An Original Short Story by Jinapher J. Hoffman
As the days trickled into months, the kingdom of Cale became more of a place of misery for Ana than it did paradise. Her days were filled with a plethora of events, usually starting and ending with tea with Jason. “You will never love each other if you do not learn to love each other,” Maybell, my etiquette teacher, had repeated several times as I whined every day about sitting at a table with the world’s biggest ego. She would always raise a hand, prompting me to shut my mouth, but of course it never worked. I haven’t shut my mouth since I got here. It was a silent promise I made myself: to be heard, to help the people of Crypt by using my voice, and to somehow honor the many deaths King Maysion has let go unnoticed by both the Crypt and Cale people. No one knew their King was a murderer with the exception of Jason and myself.
I kick at my skirts, uncomfortable in the dress Maybell insisted I wear to tea today and pout as Jason walks in, his military uniform on. Small medals of honor glimmer across his uniform jacket and I can’t help but roll my eyes. Jason has started to slowly become an image of stupidity in my head. He’s smart, but in all the wrong ways, and he’s handsome, but for all the wrong reasons. Of course, we both only have one thing in common, and it’s that we can’t stand each other. We’re too different, coming from contrasting ends of a spectrum. He sees King Maysion’s, his father’s, reasons for kiling off Crypt to be acceptable. I obviously don’t agree, since I, myself, would have plunged to my death had I not been the Princess of Cale.
“You’re doing that glare thing again,” Jason says, his voice rough from a long day of yelling out orders to his soldiers.
I squint, “Better?”
“Worse,” he drums his fingers on the tea table and then straightens his back, “You look nice today. It’s almost as if you’re a real princess, well, except the slouch.”
I’d growl at him, but I doubt that’s princess behavior either. So, I just glare some more.
Jason sighs and points to the maze of gardens, “Join me for a walk?”
“Fine, but don’t get any ideas, Your Highness,” I tell him as he stands and I take his arm. He guides me to the pathway that loops and weaves between delicate flowers of all shapes and sizes. Most of them are the kind of plants that can only exist without sunlight, but stunningly, they are still beautiful. I’ve come to learn the Cale is like a really big fish tank. Even the gardens are glassed in and lit up with little twinkling lights that someone had strung from the railings at the top of the tank. It’s scary at times, looking past the glass and at the empty blue expanse. I’m always afraid some kind of sea monster will attack, but I’ve already voiced those opinions to Jason and he says I’m ridiculous.
I’ve been called that a lot lately, and I don’t like it.
“I talked to my father this morning about the wedding,” Jason brings up, keeping his eyes straight ahead as he continues, “He said three weeks.”
That’s it? Only three weeks. I can’t say I wasn’t hoping for longer.
“It’s a lot sooner than I expected,” Jason seems to read my mind, “but, I think I have a plan.”
I stop at that, because I’m amazed that Jason is even trying to get out of it. Though we don’t like each other, and probably will never love each other, Jason always has seemed to accept his father’s decision for him to marry me. I watch as he lets out a sigh and gives me a strange look.
“We will never work,” he admits, keeping his expression calm, “We will never be the King and Queen my father wants on the throne after he passes away, but we cannot disobey him either. I’ve thought long and hard on this, and I think it would benefit our hearts to have others be with us while we are married.”
That’s not what I was expecting, and for some reason, it angers me. “Absolutely not,” I say without hesitation, “If I have to be married to someone then I will be a dutiful wife. I refuse to be a part of something like that.”
Jason looks shocked, “But you do not love me, and I cannot disobey my father’s orders. We must get married, and I know we won’t be happy if we can’t be with the one’s who actually do make us happy.”
I shake my head, “Do you hear yourself? What happens when we are supposed to produce heirs to the throne? Will we sneak behind each others backs then and raise children from another man or woman? That’s absurd.”
“Nothing will have to be secret,” Jason tries, “whomever we want by our sides can stay in the palace with us night and day. We will only ever have to actually be together in front of the people. Children can simply be a…diplomatic sort-of love.”
I think I might throw up. “I will not be pregnant with a child of yours. I will not be intimate with you ever. It’s disgusting.”
