Life or Death

Submitted into Contest #66 in response to: Write about a contest with life or death stakes.... view prompt

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LGBTQ+ Teens & Young Adult Fantasy

This is life or death.

That was what the poster said. I rolled my eyes. It was so stupid. Every single year, there would be a contest for the king’s champion. The champion would be chosen based on a series of contests that sometimes proved fatal. The winner would go up against the dark knight who had kidnapped the princess of the kingdom, Lira, and only one would survive. Did I forget anything? Oh yeah. I’m one of the judges.

Lira’s mother died a very long time ago, and the new Queen, Elena, is my mother, which makes us stepsisters. Which makes the King my stepfather. 

Which makes me, Jasmine, the perfect judge for the contest. Along with Lira’s younger brother Kent, my mother, the King, and an empty chair. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to honour the late Queen or the missing Princess, but no one ever sits there. It’s forbidden. 

Kent is a total misogynistic jerk. He’s always hitting on me. And the maids. And the ladies of the court. Anyone, really. He is seventeen years old, and next year he will be old enough to be king. He’ll probably outlaw the contest. And women working. And dragon habitat conservation efforts. So anyway, this is the last opportunity for the princess to be rescued. 

And the stakes are high.

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“Jasmine! There you are,” Sable pulls me into the broom closet where she and the other maids keep their brooms, “Kent just hit on me again. Part of me thinks I should just give him what he wants so he’ll leave me alone.”  She looked at me like she wanted my opinion in the matter. So I gave it to her. 

“See, but then I’d have to share you,” I said, “ and you know I hate to share.” 

And then we were kissing. Before I met Sable, I had no clue about love. I assumed that I’d get married to some nobleman, and be a lady of the court with some guy I didn’t care for, but didn’t hate either. Then I realized the reason why I had never had a boyfriend was because I wanted a girlfriend. 

And my whole life changed. 

My mom, AKA the most amazing person ever, knew about her, but my stepdad, AKA the most homophobic guy in the world didn’t, and neither did my stepbrother. Sable, unlike me, had always known she’d been bi, but we both agreed to keep it a secret. We didn’t know who would tell the king. 

We had a good twenty-seven minutes to ourselves before a bell tolled for three o clock. Shit. I had to go get ready for the announcement of the winner. This part is always frustrating because the champion usually makes a big show of backing out and being convinced by the king to stay by being offered some big reward. Who knows what he is going to have to give the victor this year, the last chance to save princess Lira. 

It’s not going to be good.

“Let me guess,” said Sable as she fixed her apron over her dress and I slid on my tiara I had to wear on top of my black pixie cut, “you have to go get ready.” I nodded reluctantly, and she sighed, leaving the closet and slamming the door behind her. She could be such a drama queen sometimes. But I didn’t have time to worry about Sable’s attitude. I needed to get changed. 

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Walking to such a big event is never walking, it’s gliding. I can’t be a normal person here, I have to be royalty. I hate it. And I seem to be the only one. As I climb the stairs to the arena’s balcony I can see my mom laughing and smiling, her arm draped around my stepfather’s shoulders as they drink champagne and chat with some nobleman and his wife. My stepbrother isn’t here yet, thank god, because if he hits on me one more time I will snap, and this is the most important event of the year. My silver dress with black swirls on the skirt nearly trips me, and I curse silently as I grab onto the railing so I don’t fall. So much for poise. The black stones in my earrings sway as I struggle to keep my balance with these stupid silver heels my mom made me wear. Completing the ensemble, the silver tiara with intricate framework and three stones, the black ones on either side matching my earrings, and the center emerald matching my eyes. I look like a perfect princess. Yay.

It’s a miracle I manage to make it to my chair and sit on it without tripping. I gaze at my mother. We are like twins, but her hair is longer. Her dress is pink with green swirls, and her crown is a rosy copper with exactly seven emeralds. I’ve counted. 

Then my stepbrother walks in, and in some small miracle he has managed to find a date. Her dress is one of the many he keeps in his closet for whichever girls he’s found himself with at any given time. It’s red, like blood, and anger. Her hair is brown and tied in a fancy braid. Her eyes are deep, dark black. Sable black. She was named after those eyes. 

I glare at Sable, tears blurring my vision as she glides down the stairs.

Part of me thinks I should just give him what he wants. 

Apparently she wanted it too. I walk up to my stepbrother, giving him a hug like l am expected to do every time an event like this takes place. Then I whisper in Sable’s ear, “It’s over,” as I pass them down the stairs to see my mom. She hugs me, and whispers, “Be strong now, cry later. I promise I’ll have cookies waiting.” She’s awesome like that. 

I walk with the king and queen up to the balcony, where Sable thankfully has to stand. I ignore her completely. 

