The Seventeen Girls
In an arena filled with sorrow, civilians stood with expressions of dismay, delight, and disgust. The arena was decorated with brilliant ribbons and roses. Seventeen young women lined up in a single file line, their beautiful faces veiled with a disconsolate expression. Them being present at the palace on this special day presaged only one outcome; it was the marriage of a king with ideas so deleterious and capricious, people lived in constant terror.
Prior to the death of his wife Regina, the king had been a kind and genial human being. He had been a conscientious ruler who made wise choices, unlike his present self. People theorize that it was only after the queen’s mysterious passing the king became more arrogant from anguish. He had a thick knotted beard and cold blue eyes, a perfect addition to his ruthless demeanor. This monarch had a somewhat volatile nature, marginally tolerable to his subjects. Citizens existed peacefully in his kingdom as long as they acquiesced to his will. Although, as any pretentious baron would act, the king decreed arbitrary laws. The most bizarre one was regarding his marriage. Normally, being chosen the new wife of such a powerful individual would be an event to be celebrated. The only worry was how long would the alliance between them last? Every month, the king wed a suitable, randomly chosen young maiden. But in the morning, she was slaughtered at the same place her wedding had taken place just the day before. One-hundred twenty women had been slaughtered so far. It seemed as though she was a mere pastime of the monarch. No one knew why the king showed such animosity to his subjects by abducting its daughters and having them killed soon after.
Within today’s unfortunate raffle was a single soul almost as fervent as her possible husband’s. Her name was Camila. She grew up watching this cruel event from a tender age, always feeling sorry for the poor wives, and always trying to contrive a way to end this catastrophe. A shrewd lady, Camila managed to bribe the card-handler, the man who would decide the fates of all these women, and his only obligation was to make sure the card he drew bore her name.
“Welcome to the ceremony of the wedding of our most beloved king,” bellowed the card-man, “Today will determine which of the following ladies, presented before you, will have the honor of becoming the king’s newest wife.”
It was a very true statement, to acclaim the ceremony as one to determine the most recent wife, rather than the first and only one.
“To witness the cardselection today, the king himself will ascend to the stage.”
Feeble cheers whistled in the air, barely audible.
The card-man slowly drew a slip of paper from a worn-down box and presented it to the king. The monarch finally hissed, “And the lucky one I shall take home with me today is...Camila.”
Although she had anticipated this fate, the inevitable fact of being picked hit the bravehearted Camila in the chest even stronger than a punch. The sly, coveted smile of the king that spoke the words, “You are mine now,” sent a wave of fear as her new husband and she were escorted to the palace. Royal horses clothed in rich velvet rushed into the grand arena to convey the couple to the palace. The king sat at the front of the chariot, leaving his bride to sit with the maids at the back. It was an unexpected gesture for someone who seemed so possessive to do this. After they finally reached the palace, Camila was not thrown into a dungeon or tortured as expected. The king approached her aggressively asking her, “Do you want to go for a walk in the gardens before you leave in the morning?”
Camila rudely scoffed, “After selecting me to be your wife and planning to kill me in the morning, you dare ask me to take a walk with you? How cruel can you possibly be?”
“Listen, it is like a tradition. Every girl I meet is obliged to introduce themselves to me during a walk. If you reject my order, you shall be beheaded tonight itself in the dungeons, unable to see the faces of your loved ones during your last breaths of life.”
Afraid her only opportunity to murder the beast at night may expunge, she gritted her teeth and agreed. The royal couple strolled into a lush, green atmosphere filled with elegant flora and fauna. Exotic birds basked in the sun with their colorful plumage fanned out. Foreign peacocks cooed sweetly beside a towering waterfall. The scent of fresh roses and cut grass perfumed the air. Camila had been adorned in a heavy, emerald-colored gown to match the breathtaking environment.
“So Camila, tell me about your family and background.”
The question seemed friendly enough, but something unexpected for a mad murderer.
“I am eighteen years old. I live with my two parents and elder brother in a small cottage. My father is a merchant who travels all the way to distant lands in Asia, but now my brother is the predominant provider and has taken over the family business.”
“Your family has a family business? What do you all produce?”
“My family specializes in glass-making.”
“Mmm...I see. Is there anything else special about you?”
“I deeply enjoy music! One of my hobbies is playing the harp during my free time.”
