I was only supposed to sip. That's what she brought me in
She'd known me long enough, knew the kinds of training I'd been through. We trusted one another almost completely. If she didn't, she would have found someone else
It was a gift. A gift from a neighboring kingdom. Tribute might be a better word for it. They wanted to ensure our goodwill in the decades going forward
Or at least that was what they claimed. One does not reach positions like hers without knowing everything humanity was capable of
So when she summoned me
, I was not surprised.
"She's still the same
isn't she?" I asked the messenger.
"It is not my place to say." He bowed as if afraid the wrong words might end his life
. I tried not to appear threatening but I think he was more afraid of my connection to the queen.
The journey to the palace was mostly in silence. Only the sound of horse hooves and wooden wheels
on stone paths. They announced my entrance as if I were some honored guest rather than just another service person.
She came out to greet me in a way that she did for no other official visitor, in a way reserved for the rare individuals she knew from her childhood
. We started talking as old friends until she cautioned me to speak in quiet tones. She didn't need to be seen being familiar with her subjects. It would undermine her authority. But I don't think we could help ourselves, even in whispered conversation. It was an old pattern that was too hard to break.
Eventually one of her officials led us to the treasury, where she dismissed him. Then it was just the two of us
among some of the rarest items known to exist.
"This is the bottle
." She pointed at something sunken into a soft red pillow. "What do you think?"
I picked it up. The glass was heavy, if it was glass at all. One could never be too careful about the materials used that might be made to look like glass
The contents were substantial. Not something that could be taken with one sip. That's where I came in
I was going to test it for her. Not just to determine our own fates, but the relationship we would have with our neighbors. It wasn't anything new to me. It was a service I had performed for her countless times, and I had enough training from my predecessors that I had little to fear. It was only the people who did not have time for such training
, like the queen, who would not be able to do it alone.
But it was when I felt it sliding down my throat that I realized something was different. It wasn't a bad thing
. Quite the opposite. Even the tiny sip was enough to convince me our relationship was going to be in trouble. The tribute was delivering on its promises, and more. I could feel the energies surging into my limbs, and my sip dragged on.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
I held up my hand, as if asking her to wait. I could feel myself floating into the air, the weight of my body starting to fade into the candlelight
"Hey!" she shouted. "What do you think you're doing?
That seemed to snap me out of it. I put down the bottle and came to my senses
"I'm sorry my queen," I said, suddenly unable to avoid formal language
"Now I know something is wrong," she said. "What happened to you just now?"
"I got carried away, but don't worry. It is as they promised
. Perhaps a bit too much."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I think," I paused. "You don't suppose I could share this with you, just this once
"Something really is wrong. When was the last time
you ever wanted to do more than a test?"
"Never, my queen," I suggested, "so it's not so bad if you grant me this one request
"That's precisely why it's bad," she said. "I think this bottle may be a lot more dangerous than we had previously thought."
"No please," I pleaded. "It's not dangerous. I mean, okay fine, if it's dangerous and you don't want it
, you wouldn't mind if I take it off your hands then, right?"
"No, old friend. This time I feel like I have to protect you. And it's about time I did
. I see only misfortune in your future if I allow you to have this."
"You ungrateful witch!" I shouted at her. "After all I've done for you!
After all those years of friendship! A lifetime of friendship! A lifetime of loyalty! And you can't grant me one request!"
"I'm sorry," she said. "Maybe some other request, but not this one
." By then, she had already backed out the door. "Guards!" she shouted. "I need some assistance!"
I could hear dozens of footsteps rushing down the hallway. In that instant, I spun around and grabbed the bottle. Just as I held it up to my lips, large arms wrapped around my neck and waist, while other hands restrained my own.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!