Day 4 of From Enemy to Heir, a 31 Days series. Click here to begin at Day 1.
Her name was Obscurity, although she answered to far less.
Her mother had loved her, at least for the span of time between her birth and her mother’s realization that this child was not going to fix anything. Then, and ever after, the child knew little affection, except for the rare moments when a half-hearted apology was pasted on an abuse, and the child was left to do the forgiving while the abuser did the forgetting.
So she was forgotten.
And hungry. She had tasted just enough of love in her early years to know that she was starving for it now, now that she had to find it on her own.
The Enchanter knew this too because he understood the power of love, and he feared it. The only way he knew to keep his people from traipsing right after it and into the prince’s kingdom was to give them exactly what they wanted…almost.
Almost love was the best kind of lie because it was half-true. It took the prince’s own good thing and fermented it until it was so sweet and intoxicating, no one noticed how utterly unsatisfying it was. This kind of love was a feast that never made you full, and the Enchanter, who could see into the hearts of men, loved to spread his hands out over the table, encouraging all to gorge themselves on the abundance.
“The prince’s love is exclusive, limited, and binding,” he would say. “Any of you can go and eat of it, but once you do, you will never again be free.”
It was deliciously terrifying, and the Enchanter loved to run it over his lips and into the ears of his people. “Go on,” he said if any one of them looked too long on the castle walls. “Go on and let the prince capture and enslave you in the name of love. Let him bend your will and break you and turn you into one of his puppets.”
Some of the people doubted the Enchanter’s words because they had heard the old rumors which claimed that the prince’s kingdom was good and fair. But the Enchanter cinched up the snare with the best line of all. “I’d rather live poor and die free,” he said to the dirt-covered bracken on the street, and they all nodded and stood a little taller because they had made the better choice.
They might be poor, but at least they were free.
Or so the Enchanter would have them believe. Just as soon as they had taken the bait, he melted into the shadows, laughing at how easily they believed something just because he said it was so.
Obscurity grew up with those words in her ears. What she lacked in real freedom she made up for in will, which was almost the same thing. She held on to her heady obstinacy with a fierceness that brought quick slaps to her cheeks and sharp words to her ears.
She would not be broken. She was not loved, so what did it matter? What did it matter if she was beaten and trampled down? She would be beaten and trampled down if she held her tongue, so it might as well be loosed. She might as well flaunt what little freedom she had.
Not everyone agreed. She was not beautiful enough to exploit or ugly enough to be feared. Most preferred Obscurity to stay in the shadows, pushed off in the corner and dragged out only when needed, forgotten, like always.
The man who kept her was one of these, and it was he who sent her, beaten and broken, into the night. She had used her freedom to speak her mind, and he had used his to replace her with someone more compliant.
His door slammed in her face and she was left with nothing but a day’s wages. The last thing she saw was a look of contempt in his eyes–not sadness, not even anger. She wasn’t worth getting angry over. It might have been different if he had loved her.
She crawled off into the darkness. But she had nowhere to go. No one cared anything about her. No one would even miss her if she didn’t turn up for days. No one would defend her if she died from her wounds.
“That’s the trick of freedom,” Obscurity thought as she stumbled along in agony. “It doesn’t always work out in your favor.”
She looked up, reaching for air with lungs that hurt to breathe, and saw the castle floating in the night sky like a giant cloud. It would be the last thing she saw before she died, and she hated it with every fiber of her being. “How dare you?” she said bitterly. “How dare you sit up there and watch me die.”
Then she felt the darkness reaching down and pressing heavy on her eyes. And for once, she did not have the will to resist.
*Join us tomorrow for the continuation of the story.