Jason scoffs, “Am I really that terrible? I’ve showed you nothing but kindness, and even now, I’m trying to offer you happiness with another man. Why won’t you accept?”
“You’re my cousin!” I screech.
Jason reddens, “I know that, but what else can we do?”
I turn away from him, not knowing how to keep a level head around him. I refuse to marry him, not if it means I have to break every rule to marriage ever invented. I may be from Crypt, and I may not be the most polite princess, but I am a girl who holds enough respect for herself to keep herself out of those kinds of situations. An idea pops into my head and I almost laugh at myself for thinking it.
“What if you die?” I ask him.
“What?” Jason looks horrified, “You’d kill me?”
I cringe. Yes, my idea is morbid, but… “No, I mean, what if we faked your death and sent you into hiding. We wouldn’t have to lie to your father about it, in fact, he’d probably love that idea. I could marry whomever I choose and he would become king, but you could be his official advisor. You’d be able to still live in the palace and marry who you want too, without having to go through with some absurd agreement on conceiving children.”
Jason frowns and runs a hand through his hair, “That won’t be happening. I will not hide from my people. If anyone should go into hiding, it should be you. You’re hardly a princess and who ever you choose to be your king will most likely be just as bad. If anyone’s going into hiding, it’s you.”
ugh. “I can’t go into hiding. I need the people to hear me, to know me, and I can’t do that behind-the-scenes,” I argue.
Jason doesn’t say anything to that and he gives me a stern look before making himself very clear, “I am royalty. You are not. This is my kingdom. It is not yours. You have been nothing but a disgrace since you arrived. I’ve given you several chances to prove your worthiness, but you have not. I will arrange for your death. But, Princess, remember that your death does not have to be fake. One wrong move, and you’ll be hanged for all to see. Understand?”
He doesn’t wait for my response, and I watch, mouth hanging open in accusation, as he pivots toward the palace and hurries out of the gardens. My whole body shakes with anger and a million very un-princess-like words pop into my head that I desperately want to scream at the back of his bobbing head, but I don’t. His death threat, it seemed, is genuine. For now on, I have to be the best princess anyone has ever seen. I won’t be able to help Crypt if I’m lying dead in a dirt hole somewhere, or worse: floating in the empty expanse of the ocean around us. Quickly, I carry myself back towards the palace to change. Jason and I’s meeting had run longer than expected and I was beyond late for Maybell’s etiquette class. Not wanting to risk getting chewed out by the old hag, I tumble up the stairs and sprint towards my bedroom on the second story to change. Luckily, most of the halls are cleared. So, I get to my room in peace, but what I find when I get there is not what I expect to see. Digging through my new jewelry is one of the servants, his ash blonde hair hiding his face while he picks up a few of my diamond bracelets and places them swiftly into his pockets. I’m so dumbstruck by the fact that someone from Cale has to steal that I don’t say anything. I just watch him dig around until he looks up and sees my frozen figure. Fear strikes his features and he quickly takes everything out of his pockets and puts it back where he found it.
“Princess,” he gives a low bow, “I am so very sorry. I do not know what had come over me. It will never happen again, I swear on my life.”
“Don’t call me that,” I practically blanch, “and no bowing, or whatever.”
He looks confused as he straightens and I get a good look at his face. Depthless brown eyes, high cheek bones, small dimples, and a speckled amount of freckles make up his face followed by a lean figure, though obviously lean in a muscular way. He looks to be one of the waiters, the standard apron hanging loosely from his powdered black work pants. He looks me over as well, which makes my stomach twist in a humorous way and I try not to laugh at this awkward situation.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he gives me a nod, “I had thought you were the Princess, but I must be mistaken. Can I help you?”
“I am the Princess,” I let out my laughter and then point at him, “I’m just more like you than I’ll ever be more like Prince Jason or King Maysion.”
He looks nervously towards the door and I wonder if he thinks I’m crazy.
“What’s your name?” I ask him.
He clears his throat, “Aben, servant to the Prince.”
“Oh, really?” this intrigues me, “And why on Earth would you ever sign up for that job, Aben?”
Aben almost looks like he might chuckle but he doesn’t, probably thinking that I’m playing some kind of game with him. “I’m sorry, Princess, I do not understand what you mean?” He asks instead.
