Author: Hiranmayee Saipriya
Meetup – Theme/Number/Host: Medieval Setting/#072/Ashwin
It all depended on the princess’ moves now. The heavy red drapes seemed apt for the situation. She drew the topmost card from her deck. Four of spades. Four rose petals rose from the bowl in the middle of the room. They gently floated across, going beyond the red drapes and straight into the left enclosure. The princess shed a drop of tear. On the grand unfinished tapestry that hung on the right wall, colors gradually started filling in as invisible needles started embroidering four hounds on the lower left corner.
The witch let out another puff of smoke from her hookah. She seemed to be rather enjoying the ritual. Whether it was animals or people, it didn’t matter to her. It was her new project, after long. The king, who was too distraught to decide who had to be killed had sent a royal messenger to the witch in the dungeons. She had then put forth her demands. She would need a chamber and four personal henchmen from her trade. No more, no less.
All those years in that dark dungeon had prepared her for this day. After the necessary arrangements were made, she set herself to work. She created ottomans, drapes and a grand framed canvas. She conjured a dewan out of the finest wood. The plush cushions and throws matched the level of the ruler. Although it was a slap on his pride, the ruler agreed to everything. He hadn’t even worn his royal robes since the night his minstrels had sung to him.
Even the lack of provisions, water, shelter and textiles had not driven his subjects out of the land. Now the supplies were too less and people too many. One cold night, his minstrels had sung to him, “The time has come, the time has come, for the other side of you. Let them look, let them see, the face that is true.” The ruler who had always appeared in front of his subjects as a benevolent father figure, had failed them. He had proved himself unworthy of his people’s love and respect. Misjudged and miscalculated moves now stared him mockingly in the face. And it had all boiled down to this decision. Now he couldn’t brace himself to face them with his current intentions and thus sought the witch’s help.
The witch of course had her own mysterious ways. When the stage was set, she let a game of cards decide the fate. Clubs for cattle and wild beasts, Spades for pets, Hearts for women and Diamonds for men. A shuffled deck was then handed to the princess.
The princess was still solemn when the witch’s voice broke the silence. “Go on, pick the next one.”
Her hands trembled as she reached out for the deck. She pulled out the next card; the Queen of hearts. “Oh mother….” the princess broke down as a single rose petal arose from the bowl and floated away. The needles started sewing the queen onto the tapestry.
“Next”, went on the witch.
“No”, pleaded the princess. “I can’t, I give up.”
“You can’t, pick the next.” insisted the witch, with a stern look.
The princess reached out again. Jack of diamonds. “How can you take the Magus away from Father? Who will watch over him now?” wailed the princess as another rose petal floated away.
“That’s not for us to decide, pick the next”, said the witch, puffing away.
“Oh you wretched witch!” cried the princess with the King of Diamonds in her hand. This time a magnificent rose floated out. An invisible seamstress worked her expertise and stitched the king onto the tapestry. He sat on his throne, in his full glory. She was an orphan now. She looked up to the tapestry, it was complete now. With the benevolent king, his faithful Magus and the four hounds, and his loyal queen. The people will always look up to the king. Nobody would ever know how they had fallen prey to the witch’s treacherous game. Seething with rage, the princess started rising from her plush purple cushion.
“Stay put”, commanded the witch. “Wondered why no subjects died?” She laughed a sarcastic laugh. “The reigns are in the right hands now. It’s time for me to leave. Flourish the land, you’re not your father.”