Long ago in a peaceful, quiet kingdom nestled between a bluish green sea and a plush olive forest there lived a royal family. The king, Joseph, was a strong, intelligent man who was adored by his people due to his fair and honest practices. The princess, a dainty, warm hearted girl of average beauty was blessed with the gift of song. Her love for the arts hung in many homes throughout the kingdom. She too was adored and loved by all. However, the queen was nowhere near as meek, humble, and beloved as the rest of the family. In her eyes, beauty and power reigned supreme. She seldom responded to requests to visit local charities or even the sick at their last request. Too involved with her own ideas of what her position required she stayed busy by courting the aristocratic side of the lifestyle. She would take long days away scheduling teas and luncheons with neighboring royals and well to dos. She wanted nothing of the common man and what he had to offer. So when the day came and it was time for the princess to be betrothed, she was angered when no prince from the neighboring families offered marriage to her daughter, Akina. Even though the queen had done all she could to ensure a successful, substantial nuptial, the neighboring royals were no fools and wanted no part of her snobbery. The queen lashed out and did as always, blamed her daughter.
"If you had been more beautiful this wouldn't have happened. Now look, you are 18 with no hopes for a husband and no hopes of an alliance with an affluent kingdom." The queen spouted her venom through most of the night when the king finally put her in her place.
"Madera, my darling, the trouble is not with our daughter, it's you. You have turned the neighboring families against us with your constant ill advised notions of what your position should be. To be a royal is a great responsibility to the kingdom that we protect not just a crown and golden pass to rub elbows with the rich. It is because of you that our daughter has no offers."
With those words the king slept in an adjoining chamber and did not return to her bed for weeks. The queen continued to smolder regarding Akina's fate. If she did not marry there would be no heir and without an heir, the kingdom would be lost. The queen decided it was up to her to set the proper marriage in place.
On the eve of spring, a grand festival was planned to celebrate the end of another harsh winter. As usual, Queen Madera made no plans to attend on time but instead scheduled a secretive trip into the nether-woods. The dark guest carriage would be escorting the woman to the mighty sorcerer, Gilsham. He was her final solution to the issue at hand. Upon arrival she was greeted by a tall dark figure. His eyes were a steely gray, his hair long, thick and black. His olive colored skin and perfect smile hid his true age, but it was known to many that he had walked the forest in the time of the ancient elders. His looks mattered not to her as she offered the faithless man 200 gold coins in exchange for a spell. A spell that would make her daughter irresistible and more beautiful than any other princess in the land. At that point, no prince could deny her marriage and they would line up in the grand the foyer bidding for her daughter's virtue and her hand. Madera would invite the wealthiest of the royals and only the best would be eligible to bid.
"Are you sure this is what you want, oh great queen? This type of spell can have wicked drawbacks as your ways are less than noble." Gilsham spoke with a frank tone to the woman. She ignored his caution.
"I paid you well, now do as I request! My ways are of you no matter to you. You work for me." Madera spouted cynical, arrogant venom.
Towards the end of the day as the festival launched into a joyous dance and bonfire, the queen appeared. Happy and full of joy she moved along the crowd of peasants and middle class as quick as an acquitted man leaving the hanging rope. Eyeing her daughter and husband at the other side of the stone pathway, she nodded and placed herself at their side. She was rather late and the king wanted answers.
"Where have you been all day? The evening dance depends on our first waltz of the afternoon and you are late!" The king was quite displeased as his hazel eyes flared flecks of green and his brow wrinkled in discontent.
"My lord, I wanted to look my best and so I purchased a new gown for this occasion. I am sorry for keeping you waiting." On the outside her apology was honest and authentic, but on inside the lies grew toxic as the asp's venom. She held her true intentions far from the surface as she continued with her daughter. "My darling Akina, I am so happy to see you smiling again. Let's put all that marriage nonsense aside. I am not worried nor shall I bother you further. There will be a prince in your future all in good time." Smiling at her daughter as she caressed her face, she turned to her husband as it was time for the ceremonial dance.
