It's an art to find the right ingredient for poison. Many people are lazy about it, relying on dodgy little apothecaries or settling for just any lethal concoction.
No. This is something carefully done, and I steadied my hand, delicately arranging the blade at the Rania flower stem.
I held my breath, willing my heartbeat to slow as I sliced. Perfect, it was a clean cut through the stem, and as I examined the handkerchief I was pleased to learn that not much juice had leaked out.
Sighing, I dragged a hand across my heated forehead, nimbly jumping down from the rocky little hill I had climbed to reach the flower. Strewn and crushed under my feet were the unsuccessful flowers, who bled far too much juice to be of any use.
It was a long, hot trek back to my horse, but I couldn't risk him eating any of the flowers. The horse seemed content enough as I approached, out of breath and filthy from my endeavours, raising his large head from the sweet grasses.
"Success, Y'Gard," I informed him, gingerly placing the wrapped flower in a glass vial the court alchemist had given me. "I thank you for your patience, but this couldn't be rushed." With that, I hoisted myself back onto the horse, lazily running a hand over the saddle to assure myself that everything was in order. "Yah," I kicked lightly, spurring the horse into action.
Gods, I loved rides in the sloping, slow hills around the castle. Y'Gard's thunderous hoofbeats, the wind rushing past me, stealing my breath away. Sun, betrothals, parental disappointment were forgotten as Y’Gard and I made our way through the Emerald Forest, navigating branches, jumping over fallen trees, and listening for the many dangers that lurked.
Today the forest was especially alive, and I caught glimpses of some of its rare treasures: unicorns, fluttering pixies, lurking trolls.
Normally, I would stop, collect samples, maybe kill a forbidden beast or two. I was out of mermaid tail scales, and my pixie wing collection had dwindled to one or two wings, but today was not the day for distractions.
"Many thanks," I whispered to my horse as we entered the city limits, and I finally slowed, recognizing that Y'Gard was probably exhausted. I got off the horse, patting his sides, walking him back up to the stables.
Sneaking back to my room required another form of magic, because no doubt my mother was on the hunt for me now. I was supposed to be getting ready for the betrothal ball tonight, something which apparently required an entire day of work.
Some maids snickered indulgently as I passed, clearly aware that I was in trouble. I smiled back at them, employing nonexistent charm.
My caretaker was almost in hysterics, and it took every ounce of convincing I had to force him to speed through the process of getting me ready.
"Does my hair really need cutting?" I challenged as he whipped out some short shears after my cold bath.
"Your Highness, the Queen will have me skinned!" Versanthe snapped, pushing me into a seat. "We're already blowing through the perfuming, readjusting some of the detailing on your regalia, and-"
"Yes, yes." I gritted my teeth, putting up with a few more things before telling Versanthe that I had never looked this amazing. A few workers brought in a large, ceremonial bouquet, insisting that there was no room for it anywhere else in the castle.
“Leave it, and get out,” I told the workers, flapping a hand. “And you, out! Move it.”
"Your Highness, please! The Queen-" Versanthe protested as I herded him and his helpers out the door.
"-will be astonished at what you've done to me! I look prettier than the princess now, thank you!" I slammed the door on them, sliding my scabbard through the handles to keep them out.
Swearing at the time, I quickly retrieved the small cauldron the alchemist had given me and began the process of distilling the poison from the secret ingredient: Rania flower. I made sure that the window was open, and flung a cloth across my face to escape the fumes.
Mercifully, my sabotage last night had worked, and my mother was likely occupied in replacing the table cloths I had shredded, cleaning the throne room I had vandalized, and taking down all the offensive banners and pamphlets I had hung and hidden everywhere.
My sabotage undid weeks of work, but my plan today would destroy years of work, cripple a kingdom, so I wasn't too ashamed about harassing my mother for a few hours.
Finally, the flower's juices had created a delicate, almost silvery poison. I bottled a little bit of it into a vial and then wondered what to do with the rest. Should I poison more people? Should I sneak little traces of it into the food?
