The great walls that surrounded the kingdom of Cranthos were infamous. They towered over the city, casting shadow and gloom in all of the deepest corners. Many of the folk that lived within Cranthos despised the walls, but they understood why they were there. They kept the city safe from the forest. The elders would often talk of the forest, and the evils contained within. From birth, the children of the city were told why they could not go outside of the walls, and it was accepted. The Dagnam Forest was a dark and evil place that liked to spread its malice. The walls protected the city from that.
“My King the news is not good,” Physician Jamain said gravely as he exited the royal bedroom. King Roth hung his head in despair.
“My wife?” he managed to say heavily as he glanced up at the physician. The heartbreak was evident in his eyes and Jamain almost couldn’t bring himself to give his diagnosis.
“The fever has increased. Her body is beginning to fail. The Queen does not have long left, and there is no more medicine that I can give her. All I can do now is ease her suffering.”
King Roth nodded his head slowly, and then thanked the physician for his time. He shook his hand and then dismissed Jamain for what would be the final time. Roth entered his bedroom and saw the outline of his beloved wife lying motionless behind the drawn, silk curtains.
“Father?” said a tiny voice from behind the King. Roth turned and found his daughter, Princess Pandella, standing at the door. She must have been hiding down the hall, waiting on news of her mother.
“Pan, my darling, you know you’re not supposed to be in here, it’s not safe. You could get infected,” Roth said soothingly as he made to usher his daughter out of the room. Pandella was merely ten years old, and had been a sickly child. She was prone to catching bugs and viruses, and if she were to go near her mother, she may pick up the fever too.
“I’m alright father. I really want to see mother. I’ve written her a poem,” Pan said so delicately it broke the King’s heart. He weighed his options. The child hadn’t seen her mother in so long. If he refused her now she may sneak in at a later time and get too close. If he watched her now, he could avoid that catastrophe.
“Alright my darling, but you can only stay a moment. You do exactly as I say,” he said softly, gently so as not to seem like an uncaring ogre.
Pan’s heart skipped a beat. It had been thirty sleeps since she’d seen her mother. She understood that she was ill, and Pan also understood why she couldn’t get too close to her mother. She was prone to sickness, and she’d only just gotten over her last bought of the cold.
She felt her father’s hand on her shoulder as she was guided through the magnificent bedroom. Pan loved her parent’s bedroom. The bed was humongous, and brilliant for jumping on. The furniture was lined with gold that made it sparkle slightly in the sunlight. Even though the luxurious curtains were drawn, the room was still lit well by the sun, and a pinkish hew enveloped everything. Pan’s favourite thing though, was the portrait of her mother and father that hung on the wall to the left of the bed. Her mother was sitting side saddle on a beautiful white horse, and her father was holding the reins. A large sword hung by his side. They looked to be in a forest, but Pan knew they weren’t because the real forest was dangerous, and nobody in the kingdom was allowed to leave the walls without very special permission.
Her father parted the silk hangings surrounding the bed with his hand, and Pan caught the first glimpse of her mother that she’d seen in thirty sleeps.
“Mother?” Pan whimpered, tears instantly springing to her eyes. Her mother’s face was deathly pale and looked like wax. Her forehead shone with sweat from the fever, and her lips were ragged and dry. Her once voluptuous, chocolate brown hair lay lank on the pillow and glistened with grease. A skeletal hand lay on top of the duvet, and Pan was honestly frightened.
“You stay right there Pan, don’t you move another muscle,” Roth instructed his daughter as firmly as he could. He leaned down to his wife and stroked her sodden hair.
“Greta my love, our daughter is here to see you,” he whispered down by the Queen’s ear. He hadn’t thought his wife was awake, but she was as she moaned and cracked open an eye. Her head moved slightly so she could get a better look at Pan. The corner of her mouth twitched as she tried to smile, and with that one little action, Pan’s fear vanished.
“Hello mother. I’ve come to visit you. Father says I can’t stay long, and I understand. I wanted to read you the poem I wrote for you,” she said tenderly as she pulled a piece of paper out of her dress pocket.
A breath escaped her mother’s lips, and Pan took this as a signal that her mother was listening. She carefully unfolded the paper, shook it out a little, and cleared her throat lightly. She wanted this reading to be good, so as to make her mother happy.
