‘She sleeps.’ A weary guard adjusting his armor whispered. ‘Not too far from here, deep into the woods, past the babbling creek just into the dark side where no light enters.’
‘I heard she’s dead, on the day of her first blood.’ The other guard said, leaning against the stone wall of the castle.
‘Draw the bridge!’ A shout echoed from above, moments later a cacophony of horse hooves, clanging armor and grunts filled the air. The two guards stood aside and gave a straightened salute to the entourage.
The king, a weary look on the face of square jaw and glinted skin, he gave the two guards a glance and urged his horse forward. The courtyard was cluttered with a festive gone by, fruits, roasted meat, decorations and in the middle of it all, his queen.
She had commissioned a new dress for this special day, it was a baby blue with rich embroidery from the hem to bust, on her hands she wore white gloves with the sigil of their house finely stitched, not a thread out of place. Her hair, yellow as the sun, her skin pale as her dress, the only color was the chaffing of the rope around her neck, supporting her lifeless body from up above.
‘Take her down.’ A knight mentioned to his page.
The king looked up at his queen, she was still even more beautiful. ‘Call the sorceress.”
In the dark wood, a figure laid at the center of the forest. Atop chopped up wood, a make-shift open coffin, still fresh from her celebrations, she smelled of the jasmine her hair and wrists were adorned.
Branches broke, leaves cracked, the swing of a sharp blade and the look of a man lost and looking for a way out. He was royally dressed, had a look of nobility, his chest glistened, his throat parched.
‘Where am I?’ The prince mumbled under his breath. He looked around for signs of life. ‘I know I heard some people here earlier.’ He scanned the area, but could not see anything, except for some candles that burned in the night. They shone on the lifeless body of a girl.
The prince moved forward, his horse trotting slowly in the darkness, he sheathed his sword and slid off his horse.
He swore to himself that he hadn’t seen a more beautiful woman alive. Her face was fair, still rosy, her prim dress was tattered in places, but he saw the blood, stained on her dress, between her legs. ‘Oh what a pity.’
He lifted her dress and touched her leg. ‘What a pity.’
She walked in, tall and slender, her black dress hugging her every curve. ‘Dusty.’ She said, running her finger on top a wooden dresser. ‘Very dusty, what else should I expect from a decrepit castle?’
‘Shut your mouth.’ The King took his seat, and grabbed a goblet of wine. He waved his steward to leave.
The woman in black, she went by many names, all of them reminded people of the darkness in the night, the woods and in their hearts. Despicable names, names of horror that terrified children.
Stories were told about her manipulative power, she could control life and death, and she was the queen of serpents and wild animals.
It was said that she lived in the dark part of the wood where no one could enter, or no one dared enter. Many said that the princess died of a curse of the evil sorceress, the witch that took the lives of young beautiful women when they came of age.
The King knew better, he knew the woman, the black sorceress.
‘I don’t think you called me in to celebrate.’ She poured some wine into a cup. ‘It’s a little too early for that. ‘Your daughter is now gone, your wife took her life like a fool!’ She took a small sip, tapped the edge of the cup and sat down. ‘What are you to do now? You don’t have anybody, no one to sire you a child, no one to join kingdoms with.’ She look around the great hall. ‘All of those who came to give you favors have gone, as quickly as flies leave when their host can’t feed them anymore.’
‘Shut up.’ The King said, and poured himself more wine.
‘Is that all you’re going to say?’ She dropped her cup, the wine spilled on the stone floor. ‘How boring.’
The sorceress stood up and paced around the great hall, stretching out her arms and danced. ‘This must be the feeling, dancing your first dance as a woman.’ She shot a gaze at the King. ‘With her father.’
She stopped short at a wooden cart with a spike in the middle, dried blood stained the old wood, a face, scowled sat on the sharp end. ‘Unless your father was a pig farmer.’ The sorceress chuckled.
‘How did it feel to finally find out the truth?’
‘Shut up!’ The King screamed and threw his cup at the wooden cart. ‘Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!’
The prince was drenched in blood, he could still feel the cold against his thigh. He never felt that way before, it was the first time he felt excited, and it was unusual.
‘We’re here sire.’ A scruffy man bowed and reached out his hand. The prince gave him a couple of gold coins and waved him off.
The man, a travelling merchant offered to take the prince home, he collected a reward from the King, the prince’s father a handsome reward that would let him open a shop and end his days as a travelling merchant. The prince gave him something to forget what he saw in the forest.
‘The dark woods can turn men into monsters.’ Said the merchant as he guided the prince back to his castle by the mountains.
‘Father!’ The prince ran and embraced the King, it was a tight embrace that lingered on for far too long. The prince felt the warmth of his father, and he pulled away.
‘Now that you’re here, come.” The King led his son towards the great hall, an entourage waited eagerly. Four men in colorful attire, wearing the sigils of their kingdoms, behind them a band of handmaidens, each wearing different colored outfits, their busts ballooning from their dress.
