with splendor. I’d seen the castle multiple times before, so it wasn’t it that I marveled at. On the contrary, I didn’t understand how I had gotten so far from the forest. I should’ve only focused on one thing at a time, but my mind was going wild, so I lost concentration and fell forward again.
After propping myself up a third time, I placed a quivering hand on the nearby stone wall for support. I took a deep breath and slowly lifted my knee until my hideous, blackened foot was beneath me. I did the same thing with my other foot until I was squatting like a perching hen. My muscles burned as I raised myself to a stand, clinging to the wall for support. I sighed with relief, and even let go of the wall for a second, but was quick to grab it again when I heard Vivian’s name called. It startled me beyond belief. The voices were not far.
They came from a path barricaded with fancy trees and hedges—a woman, dressed in an outrageously intricate gown, and a young man, dressed equally as outrageously, only he was wearing trousers and a blouse instead of a gown.
“Princess Vivian,” the woman said, sounding quite exasperated. She wore a sparkling crown on her brow and an authoritative expression on her face. It was easy to assume she was the queen. Dark circles under her eyes tainted her otherwise fair skin. She looked at the young man who was accompanying her. “I knew we would find her here. This is her special spot.” Her eyes widened as she took a second look at me. “What happened to your dress? And your hair! Oh dear girl, where are your shoes?” She shrieked, tugging and pulling at me as if I were her doll. All I could do to avoid falling again was hold on dearly to that wall. “And just look at those filthy hands. It will take weeks to get them clean again. What are you doing out here?”
I didn’t have the answers to her string of questions. “I uh—” I started, but she cut my words short.
“You can explain yourself later. Right now you should be preparing for the feast.”
“What feast?” I asked.
“I’m in no mood for child’s play, Vivian,” the queen snapped.
“My father has ordered your favorite, Lady Vivian,” the young man added, smiling, hands hidden behind his back. He rocked on his toes—back and forth. His bright blue eyes caught the fading evening light. He, too, wore a bold, golden crown inlaid with crimson jewels. Too young to be a king, I presumed. Must be a prince.
“Oh, and what is that?” I stuttered a bit. It was somewhat of a struggle to form words with a human mouth. And it wasn’t my voice that came out of it. It was Vivian’s voice—a voice foreign and irritating to my own ears.
“Vivian, are you well?” the queen questioned, turning to look doubtfully at the prince. A nervous smile bloomed on her lips.
“No, I’m not. Actually—”
“You were perfectly fine this morning at breakfast,” the queen interrupted me again.
“You told me before that it was roast chicken…” the prince muttered. “Your favorite, that is.”
“Roast chicken!” I screeched. I couldn’t help it. Unicorns don’t eat meat. I gagged at the thought, nearly toppling over again.
They stared at me, then the prince busted out his glamorous smile and chuckled lightly. “I understand—you’re joking.”
“I can assure you I’m not,” I said.
“Prince Drystan, would you go join the others at the feast now? Vivian and I will be along shortly,” the queen quickly said. I could sense how badly I was embarrassing her. Maybe it was wrong, but I loved it. Humans are far too easy to embarrass.
I waited. Would she let me go to sleep? I was feeling tired and my stomach was in a knot. I would find the real Vivian after I rested my drooping eyes. No, there was no time to spare for sleeping. I shook my head. I wanted out of this wretched body as soon as possible—now. I scratched the idea of napping from my agenda.
Drystan bowed to me, looking at me expectantly. I shifted my eyes back and forth between him and the queen. The queen grimaced at me and gestured a curtsy. That’s when it dawned on me that I was also expected to curtsy, and that’s also when my feet got tangled up and I fell forward. Or at least I would have, had Drystan not caught me. I was ashamed to have him assist me back to my feet.
“You’re all right?” he asked.
“No, I’m not. I’m not at all.”
“Perhaps you should go rest for a while? Maybe you’re too unwell to attend the feast. My father will be understanding,” Drystan said.
I liked what he said. So maybe he dressed a little funny, but perhaps he was a good guy. It wasn’t his fault that I was wary of human males, after all.
