“The Queen raised her sword to give the final blow that would kill the dragon when… she saw it.” The storyteller whispered, filling the echoey hall with wonder and awe.
“Saw what? What did she see?” A little boy’s voice squeaked out excitedly in response.
“C’mon Tommy, you’ve heard this story a thousand times by now!” A young girl, called Clara, huffed out with a tone that was trying too hard to appear disinterested.
Clara, you are fooling no one. We all know you love these stories even more than Tommy.
“Some stories get better the more you hear them.” The Lady narrator remarked softly, the minor murmurs and whispers that had spread through the group of children dissipating immediately in response. “But if you are bored, Clara, I can stop?”
“Err… no, that’s alright. You’re nearly finished.” Clara quickly spluttered out, the facade of disinterestedness vanishing in the face of missing out.
“Are you sure?” The Lady checked with an amused quirk.
“Yeah… I mean everyone else likes this story. And the younger ones will be upset if you don’t finish.” Clara mumbled, aware that she had been thoroughly caught out but trying to hold onto some of her cool demeanour.
“If you say so.” The storyteller replied knowingly.
Haha, she caught you, didn’t she? Kara thought to herself wishing she could chuckle along at the young girl’s antics and how the Lady masterfully ( as always ) handled it.
“Now where was I?” The Lady hummed thoughtfully and Kara liked to pretend the minor shuffling sounds she could hear was the children inching closer to their storyteller in anticipation.
“The Queen had just seen the ring!” A child eagerly yelled out and Kara wished she could shake her head in amusement as she recognised Henry’s voice.
That kid has absolutely no concept of spoilers.
“That’s right, Henry.” The Lady said, acknowledging the answer, unwilling to dampen the small boy’s enthusiasm despite the fact that he preemptively revealed the plot twist. “The Queen had lifted her sword, ready to swing and finally defeat the vicious dragon when she saw something sparkling up at her from the bottom of the dragon’s front legs. She glanced down and spotted a gold ring with a shining, purple stone that seemed to glow in the darkness of the cave adorning one of the dragon’s long claws. Sensing some deep, dark magic from the ring, the Queen lowered her weapon.”
Yeah, it didn’t quite happen like that… I glanced down saw a purple spark come out of the ring and jumped like a foot in the air, dropping the sword by accident and landing hard on my ass… You have no idea how much I had to counter threaten Alex with to get her to keep the real story secret. She still comes to see me and laughs relentlessly about it.
“The Queen fearlessly knelt down in front of the dragon that was steadily regaining its strength and reached out to remove the ring from the dragon’s front claw. A loud BANG”, the Lady clapped her hands together suddenly causing the children to jump and squeak in surprise before the Lady continued speaking whilst her voice began to rise towards a crescendo, “was heard as purple smoke filled the cavern. The Queen clung to the ground as best she could, supported by her most trusted ally, Knight-Commander Alexandra. They dug their fingers into the hard earth to try and stop themselves from being overpowered by the magical storm swirling around the enclosed space. Then,” The storyteller paused abruptly, breaking off from the rising tempo she had been building, to instead allow a hushed quietness to settle, “silence fell, the smoke vanished in the flash of an eye. The Queen and her Knight-Commander slowly got to their feet and approached where they had last seen the dragon, only to find in the place of a terrifying scaled beast... a young woman.”
Gasps filled the room and Kara knew if she could move, her lips would be twitching into a joyful smile whilst she simultaneously bounced up and down, utterly captivated by the storyteller’s dramatic narration.
“The woman was the dragon?!” A new voice Kara hadn’t heard before, yelped out in shock.
“Yes, Lucas. The woman was the dragon.” The Lady replied, obviously pleased that this new attendant at her storytelling meetings was so enthralled by her tale. “Thanks to the Queen’s great mercy, this woman was saved a terrible fate.”
More thanks to my clumsiness than anything else, but sure I’ll take great mercy. Kara remarked snidely, choosing to focus on that minor slip rather than the ‘what if’ of what could have happened if she hadn’t seen that ring.
