When I first envisioned The Princess & The Witch, I wrote the first third of what was going to be a 7,500 short story for my creative writing class. The class ended, but the tale of Isabela and Branwen lingered in my mind. Finally, now that I am graduated, with my creative writing minor nonetheless, I can devote more time to writing their adventures. My current goal is to expand it into a novella.
Once the novella is first completed and shared here, I will work on the final final version. Which will then be sold as an inexpensive ebook. :)
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Once upon a time, there lived a princess. She wasn’t the most beloved princess or even commonly known amongst the various kingdoms. She lived in a relatively small kingdom, nestled between the mountains of Rual and Qula. The small yet thriving Kingdom of Aster was more of a city-state without the democracy that would come in later centuries.
Like all princesses in this patch of lands, she grew up waiting for her inevitable kidnapping. Most princesses considered it to be a Rite of Passage. It was simple enough. Get kidnapped and then subsequently get rescued by a True Hero. Once returned to her kingdom, the princess would marry a man who proved his bravery. Of course, this Rite was falling out of favor with most of the progressive princesses in larger kingdoms, but this princess still gleefully anticipated her capture.
Alas, after waiting and waiting, Princess Isabella Rollela Viola Saffryn - Isabella for short - finally approached her eighteenth birthday with not once getting kidnapped.
Instead, she found herself in one of the many ballrooms of her castle. While the castle may not have been as regal or up to the neighboring royals’ standards, it was certainly the most extravagant structure of their country. If you were to ask the king about the castle’s history, which the queen warns the guests to never do, the king would then carry out a long spiel about his ancestors’ tastes in all things ornate, gilded, and ivory.
The celebration of her 18th spring took place in their grandest ballroom. Her parents went all out this year, ordering servants to make the floors sparkle, importing exotic and gourmet foods, and forcing Isabella to sit in front of a world-renowned painter so that a large oil painting of herself hung center on the back wall, for all esteemed guests to marvel at.
Any other time, Isabella would love to be in the spotlight, confidence radiating from her warm, brown skin. Instead, she awkwardly shuffled around her party. It’s not that she felt awkward in her silk spun, lavender gown. It’s not that she was tired from her nursemaid spending an hour getting the elaborate braids in her hair just right.
Not that she would admit this to anyone, but she had succumbed to overhearing the chatter of other maidens.
She leaned against an ornate pillar, just out-of-view from most people enjoying the celebration. From this little corner of the party, she could hear young guests chatting about nobles from other kingdoms and queendoms.
“Did you hear about Princess Tullip?”
“Oh yes, didn’t Ser Henry rescue her from the clutches of that dastardly goblin king?”
“That’s soooo romantic! I can’t wait for their wedding!”
Isabella pursed her lips into a frown.
Another princess being rescued and finding romance? Oh, what wondrous tales of love! How Isabella yearned for such flights of fancy to take hold of her and sweep her off her delicate, artisan crafted heels.
Alas, a great sigh bloomed in her chest and took hold of her exhale. She wanted something grandeur, something worthy of songs and legends, something that made her heart swell and spirit sing.
“There you are!”
Isabella’s nursemaid, Beatrice, had noticed her peeking head from behind the column.
Beatrice was a graying woman but still had enough spring in her step to deal with the demands of royalty. For this special occasion, Beatrice forwent her usual attire and donned a delicately embroidered tunic with trousers.
“Your ol’ father wishes to speak with you!”
Isabella dragged her heels and followed Beatrice.
Her parents, the King and Queen, awaited her arrival at one corner of the ballroom. Beside them were tables upon tables of succulent dishes and sweet pastries. The middle table proudly displayed an ice sculpture depicting a smaller Isabella with a dragonfly resting on her finger-- Aster’s most prized creature.
They were dressed in their refined, royal garbs. Her mother, a delightfully plump woman with striking violet eyes, was adorned in the traditional blue silks of sovereignty. Along her waist rested many braids interwoven with sapphires and aquamarine jewels. Her father contrasted the queen. Despite his height and broad shoulders, there was an easy gentleness to his many edges. He kept his attire simple, yet well-crafted -- blue tunic with patterned edges accompanied with a white robe and pants. His braids were kept in a bun atop his head, the crown jewel resting in the center.
With them, were two men Isabella didn’t recognize.
The king greeted her arrival with jovial, open arms. His arms jingled thanks to the many metallic bracelets adorning his wrists. He squeezed her in a tight, breathless hug.
“My sparkling Bella! You look even more splendid beneath the shine of the chandeliers!”
