Kent L Johnson
“You certainly look like a Queen in that gown, My Lady.”
“Yes, it’s wonderful isn’t it.” Princess Abigail twirled one way, then the next, looking at herself in a full-length mirror. She noticed the wonderment in the poor handmaiden's gaze. How this wretched girl wanted to be like her, but, only Royalty was to be put upon a pedestal. She was a good looking girl, like herself, with ample bosom's and nicely shaped hips. Curves that were accentuated by her corset. Her face was plain but radiated a simple beauty that only the innocent and ignorant possess. A loyal servant, but alas, a peasant none the less. Her hair like flaxen shafts toppled in the wind and an undeniable illiteracy in her manner.
“If I could only become a Queen,” the Princess said. "I must wait to marry a King, yet, my father only offers my cousin from the outer frontier and he is no King. Plus, my cousin has the odor of a barnyard. Had you noticed?”
“Yes, My Lady.”
“Imagine, me allowing him into my bed smelling like that? I’m not sure I could perform my duty without gagging, and then you, my loyal servant, would spend the rest of the night cleaning my bedding and helping me bathe."
"My Lady, your father is still healthy and your brother may be bested in battle yet, leaving you the sovereign."
Princess Abigail had thought those same words before, and the same conclusion arose: 'Her brother. How to get rid of her brother?' Her father was not a problem, she already had a plan to remove him. People in positions of power always wanted more power. She could guarantee more power to one of her fathers trusted advisers, as well as carnal pleasures from time to time with a Royal, to keep him loyal to her. But her brother, how could she overcome him? He was strong, young and wary of his position in line for the throne. But then again, he was a man. Maybe her handmaiden could be of use.
"Perhaps Pricilla, my loyal servant, you can help me to accomplish my true ascension to the throne."
"How can I, a poor girl at your Highness' command, be of help to you?"
"You do agree, that I am the person who can lead the people of our kingdom much further than either my brother or my father?"
"Of course, My Lady. The stories you told to me of noble Cleopatra who ruled all of Africa and her ability to prosper and bring wealth to her entire kingdom were enlightening. I feel a woman is in better position than a man to enrich and bind the people of our land."
"You learned my abilities and the abilities of our fair sex quite well. You've been a good student as well as a good servant. I have a proposal for you."
"How can I be of service, My Lady?"
"My brother...I've seen how he looks at you."
"Yes, My Lady." Pricilla blushed and cast her eyes downward.
"I only ask you to consider this for the good of our people. Samuel, the Prince, needs to be eliminated. I see he lusts for you in his eyes."
"I would like you to allow him to seduce you, and take you into his bed. When he becomes comfortable, you may be able to slip something into his goblet of evening wine without his Second seeing it."
"Slip something in, My Lady?"
"Yes. I have a potion of pressed mushroom juice from the death cap. It will work nicely. We can hope he dies rapidly, only so we do not have to see him suffer. He's really not a bad lad, just not the one to lead this nation. His mind is not as sharp nor can it accommodate complex problems that a Royal leader needs. By tradition of birth, we see it is he, instead of me, in line for the throne even though I am older than he, just not the right sex."
"Come here, Pricilla. I will give you the poison. It is in this ampule." Princess Abigail held the small irregular shaped tube up to her. The tube was the size of a maiden's last digit on her little finger and looked fragile. It was made of hand blown glass and sealed airtight. "The ampule must be broken to allow the liquid into the wine. It is very fragile and will break easily. Please hide this in your leggings if possible. After he frees you from his bodily lust, discreetly administer this to his wine."
"But My Lady, I have never..."
"Pricilla. It is not as bad as the priests say. My Nanny, when I was younger, allowed me to watch her and one of her lovers. She told me all about it. Allowing a man to have his way with you can be very invigorating and pleasant. Of course, I would have loved to try it, however I am of Noble blood. I must remain virginal until marriage."
"I understand, My Lady."
"You are performing a great sacrifice for the country and when I am Queen, you will be rewarded for your service. Now, help me get dressed for afternoon meal."
