Otis’s wrists and ankles had been shackled to the head chair at the Calypso Queen’s dining table. He guessed it was sometime early in the evening but wasn’t sure, as he’d spent most of the day soaking in the sunrise and tending to the garden within his mind. His uninvited, unkempt beard dangled close to the table’s edge while his eyes screamed out in fear of his next punishment. What could this be about? It had been years since he’d been allowed in this room.
The queen entered with a smile but was met with a gloomy stare from Otis.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“You’re always so angry,” she said.
“Don’t act like you don’t know why.”
“I’ve been doing some thinking this morning,” she said. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on a lot of mornings as of late. And as much as I love you, and…as much as I wish you could see that the two of us are meant to be together…I’m not getting any younger. I was so focused on ruling this kingdom with the perfect king by my side, I failed to remember, or maybe I chose not to. It’ll never work if that king doesn’t want me by his.” The fight to hold back tears quickly cemented itself as one of the fiercest battles she’d ever had to endure.
“I know…that you’ve been sending out messages,” she said, pausing to swallow a sad lump occupying her throat. “I feel dumb for even saying this, but I honestly thought that if enough time passed, you would forget all about the life you had in Ithaca. I know now that’s never going to happen. And I don’t have the time to wait for you to do something you’re clearly never going to do. If leaving is what you want, you may go.”
“Are you serious?” he asked. “This isn’t a test? Or some trap?”
“No. No test. No trap. You are free to leave. When you do, go to the dock on the north end of Ogygia Village. There will be a small vessel ready for you. I’m sorry things didn’t go differently for us, Otis.”
Otis looked at her in disbelief. Was it really going to be this easy? She stepped back into the hallway, shutting the door behind her before leaning in to share whispers with two loyal guards. “When he’s ready, escort Mr. Seehus to the front gates, and let him go.”
Concealed by ominous iron masks, the guards’ collective curiosity went unnoticed until one of them spoke, only to make sure he hadn’t misheard. “Your Majesty. Are you certain?”
“Do not make me repeat myself,” she said, with furious pupils hiding behind a calm demeanor.
“Of course, Your Majesty. My apologies.”
“Before he leaves, I need you to get a message out to the Sea Witch. Let her know that Otis will be shipping out from the north docks. Tell her to be on the lookout for a black vessel with a red stripe on the bottom.”
“Your Majesty. I must beg for your forgiveness, as it seems I’m having trouble trusting my own hearing. I have to ask again, just to confirm. Are you certain this is what you want?”
“No.” The emotional dam holding her tears finally cracked, allowing one to fall, painting her cheek with a trail of eye-liner. She turned away from the guards. “But do not make me repeat myself.”
“Yes, Your Majesty, I will get the message to her mermaids at once.”
Despite its dense and bustling population, the island of Calypso was a relatively small chunk of land. As a result, the castle was visible from almost every vantage point thereon. Living in the shadows of royalty served as a constant reminder to the adults that someone was in charge and living much higher on the hog than they were. But the kids, ambitious and eager with imagination, saw something else.
Little boys would make believe they were knights, basking in the prestige that attaches itself to one’s armor when he’s wielding a sword in defense of Calypso’s homeland. Meanwhile, little girls were arguing over who got to be the queen during their playtime. The perks included illusory access to the most beautiful silks and linens in the world, servants readily available to handle any task, regardless of its pettiness—and, of course, the crown, often made of paper, twigs, twine, or flowers.
Many little girls pretended to be queen. While most would eventually grow out of the phase, there were a handful who would not. Some girls spent their entire lives preparing and expecting to one day be in the position to be noticed and courted by that generation’s prince. The current Calypso Queen, ironically, had not been one of these little girls.
Her childhood had been rich with imagination, but daydreams of pampered life in a towering castle filled with servants weren’t for her. Instead, her days consisted of acting out life as the woman who raised her, her great-grandmother. She’d scurry about the yard, frantically collecting seedlings and moving them from spot to spot, repeating, “Oh my lord, oh my lord.”
