I thought it would take longer for the witches to find me. After all, it had taken them nearly eleven years to locate me in the palace. And now, only ten months after I began hiding in the palace walls, they have made their way into my sanctuary. The walls I metaphorically constructed around me crumbled along with my beloved Sebastian’s body, and I am tired. What is death to my broken spirit?
At least, that’s what I tell myself. What then, is this feeling, if not fear? My heart is pounding loud enough to drown out the voice in my head telling me to run, run now!, and the palms of my hands are sweaty enough to slide against the silky nightgown Sebastian stole from the Queen.
Oh, the Queen. What would she say if she saw me now? Would she run to the witches claiming I was never inside the palace walls, unintentionally leading them on a wild goose chase? Or would she simply give me that look of contempt that already haunts my nightmares? Would she help me, or would she lead the witches straight to me?
I will never know for sure, I suppose, because the witches are battering my sanctuary’s door with spell after spell, and the hinges are groaning under the pressure. Then the door is flying open with a bang, loud enough that even my pounding heart can’t drown out the sound, and there they are. The witches. The ones who raised me. The ones I ran away from. They’re here finally, ready to kill me. Well, not really kill me. Ready to “send me onto my life in a New World”, whatever that means.
I forgot how ugly they were. On the outside, each one of them is beautiful. Priscilla with her delicate hands and naturally pouty lips; Arabella, with her almond shaped eyes and chestnut colored skin; Diana and Naomi, the twins, with their flaming red hair and long legs; and finally Ella, with a body like one of those goddesses in the palace library’s mythology books and dark eyes that always look wide, in an innocent, childlike way I’ve never seen the others successfully emulate. The witches are all beautiful, the same way a wild lion is beautiful: I can see the physical beauty and the grace in every movement. But underneath all of that, I can sense their danger, like a lion waiting to pounce on its prey.
So although their faces and bodies adhere to most, if not all, physical beauty standards, I still find them ugly. Ugly like the millipedes I saw in the woods every day, with their too-many legs and too-few eyes. Ugly like the tree-men on the outskirts of the city, with their gangly limbs and rotting wood bodies. Ugly like the five foot long rats in the sewers underneath the city, with their long, scaly tails and sharp claws.
You see, they’re evil. The witches are cruel, and violent, and want nothing more than to see people in pain. I should know; they tried to raise me the same way.
Naomi found me in the woods only hours after I was born. An ugly little thing wrapped in a potato sack, nestled between the roots of a tree. Forgotten to the world. Naomi was pleased, tickled pink as she bragged to her sister that she was the one who came upon my tiny, shivering body before any of the others did. Those beautiful, ugly witches were in search of the child from a prophecy, a prophecy predicting a princess who would willingly leave this world behind for a New World and give up what she values most to get there.
They would never explain what that meant, which to me meant the witches weren't sure. Perhaps they knew, but decided not to tell me? Perhaps this sacrifice I’m meant to make would deter me from willingly undertaking the journey, the journey I have never wished to go on. I’m not sure. The only thing I'm sure of is that I remained steadfast in my decision that I would never give up on this world. How could I? The world is so beautiful! The stars in the sky were mesmerizing, and the trees had leaves and bark I loved to stroke during my walks, and the precious baby birds who tentatively warbled out a few notes here and there as they learned to sing. These sights and sounds I gave up years ago when I ventured into the palace and never left. I never understood their certainty that I would ever leave my world behind. How could I ever wish to do so? What would a New World have to offer me when I already have these sights, these sensations, these sounds I adore so much?
Now I understand. This world is a cruel place, full of cruel people. And I'm surrounded by the worst of them all.
The witches who want nothing more than to magic me away to another world. The King and Queen, who want nothing to do with me, looked me in the eyes and called me a disappointment, and told Sebastian, beautiful Sebastian, to take me far away from the palace.
Sebastian, the palace guard who listened to my desperate pleas, who heard me cry help me, please, I can’t go back to those witches, they’ll kill me, and who gave me a job in the castle.