Four lovely women, sat on a litter each, the sigils matching those of their entourage. One was plump, the other was svelte, another wore a skimpy dress, and another, coughed loudly as the prince stared.
‘The plump one may look rich, but their lands are in ruin, they need us more than we need them.’ The King whispered. ‘The one next to her would be good to lay with, but their army is weak, we can take their kingdom and rape her in front of their King.’ The prince said back to his father. His father patted the prince’s back. ‘She’s already betrothed to me.’ He said with a smirk. ‘Our army is already marching to her father’s kingdom, they will be razed and pillaged by daybreak.’
‘What about the other two?” The prince stared at the one who coughed a lot. She was near death, breathing haggard, her dress was festooned with jewels and ornaments that he had never seen.
‘Marry her for the money.’ The King suggested.
‘And then keep the other one as my queen after this one passes on.’
The King elbowed his son. ‘You may make a good King someday.’
‘Can’t you see I’m busy?’
The sorceress buried her head in between the King’s thigh and bobbed her head, the King’s hand on her head, shot his messenger a stern look.
‘I’m sorry Milord.’ The messenger trembled as he spoke, there is a visitor outside the castle, people are terrified, and they said they saw a ghost.
‘A what?’ The sorceress stopped, her mouth glistening. ‘What does this ghost look like?’
‘The princess, they said the ghost looks like the princess.’
At the courtyard, there were mumbles by the folks of the kingdom, everyone came around to see the ghost, and some said that it was a monster, others said that it was the doing of the evil sorceress and her enchantment. The king stomped out of the double doors and into the courtyard, behind him the sorceress dapped a cloth on her face.
There in broad daylight, under the hanging corpse of the queen, sobbed a girl, her clothes tattered, soaked with blood, she looked up at the body of the queen and continued sobbing.
‘This can’t be!’ The king bellowed. ‘Who is this impostor?’
‘Father.’ The princess said weakly. ‘It’s me, your daughter.’
‘I have no daughter!’ The king screamed. ‘You’re not my daughter, who are you?’
The sorceress glided forward, her steps were quiet as night. She bent down to look at the girl. ‘Interesting.’ The sorceress said. ‘The color has returned to her face, and her skin is warm as the sun, but something’s different about her.’
The princess pulled away from the sorceress and scampered to a nearby chair. ‘You! You did this to me, you cursed me!’
The sorceress smirked. ‘I didn’t do anything to you my child.’
‘I’m not your child!’
‘Yes, you’re hers.’ The sorceress pointed to the corpse of the queen and then laughed. ‘You’re also the child of a pig farmer, you don’t deserve these!’ The sorceress reached out and tore the dress of the princess. She grabbed the dagger from her sleeve and cut off the jasmine that adorned her hair, wrists and slashed the dress to the point that the princess was now naked.
‘You’re a pig farmer’s daughter, and you deserve to be treated as such!’
The king turned around, and walked back into his castle. ‘Come, you haven’t finished your duty.’
‘Of course my liege.’ The sorceress cackled and then motioned the guards to take the princess away.
The cold stone floor of the cells felt cold against the skin of the princess. Her hair had been chopped up and she looked more boy than girl. She had never been to this part of the castle before, she was scared to go down to the cells, her father always told her that traitors, thieves and murderers had stayed in the dungeons. She never thought that she would one day stay in one.
‘Why don’t you come over to this side?’ A man with a pot-belly and scraggy beard said as he slipped his hand in his crotch. ‘It’s warm.’
The princess held her knees tightly, scared that the man would have the strength to break through the steel bars that separated them, she thought he looked like a bear and hoped that he wasn’t as strong as one, she didn’t know if a bear had the strength to break through the steel bars, but she prayed nonetheless.
‘Why are you treating me this way?’
‘You’re dirt!’ The guard told her.
‘I’m your princess!’
‘You’re a pig farmer’s daughter, you’re nothing!’
The princess sobbed, she remembered what happened earlier today, it was her day of womanhood, her mother had been preparing for the day that she got her first blood. She didn’t remember anything about it, only that the chambermaid saw her sleeping in her blood-stained clothes. She wish she knew what happened.
‘She told the king.’ An elderly woman spoke softly, with enunciation that was immaculate.
The princess leaned forward and peeked through the bars next to her, she saw another woman, naked with chains bound to her ankles and arms that pinned her to the ground.
A soldier strapped on his trousers and locked the cell as he left.
‘The sorceress.’ The old woman said.
‘Grandmother?’ The princess said, recognizing the faint smile of the old woman. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I raised a bad seed, that’s what she said, the mother of an adulterer, a philanderer, I have to suffer the crimes of my daughter, and so shall you, and all of the children that you bear, until eternity.’
‘What did I do wrong?’
‘The sorceress accused you of being a child of adultery, that poor man admitted, your mother denied but the king issued his command.’
‘I don’t remember any of this.’ The princess said as she rocked in her place.
‘You fainted into sleep, everyone thought you dead, your mother had to suffer my fate and you had to be hanged.’
‘Instead, mother was hanged and you have to suffer her fate.’
