“Lady Sasha, are you listening?” Madam Crowley snapped, as she thwacked the rod on the table.
The princess bounced from her desk, returning to reality. She turned forward and met her tutor’s cross expression. The old crone was at the period of her life where no amount of makeup or powder could hide her age. Thick bags were sagged under her eyes, while wrinkles drooped on her cheeks. Her hair looked like a dusty bundle of thread.
“Sorry madam, I was distracted,” Sasha apologized, as she looked down at her desk.
Madam Crowley’s expression softly changed, as she hid the rod behind her back. “My dear child,” she began. “Perhaps you need to spend some time off your lessons.”
“N-no, that won’t be necessary,” Sasha replied, sounding as if she were just threatened. “It’s just that…”
“My child, you lost your father recently,” Madam Crowley said, as she began packing her belongings. “It is only natural for you to be lost, in such a time. I shall postpone my lectures and return next week, instead. For now, relax and collect yourself.”
Sasha didn’t say a thing at first. She stared at her twiddling thumbs and then finally replied, “Thank you.”
Having packed everything, Madam Crowley gave a low bow and exited the room. Sasha took a deep breath and stared at the window. It was a cloudless morning. The sun shined brightly in the air, pouring warm light upon the kingdom. Despite the warm and sunny climate, everything still felt cold and dim.
Just a few days ago, King Frederick Argos XIII, her father, had passed away from a grave illness. He was a brilliant man, a beloved king and a great father. Ever since her mother had passed away when she was just a child, her father had taken care of her. As king, he was buried with responsibilities, yet he always had time to be the parent she needed. He was always there for her, but now he was gone.
Sasha glared at her vague reflection on the window, recalling all the times she had spent with her father, from the earliest to the most recent. Not everything was filled with smiles and laughter, but even the bad memories brought some sense of comfort.
Her sapphire eyes began to water, as memories ran past her like a sudden flash of lightning. Before any actual tears were shed, a sweet voice called out.
“Lady Sasha, are you in here?”
Wiping her eyes, the princess turned to the door. A maiden, old enough to be her mother peaked by the door, only to enter upon being noticed. It was Rosemary, her lady-in-waiting. She was a rather homely looking creature in a navy dress. Her hazelnut hair was tied back to a knot and her irises were like beads of jade.
“Rosemary,” Sasha addressed, swallowing her emotions before continuing. “What brings you here?”
“I just noticed Madam Crowley leave earlier than usual,” Rosemary answered, approaching her lady. “Is everything all right? You’re looking rather flushed.”
“I’m fine,” Sasha lied, as she brushed back her golden hair. Her tone immediately betrayed her words. “Madam Crowley had urgent business to take care of, so I permitted her to take some time off. My lessons for the week have been postponed. Great, isn’t it?”
Rosemary gave her mistress a gleaming eye of doubt. “Is that really what happened?” she asked, as she crossed her arms.
“Of course it is,” Sasha replied, as she stood from her desk and stretched. “It’s a good thing too. I could use some time to relax.”
“If you say so,” Rosemary said. She kept her tongue still, despite not being convinced. “So… now that you are free, what would you like to do?”
“A walk around the garden would be a good start,” Sasha replied, as she picked herself up.
“Very well, my lady,” Rosemary said, with slight bow.
Sasha exited the study and wandered through the castle halls. The velvet curtains were knotted. Sunlight beamed through ten-foot glass windows, casting out most of the shadows that occupied the halls.
As she traveled through the castle, Sasha passed by a few servants and maidens. They closely whispered to one another, spreading all sorts of gossip and rumor. The most common ones that she had heard were about Uriel, the new regent of the kingdom. Tales of Uriel using curses, poison and demonic magic had spread through the castle like wildfire.
Questions ran through Sasha’s head. Just what was her father thinking? Why would appoint a witch as a regent, even if it were temporary? There were still four years before Sasha was of age. It was plenty of time for a witch to bring chaos and havoc. Would there even be a kingdom left to rule, by the time she was ready? What was this woman’s relation to her father? Sasha shuddered to think if she were some sort of mistress.
Reaching the vestibule, Sasha was greeted with a rather questionable visitor. He was heavily shacked around the neck and hands. Both his feet were chained together. Four guards dragged him along, while a few others kept their spears pointed at him. He was pretty much a skeleton dressed in patched rags. His untamed black hair and beard grew past his shoulders. Bruises and scars covered his pale skin, like medals pinned on his body.