“You love me even though I’m sick,
You calm me with a sweet trick,
You rub my head,
You tuck me in bed,
You tell me a story,
You tell me not to worry,
You love me even though I’m sick.”
Pan looked up from her piece of paper and looked at her parents. A tear was rolling down her father’s cheek, and her mother was looking at her intently. Her eyes were shining, but Pan didn’t think she could cry. She didn’t want her mother to cry, that wasn’t supposed to be the point of her poem.
“I love you,” Queen Greta managed to whisper as she stared at her wonderful daughter. Pan smiled, and handed the piece of paper to her father.
“I love you too mother. I can give this to father so he can read it to you if you ever want.”
“Thank you Pan,” King Roth said gratefully, “It’s time to go now.”
Princess Pandella sat at her window looking down on the city of Cranthos. Her mind was clouded with thoughts of her mother. She had heard the physician say that her mother didn’t have long left. Pan ultimately believed that this meant the worst thing in the world, and she didn’t want that. She didn’t want to lose her mother, and she didn’t want her father to lose his one true love. Pan was a great believer in that, and her parents were the epitome of true love.
Her gaze ran over the rooftops of the city, and suddenly she felt angry. Why couldn’t anyone in this city help? Why was Physician Jamain the only one they could go to? There had to be others out there. Maybe they weren’t looking hard enough. Maybe they needed to go out into the city and search for another physician. Had they checked everywhere, she wondered? Had they even checked the dark places of the city?
A soft knock on her door brought her attention back into the room. A flustered, older woman poked her frizzy head through the bedroom door.
“Afternoon tea will be in five minutes Princess Pandella. Make sure you wash up before you come down,” the woman said sternly.
“Yes Governess Fran,” Pan said automatically. She hated Governess Fran, but was respectful to her nonetheless. Her mother had once taught her to be nice to the people she didn’t like, even if you wanted to push them from the top of the castle.
As Governess Fran’s head disappeared again, a thought occurred to Pan. If she went out in search of a new physician, she could save her father and his people all the time and worry. She thought hard for a moment. She knew her father couldn’t make afternoon tea today because he had something with the city financier. Governess Fran would be in the kitchen getting things ready for Pan, and the guards at the gate would be changing over in mere moments. This was her window of opportunity. Pan quickly threw on her cloak and shoved her bonnet onto her head. Once she’d checked the coast was clear, she left her bedroom and made to exit the castle.
Pan finally stopped running when she reached the old tree just outside the gates to the castle. She hid behind it and tried to catch her breath in short, sharp gasps. As expected, her father had not been around, and the Governess had been in the kitchen. It had been getting past the guards that had proved tricky. She’d had to sneak past three of them that were taking a break, which involved small white sticks and smoke. Once past them, she had to make a run for it, as fast as her tiny feet could carry her.
“Okay Pan, you’re safe now, time to get searching,” she thought to herself while she made sure the buttons were still fastened on her cloak.
She decided to set off east, and started walking down all manner of streets that she’d only ever seen from her bedroom window. The streets were cobbled, and every window had a flower box. Most of the flowers were in bloom, and the smells were absolutely heavenly. Pan even recognised a few of the flowers, like Pixie Breath, and Royal Elfbloom.
The people on the street paid her little attention. She was thankful of this. Pan knew that none of these people would meet her formally until her fourteenth birthday, when she came of age and could start attending to royal duties. She wasn’t able for a suitor until she was eighteen, and this made her happy. She still had eight years to convince the royal court that she didn’t want a suitor and she wanted to marry for love. From what she could tell, her own parents were the only arranged marriage that had ever worked out as true love.
Looking in through the windows gave Pan a good idea of what the shop specialised in. She spotted sweet shops, fabric shops, jewellery shops and toy shops, but no physician shops yet. She kept walking until she reached the gloomy shadow that was cast by the great wall. It was a lot colder than the rest of the street and Pan could even see her breath fogging a little in front of her. There were less people too, but Pan remained unfazed. She needed to find a physician, and she didn’t care where she had to go.
“You look like a girlie on a mission,” said a croaky voice from a hidden doorway. Pan’s head snapped to the left, startled by the sudden presence of a person. A haggard old woman stood in the doorway of a grubby looking shop. On the window was the symbol of the physicians, but it looks slightly warped.
