This story is by Rae L Ellis and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Princess Charming came home drunk last night, again. I don’t know why she’s unhappy. I asked if she’s taken her medications lately. She said no. I asked why. She answered:
“It’s the darndest thing. I have them, I have access to them, I just don’t know.”
Worry and vitriol have replaced her once joyful and kind demeanor.
Was coming to the castle a mistake?
The castle therapist said I’m still working through trust issues. I’m sure that’s one of the reasons I feel flighty.
But Charming is nothing like my father and evil stepmother. I even went no-contact with them to build a life worth living.
That’s when I escaped with Charming. We were supposed to have each other’s backs, but since her father, the King, died, pressure has been building on Charming as the new Queen.
Part of me wants to run, to relieve some of the pressure from her. But is that reasonable? After that witch cursed my tea, I can’t even do housework anymore without getting exhausted. I’m never far from my flask of saltwater, the only thing that gives me energy.
I must concentrate on finding the curse’s antidote.
It was simpler when I could dance, cook, clean, and that was all I needed to do. Now I can’t even do what I was trained to.
I was never taught to be a ruler’s companion.
I want my own life again.
Sometimes, it feels as if Charming is holding me hostage. I’m so involved in her life, I’ve forgotten myself.
Nobody knows the castle is broke. Charming dismissed the court the day she became Queen. Is it enough? I sometimes ask my footmen to take me to our nearest village. I see our neighbors begging on the streets. If no one has gold, where has it all gone?
Yet Charming keeps working. She gives 110%, her subjects love her. But to what end, if she’s eating herself from the inside out?
There I go talking about her again. I find myself disappearing into these stony walls. How long until I am nothing but glass?
It’s like she wants me to be miserable with her.
First, she dismissed anyone in our castle exchanging work for room and board. She said it’s not good for optics, but now all who had been here since their parents’ parents are out on the street. Then, she demanded I take up the cooking and cleaning of the castle since she has been too busy running the queendom.
It’s like she’s forgotten about the curse that keeps me from walking far or standing long.
How do I care for an entire castle? Lately, she wants me to acquire extra work, so the pressure on her can wane. She’s forgotten that any gold I would make in ten hours, she easily makes in ten minutes. I don’t have her education, her breeding, or, at this point, any physical stamina. I would only lose the energy needed to maintain this giant castle. Alone. With no end in sight.
I love her, but I must leave Charming. She has no idea what I have to go through each day to keep myself washed and fed. Any dreams I had of starting a family have vanished. I can’t raise a child in these conditions, especially not with her, not like this. This wasn’t what happily ever after was supposed to be.
It’s like I’m only another thing she owns, another subject she can boss around.
We got into another fight when she noticed I took off my ring. I almost lied, but can’t lose any more of myself. I don’t know how we’re supposed to have a marriage without truth. I’m tired of tiptoeing over eggshells. I told her it’s like she’s spiraling, but within perfect control not to. She didn’t like that. But if Queen Charming doesn’t have the resources, who does?
I have to leave without her. Godmother finally answered my letters. Turns out, she is being blackmailed to keep me in the dark about the curse’s antidote.
Godmother gave me what information she could. I’m off to find my antidote without Charming. She won’t be happy I’m gone, but I have to live my life again, no matter the cost. I hope one day she can forgive me for leaving her alone in this big, empty castle.
Three days and three nights, with nothing but Godmother’s Magequest instructions to guide me, and I finally found it: my antidote. Three witches stand over a cauldron, laughing and cackling in the old tongue. They haven’t seen me yet.
One, a tall spindly man in black robes made of velvet (velvet! in this economy?), has been speaking to the others and sipping deep red liquid from a bone goblet. Another short, pumpkin-shaped witch keeps rubbing a ruby talisman around his neck on a gold chain. The third witch, most fearsome, holds a tight grin stretched across his face, never letting it loosen. He laughs at everything the other two say, yet says nothing. His irises, deep in black sclera, are glowing red.
I hesitate to betray my position, but the gooseberry smell emanating from the cauldron matches Godmother’s description of the antidote. I have no reason to doubt her now.
In all honesty, diary, I have begun to doubt myself. What if the curse brought forth what was already hiding in the deepest parts of me? What if I am lazy, good for nothing, and want the excuse to quit? I never wanted a queendom. Only love. Only family.
I have to act. The stout one brought out three lit torches; I believe they aim to burn the potion. This is my only chance to discover if the curse is real or if I have left my Charming for nothing.
Time wanes, and I must act. I can only think of rushing to the cauldron with my flask. The fearsome witch with red and black eyes sees me first, as though he knows I’ve been there the entire time. His white pupils penetrate my own, and a cold shudder crawls down my tailbone, freezing me into place. But I’ve lived through colder looks from my stepmother. I bring to mind Charming’s warmth and beauty from the night we first danced together, and the cold no longer holds me. I continue rushing toward the cauldron with my flask. The witch’s eerie smile never wavers.
The other two turn to me, the short witch with unexpected quickness. Words bubble from his mouth and I find myself in the embrace of a king cobra snake, slithered in from the surrounding jungle. I fall in wet mud. It splashes my face, into my mouth. Air refuses to enter my lungs, no matter how I gasp for it. Shadows begin to creep into the edges of my vision. My heartbeat slows.
“Not so special now, are we?” I hear, voice coming from the tall witch, now crouching over me. “This will teach you to dishonor your father.” Malice and satisfaction are all I can see in his eyes. How does he know my father? The witch chuckles and turns back to the cauldron, which now spews liquid gold.
Maybe it’s the realization of the months alone I’ve struggled with my curse. Perhaps it’s the roiling anger inside of me that has been burning since I lost my strength, my use. But with urgent spite and all the strength I can muster, I kick the cauldron that holds my salvation. Through pulsing black shadows, I see a tidal wave of lavender and gold liquid glug from the overturned cauldron.
A glass-shattering scream slices through the crash of blood in my ears. Immediately, the snake vanishes, and air blessedly fills my lungs once more. I gasp, choking on the lake of spittle on my tongue. I reach for my handy flask, uncork it with my teeth, then flop my arm into the stream. Most of the oobleck liquid passes over its mouth, but some of the lavender and gold fill the neck of the flask. I pull my head to the flask with my other arm, shaking and weak. I touch my tongue to the flask’s mouth. I taste gooseberries and blood. In a flash, the liquid becomes ash, coating the inside of my mouth.
Then, all goes black.
When I wake, the sun has risen, the witches vanished with the daylight. Of the potion, only ash remains.
Something, however, has changed.
I am no longer exhausted. I am no longer thirsty.
For the first time in ages, I sit myself up, raise my head, and stand without assistance.
I have done it! I may have doomed the queendom, but I have my mobility back.
It is time to begin the long journey home on horseback. I don’t know if Charming will take me back. All I can do is tell her my story and maybe, with a bit of magic, we can start again.