My Darling Dead: Episode 13 / The Fairy’s Laughter

The queen’s face was white as she looked at her daughter standing in the doorway behind the fairy’s still bleeding body. Alasin looked back at her mother, breathing heavily and shaking with rage and shock. 

“Cursed…? My whole life I was cursed and you never saw fit to tell me?” Alasin’s voice trembled as well. “All this time and I find it out from the very…creature to put the curse upon me, told as she mocks you with what she has done to the kingdom?” Alasin gestured at the dead rat woman on the ground, revulsion in her voice. “I have seen it. There are more of them. Many more! If not for the kindness of one person, I might have been set upon by them and torn to pieces. But that would likely be a worthy price for you to pay, mother, to get your filthy cursed daughter out of your sight at last!” Her voice had risen steadily until she was screaming. 

Her mother stood impassive, letting her daughter’s words wash over her as any parent does when ignoring the tantrums of their child. Hespa half expected Alasin to begin storming around the room, breaking things and rending hangings from the wall.  

“And yet, I still have no idea the nature of this curse,” Alasin finished at the top of her lungs, her fingers curled into fists. “Tell me what damns me!”

“The fairy said that the one whom you love the most would perish.” Hespa looked at her daughter with something like pity. “Poor thing. It wasn’t your fault.” 

Alasin scarcely heard this last. Her mind was whirling with this latest revelation, much of her life coming in to focus for the first time. Her revolving door of nannies, her mother’s constant icy indifference toward her, some of her earliest memories were of attempting to forge a bond with Hespa only to be coldly rebuffed. She would take solace in the arms of one of her nurses, only to be told the next morning that the nurse had been called away forever and she would be meeting her newest nanny shortly. This new nanny would be an unknown quantity and Alasin would shy from her for some time before trust was built and inevitably love, then the cycle would repeat itself. 

In particular, she was reminded of the way Madam Flood and the blacksmith had met their ends. She particularly remembered the blacksmith and tears of hot shame and regret came to her eyes. 

“Tears won’t help you, my daughter. They did not help me, though buckets of them I cried to watch my only child being raised by others.” Hespa’s face trembled. “It was a pain unlike any other I have borne.”

“Your pain did not stretch so far as to preclude you from sending your only child from all she had known into the world with such a curse attached to her!” Alasin shrieked. “There is blood upon your hands, mother, the blood of innocents!” Her eyes were wide and rolling as she pointed at Hespa with a quivering finger. 

“Blood is upon the hands of your dead father, you little brat!” screamed the queen, for the moment, looking just as unhinged as her daughter. “I was not the one two-timing one of the most powerful species to ever exist even as you were being born! I did nothing I did not have to do in order to preserve the kingdom so you could grow up as a spoiled little hellbitch!” She shrieked this last with such force that it lifted her to her toes. 

Alasin felt burning tears leap to her eyes as she glared at her mother, fists clenched so hard she could barely feel them. “At least now you don’t have to worry about dying because I love you,” she hissed through trembling lips, her cheeks shining. Without another word, she turned and left Hespa staring after her, shaking. 

The wizard sat at his workbench, his great book of spells open before him. The book was very old and had been given to him by his master before the elder had succumbed to the Darkness and departed this realm. Sapius had asked his master to whom the book had originally belonged and the old man had struck him upside the head. He had not dared ask again. All the spells in the world were said to be in that book, and Sapius had been poring over it with increasing desperation in the recent weeks as reports of the rat people increased and the rumblings from the townsfolk grew ever louder. The queen was in denial as the castle staff continued their spiral toward outright mutiny and rebellion, prompting Sapius to redouble his efforts. 

So engrossed was he that his chamber door swinging open scarcely registered on his fevered consciousness. Not until the princess was standing right in front of him did he realize with a start that she was there. 

“By the gods,” he gasped, putting a hand to his heart where the belabored organ pounded frantically in an attempt to recover as he stood. “You gave me a fright, Princess.”

“Wizard, what know you of love potions?” she snapped. 

“They are divided in kind,” he said, remaining standing as he did. He did not care for the look in the eye of the princess at all. It was the look of madness. 

“There are those which provide only a subtle nudge of the heart and take time to build to the desired result. Others are limited in scope to one person for whom the drinker feels amorous. Most dangerous of all are the ones which provide immediate, permanent infatuation to the first person the drinker sees. These are the most risky because there is no way to undo the enchantment and if circumstances go awry, the drinker may fall forever madly in love with the wrong person.”

“I require one of the latter,” said Alasin. “Immediately.” 

Alarm bells were ringing in the wizard’s head. “Might I ask why, Highness?”

“Do not question me!” she shrieked, striding forward and leaning over the workbench in his face. Tiny droplets of her spittle peppered his face. “I am the princess of the realm and it is not your place to question me, wizard! Obey my command or I will see your head on a spike!” 

“Your will, Highness,” said the wizard, unwilling to show her just how disturbed he was by the lack of sanity in her voice and her eyes. “Although if I may caution–“

Her fist pounded the workbench, sending a beaker crashing to the ground. “I will not command you again.” 

Never taking his eyes off her, Sapius reached inside his robes and brought forth a small brass key which he used to unlock one of the drawers in his workbench. Reaching all the way to the back of the drawer, he brought out a vial filled with a purplish, glowing liquid. The color reflected in Alasin’s eyes as they fixed on it. 

“I only have but one, Lady,” Sapius said, holding it out to her. “Have a care, for it takes many turns of the sun to create more.”

She snatched it from him and turned on her heel in the same motion. She was gone before he could do more than blink. The feeling of disquiet settled deeper within him, along with the sensation that inexorable events had been set in motion. 

******

Queen Hespa stood at her window, staring at her kingdom. Even from here, she could see the small shapes of rat people scuttling around the buildings below. Screams filtered up from the ground and she fancied she could hear the sounds of cracking bones and rending flesh. She had no idea what the rat people actually did to the living but her fertile imagination was only too happy to fill the gaps in her knowledge. 

The smell of the dead rat woman and the blood of the fairy still hung in the air, though their bodies had been removed by two servants who were clearly very reluctant to do so. Hespa thought sourly of the blood, both woman and fairy, that had puddled on her floor. It would need scouring before it faded even the slightest bit and a hundred years from now there would still be some caked in the cracks between the stones. 

A sound made her turn. The door was opening and Alasin came in. Hespa tensed. 

“Are you here to spew more vitriol in my direction, daughter?”

