Even though I was exhausted from the fire, I still had some strenght left in me. I knelt down by the creek and checked my reflection. My face stared back at me. There were dark bags underneath my eyes, and my skin looked a little pale. The nasty side effects of magic. Summoning up the remainder of my energy, I changed my appearance. When I opened my eyes, I was an old woman. Huntched and withered.
I stood up satisfied and made my way down the creek, my eyes peeled for the princess. I saw her, gently stroking the little boy's face. I had heard her yelling at some woman. Something about a teddy bear, and I knew that that combined with the escape from the fire, she would be incredibly weak.
"Excuse me, madam?" I asked, my voice shaking.
Irene turned and faced me. "Yes?"
"I was wondering if you simply needed any assistance? Maybe something to relax you, yes?"
Her eyes narrowed in suspicsion. "What are you? A witch?"
"No, no, dear," I said. "Just an old woman who helps. I pulled some bark from inside my torn cloak. "Eat this. It will help with any pain."
Reluctantly, she grasped the willow bark, and bit off a small end. When she swallowed it, her face relaxed as though she could feel it's effects already. I sat down next to her. "Anything else you need, deary?"
"No. Savana will return soon."
"Your friend?" Irene nodded. "I saw her leave back into the forest with that man. She looked as though she would stay a while."
"Savana wouldn't leave me. Not for long." Irene tried to sound confident, but I could hear the doubt that was beginning to take hold of her.
"Don't you understand, my dear?" I asked. "If it wasn't for you, she would run away and never come back. You're holding her back from her true potential. She may put on that she cares, but she can't wait to get away. All she's ever wanted is to be free."
Irene recoiled from me as best she could. "Lies," she said. "You need to leave."
"You know I'm not lying, my dear. You know what I say is true."
Irene turned her head, trying to block out what I was saying. Try as she may, I could see her resolve slipping.
"Deep down, she blames you. All this poverty you see around you," I said, gesturing to the villagers around us, "is your fault. You live in your castle while these horrors continue everyday. Savana herself came from a poor tribe, much like this. She had to steal to provide for her family --"
"I know this," Irene said cooly.
"And you never put two and two together? She was captured trying to provide for her family. She would never had gotten caught if her family wasn't forced into poverty. You could have prevented all this, but you're content to sit in your blood room and wallow in self pity."
I saw a tear race down from Irene's eye. "Leave." It didn't sound like a demand, more like a plea.
"As you wish, Your Majesty. But remember what I said. Remember."
As I backed away, I congratulated myself. It was the perfect recipe. A princess doubtful of her only friend, a slave who was torn between her friendship and a new love, and a man, hopelessly caught between his desires and his duty. Soon the rivers would run red with betrayall, and that's when the real fun begins.