The king and queen's dance was both elegant and stunning. In tune to each other's rhythms they were as ballerinas on a stage. The tradition of this first dance was very important to the town as it was heaped in superstition. The first dance of the night was always performed by the royal couple. They would waltz atop a platform that covered the majority of the land that would become the year's crops. As they passed over each segment is it said a blessing from heaven for a bountiful harvest would occur. The couple would have to dance the length of half a football field and then some in order to bless the town with a prosperous harvest season. Once three quarters of a way through the waltz, the town members would join in and take to the stage in celebration.
In the beginning, the king and queen were as one and the waltz was divine. However, this did not last. The happy couple was more than half way through when the queen stepped on a hanging piece of her petticoat and stumbled. The king, quick on his feet, caught her as the town gasped.
"What is happening with you?" He asked. "It is this petticoat, it is longer than I expected and my heel was caught. I will have to be careful for the remainder of the eve."
The king nodded and continued to move along with the queen. However, someone in the crowd caught her eye and she stumbled again. This time the king was not able to catch her and she fell to the platform. The music stopped as the town gasped again but this time whispers followed. Joseph snatched up his bride and with a stern look he motioned for the musicians to continue. They completed the ritual, but dread filled the town as the superstitious took the stumbles to be signs of bad luck that would soon befall the small settlement.
Once the dance was done the king pulled the woman to the side and scolded her with harsh words. "Whatever is going on with you, you must gather yourself! We are looked to as the deciding factor of the kingdom and I cannot have you and your pretentious ideals ruining the lives of these people! I do not buy for one minute that you have forgotten about the marriage. I know you Madera Hoffsgood." The queen snatched away from him giving him a cold glare that chilled his soul. "You will not call me by my maiden name again, sir. I am your queen and I will have prosperity for this family. I don't care what you think. I am doing it all around here to ensure our place in the kingdom!" The king was quick to spout back at her. "You mean to ensure your place." With that the king stomped off his daughter at his side.
Madera took no thought to the events that had taken place. The face in the crowd that caught her attention and therefore caused the fall was her main concern. She moved to a remote section of town between two cobblestone buildings where Gilsham was waiting for her.
"How dare you show your face here?!" She spouted. "I cannot be seen with you. What is it that you want, I paid you handsomely!"
"Yes, you did, you paid very well, and even though I find you to be the most vile, evil hearted member I have ever known, I cannot let your daughter suffer. The spell that you have has a warning. If the man she marries truly loves her and not just her beauty she will be happy and prosper. But if the man only sees her for her outer shell, her life will be filled with disgrace and pain. Please make sure the man she marries love her before you allow the marriage."
"You will not give orders to me!" The queen stomps off towards the castle, the vial containing the potion in her bodice.
That night the queen plotted as never before. Anxious to try the concoction she schemed of ways to invite the most affluent of the royals to their palace and thus begin the bidding war. It was midnight before she was able to close her eyes in deep sleep. The evening's affairs far behind and her plot to cement her status among the wealthiest began.
The morning arrived with a strong rain storm that blew through the town. Quite unexpected and unusual for that time of year, the townspeople stayed hushed in superstitious silence. To most the bad luck had begun but to others it was just a freak storm that would blow over and planting could begin afterwards.
In spite of the weather, the castle was alive and bustling. The maids and butlers were busy making breakfast while the queen visited with her daughter, a glass of juice in her hands.
"Akina, I am so sorry for the events that took place last night. Your father is so on edge with me and that darn petticoat got in the way. I didn't have it tailored properly, I was in a rush. Your father made too much of the incident, really." The serpentine royal slithered a fake apology as slick as a snail trail.
"Mother, I have to forgive you, but you must forget this issue with the marriage. It won't be that bad. Besides, I want to be loved." Akina's words were graceful and spoken with a full and pure heart. However, the queen was well into her plan.
"I understand, my lovely, here have some juice to start your day." The queen offered the princess the glass and she accepted finishing the mixture without a blink.
Later that day the queen was in her room making arrangements for a grand spring ball. The king entered the room offering an apology for the previous night. The queen accepted and even stated that she had been wrong to rush the tailor. When asked what she was up to, she explained that she wanted to have a spring carnival that would end with a ball. Wanting to invite the village and neighboring towns, she wanted to show good faith for her failure to dance without stumble. The king was hesitant at first, but seeing her genuine wish to invite townsfolk to the ball, he decided to let her have her party.
