The Woods,a dark existence living at the edge of the Realm whispers to the Princess.
|“Princess,” a voice sounding far away called. I was beyond hearing, my eyes caught on the darkness radiating from the woods, reaching, reaching for me. “Come, my princess, come…” it whispered, over and over, “Come…”
I was startled back to reality when I someone grabbed my shoulder and shook it. My eyes widened and my head whipped around to find Daniel staring at me with an alarmed expression. Before I could say anything there was a shout from the far end of the room. William approached us with angry eyes from across the room. “You dare touch the princess!” her roared at Daniel.
I let out an exhausted sigh. “William,” I said wearily, “it is fine. Don’t get worked up over it.”
He gazed at Daniel while speaking to me. “Princess, this no good filth should not be here, you know this. We are already tolerating his presence but then he dares to touch you,” I cut him off with my glare.
“No one here is filth William, and I suggest you take that to heart. I have already told you that it was fine and you have not listened to me. Am I to assume you do not trust your Princess?” His face went pale.
“N-no!” he stammered, “Of course not my Lady.”
“Then you are dismissed,” I said coldly. Pale and trembling, he cast one last outraged glare to Daniel before turning on his heel and stomping out of the room. Daniel’s cheek was twitching from barely concealed amusement.
“Well played Princess,” he said.
“Oh be quiet Daniel,” I said. I turned from where I stood to gaze out the window at the forest again.
There was a pause before he asked quietly, “Is it talking to you again?”
I didn’t respond for a while, my thoughts lost in memories best left forgotten. Finally, “Yes, and it’s getting stronger.”
I turned back to Daniel only to find his dark blue eyes staring intently into mine, his forehead creased with worry. I felt my breath catch in my throat. How was he able to do that? Just one look from him caused my chest to feel like it was caving in on itself. He made me want to giggle like a silly girl. I was the Princess of the Realm, damn it! I would not let something as trivial as this distract me, I had far more important things to focus on than this, I had the Realm to manage after all
Daniel used to be a small time criminal in the capital. Somehow, he had been smart enough to work his way up the ranks and become the most famous criminal. He was a dashing young man of eighteen with dark brown hair and a mischievous smile that instantly let you know he was trouble. We had met when he had finally been caught by the police. The trial was for him stealing a precious jewel passed down through the bloodline. It was rumored to contain magic inside but I had yet to see any evidence. My advisers had wished for me to stay away from the trial, insisting it was too dangerous but he had stolen something my late mother had loved almost more than me, I needed to see who it was that had caused such fury to rest in my stomach, I had wanted to see him hanged for his crimes. Then, taking one look at him standing there in dirty rags with his hands and feet chained together, looking totally undaunted by the turn of events, looking smug even, I got the feeling he would turn out to be useful. I had stopped his death sentence and made him my Personal Guard. He was a well-trained soldier; well that’s what he told me anyway. Personal guard of course was just a cover; really he was my own personal spy.
With the Realm on the brink of war with the southern country Greyden, I couldn’t even entertain the idea of trusting my closest advisors; they could always be a spy for our enemy. I needed a way to know the reality of the situation without hearing it from someone else’s mouth who could be my enemy. Obviously though I didn’t trust Daniel, the notorious robber, and it took some work to actually get him to trust me. I had to bribe him with the promise of freedom to get him to even consider working for me. Then when he agreed, I had to do the Promise Ritual so he wouldn’t be able to spread around the real purpose I had hired him as my personal guard.
The Promise Ritual was a magic promise, only able to be performed by those in the royal bloodline. It assures that those taking the ritual could not go against their oath without permission from all parties involved. If someone did try to go against the oath without permission then it was instant death.
Over the past two months since he became my personal spy, relations between us had gotten a little bit easier, though I couldn’t say the same for everyone else in the castle. My advisors kept a close eye on him and always seemed to be spitting on him. It was beyond tiring trying to keep the peace.
I was only seventeen and already had to keep these fools in line while trying to manage the Realm sitting inside this damn castle, with war threatening to overrun us, and at the same time deal with Daniel, and then on top of that, there are the woods...
My castle sat right on the edge of the dark woods. It was a forest full of evil magic, dark fairies, ogres, and something else so dark its name was rarely spoke these days, to afraid that speaking it aloud would summon it. The Zeppa. No one knew what it was, just that it ruled over the dark woods and it whispered to you from the dark woods trying to entice you to come into the woods. Some have gone and they were never heard from again.
