FROM CURSIVE TO CURSES- PART IV
Wilhelm’s horse refused to take another step forward. The letter from Princess Aledia told him to head to the country of the west. She invited him to attend a wedding and promised that his brother would be there. The man had always been stubborn. When Wilhelm sent the letter, he didn’t expect a response. The kingdom was still a few weeks’ ride. There was plenty of time to reach the kingdom if he could persuade his horse to move.
“The horses will not travel down the path,” a voice said behind him.
Wilhelm glanced to the side. The messenger had found him as he left the small, cursed village of Hansel and Gretel. He was the same messenger that had entered the tavern drenched to the bone to deliver his brother’s letter. The village blossomed without the witch. Now, he traveled to the wedding with the messenger. He still wore the jacket with the royal crest, but it was worn, and the color had faded. Wilhelm sighed and looked around. The path stretched two ways; the well-traveled path was bathed in light. The other side was barely visible amongst the overgrowth, and shadows covered the path. The horses refused to take another step towards the well-traveled path. Wilhelm nudged the horse toward the overgrown side and frowned as they started forward.
“You’d think this path would scare them, not the other way around…” the messenger mumbled as he tucked his face into his jacket against the chilly autumn wind. Wilhelm agreed. As they ventured further, the air felt colder and colder. A village greeted them at the end of the path. The first house was a mere husk of itself. The houses that came after followed the same scorched fate. The messenger said nothing beside him. The air resembled the witch’s forest. No birds sang here. It was for an entirely different reason. It was if death sat on the air and refused to leave this place.
“It looks as though this village was attacked,” Wilhelm whispered. The whisper felt disrespectful as it shattered the silence of the village.
“This must have been King Hugo’s realm. The kingdom was at war, and his realm was merged into King Derek’s kingdom once it was over. The main village was left as a reminder, or so I heard rumored…” the messenger said. Wilhelm shook his head. The games of kings destroyed so many families. What was the end result? Land? Power? His eye caught an odd structure in the distance.
“What is that?” Wilhelm asked. He steered his horse towards the ominous structure. It was a tower with no windows or doors. He dismounted and ran a hand over the stone. The messenger followed suit and glanced around the odd tower. He walked around the other side and hollered for Wilhelm. Chiseled away in the stone was an opening; Wilhelm stepped inside. It was a single room, circular in design. Three sleeping cots and several large boxes sat in the room, but nothing else. The messenger moved towards the boxes and found them empty. Wilhelm moved about the place and found the wall within had tally marks scratched in the stone.
“Boy, go fetch a light.”
The messenger darted out and returned with a lit lantern from the horses. The place lit up, and the tally marks covered every inch of the wall. Someone was locked away in here. What could have warranted such treatment? If Wilhelm was to judge by the tally marks, the soul sat in this place for years.
“Sir Wilhelm, may we leave? This place doesn’t feel right.” The messenger suggested. Wilhelm nodded. As the messenger stepped over the opening in the wall, the light of the lantern caught on a small butter knife. The metal was bent and worn to nothing. Wilhelm frowned and moved back to the horses. The next kingdom wasn’t far from where they were.
The sun had begun to set as Wilhelm, and the messenger reached the neighboring kingdom. There was laughter pouring out from the tavern and children playing tag in the fading twilight. Wilhelm pulled their horses into the tavern’s stable and headed towards the tavern. The boy followed like a lost dog. Wilhelm reminded himself it was only until he reached his brother. As they passed the final stall of the tavern stables, he heard a small sneeze. His brows furrowed, and he peered within. Hiding amongst the hay were two ladies. Each wore dresses that once could have been the finest garments that Wilhelm had ever seen. The fabric appeared faded and torn in several places. Their hair lay unbound and wild. They both stared at him, terrified.
“Why are you hiding in the hay?” he asked, and one of the two cried. The other stood, her head held high despite the state of dress she was in.
“We cannot afford anything, so we must hide in here. Would you turn us out into the frigid night?” she demanded. She gave off a regal air. It did not match that of a common beggar.
“I said nothing in regards to turning you out into the night. I have no care whether you hide here or not.” Wilhelm started to leave.
“You look as if you have not eaten in quite some time. Let us treat you,” the messenger offered, and Wilhelm turned with a glare.
It was too late. The ladies accepted his offer. The four walked into the tavern and found a table. The tavern served stew that evening, and the smell filled the tavern. The women were silent as they sipped from their mugs of warm cider. Wilhelm took out a piece of wood and chisel as they waited for their stew. Slowly, he started carving away at the wood.
