Cindy was lucky the Prince left the door open a crack or she might not be able to hear their conversation at all.
“But father, she’s so beautiful. I’m sure she’ll-“
Cindy pressed herself farther into the alcove and frowned. She’d worked too hard for it to all fall apart now. Years of torment by her step mother, Edith. Years of planning her escape, and now it was possible. She would get revenge for everything her stepmother and stepsisters had done. But Cindy needed to be queen in order to ruin that women’s life thoroughly, and in order to be queen she had to marry the Prince. Following the marriage, regicide was just a matter of course. She had to be queen.
“I won’t listen to this nonsense a moment longer, my boy. There are plenty of nice ladies in court who would make a fine wife. Get the girl a position in the castle and-“
Cindy slipped out of the alcove and walked away, frowning. A position in the castle? So she could be a maid again? Cleaning ashes from the fireplace for the rest of her life? No! She wouldn’t stoop to that. Not after everything.
She made her way down the hall, back into the Prince’s room and waited for him. There was plenty in the room she could steal and sell for a profit- skip town and start a new life somewhere else. That wasn’t good enough. Dear Edith wouldn’t get her just desserts in that scenario, and Cindy wasn’t going to let the bitch off easy. No way in hell.
Finally, Prince John walked in. He smiled when he saw her, but his shoulders slumped in defeat.
“When are we to be married, John?” Cindy asked and fingered the tips of her blonde hair. It took several painful months to the get the color just right: sunlight hitting a field of wheat in the summertime. Most men couldn’t resist it. When she was queen she’d dye it black to spite them.
“Soon, darling, soon. My father is a bit surprised at the moment, but I’m sure he’ll come around.”
Cindy nodded and smiled, being careful not to look at him too directly. Men didn’t like that. It challenged their authority. When she was queen she’d stare at everyone right in the eyes and watch them squirm. “Oh, I’m so excited John! We shall be so happy when we are married, don’t you think?” she said and pushed her body into his, wrapping her slender arms around his back.
“Yes. When we’re married. Perhaps until then I should show you to your room. Just until my father comes around of course,” he said and petted her head, like she was some stray dog.
Cindy gritted her teeth. She hoped it wouldn’t come to this. If he sent her to the servant’s quarters now he’d forget about her in a week. She was not going to be forgotten. Not after everything she’d done to get there. The gown took months to sew- and those damn glass slippers! She paid a glass blower years of savings for them, right before she poisoned him and took the money right back. She couldn’t have anybody alive know of her plan, not even a sliver of it, lest she might be found out.
“New room? I’m not to stay here with you?”
“With me? Before we’re married? That would cause a palace wide-“
Cindy stood on her toes and pressed her lips into his. “Oh, John,” she moaned into his mouth.
The Prince, for all his pretense, gave in as easily as she thought. In less than five minutes they were both undressed and fumbling around in bed.
When he was finished she kissed him full on the mouth. “Do you love me, John?”
“Of course, my darling,” he said and rubbed her back, grinning like an idiot.
Cindy smiled, but not for the reason he probably thought. If the King wouldn’t approve of their marriage she’d just have to kill him before hand.
Cindy slipped past the last guard. Her weapon of choice, a poison distilled from the foxglove that grew in the palace gardens, filled the bottle pressed to her chest. If anyone found her wandering around the castle so late at night she would pretend she was lost. Where was the Prince? Where was her love, John?
She reached the King’s room at the end of the hall and tried the door. Locked. Pulling the pick from her skirt she fit it into the lock and- the door opened suddenly. A man, younger than the King, stood over her with a dagger in his hands and dangerous eyes.
“Who might you be, little mouse?”
Cindy stepped back, tucking the lock pick into the sleeve of her dress. “I wanted to talk to the King about J- Prince John, my love. I thought I could change his mind about the marriage if I could-“
The man laughed, taking a step back. “Did you now? Is that why you’re dressed all in black? Or know how to pick a lock? Don’t take me for an idiot, madam, or I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed.”
Cindy gritted her teeth. Who was he? The King’s personal guard? The man was too tall and broad shouldered for her to over power but perhaps she could seduce him then kill him.
“I really just wanted to speak with his majesty,” she said, watching the stranger carefully.
The man leaned against the doorframe and tucked the dagger back into the sheath on his belt. So he didn’t think she was a threat? Well, she’d prove him wrong.
“I’m afraid the King is past words at the moment.”
Cindy stared at him. “Did his majesty drink too much at dinner?”
The man smiled, just slightly. It made him handsome, even with the long, rough scar that trailed down his cheek. His hair looked dark, but in the poor light it was difficult to tell. “It wasn’t the drink, I’m afraid.”
Cindy frowned and tried to glance past him and into the King’s rooms beyond. “If I could just wake him I’m sure I could-“
“Convince him of your love? I’m sure the King of this realm wants to talk to the Prince’s scullery maid. You two will be married in no time.”
Cindy took a deep breath and tried not to glare. “I was the girl with the glass slipper. The Prince said he would marry me at the ball. He searched the entire city for me. Why shouldn’t we be married?” God, she sounded like one of her insipid stepsisters.
The man raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Do you believe everything men tell you?”
“Why shouldn’t I believe my love?” Cindy said, trying to keep her voice light and innocent, but this man made it difficult.
He laughed and stepped back. “Would you believe me if I said I loved you, little dove?”
“I- well we just met so that’s silly.”
“How long ago did you meet your love, Prince John?”
It sounded even worse when he said it. “Two weeks ago but-“
“You women are all the same. The Prince isn’t going to marry you, a pretty maid with no brains in her head. This country needs a queen, now more than ever, and I’m afraid you aren’t it.”
Cindy moved. One moment she was outside the door, the next she stood on her toes, pressing the man’s dagger into his neck. He might be stronger but she was faster. “If you insult me one more time I’ll slit your throat,” she hissed.
His eyes wide, the man put up his hands, but he never stopped smiling. “There she is. There’s the queen this land needs.”
“Show me to the King.”
“So you can slit my throat? No thank you. Give me my dagger back first.”
She couldn’t slit his throat without making a mess. Slowly, she lowered the dagger and stepped back. “Leave. I’ll keep this, for now.”
The man pointed at the door to the right. “The King’s in there,” he said and opened the window. Why wasn’t he using the door? “I’ll come back for the dagger, so please take good care of it, my queen.”
He slipped outside before she could answer.
Cindy shook her head. There was time to worry about him later. She rushed into King’s bedchamber and carried a lit candle to his bedside.
Blood soaked the King’s sheets and pillows, the gash in his neck gapped like a smile. Cindy stepped back and dropped the dagger. Her plan would go smoothly, and she’d didn’t even have to kill the King. That stranger had done it for her. And he’d be back for his dagger.
She looked out of the open window and shivered in the cool night air.