“Who was the woman? How did she become a dragon?” Lucas questioned, desperate to know more.
“Well, with regards to who the woman is… you’ve met her, Lucas.” The Lady revealed and Kara knew how much enjoyment the Lady would get from sharing this information.
“I HAVE?” Lucas shouted; Kara could practically hear the young’s boy’s eyes bug out of his head and his arms begin to flail wildly.
“Lady Arias, the royal coinmaster.” The Lady stated neutrally as if she was merely commenting on the weather.
“Her, really?” Lucas asked, sounding rather disappointed at the revelation that the kind, unassuming woman who was teaching the children their numbers had been a dragon. “How did she become a dragon… and can we turn her back?”
Oh kid, I know a dragon sounds cool at the time… I mean I thought so too but trust me, those things are terrifying.
Kara felt her insides squirm at the memory of her first interaction with Reign (Sam’s dragon form) and how dark the halls of the castle had seemed in the days following her defeat…
Funny, how My Lady always leaves out that part of the story .
Truthfully, the Lady had a very bad habit of leaving out the most unpleasant parts of the Queen’s stories especially those that highlighted her failures. Kara would argue that the failures and hardships were the most important parts as they were the only parts worth learning from. The Lady would simply smile and tell her that it was answers like that which made her such a great Queen.
“No, we can not turn her back.” The Lady reprimanded, and Kara inexplicably knew without a shadow of a doubt from the creepy quiet that followed that the Lady had arched an exquisite eyebrow unleashing it’s devastating effect which made anyone exposed to it feel two feet tall and experience an overwhelming desire to beg for forgiveness ( I can personally attest to this ).
Yeah, you got told kid! Don’t worry, though, she’s not really mad. You don’t want to know how many times I’ve had the eyebrow used against me. Just throw her your best puppy dog eyes, it’s her weakness, she’ll fold every single time. But don’t tell her I told you, she might actually kill me.
“Knight-Commander Alexandra destroyed the ring which turned Lady Arias into a dragon.” The Lady added to fully quash any remaining flicker of mischievous hope in the children gathered in front of her. “Lady Arias’ daughter had come across the ring in an old merchant store and gifted it to her mother, neither her nor the shopkeeper had been aware of the effect it would have. Thankfully, a tragedy was prevented and the kingdom of Krypton gained a wonderful coinmaster.”
“And Knight-Commander Alexandra found true love!” Tommy cheered out and Kara wished she could have high fived the small boy more than anything in that moment.
“Err… yes… she did… eventually.” The Lady grumbled understably.
God, getting those two together was the hardest quest ever. Kara groaned inwardly, it had taken the entire council sans Alex and Sam four whole months to conspire up a plan to push the overly clueless Knight-Commander in the right direction.
“Alright, it’s getting late young ones, dinner will be-”, Kara heard the slight screech as a chair moved signalling the Lady’s intent to stand. Kara’s heart plummeted as a sense of loss and loneliness began to seep back into her very being.
“One more! One more! Please!”
“Tell us the one about the evil witch!”
“YES! The Dark Sorcer-cess.”
The children’s voices pleaded and demanded, their cries echoing around the large, stony room, bringing warmth and light to help fend off the growing darkness.
Following those sweet pleas, Kara finally got to hear her favourite sound that scared away the painful emotions faster than anything else: a light, heartfelt chuckle. “Alright, one more.”
Kara wanted to laugh, completely unsurprised, at how easily the Lady relented to the wishes of the children surrounding her. The chair screeched again as the Lady returned it to its previous position.
“Once upon a time, there was a kind and gracious Queen with an incredibly large heart who always put her people before herself.”
Kara wanted to sigh with affection and gratitude as the storyteller began yet another tale in exactly the same way as the previous one.
It’s not over yet, she’s still here. She always here.
“Not only was she generous, strong and fearless but she was also the most beautiful woman in the entire kingdom, as well.”
Kara wanted to beam and for her cheeks to flush a bright red.