‘Everyone thought you to be dead, but I fear it is all the enchantment of the sorceress, the king is not thinking straight, his mind is clouded.’
‘Keep quiet.’ The guard yelled to the princess’s grandmother. ‘You!’ He turned to the princess. ‘Lie down quietly.’
‘What are you going to do to me?’
‘What you deserve.’
‘What I deserve!’ The scraggy man yelled in delight.
The king and the prince dined with their guests, the seat of the deceased queen was vacant. The most recent one married by the king, decapitated for being too old, the one before burned alive and the first one, died at childbirth.
The prince took the queen’s seat, knowing well that the one that the king had set his eyes on would be the next queen, until they got tired of her. The princesses seeking the hand of the prince sat, across each other in pairs, they waited patiently for the king to start his meal, before they consumed theirs.
The king noticed that there was a vacant seat at the end of the table, he waved for his minister.
‘There was one that was supposed to come my liege, we haven’t heard from them.’
‘Humph! Who dares refuse my invitation to wed?’
‘The kingdom beyond the woods, their sigil of a thorny rose.’
‘That won’t do, we need to see this princess, and I need to set that king straight!’
‘Yes my liege.’
The prince listened to the hushed discussion and then asked. ‘Why does it matter? We can have our fill with these wrenches right now.’
‘One more wrench won’t hurt.’ Cackled the king. ‘Prepare the horses!’
Days passed and gloom dawned over the kingdom of the thorny rose, the two guards however didn’t notice much difference. They still stood in their posts idling away at the silence.
‘Did you hear about the sorceress?’ the guard on the right asked, his brow sweating under his iron helm. ‘They say that she enchanted the king and made him crazy.’
The guard on the right shrugged. ‘Doesn’t matter to me, he let me shag his royal grandmother.’
‘Everyone in the kingdom has shagged her more than once!’
They both laughed.
‘Have you tried the young princess yet?’ The guard on the left asked.
‘No, the king has left her for the rapists.’
‘Nice gift for her day of womanhood.’
‘Incoming!’ The sentry on the watchtower yelled.
‘What is that?’ The guard on the right looked on.
‘It’s an army!’
‘Who dares come to my doorsteps?’ The thorny rose kind asked.
‘The king of the mountains.’ Said the messenger. ‘And his prince.’
‘What business do you have here?’
‘Your princess, she did not come at my invitation.’
‘I don’t have a princess!’
The king of the mountain consulted his adviser. ‘I’ll have your head if you’re lying!’
‘Sire, he has a princess, but from what I hear from the local folk, there was a scandal on the day of her womanhood.’ The minister explained the story involving the pig farmer, the queen, and the sorceress.
The king stared up above the head of the king of the thorny rose, a decaying body still hung there, the stench filled his nostrils. He turned to look at the king, and behind him in the shadows, he noticed a woman, dressed in black, her face as pale as the wind. It’s as if she walked through the shadows, she was hardly noticeable, like a ghost.
“I want to see this princess!’ The prince demanded.
The king hushed his son. He felt an ominous cloud surrounding the area, it was the cloud of fear and lunacy, the fire in the king of the thorny rose’s eyes meant that he would go berserk at a moment’s notice.
‘You want my princess, I have none, but I have a pig farmer’s daughter, a whore for the rapists.’ The king commanded his soldiers to bring out their prisoner.
In a matter of moments, two naked women were dragged out and thrown in the middle of the courtyard. The elder one was weak and could hardly stand up, the other one was bloody, not only from between her legs, but on her face as well.
The prince studied the woman’s face carefully, it was round as the full moon, and rosy. She had long arms and legs, and a modest bosom. A shiver went up his spine and he recognized the girl, she was different when he last saw her, pale and cold, a corpse that wouldn’t speak. He hoped she wouldn’t speak now.
The princess looked up, her eyes swollen, cheeks black and blue. Her skin was tender and even the gushing wind stung. ‘Help…’ She muttered but was hit by the prince.
‘Two filthy whores, and a dead corpse if you wish.’ The king pointed up to the body of his late queen.
‘Please, help me…’ The princess crawled on all fours and reached for the leg of the prince.
The prince kicked her and the princes stumbled back, she arched at the pain of the boot on her chest.
‘Do you not know who I am?’ The prince asked, he tried to hide the tremor in his voice.
The princess shook her head, she tried to speak but the air had left her lungs.
‘I’m the prince of the mountain!’ The prince yelled, there was a sign of relief, a weight lifted from his chest, she didn’t know him. How could she, she was practically dead, she was cold as stone and pale as ice.
‘A trade then?’ said the king of the thorny rose.
‘Don’t insult me.’ The king of the mountain retorted.
‘You can take these lot for free, it would be of a service to clean my kingdom of these wretches. Maybe you can give them to your guards for entertainment.’
The king of the mountain sneered and turned away.
The prince glanced at the princess, he remembered her cold thigh against his, her blood on him. ‘Oh what a pity.’ He mumbled, and then followed his father and their entourage head out of the kingdom of the thorny rose and back to the kingdom of the mountain.