I glanced at the room I stood in, wishing to distract myself. We were in my study, a small room composed of a desk and a bookshelf smashed full of books I longed to read but no longer had the time to. I walked over to my desk, my shoes making sharp tabs on the marble floor and picked up one of the many reports on some cities in the Realm.
My eyes scanned it quickly with growing alarm.
I said, “The town of Amelia has been taken over by Grayden’s soldiers.”
Daniel stiffened at this. He walked over to me quickly and read over my shoulder.
“Princess,” he hesitated, “does this mean we go to war?”
My lips tightened in anger. War. I had promised my mother as a child we would never go to war, never. Keep the peace she told me. My mother had been a good queen, and I would not disrespect her in such a way of going to war, but if Greyden continued these actions I would have no choice but to retaliate.
“Daniel,” I said, my thoughts racing, “bring in Jared.” Jared was one of my advisors. He looked like he wanted to ask why but said nothing, just nodded and left the room. I allowed my shoulders to slump slightly. I was so tired.
Faintly, I heard the whispering, “Come to me Princess, come…”
I shook my head sharply, trying to get rid of the voices. In the process though a piece of my tightly bound hair escaped. I quickly took the strand of curly red hair and tucked it behind my ear. I took a deep breath, smoothing down my dark blue dress, trying to calm myself, trying not to notice my shaking hands.
A few moments later there was a small nock on the door and Daniel came in followed by a small man with graying hair. Daniel walked over to me and stood slightly behind me on my right side.
“Princess,” he murmured, bowing his head respectfully.
“Jared,” I began, “Greyden has taken over the town Amelia. They wish to start a war, while I on the other hand have no such wish. I would like to have a meeting with the King of Greyden.”
Jared looked shocked and Daniel’s eyes widened a fraction, but that was the only response he gave. “Princess,” Jared began hurriedly, “meeting with a King as powerful as him, well, that’s just simply out of the question! It’s too dangerous.”
My back stiffened in anger. Daniel smirked slightly at Jared’s mistake. “Out of the question you say? I am the Princess, am I not?” I demanded, my voice taking on the tone of one who holds power and demands that everyone else respect this. Jared paled and looked down.
“Jared, look at me,” I said sharply. He did. I may only be seventeen, but I was still the Princess and I’d be damned if an advisor said I couldn’t do something. “Greyden has taken over Amelia, killed our citizens. I cannot stand such an insult, but offering him what he wants, war, will only lead to more death. My mother would have never let it come to such measures. I will follow her footsteps and do the best I can to ensure her final wish of peace and the only way I see to do that besides lying down and allowing him to take over our country would be to reason and negotiate with him. You say it is too dangerous to hold a meeting? It would be too dangerous not to! I will not stand by and watch as he murders my people. My life is not worth more than those of my people.”
Jared was trembling I noticed with some satisfaction. “Now, I am not asking your permission. I am your Princess and this is an order. You are to send word to the king that I would like to discuss our current,” I paused, before spitting out, “situation. You are dismissed.”
He bowed again, his face white, before turning and scurrying out. Daniel closed the door and turned back to me.
“A dangerous move, Princess.”
I dropped into the chair behind my desk, closing my eyes. “I know very well the risks Daniel. But like I said, my life is not worth more than my peoples.”
Daniel snorted. “A pretty speech by the way, though I wonder if you really mean it.” I opened one eye and stared at him.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Do you really value your life so little?” he asked quietly. I opened both eyes and sat up.
“It’s not a matter of value Daniel. I just meant that I am not worth more than my people, but that doesn’t mean I am worth less. We are equals.”
“Princess,” he said taking a step closer. “You are digging your own grave saying that. People will question your right to rule if you start spouting that to everyone who comes near you.” There was a dangerous glint in his eyes that made me shiver.
“Be quiet Daniel, I need to think,” I said finally, closing my eyes and relaxing back in the chair. I heard his footsteps a moment later retreat to the chair near the bookcase and sit down.
Floating through the window I could hear its soft whispers.
“Come to me Princess, come…”
I was sitting in my study when I heard a small knock at the window. My head whipped around to find Daniel sitting on the ledge outside the window. Each time he did that I felt my heart leap to my throat from fear, and I still had no idea how he got up there.
Slowly I stood and walked over to him. He gave me a cocky grin from the other side. I rolled my eyes and pulled the window open. “Well?” I asked walking back to my chair. He climbed inside and quickly shut the window. “Is Jared doing as I asked?”
“Yes Princess. It seems he has sent word on horseback to the king. I intercepted the messenger to ensure it was the right message.” I nodded.
“And?” I said, slightly impatient after he took a long pause to respond.