“If you do this right,” he said to me, that day so many years ago, when I was nine years old and crying at the palace doors, begging anyone who would listen to me. “If you do this right, you will never be seen by the King and Queen. Will you do everything I tell you?” His eyes, the blue-green color so striking in his face, stared straight into mine. It felt, just like the books say, like he could see into my soul. It was as if he was tearing me apart as I debated his offer. Continue life as a sacrifice for the witches’ prophecy? Or become a silent, hidden maid in a palace that never wanted me?
I stayed in the palace with Sebastian, the ever-helpful guard, protecting me from prying eyes and nosy questions. I stayed with Sebastian, who told me he loved me when I came of age, and who held me like I would break if he let me go.
Sebastian, my love, my light, my life.
Sebastian, who hid me in the walls of the palace mere minutes before the King himself came to take Sebastian to the center of town.
Sebastian, who was stoned in the street for helping me.
Janelle, a lowly palace maid, told the King and Queen about Sebastian’s help, and in return, the King offered her the Prince’s hand in marriage. She wed the Prince, my brother, and is now Princess. And I, Princess by blood, the first-born child, the heir born the wrong gender, supposedly dead to the kingdom, am hiding in the walls, miserable and lonely and missing my Sebastian, facing the witches who raised me. The witches who now have ugly grins on their beautiful faces. I’ve never felt so terrified, so numb, all at once.
I’ve never wanted to see Sebastian more than I do now.
But he’s not here right now. It’s just me and the witches and my frantic, pounding heart and sweaty palms.
“You’ve always known it would come to this,” Ella says, her mouth curving into a hint of a smile, probably in a very pretty way, but my breath is coming in too short of bursts and I can’t focus on anything, let alone her beautiful smile. “We’ve always known you would one day wish to leave, my dear. Are you finally ready? Ready to give up what you value most and finally travel to a New World?”
The others titter. I try to glare but I don’t have the energy. What use is it? I have nothing to give them.
“I have already lost that which I value most. He was stoned in the street, not a year ago. I have nothing else to give.” My voice shakes almost as much as my body as I fight to stay calm. It wouldn’t do for these witches to see me cry, not when I know the satisfaction that will give them, just as it always did in my youth.
“Do you wish for your love? Your Sebastian? We can give him to you once you go. In your New World you can have your love right by your side for all of eternity if you so desire.” Every word that leaves Diana’s mouth sounds like a lie. But these witches, for all their faults, would never lie about this. Would they?
It sounds too good to be true.
“No one can bring him back to me. It’s not possible, not even with your magic,” I spit, my words filled with venom and pain, and I can see the delight in everyone’s eyes. I can see how much they are enjoying my pain, and I shake even harder. What I wouldn’t give to hold Sebastian’s perfect face in my hands right now.
“Your world will be better than this one, haven’t you been listening?” Arabella’s voice is practically a purr. She stalks closer to me, a lioness surveying her prey, ready to pounce. My breaths come faster. “If you want your love, just say the word, and he will be right there with you.”
“Do you swear it?” I force out between my heaving breaths. I attempt to breathe deeper. It doesn’t work. “Do you swear, on your lives and on your magic, that my Sebastian will be there with me in the New World?” All five of them laugh and cheer; they can tell I’m going to say yes.
I also know I’m going to say yes. As long as I have Sebastian, I don’t care about the rest of the world. I need him. I am going to have him back. They can take whatever else they want from me, they can thrust me into any world they choose. All I need is Sebastian.
I watch as the witches swear on their lives and magic, the only way to ensure they tell the truth. Each witch allows her magic to surround her body. In sync, the swirling colors surround the witches, the beautiful witches with their ugly hearts, the colors rising up higher and higher, reaching towards the ceiling of my little sanctuary in the walls, nearly touching it before pulsing bright, one last time, and then retreating back into their bodies.
Priscilla, the first to recover from her vow, steps forward. Her lavender magic seeps from her delicate hands. As it flows into the air in front of my face, swirling in a perfect circle, her voice rings out, booming and near-silent all at once, inside of my head. “We witches cast our powers into thee. Do you, the prophesied Princess, willingly go to your destined world?”
“I, the prophesied Princess, willingly go.”
Arabella’s mint-colored magic joins Priscilla’s. “Do you swear you will fulfill the prophecy to the best of your abilities?”
