Fantasy Mystery Coming of Age

Nursey always said, “it’s all fun and games until someone loses an arm!”

Well, he didn’t always say that. In fact, he only said it a few times. I would say a handful of times, and even then I’m probably overegging it. Sometimes, there is something that is said, or that is done and it stands out in a way that makes it seem like it’s always been there and it’s been there a lot. Significance attaches itself to a thing and gives it a whole other life. 

Naughty significance!

I used to laugh at big old Nursey and dismiss his seemingly random ramblings. He was as mad as a basket of frogs lodged in an elephant’s ear, as far as I was concerned. 

More fool me, for fools speak as many wise words as all but the very wise, and those rare wise people learnt to keep their mouths shut long before they became very wise. The mouth-shut thing is a prerequisite of the Apprenticeship of Knowledge and I once overheard Wise Old Moggins say that it was as much survival instinct as anything else. As with a great many things that I heard in my younger years, I didn’t have a clue what it meant. I might still be off the mark even now, but I think the grey bearded sage had seen his fair share of times when someone spoke wise truth and paid dearly for it. It’s one thing to know a thing, it’s another thing to know what should be done with it. So wise people watch, listen and learn and they are exceedingly careful with whatever they may say. After all, they run the gauntlet of some buffoon or nincompoop quoting them after the fact, and pointing out that they are wise and should therefore know better. Who better to blame than a wise man? Foolish not to, if you ask me.

Please note my purposeful use of man. Men are more conspicuous than women. It’s how they’re made. They really can’t help it. Show offs they are. Even the wise ones. Wise women manage to stay out of the madness and confusion, and they let the wise men take the occasional fall. Also, several times after lights out, I saw Wise Old Moggins consulting with Molly Ogden. Sneaking about in the castle when all was still and the quiet was disturbed only by the snoring of the slumberers and the squeaks of the rats as they tidied up in the banquet hall. Moggins and Molly had some rigorously heated debates that could go on for hours. Wise people have deceptive and surprising levels of stamina when it comes to the structured discussion of deep knowledge.

Knowledge and wisdom are the bane of my confused and confusing life. I was surrounded with the stuff and I was tutored sufficiently that I was one of the most clever people in my father’s kingdom, and yet I fell prey to the most simple and silly of traps. It seems that we’re only as clever as our last mistake, and avoiding mistakes is the best way to make them.

I’m not proud of that. In fact, I’m less proud now, all these years later, than I was when I was tricked. Fun and games. But not all games are fun, and there are many, many games, so we can never know the rules to all of them. Sometimes, you don’t even know you’re playing a game, let alone which game it is that you are playing. That’s when it can get dangerous. I should have known though. I really should have known.

My dear mother died when I was too young to remember her. Memory is a cruel and fickle creature. I think I remember something of her, but it’s a blur, more a feeling than anything else. I wish I could see her face when I close my eyes. That lack will always hurt me. I feel inadequate because I cannot remember my mother’s face. It is a betrayal and that betrayal is mine and mine alone. I may as well have been responsible for her death. I doubt I’d feel any worse if I had been.

Thankfully, my Father, King Gerald remembered my mother and he remembered her very well indeed. He told me all about her when I was a small child. I loved the stories he told of her. He was always animated as he recollected the woman he’d loved; my dear mother. I could see the love he had for her any time he spoke of her. He shined in a way that he never did at any other time, and he and I shared that. Those were good times. The greatest of times. All children should have those golden moments with their parents. That is the pirates’ treasure, only there should be no need of a map to discover this treasure. The treasure should not be buried. Or, if that is the game, then parent and child should go on the adventure hand-in-hand and the journey to the treasure should be as much the treasure as anything they may find at the end. Maybe I am wiser than I give myself credit for. Maybe.

Now, one thing I do remember about my mother is cake. How can I not remember cake! The memory of mother and cake may have been resurrected by father and he may have filled in much of the detail, but that matters not. What matters is that it feels right. What matters is that it speaks to me in a way that many things in this life cannot. Mother loved cake so much that she baked. Even as a queen, she actually baked. Her love of cake made her famous and beloved because she shared this passion with anyone and everyone. She even created an annual cake day that father renamed Matilda Day a year after she passed.

