It was scarcely a day into the new year when they discovered the first body.
The maid had been sent up to the Crown Princess’s chambers. And so, it was the maid who first found it, the bloodied body of the ten-year-old, face-down on the floor. It was the body of Shereena Falos, the younger half-sister to the Crown Princess.
But that was not what made the maid scream. No, for, bending down, she realised, that Shereena Falos was still very much alive, but unconscious. It was the blood, the droplets of blood that formed a trail, and then, the second body—
The maid screamed.
For, two storeys below, lay the second body. The Crown Princess stared back, eyes glassy, a dagger sticking out of her heart, and she, was very much dead.
6 years later.
Alone, she fears.
The throne is a solitary figure, perched high above the court, unflinching and unsmiling, much like the king—Father—himself.
Four steps below, a neat row of seats at either side of the throne, two at the left and one at the right. “It’s Karyn court culture that things are done in fours,” you explain to me as the meeting ends and the court prepares to leave.
“That’s...bizzare,” I say. It’s the first time I’ve ever been to court, so I wouldn’t know. But you do, you’ve been coming to court every alternate day for the past 6 years or so. Father wouldn’t let me come—I think he just does it because he hates me and he hates that I’m his daughter. I tell you this, but you only laugh.
“Of course not, Sheri. You’re his daughter. He loves you, just as he loves me,” you’d say. But at some point of time—surely—you must have realised that it was different, that he was not that he loved you more but that he loved me not. I think it is because of Mother. I think he hates me because Mother is dead, and that is my fault. I’m not sure it is entirely, but what I think doesn’t matter. It never has, and never will.
But I don’t say that. Instead I smile, and say, “So that’s why each row of seats are in fours.” You smile, but then it subsides quickly, and I remember.
There was a missing seat in my row. Her seat.
“There are...exceptions to be made under special circumstances,” you say, this time much softer, and quieter, and we let the unspoken words pass. We do not speak of her here. We pretend that nothing happened 6 years ago. We pretend that the Crown Prince has always been you. We pretend that you’ve never had a sister. Instead I smile uneasily. “In any case,” I promptly say, “I’ve been meaning to ask you if you’d go to the town’s bazaar. The one we go to every year. I heard they just set it up yesterday.” You purse your lips for a second, then you smile, and your onyx eyes twinkle.
We take a turn right and stop outside the court doors, and you say, “Of course—”
But then a hand claps you on the shoulder, and Father cuts you off promptly. “Will. The guests have arrived. I trust that you will be there, with them, fulfilling your royal duties as Crown Prince, yes?”
Father shifts his gaze so that I don’t fall into his line of view, but his voice is sharp and the message hidden beneath it clear. He doesn’t want you to go wandering about with me.
You open your mouth to say something but Father is unmoved, unflinching, more stone than flesh and blood, as he always is, at least with me. I don’t know how you convinced him to allow me to attend court.
“Yes, Father,” you sigh, and then, turning to me, you press your lips together and smile almost regretfully, “Maybe...another day.” I nod and return your smile.
“Another day,” I echo, trying to not let the disappointment show, and I stand there and watch as one turn left one turn right you disappear in the maze of corridors and the emptiness replaces me. You barely have any time for me anymore.
Is it because—
I shake my head. Impossible.
I turn around, and head back to my room—
And hear someone’s fleeting footsteps. I run towards my room, just in time to see someone turn into the corridor, and disappear. But the scent that lingers in the air is suffice to tell me who it was. Lime basil and a hint of mandarin. There’s only one person who uses that perfume—Tremaine.
A thin strand of fabric snagged between my room’s doors, and the faint smell of Tremaine’s perfume confirm my suspicions.
The Queen’s been to my room. The question now is: Why?
Although I am afraid that I already know the answer to that question.
I remember Tremaine well. I say Tremaine, because the Tremaine I knew was different. She was like the mother I never had, and in some ways she was supposed to be my mother. I was six when my father remarried Tremaine and she came into the family. I remember she’d came up to me and, bending down she said, “Hello.” And I, trembling and suddenly terrified and excited that someone was talking to me, stayed quiet.
“I’m Tremaine,” she said, and she stretched out her slender fingers and shook my hand. And then she smiled. But it wasn’t one of those evil smiles. It was the genuine sort, in its purest form.
And so I smiled back, even though it felt stiff. “Are you Mother? You smell nice.”
And her smiled waned a little and she seemed...sad. “I’m sorry about your Mother,” she said, and it was the first time someone even acknowledged that Mother used to exist, after her death at least.
But then she smiled again, and touching the folds of her dress, she said, “I like the smell too. Lime basil and a hint of mandarin.” And then I laughed, and she laughed with me.
Tremaine was in some ways my friend, but more of the mother I never had, and in many ways, the reason I befriended Will.
But the Crown Princess’s death changed her. I remember the night after her death, I went up to Tremaine’s room, and she hadn’t even noticed I was here. She just stared out of the window, whispering, “Drizella, Drizella, Drizella. Don’t jump out, Drizella. Come back to Mummy.”
The whispers only stopped after a year. But that was not the only thing that had changed.
6 years ago, they’d found the murderer. They’d hung a servant for the Crown Princess’s death. The servant had no alibi—she had been dismissed a week ago. The maid who had found the Crown Princess’s body said the servant had been standing there, right beside the Crown Princess. I confirmed that the servant was probably the murderer. I said I remembered the murderer had green eyes. The servant had green eyes.
She also had a motive: the maid said she had been dismissed by the Crown Princess a day ago, after she was found having—attempted—to have stolen one of the Crown Princess’s jewellery. The servant’s family had been in debt, and subsequently, because the servant had been dismissed, were unable to pay off their debts and evicted. Revenge, they—the investigators—said, was the most likely motive.
The timing the servant had entered the palace, matched the estimated time range of which the murder took place. When the maid saw the servant, she had ran.
Then Will—you—, now the Crown Prince, recalled that his sister the Crown Princess had told him that she overheard the servant telling another servant that she wanted to kill the Crown Princess.
The servant denied this, but 2 days later, they hung her.
But Tremaine, she didn’t believe it. She always thought that the murderer was still at large and it drove her crazy. She started getting violent. She stopped talking to me. She said that something didn’t feel right. And she started investigating on her own.
Even 6 years later, she refuses to believe it.