For the next several months I will introduce a new character from my work-in-progress, Heartless Hette, a retelling of The Princess who never laughed. Last time I introduced Princess Hette.
Today I’d like to introduce you to Friedrich the Sorcerer.
The man’s grey eyes were rimmed with black. Not black lashes—those were as pale as his flaxen hair that curled at his neck—but black rimmed around the grey irises. I knew those eyes. I’d studied them in my great uncle’s portrait. He’d disappeared in his late twenties, shortly before his father died, and my ancestor, his younger brother, gained the throne. Rumors, whispered along-side nursery tales, said my ancestor killed him. But that was over a hundred years ago. Had my uncle had an illegitimate child before he died and this was a descendant? He had the same square chin of the portrait, though his face was thinner, and his hair and lashes were pale where the portrait’s were coal.
He bowed. “Your royal highness, your time is valuable, and I will not waste it. I seek to wed you and rule beside you.”
I laughed. A cold, disbelieving laugh.
“Does my offer surprise you?” He inclined his head, “Is it not what all other suitors seek, but will not say?”
(and a later in the scene)
He caught my hand, pulling me under a rose-twined arbor. “What if I give you more than a promise?”
I raised an eyebrow. “How?”
He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a silk wrapped object. It vibrated in his hand, expanding and contracting like the ticking of a clock. “This is my heart. I will give it to you as we stand before the priest on our marriage day. If you injure it, you injure me. If you destroy it. I will die.”
My eyes widened. “You are a sorcerer.”
He nodded. “But even a sorcerer grows lonely. I have no place for silly women. But you, with your logic and reason—you, I could see spending a lifetime with. I’d use my magic to support you in your ruling.”
I touched the silk cloth. It pulsed beneath my fingers. “You’d give me your heart to seal your promise? You’d give me control over your life?”
He handed the bundle to me.
It fluttered in my hands like a rapid breath.
Could I? It didn’t have to be love. Could I marry him, bear his children, and let him rule beside me, knowing that if he ever betrayed me, I could crush his heart?
I looked up into his dark grey eyes. “Why would you trust your life to me?”
He cupped his hands over mine. “You are not the only one who wants to make a difference in the world. I see a new age with you as queen and me as king. We’ll build universities, improve medicines, foster inventions. Our small kingdom will influence all of Germania and then the whole world. Generations will look back to our day and speak of us.”
I pinched my lips against the pull of his words. “We could do all that and not marry.”
He traced his fingers over mine as his heart thumped between our hands. “Are you so afraid?”
He hadn’t answered my question. Just as he hadn’t answered most of my other questions. “I’m afraid you’ll play me for the fool.” I handed the beating silk back to him, making sure he had a firm grip before stepping back. “I’ll install you as master of the university. I’ll fund your inventions. But I will not marry you.”
His eyes hardened. “Oh. In that case, I lied. This is not my heart, but it will be yours.” The pulsing silk glowed.
A burning pain spread under my ribs. “Guards!” I tried to scream, but only a tiny gasp emerged as the world narrowed, tightening into an airless tunnel. My legs gave way and strong arms caught me.
A voice whispered through the dark that closed over me, “I hold your heart. And in time it will melt at my touch and believe my every whisper. One day you will beg to marry me.”
My chest flamed as if I’d swallowed a coal and it would burn a hole from the inside out. “Never.” The word stuck on my lips, a breathless silence, as the thumping of boots encircled me.
“Your highness!” It was one of my guards.
Friedrich’s voice pitched with concern. “She fainted. Please, help her.”
And sound slipped away along with pain.