Should Have Been

"I should've been Empress." Willa mumbled to herself as she rinsed the dish.

Mister Turner, the innkeeper, placed a new stack of dirty plates on the counter next to her, then crossed behind her to the other side. "Are these dry?" he asked, picking up the clean plates. Not waiting for an answer, he walked to the stove and gave them to the cook. The cook started to place slices of roast beef on top of them.

Willa looked down at her hands buried under the suds in the wash tub. "They did this to me." she told herself.

Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she turned, Lady Turner handed her a bucket of water and a brush. "Someone was sick in the upstairs hall. Go clean it up. I'll take care of the dishes."

"Yes, Lady." she mumbled and walked out the door to the back staircase. "Someday." she told herself, climbing the steps. "Then they'll pay! I'll start with that man who stepped on my foot yesterday. He didn't even say sorry! I'll show him. As soon as I'm in charge, I'll make all my Guards march over his feet until his bones are dust. I'll make them wear iron boots too! That'll show everyone that I'm the real Empress."

She followed the sour smell down the hall until she came to the chunky remains of someone's dinner in a corner. Setting the bucket on the floor, she kneeled, dipped the brush in the water and started scrubbing. She heard a door open around the corner and voices talking in the quiet hall. She ignored them, concentrating on her work and imagining punishments for everyone who had wronged her. A woman's voice, rich and cultured, rose above the others as she stepped out in the hall.

Willa stopped scrubbing as she remembered Mister Turner telling the cook last night about the rich widow who'd rented the two best rooms. "She didn't even haggle!" he'd exclaimed, "Just handed me gold!" Is that her? she wondered. Standing up, she pressed herself close to the wall and peeked around the corner.

The woman stood in the hall, looking over some papers. "How is Delia?" she asked the man standing next to her. He was holding a ledger. A second man stood very straight and slightly in front of them. He stared down the hall towards the front stairs, his back to Willa.

"I got a message from her yesterday." The secretary said, as she handed the papers back to him. "They left Heron Lake and expect to arrive in Sunflower by next week."

Willa studied the woman. She doesn't look like much, she thought. Her clothes were nice, silk and damask, but she wasn't beautiful. Pretty plain looking really. Maybe when I'm Empress she can scrub the privies. If she's nice to me, of course. She started to turn away.

"Madame." a man said. She looked back. Is he bowing to her?!

The woman motioned for him to stand up. "What is it, Ezra?" she asked.

"I'd like to renew the spell on your ring, Madame. Before I go." he added.

"I haven't had any problems, are you sure?"

He bowed again. "Forgive me Madame, maybe I'm being foolish, but I want to be sure nothing will happen when I am away. If the spell failed, it would be a disaster."

The woman smiled at him. "I cannot fault someone who takes his work seriously. Do we need to go in the room again?"