She and her great-grandmother lived alone in a small cottage hidden by acres of forest and the orchards they lived on. The lush soil surrounding the modest domicile held so many apple trees that the air smelled like cider most of the year. The sweet nectar attracted the friendliest of honeybees and visitors from the surrounding area and beyond. Everyone, from impoverished peasants to affluent royalty, indulged in at least one slice of pie while collecting a bushel or two of honey-sweet apples. Deep reds, tart greens, and rich golds dangled in a magnificent tapestry of flavor. It also provided a considerable living.
Around the Calypso Queen’s thirteenth birthday, her great-grandmother’s age and occupational limits were becoming more noticeable. Her mind remained just as sharp as always, but the rest of her just couldn’t keep up. Arthritic fingers and crippling back pain kept her from even the most basic of daily chores.
Finally, one night she went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Her great-granddaughter was devastated, but intimate knowledge of the business and the mental maturity necessary for its demands had her ready. Problems arose fast, however, as the area’s residents began helping themselves to free bushels through all hours of the day. Their blatant and disrespectful disregard for the young girl’s birthright was brought to the attention of the king and queen.
She pleaded for their help, but it was promptly decided that thirteen years of age was much too young to handle all those apples alone. For her troubles, the young woman was shipped off the island and placed in a reformatory for girls.
Within days of her transport, her great-grandmother’s property was appropriated by the king and queen and made available for public use and consumption. During this time, the fruitful orchards in which she’d spent her youth—and in which she expected to spend time with her own great-grandchildren—were consumed and depleted by the island’s ungrateful residents.
On the other side of the world, she was hardened by the strictest of teachers with the singular goal of churning out midwives. The wrathful whip of a switch on her neck and tops of her fingers helped her forget her old name. Once she was finally willing to admit that her new name was her real name, she was allowed to grow her hair back out. Life with the tyrannical mistresses really became quite easy for Daisy after that.
After seven years of school, and eight days before her twenty-first birthday, the vile group of women who’d beaten and shamed her into submission those early years were gleefully offering her a position to become one of them. She requested some time to think about it, and much to her surprise and delight, they told her to take as much time as she needed. She could return anytime. A job and room would be waiting.
She took that initial time and dedicated it to travel, returning to her native homeland, pining to see what had become of the orchards where she’d grown up. After a rough and bumpy five-month stint on the open seas, she stepped on the rich Calypso Island soil for the first time since it had been taken from under her feet. She was unsure what kind of emotions to expect, or if any of it would still be there.
She soon discovered that both the house and the orchards were exactly where she’d left them. The orchards, however, had been scorched. Bare, desperate branches reached to the sky and cried out for help, but the charred black soil cradling each one consumed more life than it supplied. A stream of tears filled her eyes and slid down her cheeks. Only one tree still showed signs of life. It was charred like the others but held a handful of ripe and healthy apples varying in color.
The house was wrecked. It had been vandalized and burned and was leaning on itself, looking as though a stiff breeze would soon put it out of its misery. She stepped over the threshold gingerly, not wanting to disturb the walls. The inside was filled with crunchy leaves, empty bottles, and other various articles of trash. There was no pride or shame motivating visitors into caring for the remnants and litter scattered about the once-proud home.
The only article of furniture that hadn’t been completely destroyed was her grandmother’s mirror. The subtle gold shimmer of its frame was now drenched in permanent soot, but the reflective surface was every bit as clean and shiny as it ever was. That was about the time she began to hear it talk. It was a bit more hushed and a lot more frightening, but the mirror’s voice was eerily reminiscent of her late great-grandmother’s. And it only wanted one thing: revenge.
Just as Daisy was wrapping her mind around the fact that her great-grandmother’s mirror had just spoken, someone outside inadvertently caught her attention. The portly stranger seemed to know her way around, loading up on the choicest of apples from the lone flourishing tree.
“Hello,” Daisy said, approaching from behind.
The startled stranger perked up, looking as proper as the bonnet carefully strapped under her wrinkled chin. “You’re on private property, miss. Run along now.”
Something inside Daisy’s heart shifted. “Private property?” she asked, grinning.
“Yes. Belongs to the king and queen. You must be soft in the head, or new to the island, if you don’t know that. Either way, you best be moving.”
“And how do you know it belongs to the king and queen?” Daisy asked.
“Because I work for them. Been their nanny for over fifteen years. Now I have done told you more than once. You need to leave.”
Daisy glared, turned away, and left.