“Oh yes! The royal ballroom houses various musical instruments I love to play whenever time permits. I myself am a piano virtuoso, if I do say so myself. Oh, and would you like a flower from the royal gardens, to have as a memory of being at the palace”
This was a confusing remark. Was the king opening up his amiable self, or was he indirectly hinting at Camila’s death soon awaiting her? Camila excused herself from the rendezvous to scurry back to her quarters, bewildered. Just before she turned her back to the man, the king called out grinning, “Camila, perhaps in the morning tomorrow, you can play some instruments with me in the royal ballroom. I would love some company!” Astonishingly, Camila was presented an invitation to spend another day at the palace, rather than her corpse being deposited in the royal dustbins the very next morning.
The sun cast a pink glow in the sky as it began to sink beneath the horizons. Three hours had passed since the young maiden had left the king. The meeting between them revealed an unforeseen truth to Camila about the king. He was certainly not the kindest of people, nor did he seem as cruel of a human being he was portrayed as. For some reason, the girl was hesitant to murder her husband. Yet was that not the only reason why she decided to take part in this royal saga? But on the other hand, why had she, of all people, been spared more than just one night at the palace? So many questions whirred through Camila’s mind. Determined to find a reason for the king’s sudden generosity and to fulfill her ambition, she slipped a thin blade into her lilac colored sleeve, careful not to expose the weapon. After much thought and careful intrigue, Camila planned to murder the king tonight at tea. She cautiously tiptoed into the king’s chamber.
“Come in, Camila,” summoned the highness.
Without a pause, Camila interrogated, “But why? Why do you have to kill so many helpless people? And why have you spared me?”
The king’s face dimmed abruptly.
“I have a story to tell. It is a story that changed me forever. It is a story about love, abandonment, and so much more. Over ten years ago, if you were to ask any citizen about their king, the words monster, conniving, and absurd, would not be the ones to come out of their mouths. As you may have heard from townsfolk, I was quite a good king. The only being I cared about more than my kingdom was my wife. One day, as we walked in the gardens, her eyes slid upwards as she lost consciousness. Grasping a tree, she slid down gently, her face changing into a sallow color. Shocked, I ran towards her inert self and patted her frantically. She did not wake up. My palm stroked hers until her pulse weakened, slowly fading until barely noticeable, until it ceased forever…
With a heavy heart, I clothed myself in a black cloak and attended the funeral of my wife the very next morning. Tears oozed out of my red, infuriated eyes. What I was most upset about was that I, nor anyone, knew why she had died. The event struck so abruptly. For the first few months preceding the unfortunate death, I stayed locked up in my room from dusk to dawn. In the remaining hours, I kneeled helplessly at the foot of a portrait of my wife, subconsciously talking to her. Only my closest advisors pitied me but most deemed me as a mad man needing desperate help. Those few advisors had me consider remarriage, yet the thought itself was infuriating!” With his hands raised high and his resonant voice booming within the shadows of the chamber, the king hurled a massive gold-plated chair across the room. He had reached the acme of tension and anger.
“I cannot become the person I used to be. He is gone! He is dead! You asked for the reason I kill all these women. You know why? I kill them all before I have a chance to possibly ever love them. If I did, and they died soon after, I cannot imagine having to bear what I had previously after the loss of my first wife.”
This comment appalled Camila. “If you cannot afford to love someone else, why do you ever marry at all?”
“Because I am a madman! My soul is one as barbaric as a soul can ever be!”
“And my final question, why have I been spared?”
“That I cannot say!” He marched off to a corner of the room. Gradually he began to control himself.
At this moment, Camila was standing directly behind the king with the dagger carefully tucked in her sleeve. The bloodthirsty knife tugged at Camila’s skin, whispering a song of death into her ear. Diverted, the king who faced the wall wept so much that his tears left dry, white streaks of skin on his face. The fact that the king was certainly not the monster he was pervasively portrayed as became evident once again, for the second time. The king had lost a lover, a friend, and a moral support all because of a single person. He himself knew his soul was as barbaric and fervent as one could possibly ever get, for the fact that dozens of females had died due to his past was indeed inescapable. Camila had spent so many years of her childhood planning of a way to murder the king, and before her was a golden opportunity to execute her plan. One swift motion of her blade into the king’s back, and he was dead. But some part of Camila wanted to show mercy to the king, for enduring so much during his lifetime. As the sun was rising through the magnificent windows of the king’s quarters, she was reminded that there was no guarantee her brutal slaughter would not take place today. There was only a matter of seconds to decide the fate of the king. Would he face death, or did he have a chance of living?
Camila’s mind wavered, but she had finally chosen an outcome for her husband.