He released her, allowing her to catch her breath. The queen offered her a soft smile and a quiet, warm welcome. Isabella appreciated it.
She turned her attention to the two men accompanying her parents.
He cleared his throat and swung a gesturing arm towards the pair.
“Ah, yes, meet Basil of the Zale family in Coral Cove and Orion of the Achel family in Novalyn!”
Orion was a lanky twig with black curls and alabaster skin. Basil was a blossoming bear of a man with an awkward smile of pearly teeth. Isabella immediately held no interest in either man.
She bemoaned a sigh. Why couldn’t her parents understand that she awaited her kidnapping?
Would it be an evil king from the depths of the sea? That hadn’t occurred in a century and surely bards would compose wondrous lyrics of her rescue. Or perhaps a jilted old crone would put a curse on her? Unlikely. Curses from crones typically were placed at birth or if a princess wronged the wrong hag on the streets. And the Queen never let the Princess out of the gates without proper protection.
“Orion plays the flute like you,” the King said, continuing on as if not noticing his daughter’s uninterested expression, “and Basil here is quite adept at hunting.”
Before the King could really get into detail about the merits of being one with nature, the Queen held up a hand and drew silence.
“We will leave you to be acquainted,” she said, before turning her attention to her husband. “Come, my love, I believe the Wordsworth family has a few to spare with us.”
Once the royal couple was out of eyesight, Isabella offered the men a smile of condolence.
“Sorry, gentlemen, but I’m waiting for someone else.”
To her surprise, they actually sighed in relief.
“Oh thank the Gods,” said Orion.
“We were really worried,” added Basil.
Noticing her blinking, curious expression, Orion leaned in and whispered.
“Basil and I, are, well, together,” he said. “Our parents haven’t a clue and have been pushing for us to be married off since last year.”
“But I thought your country was accepting of sa’amours?”
“Well, my family is, but Basil’s isn’t.”
At the mention of his family, Basil’s large body started shifting from side-to-side on the balls of his feet. Orion patted Basil gently on the arm before turning back to Isabella.
“To be honest, we sort of assumed you were, you know, also of similar persuasion.”
“I’m not!” she said quickly and lowered her voice. She folded her arms, looking off to the side. “In fact, I’m waiting to be kidnapped! It’s tradition, you know.”
The men exchanged a look and shrugged.
“Not to interrupt or anything,” stepped in Beatrice, startling Isabella.
Why must the old woman have a habit of walking on clouds?
“One of my girls overheard the ol’ King and Queenie while dressin’ them this morning,” she continued. “This is the end-of-the-line, Princess. They’re dead set on marryin’ you off.”
All three softly gasped in unison.
“No, they can’t,” Isabella said in a defiant yet hushed voice.
“Oh, yes they can,” countered Beatrice. “They’ve been respectful of your wishes thus far, but the family needs an heir and you’ve turned away the last twelve suitors. This past year alone.”
“I… I…” Her brain was still trying to catch up on this latest development. Her parents, despite their nobility, had always appeared on the more progressive side.
The men were also still in shock but hurriedly whispered to each other. Would it be one of them? Forced to marry her? Suddenly, the whispering stopped and they locked hands.
“Pardon us, Princess, but I’m afraid we must leave the party now,” said Orion.
“Wait, where are you going?”
“For now, anywhere but here. I’m sure you’re a lovely woman, but neither of us can make that sacrifice.”
With that, the pair quickly yet quietly exited the ballroom.
Isabella remained, stunned at the quick succession of events.
“I believe I will be returning to my bedchambers now.”
At least her bedchamber was equipped with a fainting couch.
Up atop one of the highest parts of a castle tower, Princess Isabella arrived at her quarters. She dragged an old wooden chair and placed it in front of her grandfather clock.
“This is terrible,” she bemoaned over to her nursemaid. She then turned her attention back the clock. “Six hours.” She observed the ticking hands in the candlelight. “In precisely six hours and twenty minutes, I’ll have reached my eighteenth spring. This time next spring, I will be past my prime kidnapping years. How will I find a dashing young hero to marry me now?”
On the other end of the room, sat Beatrice. She had settled into a rocking chair and grabbed her yarn for crocheting. “There is always Ser Richard,” she gently reminded Isabella. “He is the Duke’s son and a childhood friend. Childhood Friends still make popular spouses and stories.”
Isabella shook her head. “I need to feel something, Beatrice.” She stood and began walking towards her window. “I don’t feel anything for Richard. I know he’s popular with the other maidens, but I don’t understand it.” She reached the window and gazed upon the sweeping landscape of trees, a river, and one of the mountains in the distance. “But a hero, surely I’ll feel something for my rescuer.”
