It’s almost been ten minutes since I came to this room. Luke’s letter is wrinkled in my sweaty hands as I open it, read the short note, and close it again. Over and over. He said to meet here at noon.
I don’t know why he would want to meet here instead of any of our regular areas. I like most when we visit the castle’s petting zoo. Luke says it’s just a stable, but they have all sorts of animals: horses, llamas, piglets, and a handful of hardworking orange cats that keep the mice in line. Nobody bothers us when we’re there. I get to talk to Wren and listen to his day while I pet the friendly creatures. It’s the happiest I ever feel.
We have a tiny camp near the woods, too. That’s Luke’s favorite. He’s far away from the castle and the worries of being a prince. People are always trying to trick him or stab him or kidnap him. It’s a lot tougher than being the only son of the head cook.
The door finally opens. I stumble off of the rickety stool I’ve been using to look out the tiny window near the ceiling. My heart a stuttering clock in my chest, I push back my hair from my forehead and smile over at my best friend.
Except it’s not him.
I stuff my wrinkled letter into my pocket and tilt my head down as I bow at the princess stepping into this odd storage closet on the left side of the castle. “Princess Taliya?”
I’m supposed to say everything with respect and admiration for the ruling class. It doesn’t come out that way, of course. Instead, it’s a question. I don’t know why she’s here and I want to know why she’s here. What am I even supposed to say next? It’s not customary for me to get trapped into a room with any member of royalty besides Prince Luke.
Stepping all of the way in and shutting the door behind herself, I hear the brief sound of the lock clicking into place. These old castles are so hard to escape. The locks haven’t been properly cared for in a long time. Hopefully the mechanism doesn’t break. That last thing I truly want is to be trapped in here with her for any extended amount of time.
Carefully, she pulls a bird cage out from behind her back and sets it on a dusty table near the door. “Did you like your note, Zachariah?”
That’s not my name. Princess Taliya is a visitor from another country who is set on always making everything and everyone around her fancier than it really is. I’m just Zac. I don’t tell her that. There’s no point in arguing with the noble class. There’s really no reason she should be so invested in me and I try really hard not to let any sign of annoyance cross my face.
I play over her words in my mind. Note. The note that’s crumpled into my pocket. It’s signed in by Luke. How would she know it exists?
Before I can say anything, her pink lips peel back into a vicious smile. “Prince Luke is very handsome, but quite easy to manipulate. It took me only two tries to get him to sign a piece of paper for me under the guise that it would be for my personal journal. Then, I just jotted down a meeting time and place for you, had a servant deliver it, and,” she claps her hands loudly, “voila! You appeared like a good boy.”
Words. There’s no words in my personal arsenal for this situation. I’ve grown up most of my nineteen years around this castle and the upper class. I’ve had a handful of tense situations to talk myself out of or walk away from, but nothing like this.
“Why?” I finally choke out, wiping my sweaty hands on my pants as I stare across the space at her pristine, grey dress.
She gives me a shrug. “The Prince is having trouble focusing on making his decision on whether or not to marry me by the end of the month and I don’t have time to dilly dally, so I needed to get rid of you.”
My eyes feel like they’re going to roll out of my skull. She laughs at me. I have never been good at composure or standing my ground and I hate it very much right now.
“Not kill you or anything, Zacariah. You’re not worth that kind of trouble.” Pulling a small book from some hidden pocket in her gown, she flips to a pre-marked page while she continues to state her intentions. “I just need the weekend really and I thought it would be cruel to have you shipped off or thrown in the dungeon, so I’ve come up with a plan to leave you unbound and alive. Isn’t that wonderful?”
I can’t force myself to meet her wicked gaze. The window is too small for me to slip out of and honestly we’re too high up for me to survive that kind of escape attempt anyway. My mother has never told me about my father, but I doubt there’s any immortal blood laying dormant in my veins. I either have to get through the princess by the door or deal with her insane punishment.
“You look tense, Zacariah. You should have a cocktail and relax.”
She shouldn’t be able to move this fast. Certainly not in heels and around her swishing skirts. No matter the logic of this moment, she has crossed the room and left me no space to escape. I made the expected reaction of a serving boy. I didn’t step forward and face her. I didn’t duck out the door or make an attempt to get out of the door. I staggered backwards. Cornered, my back pressed to a dusty shelf, I ignore the clatter of abandoned glass bottles as I duck my head and avoid the vial she’s trying to push my way.
“One sip, kitchen brat.”
Stop. Please. I am thinking the words loudly in my mind, but I don’t dare say them. I have my lips sealed. She isn’t getting some magic potion into my system.
She wasn’t going to get it into my system.
The woman is more feral animal than princess. Stomping on my foot and fisting my hair in her free hand, she manages to make me yelp. The potion vial is upended into my mouth. It’s a purple, gloppy mixture that chokes me as it slides over my tongue and down my throat. There’s a hint of blackberries around the otherwise disgusting dirt-flavor of the concoction. I gag and cough, splattering the princess’ dress in an effort to not drink the potion.
Princess Taliya staggers back, grumbling some words as she uses a handkerchief to dab at the spots on her chest. Spell. Potion and magic spell. The princess is a witch.
I have to tell Luke. He can’t marry someone like this. She’ll turn him into a toad and take over the country.
Speaking of toads, I panic as the room starts to stretch. Not stretch. I’m shrinking.
“What have you-?”
I don’t get the whole question out before a wretched squawk cuts me off. Not from her. Me. I’m making horrible croaking caws.
What am I? What did she do?
Hopping from one foot to the other to make sure I still have both of them, I glance down. Talons. Black knobby ankles and inch long nails that click, click, click on the floor as I scamper around.
I try to cover my face as I gasp in another croaking groan. Not hands. No fingers. Feathers.
Glossy and black and I croak again.
Wriggling to turn my head to see the rest of myself, I nearly collapse in a heap on the floor. I’m a bird. She turned me into a bird!
Crap, crap, crap. I’m not even a cool bird. She could have chosen an eagle or a peacock or something, but instead I’m a hands-height off of the ground with heavy, black feathers and the singing voice of an incredibly sick creature. Heck, I’m the official sign of bad luck in this country. Nobody is going to want to see me around here. Not even Luke.
I have to get out of here.
If I can’t stand up for myself, I have to at least do it for him. The sole heir to the throne cannot become a freakin’ crow.
Princess Taliya is talking, her voice is incredibly shrill down here as she fiddles with that cage in the corner. I’m not sticking around to find out how spacious that thing is. Spreading my wings, I flap and flap and flap and…
Go absolutely nowhere.
Triple crap again.
Feet it is.
Shoulders hunched, I shimmy forward on legs that seem as thin as toothpicks. Princess Taliya turns in time to see me lurching towards the door. She laughs. The booming sound reverberates off of the walls.
“I was going to put some food in here for you, but if you’re so ready to go, I’ll just let you go. One less annoying thing I have to check before I get that ring on my finger.”
I should be bothered by her words. I am. Probably somewhere under all of these feathers, but I don’t have time to reconsider. I will not be a prisoner in this dusty room.
Luke needs me.
Honestly, the whole kingdom needs me.
Crow or not, I’m going to save the day.
I hope everyone enjoyed a different character voice this week. I have a dream to do an entire “medieval” fantasy series where princesses become pirates and the kitchen staff can be heroes. Zac is just a small portion of that! Let me know what you thought in the comments below and thanks for showing up for another Saturday!
Please be sure to also check out Bridgette’s story about an Octopus: The Octopus in the Room
See you all next Saturday!