“Now, the story I’m about to tell you is going to seem scary because it isn’t finished yet… but there is something you need to remember above all else as you listen.” The storyteller paused for a moment, and Kara wanted to watch the circle of children lean in expectantly for the Lady’s incoming wisdom. “Heroes always win. Always, I promise.”
Not always, Kara thought bitterly to herself.
“Alright, now that we’ve gotten the important lesson out of the way… back to the story of the beautiful queen and the dark sorceress.”
“YES!” The children cheered causing Kara’s ears to twinge painfully at the sudden escalation in volume after straining to zero in on the Lady’s dulcet tones.
The universe quickly made it up to Kara’s thrumming eardrums as it blessed her with the sound of the storyteller’s chuckling laughter again. “A little over two years ago, the Queen went out riding to visit the marketplace in the nearby town, she was accompanied, as always, by her loyal knight of the realm and trusted advisor, Knight-Commander Alexandra. During their journey back through the woods they came across a dark-cloaked woman. The woman, who was unarmed, asked simply for a moment of the Queen’s time, and the Queen being who she is immediately dismounted to kindly hear her out.”
Kara listened as the children fidgeted in their spots on the ground, all of them waiting with bated breath for the next part of the story.
“The dark-cloaked woman revealed herself to be a powerful sorceress who had sought out the Queen to make her an offer. The sorceress offered the Queen unimaginable power and strength... if the Queen invaded the Daxamite kingdom. The Queen, who had never been interested in power or violence, instantly turned down the offer… this though angered the sorceress and she attacked the queen. The queen fought bravely with sword and shield as Knight Alexandra fired arrow after arrow at the sorceress. However, none of their attacks proved effective against the magical power that they were up against.”
That’s an understatement. The dark sorceress kicked our asses.
“The Queen and her Knight-Commander managed to escape the sorceress’ attack,” Mostly due to Alex, Kara preemptively added, “mostly due to Knight-Commander Alexandra’s quick thinking and skills.” Kara wanted to roll her eyes and huff as she felt the minor flare of jealousy she always did at this particular point in the story. “Upon returning to the castle, the queen called upon her royal council so they may create a plan to combat this new threat.”
You all did splendidly. Kara insisted, remembering the guidance and advice her friends and family had given to her during that time. She knew they felt guilt, knew they felt responsible, felt like they had failed her. That couldn’t be further from the truth in Kara’s opinion. You never let me down. You made me proud then and you make me proud now.
“The Queen was adamant that she would not go to war with our once enemies. Word eventually spread throughout the kingdom of the Queen’s resilience and desire to keep the peace. Weeks passed and no reprisal from the Sorceress came and the Queen, as well as her council-”
Not you, though. You knew better.
I should have listened to you.
Actually, I should have spoken more. I should have told you everything. Maybe if I had… this nightmare would have come to an end only seconds after it had started.
“-were hopeful that the sorceress no longer posed a threat. As you all know but may not remember...” The Lady stuttered here and Kara didn’t need to see the storyteller to know that there was a flicker of pain crossing her features.
Kara knew the Lady feared the Queen being forgotten more than anything else in the world. Feared the Queen would disappear into history as nothing more than a footnote. Or even worse yet, only be remembered for the state she was currently in and none of her heroic escapades.
Kara, on the other hand, feared the Lady not letting her go even if the world was crumbling, holding on tightly despite the pain it undoubtedly inflicted on the breathtaking woman.
“The Queen would open up her throne room to all of her subjects, allowing them to come and see her about any of their concerns or complaints. One day, an elderly woman who didn’t rouse the guards’ suspicion came to see the Queen. Upon approaching the throne and being greeted by the Queen, the dark sorceress revealed herself. The guards and the Queen rushed forward to apprehend her and prevent Krypton’s other subjects gathered in the throne room from getting harmed by her powers. The sorceress, however, froze everyone in the room with a mere snap of her fingers.”
The Lady clicked her thumb and middle finger together, the ominous snap it caused resounded around the room as if the past itself was calling out to the future. Kara heard all the children inhale sharply in fright, some even going so far as to yelp or clamber into the lap of their friend or neighbour for comfort.
