Thyme Blossoms

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
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Makalia pressed her lips and forced a smile until she could no longer hold it in.
“Ah, what an ominous sound! Why is that damned rooster clucking at this hour of the night?”
“It seems like a message,” the countess replied thoughtfully, putting down her cup of tea.
“Oh you do amuse me your highness... It is nothing but a foolish bird!”
She rose to leave the hall which was filled with guests today. As she shut the door behind her, she eyed the handsome youth at the piano with longing.
“Soon, my love,” she muttered; a quiver on her lips crooked into a half smile.

Unaware of these happenings, Susan walked down the long, illuminated corridor, pausing to cherish the grandiose, blood-red velvet curtains by the window.
“Susan! The guests are waiting. Won't you bring in those delicious cakes you made?” The high-pitched voice of her mistress pierced the air. Makalia stood at the doorway, arms crossed, a dangerous gleam playing in her eyes. Susan sighed underneath the massive chandelier that swayed to the music emanating from the grand piano, one she knew was now occupied by his slender, masculine figure.
As she approached the dining hall with the silver plate full of succulent thyme pastries, her heartbeat matched the pace of his rhythm: rapid yet firm. She trodded slowly, letting her face absorb the light from the burning lamps so that the guests wouldn't see the darkness boiling within.

The music hit her with full force as Makalia opened the doors to the magnificent hall.
“May I introduce you, ladies and gentlemen, to the subject that brought us all together today—Susan!”
Men and women clad in extravagance turn to look at her while he remained seated at the piano in oblivion, or rather, in disinterest to her entrance. The only sound in the room came from the piano and the rooster that was still singing its hollow, arcane tale:
It's her last day, you!
Tomorrow morning,
The Angels will sing,
And take her away too,

Susan humbly placed the platter before the guests. She could feel the gaze of the members in the room scathe her bones. Their unsaid words choked her. Their ugly looks clawed at her skin. She bowed, and struggled to keep her legs from giving away. Through the corner of her eyes, she caught the scornful face of her elderly mistress, and the faithful back of his self.

On the other side was a man with flailing confidence. With each note, his hands shuddered. He bit his lip and forced his fingers to glide over the keys. How symbolic of his own life! Blotted with dark spots that had sealed his happiness forever. He wished he could have those hateful black keys destroyed, but alas, he knew that music was incomplete without them. No piano was fully white...
His eyes burned, and the black-and-whiteness blurred. He could only see grey: despair, agony, pain. Tears streamed rapidly down his face now. He closed his eyes and played with his heart. He couldn't turn back, he reminded himself.

Makalia was cherishing every moment of the evening. She had always hated the beautiful maid—the prince always gave the latter attention, ignoring the former whose constant efforts to woo him went in vain-- and she had hit bull’s eye when she caught Susan and the prince together. They were standing behind the gorgeous velvet curtains, and talking in hushed tones; he was holding flowers in his hand. A maid and a prince: such forbidden love!
And so she had gone to the queen.

Having served the cakes and more tea, Susan left the room. She still needed to rinse the dishes and clean the kitchen. She walked past the massive windows, staring into the night sky, and reminisced how he had come to meet her in the stealth of the night.
“Jay!” she had exclaimed startled as he entered her room through the window.
His countenance had contorted.
“I will never hear that again, Susan. I will only remain "James the second" hereafter! I'll lose the last person I ever loved... I'll lose everything...”
Makalia had convinced the Queen that Susan had bewitched the prince: a crime worthy of hanging.
Susan had taken him in her arms as he wept like a baby.
“Shush... shush... the evil will wake,” she had tried to console him.
“The evil’s already awake. I woke him up.”
“It's not your fault, Jack. Please stop crying. You have to be strong for me, big brother.”

Susan stacked away the plates she washed and held the plate he had barely eaten from.
He had said he wanted to die with her. Thus, she had returned his flowers she had preserved so carefully. They were thyme blossoms. It was a gift for her birthday; their family used to cultivate thyme for a living. They didn’t grow around the palace, so he had traveled to the outskirts to bring her blossoms, and had tried to give them to her in hiding.
They were simple, aromatic herbs that added flavor to any food. They could withstand a variety of climates. They didn’t wither away and die because of change. He was her thyme. She had given him the flowers and he had understood.
Susan put away her brother’s plate.

The prince eventually stopped playing and stepped outside. The breeze was dank; there was no moon. It resembled the sky from years back when the King had come to take him away. His son—the real prince-- had died from illness, and he needed someone with a similar physique to replace him lest the ministers found out the truth and began to fight for the position of power. And thus, he had been taken away from the sister he loved so much, made into royalty from a mere peasant.
Indeed, he wouldn’t have been able to keep going without his ray of light by his side if not for her faith in him. He needed to stay strong. He sat down on a rock, and braced himself on the uneven surface. It reminded him of the hard coldness he received Mother queen, who had never accepted him. And now, she had a means to turn her anguish into vengeance. But he could not wither. He would bloom nonetheless.

Somewhere along the memory lane, the night, a momentary truth, gradually faded to give way to the Sun. Susan put down her mop and took a deep breath, enjoying the most essential but overlooked action for what would be her last moments. The guards came to take her. She still had time to run away, but she knew her brother couldn’t escape his subjects’ scorns. This was the only way he could regain their trust. She needed to sacri— but she was really going to die, wasn’t she? She was going to stop existing. Her heartbeat quickened. Her courage began to fail her; this was the reality, and she wouldn’t just close her eyes and never wake again. A rope would break her neck and take away her breath. Would it be instantaneous? Would it cause no pain like she had imagined?
As her steps became heavier, she spotted him. He was determinedly staring at the ground. His face looked pale, but he stood upright. Susan smiled with pride. As long as the queen was bound to her position by the assurance of a male heir, the King’s secret would be safeguarded, and her brother would remain protected...
She breathed in deeper, all the way into her heart where the sweet aroma of the thyme from her childhood still lingered. She would play with her brother there, in those fields. She would feel the safest, freest, and bravest then, close to him. She was ready.

“Confess your crime,” the Queen approached Susan coldly. Susan ignored her; the queen flinched, but maintained her calm.
“You're truly unworthy of such bloodless death. You ought to have been beheaded for such disrespect.”
“Do you know why those velvet curtains are red, your highness? Because they are embellished with my blood; they have soaked all of it. Your sword couldn't have drawn any blood of mine,” Susan simpered.
Taken aback, the queen motioned to the executioner with an angry gesture.

The hangman stepped forward. “It's time to say your last prayers,” he said.
Just before the colors faded into darkness, Susan muttered-- “Give him strength, my Lord. Keep him safe.”