My stepfather is giving a speech about love and family and bloodlines or whatnot, and I tune in so I don’t have to think about my ex. 

“...glad to announce that the winner this year is Lord Earl of Neston. Lord Earl, you have earned the privilege of traveling to the wildlands of Atheum to search for my dear daughter Princess Lira, the crown princess of Castleton. If you should return, the princess will be coronated within a fortnight… and you shall be married the same day.”

Whispers emerged from the crowd. No one had ever been offered the princess’ hand in marriage before, and to be king on top of it all? It was unheard of. The king must be desperate.

Earl emerged from the crowd, “Thank you your majesty,” he drawled, and I disliked him immediately, “but I have no interest in being king, nor the hand of your daughter. Instead, I want to marry Princess Jasmine.”

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Princess Jasmine.

Jasmine.

That was my name. He wanted to marry me. And apparently, he also wanted me to come with him to rescue Princess Lira, so he could save me from the wilderness and I would fall madly in love with him, or some such craziness. I didn’t think so. 

But nevertheless, two days later, I was all dressed up in some tunic with embroidery (why?) and boots, and warm pants and a coat, and a horse and two saddlebags filled with supplies, and Lord Earl’s emerald engagement ring. Because no matter how my mother and I begged, there was nothing we could do short of killing me to prevent the marriage and the trip. 

Lord Earl of Neston took it upon himself to ignore my royal title, so in turn I called him Earl. he hated that, saying I should call him ‘my lord,’ or at the very least ‘my love,’ until we were married. That did nothing to improve my opinion of him. 

I soon learned that the lord of Neston had two younger sisters, twins, who hung on his every word. His father had taught him that women were damsels, and his older brother treated them like property. Earl had clearly learned from the best. 

When we were about half a day’s ride from the abandoned manor where the knight was apparently holding the princess, we stopped and he said, “I must carry on alone, my sweet, for if you come you will surely be injured, or worse, and I would sooner die than let that happen.”

“Wow, you are really overdoing it. Okay, whatever, sure. I’ll be here.”

“If I do not return in two days time, I will surely have perished, as unlikely as that is, but there is a reason no one has ever returned from this perilous journey.” he turned his head away as if he was ashamed to admit it. 

“Two day’s time?” I prompted.

“Yes! If I have not returned by then, run and save yourself! I beseech you, you must not risk yourself for me.”

“No chance of that,” I muttered.

“I love you my darling! I shall return in two days and we shall be married within the fortnight of our victorious return to Castleton!”

He rode off into the sunset, and I suppose it would have been romantic if I actually cared for him at all. I rolled my eyes and decided I would make a fire. What? I was cold. 

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Two days passed, and Earl was nowhere to be found. I was half relieved- I wouldn't have to marry that idiot. But I was also worried. If Earl didn’t return with the princess, Kent would be crowned king next year. Which means that Castleton would be ruled by a misogynist jerk with no regard for anything but his own ego. 

So I set off after my fiance.

I traveled for half a day before I found the manor where the princess was being kept. And I literally walked in through the front door. 

There was no dark knight, no Earl, just a whole bunch of empty rooms. Still, I searched the house from top to bottom.

Then I found the attic.

Inside, a girl about my age was reading a book called, ‘The Art of Not Being Rescued.’ 

Her hair was auburn and curly and down to just above her shoulders. She was wearing clothes like mine. But the first thing I noticed was her eyes. They were jewel toned, like mine, but these weren’t emeralds. 

They were sapphires.

She must have heard me enter, because she closed her book and said, “What do you want?”

“Princess Lira?” I said, surprised I could speak, “I’m here to save you. Well technically, Lord Earl of Neston was here to save you, but he told me to stay behind, so naturally I followed him. Have you seen him?”

“What part of me reading a book about not being rescued leads you to believe I want to be saved? And I have no idea where your one true love took off to, but he took one look at that knight and ran. Idiot.”

“So he’s not dead?”

“Nope.” 

“Oh. Why would you think he’s my true love?”

“Because you’re wearing an engagement ring with his family crest on it?”

I looked down, “Oh yeah. Well it’s not like I want to marry him, but your dad made me.”

This got her attention. 

“What do you mean?”

Her voice was dangerous all of a sudden.

“Well, he was offered your hand in marriage if he rescued you, but he asked for mine instead. Also, where’s the knight guy who kidnapped you?”

“No clue. He only comes around once a week to feed me. After he scared away my would be rescuer, he left. Usually he kills them, but yours was a coward. Not that I wanted him to save me.”

“If the knight only comes once a week, why don’t you escape? It’s not like the door is locked.”

“Well, I tried it once, he came after me. Besides, what do I have to run away to?”

“Castleton? Your dad misses you.”

