Murder in the Kingdom of Hier
She had never attempted anything so horrible. Never thought so long, planned so hard. Another 'never had' was hate. Hate was what provoked her into plotting the murder of the Royals of Hier.
It was common knowledge that when Queen Serina was with child, she disappeared into the woods for the final month. She raised the child amongst the trees for the first six months if it survived. Yes, there were instances when she went home naught two months after she had left. This happened when the infant was not strong or healthy enough. The test she put them through ensured that only the best lived to tell. The children died often, but Serina was always healthy and well fed.
One particular spring, in 1334, The Queen stayed away for thirteen months. At the seven-month mark, a worried King Manuel sent a multitude of guards and trackers to find his missing queen. After many days of searching, they found her. She was in the most perilous section of the wood. She was too thin, her once rosy cheeks—sunken, flat and dirty. Her once vibrant lime green eyes—tired, empty and hungry. "Where is the child, my Queen?" The seekers asked the shaking queen. She edged away, crawling and stumbling, from their metal-clad hands. "The child… food… she… gone… behind… left… light…" Her whispers were barely audible. When they tried to pick her up, she screeched and flailed about, bit the hands that reached towards her, and refused any food put forcibly to her lips.
Eventually, they managed to quiet her down and put her into the royal carriage. They locked the carriage door from the outside in case she had another fit of sorts. The group loaded up and embarked on the three-day journey back to the Castle of Hier. "Alright, soldiers. We need to get the queen back to the palace pronto. Double time! And no stops! Not even if you're lookin' the enemy straight in the eye. Control yourselves!"
When the search party returned, the anxious king ran up to the carriage and unlocked it. A dead and bloated Serina fell out into his arms. A horrified and anguished scream escaped his lips.
Sixteen years later… The year was 1350. Plague ravaged the country. It stole away all who were too weak to maintain their strength. It took elders, children, aristocrats, peasants, and most of all; it took all of the royal children. The already lonely widower became a recluse. He was rarely heard from—and even more rarely seen. The orders he did send from his closed chamber door were punishment from the poorest peasant, to even the richest aristocrats. He set taxes on even the smallest step taken and supposedly used the money to fill his baths with luxurious linings of gold and silver. They say he bought lavish clothes—that nobody saw—and had his kingly scepter forged from the purest metals. He ordered all men and boys who were able to lift and swing a sword to join the army in a war against a close neighbor. Lords under his supervision were let loose to punish peasants and middleclass men if they did not comply with the king's new rules.
This was the girl's first taste of hate; the King, the Royals. She had grown up, not too happy, in a small, poor farming village. "After you milk the cows, you are to till the soil and scrub the floors of the barn. If you finish that by sundown, help Minerva re-shoe the horses. Are you listening, Sophia?"
She liked her name. Sophia. She remembered her mother teaching her to say it. She said it meant wisdom. She remembered her tongue stressing to sound the syllables. 'So-fi-ahh.' She also remembered her mother's face. It was not Minerva's.
Sophia did not hate her parents. She disliked the way they treated her, but understood why they did. She concluded, in her own mind, that these were not her real parents. Imposters, she assured herself. But she had never before voiced this thought.
She continued, day after laborious day, to grow stronger, wiser, and become her own independent person. She often thought of philosophy and the meaning of life during her routine on the farm. She pondered heredity and all the relations she'd ever made. 'Was this the life meant for me? What if I'd had different parents? Ones of nobility. Would I still have dreaded the king so much?' Once, she was so enthralled by a thought, she burned the bread that was slowly baking.
"Sophia! The bread, the bread! There's smoke, Sophia!" Minerva squealed and hurried past her to the oven.
"See what you've done?! You've cost us a week of flour! Pay attention, girl! You're definitely going to bed hungry tonight!" Minerva always had threatened her so.
She would have gladly gone back to Minerva and Howard three months from then. The thoughts while working had grown darker, more scrupulous in detail, just as she had, in a couple of weeks. She thought of being Queen—how splendid that life must be! But how could she get there? That was when innocent, bored thoughts narrowed down to one notion: killing the King of Hier. There were many reasons to, and she would have some supporters. She reasoned to herself and wrote everything in a small leather-bound notebook that had cost her many weeks worth of savings.
She wrote of her schemes and plots. She acquired maps of the Palace of Hier. She had circled the king's room. The entrances—windows, doors, skylights—were outlined in ash from the hearth. She outlined the probable route with a prick of blood from her middle finger. 'I'm really going to do it!' She sat in astonishment at her own temerity. 'Yes, I will do it. Tomorrow. I will say I'm to see the king at once. That I have information of the war. Yes, it is time.' She hid a sharpened kitchen knife in the folds of her blouse.
Sophia was admitted to the castle immediately. A guard escorted her to the king's study. "Once you have finished, come right back out. You will be rewarded." He told her. He opened the door and she stepped in quietly.
"Good morn', my liege." She said with her head slightly bowed.