“The sorceress stepped towards the Queen, her heels click… clacking… on the marble floor.” The Lady clicked her tongue, and Kara felt herself, as she so often was, transported back to that day.
Her right hand was resting on the hilt of her sword, she’d been a second away from drawing it free of it’s scabbard, and her left hand was raised in the universal sign to stop. At the same time, she had run forward to stand in front of the closest group of citizens to the right of her throne, her body serving as a physical shield. She had been staring straight at the sorceress when every muscle stopped obeying her command, except for her eyes that were allowed to stay open and track the sorceress’ slow approach towards her. Sounds of commotion outside the throne room were audible, as her trusted Knights, led by Alex, sprang into action behind the magically sealed shut heavy wooden doors.
The sorceress had moved with unhurried steps towards Kara, who had never felt so powerless in her life, as she pulled a small dagger free from her crimson cloak. The blade turned red as it reflected the fiery light cast by the torchlight, causing it to capture Kara’s attention far more than the cruel smile on the sorceress’ face. The blade had gradually moved forward and Kara waited for death to inevitably come for her, but the sharp point of the dagger did not plunge into Kara’s chest as she had presumed it would. Instead an almost imperceptible prick of pain lanced from the forefinger of her left hand.
“The sorceress returned the dagger back to her cloak and strode to the centre of the throne room where she made her final offer. She told the Queen that if she didn’t go to war with the Daxamite kingdom within three days, at the strike of midnight on the third day the Queen would fall into a slumber from which she would never wake up.”
Kara had heard this story so many times that she could now pinpoint the exact second an almost indiscernible crack appeared that would accompany the Lady’s velvety voice for the rest of her tale.
“The sorceress then swept her cloak around herself and disappeared with a crack of lightning.” The Lady no longer recreated the sounds that went with the tale, the heaviness related to this story always drained the Lady of her childish enthusiasm. “The Queen and her people were free to move again just as the doors to the throne room were blown open by the Knights of the realm.”
“What did the Queen do next?” Lucas questioned, desperate to hear a hopeful twist. “How did she stop the socer… er… witch?”
Ah, didn’t you listen? No happy endings, here….
“Well, the Queen did what she always did when faced with a big, magical problem.” The Lady answered with a guilty sigh.
It wasn’t your fault.
I wish more than anything I could tell you that and make you believe it. I hate hearing you put yourself down.
“She assembled her most trusted advisors and asked her Royal Researcher, who was supposed to provide good counsel on magic, what could be done to prevent the sorceress’ curse from taking her on the third day.” The despondency and self-loathing that accompanied the Lady’s description of her role was overwhelming.
Kara felt like she was drowning in a bathtub of the Lady’s guilt and was completely unable to pull out the plug and allow the negative emotions to drain harmlessly away as they should have done.
“The Researcher, however, could not find a single book, chapter, paragraph or sentence in any of the books in the royal library which explained whether the sorceress’ threat was credible, let alone if it could be prevented.”
“But there are thousands of books in the royal library…”
“Exactly.” The Lady whispered sadly. “The researcher spent those three days, supported by the royal scribe, the coinmaster and anyone else who had time on their hands scouring every book in the library to find a cure.”
Kara remembered how the Lady didn’t sleep for even a second of those three days.
Kara remembered watching helplessly as the Lady’s stunning green eyes became dimmer and hollower as shadows darker than those seen in the dungeons slowly surrounded them.
She remembered watching as the Lady’s always impeccable appearance became ruffled and messy as she went without break or pause.
Kara remembered Eliza having to force food down the Lady’s throat more than once.
Kara remembered cajoling, begging, threatening and explicitly ordering the Lady to rest, to recuperate but being ignored and defied as the researcher belligerently worked on, even going so far as to barricade the door to her study to ensure she could continue working uninterrupted.
“Whilst the Researcher read her books, the Knights, led by the Queen and the Knight-Commander Alexandra, were searching the kingdom for the sorceress with the hope to apprehend her and get her to remove the curse before the three-day deadline.”
