The Queen and the CureBy: Amy Harmon
Light glanced off of the empty throne and streaked across the wide room, peeking around corners and climbing the walls. Silence was the only occupant. Something fluttered overhead, breaking the stillness. Vines with leaves so emerald they appeared black in the shadows, wrapped their way around the rocks and past the windows, filtering the light and casting the interior in a wash of green. The castle was holding her breath. She’d been holding her breath for so long.
There were no animals inside the castle walls—maybe a small mouse or a bird in the forest of trees—but no grazing cattle or galloping horses. No dogs barked, no lazy cats sunned themselves on the rock walls. No pigs in the sty or chickens in the coops. Nothing that required care, nothing that needed tending to. But the spiders had been busy. Webs clung and quivered, draped over the portraits and the sconces on the walls, swinging from the chandeliers and tapestries, creating an illusion of lace on every surface. Goblets and silver saucers were set upon the long banquet table, the platters and bowls filled with empty expectations making a long, neat row down the center.
Beyond the castle yard, rows of trees, one beside the other, the branches intertwining and their trunks pressed together like lovers in the dark, stretched in an impenetrable ring around the castle, a forest of silent watchers, living but lost in timelessness. Trees of every kind, interspersed and interwoven, created a dense wall encircling the castle. Some trees grew only as high as a tall man while others soared into the sky, their trunks wider than a circle of six maidens with their hands joined in a May Day dance. Upon closer inspection, some of the trees had faces, a series of hollows and rises that gave each one personality and character. One had the look of a dozing giant, one the appearance of a child at play.
The trees were not aware of the passing of days or the turn of the seasons. They simply slept, locked inside where nothing could touch them or take them away. No one had thought to wake them and tell them the terror had passed.
“Everything has an origin story. Every place. Every person. We come from the womb of a woman, who came from the womb of a woman, who came from the womb of a woman. We inherit gifts and weakness, we are born in triumph and strife, we are swaddled in kindness or indifference, and we are made to learn and walk among others who have their own origin stories, their own burdens, and their own history.”
Sasha’s voice was low and lilting as she bathed the feverish head of her aging master, telling her stories that calmed and comforted, distracting the old woman from her pain and her fear. Death hovered around the small stone house, scratching at the door, peeping through the windows, impatient to make its claim.
“What is your origin story, Sasha?” the old woman pleaded, a question she’d asked a hundred times.
“I don’t know mine, Mistress Mina,” Sasha soothed.
“You must go and find it,” the old woman insisted weakly.
“Go where?” Sasha asked patiently. The conversation had become almost a ritual.
“Your gift will lead you.”
“Why do you insist on calling it a gift?” Sasha pressed.
Mina sighed heavily. “You know why. You know the legend. Tell me the story again.”
Sasha did not sigh, though the story that filled her head was one she’d told so many times it seemed rote and tired, devoid of magic or truth, though her mistress insisted it was the origin story of all mankind, even Sasha.
“With words, God created worlds,” Sasha began, and the old woman relaxed, her eyeballs quivering, seeing the story behind her lids. Sasha spoke softly, soothingly, but felt little solace herself. “With words, He created light and dark, water and air, plants and trees, birds and beasts, and from the dust and the dirt of those worlds, He created children, two sons and two daughters, forming them in his image and breathing life into their bodies of clay,” she recited obediently.
“That’s right,” Mina murmured, nodding. “You tell the story so well. Tell me more.”
“In the beginning, the Creator gave each child a word, a powerful word, which called down a special ability, a precious gift to guide them in their journey through their world. One son was given the word change, which gifted him the ability to transform himself into the beasts of the forest or the creatures of the air. One daughter was given the word spin, for she could spin all manner of things into gold. The grass, the leaves, a strand of her hair. The word heal was given to another son, to cure illness and injury among his brothers and sisters. Another daughter was given the word tell, and she could predict what was to come. Some said she could even shape the future with the power of her words.