Kneel to the Queen

Rebekah Pouw

‘Sephie. You’re finally back with us. It’s good to have you home, Daughter.’

‘Oh, my flower, you must be exhausted. Come sit by me.’ The honeyed voice of her mother oozed around Sephie, causing a strained smile to appear on her face.

Sephie sat down next to her mother. As the sun shone through the windows, she looked up at her father. The golden crown that sat upon his head sparkled as the gemstones adorning it captured the sun’s dying rays. He smiled down at her, his eyes examining Sephie, the outfit she was wearing and her current state. Before the king could speak, Sephie’s mother jumped in.

‘My sweet flower, you look abhorrent in those rags. We must get you changed from them. Oh, and we must also get you out into the sun, you’re too pale.’

Every snide comment her mother made caused Sephie’s hands to tighten their grip on the lace of the gown she was wearing. Finally, Sephie looked beseechingly at the king.

‘Your Highness, I would like to return to my quarters. Please.’

‘Of course, Princess,’ said the king. ‘I’ll have my guards accompany you.’ Sephie’s mother stood up as the monarch waved over his personal guards.

‘I’ll also come with you, my sweet flower.’

‘Oh, Mother, that won’t be necessary,’ Sephie says.

Despite her best efforts, Sephie found herself being escorted to her chamber by the king’s guards and her mother. Sephie’s mother immediately embraced her as they entered the room. Sephie patted her mother’s back as she felt the moisture from her mother’s tears soak through her sleeves.

‘Oh, Sephie, my sweet flower, you’re free! You’ve finally been returned home.’

‘I wasn’t gone for that long, Mother–’

‘2 years! You were missing for two years, and then your father and I found out you were with Hell’s Emperor? What do you think we should have done? Be excited you were with our worst enemy? He’s a monster. He’s the reason for the fall of our neighbouring kingdoms!’

Sephie winces at her mother’s justified rage, but the last few insulting comments made her bare her teeth. Stalking forward until she was nose-to-nose with her mother, Sephie spat out furiously, ‘I was taken care of! The Emperor made certain that I was protected, well-fed, safe. You never even asked me about it!’

Her mother ignored Sephie’s protests and began walking around the room, waving her hands with each phrase.

‘You are a princess, Persephone! A princess who must follow the rules. I’m not sure why you’re so opposed to this! But never mind! We will prepare a banquet to celebrate your return. Oh, and from now on, I’ll make sure the guards keep a careful eye on you. You will have both a day and night guard. The Emperor will never be able to capture you again!’

Sephie’s mother left the room. Sephie collapsed onto her bed, feeling drained. Her lungs became filled with the overwhelming aroma of roses and lilies as she breathed in. She choked, desperately clutching the lace collar around her throat. Panic gripped her, and she threw off her gloves and began ripping at the laces on her corset, unconcerned about damaging the frilly dress. After a few rips and snaps, Sephie stood in her white dress slip, breathing in great breaths of air, her panic beginning to fade. Sephie touched her cheeks as a warm sensation began to trickle down her face. She was crying. Her hands unconsciously fell to her neck, and Sephie’s breath hitched.

There was nothing there.

She crawled about the room on her hands and knees, grabbing fragments of the frilly gown until a glint of scarlet caught her sight. With a sigh of relief, Sephie took up a necklace with a ruby star on it and replaced it around her neck. When it lay against her skin, Sephie could feel its warmth pulsing against her, a silent reminder of her “capture”.

Knock, knock, knock.

The knock on the door pulled Sephie out of her reverie.

‘Your Excellency? Your mother informed us that you wanted to take a bath. May we enter?’

Sephie grumbled in annoyance because her mother was once again putting words in other people’s mouths.

‘Yes, please come in.’ Two young women entered in answer to Sephie’s response. The eldest woman carried a steaming pitcher; the youngest carried a fluffy towel. When she saw the state of the room and Sephie’s state of dress, the one holding the pitcher let out a startled cry, almost dropping the jug.

