Five days remain until the eve of summer; four nights must pass before I can see my Lothar. Two mornings ago, I discovered that I am definitely not pregnant but in three days time I should be clean again and ready to try once more for a child— for my sweet daughter.
Throughout the past week, I have assisted my mother at her stand in the marketplace in hopes of seeing him, if only for a glance. But alas.
Therefore, I have decided that the best way to make time pass quickly is to keep myself busy. I study my mother’s beloved potion tome, trying to memorize its magic.
I experiment with different potions to stock my mother’s shelves. Strange as it may sound, I feel as though the ingredients call to me, letting me know which ones to take and how much to use for each brew.
As I cook up each new creation, I feel a sense of power surge through me. It is both invigorating and soothing. I know that this is my true magic; I just wonder how I will use it when I am a queen.
I cannot stay cooped up in my tiny hut all day, though. As much as I enjoy the art of potion making, I need fresh air and time away from the bubbling cauldron—and from the witches.
Especially one in particular.
Especially one in particular.
So I find another pleasurable means to burn away my time—shopping. I have been in need of a new dress since my best one transformed into an evening gown that I am unable to wear in my current home.
A silvery gown adorned with roses of white lace captures my attention. I’d happily trade all of my old dresses for this beauty.
But then, I know that my mother would not be pleased, and I have already been in enough trouble with the witches without gallivanting around the camp dressed like a princess. Also, as I suspected, the cost is more than I can afford. With a sigh, I say to myself, oh well.
The dressmaker approaches me, arrayed in another stunning frock of green. “Lovely, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Mistress,” I answer. “Your work is magnificent. It’s just a bit out of my price range.”
“I can see you wearing it,” she says. “It would look even lovelier on you.”
“Thank you,” I say, “but even if I could pay for it, I doubt my mother would approve of me spending all of my money on something that extravagant.”
The dressmaker does not relent. “You know, my mother had a saying that she always used to tell my sisters and me. She said that the things that are meant to be yours will always come to you. I think that gown is a perfect match for you. Perhaps not today, but someday soon, I’m sure you will have it.”
I thank her again and excuse myself.
As she greets the next customer, I walk away in search of something more practical. There will be plenty of lovely gowns in my life after I marry Lothar. He is what is truly meant to be mine. After him, I can let the rest go.
Once I have left the shop, the same man from inside greets me with a grin. “Please tell me, Miss, what a pretty girl like you is doing in a place like this.”
Oh dear. I wish there was something I could wear that would let men know that I am spoken for. A piece of jewelry, perhaps.
“I’m shopping,” I answer shortly.
In a surprising act of boldness, this man takes my hand. “I am Markius of the House of Gauntkey. And your name is…”
I pull away and answer, “Corynne of the betrothed.”
Instead of the humbled reaction I had hoped for, his ridiculous grin only grows wider. “If I was your betrothed, I would not allow such a beautiful lady to wander around the marketplace alone.”
He leans in close and in a daunting tone says, “It’s a scary world out there, Miss Corynne.”
I throw up my fists in my best fighting stance. “I’ll have you know I am lethal with a candlestick.”
“I’ll bet you are.” He chuckles and says, “Forgive me my dear, but I was wrong. You are absolutely terrifying!”
Unable to help myself, I join in his laughter. But our jesting is quickly interrupted as a cry rises from the square.
“The queen is dead!” A boy shouts, as the crowd swarms around him.
“Dead!” He cries again as people gasp and shriek in response. “Found murdered on the palace steps!”
No. Oh, my poor Lothar. I cannot imagine the pain he must be in right now.
“No, it can’t be!” the dressmaker sobs from behind us.
“Scary world,” Markius says softly.
I am overwhelmed by the emotion I feel at the loss of someone who never treated me kindly. But she was Lothar’s mother and he loved her, so his loss is mine as well.
As my eyes brim over with tears, I tell Markius, “I have to go.”
And then I run to my love. Or rather, I run to a place where I can open a portal to him without catching attention.
Just as I’d hoped, Lothar is in his room. I find him slumped at his writing desk, staring intently at nothing.
“I had to come,” I say. “I just heard. I’m sorrier than you could possibly know.”
“So am I,” he says, his voice full of sorrow and rage. “If I could have convinced my father about my brother sooner, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. He knows the truth now, though. Litham joined up with a band of criminals, promising them a queen’s ransom in exchange for their service. The king’s soldiers captured five men, including Litham. According to thieves’ story, they meant to return my mother safely once they got their money, but something went wrong. My father has sentenced them all to hang—Litham right along with them.
“I know it’s killing him to condemn his own son to die. His health has been waning since my mother disappeared and I don’t know if his heart is strong enough to bear this.” He sighs and hangs his head. “I never wanted to become king this way.”
“I am so sorry,” I say again. “If there’s anything I can do for you…”
“Forgive me, but I’m not much in the mood for company. It would be better if you go.”