“Ana,” I tell him, taking out the braids Maybell had forced me into earlier in the day, “My name is Ana.”
“Yes, of course, Princess Ana,” he nods, but I shake my head at him.
“Just Ana,” I say, giving him a small smile, “and you don’t have to pretend around me. I’m not a stuck up jerk like the guy next door.” I throw my thumb back towards the direction of Jason’s room and Aben finally cracks a grin.
“You really aren’t Princess material,” Aben says, his formal tone immediately gone.
I sigh, “No, no, I’m not, but I have to be. Don’t I?”
Aben shurgs, unsure of what I could possibly want from him. I’m not even sure I know myself. So, I pick up one of my diamond bracelets and toss it to him. He catches it easily.
“Thanks for talking to me,” I nod at him, “You can go now.”
Aben stares with a bewildered expression at the bracelet and back at me before shaking his head earnestly, “I cannot accept such kindness.”
“Seriously, dude, take it. I don’t wear jewelry,” I indicate to my bare wrists, neck, and ears.
Aben smiles, letting out a small laugh, “Dude? I can’t say I’ve heard a Princess say that one before.”
I groan, “Please, stop calling me that.”
Aben smiles again, “Of course.”
“Why were you stealing anyways?” I ask him, because I really don’t know. Everyone in Cale seems to thrive. It’s mystifying for someone to need to steal anything.
Aben looks at me carefully and then clenches his teeth together before nodding, “I wasn’t stealing for money, if that’s what you’re asking.”
My braids finally out. I shake my hair and drop the millions of pins onto the counter of my vanity before turning to him and handing him a diamond necklace as well. “Then, take this too,” I grin, “She must be very special.”
“How did you know…” Aben looks taken aback and graciously accepts my offer.
“I know because if you were stealing for yourself, then you would be in the Prince’s room, not mine,” I laugh, “Who is she?”
Aben blushes, “My little sister, actually. It’s her birthday soon and she hasn’t stopped talking about you.”
“Me?” I blush back, “I’m nothing to talk about.”
Aben chuckles, “Well, to her you are everything to talk about. Everyone has been looking forward to the day you returned to Cale. My sister still wonders if you’re as beautiful as everyone has dreamt you to be.”
I juggle this information around in my head. I didn’t realize so many people had been waiting for the moment I returned. I think about all of the classes Maybell has forced me through and all of the tight dresses I have been forced into. I guess it makes sense now why everyone in the palace gets so frustrated with me. They’ve all been expecting some gorgeous soon-to-be queen. I’ll never be that for them, but if girls like Aben’s sister want to be like me and know me, I want to be as picture perfect as I can be.
“You look confused,” is all Aben says after our rather long silence. I glance around until I find the time and smile to myself.
“Aben, do you think I could meet your sister?” I ask him carefully.
His eyes widen and he quickly nods, “Of course. You are the Princess, Ana, and I am your servant.”
I frown, “No, you’re not. You are my friend, and I would like to meet your sister, not the other way around. I’ll need you to sneak me out of the palace. Do you think you could do that?”
Aben rubs the back of his neck in contemplation, “I don’t know, Miss.”
“Seriously, Aben, call me Ana,” I correct him for what seems like the millionth time.
He nods and then bites his lip in hesitation, “I guess I could sneak you through the servant passages after dinner, but you’ll need to be in regular clothing. No fancy out fits or big up-dos.” He motions to the several pins on the vanity as he speaks and points to my outfit to make his point.
I almost jump in joy, “Oh, thank God! I’ve been dying to wear simple clothing for days!”
Aben smiles a wide smile and gives me a bow, though I’ve clearly objected to that, before leaving me to get ready. I check the clock to see how much time I have till dinner and sigh in relief when I see that it’s only a few minutes away. After dinner, I’ll be able to get out of the palace grounds, explore Cale, and hopefully, win some people over to Crypt’s side. When there’s a small chime from the serving bell in the corner of my room, I slip on my flat shoes and practically dance down to the dinner hall. As I enter the room, I calm myself down a bit and sit down in my normal spot across from Jason, who appears to not be here yet. King Maysion, however, sits at the far end of the table, his eyes glued to a piece of parchment. It’s not until Jason finally enters the room that he sits the paper aside and notices I exist. Usually, the king greets me with some form of hello followed by a charming smile. Tonight, I get a glare and a frown.
