The servant carried the soup out with a trembling hand. I took her in as I always did. Any of these servants could be my undoing. Something was different about her; she did not have the pale skin that my hateful husband and his people possessed. The girl was tanner like I was and my people of the south.
My husband did not notice this change, no one but me seemed to notice the servants when they brought food. Maybe the other women did, wondering like I did if this would be the person to serve us our deaths.
In this country, wives of powerful men were the poison tasters for their husbands. As the unwilling wife of the king, I was Queen Poison Taster as it were.
The servant girl ladled me my small serving from the king’s bowl. She was whispering a soft apology in the language from my country that I so missed. The last words in that soft tongue I would ever hear: “Kashina ren.” For freedom.
The whole hall was silent, the cacophony of dinner would not begin until I had deemed the king safe. My whole world shrunk down to the small bowl of lentil soup.
I gave myself a moment to consider how I ended up in this present.
I was once the princess of a nation called Shinka. We were small, but wealthy, blessed as we were by the resources on our land. I loved my kingdom with all my heart.
I was sitting in bed when everything broke. Screams interrupted my conversation with my handmaiden. For the briefest moment, I thought these might be happy screams.
I had never heard the screams of dying men before.
My handmaiden went as white as a sheet and I understood. I rushed to the window and saw bodies illuminated by the haunting glow of torches.
“Kali,” my handmaiden said, “we must find your father.”
I couldn’t move. I felt like an icy hand had wrapped itself around my heart and it was all I could do not to scream. We didn’t have a large army, we could not fight off a force of any size. We relied on our fellows leaving us be for we had generous trade agreements. We would lose
My door slammed open and my personal guard rushed in, presumably to take me away to safety. Not that there would ever again be any safety for me.
I heard trumpets and the screams stopped, or rather, faded to just those of the injured and terrified.
“What was that?” I asked.
One of my guards sighed, “surrender.”
It was all very fast, messengers ran around the castle to explain what we knew. The army that had attacked was from a kingdom to the north and their king was coming to discuss our surrender.
“And…” the messenger said, with a guilty glance in my direction, “he asks that the princess be dressed in her best clothes. You have three hours.”
I remember screaming and crying and begging to be taken away from there. He wanted to marry me. I understood that much. I also knew that he had just killed my people, even more than I’d seen for he must have passed through villages we never heard from to reach us.
No one took me away from there. The maids looked at me with pity.
Half an hour before he was set to arrive, I was standing with my guards in the great hall. My father’s portrait was beside me, he looked imposing and happy. His dark beard was trimmed and his eyes seemed to shine, even on canvas. My parents and siblings were notably absent from the room.
In fact, the only ones in the hall save my guards and myself were the soldiers who had slaughtered my people.
I stood with my head high and my shoulders back. I would not show weakness. I refused to cave under my own fear.
The king entered, pale as death, he laughed when he saw me. “My bride! Bring them”
I said nothing as my parents and two brothers were dragged into the room. They were all in their night clothes. My mother was crying and holding my brothers. They were both older than me, but I could have sworn they were children in that moment. Behind them walked a priest.
“Marry us,” the king ordered.
The words were so simple, so easily spoken that I almost missed the life altering significance of the command.
I was dragged over to the king and we were married. I didn’t have to say a word. I watched a ribbon be tied around our hands, heard the priest speak lies about loyalty and love and unity.
I wanted to run, but I knew I would not make it very far.
My new husband ordered my mother and brothers dragged away. “Wouldn’t want to have no way to control you, my dear,” he said to me.
He waved his hand and pulled me away. I heard the shing of a blade and a thump and I found myself screaming again. I did not stop screaming, I swear even when my mouth shut and I was completely silent, I was still screaming. With my mother and brothers captured and my father dead, I was queen. Therefore, my husband had effective rule over the entire kingdom.
So now I sat, staring at the bowl of soup. My husband had no heirs. If he died, my beloved country would return to its rightful royal family. I found myself smiling a little as I raised the soup to my lips and took a sip.
I knew that I was right. It was poisoned.
“Safe!” I declared.
My husband and capturer. My tormenter and the man who killed my father took a bite of the soup.
I did not get to see him die, but I heard him cough as my whole world went black.