The next day the storm cleared and the nearby rivers were filled with fresh water for crops and wells. Farmers went about their chores as the ground was perfect for planting. The rains had been a good omen after all. Within the next few weeks, crops sprouted in brilliant shades of green, orange and yellow. It was a good season. Meanwhile the queen's plans were underway.
The ball would be a further celebration of the bounty of spring, but underneath it would be the introduction of her daughter once again, but with the works of the potion under way.
Over the next few weeks, the princess seemed to have a glow about her. Her hair shined as glossy as morning dew, her skin was radiant and free of girlish blemishes. Gone was her splotchy skin and many freckles. She seemed to blossom into a rose overnight. The girl had not been ugly to begin with, she simply had traits that made her human and were natural for girls of her age. However, the last few weeks her appearance was almost divine. Noticing his daughter's transformation, the king asked what she was doing something different. The young woman simply replied "no" and continued to move about the castle. Noticing the changes within herself, the young princess seemed to smile more and raised her head high as she strolled along the gardens and castle grounds. She caught the attention of every man and woman in the kingdom. Then the day of the spring carnival arrived followed by the grand ball.
The courtyard was filled to the brim with people from every background. It was a marvelous event catered and decorated by the finest planner in the land. When the moment came to unveil the hosting family, the king, queen and princess appeared from the stone steps of their almighty castle. The entire party gasped in amazement. The princess was more beautiful than the finest diamonds that she wore. Every prince attending the party took note and immediately began asking for dances and moments to gaze upon her beauty. Needless to say the queen was pleased and even the king smiled in relief as he saw his daughter happier than ever, a young handsome suitor at her side.
Over the next few weeks, messengers brought parchments with proposals and possible endowments for the hand of the beautiful girl. The queen was thrilled and for once the king thought it a good thing. The princess was pleased with the excitement, but felt uneasy at a marriage not founded in love, the king understood her sentiment.
"You know, Madera, I was allowed to choose you as my love. Remember those days, you were a shy peasant with the heart of an angel. I could not resist you." The king held his queen in his arms.
"Yes, I was a peasant and I loved you then as I do now, but I can understand the rules of our class." The queen's words were an uninvited slip. The king quickly saw the plan in hand. "You want her married to some over-stuffed, boy with dreams of righteous glory and kingship instead of a love that will take her through time. What happened to woman I married?"
"That little nothing of a peasant girl is no more and has learned the ways of the regal. She must marry for her security and if she does not choose then I will choose for her!" Within that moment the queen felt the sting of the king's hand across her jaw as she fell to the floor. Akina, a witness to this action rushed to her defense.
"Mom, are you okay?" She lifted the woman from the floor. "Father, you were out of line. She is only looking out for our kingdom. Sure her ways are strange but underneath she means us good." Naive and believing her mother wanted the best, the young princess made a decision. "I have chosen to marry Prince Farnsworth. He has offered the best for me and the kingdom. I can grow to love him if that is what it takes." The princess stood stern in her decision. The queen jumped for joy internally.
The marriage would take place in the summer as a garden ceremony would be prepared. Prince Theodore Richard Timothy Farnsworth II would unite his kingdom with that of King Joseph Michael Vanderhall and all would be divine. Overjoyed with Akina's choice, Madera quieted in the months to come as she and her daughter planned a lavish and stunning event.
The wedding day arrived and just as planned the castle and courtyard were filled with the most vibrant blooms of the season. Being held on the castle grounds would ensure a place for all to witness the vows and partake of the illustrious flower garden. As the guests arrived and the halls were prepared, the queen was readying herself in her dressing chamber. A knock at her door, a visitor entered with sudden haste.
"You must not let this wedding take place. His heart is cold and has no love for your daughter. Please have her marry Prince Caleb for he truly loves her," Gilsham snuck into the castle and to the chambers of the queen.
"Get out or I will have you hanged!" As she prepared to yell, he was quick to place a sleeping spell on her as he made his escape. Found on the floor of her bedroom, she remembered nothing and said she must have fainted. The wedding would go on as planned.
The event was the spectacle of the season and one of the most lavish ceremonies to ever take place. The bride's gown of Italian lace and silk was embroidered with pearls and crystals around the bodice. The train flowed elegantly behind the bride as she seemed to float down the aisle. The queen and king in their best sat proud and confident on the first rows.