"What is your name, girl?" He demanded. His eyes were cold and guarded.
"Sophia Valencia, Sir. I have information about enemy movements. Will you hear me out?" She stepped closer toward the king. He was slouching over a desk with multiple maps and books with fancy lettering and intimidating titles.
"Yes, yes. Of course. Come over here and show me." He turned back to his maps. Sophia took this moment and slipped the knife behind her back. She held the hilt with both hands and walked over slowly to look over his shoulder at the maps.
"Well, here's our current position." The king tapped a point on the parchment surrounded by trees. Sophia brought the knife forward. The king turned to look at her, but was shocked to find a knife flying towards his heart. Sophia's face was twisted in anger and maybe a hint of lunacy.
The bloodied knife fell upon an expensive looking Turkish carpet. Sophia looked at King Manuel one final time before opening the heavy wooden door and quickly closing it behind her. The guard looked bored—leaning against the wall, spinning a small pouch of coins around his finger.
"Here, girl. Three gold pieces. Very valuable. Do something useful with them." The guard handed her the pouch and beckoned her to follow him out. "It's ironic that I basically got paid to murder the King of Hier!" She said to herself under her breath.
On the way home, Sophia purchased two very large bags of the best flour in town with one gold piece. The man gave her one silver piece back. She figured she should reward herself, so she stopped by the bakery as well. She asked for the tastiest item they sold. A large, sticky, golden brown bun was handed to her. She finished the bun while shouldering the bags of flour home.
"Howard! Minerva! I'm home! Come look what I've bought!" She called openly into her home. "Hold on, Sophia!" Minerva called down to her. She soon waddled down the ladder to find Sophia with the flour on the floor and golden honey smeared all over her face. "Wha—where did you get the money for that?"
"I saw a couple of soldiers near the border yesterday. Thought I should tell the king. He gave me a reward." She lied perfectly through her teeth. "You. Saw. The. King…?" She was totally in shock.
"Why, yes. He's quite odd, you know. Cooped up slaving over maps and books and such." She picked up a cloth, dampened it, and started to wipe her face. "You…" Minerva sat down. Then, a determined but scared look came over her.
"Sophia, I need to tell you something. HOWARD!" She called, "She's seen the king, Howard!" Immediately, Howard flew down the ladder. He sat next to Minerva and held her hand.
"Well, Sophia. We aren't your real parents. We found you while traveling through the forest to this village. We saw you and couldn't resist. Ever wonder why you have no siblings? After we'd had you for a few months, we heard that Queen Serina had died. And left a child in the woods. The exact woods we found you in. Sophia, you are the king's daughter, the rightful heir to the throne." Minerva looked at Sophia with sorrow and happiness that she'd finally found out.
"Well, how wonderful! I can be queen! Ha-ha!" Sophia put the cloth on top of her head and was dancing in circles.
"What? No, King Manuel is still alive, he is still ruler." Howard was puzzled.
'Oh, I knew it! I knew they were not my parents! The king's daughter! Wow! Wait, I can be Queen! Oh, I will have to go to town right now.' The thoughts danced just as she did. "No, he's dead. I found out when I was in town that some crazy girl went and murdered him right after I left! I'm Queeeeeeeen!" She was still dancing. "I must go now. I might never be back!" She skipped right out the door and off to her fate.
"Hear ye, hear ye! I AM QUEEN! I am the child lost in the spring of 1334! It's me! Sophia! I am your rightful Queen!" She stood atop a stone fountain depicting a gay scene of women bathing. People gathered and stared at the elated young girl.
After the guards had taken a moment to mourn their lost king, they transitioned into having a queen. This had never happened in the Kingdom of Hier. There was always a male heir. But all of the king's children had been obliterated by the plague. There was nobody left. Except Sophia. Queen Sophia.
As soon as she'd had the first queenly garment measured, Sophia corrected all of the mistakes her father had made. She made peace in the war. She found an immensely large deposit of gold ore in a nearby field. She revoked all taxes on people who could not pay. She punished lords who had gotten out of hand. Everything seemed to be as it should. But not for Sophia.
After the joy of becoming queen had worn off, she realized she had no family. Sure, she could go back to Minerva and Howard, but they were not nobles. They were mere serfs. Nothing more. She realized she killed her father. This was the worst. Her father. Dead. And it was her fault. Her selfishness. Her disregard for others' feelings.
So, she resolved to make things as good as they could get. She set laws for all people to have equal pay, no matter what trade. To have decent housing, and for everyone to have enough food. Sophia was all the things that the public would want from a queen. But not in every regard.
The night they found Queen Sophia on her bed in the royal chamber, the whole kingdom was shocked. She had done it. The worst thing for an honorable person to do. She had taken poison. She had taken poison to rid herself of this world. The world that had not treated her well, the world that she had proven wrong. She was gone. But the throne to the Kingdom of Hier stood available, empty, and up for grabs.