“Mother, please. This bitterness gets us nowhere.” Closing the door, Alasin moved to the cart on which Hespa’s goblets and wine were stored. “All I want is for us to share a glass of wine and make peace together.” 

With her back turned to Hespa, Alasin pulled the tiny flask from her bodice. Setting her nails into the cork, she pulled it out without a sound. 

“Why?” Hespa’s voice was weary but Alasin could tell she had not moved from her place by the window. Alasin upended the flask over one of the goblets, sending bright purple liquid cascading into the glass. 

“You are my mother,” Alasin said. “If you cannot love me, at the least, I wish for you to not hate me.” Stowing the flask back in her undergarments, she poured wine. The purple liquid at the bottom of the glass was swallowed by the dark red wine without a trace. 

“A fine sentiment,” the queen said, turning from the window. “But you and I both know the dangers that lie therein.”

“Come, mother,” said Alasin, lifting both glasses and offering the unadulterated one to her parent. “Taste this wine with me and let us embark upon a new chapter in our lives.” She met Hespa’s eyes unblinking over the goblet, holding it between them. 

For a moment, the queen held her daughter’s gaze. Alasin held her breath while maintaining her contact with her mother’s eyes until the glass was taken from her hand. 

“I say, mother, come look at this with me,” Alasin said, gesturing at the mirror hung on the back of the chamber door, stepping toward it. In her periphery, she could see herself moving in the reflection but refused to focus on it. “If you stand here with me, over a century of the kingdom’s rule will be represented in its reflection.”

The queen joined her daughter before the mirror and stood looking. She saw herself as she always had, an inflexible example of authority and power. Beside her, for once, stood her daughter.

“New beginnings,” Hespa said, raising her glass to the mirror and draining it. 

“New beginnings,” Alasin echoed and drained her own. The potion was barely discernible amid the wine and gave it a sweeter flavor than the dry red taste that Hespa preferred. 

The queen smiled. “It’s good wine, isn’t it?”

Alasin raised her eyes to the mirror just as the wizard’s potion took full effect. What she saw in the mirror was more perfect than anything she could have ever imagined. Her mother seemed almost to glow. Her own smile lit up the room, and in that moment, she felt her heart fall for the figures in the mirror. 

“Very good,” murmured Alasin. “I love you, mother.”

EPILOGUE

Sapius the wizard had lived in the kingdom for many years. He had served the monarchy for most of his adult life and would not have hesitated to use some of his darkest magic on anyone who threatened it. So when the castle guards came pounding at his chamber door the next morning, he was flabbergasted to find their swords drawn as he opened the door. They poured in through the entrance, surrounding him with their sharp steel before he could react. 

Bortix the Captain of the Guard strode forward and struck the wizard full in the face with a mailed glove. Sapius could taste blood in his mouth and felt it trickle from the corner of his mouth. Bewildered, he could do no more than gape at Bortix, with whom he had often shared his dwarf’s tobacco in exchange for the guardsman’s secret recipe mulled mead. 

“What…why…” he managed to stammer, but the look Bortix wore on his face robbed him of any further questions. 

“Save it, wizard,” Bortix spat. In a trice, a dagger was in his hand and the point was under Sapius’s chin, forcing his head back. “We know what you did.” 

“Pray, then, enlighten me,” Sapius managed to choke out, his eyes staring at the ceiling. “I have no idea what I did.”

“The princess and the queen have died at your hands and you dare to play the fool to me?” Bortix roared and punched the wizard square in the face, his meaty fist wrapped around the dagger handle.

Sapius went flying backward and would have certainly hit the floor had one of the guards surrounding him not pushed him back toward Bortix who responded with another fist to the wizard’s face. This time the guard moved to the side so Sapius fell all the way to the floor, where he was greeted by an army of kicking, stomping boots. One collided with the side of his head and a black cloud enveloped him, even as the words echoed in his head. 

Bortix stood over the unconscious wizard, his great hands balled into fists, glaring at the prone figure with hate in his eyes as his guards took turns applying their boots to the fallen man. Normally one of the most rational and level headed men in the kingdom, Bortix made no move to stop his soldiers beating the helpless body. 

When the day had passed its noon and the queen had not stirred, Bortix had entered the queen’s chamber after knocking progressively louder until he was pounding at the stout timbers. The queen lay on her bed, a peaceful smile on her face. Bortix had seen many dead bodies in his time and he did not need to shake the queen by the shoulder or shout her name to know that she had departed this realm. He did so anyway, shouting for the castle medic with tears growing in his eyes and a great sinking feeling in his chest. The medic had arrived and given the sad pronouncement before Bortix thought of the princess. Or, he thought, as she would be known henceforth, the queen. 

Giving strict instructions to the medic to let no one into the queen’s chamber in his absence, Bortix hastened to the room of the princess. His adjurations to open the door resulted in nothing but silence and the door was locked from within. Bortix threw his entire body weight at the door again and again until it yielded to his bulk. There lay the princess on her own bed, arms at her sides, an identical expression of peace on her face. The only difference between her and the queen was the object in her left hand. Bortix had availed himself of the potions the wizard concocted and knew the shape of the glass bottles well. He had no trouble recognizing the bottle in the dead princess’s hand as coming from the chambers of Sapius. 

When the wizard had been burned at the stake, Bortix, yielding to the clamoring of his guards, crowned himself king. This did not sit well with the subjects of the kingdom, who, having tolerated the rise of the rat people and the unwillingness of the crown to address the issue, mobilized enough to storm the castle and slaughter all of the guards. Bortix ultimately threw himself from the tallest tower after a long and protracted battle with the villagers, unwilling to let them have him. The leader of the rebels crowned himself king, only to be slain at his own coronation by what had once been his best friend, who ascended to the throne in his stead. He lasted several days before the new captain of the guards murdered him, plucking the crown from his severed head and settling it atop his own at a jaunty angle until he too was slain. 

The crown passed from hand to hand with its subjects fighting tooth and nail among themselves for it. The rat people flourished and spread, until the land was covered in darkness and filth, the deluded self-proclaimed monarchs afraid to sleep nights lest they wake up dead. 

Underneath it all, with the right ears, could be heard the laughter of the fairies. 

 

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My Darling Dead: Episode 12/The Fairy’s Return

For years, Hespa had been plagued by stories of the rat people. She had forbidden their mention in her court, but updates and rumors still flew through the castle in spite of (or perhaps because of) her edict. She knew, for example, that the rat people were taking over her kingdom at an astonishing rate, replacing her subjects with feral monstrosities which fed on death and decay and were eager to spread their disease. She knew that the rat people now outnumbered those not so afflicted and that within weeks if not sooner she would be the head of a kingdom consisting of nothing but rat people. Already several had been found inside the walls of the castle, one of them only a few floors down from her private chambers. Hespa shuddered and drained the wine from the glass she held. She extended her arm and immediately the empty glass was replaced with a full one by her handmaiden. 