“Princess,” King Maysion clears his throat and folds his hands together, “Maybell has informed me that you skipped your afternoon etiquette practice. Is this true?”
I knew I had forgotten something between arguing with Jason and planning with Aben. I sit up straight and attack my salad swiftly before clearing my own throat and nodding.
“And why is that?” King Maysion proceeds.
“Well, Your Highness, Prince Jason and I had a bit of a fall out during our tea time today,” I state plainly, ignoring Jason’s piercing gaze, “and afterwards, I simply did not have the patience to go and sit in a room with Maybell.” Though the lie is small, I hope neither of them can see through it. There was no way I would endanger Aben or his little sister by ratting him out for stealing my jewelry.
“Jason,” King Maysion turns angry eyes towards his son, “What is she talking about?”
“We were just discussing marriage, father,” Jason sighs, his expression pained, “We were trying to come up with some…alternative options.”
“Ah, I see,” King Maysion takes a bite of his freshly served chicken and then looks at me, “Princess Ana, you must understand how sorry I am that all of this must be so sudden, but it’s what’s good for the people of this kingdom. Whether you like it or not, you will marry my son, you will rule beside him quietly, and you will bare him at least one heir to the throne. That is what all Princesses are raised to do. It is your duty as your mother’s daughter to carry on the legacy. There will be no ‘if’, ‘ands’, or ‘buts’ about it.”
Anger boils under my skin and I force myself to contain it. Calmly I sit down my fork, “May I at least have a time extension. This is a lot to take on and I’m obviously not going anywhere. Neither is Jason. So, I feel that the people will be fine if we tacked on some extra weeks.”
King Maysion shifts uncomfortably and then forces himself to nod, “Very well. If time is what you need to recognize your duty to your people, then I will give it to you, but be sure to know that this is a gift. It can easily be taken away, Princess.”
I nod, pretending to accept the fact that for a second time I’ve been threatened today. Like father like son, I guess. I finish my salad and my chicken before excusing myself to my room for the night. I can tell that as soon as I shut the door to the dining hall that King Maysion and Jason are talking about me. It’s a cruel feeling and I hate it. I’m not used to having people talk behind my back. I eliminated that problem in Crypt by never telling anyone of my relation to Milda. I shake my head in fury and continue my way up the stairs and toward my bedroom. I know Aben will come by shortly to sneak me out of the palace, and I need to be ready when he does. I clear my head of my “duties” and let my maids undress me for bed. As soon as they’re gone, I’m changing out of my fresh night gown and straight into a pair of pants and a loose t-shirt. The items had been left on my vanity and I assume they’re from Aben. He probably figured I had nothing in my new wardrobe to camouflage myself with. So, I tidy myself the best I can with what he left me and then slip on my flat slipper-like shoes. There is no way I will be sneaking out of the palace in heels. I leave my hair down, hoping it will hide my features in case Aben and I run into anyone who would recognize me. I feel like I wait, sitting on my bed, for hours before there’s finally a silent knock on my door. I immediately flick out my lights and open it to find Aben waiting on me. He looks different without his serving clothes on. Now, his powdered black pants and ordinary white button down have been replaced with a nice pair of jeans and a dark plum colored sweater. His blonde hair, which had looked dirty before, is now striking in the dim lit hall, his brown eyes eagerly watching for any signs of people. As soon as he sees that I’m dressed and ready, he grabs my wrist and yanks me down the hall and around the corner to a shadowed corridor. Placing his hand on a loose brick, he pushes on the wall to reveal a passage.
“Has that always been there?” I ask in curiosity.
“Yeah, at least, it’s been here as long as I have,” Aben whispers, pulling me into the passage and carefully shutting the hidden door back in place, “I think they use these passages for whenever there is a raid, but we haven’t had one in decades, so we should be safe.”