"Yes, My Lady."
"Pricilla, it is good to see you. Would you care to visit me in private?"
"I think I would like that, your Highness."
"Please, just call me Sam, when we are alone."
"Archibald, you may leave us. Wait outside my door and make sure no one interrupts me."
"Yes sir." Samuel's Second, Archibald, walked to the door and pushed the wooden monstrosity open on its hinges. The sound of metal against metal filled the air as the hinges strained to move the weight. The closed door sealed the room shut and left them in silence except for crackling wood in the fireplace.
Prince Samuel tied a rope around the door handle and lashed it to a steel grate that held firewood to prevent someone entering the room. He turned to Pricilla.
"It is good to see you again, Pricilla. My loins ache for you as no other, but first, what has my sister been doing?" The Prince looked at her bosom falling out of her blouse, pressed upward by her corset. He remembered how wonderful her skin felt next to his own. How warm and moist she was. How she told him he was great at pleasing a woman. He had her in his control because of his Noble manner and the way he satisfied the opposite sex. He was born to be King, no doubt about it.
"Your sister has plotted to kill you. She wanted me to carry it out."
Samuel let out a hearty laugh. "She doesn't even suspect, does she?"
Pricilla smiled. "Of course not, my lover."
"I hold my promise to you. When I am King, you can be my concubine. You will be taken care of and, you can bear children for me. Whoever is my Queen shall not come between us."
"Why can't I be your Queen again?"
"Only those with Noble blood may become Queen," Prince Samuel said. "About my sister...how has she planned to kill my father?"
"She did not say to me."
He thought of the aides that surrounded his father. At least two of them craved more power. The Bishop of the Church, a close adviser to the King, tried on more than one occasion to place the military under his leadership. It would be a holy army then, and according to the Bishop's reasoning, unstoppable since they were fighting for God. What rubbish. The Administrator of the Public Commons was another powerful adviser and his lust for power was legendary. It was good the King retained control of the Army and placed the archers under the Prince's authority. The same archers who will take aim and send a quiver into his sister's heart from afar, starting a war and allow him to take the throne in the turmoil of his father's death. His father's death will be on the hands of his sister. His hands will be clean.
"I am sure she has this planned out, and if she thinks I am to die soon, she will carry it out soon also. How did she plan to kill me?"
Pricilla pulled a parchment from her bodice, it was folded a number of times over itself. She opened it up to reveal a paste, dark brown and syrupy. "Nicotinia extract." She motioned to the parchment. "A small amount in your food and when you go to sleep, you will never wake up." She smiled at Samuel.
Samuel smiled at her in return. "Clever she is. Tomorrow I will not be seen. I will send word that I am ill and do not want to be disturbed. She will think her plan worked, and then she will carry out her plan on our father. My hands will be clean of my father's death. As soon as the King is dead, my archers will take care of my cunning sister. You will tell her that you slipped this into my food."
Samuel grabbed the parchment, carried it to the fireplace and tossed it into the flames. He stood a moment watching the fire consume the paper. He turned to face Pricilla. "Now my lover, lift up your dress, lean back on my bed and prepare to be enthralled by me.
"Is it done?" Princess Abigail asked Pricilla.
Three small lanterns lighted Abigail's room and hung on the stone walls. She lay on her bed, in her nightclothes, covered with a thick blanket. She waited anxiously for Pricilla's answer.
"Yes, as you told me." Pricilla had a tear well up in her eye. "It was not as pleasant as you described, but painful."
"My Nanny told me it was always painful the first time, but it became so enjoyable after that, you desired it almost like a man. I'm sorry it pained you, but it was for the kingdom's good."
"I'm sorry My Lady, I didn't mean to complain." Pricilla wiped a tear from her eye and sniffled. "I placed the liquid from the ampule in his wine after we...we...we...oh, I feel so ashamed."
"Place more wood on the fire, then retire to your cot and sleep peacefully for tomorrow is an even bigger day."