“Nonsense,” the queen intruded, “she will be attending the feast, whether or not she’s well. It’s too important.”
Although I favored Drystan’s plan, he was obviously too much of a roasted chicken himself to stand up to the woman and insist upon it. He dipped his head at me once more. “I’ll see you there, then.” He valiantly trudged away through the garden. I watched him until he vanished. The sound of the gravel crunching beneath his boots faded.
The queen stared at me. I pondered what the best method of telling her about my predicament would be, even though it wasn’t my problem, but then she opened her big mouth and started speaking. “What is wrong with you?” she whispered. “First, you vanish for the entire day and now that I’ve found you, you’ve practically lost your mind!”
“Listen, I’m not Vivian.”
“Don’t be so immature, Vivian—of course you’re Vivian. Who would you be if you weren’t Vivian?”
“No, believe me. I’m really—”
“I know how it is,” she sighed. She had a horrible habit of interrupting. At least I knew from whom her daughter inherited it. Where were those queenly manners I’d always heard about? “Every princess undergoes a lot of stress. I wished I was somebody else the night before my wedding as well.”
I clenched my jaw and audibly gulped. I would have perked my ears, if I still had the ability. I had to resort to raising my eyebrows instead. “Night before my wedding?” I gasped. “You are joking, aren’t you?”
“Shush, shush, shush. Don’t speak so loudly,” she said, glancing around her shoulders as if someone were listening who shouldn’t have been. “Don’t be foolish. We’ve been planning this all week.”
“All week? That hardly seems like a properly allocated amount of time to plan a royal wedding,” I said, thinking of all the images I had conjured up whenever I was told about royal weddings. No effort or expense was spared, as far as I knew. The wedding clothes alone must’ve taken months, if not years, to make.
“We had no other option, you know that. No more of this nonsense.”
“Well, are you sure everything’s in place? All the supplies, food—the dress?” I faltered, feeling like if I could just keep talking, I could put off the feast, the wedding—everything that had nothing to do with getting my body back.
“Dear, I’ve looked over it all myself. Yes, the preparations have been made as well as they could have been.”
“I don’t even know Drystan!” I protested, stamping my foot into the grass. I was hoping it’d be enough to convince the queen I really wasn’t who she thought I was, but she said,
“That’s a luxury very few princesses are blessed to have. I didn’t know your father before I married him either. Besides, you’ve met him before.”
Vivian’s life was awful. I wanted mine back.
“Look, Your Highness, I can’t get married tomorrow—I just can’t.”
“Viv, is this because your cousin can’t come?”
I raised my eyebrows at her—that was an ability I could get used to. “My cousin?”
“Yes. You two are close. It must be painful knowing that she can’t be there on your special day.”
“No, that has nothing to do with it. I’m not Vivian!” I inhaled and exhaled desperately. “I can’t get married tomorrow!”
The queen gave me a look. It had appeared as if she was almost breaking down…as if she were empathizing with me. I became hopeful.
We stood in silence for a few seconds. Distant and nearby birds sang in the evening air. The queen hid her face in her gloved hands. “You must be married in the morning darling. I’m sorry. All the other guests are already here, the plans have already been made, and we cannot delay any longer. It’s a lot of responsibility to put on someone as young as you. It’s a burden, I know, but the entire kingdom is dependent upon it. This is simply the way it has to be.”
I let out a long sigh. I thought I heard steps beyond the wall—like silver crushing against gravel. If it was who I was hoping it was, it could be my escape. I looked at the queen and generated a smile. “You’re right. I’m a princess. These are my princessly duties. Go ahead, and I’ll come in just one more minute.”
“I’ll wait for you at the gates. Don’t be long.”
The queen finally wandered away, full of poise. Then I heard my name being whispered from over the wall: “Unicorn, is that you? Aliniara?”
“Vivian?” I replied, facing the tall wall.
“This is amazing!”
“No, it isn’t.”
“I can see through this wall! I can see you. Get that expression off my face, it looks horrible.”
