Married To The Enemy
They kept me locked in my room, but to make extra sure that I wouldn’t be escaping any time soon they placed a guard outside my door. It wasn’t the drunk this time. I never saw that man around again. I still wondered what had happened to him.
My new guard was fully serious about his job. It didn’t take me long to realize that he had more at stake than just a simple punishment from the king. In fact, he seemed to genuinely care about what happened to the king. Sometimes at night I would hear the Hawk come to visit him. I could tell that they thought I was sleeping because the conversations that they had centered on things I’m sure they would have never wanted me to know, like the fact that they had been lovers for many years.
I realized during their middle of the night rendezvous that they both thought that there was a possibility that the king might be his son. While they were whispering one night I had pressed my ear to the door to hear what they were saying and that is what had come out. If that was true, even though it could never been proven, that would mean that he had no right to rule the kingdom. So where did I fit in all of this?
Every day the Hawk came to my room and asked me if I had enough punishment. When I told her I would never give in and marry the king, she would think of some new torture for me to undergo that day. My guard would carry it out. She made very sure I had no contact with anybody but the king, the guard, and her.
The king rarely did come to visit me, but when he did it was usually to let me know that he was going out to search for Rossannah and Cub. I knew that he thought that this would bother me, but I was confident that they would be able to keep themselves hidden from him.
One night, the Hawk came to get me. She told me to follow her, and I did, thinking that since I was free of my room I might be able to escape. She had thought of that already and the guard was told to walk with us as well. I was led to a room where the king and another man were waiting for me. The man, whom I had never seen before, held a large scroll in his arms. He rolled it out on a desk and I was told to sit down before it.
“Sign it,” the king told me. I refused to sign it without reading it. I began to skim the words and realized at once that it was a marriage contract. I let out a loud and boisterous laugh.
“I’m not signing this,” I guffawed. “Do you think I am crazy, or stupid?”
“I know you are not either,” the king agreed, “which is why you are going to sign it. I have your mother.”
“Where is she?” I said, skeptically. “I doubt very much that you have any ability to capture my mother.”
The king waved his hand and the doors burst open. Two men carrying a gagged and helpless looking woman rushed into the room. My mother looked at me and her eyes went wide with concern and she began to thrash around widely, trying to yell something through the slip of cloth tied tightly around her mouth. All I could hear were muffled and nervous screams.
“Sheena,” I whispered, all of the hope I had managed to cling to was now gone. I picked up the pen and hastily signed the contract. It was immediately pulled out of my grasp as I finished and brought over to the king, who also signed it.
“Give me your necklace,” the king ordered. I dug down into my boot pocket and produced it for him. He grabbed the chain and smugly walked over to Sheena holding it in front of her face. Her eyes went wide once again and she looked at me. Tears began to form in her eyes. Something didn’t make sense.
The king brought my necklace back over to me and thrust it into my hand. He told me to put it around my neck and wear it from now on.
“Untie the mother,” the king ordered. “We’ll leave them alone. They will have a lot to talk about. We have what we need from her now. Even if they leave right now it won’t be a big deal. It would probably be best for everybody, except for the tribes in the forest.” He looked at me menacingly. He said this last part just for me, to make sure that I would stick around.
They left Sheena and me in the room by ourselves and I went over and untied her. She took the gag out and looked up at me with sorrow and anger in her eyes.
“What have you done?” she whispered, as if she would have never believed it to be true. “I was hoping that you would be the savior of us all.”
“Sheena?” I asked, confused. “What are you talking about?”
“I am not Sheena!” she screamed. “I am Shyla, her twin sister.” Then she softened as she reached out and held the little lion pendant hanging around my neck. “And I am also your real mother.”
Memories started to flood back to me. Grandmother telling me to keep my lion pendant a secret. The first king looking at Sheena as if he recognized her. Sheena never talking about her sister. Everything started to slowly make sense, but there was still one thing I didn’t understand.
“What is so important about me?” I asked Shyla, perplexed.