“Leave me,” the queen snapped. The handmaiden was happy to do so.

Hespa also knew that the humans still under her rule were muttering and that their mutterings had grown loud enough to be heard clearly by spies and castle guards. The word “rebellion” had not yet been uttered, but any fool could tell that it was on the minds of many. Hespa had witnessed castle guardsmen holding her eye contact longer than was proper, staring back at her insolently until she was forced to drop her own eyes, hating herself as she did so. She had never felt so vulnerable as these past months, surrounded by inhuman things and resented by those in whose hands she placed her life. 

The mid-morning sun reflected from the armor of the guard on duty at the front gate of the castle. He belched and squinted into the sun, straining to discern mirage from reality as a figure approached the castle gate. Or was it two figures? No, just one. 

No…

His eyes widened. 

“Halt and be–”

Esemli raised her left hand and the guard was thrown into the nearest wall with such force that his breaking bones were heard hundreds of feet away. He screamed and she winced. 

“No,” she said, and waved her hand again. The guard continued screaming but no noise came out, eyes bulging as he attempted to cradle his broken parts and give voice to his hurts. The other guards stampeded each other trying to get out of Esemli’s way. She swept through the gate and past them without a look. In her right hand she held a leash and to her leash was attached one of the rat people, a woman who had perhaps once been plump but now appeared emaciated to the point of death. 

Her skin was caked with filth and blood was smeared around her mouth. Her clothes were rags, held together mostly by luck. Her eyes darted this way and that and she never seemed to stop licking her lips. Part of her bottom lip was gone from a time when the woman had been so desperate for meat that she had begun eating her own face. Half of her teeth grinned through her cheek at anybody who looked at her. On all fours, she scuttled behind Esemli like a dog which has been beaten often enough to fear its master but not often enough to attempt escape. 

Esemli did not appear even to notice the creature in her wake. She mounted the stairs to the queen’s chamber with the rat woman at her heels. Raising her left hand, the queen’s chamber door slammed open with such force that the metal handle cracked the stone wall. Hespa whirled as Esemli let the leash go and snapped a word in a strange language that meant nothing to the queen, but the rat woman clearly understood. Still on all fours, she made straight for the queen, a horrifying grin etched on what remained of her features as she snapped her teeth. 

Hespa was frozen only for a moment before countless hours on self defense spent with Bortix the Captain of the Guard leapt to the forefront of her mind. The queen whirled, seizing a long metal spike from beside her window and as the rat woman leaped, Hespa extended her arm and set her feet. The rat woman collided with the spike, the force of her attack impaling her upon the spike through one of her crazed rolling eyes. 

The fairy laughed. “Well done, Queen Hespa. Perhaps you should be standing guard over your castle rather than the bumbling fools currently there.” 

Hespa did not hear. Her eyes were locked on the rat woman’s face, overcome with horror as the woman’s eye ran down her hollow cheek. She had heard of the rat people, yes, but she had never seen one, much less this close. The humanity she could still detect beneath the dirt and waste was worst of all. Now that the woman was dead, Hespa could see the peasant woman who had once resided behind those eyes. Her face was relaxed, her eyes no longer rolling. But for the spike through her eye and half her lip being gone, she could have been asleep. 

Esemli closed the door behind her. “Queen Hespa, you forget your manners. I have brought you a gift, the least you could do is offer me some of your wine.”

This time, the words sunk in. Hespa tore her eyes from the rat woman with an effort and dropped the spike. “Fairy, your presence here is less welcome than the plague. I would sooner spit in your face than offer you wine.” Pasting a sneer on her face, Hespa moved to where her goblet stood and drained it before refilling it from the crystal decanter. 

A flicker of annoyance flashed across Esemli’s face and she moved her left hand, ever so slightly. The decanter overbalanced and splashed wine all over the queen. Hespa swore and drained what was left in the decanter before throwing it out the window in a blind fury that abated as she heard the crystal smash on the stones far below. She did not look at the fairy, sipping her wine from the goblet as she wrestled back control. 

“Decades I have been gone from your eye,” Esemli said, her voice quiet but with an intensity Hespa could hear across the room. “But I have not been gone from this realm. I have watched your daughter grow from innocent child to petulant woman, never able to love her mother because you have made it impossible. I have witnessed your subjects regress and devolve until the wisest of them is merely a few steps above yonder wretch.” She gestured at the rat woman’s body which lay in a puddle of her own blood, eyes still open, one staring at the spike which had impaled its mate. “Your husband’s disrespect was not forgotten and as your daughter was cursed, so was the entire kingdom, to descend slowly into bestial madness. The suffering of the monarchy and the collapse of the kingdom have been a pleasure to behold for all of my kind.” The fairy laughed. 

“Why did you bring that…creature, Esemli?” Hespa asked, staring at her kingdom. 

“Bringing you what hath been wrought, Your Highness,” the fairy said, and sank into a deep and mocking curtsey which was wasted on the impassive queen. “This is one of your subjects with all the trappings of décor stripped away, exposed for what they are. Nothing but a pathetic, slavering, mewling–”

The door slammed open behind Esemli. Her eyes widened and she was halfway through turning toward the door before Princess Alasin’s poisoned dagger buried itself in the fairy’s throat. The blood which spurted from the wound was not precisely red but nearly purple and seemed almost to glow. 

The queen turned just in time to see her daughter lunge through the door. The goblet of wine fell from Hespa’s numb fingers. Her feet seemed rooted to the spot. Her glass shattered on the stone floor as the fairy fell, her throat gushing strange blood.

Esemli sank to her knees, one hand reaching to the handle in her throat. The glowing purple blood coated her fingers and she grimaced as she touched the blade. 

“Guh…” she said and wrapped her fingers around the handle sticking out of her throat. She pulled, the sound of the blade sliding through her flesh sending the queen’s skin crawling as fresh gouts of blood poured from her mouth. “Guh…” she said again, her hand dropping from the handle with the blade still buried in her throat. 

“Isss… too…toooooo…” she said, her words obscured by the blood which flowed, faster now, out of her mouth. The color was draining from her face. “Toooooo…” she moaned and fell forward. She landed on the handle of the dagger and with a horrid squelching sound the point of the blade stabbed out the opposite side of her neck. 