I follow him through the passage for several minutes before he finally stops us and opens a new hidden door out into the brisk breeze. Miraculously, the passage took us underground and all the way out into the village, opening up into a small alley way between a pub and a few shops. Aben leads me through the darkened streets, past quiet houses, and all the way to the outskirts of town. We’ve entered an area where the houses are a little bit more run down, but nothing compared to the destruction and devastation of Crypt. Aben stops us at a little cottage, unique in the way it slants just a tad to the left.
“Well,” he breathes, “this is home.”
“It’s beautiful,” I tell him, noticing the several flowers in the front and the miniature cobble stone steps leading up to it.
“My mom was fond of decor,” Aben smiles, “Especially flowers.”
“Was?” I question.
“Yeah,” his smile fades, “It’s only my little sister and I now.”
“I’m so sorry,” I start to say but he waves my words away.
“Don’t be,” he grins, “My mother would be happy to have you here tonight for my sister.”
I give him a grin back and watch as he unlocks the front door and holds it open for me. We step inside and he starts to light some candles around the house. I watch as he moves from one candle to the next, and it’s not until I look close enough that my heart slows and the world stops. It’s a silent flick of his wrist and his pointer finger ignites. Anyone not looking closely would think he was using a match or a lighter. He bends in just the right way to block his hand from view, but he has seemed to slip up. I watch in mesmerization for a moment before I’m interrupted by a creak of wood. Aben immediately straightens and turns towards the sound.
“Dani,” Aben says with a slight hint of accusation, “You were supposed to be in bed hours ago.”
“I couldn’t sleep,” the girl, maybe twelve or thirteen, peers at me. I’m stunned by her beauty. Many of her features she obviously shares with Aben: the same brown eyes, the same blonde hair, and even the same amount of speckled freckles across her nose. She watches me carefully as if she’s wondering what I’m doing in her home at this hour with her brother. I can’t say I’m not starting to ask myself the same question.
“Is this your little sister?” I question, turning confused eyes to Aben.
Aben only looks slightly guilty and hesitates, “Probably not as little as I made her sound.”
“Who is she?” Dani flicks her long lashes over to her brother with fury, “Why is she here?”
A sick feeling ricochets through my stomach and I take a step back towards the door. “It’s not even her birthday, is it?” I realize.
“Please don’t run,” Aben immediately holds his hands up. At first, I think he’s showing some kind of surrender. Then, I hear the lock click behind me and a chain on the door slide into place. He has magic. In fear, I still grab the door knob and pull as hard as I can, but he’s fully enforced it somehow.
“You’re the princess?” Dani scoffs like it’s a joke, “You cannot be serious, Aben?”
“Dani, shut up,” Aben silences his sister and turns his focus back to me, “I didn’t know how else to talk to you outside the palace. I promise, I mean you no harm.”
“That’s hard to believe when you deceived me to get me here,” I swallow back my fear and stand taller, “What do you want? More diamonds?”
Aben sighs, “No, Ana, not diamonds. We want to help you.”
“Help me?” I shriek.
“Aben, you’re doing a horrible job at pretending to be my sibling,” Dani rolls her eyes and steps in front of her brother. With a flick of her wrist, I fly across the room and land onto a rugged sofa, the breath knocked out of me. I clutch my stomach in pain and squeeze my eyes shut. Dani stands in front of me and gives me a cold look, “Not so royal now, are you? I can’t believe you are what we’ve been waiting for all this time.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I start to defend myself but with a twirl of Dani’s finger an invisible cloth falls over my mouth and gags me. Any words I have are left unsaid.
“I know you don’t know anything,” Dani frowns, “Or else I wouldn’t be lecturing you on yourself.”
I’d ask what the hell she’s talking about, but I think she’s going to tell me. So, I just sit obediently, glaring at Aben whenever I get the chance. How is it that I’d been stupid enough to trust him? In my defense, he is a pretty good actor.
“First off, let’s make something clear, Princess, I do not answer to you. You answer to me. I may look thirteen, but I’m far older than I seem. Aben over there is just one of my pieces in the game, and you are the missing piece to the puzzle,” Dani nods towards Aben, “Leave us be, Aben. You’ve done well tonight. I’ll be sure to let General Fame know his time is done. Now, go.”