The dinner and party afterward were just as grand as the ceremony. Both houses now combined, the treaty of lands and sea were signed and affluence flowed freely. The newlyweds would reside in a castle that the prince had built between the two now massive kingdoms. Their wedding night would be spent in the guest chambers of the princes' parent's castle. She would endure the travel to her new home first thing in the morning.
Everything seemed to go well and the foreboding of the sorcerer seemed silly. The bride and groom seemed happy and in love. There was no more to be said. The queen settled in for the night. Her husband was nervous as it was his daughter's first wedding night. He paced the floor in anxiety hoping the young prince would be gentle and use tact.
The newlyweds settled into the bed as the consummation of the marriage began. The prince was ever more the gentleman and took his bride with caution and care. The fairytale seemed to have a happy ending.
The following morning the couple had breakfast with their parents before the brief trip to their own palace. Smiles and tears were exchanged as the two made their way into the world, a fresh new start. Akina smiled and waved goodbye as she sat next to her husband inside their plush oak and metal carriage. She had no more worries and felt her life open to a new chapter. Soon she would look to having a family of her own and maybe one day a modest sovereignty.
The adjoining kingdoms were quite happy as new ports evolved and ships brought goods from opposite ends of the world to their door. The common man was able to move up and the peasants seemed to prosper as well. The lands grew and opportunities for work followed. The night of the spring fling was forgotten and all was well or so it seemed.
Over the next few months, Akina began to see a different side of her prince. He grew distant and sarcastic, stayed out all hours of the night having wild parties and orgies with any and every woman he could. Akina, being the strong willed woman, approached him about his behavior, to which he replied with a sharp blow across her cheek. The young princess was in tears, thoughts of what she had done wrong filled her head as the servants lifted her and tended to her bruised face. The news spread that the prince was an out of control womanizer. However, Madera kept a tight hold on the messengers and their deliveries. Each letter she kept tucked away in her dresser, never replying to her daughter's tears. The king had suspicions as he had grown accustomed to hearing from Akina weekly. When he had not heard from her in a month he asked the queen. She, of course, lied.
"Maybe they are just being newlyweds and are thinking of starting their own family, give them time. I am sure she will write us soon." Madera would move through the halls of her newly renovated castle and hum sweet melodies as he daughter suffered. Not caring of the cruelty to her but of her own twisted desires, she had taken certain matters into her hands to assure her place would remain.
Gilsham a mighty sorcerer he was, but still in some ways quite vulnerable to human fate knew that his days were coming short. His visions haunted him as he tried to undo the horror that the princess now endured. He was able to meet with her for a moment, as the prince always had her followed. He came to the castle posing as a candle salesman, knowing the woman's love for fresh scents he was able to gain a conference with her and when he did he explained his true reason for visitation.
"My lady, Akina, please forgive my deception, but I had to see you. I am aware of your predicament and I have come to help." The princess responded. "What predicament do you speak of sir?" Her words were gentle but her quivering hands told another story. "The man you married is not the same. The reason is behind a potion I gave your mother that she in turn gave to you. The queen wanted you married to a wealthy prince and I obeyed. For this I am not proud. I tried to warn her but she would not listen. You must leave this place before your sorrow expands beyond the reaches of time."
Akina listened to the broken sorcerer. Part of her wanted to disbelieve his tale, but deep down she knew it was true. Her tears flowed as never before as her life crumbled before the stranger. "Why did you let her do this to me?!" She screamed. "Is there a cure for this madness, will he ever be the man I married?" The princess was desperate to hold on to her marriage. The sorcerer responded. "I have tried to find a potion to reverse the spell, but I have not been successful. For now you must leave this place as the curse increases daily."
The princess had Gilsham thrown from the castle and warned that if he returned he would be hanged. Too upset to heed his warnings, she continued with her life as it was. She grew cautious of how to handle the prince and steered clear of his evil. Unfortunate for her the prince did not do the same. His beatings grew more violent and if he drank, he would rape the woman until she pleaded for him to stop.