My Darling Dead: Episode 11/ The Tipping Point

Bron was torn. The girl was not much larger than his own daughter, who was docile enough during his visits to her at night, but the tone of her voice made him uneasy. He stood, uncertain, adjusting his wilting manhood through his dirty trousers. Alasin continued to stare at him, hands on her hips, making no effort to cover herself. 

Then his sneer returned, along with his erection. “No one would believe you,” he said, unfastening his trousers. “An’ if they did, no one would care. Yer name’s dirt ’round ‘ere, Your Highness.” The sneer sounded in his voice as he shot the bolt to the front door. “Yer mine.”

His insolence made Alasin’s blood boil. She had never wished harder for her poisoned blade, to plunge into the fat greasy man over and over until the walls were red with his blood. He started toward her, one hand reaching into his pants to grip whatever was in there, the other holding his pants up so they did not fall until he reached her. In spite of the wizard’s drug, Alasin felt the touch of fear. Bron smelled it on her. His member grew in his hand and his pace quickened. Involuntarily, Alasin retreated as he advanced upon her, backing until her legs encountered the bed behind her. They buckled, spilling her backward on to the mattress and the dead man. 

Bron was on her almost before she could react. His slobbering breath assaulted her nostrils as his tongue lolled from his mouth, drooling on her as he scrabbled between her legs with one hand, holding one of her arms immobile above her head with his other hand. Her free hand flailed, striking him, her short nails finding no purchase in the fat man’s flesh. Her arm went wide, searching for anything, and her hand closed around a sturdy wooden handle just as she felt something unspeakable and wet attempting to burrow between her legs. 

The blacksmith’s hammer glanced off Bron’s head with the first blow, sending him reeling away from her. Alasin shoved herself to her feet, getting a better grip on the handle just as Bron turned back to her, blood streaming from behind an ear. 

“Whu…you…b-b-b-” he said, and lurched toward her, arms reaching out as his pants fell around his ankles. His face drooped on the side she had hit him and one eye was bloody and dilated. He tripped and would have fallen had Alasin not swung the hammer once more with all her strength, caving in the side of his head and sending him to the ground. He spasmed once and she hit him again, and again, and again until nothing was left of his face and she realized she was screaming. 

She stopped, dropping the hammer into what was left of the peasant’s skull and stood, breathing heavily as she listened. No sounds from outside, nobody pounding but her heart. She listened to it thud in her chest and in time it slowed until she could no longer hear it.

She looked down at herself, fighting a wave of revulsion at the blood which covered her. Water. Was there any water here? A bucket by the front door caught her eye. She picked it up and set it on the small table that sat by the window. Opening the curtains just enough to allow a sliver of light, she could see clear liquid in the bucket. She tasted it. Water. 

Once she had satisfied her thirst and cleansed herself as best she could, she stood for a moment, looking at her reflection in the slowly calming water. A haggard wreck stared back at her, dark circles under her eyes, hair matted and straggly. A sob forced its way from her throat and she slapped at the water, destroying her reflection. A princess of the realm? Princess of dirt. 

Alasin moved about the small hut, gathering her clothing once more. Once she put on her underthings, she looked with distaste at the finery in which she had fled the castle and absorbed so much dirt. She did not want to attract attention as she had with the blacksmith. There were his clothes, but he was a giant; none would fit her. 

Her eyes shifted to the other dead body with whom she was currently keeping company, seeing him in a new light as she sized him up. He was wider by far but not much taller than she was, and if she blackened her face and hid her hair…

She knelt beside what remained of Bron, trying not to look at his face or genitals as she removed his minimally bloody clothes and failing at both. They both nauseated her. To her relief, his clothing fit her better than she had hoped. She even found a greasy cap crammed into the pocket of the filthy trousers into which she tucked her hair, pulling the cap down tight around her ears. In the corners of the hut she found a reasonable supply of dirt which she smeared on her face and neck. 

When she returned to the bucket, the face which looked back was dirty but unremarkable. The cap had a slight brim which she pulled down as low as it would go. On the open street, no one would look twice at her. The smell the clothes gave off stung her nostrils, forcing her to breathe through her mouth. She was almost certain she felt bugs crawling in her hair beneath the cap. 

Going to the door, she unbolted it and opened it just a crack. There was nobody within her field of view and nobody appeared as she opened it further. The street was deserted. She turned and looked at what she was leaving in her wake. Two dead bodies, one of whom was barely recognizable and the other who did nothing to deserve his fate but show a girl a good time. 

Tears sprang to her eyes and she pushed out of the door, slamming it behind her with a resounding snap as she strode up the street, toward the castle, toward the queen, toward everything she had known. She did not look back. If she had, she would have seen two rat people appear from the gap between huts and begin sniffing at the open window and the scent of death inside. 

My Darling Dead : Episode 10 | The Blacksmith

As Alasin fled the hut, she forgot that it was not sitting on the ground, but raised on stilts three steps high. She flew out the door and the ground rose to meet her sharply.  Tumbling end over end she landed in a heap at their bottom. She lay there, winded, her eyes unfocused as the cloud of dust she had raised settled in the early morning rays of sunshine. 

There was a scuttling noise from under Madam Flood’s hut that slowly acquired her attention as her eyes began to focus. Finally able to breathe, Alasin pushed herself up as she turned to face the noise. As her eyes focused, at last, she froze, her heart hammering in her chest. 

A small, thin woman had come out from under the house and was creeping toward her, crouched low, eyes bright and teeth bared. Her hair was matted and thick with dust, as were her clothes. Her nails, long and broken, reached out to Alasin, who could smell the foul creature from where she lay. The rat woman let out a high pitched cackle that sounded devoid of sanity and pounced. 

The woman was in the air for the briefest instant before a large hammer swung out of the blue and pulverized her face. Alasin, who had opened her mouth to scream, was showered in bloody chunks of skull, brain and flesh. She spat as though her tongue were afire and finally laid eyes upon her rescuer. He was a large man, thick shouldered with a blacksmith’s apron over a muscled chest. A dripping blacksmith’s hammer swung from one huge arm.

“Strewth! But that’n almost had ye! Still, no harm done, I’ll reckon. Up y’come, miss!” He said, and extended a hand to her with a smile. 

Alasin wiped her hand on her skirt and gave it to the man with a shaken smile. “Thank you, sir, and thank you for dispatching that…what was that?” she asked as she was pulled upright as though she were a feather. 