Aben gives a slight bow and sends me an apologetic look before leaving the room. Dani watches him go and as the door shuts, she turns to give me a smile.
“I’ve waited for you to return to Cale since the day you were born, Ana,” Dani sits on the sofa next to me and crosses her legs, “I will let you speak if you promise not to shriek or shout.”
I nod in agreement, though I’m not sure I can keep that promise. She twirls her finger in the opposite direction she twirled it the first time and the invisible cloth vanishes. I take deep breaths in before staring at Dani. She smiles and stares back, searching my face for something she obviously doesn’t find. Dissapointment seems permanent on her face as she lets out a long sigh.
“I can’t say I wasn’t hoping for a young warrior like I used to be,” Dani tells me, “It’s hard to believe you’ll be a leader soon.”
“I don’t want to be Queen,” I say without hesitation, “and I don’t know what you or Aben have against me, but I’ve done nothing but try to get out of the marriage to Jason.”
“We have nothing against you, Ana,” Dani almost laughs, “Aben is my soldier. He had to follow my orders to betray your trust or else risk my wrath. It’s not that he does not like you. He was just being a good soldier like I asked of him.”
“And you?” I watch her carefully as her expression twists at the question.
“The only thing I’ve ever held against you is your lack of knowledge for who you truly are, and honestly, I cannot punish you when it’s my fault,” Dani stands and gestures at me, “Though you have done absolutely nothing to prove you’re worthy enough to be part of my service, I have thought long and hard that you have the right to be.”
“What is this service?” I ask, crossing my arms and watching as she paces.
“We call it Dedication,” Dani states, “We resist King Maysion, along with Queen Milda. Both have done nothing but tear the magic away from Crypt and Cale.”
“If you’re a resistance than why haven’t you taken them down yet?” I accuse her immediately. I feel so much rage in that moment to know that there’s been a group, more people like me, just standing by as innocent people from Crypt have been falling to their deaths. Why haven’t they done something?
Offended, Dani glares at me in fury, “Watch your tone. I have my reasons for letting people suffer under the King and Queen. If they do not suffer at least a bit, then they will never know the peace I have brought them when the time has come. There must be sacrifice before there can be paradise.”
“You sound like King Maysion,” I growl, “Those were almost his exact words when he tried to make me understand why he was murdering the people of Crypt!”
Dani growls back, “I am nothing like the King. You should watch your tongue.”
“Please!” I beg with sarcasm, “Explain the difference! You’ve held me here against my will, and now you talk of murdering for your own gain!”
“How dare you accuse me of murder!” Dani yells, her skin burning red with rage, “I have built Dedication from dirt since the day I gave up my place on my throne in my own city. I watched my own brother and sister destroy my beloved home and all of my people. They thought they killed me too! They thought they killed both of us. Yet, I still live off the look I witnessed from a few blocks away when my sister opened her front door to find, hell behold, the very baby that would be her doom.”
“What on Earth are you talking about?” I whisper because it’s all coming too fast. I’m trying to make the connections but it just doesn’t make sense.
“Your Aunt Milda and Unlce Maysion have been around for a very long time. Almost a few centuries now. You didn’t think their little sister easily perished did you?” Dani asks, her face a giant question mark.
“What are you trying to say?” I shake my head because I already know the answer.
“Aben made me to look like his younger sister so that I could walk the streets of Cale and Crypt unnoticed. Before his time, another one of my soldiers with magic made me look like someone else too. But, I have always been and always will be, your mother,” Dani says, though I’m almost certain that’s not her name.
The sick feeling I felt before only intensifies as realization dawns on me. “So, all this time, my own mother has been alive and for what? To build up some kind of revenge tactic and force me to be compliant?” I choke on my own words. They taste sour in my mouth and I think I might actually vomit. I decide to aim for my mother if I do.
“You could put it that way,” she says dryly, “or you would realize that I sacrificed raising my own daughter so that she would be a favorite of the brother and sister I hate.”
“I’m just a player in your game,” I spit, “I’m nothing but a game piece to you. I was no sacrifice. You gave me up just to let me grow up to be the reason to go to war.”
