Like all fairytale princesses, little Charlotte’s birth was nothing short of a miracle; a beauty in an ugly place of ignorance and prejudice, not as far far away as some might expect. She was darling, silent, and obedient. But as she grew more curious, and more rambunctious, the King became wary. He sought advice from the Kingdom’s well respected doctor, who had a dreary conclusion to draw: Bestowed with cleverness, and a proclivity towards intellect, he was sure hysteria would soon be upon the Princess Charlotte.
So very closely she was watched, that after being found defiantly sneaking about the castle at the tender age of fifteen (thus proving the doctor’s theory), Charlotte was put to rest on a bed of roses that adorned the vicinity with thorns. There, in the deepest of induced sleeps, Charlotte would lie until a suitable prince might come along – one who might be trusted with the task of keeping her safe, and quiet.
“This will do. Remember to give her one dose each morning. We wouldn’t want the effects to ware off at an inopportune time,” the doctor chuckled as he was escorted out of the castle.
“Oh, of course.” The King returned the smile, anxious to be rid of his company.
As the doctor turned to leave, he paused and glanced back at the King. “I must ask, if it’s not an imposition – you said she was poking around, did she happen upon –”
“Dr. Kitz, I told you that in confidence. I expect the matter will not be brought up again.”
The doctor bowed his head apologetically, and stuttered a vow of silence. The King closed the heavy doors in the man’s face and grunted his disapproval. The doctor had been intrusive, but at least he had provided the King with a definite solution to his problem. Charlotte would no longer be an issue.
“There’s a storm coming, your highness. Shall I fix the fires?”
The Queen looked up from her daze and met the eyes of her maid, but seemed to look right through them. After a moment the maid backed away, unnerved by her Queen’s empty glare. It had been nearly two decades since she had seen that look in her eyes.
She shuddered to remember the first night it happened. She had only been at the castle for a few weeks. The King and Queen had been newlywed and the Kingdom’s celebratory festivities were just starting to wind down. It was the first quiet night since her arrival, and the maid was looking forward to it. She had been getting along quite well with the Queen, and had even made her giggle once or twice. It had set her completely at ease. That particular night, she had been doing her rounds of the castle, sure to open all of the shutters to let in the bright harvest moonlight. Then, humming a tune through the dissipating darkness, the maid had caught the sight of what she could only describe as a beast through the window. It stood on two sturdy hind legs in the distance; its fur white as snow, eyes red as blood, soul black as night.
Startled, the maid yelped and let her candle tumble to the floor. Despite the yards of space between them, the monster seemed to sense her fear, and turned so that its eyes met hers before it leapt into the shadows of the trees and disappeared. In her catatonia, the maid hardly noticed the candle had set her skirt ablaze. It was only when she turned to run, hyperventilating, that she came face to face with the Queen who had been silently watching the events unfold. The maid yelled out, frightened by both the realization that she was not alone, and by the fact that her highness was standing so very still. Suddenly, the maid could feel the heat sneaking up her legs, and smell her own flesh melting away. She jumped, breaking the Queen’s empty gaze. Snapping out of what seemed to be nothing short of a hypnotic state, the Queen poured her glass of water onto the small but painful flames below them. The maid had not even noticed the water, and wondered if she had been holding it the whole time. She might have asked if she were not overwhelmed by the strangeness of it all. Instead, she watched, mouth gaping and heart pounding, as the Queen wandered off down the hall.
Frightened and confused, the maid had told no one about the monster she had seen. Eventually, the memory became less tangible and more oneiric.
Tonight, the Queen had that same eerie look in her eyes. The recognition sent the memory of that night flooding back to the maid. It washed over her like a wave, so that she was woozy and unsteady on her feet. In her mind’s eye, images of the beast flashed incoherently until she felt her body succumb to the exhaustion. She collapsed to the floor and it was only then that the Queen rose, and came to her side (though with very little urgency). The world blackened and the maid soon awoke in her chambers, tucked into bed with a cool breeze grazing her face. She let her eyes flutter open and saw that the Queen was just leaving, closing the door behind her.
The window was wide open, sheer curtains blowing in the wind. Much like that night so many years ago, moonlight poured in splashing her in the face. Only now, it was not so welcomed. She turned her back to it, squeezed her eyes shut, and said a silent prayer. In the distance, she thought she heard a howl. So, she prayed again.
Down the hall, the princess slept, sound as death.
TO BE CONTINUED…