The morning arrived and Abigail was ready to begin the next part of her plan. She thought about the steps as she proceeded with her morning routine. The Princess sat in a copper tub filled with hot water. Pricilla rubbed the soft cloth moistened with perfumed soap gently across Abigail's face. She scrubbed Abigail's back then the Princess leaned back in the tub, eyes closed, while Pricilla continued to wash the rest of her body.
The water was very warm and relaxing and helped her imagined a plan. Today she would arrange a discreet meeting with her father's adviser and her co conspirator, the Administrator of the Public Commons, the second most powerful man in the kingdom. He desired power and a chance to lay with her. She could not give herself to him because he was not Noble, however, she could give him power and satisfy his lust in other ways, ways that prolonged his loyalty to her. He was to be the next leader of the Army and the administrator of the kingdom under her command. His plan was to push the King down the castle stairs and if that didn't kill him, finish him with a knife. With her brother and father, out of the way, she would be Queen. She smiled, thinking of the power she would possess in perhaps a day's time.
"I'm sorry, My Lady."
Princess Abigail stopped thinking about her future power at Pricilla's apology. "Sorry for what?"
"I can continue if that's what you want."
"What are you talking about, servant? Speak."
"I saw the smile on your face and I thought perhaps I was washing areas that maybe you should wash yourself."
"Get me a towel. I never heard of such a thing, Pricilla. How can you think that? One night with a man and you think everyone is waiting to be caressed like a wench." Abigail stood up in the tub, water dripping off her. Get me dressed, I have a busy day."
Pricilla finished lacing the bodice of the Princess' gown and pulled the laces tight before tying them. She helped her on with a surcoat and began to button it.
"I'll button it. Go get me some tea from the kitchen and ask about the Prince."
Pricilla curtsied then left the room. Princess Abigail buttoned the sleeves of her coat and gazed at herself in the mirror, adjusting her clothes to fit in the most attractive manner. She then stroked her hair with a brush before hearing the door open and seeing Pricilla enter the room.
"Here's your tea My Lady," Pricilla said as she set a tray on a table with a steaming clay pot and two clay cups. Pricilla wrapped her hand in the loose material of her dress and picked up the clay pot and poured tea into one of the cups.
The Princess sipped from the cup. “A little bitter today,” she said as she finished the tea. "News?"
"Your brother has taken ill according to his Second and remains in his chambers."
Abigail smiled. "I hope the mushrooms act quick. He is my brother after all. The plans are in motion and hopefully by tomorrow, I'll be Queen."
"Yes, My Lady."
"I am going to see the Administrator of the Public Commons. I will go alone."
"Yes, My lady."
Pricilla poured herself a cup of tea in the second cup and watched the Princess look at herself once more in the mirror then walk to the door. The door closed and Pricilla's first thought was to see Samuel. She sipped on her tea and waited. Sufficient time passed and the Princess would not still be in the hallway, so she let herself out the door and walked to the Prince's quarters. She knocked on the doorway to Samuel's room. Archibald opened the door and guided her into the room.
"The Prince is gravely ill," he said. "Follow me."
Pricilla heard the Prince's breathing before she reached the bed. Long, labored breaths, punctuated with sounds of agony. She smelled the results of his illness located in the chamber pots next to his bed, now filled, and she became nauseated.
The Prince acknowledged her with a nod. The smell of his sickness was irritating to her nostrils. He forced himself to speak, labored. "Did my sister mention her plan?" The words left him, yet were barely audible.
"Yes, my lover. She left to meet the Administrator of Public Commons. I am sure he will have something to do with the King's death."
"Thank you, my love. My illness must be bad food. I'll be better tomorrow and hopefully we can meet again in a weeks time." Samuel groaned and his body shook as if an earthquake were under his bed. "Archibald, send one of my archer's to tail the Administrator of Public Commons. As soon as the King is dead, send word to have my sister slain with the enemy's arrows we captured."
"On your word." Archibald turned and walked out of the room.