“You don’t get it, do you? He’s the reason I’m in here in the first place.”

“You mean your dad wants you here?”

“He hates me. He doesn’t want me being queen.”

“Why, what did you do?”

“I can see the future. In five hundred years there will be a worldwide pandemic and we’ll have to wear cloth on our faces and communicate with each other using metal tablets with blinking lights.”

“Really?”

“No. Did you believe that? I can’t see the future,”

She took a deep breath, “I came out to my dad.”

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Lira and I were seated on her bed, neither of us smiling. I was still getting over the fact that the guy my mom had married had set up his own daughter’s kidnapping. And she was surprised that her dad had remarried and has another daughter to ‘replace her’. 

“I guess he has the worst luck ever then, because I’m gay too.”

“Ever had a girlfriend?”

“She’s with your brother now.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. It sounds kinda lame compared to your problems though.”

“Your girlfriend dumped you for my brother. She must be crazy.”

“Really?”

“To date my brother? Hell yeah.”

“I know, he’s awful.”

“Yeah. You know, you should probably be getting back to Castleton, though.” 

“What? No, we can’t let the king get away with this. You have to come with me and stop him.”

“Me? No way, not in a million years.”

This was actually the first time in my life I was glad to see Lord Earl of Neston, and the last. Nevertheless, he was actually useful for once. He burst through the door exclaiming, “Huzzah! I have vanquished your captor the dark knight, and shall accompany you back to Castleton where your father will be overjoyed to be reunited with- My love! Have you been captured by that foul knave? Fear not, I have rescued you and let us go home and be wed!”

Again, he is really overdoing it.

Lira protested, saying she didn’t want to go back, but Earl grabbed her and carried her to his horse where he rode back with her to Castleton. I followed. 

Once we got back, Earl and Lira got all the attention, and I was able to pass unnoticed. Despite the fact that Earl had in so many words proposed to me in front of the entire court, everyone was whispering about him being in love with the princess. I rolled my eyes, and as I headed to see my mom I saw the king glowering from a balcony. I shivered.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to go find my mom, because she found me. As soon as I stepped inside she swept me up in a hug and said,

 “I was so worried as soon as you left I had half a mind to jump on a horse and ride after you except your stepfather stopped me and plus I don’t know how to ride a horse but I would have gone after you anyways because I love you so much and now you have to marry that guy and I’m so sorry maybe he’ll marry the princess now so you don’t have to marry him and then you can pretend you’re heartbroken and never have to marry but keep the ring it matches your eyes and oh my god I never gave you those cookies and-” 

“Mom! Breathe!”

She stopped and took a deep breath, “Sorry. Let's start over. How was your trip?”

I told her the entire story, including what I had discovered about the king. When I was finished, her eyes were stone cold. 

“So what do we do now?” I asked.  

“Nothing.”

“Excuse me?”

We are doing nothing. I am going to talk to the king about it.”

I tried to protest, but mom cut me off, “Now. You must be very tired after your trip. How about you go to bed early tonight?”

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I woke up the next morning to the sound of shouting. I heard distinctly a chant of  “Go on, get out!” and a sarcastic, “Long live the king.” I got out of bed and looked out my window.

A figure that looked suspiciously like my stepfather without the crown was running out of the courtyard. He ran down the field and into the forest. The people jeered. 

Then my door opened and Lira ran in, “Jasmine! Jaz! Your mom confronted my dad in front of the entire castle this morning and he took off! He’s gone! Thank you thank you thank you!” 

“What?”

“And he left the crown! Your mom says she’s going to coronate me today! I’m going to be queen!”

“What?” 

“You’re not a morning person, are you?”

“Um… no.”

“Come on! You have to get changed!”

I’d never seen her this happy. She raced through the closet, pulling out gowns and earrings and tiaras. She finally settled on an black gown with silver trim for me. She didn’t wear a tiara, but she gave me a silver tiara, and decorative black and silver earrings and a necklace with no jewels. The result was that I was completely in shades of black and silver, which really made my eyes stand out. As for her, she did the same with white and gold. Her beautiful sapphire blue eyes glowed with happiness.

At the coronation, my mom bestowed the crown on the new queen, and I got to stand right next to them. The ceremony was beautiful. 

Once it was over, Lira stood and said, “I would like to officially thank the person who brought me home, Princess Jasmine!”

Everyone, especially Earl, looked shocked. I smiled.

Then, she did something  even more unexpected. She kissed me. 

Amid shocked gasps and happy cries from the court, I smiled and kissed her back.

The End

November 03, 2020 17:31

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If you read this, please give only positive or constructive feedback. Thank you!

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Noah Morrow
15:35 Nov 12, 2020

very good story

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Ari Berri
16:29 Nov 11, 2020

This is awesome! Great job!

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