The Kiss that Saved Her (Chapter 1, page 1 of 1)


 
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Chapter 1

The hunter’s bow was cocked and ready to strike. He was nearing sixty years old
and was aware of how the kill would go down. The unsuspecting prey carelessly
allowed him the advantage by being unaware danger was near. He saw it many
times before when he hunted deer. They were his favorite prey as they were as
beautiful as they were easy to kill. But this was no deer. This was a girl of
seventeen. She was raised in a castle with servants. If her parents were alive she
would not be in this danger.
He pulled on the arrow. The target was within his grasp. Sweat poured out of his
skin. He knew he must strike soon. He looked again at the Princess who was
bending down to pick a flower like a maid would choose her brush. The moment
was ideal for a kill. He would be rewarded or executed.
His mind said, Shoot now!
The Queen was like a python ready to squeeze power from the Princess. Power
became everything. Princess Joanna would die by an arrow shot by her own
servant. His hand twitched as if it caught all his guilt.
He thought of his task. Shoot!
Princess Joanna was the rightful heir to her father’s throne. She should marry a
prince, not face death. He let his finger slide on the bow for a second. Sweat had
soaked through his clothes. The girl moved towards another flower as she hummed
a song from long ago — the melody familiar at the moment of discovery.
Shoot her.
He was blameless; it was an order from the Queen. His mind raced with images
of Princess Joanna’s father, mother, great uncles and all her relations; it was as if
they were walking across it.
Shoot.
Even if the people of Bow would not know what really happened, the hunter
would know. He would know. He tugged on the arrow. The arrow vibrated in the
bow like the command vibrated from the Queen’s throat.
The arrow waited on his command.
Shoot?
He lowered his bow.
True power, like love, was given, not taken.
He felt tremendous sorrow because he knew the Queen would kill him. He
thought of his poor wife. Perhaps he could save her. He thought they might escape
over the border to the Kingdom of Ott which was fifty miles away. Then he had a
thought to save everyone. If the Princess would run away from Bow, she might
reach the border and safety. He ran to her and tugged on her shoulder as the
conscience tugs on the soul.
“Princess Joanna,” he said with urgency.
Princess Joanna froze. No one would dare touch her without permission, let
alone tug on her! She was about to scold him when she realized that there might be
immediate danger at hand.
“What is it?”
“I was ordered by your stepmother to take you to this field and kill you. She
fears that you will challenge her for the throne.”
Her eyes darted to his bow strapped across his back and she stepped away from
him.
“I must advise you to run, run to the north as the Kingdom of Ott is but fifty
miles from here and there the Queen has many enemies. She will not be able to
find you. Trust no one. Now take off your cape.”
His mind thought of a plan to cut out a heart from a deer to take to the Queen as
she required him to bring the Princess’ heart back as proof of her death.
“Thank you,” Princess Joanna said.
She realized the danger she was in as she took off her royal cape to give to him
then dashed into the forest adjacent to the hilly meadow. She touched velvety moss
on a tree and headed towards the north. She imagined the army would search for
her relentlessly if he failed to convince the Queen she died.
She ran for the first few miles on the hard dirt then she walked. The forest
smelled of decayed leaves where spiders and bugs crawled near her feet. Plants
penetrated every space in the woods as green thriving examples of the reign of
God.
Princess Joanna moved away from civilization. The ferns on the ground caught
her silk dress until she lifted it up. She ran again, but the path became overgrown
and more difficult. The fate she traveled towards held uncertainty like her
kingdom; power stripped, gutted, and removed from her. Still, she was alive.
Joanna could not predict if the nation would be broken by her stepmother.
*
The Queen waited alone near the statues in the rose garden. As she waited, she
paced and her royal gown became caught on a white rose bush. Her fine silk gown
trapped her to the bush. She snapped the rose in half and left it on the ground.
She wondered why the hunter took so long to return. She longed to remove all
obstacles in her path; the shadow of apprehension stifled her until the task was
complete. To her relief, he approached carrying a cape and a box.
“You're late!” she said.
“Forgive me, Your Majesty.” He bowed a low bow. “It took longer than I
planned. This is her cape.”
He handed her the cape and the box. The Queen took it, looked inside, and
smiled.
“You may go, but tell no one or I will tell my Commander in the Royal Services
to hunt you down and kill you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, my Queen.” He bowed to her and left her in the cultivated garden.
The garden unleashed flowering spring tulips in rows of red and yellow. The
gardens contained an assortment of green bushes. A hawk landed on a round lilac
bush which caused a rabbit to dart out from underneath and run into the thicker
bushes on the other side of the garden.
A wind blew and the scattered trees bent at its command. The fresh breeze lifted
the Princess’ cape up as the Queen held it. She smiled at the thought of her victory;
no more would the Princess challenge her authority.