Matilda Day was a celebration of celebrations. Food was central to it, but it was the meaning and truth of food that counted. Food is something that we can share in a unique and yet universal way. Mother wanted to encourage everyone to come together and share food, to experience it in as pure a way as was possible. The sharing of food on this day was an incredible leveller. There was more than enough for everyone and so the people came together, reluctantly at first, but soon enough casting aside their inhibitions and enjoying the experiences that food conveys; the taste, the atmosphere and the company. 

The simple joy of a shared meal.

All good things come to an end. Nothing lasts forever. Sadly, the passing of beauty is often not noted or remarked upon until well after its loss. I cannot say when it was that things changed between myself and my father, but I can give you the reason for it. I can exactly pin point the change, and she was Lady Wolfe. 

Lady Wolfe was by all accounts a beauty. Her beauty was remarked upon frequently, and by a number of people. All of those people were men. Now, this is not always the case when it comes to the matter of the beauty of a woman. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Lady Wolfe’s beauty had a certain appeal to a particular type of man. 

As I have told you, my precious memories of my mother are sparse, but they were supplemented by the words provided to me by those who knew her and who were at court when she was alive. More of those words came from the women in my life than they did the men. I did not see the significance of this until I encountered the competitive vanity that some women embark upon, some in a win-at-all-costs way that makes them quite dangerous indeed.

I never fully appreciated Lady Wolfe’s beauty, but I did see the effect she had upon those around her. That is something that we can see and that we should mark well. Lady Wolfe had a hardness to her and when men responded to her beauty, they seemed enamoured with the danger that danced with it. In stark contrast, the women at court would fail to meet her eye. There was mistrust there and sometimes I fancied that there was even fear.

Often, when I passed the open door to her chambers, I would catch a glimpse of Lady Wolfe gazing into her mirror. Always gazing into her mirror. She reminded me of Narcissus, and I wondered what kind of person she was, to be obsessed with he own image like that.

Father saw none of this though, and it was not my place to bring it into question. That was never my place and I understood that from the off. Besides, he seemed happy when he was with Lady Wolfe. That happiness wasn’t something I recognised, but others in court remarked upon it often enough for it to become a truth of sorts, and I did not want to stand in the way of my father’s happiness. I was of an age where I was expected to be grown up and do grown up things and I mistook my unease for envy and a certain degree of anger as I was displaced by Lady Wolfe. This displacement made me sad, and I grieved for the time father and I had spent together. He had found a woman not only to replace my mother’s space in the world, but also mine. I knew I could not give him everything he needed, and so I made room for Lady Wolfe and did my best to accept this new arrangement.

I also did my best to like Lady Wolfe, but I got the impression that she did not like me. Why? I did not know. I saw the way she looked at me when she thought I did not observe her and I noticed the change in her features and mood as she turned away from me. But then, she was often like that. Changeable. I’d seen that sort of thing before. The responsibilities of the two thrones and the positions surrounding them weigh heavy and they can take a huge toll. Never on my father though. Or at least not until he married Lady Wolfe and she became my step-mother. After their marriage, his age began to show and he slowed as time caught up with him. It saddened me to see him becoming grey and weary. I knew I was being childish, but I wanted my father back. No one can turn back time though. No one gets a second bite of the cherry, or the apple for that matter.

Once father married Lady Wolfe, my position in court and his life was that one step further away. In some respects, it was quite literally a step away as I was moved from my place at father’s side to make way for my step-mother. That sideways movement changed everything for me and my enjoyment of those feasts at court soured. Even the sight of the food as it was brought out to us failed to illicit in me the joy I had once experienced. It were as though the food itself was no longer what it was. A pastiche of food with no promise of delightful taste sensations to convey the diner to different places and times. 

As my joy for food waned I moved away from the top table and absented myself more and more frequently. I saw less and less of father, and whenever I tried to address this, Lady Wolfe was ever present. Gone was the flow of a life where my father and I coincided effortlessly and frequently, and I suffered for it, suffering more as I wondered how my father felt about this strange exile. 

Now there was only Lady Wolfe…

Your father is busy.

Your father is tired after a long day at court

Your father has asked me to deal with you

Deal with me, as though I were a lobbying courtier. All the same, I spent more and more time with Lady Wolfe, and I am not sure how that occurred. This was not a like for like swap for time with my father. I think it began with us assessing each other. Checking out our rival. I’m not so sure that it ever developed much further than that. 

There was certainly a competitive spiritedness to us both as Matilda Day approached. I had my suspicions about where Lady Wolfe, or Queen Wolfe as she now was, and her sentiments were when it came to my mother’s day. I was sure that if it were possible, she would replace my mother’s name for her own. Wolfe Day would be an entirely different prospect and something to be endured as opposed to enjoyed. 