“What are you making?” the black-haired woman spoke. Her eyes were red from the tears she shed earlier that evening.
“We came across a tower earlier today, and I wish to carve its likeness.”
The two women shuddered. The messenger cleared his throat. “Do you know what the tower was for?” the messenger asked.
The woman with hair reminiscent of fire nodded. She was the stronger of the two. “The king locked his daughter and ladies-in-waiting within the tower. She refused to marry anyone besides the man she loved. He hoped to break her spirit by keeping her trapped in the darkness for seven years,” the red-haired woman explained. Wilhelm’s mind went back to the tally marks that snaked around the tower.
“That is awful. What kind of father could do such a thing to his daughter?” the messenger breathed. She shrugged. The barkeep arrived and served each a large bowl of stew. Warmth seeped from the bowl. Both women dug in with hunger that Wilhelm had never seen before. The smaller black-haired woman threw decorum to the wind as she shoveled the food in. The red-haired woman ate with hunger but did not dig in as her friend did. Her back was straight as if she had years of manners beaten into her.
“What happened to the daughter and the ladies-in-waiting?” he asked as he took a spoonful of the stew. It warmed his bones from the cold he hadn’t even registered before.
“They escaped and left to find work,” the red-haired stated.
“Did they succeed?” Wilhelm prodded.
“No, we didn’t,” the black-haired woman answered only to receive a jab in the side from the red-haired woman.
The messenger stared in shock, and Wilhelm nodded.
“I see. So, you defied a king and were punished. Why not marry the man your father chose? Your life would have turned out better for it,” Wilhelm said as he took another spoonful of stew.
The red-haired woman glared, but the black-haired woman spoke up first. “Maid Maleen would never betray the man she loves. Her father was wrong, and his heart contained greed rather than love for his daughter.”
“It could have been better for your family and your kingdom,” Wilhelm pointed out as a hint of anger pulled at his heart.
The messenger sat silent as he watched the back and forth.
“There are times where you must put yourself first. I refused to sacrifice my heart for greed,” Maid Maleen said. Wilhelm scoffed and glowered at the princess.
“You sound like my brother. He left our family to pursue a fantasy of being a scholar. He left without so much as a kind word. He chose this profession over his family. The next time I heard from him, it was when he needed to ask for advice. There is no honor in betraying your family. They raise you and make you into the person that you are. Instead of returning the kindness, he spat on the family name,” Wilhelm growled as he stared at his stew. He felt the messenger’s eyes bore into him. A small, calloused hand reached out and touched his.
“Did you ever think your brother still cares for you? Perhaps if you support him rather than try to force him to your will, he will not have to be such a stranger,” Maid Maleen suggested.
Wilhelm stared at the callouses on her hand. They were in the same small shape of the knife. She used the butter knife to get out of the tower. It hit him so hard that he wasn’t sure what to make of it. She must have picked away at the walls until the stones came loose to pull apart. How long could that have taken?
“How did you not go mad in the darkness of that tower?” he asked. She smiled and sipped from her stew.
“I knew that my father loved me deep down, and I knew that I had a man that loved me as well. Love kept me sane.” Something plucked at Wilhelm’s heart-strings. He wanted to crush it.
“I will pay for a few rooms here. We are traveling for a few more weeks. You may accompany us. Perhaps you can find work in a neighboring kingdom.” Wilhelm relented.
The women smiled, and the messenger grinned as well. Wilhelm ran a hand through his beard and shook his head. He left his bowl half empty and dumped a few coins into the messenger’s hand. The boy would take care of it. Wilhelm moved towards his room, bag in hand.
It was warm enough with the fireplace lighting the room in a dim glow. He sat at the desk by the fire and dumped out his bag. From the pile, he picked up a stack of letters tied together. Each was a letter that he started and never sent to his brother. Jacob was his best friend growing up, and Jacob left him behind as if he had meant nothing. He wanted to hate him. Wilhelm wanted to despise everything about Jacob, and he tried. His father had ordered Wilhelm to forget Jacob ever existed. Yet, that didn’t stop the ache in his heart.
Wilhelm pulled out the quill and fresh paper from the desk. He wrote. It would go to the stack, another letter he would never send—a conversation he would have had with his best friend. Not one was asking for advice regarding the strange tower, finding his father, or about Maid Maleen. This letter contained a conversation of a day passed. If he had supported Jacob from the start, would things have been different? He shook his head and looked back to the stack. He would uphold his father’s wishes as he always did. Jacob wasn’t family. Wilhelm just needed his assistance in finding his father. Jacob wasn’t his family or his friend. That fact did nothing to lessen the ache in Wilhelm’s heart.