“I’ve talked to some servants; you’d be amazed at some of things they hear. There is a spy within the castle walls though I am not sure who.” I raised my eyebrows at him.
“I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be you Daniel,” I said.
“Give me a little credit Princess, if I were the spy why would I warn you about myself?” he said with one raised eyebrow.
I waved my hand at him. “Yes, yes, my mistake for even considering it. Still though, I’m surprised you haven’t found a name yet.”
“Whoever the spy is they are being suspiciously anonymous. Either they are really good or really lucky. Not sure which I prefer,” he said, his eyes darkening. I nodded, only half listening. My eyes had once again found the woods that sat outside my window.
“Come to me, come…”
I stood up suddenly, knocking my chair back. Daniel took a step back, startled. “I need to get out of here; I've been in this stuffy room far too long.”
Daniel frowned but nodded. I set out of the room Daniel close at my heels. He didn't understand the phrase ‘personal space’ or ‘privacy’. He seemed to think there was always going to be an attack around the corner. When I demanded to know once why he cared so much if I live he had rolled his eyes like I was an idiot and said, “Someone’s got to do the job and the rest of ‘em who are capable are idiots. They would turn the Realm into a trash bin full of crap. You seem like the Realm’s best bet. Besides if you died you can bet I’d be close to follow. Your advisers don’t seem to like me.”
I walked down the empty corridor, my heels making loud noises as I walked. The corridor led to a stairway that ended at a garden. My study was in a tower connected to the castle and next to the study was a beautiful garden that sat on the opposite side of the woods.
When I walked into the garden I was hit in the face by the smell of all the flowers. I followed a small path made of dirt into the depths of the garden. There were your normal flowers, petunias, lily’s, roses, and plenty more I couldn't even name. Then there were the ones filled with magic, the Jade Stones which came in all colors, flowers that actually looked like stones but if you picked it it would quickly die and become shriveled. There were the Butterfly’s, flowers that when fully grown looked exactly like a butterfly and had a bad habit of flapping its wings to scare away people who didn’t understand what they were. Then there was the Night Raids, my personal favorite. During the day they looked like ordinary roses except for the fact that they were dark blue. At night when the moon came out they sparkled like the stars. They were one of the rarest flowers out there and I had to fight nail and claw to get a few in this garden.
In the center of the garden I found a small little pond with a bench sitting near it. I rested on the bench and took a deep breath of the fresh air. All of the scents mingled together creating a Utopia of sorts. I felt all the tension and fear leave my body leaving only peace and calmness.
I could feel Daniel a couple of feet behind me standing there, tense and alert. It hadn’t been the first time I had insisted on coming out here and he following me.
My eyes settled on the pond watching the ripples of water as a frog jumped in and a fish came close to the surface trying to catch a bug that sat on the water. I felt so calm that my eyes started to shut but they jerked open when I heard someone shout, “Princess!”
I let out a weary sigh and rubbed my forehead, sensing my oncoming headache. I stood, gave the pond a regretful look and turned back to find William running towards me.
I stood there patiently, waiting for him to arrive. Daniel came and stood where he always did, slightly behind me to the right. His hand was casually resting against the sword on his hip but I knew he could whip it out in less than a second. It once again left me wondering where Daniel actually came from. He insists he’s just a criminal but each time he says that I can see the lie in his eyes and the way he bites his lip nervously is a dead giveaway, then he tries to change the subject. I usually let it drop, to his obvious relief.
Just a criminal he says, yeah right.
When William was finally in front of me he was panting. “What is it?” I asked.
His brown eyes went to Daniel with barely concealed disgust before turning back to me. He ran a hair through his already ruffled black hair and said quietly, “Princess your advisers wish to have a meeting.” It took all of my will power to keep a grimace off my face. A meeting with all of them, confined into one room for who knew how long. Sounded fun.
“Why?” I asked sharply. William was fifty four years old and was one of my more cowardly advisers. He flinched.
“They, I mean we, want to discuss your meeting with the King.” He hesitated then added, his gaze darting to Daniel then back again, “Preferably alone.”
Daniel stiffened. “Daniel will attend the meeting or I will not. There is no room for discussion. Now, will the meeting be in the usual place?” I asked.
William scowled at the floor but nodded. “Well then what are we waiting for?” I started off for the Meeting Hall, William and Daniel close behind.
When we finally made it to the Meeting room after walking through twisting corridors and long hallways, this castle is too big, I swear, and stood in front of the big double doors I pressed my lips into a tight line. I took a deep breath before opening the door.