Horror and confusion is what I felt, so I’m sure any expression that showed that truly would be horrible. I put out my tongue and rolled my eyes, as I had seen conceited humans do before.
“Hey! I saw that. Can unicorns always see like this?”
“Yes. It’s awesome, isn’t it? I want out of this pathetic human body as soon as possible so I can do spectacular things like that again.”
“And I need to get back to my duties as soon as possible or the kingdom will fall apart. This is exactly why you should have helped me.”
“Hey, miss ungrateful, I tried to help you, okay?”
“You weren’t quick enough. You could’ve avoided this whole mess, but you are lazy.”
“I am not lazy.”
“I’m not,” I said.
“We don’t have time to have this argument,” Vivian said.
“Yeah, I’m getting married tomorrow? Where did that come from?”
“Oh fantastic—I totally forgot about that.”
“You forgot about your own wedding? Is there anything else you conveniently forgot about?”
The pause reassured me that I wasn’t going to like whatever was coming next.
“My coronation…in exactly one week.”
“Coronation!” I yelped. I wobbled on my feet. “I’m a unicorn, not a princess! And definitely not a queen. And when I marry, I would like to marry within my own species, if you don’t mind.”
Vivian seemed to ignore me. “Then there’s the coronation tour through the kingdom. Then my new husband will go off to fight in an impending war. That’s what I was trying to stop.”
I heard the queen yell for me, or rather, for Vivian. “Vivian, come along now. Who are you talking to?” She must’ve been up at the castle now, for her voice was rather distant.
“Just a moment, mother!” I hollered in reply. I needed more time with the princess to figure things out. “Why don’t you go and deal with your mother?”
“Oh that’s right—my feast is tonight, is it not?”
“Yes, it is,” I said. “Forgot about that too, huh? And why do you get your own feast?”
A second of silence pursued. Then I heard Vivian sigh dreamily, “Roast chicken…my favorite. I should be there tonight. I don’t like this. I don’t like this one bit.”
Roast chicken? Our bodies had been switched and all she was thinking about was roast chicken? She had more issues than I thought.
“I don’t like this either,” I said, trying to get my mind off of roasted chickens.
“This is the place that popped into my mind right as the witch was cursing us,” Vivian said. “That must have somehow transported us to this very spot.”
“That’s nice. Quickly, tell me what to do. If I get stranded into marrying that prince and—”
“Lady Vivian,” a stout guard’s voice hammered the air from behind me. I whipped around to find a clan of four of them standing in the pathway that the queen and prince had come by earlier. “Her Royal Highness the Queen has asked that we escort you to the castle at once.” I glanced back at the wall, looking at the top of it where ivy cascaded over the stones. I wished to be on the other side, longing to stay as close to my body as possible. Not only did my feet not want to move, but I wasn’t sure how to move them. I was stranded.
I pressed my back against the walls as the guards turned to face the castle. “Vivian, what do I do?” I mumbled from the corner of my mouth.
“Lie low, Aliniara. Don’t tell anyone about what has happened. They will only think you’re insane—and thereby think I’m insane,” Vivian whispered. “We can’t have that.”
“But what about your moody mother?”
One of the guards looked over his shoulder at me. “Did you say something, milady?”
I shook my head and we started toward the castle.
Life had officially become complicated…again.
I was walking to my doom.
Or should I say stumbling? For that’s exactly what I did, walking slower than I did when I took my first steps as a foal. Coordinating my flimsy ankles with my buckling knees and balancing on my toes was much more complicated than two-legged humans made it look. I swung one leg awkwardly out in front of the other. If it wasn’t for the queen’s guards holding my elbows and guiding me along, I would’ve fallen a hundred times before reaching the castle.
The guards asked if my bare feet hurt. Now that they mentioned it, they were terribly tender; I had just been too occupied to notice. Every jagged stone stabbed my soles. The guards then inquired, respectfully, whether I had eaten something which did not settle well. I told them I had only eaten a bit of grass, which I ate on a regular basis and which had given me no problems previously. Understandably, they found that odd. Most princesses don’t eat grass.
We found the queen, standing impatiently on the steps, clicking the toe of her shoe on the stone. “That was much longer than just a moment,” she complained.
