The Impostor Princess, The Knight, and the Slave: Part Four (Here it is, Mlle_! I hope you enjoy. Feedback of any kind is deeply appreciated. P.S., I finally figured out a title!)
When the girl came to, the room was blurry, but it was no longer dark, and she wasn’t cold. Her head felt like it had been stuffed with heavy rocks, and she groaned thickly; the sound came out as little more than a whimper. Blurred lights dazzled her eyes; they seemed like tiny suns after such complete darkness. It took several long, sluggish moments to remember what had happened; she could still feel the remnants of her last scream in her throat; it hurt to even breathe as if she’d swallowed broken glass. “Wh-What happened?” She sounded like a pale shade of herself, and she cringed, wishing that she hadn’t spoken. “Where is my master?”
When her vision finally cleared, she saw that she was an impossibly lush chamber; a bedroom? The mattress was so soft that it gave under her weight. “Hello?” She tried to call, but her voice just wasn’t cooperating. She slumped against the soft, feather-stuffed pillows; just trying to raise her head was a Herculean effort. Her head swam dangerously, and her stomach lurched, threatening to vacate itself of what little food she’d had. For a while, she seemed suspended inside of her injuries, a prisoner inside of her own body. She was nothing but her brokenness and the sensation grated on her conscience. She may have been nothing but a grunt under her master, but at the least, she was useful. She simply could not bear being still. She was tangled in her thoughts until the door to the room creaked open; it reminded her, bittersweetly, of her master climbing the stairs to the tower, his joints groaning and protesting the whole way.
“Who’s there?” The girl tried to say, but all that emerged was a scratchy squeak, it hurt her own ears. She wanted to rage at her master; after all, it had been he who had demanded she come with him. For protection, he claimed, but she had never believed that. He’d never cared about her, and why would he? She was expendable, chattel, a means to an end. She’d known that, but it didn’t stop her from missing him, from wanting him near. If nothing else, for some familiarity. But for now, she was at the mercy of the unknown. And she was unarmed. She cursed herself for not thinking of grabbing any of her personal weapons before they’d left on their journey. What if the creature that was the princess decided that she wasn’t worthy of mercy? Of living? The exhaustion she’d been feeling seeped deeper into her bones, and she clenched her teeth to prevent a moan from escaping. Whatever came next, the last thing she wanted was to look weak.
“It is only I, child,” A warm, quiet voice said. It was gentle, not in the slightest bit threatening, but regardless, the other girl flinched.
“Please, don’t hurt me!” Her voice sounded high and thin, and it scraped its way out of her throat.
“And why pray tell, would I do that?” At long last, the mysterious woman they’d spent more than a week hunting stepped into the low candlelight. The girl’s body jolted into stillness, almost against her will. This time her lush red curls were piled into an elegant bun at the nape of her neck, exposing the long, pale arch of it. When the girl didn’t answer, she stepped forward, into the light, and her prisoner winced, waiting for a rain of blows that never came. “I promise, I’m not going to harm you.” The princess murmured, holding her hands up, presumably to show that she was unarmed.
“Where is my master? What have you done with him?” Her heart raced inside of her chest, and she sucked in a painful breath through her teeth. The princess’s soothing smile faded, pulling into a rather unladylike scowl. “I locked him up. After our… spat in the dark, he refused to cooperate. So I decided to stash him in another room for the time being. Just until his temper cools.” Again, her face transformed, a smirk pulling at the corners of her full, delicate mouth. “You didn’t hurt him, did you?” She replied her heart rate slowing. At the very least, he was alive. That had been more than she’d hoped for, especially after he’d gone out of his way to incur her wrath, trespassing on her property. “Nothing that he won’t heal from.” The other girl said simply, and the slave girl chose to leave it at that for now; she was much too fatigued to argue at the moment.
“Why put me in this room and my master in another? Why not just lock us up together?” Her hostess shook her head, putting a finger to her lips. “Enough talking for the moment. You need rest. I’ll tell you everything later, I swear on the gods. But for now, would you like something to eat?” As if in answer, her stomach growled so loudly it drowned out her next words; the princess put a hand over her mouth to hide a smile. “I’ll take that as a yes. I took the liberty of making some food for you.” The bedridden girl’s cheeks warmed; she already felt like she’d racked up a debt she couldn’t even begin to repay. “Please, I couldn’t–” “It’s already done.” The girl waved a hand and in rolled a cart, laden with covered silver dishes. It stopped at the side of the bed, seemingly enchanted by sheer will. The aromas that rose from the food made the girl’s mouth water; she could not resist such a boon, regardless of the state her master was in.
A series of traitorous thoughts bloomed inside of her mind like a cluster of poisonous flowers. After all, hadn’t he been the one to get himself–and her, against her will–into this situation? He was to blame, she was a mere bystander. The only reason she’d even come along was out of curiosity; she held no malice or ill will toward this person, one who had shown her naught but kindness. And she had food. It was too much, and the last of her resistance crumbled into dust. She tried to sit up, though the very motion brought tears of agony to her eyes. But the girl was at her side quicker than blinking, supporting her as she sat up. “I insist on staying here until you’re all right.” She smiled, almost apologetically. “I also took the liberty of patching up your wounds,” she added, patting the back of her own head.
The slave girl’s head was humming with questions unasked or answered, but she stayed mum. She sensed in her gut that whatever qualms this woman happened to have with her master, she wouldn’t hurt her. And the food smelled so good… When was the last time she’d eaten, anyway?
Her hostess unveiled the food: creamy, rich mushroom soup, garnished with chestnuts, a thick, brothy stew studded with stone fruit and a meat that she couldn’t identify, rolls that were still steaming, slathered with fresh butter, roasted carrots and potatoes, smelling of fresh herbs, and for dessert, an apple pie, the spiced fruit peeking out shyly from the perfect lattice that sat atop it. Was this all for her? Even injured, she doubted she’d be able to eat a bounty such as this. Food of this sort was normally reserved for her betters. Perhaps she could persuade the princess–or whomever she actually was–to give whatever was left over to her master, in whatever cell he occupied.
“Did you make all of this yourself?” The girl asked the other as she was seated against a small prop of pillows. The princess nodded, a shy smile bringing out dimples that she hadn’t seen before. “My nanny taught me how to cook, and eventually it became something I did in her memory.” Something sparked in her head at that, but the injured girl tried to focus on the food in front of her. It smelled heavenly, and she picked up a spoon, stirring the soup and cautiously taking a sip. It warmed her insides, fragrant with garlic, thyme, and pepper. It was delicious, and once it stayed down, the once reluctant guest had a hard time not gulping it into her gullet. It was so good; she wasn’t used to such rich fare, but it had been freely given without malice, and she was so tired of resisting.
Fatigue was setting in again, but the girl fought it; it had been at least three days since her last real meal, and stress and her injury had made her ravenous. All the while, the girl remained seated by her bedside, watching her eat as much as she could. It was warm, flavorful, hearty, filling, almost the exact opposite of what she was used to. Her lids grew heavy, and the last thing she saw was the princess smiling at her before sleep snatched her into its gentle embrace.
“Rest. We’ll talk more when you wake, I promise.”
This time, the girl went with the darkness willingly.
Part Four, check it out, y’all! If you have any feedback at all, please message/inbox me either here or on my main blog @thestorychaser . Thanks!