Nearby servants kept their distance from this prisoner as he passed by. When looking around, the servants quickly looked away and covered their eyes.
Before long, Sasha met his gaze. Thick bags of shadows spread under his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept for several nights. His orange eyes were like flickering embers that had once belonged to a mighty inferno. Despite the exhausted look on his face, Sasha’s heart had skipped a beat and, for a moment, she forgot how to breathe. She quickly looked away to regain composure.
“Are you alright, my lady?” Rosemary asked, as she placed her hand on Sasha’s back.
“Yes, I think so,” Sasha leaned on a pillar and gasped for a bit of air. “Rosemary, who was that man?”
Rosemary looked at the prisoner and then swallowed, before answering. “I believe he is Jean Clavier,” she replied.
Sasha’s eyes popped open. She recognized the name, as if it were a sickness “Jean Clavier?!” she gasped, raising the volume of her voice. “As in Jean Cleaver Clavier, the knight who butchered his comrades like livestock?”
“The very one,” Rosemary nodded.
“I thought my father had imprisoned him for the remainder of his deranged life!” Sasha noted. “Why is he here in the castle?!”
“I do not know, my lady,” Rosemary replied.
Sasha frowned as she watched the murderer step into the main hall. “Let us reserve the garden for later,” she said. “I want to know what a heretic is doing here.”
Rosemary turned to the princess with a perturbed look on her face. “My lady, do you think that is wise?” she asked, as a drop of sweat pooled from her face. “Do you really wish to stay close to such a monster?!”
“He is in chains and heavily guarded, Rosemary,” Sasha noted. “I doubt he can do anything in his position.”
Without a second thought, Sasha quietly followed the prisoner. She tiptoed around jumped from spot to spot, as if she were an intruder of the castle. Before long, Sasha found herself in the throne room, where handful of knights and advisors stood present. Seated on the golden throne was none other than regent witch herself, Uriel.
A few days ago, she came to the castle dressed in rags, but now, she was dressed like an exquisite peacock, flaunted and pampered for all to lay eyes on. She wore a velvet dress with frills and feathers of black. Her neck and fingers were decorated with trinkets of gold and precious stones. Her lips painted crimson, her eyelids shaded violet and her lashes curled and pointed. Uriel looked almost like an entirely different person.
Sasha slid through the shadows and stood behind one of the taller knights in the room. It wasn’t a very decent spot to listen in, but it at least kept her from the witch’s sight.
People whispered and gossiped amongst one another, all asking the same question. Why was a murderer in the palace?
Soon, Uriel raised her hand. Like a sudden turn of a page, silence immediately fell upon the throne room. Everyone hushed and turned their eyes on the regent.
“Read his crime,” Uriel ordered.
A scribe stepped forward and opened a scroll. “Knight Captain Jean Clavier,” the scribe announced. “You have been charged for taking forbidden substances and murdering your fellow knights in the field. Despite your actions, you showed faith by surrendering yourself willingly to his majesty. Rather than receiving the penalty of death, you have been sentenced to life in prison.”
Once again, voices clamored around the court. Knights and advisers repeated their own interpretation of Jean’s crimes and repeated the earlier question.
“Life in prison seems almost as bad as death,” Uriel remarked, as she leaned back. “Rather than having it all end immediately, you’re to suffer a slow and agonizing death.”
“What I did was monstrous,” Jean replied, with his head low. “My own men already warned me about those tonics, yet I ignored them. Once I stepped into the battlefield, I brutalized everyone, even my own men. I deserve no less for my actions.”
Sasha looked to the other knights present in the room. The quietly glared with shaking fists and curled lips. One man even had his hand ready on his sword.
“As tragic as your actions were, I did not bring you here to listen you wallow in misery,” Uriel said.
“Then… why am I here?” Jean asked.
Sasha slid a little closer and waited for an answer. Looking at the witch, she saw a small grin curl around Uriel’s mouth.
“I want to know where you got the tonic you drank,” Uriel answered.
“For what reason do you wish to know this?” Jean continued asking. “Are you planning to find the source of the poison and end it?”
Uriel didn’t answer at first. A small smile then curled on her face and she soon exploded into laughter. Her voice shook the castle, sending tremors down the spines of all who heard her.