“There is a witness who claims that the king is not really of royal blood. She was the midwife who delivered him and says that she knew of an affair that went on between the king’s wife and a stables servant at the time, although now he is one of the most loyal guards that the king has. There was a chance that the king had another heir out there somewhere, a girl who carried his mark. A lion necklace that was given to her by her mother on the day she sent her to live in the woods for safety reasons.”
“I am a queen?” I whispered, confused.
“You are a queen,” Shyla conceded. “And now you can rule because you have the proof of being royalty. But now that you are married, it gets a little more complicated.”
“How?” I asked.
“Now you have to rule side by side with your spouse, according to our laws. If you have disagreements, it is usually put to a vote by the people of the kingdom. Decisions depend on who can gather the most loyalty from their subjects. If one of you is absent, the other makes all the major decisions.”
“So what stops him from just killing me and taking over the crown?” I asked, apprehensively.
“He can’t kill you if he wishes to remain in power. You have proof of being the king’s true heir, but he has none. He once had a sword that belonged to the king, or at least he says he did. If he could produce the sword to show that the king had meant for him to take his place, then his power would not be in question. He needs you to hold on to his power; otherwise, the kingdom would be turned over to the next in line. If you were to die without having any children, the king’s cousin would be given the crown.”
I sat back and took this information in. Shyla did not say a word to me, somehow knowing that I needed this time to myself to plan what I was going to do next. When I had wrapped my mind around everything that she had told me, I looked up to her. She had stood up and was now pacing back and forth around the room. She was wrestling with something else in her mind. She looked at me and noticed that I was now watching her. She put on her best fake smile and motioned for me to stand up and follow her out of the room.
“You will have to lead me around,” Shyla announced when we made it to the end of the hallway and were met with three different paths. “I’ve been imprisoned in a room for the last eighteen years, and before that I never stepped inside this castle before. Your father always came to me. You probably know this place better than I do.”
The words your father sounded strange to me. It was stranger still to think about the fact that I had even seen him once, but he felt like a threat. I remembered that he had said something about a mother looking for her daughter.
“Did you send him to find me?” I asked, curious.
“I would never have done that,” Shyla answered. “It was too dangerous for you here. He did go off one day searching for you, after he had heard me talking about you during a fever.”
“I met him,” I mentioned, off-handedly. “He was pretty adamant that you needed me. Are you sure you never wanted me to come back?”
“You would have been killed or imprisoned,” Shyla roared impatiently. “No, I never wanted you back. Do not bring it up anymore. There are some things that you just don’t need to know.”
“I…I just want to know why you abandoned me,” I whispered. Shyla stopped for a moment and looked down at her feet. She took a deep breath and then continued walking.
“If that woman wouldn’t have been there to take care of you,” she sighed, “I wouldn’t have left you in the woods. I’m glad that she was there. That is all that you need to know. I didn’t abandon you. I made sure you were taken care of.”
“Are you hungry?” I said, finally giving up on the conversation. “I know where to get our food.”
Even as I asked the question, I saw the king come toward us from another hallway. He reached out and grabbed my arm, and pulled me with him in the direction that he was going.
“I will need you to show your necklace to some people,” he ordered. “Then you can go on and do whatever you want again.”
He brought me to another room, closely followed by Shyla. A large group of people had gathered there. Most of them were old men, but the Hawk, my guard, and some woman I didn’t recognize were there. The king pulled me over to the group and reached out toward my neck. I winced out of reflex, but he gently grasped the necklace and led me from person to person, showing it off to each one. He lingered at the last person in line, the woman that I didn’t know.
“She signed the marriage contract this morning,” the king announced as he let go of me and the necklace and then produced the contract from his vest pocket. “This is it.”
I had an intense urge to grab the paper out of his hand and rip it up, but I decided that this would probably be a bad idea, especially with so many witnesses.
“This is impossible!” the woman that I didn’t know shouted out. “How do we know that this girl is not an imposter as well?”