To my surprise and consternation, Queen Wolfe entered the spirit of the day and involved herself in the cake making. Although, not for her was the donning of an apron and hands and forearms coated in flour. Her hands would never be dirtied. She was all about supervision, and she took over the centrepiece of the Day. 

This year the theme of Matilda’s Day was fruit. This theme gave everyone enough scope to be creative and the centrepiece was a triumph of simplicity. The cake was in the form of the most lifelike tree I had ever set eyes upon, and from the boughs of that tree were to hang ripe and juicy apples, only half of those apples were themselves confections. When unveiled, a part of the offering of this incredible piece of food art was to guess which apple was made by nature and which was a manmade artifice.

I defied anyone to tell them apart. In fact, the manufactured apples looked more real than the apples themselves. I gloried in the skill and artistry of our chefs. After many a year of working with mother and aiming to please and delight her, they were second to none.

Better still were the fillings of the faux apples. This was where I took a keen interest and let my imagination run wild. And that was where I found Queen Wolfe. Yet again. My way barred. Noting her involvement, I stepped away and left her to it. But this time I did not concede defeat. Enough was enough. This was my territory and the chefs knew me well. 

All I wanted was one apple. That was all. No one would deny me that. Except Queen Wolfe that was, and so I kept that one apple a secret from her. It was the only way. Carefully crafted was my apple. It was the best of the crop. I took my time with it and ensured it was just so. A fitting tribute to my mother on her day of days.

When that day came and the tree was unveiled there was a hush of awe and then a cheer at the centrepiece of the festival. Sacks of apples were brought forth and the contents handed out to the onlookers. The king’s court gathered around the tree to retrieve an apple of their own. 

Today, I took my position at Queen Wolfe’s side and carefully I plucked my creation from the tree, “here,” I said “try this one.” 

The queen smiled her customary smile, a smile that reminded me of a fox in a chicken coop, “and you should try this one,” she said lifting her hand to reveal the apple that she held.

I nodded and accepted the proffered apple. Queen Wolfe reciprocated and there was a pause as each of us awaited the other. Then we laughed. Her laugh seemed forced and awkward to me, I couldn’t help but see her eyes upon the apple I held. She seemed anxious for me to taste the confection, and so I did. I bit down into the flesh of the fruit in my hand and experienced the familiar crunch as my teeth pierced the apple.

“It is a fine apple!” I said with a smile, and it was. Possibly the finest apple I ever did taste.

“Try the other side,” said Queen Wolfe.

“I will,” I told her, “but please taste yours first.”

She looked at the apple in her hand as though it had magically appeared there, “oh yes,” she said, “of course.”

Cautiously, she took the most dainty of bites, “oh my!” she said as the delightful flavours washed over her tongue, “I thought you had given me an apple.”

“Better than an apple,” I replied.

She tried the confection again, this time taking a larger bite, “this may well be the best thing I ever did taste.”

“I’m sure it is,” I smiled.

Her face clouded with confusion, “do I taste nuts?” she whispered.

I shrugged and bit into my apple nonchalantly, watching as she gripped her throat with her right hand and, dropping her apple, reaching out towards me, her tear brimmed eyes beginning to glaze over. Her lips pulled back in a snarl as she grabbed my arm and dug her long nails into my forearm, “you!” she hissed.

“Ow!” I gasped, and as I did the souring lump of apple I was in the process of swallowing went the wrong way.

All of a sudden there was no air to be breathed and I was mirroring the actions of my step-mother. Grabbing her, we were locked in a fatal embrace. This was not supposed to happen. This wasn’t the plan.

But as the world began to fade, I saw a fleeting look of triumph cross Queen Wolfe’s face and I knew that my demise was a part of her plan. I took little satisfaction as that expression crumpled and then so too did she. She fell first, but I followed shortly afterwards. Eternal sleep beckoning us both.

December 13, 2023 20:45

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Nicola Chapman
17:41 Dec 20, 2023

Interesting twist at the end. I like the reciprocity of it. I also like the fact that it's never really made clear if the main character is a prince or princess. It left room for my imagination.


Jed Cope
16:14 Dec 22, 2023

I'm glad you like that openness. I do my best to leave things for the reader to infill. I sometimes wonder whether it's used and appreciated!


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