‘Apologies for my outburst, my lady, but your outfit–’

‘It didn’t work for me. Please assist me in selecting another that is more to my liking.’

The woman’s jaw clamped shut, and both women bowed their heads as they proceeded to bathe and dress Sephie. Allowing the steam to wash over her, Sephie closed her eyes, only opening one to dismiss the girls’ attempt at pouring rose petals into the tub. ‘None of those thank you. Would you mind getting me something else? Like peppermint or ginger?’

The women exchanged glances before silently applying the specified fragrances. Sephie inhaled deeply, revelling in the familiar aromas that brought back a pleasant memory.

Nothing can compare to their hidden beauty, except you, my diamond.

Aidoneus, you flatter me. I’m no diamond.

True. You are worth so much more than a measly stone.

That’s very kind of you, my lord.

Not kind. Honest.

‘Um, Lady Persephone?’

Sephie’s eyes blinked awake to discover that she was out of the bath and dressed in a fresh dress slip. She frowned at the interruption. Sephie blanched at the thought of wearing the girls’ latest pick of a colourful, flouncy garment, most likely another “request” from her darling mother.

‘No, get me something else.’

‘But my lady, your mother has requested–’

‘Get me something else.’ Sephie’s voice dropped an octave, sending shivers down the women’s spines. They discarded the gown and searched the wardrobe for a suitable replacement. They each returned with a gown in their hands. The eldest woman carried a dress similar to the previous, except it was green and covered with bows rather than flowers. The younger woman held a very different outfit. It was a long waterfall gown with a sweetheart neckline that was the hue of the night sky and sparkled with stars.

Sephie was fascinated with the waterfall gown and, rather than allowing the maids to clothe her, she took it from them and put it on herself. Sephie turned to inspect herself in the mirror and felt a wave of approval she hadn’t felt since returning to Okeanos. Sephie smiled secretively as the star necklace around her neck sparkled like a living ember.

‘Your Grace, I don’t think your mother would approve–’

The younger woman stepped in front of her workmate. ‘You look beautiful, Princess.’

Sephie smiled at the compliment, pleased that one person wasn’t dictating what she should and shouldn’t do.

‘I think you are missing one thing.’ She pulled out a box that was tied up with a glowing red bow. ‘I saw that when you were returned, this was with you. I made sure to grab it for you when you arrived last night.’

Sephie’s eyes glassed over as she tentatively opened the box and found a crown made of garnet, onyx, and diamonds inside. She placed it on her head, gazing at her reflection. The room was filled with silence, the occupants just staring at the mirror. It was broken when the younger woman whispered:

‘You look like a queen.’

Sephie touched the glowing pendant around her neck, the secretive smile returning to her face.

‘Do I? Perhaps that’s going to be my role one day. Or maybe it already is.’

The two servants looked up in surprise at Sephie’s words, but she paid them no mind, instead pulling out a mini chessboard.

‘In a game of chess, the piece with the most control is originally thought to be the king, as he is the final piece. But the queen…’ Sephie picked up the queen’s piece, rolling it in her hand. ‘The queen can go anywhere, do anything, to protect her king. She controls the board; hence she is the most desired piece.’

Now looking at the two confused servants, Sephie held the piece out to them.

‘Don’t mistake my words. I am still Princess Persephone, daughter of the King of Okeanos, but there’s a chance that one day I will be queen. And when that happens, I will control the board, whether it be for Okeanos’s king or another’s.’

Author: Rebekah Pouw is a 3rd year creative writing student. She loves writing stories especially in the fantasy genre. She also loves dabbling in mythology writing stories based on them.

Artist: Emma Bruce is a multi-disciplinary visual artist from Yugambeh country working out of Meanjin. Her work discusses the relationship modern society has with the environment through an archival style in hopes to preserve the experience of being in the natural world. Her work hopes to invite her audience to partake in activities that nurture native flora and fauna as well as create a sense of pride to be part of it.

Editors: Brock Scholte and Fernanda Bustos Venegas