“She has his necklace,” one of the old men said, “even if she is an imposter, she has one of the possessions that marks her as an heir. The king wrote it down that he would give a sword and a pendant out to his choice for heirs. That was at the time that he didn’t have any children and there was the fear that he wouldn’t have any children. He didn’t want his kingdom to go to his nephew because he knew that his nephew is disturbed and would undoubtedly ruin it. So he had a special sword made. That sword would go to the next ruler, but just to be safe he also had the pendant around that girl’s neck made in case his first choice wasn’t able to rule for some reason. We were all there to watch the crafting of these items, so that we all would be able to recognize every aspect of them when they appeared again. They each have small imperfections that most people wouldn’t notice, but we know them all.”
“Now that my new wife has been established as the legitimate ruler,” the king ordered to the woman I didn’t recognize, “I want you to leave this kingdom and never come back. If you do, I will have you killed.”
The woman looked around the room, looking for someone to back her up. Nobody seemed to want to help her. Then she looked at me. Her eyes were pleading with me to say something, and at that moment I realized that I did have a little power. I looked away from her. For some reason, I felt that the king’s revulsion towards her held some sort of significance that if ignored would come back to haunt me if I spoke up in her defense. She realized at that moment that I wasn’t going to help her and left the room in an angry rush.
After the strange woman left, the rest of the group cleared out. Shyla, the king, the Hawk, and I were the only people left in the room. There was a long silence. I didn’t dare make a move to leave, and Shyla refused to leave my side. Finally, the Hawk let out a deep sigh of relief and went off to do whatever she did during the day.
“Thank you,” the king turned to me. “You could have turned against me with that woman, but you didn’t. You would have been the clear voice of this kingdom with those men, but you stayed on my side. I really didn’t expect that. I expected this to be a fight all the way.”
“I…I sensed there was something with that woman that could ruin all of our lives,” I said, taken aback by his gratuity. “I was looking out for myself, not for you.”
The king shrugged his shoulders and then left Shyla and me alone in the room. We both stood there for a moment and pondered about what had just happened. It was a little scary to think that now the king thought that we were allies. I wondered what he would do if he knew that in my head I was still plotting how I would save myself from his grasp.
“Let’s go eat,” I said to Shyla and we made our way down to the dining area.
I was expecting the same treatment that I had received from my previous captivity from the servants, but this time it was different. Before they had served me as they were told to do, but they always looked at me with repugnance and made a point to show me in little ways that they abhorred me. This time it was different. They served Shyla and me with wide smiles and seemed to look at me with admiration this time.
“What has changed?” I whispered to Shyla in my confusion.
“Everybody loves royalty here,” Shyla whispered back to me in disgust. “I never really did understand it myself. I thought that it was senseless to admire somebody that didn’t earn it.”
“But…” I began, perplexed, “you had an affair with the king! You had me.”
“Well,” Shyla answered, embarrassed, “that was stupid, too. Not you, but him. I didn’t know at the time how utterly disgusting he could be.”
“I want to know more about it.” I leaned closer to her, my attention fixed on the little she had spoken about her relationship with my father.
“You don’t want to know about it,” Shyla said, shortly. She scraped her fork angrily across her plate and I decided not to push the issue any farther.
After we had eaten, we wandered through the halls of the castle, wondering what to do. Neither of us had had this much freedom to do as we wished in the castle before. There really wasn’t anything to do. If I had been in the forest, I would be hunting, or maybe picking berries. Cub and I would be climbing trees, or maybe I would be sitting around somewhere with Rossannah talking. Now all I had were endless empty hallways and the uncomfortable company of a mother that I had never known and who refused to tell me anything about her or my past.
I studied Shyla. She was a lot like Sheena in many ways. First of all, there were her looks. That was an obvious similarity. Her appearance was almost exactly like Sheena’s, except for some minor differences. Her hands, for instance, were softer than Sheena’s. Sheena had spent most of her life working with her hands, making weapons, shelters, and fires. I gathered from Shyla’s hands that she had never done anything like that in her life. She must have lived an easy life. I imagined she must have been bored during a lot of it. Another difference was that Sheena had a scar on her chin. It was something that you could barely notice, but I couldn’t believe that I didn’t realize it wasn’t there when I was being forced to sign the marriage contract.