She placed a hand on her window, feeling the cool glass, and focused on her reflection. What was wrong with her? She thought back to Orion and Basil. Maybe running off was the right idea. Nothing inside of her could fathom marrying anyone she didn’t feel something for. Besides, how could she place them in the same predicament, especially after they found each other?
“There was gossip among the young maids this morning,” Beatrice mentioned, appearing as if she were more deeply interested in creating booties for her hound.
Princess Isabella rolled her eyes. “When isn’t there?”
Beatrice gave her a pointed look. “Careful not to throw stones, miss. Besides, might be useful.”
“Fiona went to town to fetch the milk and overheard the townsfolk. There is rumor of a new witch in the Dark Woods.”
Princess Isabella turned to her nursemaid and raised her brows. A witch trying to fill Mauve’s pointed boots? She bit her lip, thinking.
“Excellent,” Isabella exclaimed as she clapped her hands together. She turned back to observe the woods from her window. “Fetch me my traveling attire and satchel.” She opened her window, breathing in the fresh air. “And sneak some food from the kitchen,” she added offhandedly.
She looked forward, into the wide open world. No more waiting around. Finding her one true love was now or never, even if it meant initiating her own kidnapping.
“We’re going witch hunting.”
Far into the forest, where the Princess had yet to venture, lived a witch.
If one were to be technical, as the witch would, she was merely house sitting. The witch would also go on to say that she doesn’t care for any implications that she’d set up domain inside said forest. Perhaps, to fully understand this messy ordeal, it’s best that we back up.
Before the celebration of the Princess’s birth, before the townsfolk became privy to the witch’s existence, and before the witch herself found herself saying in the forest, Branwen received a letter.
The letter, of course, came by the way of a raven. The creature journeyed to her home along the sprawling beach. The raven cawed and tapped at one of her windows until she opened it in a sleepy daze. Once the letter was untied from its ankle, the raven nodded. Duty completed, the raven set sail above the sandy shores.
Before unfurling the letter, the witch sat on her porch. Despite the sleep-sand still present in her eyes, she felt excited. Her legs dangled off the porch, swinging in anticipation, just barely not kicking up the sand below.
She smiled. Yes, the letter was definitely from Auntie Willow. No one else called her “Brandy” nor had such refined penmanship.
She read on. Auntie Willow wished her a warm 20th birthday and mentioned that her stars foretold wondrous fortune for Branwen’s upcoming year. Her aunt then related her own updates-- Auntie Willow’s shop was doing fine, albeit busy. Rumors of a dragon near her city’s mountain spawned near and far Professional Adventurers and Heroes into making supply stops at Willow’s Whispers and Wishes Emporium.
A request marred the end of an otherwise delightful letter.
Brandy, my dear, I must request a favor and I do not implore you lightly. It’s in regards to your mother...
She finished reading the letter, set it aside, and stared out into the morning sea. She breathed in the salty air, allowing the taste to fill her throats and lungs. In and out. She breathed until all the thoughts settled.
For Auntie Willow, she told herself.
Even among her family of witches, Branwen felt like an outsider. It’s not that the rest of her family were sociable creatures. Her mother, along with most of her aunts, lived in the various forests scattered across the continent of Lavona, only to meet once a blue moon. Yet, Auntie Willow, the only one to live in a bustling city, regularly kept in touch with everyone. The dawn after each new moon, Branwen could always look forward to a letter.
She was the only one that didn’t make her feel like an outsider.
She picked up the letter again, rereading the request.
All she had to do was housesit until her Auntie could wrap up her ends.
She hopped off the porch, her feet sinking into the cool sand. She wiggled her toes and enjoyed the quiet morning before picking up what her mother left behind.
Deep in the woods, Branwen pushed the tree branches aside to reveal a small opening in which her mother’s cottage sat. The cottage resided just past the brook, yet before the meadow. Vines from a foreign soil wove themselves along the outside walls, creating dots of blooming, violet flowers.
If Branwen were to be honest, not that most expected honesty from a witch, she would say that the Dark Woods didn’t live up to the full potential of its name. Even with Mauve’s unexpected absence, Branwen kept her lips sealed, lest Mauve’s familiars be listening. Yet still, she hadn’t expected the tall dainty trees, fair meadow, nor the gentle woodland creatures who greeted Branwen upon her arrival. Yes, Mauve must’ve done some serious magick to cause the towns folks to fear her so.
Hesitantly, Branwen pushed the door open and stuck her head inside. She didn’t know what she anticipated, having never been in her mother’s newest residence. Mauve had that habit, always moving around.
