‘There once lived a tech witch deep in the wood, dark clever gothic she. She sat near her hearth and composed sonnets to her fae neighbors. Once every new moon, they’d gather round the Ise of Bone to hear her tales of algorithmic sorcery.
“The lovely raven maiden,” the witch began, “was no fair-haired fairy. She was dark through and through but no darker heart as dark as hers was purer than she.”
Once upon a time…
The maiden was a princess held captive in her castle far far away in another kingdom.
One day, a young prince came and stole her away. He scaled the high walls of the castle and stealth like a cat in the night. The prince and the maiden ran away and hid in the villages near her kingdom until they had saved enough money to sail away to another.
They dressed as the villagers did, stole their clothes, and their food, and vandalized their shops for goods; fancying themselves as pirates and giving the loot they stole to those who needed it more than they. After all, they were royalty, and how best to mask their identities than as those who steal the wealth of their kingdoms for themselves.
One day, the maiden and the prince were resting on the banks of a reflecting pool. The pool was a secret outlet of the mightiest river in the kingdom, The Marrisphrates, hidden deep in the forest, a beautiful oasis away in the trees. Lush green grass and flowers grew but were covered by mist and hidden by overgrowth. The surrounding willows curved at their trunks and appeared as a cave to those who were unafraid to continue down the long secluded dark path. A perfect place to stow away and count their coins collected from the day and contemplate whether to kill something for dinner or lift it from one of the passing royal tax collector carriages scheduled to collect from the nearby villages soon.
The maiden lay delicately on her back on the limb of a tree, dangling one of her legs as the prince knelt down and washed his face in the pool.
Suddenly, a dark mist began to sweep across The Oasis. The animals of the wood abruptly fell silent, and all grew quiet around them. Violent bubbles began to erupt in the pool. The water grew excruciatingly hot and burned the prince’s face and singed his skin. It was as if someone had turned on a cauldron and brought the pool to an intensely heated boil. Suddenly, the voice of the maiden’s mother, the queen regent, boomed throughout The Oasis, in her most furious tone. Somehow, she had heard the stories in her kingdom from the nearby villages about two vagrants pirating the lands, who seemed a little too clever for even some of the most seasoned of thieves.
“Someone you trust!” the regent’s voice thundered.
The prince screamed as an arm reached up through the pool and pulled him down to the depths below.
Bewildered, the maiden fell from her perch in the tree and landed on all fours, softly, like a cat, and ran to the pool, but it was too late. Her prince was gone. His body had disappeared under the water. She ran in after him, but it was no use.
“Come home!” the regent boomed.
With a cackling burst of lightning, the mist, the oasis, and the bubbling pool vanished.
Furious, the maiden fainted and forgot all about dinner that night.
“Oh no! Oh, wait! Oh, no! Oh, wait,” the voice cried.
The maiden slowly opened her eyes as they adjusted to her surroundings. Her eyes followed the sound of the voice.
A small grey and brown rabbit sat beside her.
“Oh, wait,” the rabbit exclaimed.
The maiden looked around the room at the quaint cottage, felt the warm fire burning, took a deep inhale, and smelled a hearty soup cooking. The air was thick with tobacco smoke, carrots, herbs, the brine of fresh game, and something vaguely floral, like lavender.
“Where am I?”
“Oh, my home,” replied the rabbit. “I found you in the wood one-day last year and brought
“Last year?” the maiden asked, shocked, and rising to stand up. “I’ve been asleep for an entire year?” she asked.
“Yes, it must have been that curse she expelled;” the rabbit explained, “it appears you awoke just in time for The Games,” wringing his paws.
“The games” she inquired, “what games?”
“Oh, the games for your hand, my dear.”
“The games for my hand … What are The Games?” the maiden pressed.
Nervously, the rabbit began to explain that her parents, the King and Queen Regent, were hosting a series of games to select her royal suitor and that the winner would win her hand. A proper marriage ceremony celebration and festivities would be held in front of the entire kingdom for several weeks, as custom.
“Notice was sent out to all worthy kingdoms some days after you ‘disappeared’. Only qualified participants: princes of the respected kingdoms and highest-ranking members, such as dukes of great households, may enter.”
“But I already love a prince!” the maiden exclaimed.
The rabbit replied with an ominous knowingly blank stare. “Disgraced sons of tyrant outland kings do not fit the bill, my dear.”
“How do you know all of these things about me?” asked the maiden.
“I have interpreted the Scripts of Balfour!” he proclaimed, fluffing his chest.
“ I am well versed in the Ekbloian texts and have dedicated my life to preserving the history of our great kingdoms as well as interpreting the magical languages, and I dabble,” the rabbit expressed, proudly.
“According to the Scripts, there is only one whose power is strong enough to keep them alive as long as you have. Only one strong enough to challenge the regent and her curse
and that is you, my dear.”
“Your age and features match the description outlined in the Scripts, so when I saw you asleep in the woods, all alone that day, I brought you with me.”
“My father was a treasured informant at your father’s Court. He was well respected and brought me up within the vicinity of the castle walls studying the royal texts and libraries.”
“How did you know to look in The Oasis?” the maiden asked.
“The Oasis?” the rabbit echoed, puzzled.
Their gazes responded back at each other blankly.
The games are harrowing displays of valor and bloodshed. Strapping young princes and nobility from far and wide come to showcase their aptitude, endurance, and wit in grandiose sports designed to test their capabilities to protect the Kingdom of Sapphire. The victor can receive no higher honor. They play to the death with each game more intense and daunting than the next. Each challenge becomes more immersive and psychologically taxing than the last. Few will survive and only one will win.
In their chambers on the 6th day of their wedding celebrations, the maiden and her new husband, Prince Njörđr of Vvestfiodvng, prepared for the much-anticipated consummation event.
The maiden sat at her vanity table in front of her mirror gently working fragrant rosewater and argan into her long locks of dark hair. She meticulously wove pearl beading and golden trim into her braids and carefully swept her wispy bangs away from her face as she gazed absent-mindedly into the mirror nearby.
“Someone you trust,” she tutted, whispering to herself, “who could that be?” she said with a smile as Prince Njörđr’s reflection appeared in the mirror beside her.
“You look beautiful, my bride,” his voice, a sonorous bass, resonated across the room as he strode with thundering footsteps that seemed to make the stone floor beneath them quake as he approached to greet her and stand by her side.
“I brought with me a gift for you,” he said, his voice thick with accent and vigor.
In his enormous hands was a small wooden box intricately inlaid with engravings the maiden did not recognize. Atop the box laid a large slightly crooked ribbon made of the finest silk from the merchants of Fairvaisa, her favorite fabric of choice for underwear.
“What is it?” she asked with a grin, arching one of her eyebrows.
His eyes flickered with satisfaction, yet his mouth said nothing.
The maiden took the box from his hands and set it down on her vanity to untie the ribbon.
As the last of the fabric fell to the ground below, the maiden uncovered a silver etched dagger inlaid with gemstone, with tangs made of clarified blood diamonds, and rivets of onyx. It was the most beautiful blade she had ever laid her eyes upon.
Aghast, the maiden’s mouth fell open. The prince smiled.
“There, let it be, someone has to die,” echoed the voice, as the tremors of woe filled the room.
The Raven Maiden lay beautifully lovely on the stone in a pool of her own blood, her ruined gown clung to the ground beneath her. From left to right and right to left, the slashes across her throat gashed openly.
Theta VanZandt specializes in dark fantasy, horror, and mysteriously macabre musings of the mind. A lifelong resident, she is intimately acquainted with the world where her story begins.