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Princess No More

Memory Scarlett lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with a tiny dog who persists in behaving like a cat. She's published short SFF in Crossed Genres Magazine and Fireside Magazine, and blogs about fiction and food at memoryscarlett.blogspot.ca. You can also find her on Twitter as @xicanti.

Estelle refused to let Richard linger in her presence as his father lay dying. "You should be with him," she said. "He needs his family close by."
Richard scraped a hand across day-old stubble. "Let us pray he disowns me with his last breath."
They both knew that could not happen, no matter the love King Ambrose bore his son's wife. He had no heir but Richard, and the people could hope for no finer King. Estelle clung to that knowledge in her darker moments.
"I'll be all right," she said softly. "We've prepared for this. Please, Richard, will you give him my love? And my forgiveness?"
Richard nodded. Grief transformed him into a stiff, haggard creature; a far cry from the graceful prince with whom she had danced the world into focus. "I will tell him he is at the forefront of your thoughts," he said, lower lip trembling, "and that you harbor no ill will towards him."
It was enough. She let him go with a soft kiss on the cheek, as though this were an everyday parting. He did not meet her eyes.
The lock clicked behind him.
Unshed tears tore the back of Estelle's throat. She refused to let them fall. Inevitable though her decline may be, she need weather it on no one's terms but her own.
"That is how a Queen would think," she murmured to herself. "It has already begun."
The window beckoned her with its view of the kingdom she loved so dearly and was so loath to harm. It was her custom each evening to look for the well on the edge of her mother's lands, rendered ever visible by the brilliant magelight that hovered over it.
She and Richard brought that light into being; their first act, in the first hour they knew one another. Called together by the well's spirit, they danced and sang the ancient forms to rid the sacred waters of their dark taint. This action, all agreed, saved the kingdom--and gifted the prince with a princess to support him as he prepared to rule.
A princess's reach was vast. Estelle delighted in all she had accomplished in these fifteen years of shadowed joy: the apprenticeship program for commoners who would better their lot; the tax incentives she encouraged Richard to propose to Ambrose (for these things must flow through certain channels); the rise in revenues her farming initiatives yielded.
And, not least, the two beautiful daughters she and Richard produced.
Their daughters made it worse.
A spasm wracked her body, radiating out from her core to the very tips of her fingers. Gasping, Estelle pressed her palms to her stomach. Nothing could lessen the pain now, with Ambrose so near the end of his battle, but she couldn't help but try.
She forced herself to focus on the land that flourished under her indirect rule. She could endure this if she thought of her people; of the love Richard came to feel for them under her careful tutelage, though he was raised to entitlement and not naturally inclined to listen to those below him.
It was some comfort to know she left the populace respected and well fed, the trade relations with neighboring Vardsmark solid, the magic that had tainted the water held forever at bay by the spell she and Richard wove.
The spell that would outlive her.
Damn it all! Estelle smashed her fisted hands against the window's thick glass. It trembled but held firm. She stared at the quivering pane and wondered if she should try again; if she should pound the glass until her hands were ruined, bloody, maimed beyond repair.
No. Her hands had never been her strength.
Richard swore he would do what must be done, but in this, as in nothing else, she doubted him. He would sequester her in the highest tower, trusting to a complicated lock and a veil of secrecy to keep her in check.
And someday, a decade or two down the line, one or the other of her sweet, curious daughters would climb the stairs, find the key, meet the woman who could and would destroy everything.
Estelle wished, suddenly, for a dram of poison. For a dagger. For the wherewithal to strangle herself with the tasseled cord that held back the curtains. Why had she trusted Richard? Why had she not made the preparations herself?
Damn tradition. Damn the ancient stories that forced reality into a pattern that deformed the world. That twisted love into hate and good into evil, no matter how one fought.
Estelle could fight no more. A quiet fell over her soul, followed close by a terrible roar that spoke of fire and blood and pain.
Ambrose was gone. Richard was King, and Estelle his Queen.
A princess could be kind and helpful, if she so wished. She could sing magic into the world and govern her preserve with care and skill.
Sweet notes died ere they passed a Queen's lips. Her lands withered and lay fallow beneath the weight of her tortured schemes. She spread naught but evil; brought naught but death.
So tradition decreed, and so the world was.
Queen Estelle prayed King Richard would choose the tower over the knife.
She had so much yet to do.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Author Comments

"Princess No More" is what happens when you're sitting around thinking about evil queens. I've always been interested in the way stories can shape reality, and I began to wonder how that might play out in a setting where magic bolstered a set of conventions that vilified powerful women. This story was the result.

- Memory Scarlett
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