The Queen felt invincible. Her power became complete. Her smile faded as she
thought of informing the staff of the death. The Queen walked back to her castle
and the trees’ shadows cast dark spots against the grass. She reached the bronze
castle door and she passed two guards who bowed to their Queen.
“I need to see General Stuart,” the Queen said.
“As you desire, Your Majesty.”
The soldier hurried past the main hall in which paintings hung like recollections.
The paintings of the Tower family kings lined the walls. A painting of a budding
garden with a tree above the animals was larger than the others. The lines ran
together to make the tree seem alive like the paintings of the Princess’ family made
the castle seem alive.
The Queen followed her soldier into the Grand Room in the heart of the palace.
She put the cape down on an oak bench and stood near the fireplace covered with
green marble. She saw her reflection in the mirror which rested on the mantel. Her
face had aged, but her lovely high cheeks fitted her regal birth.
The fire flared as it devoured the wooden logs and the Queen looked at her box.
A drop of blood sat on the keyhole. She threw it in the fireplace and the fire
reacted by shrinking, but then it overtook the box — its flames grew mammoth. In
an instant, what had been was no more.
The Queen sat at a desk and took out paper, her long fingers separating the
pieces, and wrote a letter to explain the death of the Princess.
General Stuart wondered why the Queen would summon him, but his duty was
to advise then follow her command. The hallway, thin and tall like a forest canopy
of pines, echoed his steps and the muffled sounds of doors closing in other parts of
the castle seemed to indicate excitement. He approached her and bowed to his
Queen.
The Queen glanced at her General. She wondered what the man, his silver hair
short and his dark uniform fitting his strong frame, would say when he heard the
news. He was fond of the Princess the Queen acknowledged, but she knew he
would follow her command as she understood the workings of her military.
“Your Royal Highness, you wanted to see me,” Stuart stated.
“Yes.” The Queen stopped writing and stood up.
The General did not allow himself to be swept away by the willowy woman
whose vibrant voice compelled others to action. He refused to make the same
mistakes of other commanders as he was the Superior Commander responsible for
the well-being of the kingdom and his judgment must reflect the truth.
She said, “I have been informed by my hunter that the Princess was attacked by
wolves and she died.”
“No!” His posture slumped at the news. Then Stuart added, “When and how?”
General Stuart needed to sit from the shock but didn't dare. Memories of
Princess Joanna replayed in his head and he regretted he did not accompany her
that morning.
“It happened when the hunter took her out for a morning exercise. She traveled
into the woods near the meadow. By the time he reached her, some wild animals
had killed her. There is her cape.” She pointed to the bench.
Stuart felt the heat of the fire, which was almost unbearable, as a bead of sweat
rolled down his neck.
“Where did he place the body?” Stuart saw the Princess' cape, but he wanted
more proof.
The Queen turned away from him as she spoke. “The attack left little remains of
the Princess and he buried her before the birds of prey devoured her corpse.”
“May I send out a search party to confirm his account?” Stuart stepped toward
the fireplace as if to make her face him.
“Not at this time. We must prepare for the funeral. We will need to inform the
other Royals.” The Queen faced him as if she complied with his thoughts.
“We must tell her subjects quickly,” he said.
Stuart tried to understand what happened. He disliked the Queen and his shock
gave way to suspicion. Still, he swore an oath to her. It was the same oath he took
when her husband was alive.
“We will wait to inform them. We will allow the capital city of Pantor to mourn
first, and then we will inform my subjects of the Princess' death. We must keep
order. There will be no uprisings or distant kings coming to rule our kingdom.”
The Queen studied General Stuart.
“As you order.” Stuart bowed.
“You are dismissed,” the Queen said.
The Queen took the cape to the planning room and informed the Minister of the
Kingdom of the terrible news. Then she asked to be left alone to grieve.
The official left her and the Queen looked out the large window and rejoiced.
She planted her hand on the glass with her fingers spread open. The castle window
overlooked the town of Pantor and its majestic cobbled streets. Beyond the gate
many people began their morning unaware that the heir to the throne was not in the
castle.
The Queen would silence any who opposed her and reward those who supported
her. She planned to make Pantor the most envied city in all the kingdoms. She
would restore beauty to the city neglected by her late husband’s lenient ways
towards the common people. She pictured in the city square a marble statue of
herself and generations of children would pay homage to it. Her joy overwhelmed
her, except the Queen felt a quiver in her hand. She thought it strange.
General Stuart made his way out of the Great Hall to the narrow corridor and
passed an empty room. The statues stood in the room waiting to be catalogued. The
Queen planned to redecorate again. He made for the front entrance of the castle
and the other soldiers. He almost told them the news, but he spotted another room
off the main entrance — a small chapel. Stuart slipped inside to pray.

 
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