Happily ever afters have been long gone, ripped out from the book, the pages burned. What else is left?
It was a prison in the name only. There were no guards, no cells, no steel bars, no fences, only a prison of her design. An intricate web of lies. She had learned to stop counting them, stop trying to make sense of them, to right them, long ago. Instead, she simply stared out the window.
It all started with the very first lie.
She had clasped the cold, clammy hand of her dying father, the only parent she had ever known. She had lied to him then. She had promised that she was ready, ready to stop being a princess and become a queen. She had said that she would be able to handle it, having an entire kingdom on her shoulders, thousands of lives weighing on her choices, and blood of enemies and allies alike, on her hands. He left the world in peace.
Lying came much more easily after that. Words poured from her mouth, empty promises and half-truths and lies, lies, lies.
She had even lied to herself.
War ravaged her land, houses burned, starvation spread, children were killed or abandoned by their own families. She sat on her throne, dressed in fine silks, eating rich food, pretending to listen to people’s problems, and lying, lying, lying. Everyday, she would wake up in her perfect room, to the sound of screams from outside. She would glance out the stained glass window and watch fires erupt and blood stain the streets. She would flounce down the stairs with her perfectly styled hair and jewels and beautiful dresses. People would seek refuge, crawling at her feet, begging for a room to sleep in, even a dungeon, groveling for food, a moldy piece of bread sufficing.
She gave them no such thing. She told them that she would help them, not now, but later. She would watch as they were escorted out, and she would see a spark of hope in their eyes, one that would quickly dim once they realized that she would never keep her promise. Then, she would tell herself that she wanted to help them but couldn’t.
It wasn’t the truth, obviously. No, she could help them, she could take in the sick, starving, dying people and harbor them in the castle. She could strengthen the army, save the markets and the money. That would make her a good ruler. But behind the lies? Behind the title of the queen, behind the false smiles, the fair face, the warm eyes, was a selfish, naïve girl. She truly did not care for her kingdom. If it burned, taking all the people with it, that was fine, as long as she could live in the comfort of her castle.
Of course, she won’t admit that. She’ll just continue to lie.
“Queen Tarin.” The voice of her advisor, Ragnar interrupted her thoughts. She did not bother to turn around, keeping her eyes fixated on the window.
“What is it?” She knew perfectly well what he was going to say.
“Are you sure you want to be going through with this?”
“We’ve already discussed this. I do.”
“I doubt your father would approve of this.”
“Well, my father is dead, so we can’t really know that, now can we?” Her voice took on a slight edge to it.
“…Right. Well then, come this way. The people are waiting.” He sounded uncertain as he gestured toward the door. She rose from her chair and walked toward the door, ready to carry out the plan. If all went right, hopefully, this would be her last day as the queen. Then she hesitated.
“Go on without me, I have something to do. I’ll catch up with you later.” She waited until he was out of sight, then she retreated back to her bed and pulled a long-dead rose from underneath it. She pressed the tip of her left thumb into the third thorn on the right. A drop of red leaked onto her dress. Tucking the rose safely back under the bed, she exited the room.
Ragnar led his queen to the plaza waiting people. He watched as she went to greet them. The plan was foolish, he knew, and very Tarin-like. He turned to leave, but something prompted him to look at her face, and so he did. He gazed into her eyes, hoping to find something, regret, guilt, sorrow, maybe even pity for her people.
But he found none. All he could see were the cold, regal, dead eyes of a queen who had long abandoned her people.