Chapter 3: A Servant Woman and Hope
Not long after taking the bread, the Queen summoned a servant woman, one whom she had known for many years and had found great favor in.
“Yes, my Queen?”
“You are to tell no one of this meeting, not even the King himself. Is this understood?”
“Yes, my Queen, with my life.”
“Good, because it will be your life should you give in to the urges to speak foolishly or by some drunken stupor. I will have you sentenced to a hanging for blasphemy against me and your family will be taken far away, never to be seen again. Now, is that understood?”
“My Queen, yes, of course. You have known me since I was a child. You knew my mother; she was honest and raised me well. Please, let me assure you for I will not reveal these moments in a drunken state for I do not take to drinking nor take the liking to gossip. I am bound by my duty and honor to do as you say.”
“Very well, we have no time to waste. What do you know of Hope?”
“Forgive me my Queen, for I do not fully understand...”
“Speak freely child, for I know about the stories told amongst the servants and their children. This is my castle and, unlike the King, I know everything that abides within these castle walls. This is no ordinary meeting. There will be no punishment for foolish stories here despite the King’s orders against such.”
“I am sorry, my Queen, but if it is your wish, then it will be so.”
“Carry on child, what have you heard?”
“It is not so much as to what I have heard but, more so, what I have seen. As you know, your servants travel quite frequently to the market place for food and supplies. It is there where my story begins. As a child, I had always been fond of traveling to the market place because just beyond it is the forest. And there have always been many stories about it.
Many of the villagers call it ‘The Forest of Ghosts.’ However, they say it isn’t just filled with ghosts and wandering spirits but with a winged creature they like to call ‘Abaddon.’
People believe, when someone goes missing, it is because of Abaddon. Many are eager to avoid going into the forest, knowing there are dangers within. Still, they cannot help their curiosity. They lose themselves to the forest, as if something called them to it. He comes to take them away and feeds on them when animals in the forest become scarce. It is indeed a vile place, however, there is also a saying, ‘Even in darkness, there is always Hope.’
No one has claimed to have seen Hope but know he’s there because of his messengers. These messengers are said to be in the form of children, children lost to the forest long ago. Although, a merchant once told my mother he saw a messenger in the form of an eagle. He claimed to have heard it speak just as you and I speak now. I, too, believe I have seen one of these messengers. Oh…how you must now think I have before been in a drunken state.”
“Not at all child, please, continue,” the Queen reassured.
“Sometimes I consider if what I saw was true or not, and many times I think perhaps it was not. Some time ago, when I was still but a girl, I was with my mother and we were looking for choice meat for you and your King.
We came across an older man who we purchased from before. When I first saw him, he seemed uncertain of something. He didn’t even notice we were there, standing in front of him when he said,
‘Oh, my love, how I long for thee. Let this honey taste sweeter than the day I thee wed.’
In front of him was a spoonful of honey which he ate. Almost immediately, it seemed as if his heart was like that of a child again.
He looked over to his left where there sat a little dog. He smiled at it and said, ‘thank you.’ That was when he finally noticed us standing there and he said,
‘What a glorious day to you and yours. Ye be my last customers for I am moving on. What shall it be? Anything you seek from me has no price. Tell me, what will you have today?’
He was very generous as he gave us much more than we had asked.
‘Well, there it is. I’m off to join my love,’ he said. ‘I mustn’t keep her waiting any longer.’
And at that moment, he turned and began walking into the forest with the little dog by his side. Now, I have debated this in my head many times but…I heard two voices, as he was having a conversation with the dog. There were none else but them around.
What is even harder to understand is that I had known for some time, his wife had been long dead.”
“My child,” the Queen replied, “It is true as you say, for I too have been visited by a messenger of Hope. It is glorious, indeed, these feelings I now have, for although I am old in age, I will soon carry a child inside of me.”
“My Queen, that is the most excellent of news. And this is because of Hope?”
“Yes, and while I eagerly anticipate the birth of my child, I have doubts about its safety.”
“Doubts? Surely, a prince or princess of the King and Queen should not be short of protection, especially in these times.”
“No child, you are wrong, for it is the King that I fear. He has made it very clear his wishes to remain childless. For many years I have allowed myself the satisfaction of wishful thinking. The horrible truth is I have lost several children. I had always suspected it was my own husband using poisons against me, destroying my womb and any chance of having children. Now you see? I must hide the truth. Far be it from me to not give this child a chance to have a life of its own. If I must flee my kingdom to have this child, I am prepared to do so. You must help me, for the life of my baby.”
“Yes, of course. I am bound to you no matter the consequences.”
The Queen and her maid servant devised a plan. The Queen was to hide her gain with extravagant dresses in such a way only a Queen could do. When the time was near to give birth, they would take a journey through the forest to the home of the maid servant’s sister. It mattered very little whatever excuse the Queen would give to the King. He paid little attention to her, especially her whereabouts. Still, knowing the Queen would not return alive, they needed a convincing story to explain suspicious chatter.
“You will tell them we were attacked in the forest on our way back to the kingdom,” the Queen said. “Your sister must return with us so as to convince others the baby she carries is hers. This will be her baby. She and her husband will be taken care of for many years to come. You must then tell them my body could not take the excitement of being attacked, thus, succumbing to my death.”
“We shall be convincing to the end. None will be the wiser. However, there is one more thing I must tell you of the forest. There are, also, many stories of a witch."