The next morning, a viewing of Princess Charlotte was the Kingdom’s main event. Princes and Kings came from all across the lands to gaze upon the resting beauty. All were taken aback by her, and brought gifts they soon decided could not possibly be worthy of her. One by one the butler escorted the men in to have their look, leave their gifts, and postulate their plans to win her hand. One by one they were escorted out, deemed undeserving by the King. Some left angry and foul mouthed, spewing threats that sent shivers up the maid’s spine. Others left in tears, desperate for one last chance. The effect Charlotte seemed to have over them was powerful and unexpected, but the King and Queen were not at all surprised. In fact, they seemed bored.
“May I ask what qualities in a mate you are seeking for her?” the maid asked the Queen that evening while she bathed.
“I seek nothing. It is the King who has strong ideals about what she might need.” Squeezing water from a sponge, the Queen took a moment to ponder on this before continuing, “and I think I’d agree. She should be with someone who can handle her potential for voracity.”
The maid wondered what that meant, but decided not to ask. The Queen had been quite herself all day and she saw no reason to disturb that. Instead, she nodded, and prepared the towel.
“The men who visited today were all handsome, but so weak,” The Queen stated as she stepped out of the tub.
The maid wrapped the Queen in the towel and used another to dry her hair. Some did cry, that was true, but others seemed very strong-minded. Preferring not to disagree with her highness, the maid continued to nod.
“You might need to rest some more. You’re awfully quiet today. I hope you didn’t hurt your head when you fell.”
“I didn’t,” the maid smiled. “I’m just a little tired. I might take my sleep earlier tonight. Once you’re settled down.”
“I’m settled,” the Queen insisted. “I’d rather like a night cap by the fire. But otherwise, I’m fine. Please, go on.” She smiled warmly, a familiar sentiment that eased the maid.
In the library, the Queen made herself cozy on a chair by the fire. She brought the strong liquid to her lips and held it there, teasing herself with its delectable scent. She was always very thankful for night caps. The first sip melted over her tongue, tingled her throat, and finally warmed her belly. It was just what she needed after a day like today. Her husband would be far from the grounds by now, assumed secure in his chambers. It was on these nights that she could really unwind.
Being with him was not nearly as treacherous as she had expected it to be when he first took her. There was a brief time in which she even believed she loved him and wanted to stay. Now, she had simply accepted her fate. After Charlotte’s birth some seventeen years ago, she knew there was no turning away. If she had been able to escape before, she might have, but not now. Now, she simply basked in nights like these when he was away, and she could roam freely.
Of course, her favorite place to come to was still the library. Being alone with her books, her mind fluttering from the liquor, reminded her of being a girl again; a naive, impressionable, girl. She was happy to know that her daughter would not be so. Inheriting the beast from her father, dormant as it might be, had made her feisty in a way that appealed to the Queen. If she had learned anything living in this world with the King, it was that it was better to have a little fight in you – better to be the predator than the prey.
The Queen watched as the fire cast dancing shadows upon the wall, and drifted into a dream of her youthful days, dancing at balls, laughing a genuine laugh, smiling a believable smile. She missed those days, no matter how she tried to deny it.
“Your Highness, Your Highness! It’s the Princess, she’s awake!”
The Queen’s eyes shot open, her nasal cavity immediately invaded by the scent of peat from both the dead fire and the spilled whiskey on her dress. “Wh-What..” she started as she tried to focus on her surroundings.
“A Prince,” the maid exclaimed, “A prince came and woke her with a kiss. We cannot find the King.”
At the news the Queen perked up, alert, and dove off of the chair and towards the door – because she had to get to her Princess; had to know she was safe.
In the viewing room, she found Charlotte rightfully confused. She was fighting the Prince off of her, while guards stood as steadfast observers. She had tears in her eyes but was not exactly crying; just very frustrated and confused.
“Darling!” the Queen hollered and the room fell still, all eyes on her. It took a moment for the guards and prince to remember to bow, and as they did so Charlotte leapt off of her bed of captivity, letting the thorns tear at her skin as she rushed to the Queen.
“What’s happening, mother? Please, tell me what’s happening!”
“Shhh.” Pulling her in for a hug the Queen explained, “We discussed this Charlotte, you fell ill and we decided it was best to let you sleep until”
“Until a madman touches me!” Charlotte shot a glare at the prince who huffed at the insult but said nothing.
After a moment of jarring silence, the King strode in. Charlotte was scolded for her rudeness and made to thank the prince for awakening her and curing her ailments. As she knelt to him respectfully, she felt a sudden cold rush through her. She might have been woken, but she knew the nightmare had only just begun.
TO BE CONTINUED…