"Are you sure it is just bad food, Samuel? Perhaps we can send the surgeon to bleed you?"
"No, I'll be fine." Samuel barely managed to push the words out his mouth. "I had a glass of wine after you left last night and I was in good spirits for hours after," he managed to say. "Early this morning I fell ill. I just need some sleep. You go. I will see you when I am King."
Pricilla could barely understand him. Delirium was beginning to set in. She'd seen the effects of poison mushrooms before. Four to six hours after ingestion, severe vomiting and diarrhea that can last hours and sometimes days, followed by the skin turning yellow, then death. There was no cure.
She turned and walked out the door, relieved to be out of the room, which already smelled of death. Archibald waited for her outside the door. She nodded her head at him.
"He'll be dead soon?" Archibald inquired.
"Yes. Poisonings of this type rarely last more than two days before death."
"I've yet to give the archers their orders, I leave to make sure the Princess does not survive this day, then we will both meet with the King." Archibald started walking swiftly to the King's Court.
"Wait," Pricilla yelled.
Archibald stopped and turned.
"She was probably already dead before she reached the Administrator. She had a cup of tea that I placed nicotinia extract in. If she's not dead, it will be a miracle. The King lives though."
Pricilla and Archibald walked the stone halls of the castle toward the center. A great deal of movement and activity were happening as they approached the court. Some citizens had looks of panic on their faces. They heard, "The Princess is dead," being murmured. They approached the King's Court and were blocked from entering by the King's guard.
"Please tell His Majesty, the servants of the Prince and Princess are here." The guard regarded their request and sent word with a royal servant.
Pricilla placed her mouth close to Archibald's ear. "Follow my lead," she whispered.
“The King wants to see both of you. Follow me.” A guard dressed in scarlet with chainmail covering led them into the great hall. The King was perched upon his throne at the far side of the hall. The hall was made of large stone walls and a floor of flat bedrock. Windows lit the room from fifty to sixty hands above, complimented by lanterns of bright flame that flickered off the stone like sunlight on rippled water. A large fire pit sat to the left of the King's elevated throne. The King was dressed in purple robes. Gold crosses hung heavily from his neck. The King's eyes were heavy and the look on his normally benevolent face was sad and sallow.
Pricilla and Archibald approached within thirty paces, then knelt before him, their heads looked down at the floor. They waited silently until the King spoke.
"My daughter," the King finally choked out, "what can you tell me of my daughter, handmaiden?"
Pricilla and Archibald each rose their heads to face the King. The King was the person they were both sent to protect. He was the leader of the lands between the Three Mountains of Glowing Snow, a fertile valley five hundred miles in each direction of the triangle the mountains made. The kingdom's main castle was perched on a small hill in the shadow of the great Luna Mountain. The King presided over these lands for the past thirty years with temperance, fairness and diplomacy. The kingdom also had a fearsome army that defended its lands from marauders looking for the riches the temperate valley gave in abundance to the people.
"Your Highness, I do not know what happened to the fair Princess Abigail. I bathed and dressed her this morning and I allowed Clarence, the Administrator of Public Commons an audience with My Lady. I left them alone when I fetched tea for their meeting. My Lady was coming to see you, your Highness, and was in good spirits when she left her chambers."
"The Administrator of Public Commons?"
"Yes, your Highness."
"Why are you here Archibald, Second to Prince Samuel?"
"The Prince is gravely ill your honor. I came to beg you to send your surgeon to perhaps bleed him. When I left him, he was not speaking well."
"How did he become gravely ill? When did this happen?" The King sat forward on his throne, eyebrows furrowed as he awaited a reply.
"I do not know your Highness. He was fine last night after his meal. The Administrator of Public Commons visited him, yesterday evening. They shared a tankard of mead. I waited out of his chambers until they finished. In the early hours of morning, I awoke to the Prince's moans. His chamber-pots are full of all manner of excretions and his temperature scalding."
