Chapter 9: A Child Arrives
The maid servant and her sister made the preparations for the long journey back. It was necessary for them to take a goat to provide for the Princess. The maid servant had no time to waste. The journey was going to take longer with the responsibility of caring for a baby.
To assist, her sister had gone along as well. With little room left, they attached an additional cart to the back of the wagon to carry the Queen’s body.
All the while, the King waited anxiously for the return of his wife, the Queen. He had been in a different state of mind. He no longer desired to keep to his daily schedule, nor did he seek the petty indulgences of entertainment in his chamber. He only ate in small portions, eager to return to his window looking out over any possible sign of his beloved bride.
Back in the forest, the maid servant pushed through the night. She knew she would need to forego much rest. It was up to her sister to watch and tend to the child in the carriage. The Princess slept most of the time, but had moments as if to wake up in a fright.
The maid servant felt pressure on her chest and her eyes had grown weary as she fought the heaviness of sleep.
The forest seemed particularly dark one night, so it was important for her to keep her eyes steady and alert. There were brief moments when her lamp flickered quickly. In those moments, she would see what appeared to be an old woman in black with her eyes veiled over standing just off the side of her riding path. It did not matter how fast they were going. When her lamp flickered, there was the old woman standing, watching as they passed her again and again.
By the fourth day, they had finally arrived and exited the forest. The alarm sounded, alerting the King of the arrival. He rushed his way down his castle, through his courtyard and to the entrance to welcome his wife home. He sent word to gather all of the servants and musicians to give her a welcome only fit for a Queen.
Still a stone’s throw away, it was obvious something was wrong. The horses seemed too exhausted, sickly even. Once the King arrived, he saw his guards in a hurry to assist the maid servant, too tired to stand on her own, beaten by the trip.
“My Queen! My Queen!” he shouted joyfully as his heart beat faster with every closer step.
He saw a guard with a curious look on his face after he opened the carriage door. A goat was the first to be carried off. The King was puzzled, but not more so when he heard the cries of a baby. A woman, unknown to him, exited with the infant in her arms.
“What is this? Where is my wife?” He demanded.
“I’m sorry,” the maid servant’s sister had cried out, “During the journey through the forest, your Queen and maid servant faced a horrible danger…”
“Where is she, Where is she!?” He demanded once more, but with a look of horror.
“Your Queen,” she started, “I’m sorry my lord, but the experience was too much for her heart to handle. She is here, we have wrapped her, and she is now at peace.”
Upon hearing her words, the King had torn his robe and collapsed face down as he wept near the Queen’s body.
“A life of wealth…and no worries…or a life…of struggle?” he said with difficulty. “What have I done? Poor, beautiful woman. I have tortured you for so long, but now it is I that will be tortured, tormented by my actions. My heart aches for the simple times before my sin. Oh, if I could take it back I would, but there is no atonement for me. My place is set, my punishment overdue. I am, now, forever trapped by my misery. But you, my sweet wife, you are no longer of this world. Be free from it, be free from me.”
Nothing else mattered to the King after. He blamed no one but himself. He did not bother with any other details about the trip. As far as he was concerned, nothing was of greater value than mourning for his wife. The Kingdom, too, mourned for their Queen and shared stories of her kindness.
Plan for Revenge
Greedy Fool woke up, somewhere in the vast forest, hurting, angry, and vengeful. He saw his breath floating before him when he felt a sting in his ears. The forest suddenly went cold and the adrenaline of his hate was not sufficient enough to keep him warm.
He had lived near the forest his whole life, and knew of the stories about it. He also knew it would get worse.
The sounds of hissing surrounded him as snakes slowly slithered their way over. But it didn’t matter to him. He was not afraid of the power within the forest. He was too driven with hate to be afraid.
“Where are you?” He shouted. “I have a deal to be made! I know you sense it. When there is a desire as high as mine, you are not far.”
And just as quickly as they started, the hissing stopped. The snakes retreated and the temperature ascended.
“Indeed,” an old voice echoed near Greedy Fool, “I have never felt such a desire as yours before, such desire.”
He could not find the source of the voice, but he didn’t need to.
“Then you know I am ready for a deal?”
“Yes, a deal. What is it you seek?”
“I wish to destroy the King, and sit in his place. I want all of his power, all of his glory.”
“Of course, no man can resist such a desire, to have the power of a King, what power. But why should I give you what you ask, seek? I will require something in return, yes, something.”
“Anything, anything you ask of me.”
“That is what I like to hear, but what you seek is not for me to undo, not for me. Perhaps there is something else you desire?”
“No, no. There is nothing else. There is no consolation for me. The King must be destroyed, along with his Queen and their child. He must suffer…”
“What is this you speak of?” The old witch said as she suddenly appeared behind Greedy Fool.