Shyla was very quiet. That was something that she also had in common with Sheena. The difference in their absence of sound, however, held a disturbing disquietude for me. Even though Sheena was quiet unless she was barking orders or explaining something, or sometimes even letting me know that she loved me, Sheena held a happy quiet. It was the quiet that comes with busy old men whittling away at a piece of wood to make a beautiful work of art, or a child sitting down to munch on sweet fruits after a long absence from them. Shyla’s quiet was something else. It was an uneasy quiet. It was a fearful quiet. It was a quiet that I wanted to break apart.
We spent that day wandering up and down the halls in total silence. When it began to get dark, and we were both tired, we found our rooms. We realized that we had only been two doors away from each other the entire time. Of course, we had never passed each other before because she had always been locked in hers, whereas I had come and gone for meals, lessons, and chores. I got a good glimpse of her room and noticed that it had many beautiful things inside of it. It looked as if she had been pampered during her imprisonment. She even had her own bathroom, but I suppose that would have been necessary if she was kept locked up for years. I looked around her room in awe.
“I know what you are thinking,” she said as she noticed me gazing around the room in wonder. “I have had no shortage of luxuries in my life, but that doesn’t mean anything without freedom. I never got married or had any more kids. I wasn’t allowed to live my life. Remember that when your husband is nice to you.”
I looked at her in pity as her words began to sink in. She had everything she could have ever wanted in materialistic terms, but things like clothing and trinkets don’t mean anything if you are not free to love who you want. I learned that early on living in the forest. Now it seemed that I may be on the same path that she had become stuck in, except that she had made her choice to be there. I refused to believe that my life would end up the same as hers. I was going to find a way to get out of the situation.
That night I didn’t sleep. I lay awake trying to think of a way to get myself and Shyla out. It was like I had gone around in a big circle, except this time it was Shyla and not Cub that I was concerned about. I didn’t really know Shyla, and didn’t really care for her much either. She was my mother, however, and I reasoned that had to count for something. Maybe Shyla and I would never really have a relationship at all, but I would never know that for sure unless we had a more stable environment to create one in.
I was still awake when the sun came up and light started to shine into my bedroom. I heard a soft knock on my door and called out to see who it was.
“It’s me,” I heard a familiar voice reply and frowned in confusion. It was the king. I wondered why he didn’t just barge in like he usually did.
“Come in,” I replied to the door and sat up in bed. He opened the door slowly and walked in, looking a little shy and humble.
“What’s going on?” I asked, puzzled. I don’t think he realized that I was asking about the change in his behavior. If he did, he didn’t show that he understood.
“We have a meeting today after breakfast,” he answered. “You should probably get up and eat so that we aren’t late.”
“A meeting?” I was now more confused than ever. “What kind of a meeting? I thought I did everything I was supposed to do.”
“A war council,” he answered shortly, and I saw that he was getting a little irritated with me. “Now that you are here, you have to be involved with all decision making processes. It’s kind of the law.”
“I really don’t understand why it makes any difference that I am here.” Then I remembered that I was the true heir. I told the king that I would be down to eat and so he left me alone. I got dressed and then went to Shyla’s room and we walked down to the dining area in silence.
We sat at the table and ate in quiet, Shyla, the king, the Hawk, and me. Every bite was excruciatingly soundless, or maybe it seemed that way because of the pounding in my brain. The changes in the room came at me from every angle and beat themselves into my mind, and if it weren’t for that unbearable silence I may have been able to cope with it. There sat Shyla, my mother, but not my mother. BANG. She looked like my mother, but she isn’t Sheena. BAM. There was the Hawk, sitting across from me, her authoritative demeanor was now gone. POW. Then there were the servants, smiling and ecstatic to assist me with whatever I wanted. SMACK. Worst of all, there sat the king on the corner, watching me, a mixture of curiosity, respect, and irritation painting his face in waves. Maybe there was a little jealousy somewhere in there as well. This was the deathblow.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” I stammered and rushed off to find the nearest bathroom. I heard the footsteps of four or five of the servants following close behind me. As I leaned over the toilet in preparation for the reappearance of everything that I had just eaten, I heard them chattering with concern behind me. Then I felt cool, dry hands on my neck reaching to pull my hair back. When I finished, I turned around to see who had helped me and came face to face with the servant who had seemed to hate me the most during my previous stay, a tiny, white-haired old woman named Ashlee.