A knock on the door startled me from my thoughts, and suddenly the door began rattling.
"Everard?" My mother positively growled from outside, and I swore, looking around frantically before noticing the large bouquet.
I quickly splashed the remaining poison at its roots, panting.
What a wasted opportunity, but I had what I needed. My mother barked out commands after I let her in, demanding that Versanthe fix literally invisible flaws.
I tolerated it, and finally, the time came for all of us to gather in the Great Hall. Our family were the royal hosts, so we took our seats first, everyone sitting to the right of my father according to importance.
It was ridiculous how much they’d decorated for my betrothal. Every gleaming glass, blooming rose, polished plate, and shining floor was a reminder of the sheer stupidity of all this.
I wondered how many servants mother had worked to death, making them scrub the walls and string up heavy chandeliers until the whole room was one sickening, shining mirror.
Then the princess’ family entered, her insipid, eternally ill father, her gossiping mother, and the holy cow herself, the Princess, and all little siblings.
I hated them. No amount of pranks, insulting behaviour, or literal threats had gotten them to call off our engagement.
Customarily, we rose and did the typical bowing and smiling. I held back, not half as willing as my father was to get a knife in the back.
It was remarkable how quickly everyone had forgotten that these people were the enemy.
Once the dancing started, I instructed a servant to fetch me jasmine, the royal flower of the Princess’ lands.
I gently sprinkled it with the poison, grateful for once that Versanthe’s ridiculous amount of dressing included gloves. This was going to be the last time anyone tried to force a kingdom or marriage on me. Then I got up, playing the typical part of lovestruck prince.
It wasn’t hard, the Princess wasn’t unattractive or anything. Her handmaids and her looked shocked as I approached, since I had tried my hardest to piss off her family spectacularly enough that they called off the engagement.
I bowed deeply to the Princess, holding out the delicate white flower.
She blushed, her pale face almost turning the shade of her red dress. “Thank you, your majesty.” She smiled shyly, accepting the flower from me. I couldn’t stop my grin as she inhaled its scent deeply, clearly too polite to say anything about its strange scent.
“A dance my lady?” I extended a hand, taking her pale, cool hand in my sun burnished ones.
My mother looked approving and relieved, while my father narrowed his eyes.
I spun the Princess into a dance, and we looked quite striking, I imagined, my gold and blue uniform and her brilliantly scarlet dress perfectly clashing.
The music crescendoed, I spun her again, noting her slight stumbles and shallow breaths.
See, no subtle poisons for me. I demanded theatre, and I held the Princess tighter, moving both of us through motions the dance forced us to do.
It was nothing personal, simply a protest against my life getting controlled for me, and I knew she could understand that.
I had purposefully picked this demanding, fast tune for our dance, knowing that the harder her heart beat, the more the poison would spread.
The Princess' startlingly blue eyes stared into mine, bewildered. She didn't understand the irony of this moment: me using a flower, putting poison on another flower, to kill a Princess of a flowery kingdom.
The music swelled as we moved, the Princess blanching more, the murmuring of onlookers a ghostly accompaniment to our dance.
Blood was trailing out of her eyes and nose now, and she finally looked at me with terrifying comprehension. I couldn't stand that, so I smiled, and spun her away from me.
She spun, and spun slower, more drunkenly. Someone screamed, toppling a wine glass. The music took another dramatic turn, and gods, I lived for this, reveling in the overlapping melodies.
The Princess collapsed, as the wine glass clattered, both of them spilling out on the floor.
The room glittered and gasped, as the Princess choked, her red dress pooling on the floor like a puddle of blood.
I met my father’s accusing eyes, and bowed, my rebellion complete.
Then I noticed the trickle of blood seeping out of my father's eye, noticed that my mother was keeling over, the entire royal families of both houses were trickling blood, and a significant number of servants collapsing.
My eyes were drawn to the bouquet, the large one that had been in my room, centred behind the tables and I began to laugh, utterly shocked.
We had all been breathing in my poison for hours now. I wiped a hand across my face, spitting out blood.
What the hell have I done?