“No one knows but me. Not even the King himself. His Queen traveled through this forest to have the child elsewhere in secret.”
“You have proven your worth, proven much. It shall be granted, but you must not kill the King. You must instead exile him to me, as he did to you. You will be the cruelest of Kings, so cruel. Many will oppose you and all will fail. Your name will be feared in all the land, it will be feared. How do you wish to do this?”
“Is it now so simple? You said…”
“Do you want me to answer your question, only this question, rather than grant you the revenge you seek?”
“I care not.”
“Very well then, very well. How then do you wish to do this?”
With my own army, an army of the dead.”
“Done, it is done.”
“And what is it you shall have in return of me?”
“Oh, you’ve done quite enough already, enough.”
The King sat on his bed, sobbing, holding the Queen’s crown. He had not left his room for days and his cries were heard echoing throughout the castle walls.
“With all my power…all my wealth…I can do what any man in this world can only dream of, but alas, I envy them. This has all been for naught. I sought my own selfish agendas and paid the ultimate price.”
“Perhaps it wasn’t all bad, not all,” an old familiar voice spoke from the darkest corner of the room, “you did indeed achieve all that you asked for, did you not, you did?”
“You,” the King replied, “It has indeed been many years past, but the sound of your twisted voice I will never forget. This is all because of you.”
“Oh, I heard you quite well as you said before. You are to blame, you are. I am but a humble servant giving a man his desire to become more than simply a man, I gave.”
The King was still unable to see the witch.
“It was all by your trickery, you deceived me.”
“No!” she shouted back, “I gave you all you asked. Nothing more, nothing less. It is you that has deceived, and I am here to collect what is rightfully mine, thus, ending our little arrangement, it ends.”
“I don’t understand you. Your speech is bad enough and now you insist on speaking in riddles?”
“When I first met you, you were a young naive little man with nothing but a new little bride. You had nothing, but you wanted much, wanting. You were desperate to keep what little land you had with your wife. You needed to save her, did you not? So desperate to make a deal with me? A deal that would make you King, a strong and powerful King, so strong. Never to lose in battle, your name alone could rule your Kingdom, all alone. To have a life of wealth and without any more worries, no more. You wanted to change the world, you have. And it was in this deal we made the price for such a gift to be your first born child, the first. But by breaking your promise, I can now break mine, broken.”
“I’ve tried to forget. I’ve tried and succeeded, if only for a time, there was never a deal made. My happiness was only short lived. I could not look at my wife without the sting of guilt pitted in my stomach, knowing she was oblivious, knowing she didn’t understand why I was so difficult. She wanted children but I made sure we never had to lose one of them to you. In my pride, I had forgotten why I didn’t want children and soon despised the idea. But I never had a child, so if you are here for a collection, you can take me. I have nothing more to gain or live for in this life.”
“I did not think I would have ever met a man with more desire than you, so much desire. That is, until I met the man you refer to as Greedy Fool, so greedy.”
The King looked fearfully in the direction of her voice.
“I do not believe him to be a man as compromising in his decisions as you have proven to be. As we speak, he is amassing an army of the dead to steal your title as King and rule the very world you have created, your world.”
“Even with an army of the dead, none can defeat me, as part of our arrangement. You said it yourself, ‘by name alone you will rule this Kingdom.’”
“Have you not listened to a word I have spoken, I have. You have kept from me this little child, you kept. And now, she is rightfully mine, my right.”
“What is this you speak of? Show yourself!”
The witch stepped forward, out of the shadows, holding the sleeping baby, Princess Elise.
“What child is this?” the King asked.
“Why King, it is yours,” she said with delight, “and now it is mine, now.”
“I have no children.”
“When Greedy Fool came to me, he told me something even you, the all powerful King, did not know of, he told me. Perhaps, had you not showed such contempt towards your Queen, you would have seen what was in front of you the whole time, such contempt. She was with child. I know this, I know now. Even in her old age, and it killed her. The child she so desperately wanted, even if it took her life, dead.”
“No, this cannot be true, you demon!”
“I was drawn to her carriage on her journey back. I could sense my prize, mine.”
The King fell to his knees and begged.
“Please, if this is true, take my Kingdom, all that I have is yours. Let me have my child.”
“I don’t need your possessions, no need. All of the men I have made my deals with all want the same things and I always get from them what I want, I get from them.”
She gave a shrieking laugh, stepped back into the dark and vanished.
Immediately after, the King could hear the shouts of his men and the sounds of battle. Without hesitation, the King took up arms and went out to the front lines. All he could think about was surviving. The child he had never known was his only concern. His Kingdom, his riches, his power, none of it had mattered anymore. He needed to find the witch and rescue his daughter.