It was a large room with marble floors. In the center was a long table with many occupied chairs surrounding it. When I walked in eleven men stood up at my presence, but I quickly waved them down, back into their seats. William hurried past me and sat in one of the empty chairs at the right side of the table. I walked over to the end and sat down in a large chair, much to big for me.
"Princess," they all murmured at the same time. One day, I wanted to be greeted by my actual name, Amelia, not that title, but I knew it would be to much to ask from these people, and there was no way I would ask Daniel to call me by my name.
"Gentlemen, I was told you would like to discuss my meeting with the King," I said, not bothering to make small talk.
I could feel Daniel standing against the doors behind me, watching the advisers like a hawk.
One of the advisers closer to me on my left turned to William and asked sharply, "Did you not tell her the other reason?"
William flinched, looking miserable. "I was afraid she wouldn't come if I told her." My back stiffened.
"Well?" I asked the room, looking at each man who surrounded me, shifting uncomfortably, with barely contained anger. "I do not like being deceived so I suggest on of you fess up."
The one who had addressed William, James Garden, said to me, "We also wished to discuss your crowning ceremony." Even now, I still wanted to flinch at the mention of it.
I eyed the older man, possibly in his seventies, with graying hair and wrinkles on his face. I never paid much attention to him in other meetings due to the fact that he rarely spoke, but that didn't mean I hadn't noticed him. He seemed to be one of the more reasonable ones of the bunch.
"What could there be to discuss?" I asked. "The Zeppo-," they all let out small gasps when I said the name except for James and Daniel, "supposedly, cast a curse on the ceremony. I cannot be crowned as Queen."
"We know this very well, Princess," one of the men, Wesley Rind, rumbled to my right. He was a heavier man, with a black beard and hair, wearing expensive looking clothes. "We mean to take counter measures though."
My eyes widened slightly, but I said nothing. Wesley shifted in his seat under my silence before continuing. "We wish to attack the woods and find the beast that did this and make him reverse it. We have discussed this, and all of us agree."
'We' of course meaning my advisers, without me. I narrowed my eyes at all of them and asked, "What is your plan?"
They looked slightly taken back that I wasn't immediately refusing their plan before Wesley continued. "Well, we wish to send scouts in, to help us understand where the creature is." Even though I was angry at them for discussing this without me, some small part of me noticed in exasperation that they still refused to address the Zeppo by it's name.
It was a good and simple plan, of course. If I was to attack the Zeppo it would be prudent to know where he is, and any other information I could get on the area, his power, and whereabouts. But still...
"No," I said calmly. Everyone but James looked surprised.
"Princess," Wesley began hurriedly.
I cut in before he could try and convince me I was wrong. "You know the legends gentlemen, no one who enters comes out. And you wish to send scouts in, risking their lives like that? No, it will not happen. Besides, even if the scouts did manage to survive and we launched an attack, do you honestly think we could win? We are only humans, they are creatures with magic, do not get cocky."
One of the other men, Gavin, sputtered out, "We are the Realm! Surely we could take on a few creatures!"
I let out a sigh before saying, "And that proves how naive you are. It is lucky that we haven't been attacked yet, and besides, this whole plan relies on the fact that the curse can be reversed, and then there is the fact that we don't have any solid proof that the Zeppo did cast it. The Zeppo has not come out right and said it, it could have been someone else."
James nodded at this and said, "That is why we suggested sending in scouts, just to be sure. To confirm what we already believe to be true."
"The answer," I repeated, "is no. We will not waste innocent lives on something such as this." I turned my gaze on all of them, daring any of them to argue with me.
"Well, now that that is settled, you wanted to discuss the meeting with the King," I said, wearily.
That conversation resulted in an hour more of arguing whether I should bring Daniel with me, if I should bring more guards, whether I should even go, and where it might be held. I ended up winning on the account of bringing Daniel, but they insisted on four more guards accompanying me, and James somehow convinced me to allow him to come to. We would probably have to meet with the King at his own castle, but it was not set in stone, as he still had yet to reply.
Suffice to say by the end of it I was exhausted. When I stood to leave they all stood with me and I was to out of it to tell them to sit down. Daniel opened the door for me. I walked out, him close behind. I heard the door shut behind us. When I finally made it to the study I collapsed in the chair and closed my eyes.
"Daniel," I said.
"Yes Princess?" he said, sounding almost as exhausted as I felt.
"Watch James, I wish to know if I can trust him to come with me to the meeting. Also help my advisers pick the correct guards to accompany us to the meeting. I don't want anyone turning on me when we are there."
There was a pause before I heard him say quietly, "Right away."
He walked out of the study, closing the door with a small click.