“Oh, ar,” the man said darkly, swinging his hammer over his shoulder, unmindful of the muck coating its head. “Them’d be the changed ones. Rat people, I call ’em. Best to do is put ’em down before they hurt somethin’.” He sighed. “Even though some of ’em be my best o’ friends.”

“Madam Flood mentioned something about them last night.”

The man’s face brightened. “Ma’am Flood! That’s right, this be her place, don’t it? How be she?”

“She’s, er… fine,” Alasin stammered, hoping he wouldn’t insist on speaking to the old woman.

“She in?” inquired the man. “I hain’t seen Ma’am Flood in an age, and I be–”

“No! She, ah, said she had somewhere to go this morning and left before I woke, so I took myself for a walk and fell down her stairs because I wasn’t used to them you see and then the creature came from under the stairs and–”

“Ne’er mind,” the man boomed, his chuckle cutting off Alasin’s frantic blather. “We best get ye where ye wish to go, little miss, lest one more of the nasty rat people get ye. Strewth!”

Alasin awoke in pitch darkness, a giant weight upon her chest. Her head was pounding and her mouth tasted of rot. She pushed at the weight. It felt like a dead animal, cool and smooth-skinned with a light coating of hair covering it. It was large, and heavy. Her fingers explored down its length. Her heart shot into her mouth as her fingers touched a palm, then fingers. She was able now to identify the giant weight as an arm, slung across her, as she lay in this bed. 

HIS bed, she realized as unbidden, memories began flooding into her fevered brain. Going off with the jolly blacksmith(whose name she could not recall) after he had saved her life, finding out that she really liked him, turning aside his questions about who she was and where she was going so she could spend longer with him, until he finally stopped asking. Becoming tipsy as they dined and drank as the sun first rose and set in the sky, finally a fog of stumbling back to his own hut and going to bed together. Now she could tell that beneath the arm and the animal pelts that served as a blanket, she was naked. 

Whimpering, she pushed at the arm which held her in a death grip, immobile in its deathly contraction. Finally she was able to wriggle out from underneath it and fall to the floor, sobbing as she pushed herself to the farthest corner of the room, wrapping her arms about herself against the night’s chill. There she sat, struggling to produce silent tears as she wept, for her own terror, for poor Madam Flood, for the unnamed blacksmith, before turning her tears back upon herself. 

When she awoke again it was the gray light of dawn, the sound of birds filling the silence that comes when most people are still asleep. Her neck ached from where she finally fallen into a doze, huddled in the corner hunched over. She was still nude, and shivering violently. Her gaze fell upon the corpse in the bed, face frozen in a peaceful expression, massive arm extended over where she had fallen asleep beneath it.

Unbidden, the tears started again, but she knuckled them aside and pushed herself up, hobbling on stiff legs across to the bed and pulling the bearskin blanket off of the blacksmith’s body, wrapping it around herself as she tried not to look at what remained of her lover. She stooped, picking up her scattered clothing piece by piece. As she did, her little bottle of wizard’s powder and chain dropped to the floor with a clink. With a happy swoop of her stomach, she dropped to her knees beside it and availed herself. 

“Farner! Hey mate, ’tis Bron! Yer not at yer shop! What gives?” 

Alasin’s head jerked up at a pounding from the door, white powder coating her nostrils, her eyes wide. She jammed the lid on the bottle and grabbed up her clothes while the pounding increased before the latch was pushed open from the outside and the door banged open. A small squat man stood framed in the early morning light, his face nothing but a silhouette.

“C’mon, I needs me sword t’day, Farn! Git yer…hoho, what’s all this then?” he said, noticing Alasin, looking frenzied as she clutched her clothing to herself. An ugly grin spread across his face. “Well hey there sweet’eart, me name’s Bron and I guess my man Farn’s been stickin’ it to ya, eh?” 

Alasin’s eyes were huge as she did her best to sidle sideways to block Bron’s view of the bed and Farner’s lifeless body. Bron was fortunately too busy examining the curves of the sheet Alasin draped around herself to notice the bed. 

“Porked ya good did ‘e?” giggled Bron, grabbing his crotch and making exaggerated grinding movements with his hips. 

Alasin’s eyes flashed with temper but Bron sniggered and to her great relief turned to leave. As his body moved, the shadow he had cast upon Alison moved as well, letting a slab of sunlight smack her in the face. “Well I’ll not begrudge ‘im a lie-in after a night wid a beauty like you. Yew tell ‘im Bron stopped by, an’…”

He trailed off, eyes widening. He took a step forward and looked more closely at Alasin. 

“You…” he whispered. Alasin’s heart, hammering like mad, simultaneously froze. 

“Yer…yer the princess!” Bron blurted, raising a hand to point at her. 

“Yes, you festering sore,” Alasin said, drawing herself up to her full height and looking down her nose regally at the little man. “I am Alasin, Princess of Dandoich, and I command you to depart from here immediately and speak of this to no one. Is that clear?”

“Yer… the princess,” the man said, a stupid grin spreading over his face. “Huh… what are you doing here?” His eyes crawled over her, insolent in their lingering. His tongue wet his lips. 

“Dog!” shouted Alasin. “How dare you look upon me! You have been given a command and you will obey at once. Leave!” She raised a hand and pointed to the door. The clothing she had clutched to herself slipped and fell to her waist, exposing a breast. 

“Whoaa…” Bron said, his eyes huge. Alasin swore and snatched the clothes to herself again while attempting to maintain her composure. She saw his grin had become nasty. He stepped inside and shut the door. 

“No one knows yer ‘ere, or yew wouldn’t be wid ‘im,” Bron whispered, gesturing to Farner’s still motionless body. “And that means, I can do what I likes wid ya. Farn won’t mind.” He was beginning to breathe heavily, massaging his trousers as he moved toward her. “And you can’ stop me, Princess, wee slip of a girl like ye.” 

Alasin did not move as he advanced. The rage in her at being spoken to thus had completely blotted out any hint of fear. In one move, she dropped all her clothing and stood before him completely nude, sending his jaw dropping. 

“Hear this, you squalid peasant,” Alasin said, her voice like iron. “If you come for me, you will end. Heed my warning, and desist.”

My Darling Dead : Episode 9 | The Outside

 

Alasin stumbled out through the servant’s doorway at the base of the castle, trying to keep from hysterics. She had nearly been attacked by one of the guards, who had to be restrained by his partner. 

“Let ‘er go, matey, she ain’t worth it. Orders from th’ queen.”

