This is my response to Haley Whitehall’s wonderful prompt from her May Flash Fiction Challenge.
For the Love of the Handmaiden
He should have never been there in the first place.
“I must speak to the emperor.” His shouts fell on unsympathetic ears.
He was sore from the beating the guards had bestowed upon him but his heart felt the most pain. The tight iron cuffs around his wrists were lashed to a metal belt at his back by a chain. The same chain ran down to another pair of cuffs lacerating his ankles. The chain was shortened to stifle any movement he tried to make. A heavy metal axe rested in a stump next to him.
A couple of months earlier he was called to the emperor’s chambers and entrusted with a great responsibility. He was to travel across the sea and return with the future empress. This was an honour he had not taken lightly.
The ship set sail and arrived at its destination in just under four weeks’ time. It was an uneventful journey. On strict order upon arriving at the port the ship was quickly restocked, cleaned and prepared for the voyage back the next day. A runner was sent to the palace to alert the house of their arrival and intended rapid departure.
The next morning the future empress arrived at the docks with her handmaiden and one servant. He greeted them and showed them to their chambers. That first evening as they dined he became enchanted by the handmaiden’s beauty and charm. The empress was sullen, it was clear she didn’t agree with the arranged marriage. She spent much of their journey in her chambers with her servant.
He was pleased to have time to spend with the handmaiden. He was clearly falling in love. As their journey grew nearer to the end the handmaiden began sneaking into his chamber at night. He wondered if he would be permitted to propose marriage to her.
Just before they were due into port a storm blew in throwing them slightly off course. Then on the evening they should have arrived at port another storm had yet again caused a delay.
The handmaiden became irrational, pleading with him to lock all the doors that evening and not allow anyone in or out. He assumed the travelling had made her mad and was saddened by this.
Just after nightfall he heard screams in the empress’s chamber. He was concerned for her safety and his own life if she were harmed. As he burst through the door a terrible beast leapt at him. The handmaiden held a silver sword and plunged it into the hunched back. The empress returned to her previous form on top of him, the sword still protruding from her back. The servant ever protective of her master pulled out the sword and ran it through the handmaiden before turning it on herself. Moments later the ship’s captain entered the scene and immediately had him placed in the hold until they reached the shore.
Now a figure hovered above him, casting a shadow of an axe ready to strike.