Danger, she wrote, over and over again.
“Why does no one see this? Are they ignoring me? Are they making fun of my vulnerability?”
These thoughts kept on pounding Annalise’s head as her hand carved the letters on the big oak tree.
To Annalise, the castle behind her did not matter nor did the numerous servants waiting on her.
To her, all this was yet another ploy to trap her into the ruse her family always managed to raise.
Annalise was a 14-year old honor student at the University of Oxford. Like any other prodigy, she was used to being stared at, her every step being constantly analyzed. What set Annalise apart from all the other prodigies is that she was also an heir to the most prominent kingdom, ruling over 60% of the world, Brittania.
An even more unsettling fact was that she was now the throne heir. Even though she was the sixth in line to the throne, a myriad of “sudden demises” of the older heirs had started since the succession war.
Contrary to what the name suggests, the succession war didn’t include massive armies, but was more of a strategic battle of minds. While the political assassination of the royal family was still a capital crime punishable by death, nothing could be done about “sudden demise with no apparent cause.” This was what the end of Annalise’s elder brother was named with.
All Annalise could see now were assassins who were trying to have an attempt at her life. Being a part of the royal family, she was constantly reminded of her expectations. The restrictions of the royal family had always made sure Annalise was socially awkward, as all her siblings were able to command the respect they may or may not have deserved. That said, when she became the heir to the throne, she was also the eldest in a withering family. All hopes of reigning the kingdom and the family, fell upon her.
“Is it one of your friends?” a soft, mellow voice stopped Annalise’s train of thought. Mary, one of the maids who worked for her and a friend she could confide in, in her younger days. After not being in contact for some time, she was as distant as any of the other helpers Annalise had.
“Regnad, a nice name. A friend from the University? A prince maybe.”, Mary repeated.
“Yes” was the only answer Annalise could muster up. The thought of opening up to someone who could ease her woes was still a dream to Annalise.
This succession war had seen the oldest of accomplices become despised enemies. How could she believe a person she had not talked with for the last four years?
Four years. Yes, that was when everything changed. She was to be sent to the University for further studies as the local schools said there was anything left for them to teach the prodigy. Of course, Annalise and Mary promised each other to write letters. Only Annalise kept the promise. There was no reply from Mary whatsoever.
“Princess, It’s time for you to get ready for the ball.”, “Could I stay a bit longer in the garden?” Annalise was not yet ready to face the crowd as they waited for the heir’s speech.
“Sure, I could bring the mirror out and dress your hair in the meanwhile.” Soon enough, a big mirror was brought out to the garden and set beside the oak tree where Annalise was sitting. As Mary started combing Annalise’s hair, her eye fell on the carvings in the tree, words that looked familiar in the royal household when one read them with the order reversed.
Mary got the hint Annalise had been dropping for a sliver of sunlight that could save her from her agony.
Now that she looked around, the whole of the Oak’s trunk was covered with similar carvings.
Mary’s face turned pale. The person she had sworn her loyalty to had been facing such a dire situation, and she could do nothing but smile and greet her.
However, she was also reminded of her status, a mere maid who had been denied the status of an accomplice when the princess found her own people in the University.
No promised letters. No visits. Only broken promises and a heartbroken child. She understood it all soon enough and gathered herself.
“My Princess, are you fine?”
Annalise, hearing the voice from her friend now and not the maid she was used to since her return, could not control her tears anymore.
Tears of agony started flowing down her cheeks.
“You must not cry here, my princess. There are too many eyes here.”
A sobbing nod was all that Mary needed. She escorted the princess back to her room, and the princess narrated her anguish to Mary.
Hearing all this, Mary could not stop herself but give her solution she had once dreamt of. “I have an idea. My family owns a farm in Scotland. If you want, we can move there, far from the influence of the royal family”.
Through the door she thought was closed for her, Annalise had found a helping hand that could set her free. We all look for a breakthrough most of the time it’s from people we have given up on. But what we can do is write Danger over and over again. Danger, she wrote, over and over again.
Content by Sai Sambhab
Design by Insha Mustafa