He puts his head down on the desk and groans, a sound from his core that is both angry and anguished.
“But when will I see you?” I ask. “What about the mating ceremony?”
“I’ve given you my word, I’ll be there.”
I try to release my own frustration through my evening chores. While attempting to scrub the wood off an oak countertop, I sense the presence of someone unwanted.
“Ah, there you are, dear. I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“Oh? Why ever for?” I ask flatly.
“To congratulate you, of course! I must admit that I didn’t think you had it in you, but there you have it.”
“Ivaine, what are you talking about?” I can already feel my head beginning to throb.
“There’s no need to be coy, you can tell me. We all heard the news today. It’s no secret—I know you killed the queen.”
“For your information, I didn’t kill anybody,” I say, stabbing my finger toward her. “It was Lothar’s treasonous brother and he’s going to hang for it.”
Ivaine sighs. “That’s a shame. If you really had done it, I would almost respect you. Almost.”
“I imagine it must be difficult for you to respect any form of life.”
She brays in agreement. “You’re right. People are so stupid—men and women alike. They all fall into the same boring patterns without even realizing they’ve become prisoners in their own lives. And they all think such wicked thoughts while pretending to be good and pure. For what? Who are they trying to impress? But the saddest thing I’ve ever seen was when the witches accepted you back with welcoming arms after you spewed that rubbish about turning from your evil ways. Could you honestly respect anyone like that?”
“I can think of one type of person I can’t respect,” I answer.
“Do you want to know why I’ve never liked you?” she asks.
I shrug. “I always figured it was because you’re miserable and hate-filled and don’t like anybody, but please, do tell.”
She leans forward, in my face. “You’re weak! Granted, most people are weak but you surpass them all. The way you always cried when we were kids, the way you crawled back here after sneaking away in the night. And here I thought you’d actually done something to redeem yourself but I obviously should have known better.
“When I want something, I go after it. When I have something to say, I say it. When I see something that needs to be done, I bloody well do it!
“I doubt you’ll ever have what it takes to get what you want from life. You’ll just keep teetering, trying to please everyone, until you fall. And then I’ll be there to laugh at you. So long, Corynne.”
I watch in disbelief as she walks away. Thank the Goddess that she and Litham never met. The world would truly be a scary place if that had happened.
“I didn’t expect to see you on such a dark occasion, Corynne,” Markius greets me. Funny that he spotted me in this crowd. He is carrying a package wrapped in what looks to me like expensive fabric.
“I find that hard to believe,” I reply. “I have only seen you every day this week, why should today be any different?”
Markius of the House of Gauntkey has become the most frequent customer at the potion stand.
My mother has not minded because he buys the most expensive products. I am sure that the elixirs are not why he keeps coming, though.
“If I didn’t know any better I would wager that you followed me here,” I tell him.
“No, but I had hoped to see you at the market today. I have a gift for you, but I wanted to give it to you when your mother was not around. If you don’t mind my saying, she seems a bit overprotective.”
“I… I can’t accept this. I have told you already that I am betrothed.”
“Nonsense,” he says. “It isn’t that kind of gift. Just call it a favor from a friend.”
“Well… alright.” I relinquish and take the package.
My mouth falls open in astonishment when I see the delicate white lace and silver satin inside the box.
“You bought me the dress! I can’t believe you did this.”
“I saw you admiring it and I wanted to see you smile. I believe that the things that are meant to be yours will come to you. Wear it at your wedding if you like, or at some happier occasion than this.”
“Silence!” The king’s head knight brings the crowd to a hush that is heavy with anticipation. “On this morning all of you will bear witness to justice brought upon some of the worst criminals this great kingdom has ever seen.”
Garim raises his fist. “The scum awaiting their punishment behind these stone walls have committed the most heinous crime in the past hundred years and now their payment must come!”
The crowd roars in response, both booing the prisoners and cheering the oncoming event.
“For the brutal and remorseless murder of our beloved queen, these traitors will hang by the neck until dead.”
A gallows built for five men stands ominously before us. Although I had hoped to not have to see another man die for a long, long time, I felt the need to be here. The absences of Lothar and his family are glaring, but I understand them.
Coldly, Garim orders, “Bring forth the condemned.”
Herded out of the prison by the guards, the five men march in a line to their impending death.
Right in the middle is Litham, brought out to die like a common criminal among them. He is given no fanfare or dignity.
One by one, the five are led to the gallows. Each man stops to stand at the place where he will depart from mortality and a rope is dropped around his neck. The air becomes still and eerily silent, as though everyone here is holding their breath. Without warning, the platform beneath the condemned men falls away, and the ropes snap taut. The sight of a man hanging is truly haunting. He struggles and gasps to hold onto life as it quickly escapes his jerking body, until he stops moving entirely.
As I watch my attacker, this murderer who has destroyed the life of the one I love most, brought to his end, I wonder if the hatred I feel will die with him.
It does not.