The King sat back on his throne and pondered the fate of his heir. He pulled at his beard, the gray hair trickling through his fingers like sand in an hourglass. The lines at the corners of his eyes pulled together as he shut them in thought. "Guards. Go get the Administrator of Public Commons and place him in a dungeon cell until I am ready. Clerk, see that my surgeon attends to my son now." The King opened his eyes and regarded Pricilla and Archibald. "You may go. Chambermaid, attend to my daughter's affairs. Archibald, go help the surgeon."
Pricilla and Archibald left the Great Hall. She turned to face him as they walked and they both winked at each other. The plan had worked.
"After helping the surgeon, I will arrive to place fear into the only other person to challenge the King's power," Archibald told Pricilla as they walked. "The Bishop is not blood thirsty like the others, just foolish in his judgment."
"What do you have in mind?"
"I will use my staff and perform magic whilst he is unawares." He turned to Pricilla and saw the grin on her face. "After I am done, we will ride back to our home. We've been away too long."
"Yes, I would like to escape the constant confines of mortal men and renew my study of our ancient art," Pricilla said. "I long to be in the Colony again."
"Let us meet at the stables tomorrow evening and together, we shall ride."
"Until then." Pricilla turned a corner and left Archibald.
The surgeon was leaving the room as Archibald approached.
"The Prince is no longer," the surgeon told Archibald. "I will inform the King. You arrange to have the Prince's body taken to the lower chambers for embalming. Then, make sure the Prince's room is cleaned and well aired. The smell of disease and death are strong. I do not wish others to perish from his vapors."
"As you wish," Archibald told the surgeon. He waited until the surgeon left, then entered the Prince's chambers. He thrust shutters open to air out the fetid stench. He reached for his staff next to his cot, a long, lean weathered branch of wood perhaps fifteen hands tall with the diameter of a large carrot. He grabbed the silvered piece of wood it and used it as a walking stick when he left the room and made his way to the Bishop's chambers.
Archibald passed the church's basilica and saw the bishop at the altar, speaking with two monks, and quickly made his way to the Bishop's quarters and entered with stealth. He closed all the shutters in the room and lit two lanterns in front of a hiding spot, then tied a quartzite bowl between the two lanterns with spider silk, an almost invisible thread of great strength. The bowl held solid magnesium, that when lit with flame, would produce light as strong as the sun. He pulled his bota bag with water and held it ready, then stepped behind a wall tapestry, hiding himself, and waited over an hour for the Bishop to return.
The Bishop entered in the early afternoon. Archibald peeked out from his hiding place. He waited until the Bishop walked half way across the room before he moved his staff quickly and pointed to the lanterns and uttered his will. The lanterns extinguished themselves, leaving the room in darkness and the magnesium ignited moments later, creating light so bright it could not be looked at. The Bishop let out a startled sound then averted his eyes away from the unyielding light.
"Kneel before me," Archibald said in his best baritone, deep and resonating.
The Bishop turned to leave the room. Archibald squeezed on the bota bag and a stream of water hit the magnesium, causing pieces to explode in a lava-like flow from the bowl. The room brightened and again he told the Bishop, "kneel."
The Bishop knelt, eyes averted from the bright light. Archibald hit the magnesium with water a second time. Steam hissed and the flare from burning metal cast an eerie glow over the walls and ceiling.
"The King was delivered unto this kingdom to lead by my grace. He has done all that he can to lead the people with an even hand and a warm heart." Archibald paused for a moment, the hissing of the magnesium fire the only sound..
"His own flesh and blood planned to take his life for power. One of his closest adviser's also lusted after power and was willing to help kill for the sake of it." He paused again for a moment. He squirted more water on the fire causing, molten metal hit the floor and bounced a short distance.
"You have lusted for control of the army, to wield power in my name. Your plans do not escape me. You are here to teach others of me, not to wage war. You will curb your desire to control the military or you will suffer the consequences, just as the Prince and Princess suffered the consequences of their actions."
The Bishop's face paled, drained of blood by fear.