“You murdering harlot!” screamed the other man. “What if they come for us? What if it’s war? If we die because of you I will haunt you until the end of your days!”

Alasin would normally have slain him for his insolence then and there. But the hatred in the eyes of both men and her mother’s shrieks ringing in her ears made her race, sobbing, for the nearest exit. As fresh air hit her face, she looked around in a frenzy. She had never been outside the castle by herself. 

To her right, the castle’s outer wall stretched into the darkness of night what seemed forever. To her left, it went on another ten feet before terminating in the north tower’s bulge outward. Before her, a grassy hill sloped gently down some hundred yards or so before the houses of the kingdom’s townsfolk began in earnest. Among them, she could see the shapes of her subjects moving, living, going about their lives. She had never feared them, but her mother’s banishing words and the cries of the guard she had encountered were fresh in her mind. 

She made her way along the path leading from the front gates towards the huts of the town, expecting at any moment to hear someone shout “The princess! Let’s get her!” No shout came, and she found herself walking down the little town’s main street. She searched in her mind for its name and could not get it to come to mind. She knew though that many of the people in this town were servants and workers at the castle during the day and so lived in close proximity. 

Of course, Alasin thought, instinctively leaning into the darkest part of the shadows, the more castle workers there were in this town, the more likely there would be someone who would recognize her. 

A rustling sound caught her attention as she passed a house and she stopped, turning toward it. The sound came from between two houses and sounded large. Larger than a mouse. Her ears strained to the breaking point, she thought she could hear breathing. 

“’ere now… wot’s this, then?” 

Alasin whirled, stifling a scream as her hand flew to her poisoned blade, remembering too late that it was back in her bedchamber. There was a scratching sound and sparks caught the wick of a lantern. The flame grew and illuminated a dumpy woman holding it, dressed in a brown smock with her hair in a bun. When she smiled at Alasin, it was with three teeth. 

“A t’ousand ‘pologies miss, I surely dint mean t’scare ye.” 

Alasin expected her to continue stammering excuses and prostrate herself at Alasin’s feet, begging forgiveness from royalty as was customary. Instead, she continued to smile at Alasin, clearly waiting for the princess to speak. 

“That’s all right,” she said, and tried on a smile. It seemed to fit, so she continued. “My name is Al…uh…”

“Aluh, that’s a n’usual name,” said the woman. “They call me Madam Flood.”

Alasin opened her mouth to correct her, then realized that Madam Flood had no idea she was speaking to the disgraced princess of the kingdom. She shut her mouth with a snap and pasted a smile on her face.

“But what,” Madam Flood continued, “is a girl like y’self doin’ out ‘ere alone at this hour, an’ all gussied up!” The old woman gestured, first at the sky and enveloping darkness then at Alasin’s clothing, her royal dresses more suitable for a fancy dress ball than simple townsfolk. “You know t’ain’t safe ‘ere no more, specially not at night!”

Alasin’s eyes were blanks in the lantern light. “Isn’t it?”

Madam Flood sighed and tutted. “Come wi’ me, foolish girl. Less get indoors where’s safe n’I’ll tell ye some t’ings ’bout the kingdom you livin’ in.” 

Alasin’s eyes flashed at the insult and her hand went to her dagger again before realizing again that it was gone, and for the first time, realized that she had nowhere else to go. A tear ran from an eye as she dropped her hand and followed the old woman.

Down the row of tiny houses she followed Madam Flood until she came to the last one on the row. Madam Flood mounted three rickety steps and pushed through a flap of fur that served as her door. Alasin grimaced as she followed, feeling the shaggy coat rub against her skin. She found herself in a dark little room with a lumpy looking cot, a fireplace with a rocking chair before it, and a small table. A single cupboard hung on the wall opposite the door beside a small window with dirty panes. 

“Well well m’dear,” Madam Flood said, setting the lantern on the table and stoking the fire so a cheery glow filled the room. “Where’ve you been that you d’no what’s ‘appening ’round ‘ere? ‘n what’re y’doin’ wanderin’ aroun’ in the’ middle o’ the’ night, drest like that? Young gel like you oughta be home wi’ her family.” 

“Never mind that,” Alasin said, and moved closer to the fire, warming her hands as it increased in size. “What’s going on outside? Why isn’t it safe?”

Madam Flood shook her head and settled into her rocking chair with obvious relief. “Wan’ t’know what I thinks, ’tis dark wizards.” 

Alasin’s face must have shown skepticism rather than incomprehension for Madam Flood leaned forward, nodding hard for emphasis. “Oh aye Miss Aluh, th’ dark wizards be ’round doin’ their wicked deeds, you can bet y’teeth. ‘ow else can y’explain…” she broke off, looking at the window as though someone could be peeping through at them, before looking back at Alasin and finishing in a hoarse whisper “…people creepin around…like animals…actin’ strange…ol’ farmer Supik sez ‘is foot was ‘arf torn off by a crazy git ‘oo acted like a mad thing, eatin’ dead mice in ol’ Supik’s hut.” 

The princess felt her stomach crawl at the thought of herself wandering around in the darkness, and the rustling sounds she had heard between the two houses before meeting Madam Flood. “What happened?”

“Well, Supik ain’t the’ type to bandy words wid a freak like that’n,” Madam Flood said briskly, rocking back in her chair. “’e grabbed the nearest rock ‘n put paid to ‘im in the’ face, sev’ral times I ‘eard.”

“How awful,” Alasin said, her voice faint. Her knees buckled. Madam Flood was by her side in a moment and turned Alasin so her fall was more of a controlled sinking into the mattress. 

“’ere ‘ere dearie, there I am tellin’ horror stories when yew need t’be gettin’ some rest, ” Madam Flood said, laying Alasin down on the bed. “Y’need yer rest n’you could do a lot worse’n this bed ‘ere. T’ain’t much but is better’n some c’n boast. Yew don’ wanna be goin’ out ’til is morn,” Pulling the blankets up to Alasin’s chin, she smiled her three-toothed smile at the princess. 

“Thank you… Madam Flood,” Alasin murmured, already half asleep. 

“Think nothin’ of it, Miss Aluh,” said Madam Flood, returning to her chair. “I’ll be ‘ere when you’ve rested yer eyes.”

Alasin started awake, the darkness complete around her as she wondered where she was and how she had gotten there. As she lay, staring into the void, she began to remember. She had been banished and taken in by a woman. She had fallen asleep and the woman had been tending the fire. But now the little hut was dark and cold, and the fire was nothing but a few glowing embers which put off no heat. 

