The Plan: Day 28 of 31 Days
For Day 1, click on the photo above
Jewel crept along the wall. Thick darkness clung to her. She couldn’t see a thing. Stumbling and tripping, she made her way to a tall tree that stretched up over the wall. Children played there during the day, swinging in the branches and eating the fruit.
It was a beautiful climbing tree, in the light. Now, the branches snatched at her and shredded her clothes. Chastising, they smacked against her cheeks until angry tears ran down her face.
When she planned this quest, a moonless night seemed to her advantage. Now, she wondered why she hadn’t just walked right out the gate at midday. No one would have questioned her. She was the queen, or so she had been calling herself ever since the Enchanter’s visit.
Besides, the kingdom was enjoying an unprecedented time of peace because of her. Slowly, people began to explore the land outside the gates, not just when they had to go there on the prince’s business. Now, they were brought out by curiosity and a new-found sense of security. Some were reviled by what they saw. But most looked longer than they needed and ventured farther than they should.
They even prided themselves on how cultured they were becoming. Their eyes had been opened to the things only the prince had known about that dark land, and they felt they were better for the education.
The Enchanter welcomed them with open arms. “See?” he said with an enchanting smile. “We’re not that different after all.”
It was easy to see he was right when their kingdoms were at peace.
Jewel knew she could slip right out the gates and no one would care, not anymore. But she did not want to be followed as far as she intended to go. She was going back to the place that knew all her secrets, the parts that only the prince and the Enchanter knew.
She swung her legs over the wall and dropped down on the other side, feeling the sting of ground against her feet like the sting of doubt that pierced her heart.
What if it was all a lie?
It couldn’t be. Jewel thought back over all the things the Enchanter had said to her that night in her chamber, and it all seemed so good. It all made so much sense.
That’s when the plan started to form. She remembered a certain box she had kept in an unnoticed corner of the yard where she once lived with a man who did not love her. It was buried under loose dirt and dying flowers. Every so often, when the man was drunk or occupied with someone more interesting, she dug it up.
It was her security. She had saved and stolen and sold herself for every bit of treasure in that box. When her body was broken and her fingers raw from scraping an existence out of the fire-burned rock, she went to it and lovingly fingered each broken chain and silver trinket. There was even a bit of a gem she had chipped out of ring her mother had cherished more than her own daughter.
Jewel needed to find that box. It consumed her mind from the moment she remembered it. She was going to dig it up and take it back and show the prince and his adviser that she was not so wholly dependent as they imagined. She had something to offer. She had something to give.
The yard was just as dark as the night. It was surrounded on every side by mean barbed wire and sharp, broken glass. A shabby, shamble of a house stood guard in the middle. The windows, which had never been cleaned, revealed no light inside.
Jewel had forgotten how she had fought and scraped for just that bit of earth and that bit of covering for her nakedness. How pathetic it all looked to her now. She was the bride of a prince! She, the woman who had once huddled under a kitchen table rather than share a bed with the man who beat her, had nearly forgotten what it was like to live in the Enchanter’s kingdom.
A sudden fear struck her. He was not her friend. No one who subjected his people to this kind of misery could be her friend, no matter how fine he talked and how smoothly he smiled.
Panicked, she ran to the far end of the property where a wild hedge grew. The fence was lower there, she remembered, because the branches weighed heavy on it.
Jewel could barely see. The wire tore at her flesh like greedy claws and the shards of glass pierced her feet. What have I done? she cried. What have I done?
She managed to pull herself free, falling face-down in the dirt with the effort. Jewel scrambled to the hidden corner of the yard and dug furiously with her fingers like an animal. Finally, she hit upon something hard.
Just get it and go, Jewel, she panted to herself.
She drew the box out from the ground. The lock was green and corroded. Jewel was relieved to see that it hadn’t been opened in a very long time. Her treasure had not been touched. It was all still there, just as she left it.
Using a rock, she pounded until the lock burst open. Her fingers bleeding and her heart racing, Jewel slowly opened the lid, anxious to see her prize, her security, her worth.
The lid creaked in protest but soon gave up its secret. Jewel stared in disbelief. She shook her head and began to scream, “No! No! How can this be?”
Even in the dark of the night she could see. The box held nothing but ashes and dust.