As soon as I took a sip, I realized it was poison.
Well, not as soon. Maybe after like two…or three.
My eyes widened in surprise as I set the goblet down. I had had enough training that I should have realized something was wrong before, but today my exhaustion was a living, breathing thing.
Focus, I told myself. I stared hard at the clear liquid in the cup. I could have drank absolutely anything, and I wouldn’t know. ****, ****, ****.
Suddenly I couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe; my hand flew to my throat, as if I could stop the poison from traveling further, deeper.
My head hurt. They had named me the Evil Queen.
Someone placed a hand on my shoulder. “Princess, what’s going on? Are you alright?”
Ladies and gentleman, the prince, my future husband, and, overall, a total *******.
It could have been him, a voice inside my head whispered, even as I yanked his tunic until he was eye-level with me. “Poison,” I croaked. “Someone poisoned me.” His eyes widened, and I could see the thought in his eyes: mother. We stared at each other for a long moment, each spinning our own equally horrible fantasies.
My head hurt. They told me who I was; I didn’t get a say.
“Look,” he said, breaking the silence. “You know I don’t love you.”
I glared at him. “I’m dying here, ********** Really, he was like my brother more than anything.
“Right, sorry.” He lifted the goblet and sniffed at it. “I…know this smell. It could be methanol, if—”
“Methanol? The stuff that blinds people? Oh my ******* god,” I whispered, “I could die. This is…fatal. This—oh my god.” I couldn’t say anything but that last line, over and over again.
My head hurt. I was ridiculed and embarrassed.
“Hey,” the prince said. He grabbed my chin, tilting my head up. “Don’t worry. I’ll get the cure, stat. Okay?” Normally I would have cursed him into the sky, but now I only shrugged, and looked away.
Two hours later found me lying in bed. I was exhausted, even more than before, and my mind was foggy as hell. I could go blind, the little voice inside my head kept whispering. Completely blind. And I felt like the universe was laughing at me as I stood and peered into the mirror.
I would never see my face again.
It wasn’t because I was stunning—which, in my opinion, I was. But my outside appearance felt like my strongest connection to who I was.
My head hurt. I was tested and broken.
I had grown up in a place that taught me to hate who I was because of this very face, these brown arms and legs, the way I was different from everybody around me. And there was a time that I had. But now, faced with the possibility that I would never see myself again, I—
There was a knock at the door. I perked up. Prince, perhaps?
“Come in,” I said.
There he was. I scanned his hands for vials, leaves, anything that could mean he had found a cure. But instead his eyes were wet when he raised his head, and I knew…somehow, all the cures were gone. “I talked to my mother’s guards,” he offered, after the both of us had been sitting around, doing nothing, for too, too long. “She didn’t poison you, Halona.”
But I had already known.
His mother disliked me, but it wasn’t hate.
It wasn’t personal.
“Prince, I need you to do something for me.”
He didn’t even blink before saying ‘yes.’
We sneaked out the back way, through the kitchens and the gardens and the small supply stores where the Methanol must have been kept. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that somehow there was no getting better for me.
I was as good as dead.
Someone wanted me as good as dead.
But I wasn’t going down without a fight.
We waited silently under the trees’ shade until sure the shop was empty before entering. The young woman behind the counter was so gorgeous that it hurt my eyes—though, of course, that could have just been the poison acting up.
Her eyes narrowed. “Aren’t you the princess?”
James raised his hand. “I’m a prince.”
She, to my delight, ignored him. “You have methanol poisoning?”
I nodded. “I’m doomed, aren’t I?”
She frowned. “How much did you drink?”
I thought back. “Some sips. Just a few, but I was really **** tired and—”
“Hearing your list of excuses isn’t going to help,” she said briskly, still frowning. James smirked at me and leaned against the counter.
“I know we haven’t met before, sweetheart, because a face like yours would haunt my dreams.”
“No wonder you think you’re going to die, if this is the idiot helping you. Look, princess,” she said, meeting my gaze. “Many people despise you, and because of that, I despite them.” I raised my brows. “They never even gave you a chance.”
“What do you know about me, anyway?”
“I know you’re good,” she said.
“How?” A whisper. How could she know something even I myself didn’t?
My head hurt. Life hurt like hell.
I reached for the wall, but ended up hitting James’ face instead. I had already fallen by the time he called my name.
My head hurt. It was all because of you.
The following weeks I was switching between reality and dreams; James and Zahra both visited, often staying the long, long nights. I kept seeing my mother’s face, different emotions plastered there.
One particularly chilling image haunted me, day in and day out.
My mother. Burning the cures.
I eventually became Queen.
(Mother passed away like a ghost.)
I didn’t marry James.
I lived a really long, stressful life.
Zahra didn’t leave my side.
I never got over that scene, replaying, always.