"Now, you will return to the altar you just left and pray for forgiveness. Do not leave the altar until you feel humble compared to stable boys that shovel waste and sleep in mounds of straw meant for beasts of burden. Remember, you live within the King's inner circle with servants, food and comfort, yet you are no better than the servants who toil to bring you comfort. Go now and be humbled."
Archibald squirted more water from the bag, flaring up the intense light once again. He raised his staff, mumbled an incantation, and wind flowed in the room, blowing against the Bishop's face, gently increasing in strength.
The Bishop remained kneeling, eyes lowered. The wind blew the Bishop's hat off and his long thin hair trailed in the wind along with his prayer chords.
"Leave now," Archibald said forcefully and with a whip-like stroke from his staff, the wind stopped and thunder echoed in the room.
The Bishop made haste to the door, fumbling with the catch in the bright light blocked only by his shadow as he frantically tried to open the closure. Once opened, he ran into the hall leaving the door ajar.
Archibald made his way to the windows and opened the shudders, allowing light to enter. He used steel fireplace tongs to move the bowl with still burning magnesium into the fireplace, then placed two pieces of wood over the bowl hiding the device, eventually amongst ashes. He hid the bota bag under his shirt and carefully backed out the door, yelling loudly, "Your holiness" in case anyone spotted him.
Once in the hallway, when all was clear, he started off to find the monks who would help him embalm the Prince. He passed the basilica where the Bishop knelt at the altar, hands tightly clasped, eyes pinched closed. He spotted a monk, further down the hall and broke into a run to catch him.
"Friar. If I may have a word with you."
The monk stopped. He cocked his head at an angle awaiting Archibald's word.
"I am in need of help to remove the Prince's body from his room and to take it to the lower chambers for embalming. I also wish his Highness' soul to be prayed for and delivered with God's grace to heaven above.
"I will arrange for it to be so. Our order will be honored to pray over the noble Prince Samuel."
Pricilla entered the stables and saw Archibald and a stable boy holding the reins of two spirited mounts. Their shadow's flickered across stable gates in the lantern light. Pricilla was dressed as Archibald, in loose flowing robes, a knapsack slung across her back and a wooden staff, in her hands.
"Are you ready to ride Pricilla?" Archibald smiled at her, then winked at the stable boy.
"Yes, I am," she said. She looked at the stable boy and pointed a finger to him. "Not a word about this ride to anyone. It is my reputation, boy."
The stable boy's eyes grew wide. "No ma'am. I won't say a word," the twelve-year-old, with innocent eyes and a dirt smudged face said.
Archibald held his hands together, cupped for her to place her foot into to lift herself onto the steed. Pricilla mounted the horse and tied her traveling bindle to the saddle. She lashed her staff in place and grabbed the reins.
Archibald mounted his horse and with a slight nudge from his heel, both horses left the stables and headed to the outer wall of the castle. They left the castle and rode silently until they reached areas void of people before they spoke.
"It will take four days before we are back in the Wizard Colony," Archibald said.
"I can hardly wait," Pricilla responded. "Four years of being belittled and spoke down to almost pushed me to my limits."
"I know how you feel," Archibald said.
"More than once, I wanted to take my staff and knock some sense into that selfish and self serving woman...or thwart the intimate advances of your assignment."
"The Prince could be, well, quite an admirer of himself."
"That's putting it mildly. Why is it I have to be the one to be touched like that?" Pricilla asked.
"I would have gladly touched the Princess, but..."
"I'm sure you would have," Pricilla interrupted. "Rumors of you and other handmaiden's were the talk of the laundry." She smiled wide. "I didn't know you had moles on your bum in the shape of the Big Dipper?"
"Are you sure they were talking about moles?" Archibald retorted, then moved his horse to a run. "To the Colony, Wizard Princess," he yelled back to her.
Pricilla thought of her place in the Colony, the eldest of only two girls learning the art of wizardry. In a way, I may be considered the Princess of our Colony. She spurred her steed to a run in the direction of Archibald's and settled in for a journey.