“Of course not,” she cried, as she wiped a small tear off her eye. “I want to learn how to make the tonic.”
The whole room froze and fell into an uncanny silence. Everyone’s focus immediately shifted from the prisoner to the new regent of the throne. Was this some sort of joke? If it were, then it was a very bad one. Even Jean glared at the regent, with his eyes appearing finally opened.
“B-but why do you want it?” Jean stuttered, as he leaned forward. “That tonic is poison. It robs the mind of all logic and puts them into a blind rage! No one can control it!”
“Everything has a flaw,” Uriel replied, waving her finger. “The very flaw of that tonic is that it takes away self-control. If I can study and eliminate such a flaw, I can create a potion that would give the kingdom’s soldiers the ferocity and power needed for battle.”
“That is insane!” Jean barked, as he began twisting from his shackles. “No one should be given such power! I refuse to tell you! I refuse to cause any more pain and damage to my kinsmen!”
The mood in the room soon changed. Knights – who had only a while ago snarled and sneered at him – were now nodding their heads in approval to Jean’s words. The advisers, on the other hand, gave mixed signals. A few frowned and shook their heads at the regent, while others shrugged and nodded, fancying the idea that she was proposing.
Sasha herself was in disarray on the matters. She came to see why a murderer was in the castle, but now she was beginning to see a brighter shade to him. So many stories and rumors about his murderous actions were spread that it made Sasha realize that she knew nothing of him before the incident. In fact, she barely knew any of the knights, save for Sir Lucas.
Regent Uriel scowled and tapped on the armrest a few times. “An honorable knight to the end,” she remarked. “And I was planning to pardon you of your sentence. How disappointing, Sir Jean. Take him to the dungeon, I shall interrogate him myself.”
The guards looked at one another and hesitated for a moment.
“Did you not hear me?” Uriel roared. “I said take him away!”
Without a second warning, the guards took Jean’s chains and began to yank him away. The former knight struggled and turned to his former brethren in the room.
“I no longer have the right to call any of you brothers, but if you still wish to uphold your honor, you will kill me immediately!” Jean cried out. “Do not let this witch find the tonic! Do not allow her to make an army of monsters!”
The knights looked to one another, unsure what to do. They remained on the same spot, yet looked as scattered as headless chickens. Jean continued to scream for release, as the guards merely attempted to keep him from moving.
Sasha gulped, as she nervously watched entire situation intensify. Looking at Uriel, Sasha noticed the regent’s finger tapping faster and harder on the armrest, her fingernails practically nailing through the wood. It was a clear sign of impatience and frustration.
“Lady Sasha, let us leave now!” Rosemary whispered, tugging the princess on the shoulder.
“A-alright,” Sasha said, as she stepped back.
Before they could leave, a set of footsteps were heard. A knight stepped forward and confronted Jean. He was the same man who had watched his king pass away, just before being told about the new regent. Sir Lucas stared down at his former comrade with a stone-faced expression.
“Sir Lucas, will you?” Jean asked.
Gnashing his teeth, Sir Lucas raised his fist and knocked the prisoner right across the cheek. Jean fell back with a broken tooth. He lay on the floor, stationary, but still alive.
“Take him to the dungeon, just as the regent ordered,” Sir Lucas commanded with a forced tone in his voice.
The guards did not hesitate this time. Picking up the body, they dragged the unconscious Jean outside of the throne room.
“Exemplary work, knight captain,” Uriel praised.
“It’s my duty,” Sir Lucas scoffed. “However, do not think for a moment that any one from the knight’s order will drink whatever filth you have concocted! We may be bound to listen to you, but we’re not going to defy our own traditions!”
Uriel smirked. “You don’t have to worry about me giving the knight’s order the tonic” she replied. “There are plenty of men and women in this kingdom who are more than willing to taste the sweet flavor of power.”
Sir Lucas snarled and wrapped his hand into a fist.
Sasha quietly stayed in the shadows and watched the new regent hold her head up triumphantly. The knights remained quiet and still, like helpless kittens stuck on a tree. The advisers said nothing either. They merely kicked the dust off the floor and shrugged. Authority and power belonged to Uriel.
There were four more years, until she was prepared to take the throne. Today, Sasha was given a small glimpse of what could happen during those four years with a witch as a regent. She frowned and asked the question mumbled and whispered by many. Why did her father appoint a witch as regent?