Throwing the blankets off of her, Alasin rose to her feet and began groping her way toward what she recalled as being the chair in which her hostess had planted herself. There was no noise in the hut, no sense of another. Another step and her feet found the table, solid and immobile. Cursing under her breath at the world in general, Alasin navigated around the table and to the rocking chair, which sat heavy on the floor, also immobile. There was no breathing. Her heart froze. 

“Madam Flood?” Alasin said, her voice tentative in the pitch blackness. 

There was no answer. 

“Madam Flood!” 

Silence responded. Alasin reached out a reluctant hand, contacting Madam Flood’s shoulder before she expected to. The flesh was stiff below its garments. Stiff and cold. 

“Madam Flood!” Alasin shook the unresponsive shoulder, knowing it was pointless, hoping it would not be. Her hopes were in vain. Madam Flood would never respond to another entreaty again. 

Alasin stood in the dark for some moments, listening to the absolute silence, willing the corpse sitting in the chair to reanimate, to waken, to move, to stand and cheerily tend to the nearly-dead fire. When it became obvious this would not be occurring, Alasin forced herself to move to the fire. She had never stoked a fire in her life, but had witnessed it enough times to know the basic principles. Groping around by the hearth, she found a bundle of dry, brittle twigs and tossed them on the coals before leaning forward to breathe on them. Why, she did not know, but she had seen it done a number of times in the castle, and knew it to be the thing to do. 

The coals brightened under her breath, shriveling the first of the dried twigs with their heat. She continued breathing on them, encouraged by the brightening glow. As she took in her breath to exhale again, the twigs burst into flames. She let out a little squeak and threw more twigs on, which were speedily consumed. Looking around, she saw smaller pieces of wood stacked near the fire and threw two of them on the fire. It almost went out, but flared up when she resumed blowing on it. Within a few moments, she had a fire burning, banishing the worst of the shadows. 

Alasin stood and turned, looking at Madam Flood. The shadows hid much of the woman’s face, but the lack of movement was apparent, even in the low, flickering light. Madam Flood was dead, a fact which was made more apparent when a rodent scurried out of her robes to stare, beady-eyed at Alasin. 

The princess screamed and backpedaled, ramming her legs into the table. Appendages smarting, she wrenched open the door and fled, sobbing. In her home, Madam Flood continued to sit and grin at the ceiling, unblinking, even as the rodent ventured back onto her lap, up her chest and to her face, where it began nibbling the soft meat of her eye.

My Darling Dead : Episode 8 | The Consequences

Hespa looked up from her own window as the princess let herself in. “Idiot child!” she shrieked and seized the nearest thing to hand, an urn containing her husband’s ashes, and threw it at her daughter with all her might. 

“Mother!” cried Alasin, dodging out of the way and taking refuge behind a nearby chair. Behind her, the wizard stood framed in the doorway. 

“Would it have killed you, would it have made your life so unworth living, to have murdered that oaf Heyworth in his bed at night rather than in full view of three loud-mouthed guards?” Hespa asked, hefting a large ornamental vase threateningly. 

“Mother–”

“Your Highness, girl,” snarled the queen. 

“Your Highness,” Alasin said, her words rushing forth in a babble. “Heyworth, that dog, attacked me, would have beaten me and perhaps more! I had to–”

“Kill him in perhaps the bloodiest manner you possibly could conceive right then and there, rather than endure his offenses and murder him in his bed at night?” Hespa finished, her voice cracking as she heaved the vase at her daughter in fury at the last word, shrieking as it crashed to the wall beside Alasin. “Heyworth would have died in silence and been easily disposed of with no one the wiser but you and his kingdom would have become ours. Now his kingdom is trying to kill ME and from OUR kingdom are coming rumblings of dissatisfaction with its figureheads. Which includes you, you witless imbecile.” 

The queen pulled a dagger from a hidden shelf in the serving table and advanced on Alasin, her teeth bared. Alasin cringed against the wall as her mother closed the distance. “This is your doing and I will not have you within this castle to wreak more havoc while I am being hunted. You are not welcome in this castle…” Hespa stopped, the tip of her dagger resting against her daughter’s throat. Alasin’s eyes were huge, rolling, terrified. Hespa stared mercilessly into her eyes and poked the dagger forward to nick Alasin’s smooth neck. “…henceforth.” 

To the wizard, time seemed to stand still, the princess impaled fractionally upon the queen’s dagger as the former tried desperately not to move. Then the latter flicked the dagger down, withdrawing its point and standing aside, leaving the path to the door open. Sapius stepped inside, extending a hand to the open door. As though freed from a spell, Alasin rushed past her mother and out the door, wordless noises of terror spilling from her mouth as she tore down the corridor and was lost to sight and sound as the wizard closed the door to the queen’s chamber. 

Queen Hespa poured herself a glass of wine and sat down in her favorite chair overlooking the window. “Come, wizard, join me.”

Sapius took the second chair beside the queen but did not take a glass of wine. He brought out his pipe, stoking and igniting it without a word, nor a look at the queen. 

“You don’t approve,” Hespa said, sipping from her glass. 

The wizard maintained his silence, peering out the window at the darkness. 

“Loosen your tongue, Sapius, lest I loosen it for you.”

“Madam, it seems improper to punish the princess for the consequences of carrying on as you wished her to,” said the wizard. 

“Can’t you see?” Hespa said, her voice irritable. “Banishing her will secure my safety. It will be impossible for her to ever feel affection for me.” 

“I daresay, Your Highness, that there was very little danger of that to begin with,” Sapius spoke softly, taking care to keep the disdain out of his voice. 

Hespa drained her glass and scoffed. “Ha! What knows a wizard of the trials of a mother, or a queen, especially one whose daughter is cursed in such a dangerous way?” Staggering a little, Hespa lurched to her feet, making for the wine again. 

“Quite right, Highness,” Sapius said, also rising to his feet. “May I depart, I have pressing business to tend to.”

“Yes, begone with you, Sapius,” snarled the queen, overflowing her goblet as she poured. “Begone with your judgmental words of which I have no need.” 

Without a word, the wizard departed, leaving the queen alone in her chamber, clutching an overflowing goblet of wine and staring at her reflection in the window. Her eyes focused on the outside world and her blood ran cold for a moment. Beyond that window, endless blackness with the pinpoints of light denoting civilization as campfires burned, each tended by a subject who may or may not want to murder her. 

She hurled the goblet at the reflection, shattering both it and the window. Wine splattered everywhere.