“Huh,” she murmured.
Like the forest, the quaint insides weren’t what she anticipated. The one bedroom abode was more spacious than the outside suggested. The living quarters were simple enough: two bookshelves packed tightly, a work desk with two layers of shelves above it filled with an assortment of potion bottles and plants, a comfortable chair next to a fireplace, and a door that led to the garden outside. The cottage appeared lived in: opened books atop the end table beside the chair, discarded plates on the desk, and a pile of clothes outside the bathroom door. If it were not for the thin layer of dust, Branwen would assume her mother was napping in the bedroom.
That was not the case. She opened the bedroom door, revealing only silence.
Inside were more shelves, a full sized bed, a trunk at the end of the bed, and an armoire. A window by the bed offered a view of the garden. She dropped her traveling bag atop the bed. It didn’t contain much. Only a book, change of clothes, hygienic supplies, food, and a black leather box. It contained vials, chalk, bones, whispers, and secrets.
Branwen abruptly sneezed and shattered the silence.
She sneezed again. And again. She sneezed until there were very little remnants of any silence at all.
The dust needed to go.
After rummaging through a closet in the living room, she procured a broom. According to her aunt, magically advanced brooms could be found in some larger cities, but they were far too pricey for Branwen to ever afford.
Branwen started softly humming an old song as she swept through the inside of the dusty cottage. She kept the webs in tack in the friendship of spiders. One could always count on a spider’s gift if one were kind to spiders.
She didn’t have much desire to do so, but someone needed to keep it tidy until Auntie Willow came. Besides, the less dust-induced sneezing the better, as far as Branwen was concerned.
She eventually made her way back to the bedroom, this time with a rag to dust down surface spaces. That’s when she found an old picture atop the nightstand.
She picked it up. It was a picture of them -- herself, Mauve, and Auntie Willow -- from years ago. Before Branwen moved in with Auntie Willow.
Branwen’s smaller-self stood between the two older women. Despite her then tiny stature, she was all grins, endless bouncing red curls, and stormy eyes. Auntie Willow appeared almost the same as she did now, tall and elegant, expect grayer. Branwen eventually allowed herself to look at Mauve. While her mother was tall, it was subverted by a hunch. The woman seemed pale, sallow almost, and her eyes stared tiredly into an unseen void.
Save for height and red locks, Branwen didn’t inherit anything from her mother. Barely her looks and definitely not her magic. Much to Mauve’s disappointment, Branwen was neither an earth witch or entropic witch-- the two bloodlines most common in their lineage.
Branwen pulled open the nightstand drawer, plopped the picture inside, and continued her sweeping.
She recalled the raven’s letter. Auntie Willow should be arriving by at least two full moons from now. She set the broom down and adjusted the curtains, light pouring in. She could hold out until then.
Two days passed since Branwen left the sea to tend to her mother’s home. She craved the salt in the air and wind in her hair. Everything here too green, too filled with repressed longing for a childhood she never had.
She stepped outside, ready to tend to the neglected vegetable and herb garden. For a moment she stared at the plants in contemplation. It’s not that she hated the plants. It was more of tending to what her mother left behind.
Still, today’s work would beat yesterday. Yesterday, she went into town for supplies. Branwen shuddered at the thought of repeating that experience. Her? Around people? Particularly humans? Perish the thought. Yes, some simple yard work would suffice.
Suddenly, before she could even kneel, a loud shriek pierced through the trees. She muttered a half-hearted curse, hoping no one was foolish enough to enable the obvious protection glyphs she etched into the trees and stones.
She shrugged and knelt anyways. The shriek wasn’t her problem.
Branwen looked down at the plants beneath her, staring into the mint. It was hard not to stare at the mint, given how much the mint had taken over the garden. She might not be the most adept in nature magick, but she swore she could feel the mint judging her.
“Come on,” she said. “Whatever it is, it’s not my business.”
The mint continued to stare.
“If it is a person, it’s their own fault. Who goes into a place literally named The Dark Woods?”
The mint didn’t yield their stare.
“Okay, so it may be a townsperson and they may be hurt, but why do I care?”
The wind blew, rustling the mint’s leaves, as if angrily shaking a fist at Branwen.
“Look, it’s not that I’m heartless or anything. I just don’t want to get involved.”
The leaves wept.
A few moments later, Branwen caved.
“Fine, but when I start weeding, you’re first.”
With a tremendous groan, Branwen went to seek whatever poor soul decided venturing into a witch’s domain was a good idea.
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Chapter three is available early on patreon!