“They didn’t find her?” Lucas guessed, his small voice overflowing with sadness and heartbreak.
“No… not in time they didn’t.” The Lady revealed with a sad whisper, and Kara hated the rawness that came with her next words. “Hope began to recede and vanish as the sun rose on that third day. The Queen called her council once again, this time not to find a solution but to make preparations.”
“Preparations for what?” Lucas questioned shyly; Kara liked to think he was speaking softly as he could sense the emotional turmoil in the Lady.
Kara usually endeavoured to stop listening to the story at this point, hating the torment she could sense in the storyteller. To distract herself, she tried to imagine what the newest addition to the class looked like. With the mischievousness he displayed earlier, she imagined blonde curly locks, reminiscent of herself as a child. And due to the soft, sensitive tone he used for his previous question, a familiar forest green appeared in her mind’s eye which easily became his eyes. She pictured him small for his age (which she guessed to be seven or eight) with rounded, chubby cheeks and thin lips that seemed to double in size whenever he found a reason to smile. She liked to think he was active and energetic, with a fidgeting disposition mixed with an eagerness to learn which helped him to stay rooted in place for his lessons despite his excessive energy.
Kara had come up with an image for every stranger that she heard over the last two years.
All of them had a feature or two stolen from someone she had met.
She found this simple mental exercise helped deal somewhat with the hollowness of slowly losing the ability to bring forth a crystal clear image of those she really loved.
“Preparations for what would happen after the Queen was cursed.” The Lady explained gently.
“She gave up?” Lucas cried dejectedly, and Kara’s image of the boy in her head cruelly shifted to include disappointed crinkles around his eyes, a jutted out lower lip and hunched over shoulders.
God, why do I do this to myself? Kara thought dejectedly as she wished she could shake her head to clear away the picture in her mind.
“No, never!” Henry ( mini Winn ) yelled out indignantly.
“Not our Queen.” Clara ( mini Alex ) huffed out protectively.
“I don’t think she even knows how to give up.” Isaac ( mini J’onn ), the quietest of all the children, mumbled under his breath.
“She wasn’t giving up.” The Lady reassured once all the other children had chimed in their own defence of the Queen; Kara could practically hear the proud smile in the storyteller’s voice.
I hope you’re happy, you’ve indoctrinated all of them. When I wake up, I’m going to be such a disappointment to them. You’ve filled their heads with heroic nonsense about me and you should know I plan to do the same for you. I’ll make my own mini cult for you and see how you like it.
Kara had to admit it wasn’t the greatest, nor most well-thought out of revenge plans but she was going to commit to it nonetheless.
“She was ensuring that her people… all of you… would be safe and looked after whilst her allies searched for a cure.” The Lady rationalised, trying to keep the complexity of everything that happened that day as simple as possible for the children to comprehend. “The Queen announced that the council would rule in her stead, and that they were to swear to her that they would not go to war with Daxam to save her, no matter how hopeless her situation seemed. The council… eventually,” eventually is an understatement, it took hours , “all agreed to their Queen’s command but they all added a further promise to that.” The storyteller paused thoughtfully and Kara didn’t know how but she knew that everytime the Lady told this story, she recommited herself to the promise. It was like a recharge button for the Lady, her energy levels following these story sessions would skyrocket and she would be working on a new plan in a matter of hours. “They promised that they would never give up hope. Would never give up looking for a way to save the Queen from her curse. Would never let anyone claim the throne that truly belonged to our beloved Queen.”
“Then… what happened?” Lucas questioned, his confidence in asking questions growing as he became more and more invested and sure of himself.
Come on, kid. You know how this ends.
There’s no more to the story, I’m afraid.
The Lady exhaled deeply, as her chair screeched angrily as she stood up. Kara didn’t have to hear her approaching footsteps to the know the Lady was coming closer.
She could be absolutely silent but Kara would know.
She could always sense when the Lady was close by, her skin would tingle and her lungs would fill full as if her breath didn’t want to escape in fear of missing out on being close when the Lady approached.