The nanny, little more than mildly annoyed, turned back to the tree, carefully examining each apple before violently plucking it from its branch. She turned around twice, thinking she heard footsteps, but neither time did anyone or anything besides the breeze enter her field of vision. As she redirected her attention back to the tree for one last grab at the apples, the shadow of Daisy raising a shovel above her head began to cast over the unsuspecting woman.
The woman awoke tied to a chair—and in such shock that she failed to notice the gaping cut leaking from the back of her head.
“I am about to ask you a series of questions,” Daisy said, opening and closing a set of pliers cradled softly in her fingertips. “And if you answer them correctly—no, if you answer them honestly—I promise, from the bottom of my heart, that you can be on your way, and the two of us will never cross paths again.”
“And if I won’t?” the panicked and angry woman uttered.
Daisy gripped the pliers in her left hand and squeezed them shut. “People don’t realize how sensitive their thumbs are to pain.”
Daisy did not need to apply as much pressure as she’d expected, and the woman gave up more information than was necessary. It turns out that the elderly woman had just returned from an extended sabbatical and had yet to visit the castle. She was picking these apples to surprise the royal family with fresh cobbler. This trivial tidbit may not have seemed like much at the time, but it would prove to be crucial for Daisy’s next move.
By the time the interrogation was over, Daisy had all the pertinent information necessary to set in motion a plan she’d only thought of within those moments. Unfortunately for the woman she had detained, Daisy had to go back on her promise of letting the woman go on her way. To have this woman leave and tell the king and queen what had just transpired would not have been an issue had Daisy just left the island. But Daisy wasn’t going anywhere. And one bad apple spoils the bunch, as they say.
Dressed in the disguise of a woman thirty years her senior, Daisy approached the Calypso Island castle. With a large dish of apple cobbler warming the weaves of her basket, Daisy entered, acting as the former nanny’s cousin. She offered condolences and delivered the news that their nanny had fallen ill and passed during her sabbatical.
With heavy hearts and trusting palates, they invited Daisy in and gobbled up every last bit of her cobbler. The king, queen, and teenage princess practically licked their plates clean, but the preteen prince was not one for apples, so he declined. So pleased with the rich dessert, and hearing of her education and experience, the queen offered Daisy a job on the spot. She would serve as a nanny and midwife, should the aging couple decide to have more children.
One year later, to celebrate her first anniversary as their hired confidante, Daisy baked another batch of the cobbler. This one, however, tasted somewhat off. The king went down first, clinging to the fragile handle of his porcelain coffee cup until it shattered in his hand. The queen watched him until she clutched her chest and went down. The prince leaped out of his seat, rushing to his mom first. “No. No. What’s wrong with them?”
The prince had been so focused on his mother and father that he failed to notice when his sister stood up and placed her fingers against an increasingly irritated throat.
“Oh my,” Daisy whispered in her ear. “Your snow-white skin is turning green, my dear.”
The young prince dug his forehead into his father’s lifeless chest while clinging to his mother’s nearest arm.
“You did this,” he yelped. “It was your cobbler.”
“That couldn’t have been it. I had just as much as they did,” she said, pointing to her empty plate. She was telling the truth, but she left out the part where she’d strategically eaten from a section that hadn’t been poisoned.
“You’re right,” he said. “Who did this? Who would do something like this?”
“I don’t know. But I’ve seen this happen before, and we have to keep what happened a secret.”
“I know the timing isn’t ideal, but as of this moment, you are king. And if you don’t keep this from getting out, people are going to think you did it.”
“Why would they think that?” he asked.
“Because you stand to benefit the most.”
“My whole family just died in front of me,” he asked through falling tears. “How did I benefit?”
“You are the king now.”
Defeated, he calmed himself. “I would never do something like that just to be king.”
“They don’t know that. And many of them would. So they’re not going to believe you.” At a time when the new king needed someone most, Daisy was there to guide him.
“Well, what do I do now?” he asked.
She pondered in her pride, already knowing the answer and feeling good about her control over the young man. “You need to tell the servants and the guards—that someone has just waged war on Calypso Island.”