Gilsham returned to his cottage that day fearful for the future that was unfolding. He slaved over a bubbling cauldron for hours searching for a cure. It was in the early morning light of the following day that he succeeded. He bottled the potion and packaged it with a lettered parchment. He requested a messenger boy that day and sent the parcel to its new owner. Relieved that he could undo his evil, he settled in for the night with a clean conscience. Over the next few days he would not be seen which was not that unusual, but when a rancid odor snaked its way through the town, his cottage was searched and his dead body was found ripped open and left in the middle of the floor.
The king intercepted a messenger for the queen on that brisk October morning. As he unrolled the letter, the horror that had been hidden from him was revealed.
Father, I know now that you have not received any of my letters, but I still try. I don't know how much more of this I can take. My prince has become more violent and I lock myself in my room at night. I pray you get this letter, as I am at a loss. He would surely have me followed if I tried to leave. Father I am with child and do not wish to bring him or her into this life. Please, if you get this letter, help me, come to me for I know only you can tame the beast that he has become.
Angered at the thought that he had been kept in the dark about her circumstances the king demanded to know if there were more of the letters. The servants were quick to lead him to his wife's chamber. She was out for the day running errands so he was able to plunder as he pleased. He ransacked her room until he came across a secret compartment in her dresser. He tore the lock off the hinge and there they were. A stack of his daughter's grief was tucked away from his presence for months. He wept as he gathered them all in his cloak and ordered a steed for riding. The servants were happy to oblige.
"Before I return, pack the queen's belongings and remove her from this place! I will allow her one chest of gold and that is all! If she returns before I do make sure is gone before I return!" The servants were pleased with his request and moved with haste.
Just as Joseph was about to mount his horse, a messenger arrived with a parcel. The king opened it and perused the information and immediately knew what to do. He rode hard to his daughter's palace in hopes of ending her suffering. As he blazed through the town, the queen saw him and hurried home. Once she arrived she found her things packed and loaded on a guest carriage.
"What is the meaning of this?!" She blared at the servants as they went about their chore. "The king has asked that you be removed from the premises. We are following his orders to the tee. You have a chest of gold and all your belongings. You are to be gone before he returns." The male servant, Christian spoke with great pride. The queen's faced sunk as she knew he had found the letters. Gathering her own horse she raced for the castle, she knew a shorter way and arrived before her husband. She was greeted at the door by her battered daughter. Disheveled and dazed the woman stood in the foyer, a large bloody kitchen knife in her hand. The servants were long gone and she remained alone in her suffering.
"My daughter, come away with me. I am so sorry it has taken me this long. I had been away on business and when your father came to me with the letters I rushed to your side." Her lies flowed with ease as she stood on the front steps of the grand palace. "Mother, I want to believe you." The princess' words were slurred. "But I know better, I know what you did and I know why you did it. And I can never forgive you." With those words she plunged the bloody knife into her mother's guts ripping her open and spilling her bowels forth. The queen fell to the cold stone as her innards oozed forward onto the castle steps. In the distance, she could hear the hoofs of her husband as he arrived at the castle. Seeing his daughter in such disarray brought tears to his eyes. He raced to her, the bottle containing the cure in his hand, but before he could reach her, she plunged the knife into her stomach. The king's heart burst with grief as his daughter lay dying. He held her tight in his arms.
"I am so sorry, your mother hid everything from me. Please at least take this potion, maybe it will reverse the evil." The king was hopeful.
Akina drank the bitter liquid, but it was too late. Her fate and the fate of her unborn child were done. "I know you were not aware of her treachery, father. I hold no grudge against you. I love you so." The princess died in peace.
The queen, still struggling to hold on, attempted to gurgle one last lie. The king unsheathed his sword and quickly lopped off her head. For the murder of the sorcerer, their daughter's life and their marriage, he felt the only judgment fitting was death.
As word of the queen's treachery spread, the prince's family came to investigate only to find the body of the queen and their son slashed and stabbed to pieces. The king had taken his daughter to be buried in their sacred crypt. As for the queen, her remains were burned on a great pyre and set out to sea. The king wanted no part of her to remain. The treaty between the lands fell apart as Prince Theodore's family sought retribution. The king was broken in every way, his lands dried up, his wealth diminished and his lovely daughter was dead. He decided to join her. His body was found hanging in the crypt next to where she lay. The stumble of that early spring chattered among those that remained.