I don’t know how it all happened. Screaming. Shrieking. Loud shrills that brought shivers down my spine. People of all ages rushed past me as I stood in the crowded town street. A woman with cropped brown hair and faint wrinkles under her eyes scoops up her child in a hurried motion and rushes towards the bakery around the corner. An elderly man walks across the uneven rubble street with a long wooden cane held out in one hand and a battered leather lead line in the other. An old and tired looking brown horse is attached to the end of the rope and guides its owner to a safe spot for them to retreat to. Men, women, children. They’re all scrambling around as the news reaches their ears. The news that I failed to carry. The duty that I ceased to execute. My people were now in danger because I was selfish. I cared and thought about myself and myself only and now, we were going into war. And it was all my fault.
. . .
The corners of my lips curled up in a smile as I watched this man’s life unfold before me. As princess, and might I add, heir to the throne of the quaint Kingdom of Avrules, I’d like to think I was pretty important. My father, the king, has ruled over this kingdom my whole life and soon, he was going to pass it all down to me. Being royal was all I knew. Growing up, I was told to uphold a fair and elegant picture to all of my subjects. I started taking etiquette lessons from the age of five so that I could grow up to become as good a queen as my mother was. She taught me to be kind, loyal, and compassionate. She taught me that being a queen meant serving your country and your people with your whole heart. She laid her life out for her people and worked tirelessly to provide for everyone in Avrules. I aspired to be just like her: confident, respectable, and caring. That is, until the day that she died.
My mother was my best friend. I remember following her around the castle as a little girl and copying her gestures as she tended to the different matters in the land. I watched as people finished their journeys to walk through the grand hall of the castle, where my mother would be intently listening to what they had to say. Sometimes, people would bring gifts for the royal family. Sometimes they needed help with their land or their property. And sometimes, they just came to talk. My mother was adored and beloved by everyone in Avrules. She was so humble and didn’t let her status define who associated with and how she treated others. I loved that about her. We all did.
But our fates changed on my twelfth birthday. My mother had always scheduled for the grand hall to be open to the public on most days from three to five o’ clock in the afternoon. My father had thought it to be foolish—opening the castle doors to anyone in the kingdom could lead to unfavorable consequences. She insisted that she would be fine and that these sessions would allow her to stay connected with her people. They started when I was three years old and came up with wonderful results. The people of our kingdom felt understood and heard, and so these meetings continued for seven more years.
Everything was going accordingly and I would often follow my mother into the grand hall and listen in on her multitude of conversations, preparing myself for when I would have the responsibility to take over these meetings and listen to my people. My father made sure that there were royal guards posted at every door and by my mother’s side. My mother, however, always seemed to slip out from their protective bubble. She told me that she didn’t want the people to be afraid. She said she wanted to be able to meet their eyes when they spoke to her and when she answered back. But her kindness failed her.
Four months after my twelfth birthday, she held yet another gathering in the grand hall. People came and went, some asking for help with their crops and others bringing baskets full of freshly baked sourdough bread and delectable pastries filled with chocolates and homemade fruit jams.
I don’t even know how it happened. A loud clash rings in the crisp air. One moment my mother was standing in the front of the room with her arms outstretched and a warm smile on her face, and the next she’s crouched on the floor, clutching her stomach and surrounded by the bulky figures and teal uniforms of our royal guards. People are screaming and more guards are called into the room. Someone yells out from the crowd and falls, but not before grabbing a hold of a tattered piece of clothing that is attached to a man desperately trying to flee. The guards reach the man in mangled cotton cloths and dirt specks staining his cheeks and arms. Clutched tightly his hand is a small, dirty scabbard. One that matches the dagger that was thrown at my mother’s abdomen. The guards seized the man, but it was no use. She was gone.
What was the purpose of compassion if it would just end up getting you killed? That was the question that plagued my mind every day since her death, and also the reason why the dilemma of the man who stood before me amused me. Since my mother’s passing, I have taken up the responsibility of listening to the people of my kingdom in the grand hall—although I didn’t nearly get as much freedom, and the security measures have greatly increased since then. Peasants and commoners made their journey to come see me, and all I could see was how their filthy attire dirtied up the castle’s lavish walls and floors. Revolting barbarians who took my mother.
“I will not be providing military enforcements to your town Mr. Bernard.” I replied, trying to suppress a grin.
“Please, your Highness. Your people are dying. The enemy is nearing and we have nothing with which to protect our wives and our children. I beg of you your High-”
“Enough!” I declared. My people had not shown me kindness. My people had killed my mother. And they weren’t going to be given mercy for what they had done.
“You will have to find a way to protect your own. My men already supply every town in the Avrules Kingdom with the necessary tools and crops. I will not do anything more to provide for your town. You may go.” I knew the enemy would be approaching the borders soon and Mr. Bernard’s town would be one of the first to be hit. I wouldn’t do anything more than I needed to, and what I really needed to do was protect myself.
. . .
I didn’t think my actions - or lack thereof - would bring my kingdom to shambles. I looked over my shoulder to where my castle stood, being invaded by hundreds of enemy attackers. A tear rolled down my cheek as I realized what I had done. My mother would have never wanted this for me or for her kingdom. She would have wanted me to help those people who had less and needed supplements. She would have wanted me to be compassionate. I knew that now, but as I looked around and saw the destruction and chaos surrounding me, I feared that it was already too late.