“Yes, it sounds all so terrible, but I have always had your best intentions in mind,” my mother claims, “Once I take down Milda and Maysion, the twin cities will be mine. I’ll be able to reunite them, open the passage to Cale to anyone. I could end Crypt’s poverty in a matter of minutes, and you, my dear Ana, will get to help me see it through.”
I hesitate. I can’t say it’s not what I’ve been wishing for. Though my mother seems no better than my Aunt and Uncle, she obviously shows compassion for her people unlike her brother and sister. I might regret it, but the choice seems obvious. If I stay on Maysion’s side, I’ll be forced to marry a man I don’t love and have to obey his every command. If my mother is being truthful, it sounds like I’ll be able to end the murders King Maysion had started, along with Crypt’s poverty.
“Fine,” I finally say after some silence, “I’ll join Dedication.”
My mother smiles, “Good. I’ll set up arrangements for you to meet your members in Dedication soon, but until then, you’ll need to be quiet and obedient at the palace. I don’t need them expecting anything.”
“I’m to be married in a few weeks,” I object, “I don’t want to have to worry about that and everything that comes with it. Can’t you sneak me out or fake my death or something?”
“Sorry, dear,” my mother refuses, “I can only fake a death once and that was mine. Faking my daughter’s too might seem suspicious, but don’t worry. Aben will retrieve you before you get married and I’ll make sure he’ll get you up to date on some things too.”
I sigh, “I’m not very patient.”
“Learn to be,” my mother snaps, holding my gaze, “It takes patience to bring down a kingdom, but to take down two? You’ll need more than that.”
Her eyes stay glued on mine for what seems like hours before she finally tears them away and flicks her wrist. I’m not sure what she’s done until I hear someone come in through the back door several minutes later. Aben appears suddenly, his brown eyes floating between my mother and I with curiosity.
“Take her back to the palace,” my mother orders him. Then, turning to me with her final words, “Ana, don’t screw up. For now on, the weight of the world lies on your shoulders. It will do you good to remember that.”
My mother snaps her fingers together and like a ghost in the night she vanishes. I stare at the spot she once stood and wonder for a moment if everything was all a dream. Then, Aben’s hand is on my shoulder and he’s saying we have to go and I realize it was all real. I have a mother and she’s alive. She’s more than alive: She’s plotting the death of my Aunt and Uncle. And on top of all that, I agreed to help her. It’s all so overwhelming that the tears that come next are no surprise. I hiccup like an idiot, peering through my bleary eyes at Aben who stands very still beside me. I hiccup some more and cry some more until I finally exhaust myself. The next thing I know I’ve fallen asleep and had it not been for my returned “stolen” jewelry with a note from Aben about our next meet up on the night stand next to my bed inside the palace, I would have thought I had a terrible nightmare.
I’ll be in your room after dinner.
I read the note probably a dozen times before I ever actually get out of bed. My maids draw me a bath and I thank them as I pull myself under the water and wonder what it would be like to drown to my death like all of the people in Crypt who made the jump to Cale and unfortunately didn’t make it. All this time, I’ve thought I had no other option than to protect Crypt from within the palace and instead I could have been allied with my mother years ago. She hid from me intentionally. She used me for her own gain. I take a deep breath and sink beneath the warm water, imagining all of the lives my mother could have saved and didn’t. I think about all of my friends, who talked about reuniting one day in the underwater paradise. I think about how she let them die. I think about how she was willing to risk my own death if it meant it kept my Aunt and Uncle too preoccupied to notice she’s still alive. I think and I think and then I’m gasping for air, pulling myself up to the surface where I rack in a shaky breath.
I pull my knees to my chest and watch myself getting Dedication to root for me instead of my mother. I picture myself doing what Milda, Maysion, and my mother have not. I imagine saving Crypt and Cale with no selfish intentions.
I also imagine, with much surprise and too much hatred, the death of anyone who stands in my way; Family or not.
This short story was brought to you by Jinapher J. Hoffman for her Short Story Thursday segment. All rights are reserved to the author. If you wish to share the story, all credit for the writing must be given to Jinapher J. Hoffman. Thank-you for reading and be sure to come back on Thursdays for more short stories by this author.