A flock of smaller footsteps followed in the wake of the Lady’s; the children moving like ducklings chasing after the security of a mother. It was always at times like this that Kara gained an appreciation for just how unnecessarily large the throne room was; it took an age for the group to reach her dais at the head of the room. She knew when they were gathered around her bed by the unbreakable silence that pervaded the atmosphere.
If she could, Kara would blush under the heavy scrutiny….
“At the first strike of midnight, the Queen fell into her cursed slumber.” The Lady whispered as if Kara really was merely sleeping and a high volume would disrupt her peaceful sleep.
“But… there has to be a way to wake her up!” Lucas pleaded desperately.
“We are still searching. We will find a way, don’t worry. The council has not, nor will they ever stop trying.” The Lady declared fervently.
I bet you there’s fire in her eyes right now.
She’s probably going to barricade herself in her study again until she comes up with plan 326.
“What about True Love’s kiss?” Lucas suggested quietly.
Yeah, what about True Love’s kiss, huh?
“Princes and nobles from across the world have tried.” The Lady confessed sadly. “We are still inviting anyone that could be worthy to try.”
There’s only one person who’s worthy, and they don’t need an invite to the castle… Kara confessed to herself, her heart hollow and empty despite the warmth of the Lady’s presence.
“Didn’t the Queen love anyone?” Lucas pressed and Kara imagined the small boy’s brow furrowed and his lips pursed in deep thought (she found the image particularly charming).
“The Queen loved so many.” The Lady affirmed, “She loved her family, her friends and all of her people.” Kara felt her then, felt the soft, warmth of the Lady’s hand covering her own in a loving manner. Kara’s entire body hummed with joy at the connection, but her heart broke as she heard the Lady’s next statement, “But she had never found true love.”
Yes, I did.
I found it, but I was far too cowardly to tell her. You tell people how brave I am but I was never courageous enough to go after what I really wanted.
Isn’t it funny how the one person who is working the hardest to save me, is also the one person who could save me within seconds but she doesn’t know it because I was too shy to tell her how I really felt?
Okay, I guess it’s not funny… haha… but there is a high enough degree of cruel fate involved to make the lip twitch into a smirk.
“Oh…” Lucas sighed out dejectedly. Yeah, I know the feeling, trust me.
“Remember what I said?” The Lady asked, clearing her throat emphatically to break the heavy tension that came when small children were confronted with the idea that happy endings didn’t exist in the real word. “I know it seems sad now but…” The Lady practically singsonged to breathe life and hope back into the young ones surrounding the sleeping Queen.
“Heroes always win.” The children chimed back in a well practiced manner.
“Heroes always win.” The Lady repeated, and Kara could tell that she had directed this at little Lucas with the aim of instilling it firmly in the small boy’s head. “Go on, you don’t want to miss dinner.” The Lady said, releasing the children to their grumbling stomachs whilst also removing her hand from atop of Kara’s, who in turn felt the loneliness begin to creep back in.
I really miss food, Kara whined inwardly imagining the various food items that would be served only a few corridors away. That’s the meanest part of this curse.
Well, at least I don’t get hungry, but I still get cravings...
The young group, upon being released said their thanks and goodbyes to the Queen and the storyteller, Tommy, undoubtedly, led the charge to dinner with Clara hot on his heels. The other children left more sedately ( well, as sedately as children about to get fed can be ), except for Lucas who lingered for a while after to murmur his own reverent farewell to the slumbering Queen without his cohort’s presence. Kara genuinely appreciated the gesture and the affectionate squeeze the boy gave to her forearm before he departed, leaving Kara alone with the Lady.
Kara felt a brush of light fingertips across her cheek, her heart immediately skipping a beat at the gentlest of touches. Hope filled her that the loving movement would be followed by a brush of lips against her own. That flicker of hope was quashed immediately as that soft touch disappeared, instead she heard the exact same commitment she always heard whenever the Lady visited her.
“I won’t give up, Kara. I’ll find a way to bring you back.”
I know you will, Lena.