“See what you’ve done?” she shrieked at the door Alasin had exited. “See what you have wrought?”

When no answer was forthcoming, Hespa pulled the green cord hanging from the ceiling. A bell tolled somewhere in the castle. After a moment, a rapping sound came at the door and a handmaiden entered, looking apprehensive. 

“You summoned, Mightiness?”

“Bring me more wine and a fresh goblet,” Hespa said. “And get someone up here to fix this window, it’s as cold as death.”

“Your will, Highness.” The maiden bowed and retreated.

My Darling Dead: Episode 7 | The Assassin

The captain of the guard, Bortix Legional, stood atop the walls, looking down into the valley. It smelled like rain, and he was looking forward to being indoors for the night, having done his share of guard duties in seasons past. He was distracted from his vigil by the clattering of footsteps as a figure made its way up the dim steps. 

“Beggin yer pardon, sir,” the voice of Klinden the guardsman said, mounting the last step and turning to join Bortix at the battlements, “but there has been an unusual report from the northern realm.”

Bortix rolled his eyes. “There are always unusual reports from the northern realm, Mister Klinden,” he said. “Continue.” He reached into his shoulder bag for his pouch of tobacco and pipe, loading it and striking a match as Klinden continued. 

“Farmer in the near north sez that he came into his abode and beheld a man who resembled a rat. He ate a dead mouse, then attacked the farmer, until the farmer was able to subdue him.” He grinned a little. “Not a pretty sight. Took a rock, an’–”

“I can imagine, thank ye.” Bortix inhaled and sighed. “What the ‘ell am I s’posed to do about it?”

“That’s a good question, sir,” Klinden said, nodding. Bortix glowered at him.

A young cadet named Stroveta sprinted up the stairs and skidded to a halt. “Sir! There has been an assassination attempt upon the queen!”

Bortix stared. “Say again, soldier?”

“Chap with a camouflage robe managed to sneak in somehow, the queen disarmed him herself before he could put a blade in her but she’s not happy at all. She commands you attend her in her chamber after you interrogate the prisoner. Sir!” The cadet threw a salute and stood awaiting further orders. 

Bortix raised an eyebrow at Klinden. “Mind the watch, Mr Klinden. Cadet, back to your post.”

The queen and her daughter had long been students of self-defense, learning from Bortix how to disarm and disable in case their guards should fail in some regard. Bortix, while instructing them, gravely advised that failure on the part of his soldiers to protect the royal family could result in execution, but that a headless guard would never bring the queen or her daughter back to life. So when the man posing as a servant made a wild stab in Hespa’s direction, she reacted without thinking, snatching the man’s wrist, applying pressure to a point in his wrist and twisting his numb hand up behind his back, forcing to him to the ground. At a shout from her, five guards burst into her chamber, swords drawn, spears at the ready. They beheld their monarch standing behind a stranger who was kneeling before her, tears running down a very red face with an expression of agony as she jerked his arm ever higher between his shoulder blades. 

“This scum attempted to put a blade inside me,” snarled Hespa, breathing heavily as she addressed the first guard. “Find out who he is and where he comes from.” She jerked his arm up savagely and a loud, wet pop reverberated in the chamber and in the ears of every guard. The man sucked in a breath to scream but before a sound could escape his throat the queen’s voice was hissing in his ear. “Suffer in silence or I will end you myself right now.” In her hand suddenly appeared a long slim blade, the tip a fraction of an inch from the man’s eye. He shut his mouth, tears streaming down his face as the soldiers jerked him to his feet and marched him from the room. 

Hespa paced back and forth in her chamber, her mind still racing. Her narrow escape bothered her, not because of her own mortality but because it spoke to the lack of security from which the castle suffered. She was not in the habit of looking at her servants as they attended her and only the quick movement in the reflection of the window had alerted her in time to turn and block her would-be assassin’s arm.

There was a knock and Bortix stood in her doorway. “Your Highness.”

“Enter, Bortix, and tell me that the slime has divulged his master and purpose and departed this realm,” the queen snapped, moving to pour herself a glass of amber liquid and sip from it as Bortix made his report. 

“Lady, the assassin was sent by the kingdom of Heyworth, in retaliation for the death of the prince murdered by the Princess Alasin.”

The queen’s eyes grew wide and she swallowed half her drink. “Did you learn anything else?”

“Nay, milady. Alas we were unable to get anything more out of ‘im, for the techniques employed to acquire as much knowledge as we did left the prisoner so diminished that he expired shortly after sharing that information.” A ghost of a smile flitted around his mouth.

“Good,” muttered the queen.  

Alasin stood at her window, staring into the darkness and at her reflection. She blinked. It blinked. She smiled. 

It did not.

“Good evening, Princess.” 

Alasin jumped and whirled, half raising a hand to strike before she saw it was the wizard.

“Sapius!” she gasped. “Announce yourself!”

“I apologize madam, I merely acted in haste to inform you of your mother’s wishes.” He spread his hands apologetically.

“What is it?” Alasin asked, her hands shaking. “What does she want?”

“It regards the fate of Prince Heyworth, madam.”

“His fate was known to my mother and she was unbothered by it,” Alasin said, doing her best to maintain her composure. 

“Yes, but that was before she had survived an assassin’s attempt to dispatch her as retribution for your crime.” The wizard’s voice was flat, but chills reverberated from it. 

Alasin froze, her eyes moving back toward Sapius slowly, her face an expression of horror. As if on cue, there was a knocking at her chamber door. “Milady, guards.” 

The princess’s face was the color of parchment as she stammered out “Enter” and looked with terror to Sapius, who only smiled in that infuriating manner. 

The guard who entered was a simple man. He had been a farmer before he had tired of the physical labor and joined the armed forces. He had no  time for theater nor playing games and was a favorite to play cards with, for his face was an open book. Alasin read on it now, fear and loathing as the guard looked at her. 

“Princess, the queen bids you join her in her chamber.” He stepped back, into the corridor, spear at the ready, waiting for her.  

“You could not honestly have thought that your secret would not travel.” the wizard said, sounding severe. “Three soldiers beheld you in the act of murdering the prince. We had them killed as soon as possible, but it was too late. They have told, and those have told, and it didn’t take long for spies to relay the word to Heyworth kingdom that Princess Alasin murdered Prince Heyworth with her poisoned blade. It took even less time for a cadet to spread the word that the queen has already narrowly escaped assassination.”

Alasin’s eyes grew huge. “You mean… does everybody know?”

“You may draw that conclusion, Princess,” said Sapius.