“I’m sorry—it didn’t seem long,” I apologized, stopping at the bottom of the stairs.
“Why are you walking like that?”
I looked up at her and gave her no answer. I lifted my foot and placed it on the first cold step. I felt insecure with no back legs to balance my weight behind me. Falling was going to be painful—there was no question of if or when.
“Can you not go any faster?” the queen nagged.
I conquered the second step.
“It’s highly unfashionable for a princess to be late. Should I ask the guards to carry you?”
“That would be most helpful,” I said.
The queen laughed sarcastically. “Also highly unfashionable. Just hurry along.”
Five minutes passed and I was on the fourth step. That’s when the queen finally decided to give up, ordering the guards to carefully, and as gracefully as possible, carry me up the stairs. The queen dragged me along behind her as we scurried down several long halls until we reached Vivian’s chamber. I was feeling quite confident with my walking by that point.
After scrubbing all the dirt stains from my sensitive skin, I was crammed into a new, clean dress. Then the maidservants yanked at that head of curly blonde hair until they managed it into a tight form. Not a strand hung loose. They powdered my face all up until I looked artificial. To top it off—literally—they put a glistening tiara atop my head, then offered to escort me and the queen to the great hall for the feast.
For a brief moment, I peered into the large looking glass. A delicate chin, arched eyebrows, slightly-angled, dazzling, brown eyes is what I saw. Vivian’s skin was clear, with and without the powder. It was strange looking at that face. It was me, but it wasn’t. I wondered how long I’d have to get used to seeing it.
“I trust you won’t forget your manners at the dinner table,” the queen whispered to me as our footsteps echoed down the long corridor a moment later. “You seem to have forgotten everything else this evening.”
“I’ll uh—try my hardest,” I stuttered.
“Don’t speak that way. A princess must make each word a decent and meaningful one. We don’t have time for uttering distasteful words like ‘uh.’ I’ve told you before.” She looked at me sternly. I tried to distract myself from my nervousness by looking at the elegant portraits that hung on the walls. “And don’t try—do. We don’t need to make fools of ourselves while everyone is watching.”
“Are you listening to me, Vivian?” She grabbed my leg—er, arm—and gripped it tighter than I would have guessed a queen had the strength to do. I looked at her in shock, and she withdrew. “Sorry.” She lifted her chin, and we walked on. “I’m a little flustered.”
“Over a dinner? Madam, please relax. You’re making me anxious.”
“Madam?” she eyed me like my tiara wasn’t on straight. “My, oh, my, you are...truly out of sorts tonight.”
“You’re absolutely right. All the more reason why I shouldn’t be getting married tomorrow. And we can skip coronation next week, as well. In fact, how about I just skip out on this whole feast thing, too? I am not—”
“You can’t!” the queen yelled, stamping her foot onto the floor. I and the handmaidens stood still, uncomfortably quiet, as her shout’s echoes were slowly consumed by the castle corridor. The queen took a deep breath and looked away from me, tears sneaking from her eyes. She dabbed at their corners with her handkerchief. I suddenly felt a tinge of guilt for forcing her beyond her breaking point. “We discussed this, darling. You’ve known what must be done since…since…” she couldn’t finish her sentence, and it bothered me.
I pried, “Since what? What is it…mother?” I felt awkward calling her ‘mother’ for reasons beyond the mere fact that she wasn’t actually my mother. It had been many, many years since I used the word. That’s all it was to me—a mere word. No connections, no sentimentality, and no emotions were affiliated with it. Not anymore.
The queen’s sobs were interrupted when the door at the end of the hall flew open. An elegant woman, dressed more intricately than the queen—if that were possible—came trudging out of it, outlined by the light which burst from the doorway. Voices also flooded from the open door A gush of warm air greeted my face. The queen hurried to conceal any evidence that she had been crying only seconds ago.
The bossy expression on the approaching woman’s face was repulsive. And then she saw me. Her eyes flared for a moment and her eyebrows pulled together, but she regained her composure as quickly as she had lost it.