“Are you a physician?” Pan asked immediately, forgetting her manners, and not introducing herself.
“Of sorts,” said the woman as she leaned heavily on her crooked cane. Pan couldn’t hide the relief from her face.
“I’m so glad, I’m in need of a physician,” Pan said quickly as she approached the doorway. The woman looked Pan up and down slowly, cackled a little, and then beckoned her into the shop. She looked quickly left and right to make sure no one was watching, and entered the shop.
The first thing that greeted Pan was the smell. Toxic wasn’t really the word for it. The smell wasn’t too bad; it was strong and stung the nostrils. Pan could even taste it at the back of her throat, but again it wasn’t a bad taste, more medicinal.
“What can I do you for young lady?” the old woman asked as she sat down into a huge, quince shaped chair.
“I need medicine for my mother,” Pan said strongly.
“Ah yes, the Queen is gravely ill,” said the woman knowingly.
Pan had opened her mouth to say something else but promptly shut it again. How did this woman know she was talking about the Queen? She couldn’t know who she was, could she?
“No not the Queen, my mother,” Pan said, telling a lie.
The woman laughed. It lasted for a long time and it was very loud. Pan felt her cheeks burn with annoyance, and embarrassment.
“You can’t pull the wool over old Lynx’s eyes, I know you’re Princess Pandella girlie, and I know your mother is deathly ill.”
Pan felt her hackles rise, but calmed herself quickly. This woman, Lynx, could be the best hope for her mother, and she didn’t want to get on her bad side.
“How did you know?” she asked.
“Old Lynx knows a lot more than people think. For one, you’re the only girlie in the city that could have fine dresses like that, and two, you have a royal aura. Old Lynx can see that very clearly, all shiny, and gold. Now what is it you require?” Lynx explained.
“Can you make a medicine to make my mother all better? She has a bad fever, and her skin is like wax,” Pan explained, recalling the appearance of her sickly mother lying in the royal bedroom.
Lynx was quiet for a moment and she tapped her cane lightly on the ground. Minutes passed, and as the woman thought, Pan glanced around the room she was in. Strange jars lined one whole wall, and she didn’t spend too much time looking at these, especially when she spotted a jar filled with eyeballs. Another wall contained many different herbs and plants. These must have been the things providing the room with the smell.
“I can make your mother well again,” Lynx said finally, her tapping stick coming to an abrupt halt. Pan felt her heart flutter in her chest, and images of her mother playing with her in the royal gardens flashed briefly through her mind.
“I’m so glad; I’ll take you back to the castle now!” Pan exclaimed as she went to help Lynx up from her seat.
“Not so fast little Princess,” Lynx choked out, and started to cough. It was a guttural cough that made Pan stop suddenly.
Lynx waved her hand in the air, and a goblet of water appeared magically out of thin air. Pan gasped. Lynx wasn’t just a physician; she was a witch, a master of alchemy. Governess Fran had warned Pan of witches, she said they weren’t to be trusted. Pan felt her palms start to sweat, and she took a step back slightly.
“Never met a witch before eh?” Lynx asked after she’d drained her goblet. Pan shook her head, causing her bonnet to wobble slightly.
“I’m not an evil beast like that Governess told you. I’m merely a purveyor of potions, and my magic just helps. Now, I can’t go to the castle because all of my things are here, and besides, I’m missing an ingredient,” Lynx explained to the little princess.
Pan’s furrowed her brow, suddenly confused. Forgetting her fear she took a step forward.
“An ingredient?” she asked perplexedly.
Lynx took her cane, and pointed towards the wall filled with herbs and plants. Pan followed the cane and stared at the wall of shrubbery.
“I need the bark of the Dag Tree to make the potion that will cure the strange disease that afflicts your mother, and our Queen,” Lynx said.
“This bark will work?” Pan asked quickly, a bubble of excitement forming in her stomach. Lynx nodded her head slowly, a strange smile on her face.
“How can I get some for you?” she asked as the bubble grew and grew. Lynx laughed, and pointed her cane towards the door.
“You must enter Dagnam forest,” the old witch said. The bubble of excitement in Pan’s stomach burst.
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