“Would you like me to put your hair up for you,” Ashlee asked, hopefully, “in case you get sick again?”
“No, I’m fine now,” I said, quickly, waving her away. “I just didn’t get any sleep last night.”
Her face fell and I felt slightly ashamed of myself for being so abruptly defensive against this woman who was only a sad product of the society she grew up in. I realized that many of the people that lived here were only sheep in need of extreme guidance. They needed a shepherd to tell them how to think, to dress, to talk, and even to feel. Her love for me was like that of a misguided dog, looking at his master for praise. Instead of praising her, I scolded her. I let her down.
“Are you ready?” The king appeared in the doorway of the bathroom. Instantly, the faces of the servants were distorted into looks of confusion as they darted from the king to me. I tried to hide my amusement as I thought of the servants as puppies who couldn’t choose between masters. Maybe if I had a scrap of food in my pocket I could get them to all turn on him.
“I guess,” I answered. I held out my hand to Ashlee and let her help me up. It was the best thing I could think to do to make up for my refusal of her last attempt at affection. She seemed thrilled at my bid for her assistance.
We went back to the same room where the king had presented me to the room full of old men. Now it was filled with people of all genders, ages, and sizes. A long table had been placed at one end of the room, and the rest of the space had been filled with rows of chairs facing the table. The old men that had authenticated my right to rule were all sitting there facing the rows of people sitting in the chairs, and two seats in the middle of the table were left open.
The king led me toward the table and we sat down in the two empty chairs. The previously noisy room then erupted into silence. It was instantaneous as we sat down. It was as if one giant hand had reached out and cupped the mouths of every single person in the room. There was no straggling conversation to hush, not even a break away whisper. No one coughed or sneezed and no sound of shuffling feet found its way to my ears. There was not one sound that anybody could expect from a group of people this large. The collective silence unnerved me and I looked at the crowd, desperate for any sound. I began to fear that the pounding from breakfast would come back.
“We will begin,” the king began, commandingly.
“Excuse me,” the old man sitting beside me spoke up, clearing his throat, “but is it really your place to start the meetings anymore.”
Every eye turned towards me. Waiting. Expecting. I had no clue what I was supposed to do. I had no clue why I was here. I wasn’t their leader. I didn’t want to be their leader. I just wanted to go home.
“I will turn this meeting over to…my husband,” I managed to stammer out. They all turned their attention back towards him. I sighed in relief.
“We are here to discuss the punishment of a war criminal,” the king boomed. “As she was once a part of our own population, I recommend that the punishment be execution to discourage others from following her example.” There was the sound of agreement throughout the room. Then all eyes trained on me again for what I assume was my consent.
“I…I don’t know,” I admitted.
“Bring her in,” the old man beside me ordered. “Maybe if the Queen sees her she will be able to make a more informed decision on her stance of the situation.” I looked at the man beside me and he winked at me, knowingly.
Then the guards brought her in, bloody and beaten, but I would know her anywhere. Rossannah.
“No execution!” I roared, not entirely sure of what I was doing. I looked over at the old man beside me and he exchanged a look of understanding with me.
“State the case for this girl’s life,” he ordered me.
“What she did was to save my life so that I could be discovered,” I answered, instantly.
“There is dissention in the voices of our two rulers, her life will be put to a vote,” the old man announced. “All opposed to spare this girl’s life on the grounds that she kept the heir to the throne in one piece raise your hand.” Every person in the room except for the king raised their hands. The old man next to me looked satisfied. Rossannah was safe, but I knew that whatever peace that I had previously created with the king was now destroyed.