Saturday 11 March 2017


The moment she thinks of the way to do it, a little noise gurgles up from her throat. A chuckle, she tells herself. Certainly not a cackle. She coughs politely and pats her mouth with her table napkin.

“I will be busy this morning,” she announces to the room. As she rises, a silent servant glides forward to pull the chair out of the way of her skirts noiselessly.

She reaches for a large, shiny red apple, so perfect as to look almost artificial. “I am not to be disturbed.”

Her steward opens his mouth to protest but she quells him with a look. She has duties this morning, she is aware. He will deal with them though. He is used to her moods and she chose him for his diplomacy.

No one but she has ever been in the secret room. It’s a room that should not really exist at all. There’s an entrance, certainly. But if you stop to think about it, your brain would tell you that this door, positioned as it is in the outer wall of the castle, could not lead to anything but a tumble into the moat. There’s something about this door though that makes your brain slide over it. It’s perfectly visible and yet no maidservant ever thinks, ‘I must clean in there today.’ When the steward comes looking for the queen, he doesn’t stop to tap at this door.

She lays the apple on the table. Beauty for the beauty. The irony of tempting the girl with an apple is not lost on her. Some girls would fall for laces or ribbons or sweetmeats, but not this one. For this one, the plain innocence of an apple will do it.

The difficulty will be to corrupt this apple without tainting it. It can show no blemish that might put the girl off. The sweet, wholesome smell must stay the same. The poison must be hidden under the perfection, unnoticed until you bite into it, a perfect fruit that is rotten at the core.

They would not know their idle, beautiful queen, the other inhabitants of the palace, if they could see her at work. She ties back her hair and rolls up her sleeves. With fierce concentration, she flips through the pages of dusty books and measures morsels of this to add to her bowl. She grinds, she mixes, she drips in liquid, heats, reduces. She knows what she is doing. This is not the first time she has brewed a poison.

At last, she lifts the phial of viscous green to the light to inspect it and is satisfied. She draws some of the potion into a syringe and reaches for the apple. The needle goes in alongside the stalk and the perfect dark green leaf that clings to it. She forces the poison into the apple.

It is done. She lifts the apple to the light, turns it. Nothing but a tiny hole to show her work, and no one looking at this gorgeous fruit is going to find that.

There’s no doubt this time. The noise that she makes in her delight is clearly a cackle.

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