“I swear it.” My voice is gaining in strength, even as my body feels near collapse. A constant stream of Sebastian Sebastian Sebastian flows as gently as a train wreck through my weak mind.
“And do you give us witches permission,” Diana’s canary yellow magic pulses as it inserts itself into the writhing circle of color in front of my face, “to fulfill the prophecy to any extent that you cannot?”
“I give my permission.” I don’t know if my answers are the right ones. Seeing as I’m met with no opposition from the overly gleeful witches, I assume I’m doing well, even as I feel myself weakening. Is it from the spell, or is this all psychological? Can I even get up? Do I even want to?
Naomi’s mahogany magic enters the circle before I can answer my own questions. “Do you swear to give up that which you value most in return for fulfilling your destiny in a new world?”
“ I swear it.” I imagine I can feel Sebastian right there with me, encouraging me, even as I barely understand what I’m saying, too lost in my hope and the what ifs knocking around in my head and heart. I imagine I can hear Sebastian’s low, loving voice telling me to hang on, be strong, we’ll be together soon.
Ella’s magic is the color of amethyst. Her magic meets the rest of the witches’ magic, and as it does so, the circle of magic grows even larger, the colors darting in and out of view, a large mass of color and light and power that I can feel deep inside of myself, binding my life and will to these witches, to my promises, to this spell.
“Prophesied Princess, take your leave now. Enter your destined world to fulfill the prophecy. Your love will be there with you, and we witches accept your valued sacrifice.” I can barely hear what Ella is saying. The floor cracks around me, the walls crumble, the witches disappear.
I can’t see anything. I’m certain I’m no longer in my sanctuary, that lovely hidey hole Sebastian found for me, but I cannot see where I am. My eyes are wide open, frantic, I’m sure. I see nothing but darkness. I reach out a hand towards the ground I must be kneeling on. I scream as I do so.
My hands are gone, my arms ending in stumps at the end of where my wrists should be. I scream and scream and scream. I must scream for years, hundreds of them, maybe even thousands of them. When I finish, I still see nothing. I still have no hands.
I could not hear my scream.
Is this what the witches took from me? My sight? My hands? My hearing? How is this something I value? What is this? What’s going on?
Moments or months later, I don’t even know, I remember my love should be with me. Where is he? Sebastian, my darling Sebastian, as long as we knew each other he always had answers to my questions, the important and the mundane. He will know how to answer me, how to calm me. But where is he?
I shout Sebastian’s name, unsure if it comes out right, but I don’t care how I sound, I need Sebastian. I turn, flailing my arms to either side of my body, desperate to find my love. There! There he is! I feel him to my right, beside me, just as the witches had promised! Why has he not reached for me? Why has he not held me, or told me he loves me, or done his best to calm me during all of my panicking?
My frantic breaths stop as dread fills my stomach. Reaching for my love is difficult without hands, but I manage to rest my right arm on my darling’s chest. I scream again. And again. And again. Eventually I cannot stop, and I continue screaming.
Has it been months? Years? How long have I screamed my pain to my surroundings, wherever I am? My agony for my beloved. The witches fulfilled their promise: Sebastian, my darling, beloved Sebastian, whom I love to hold; whom I could spend years staring at and whose visage I’d never tire of seeing; whose voice always had the ability to calm me in seconds. My love is next to me, just as the witches promised.
I have Sebastian by my side. Without my eyes, I will never see my darling again. Without my hands, I cannot hold my darling the way I wish to. Without my ears, I can’t hear my beloved’s voice. The witches took these things, these things I valued most, without even realizing I did so. The witches who promised I would have Sebastian here with me, in this New World I must explore.
They never promised he would be alive.
And he isn’t. My Sebastian, my love, my light, my life, remains as dead as he was before, in my Old World. As I scream and cry and curse those witches, nothing changes. Sebastian is still dead. Only now, he is right in front of me instead of buried across town.
He is still dead. I can only hope that soon, maybe, the same fate will befall me, here in my New World, full of everything and nothing, and maybe, in the New World I find myself in after I die, maybe I will truly find my Sebastian once again.