Thousands were slaughtered in the battles that followed Daisy’s counseling, but one thing remained perfectly clear: there was a new king on Calypso Island. With his trusted maternal figure always at his side, the king matured into a rather fine young man. But on the night of his twentieth birthday, Daisy retired to her quarters for the night and didn’t wake up the following morning. The king was devastated and spent the first couple of days alone and in silence.
But with every death comes new life, and at the funeral, the most beautiful woman came to pay her respects. She was in her mid to late twenties, but her tan cherub cheeks and shroud of freckles made her look much younger. Her black hair was sleek and shiny, and her eyes were so kind—and familiar.
She introduced herself as Daisy’s niece and offered a gentle handshake. After a brief conversation, the king was elated to discover that many of their interests and ideals were shared. Not only that, but the young woman was well versed in several subjects in which he had a recent interest.
At a time when the king needed someone the most, Tamber was there to fill the void that Daisy had left behind—and then some. Three months later, Tamber was the queen. She always seemed bubbly and glowing with love. Little did her young king know, however, that she was more tickled to be using her given name than she was with her royal status, or him.
Their first year together went as many first years go, but on their first anniversary, the queen learned something about her king that caught her by surprise. While lying in bed, she dug her teeth into the crispy flesh of a bright-green apple. He hopped in and took it from her, taking a bite from the other side.
“Since when do you like apples?” she asked in a teasing tone.
“I’ve never—disliked apples. At least not their flavor.”
“Well, what don’t you like about apples, if it isn’t their flavor?” she asked with a smile.
“When I was a kid, there was this orchard not too far from here. Beautiful. Apple trees stretching as far as you could see in any direction. We were there picking some one afternoon, and I got stung by a bee. A lot of bees, actually. It seems I’d stumbled across a hive. I cried, of course, all the way home. The next day I demanded my father burn the orchard to the ground. And he did.”
The queen appeared a bit rattled but was aghast inside. “But your father loved apples. Why would he do that?”
“Becuase he loved me more than he loved apples. And he wanted to keep me happy. It seems so silly to think about now that I’m older.”
“Looks like we’re still discovering things about each other,” she said, playfully inviting him under the sheets.
Suddenly, his mouth began to go dry, and his tongue began to itch. Soon after, he was bent over and couldn’t stop coughing.
“If I had known you were going to take a bite from my apple,” she said, “I would have just put it on the other side.”
“Put what on the other side?” he asked, choking and scraping his tongue against his teeth in a feeble attempt to relieve the itch.
“The poison I put in your tea earlier,” she said. “It’s the same one I put in that cobbler when you were just a little boy.”
His eyes widened as he struggled to draw in one last breath. Then he fell to the floor with a heavy thud.
“Happy anniversary. My king.”
Her revenge had been slow and ice cold. But it was ten times sweeter than the sweetest apple in the world. Once it was over, however, and she had taken the castle from the people who had taken her home, she realized that she had spent the better part of her life chasing a life she never wanted to begin with.
Her powerful lust for revenge had clouded her judgment and made her forget what she really wanted—a life like her great-grandmother’s. It should have been a simple yet busy life, sowing seeds, picking apples, and baking cobblers and pies.
She wanted a family who loved her. Kids, maybe a dog, but first and foremost, a companion. A man—someone who could protect her with his bare hands and didn’t need an army of loyal guards. Someone who could kill and cook her a meal, and promptly spoon-feed her dessert in bed. A lean man with brawny shoulders and a baby face hardened by battle, but receptive to romance. A man who couldn’t be corrupted or compromised into wavering in his love for her, regardless of time apart. A man they sang songs about. A man they told stories about. A man like Otis.
The Calypso Queen reflected on her most pivotal life moments on the cold, narrow balcony she’d forced Otis to endure for the last several years. He was no longer there, but she could feel him. His presence lingered in the air. It was as though he’d left a large piece of himself out there. She couldn’t see it, but its power to control her mood was just as dominant as that of Otis in the flesh.
“I still don’t know why I couldn’t make you love me here—in this lifetime. But that’s OK. We can rule the seas together in the next one.”
The Calypso Queen closed her eyes and stepped over the edge of the balcony. She didn’t scream. She didn’t regret it. Knowing that she and Otis were destined to be together, the Calypso Queen had done her part. Now it was up to the Sea Witch, waiting somewhere off the coast, to kill Otis and complete the final chapter of Queen Tamber’s destiny.