The princess, a lovely girl of sixteen with long raven-black hair, a round face and slim frame, sat on the floor of her luxurious bedroom, enrobed in a silk dress and fur shoes. She was sifting through her enviable wardrobe, tossing old clothes into a large chest meant for the rubbish bins. She had never considered others might want or need these things; they were her things, even if she discarded them. All of her gowns, heels, boots, stockings, and jewelry were so lovely, and she would change clothes at least three times a day. As she rarely wore the same outfit more than once, the chest was soon overflowing.
“Miss Amirah?” a voice floated across the room.
Amirah turned and saw her hand maiden, Ruby, peeking her head around the partially opened door. She was just a few years older than Amirah, with soft curves and a full, kind face. Her red hair curled and twisted wildly, and her brown eyes were always smiling, even when her mouth was not. Amirah hated her. It wasn’t that she was beneath her in every way, but Ruby was just so nauseatingly nice. Amirah generally enjoyed snapping her fingers and making the servants bend to her every whim. The more ludicrous and difficult her request, the more her chef, maids, and other household staff grimaced and groaned. They tried to hide their distaste for their royal mistress, but it leaked out on occasion. Ruby was unflappable. Amirah saved her most malicious demands for Ruby.
“Oh yes, Rita,” Amirah purred, intentionally calling the girl by the wrong name. “I dropped my favorite ring into the chamber pot. Retrieve it.” Amirah’s amber eyes glinted wickedly as she watched Ruby’s face. A warm smile was all she saw. Ruby bustled over to the nearly full chamber pot, peered in, and then plunged her hand into the foul contents. She fished out the sapphire and gold trinket, and looked up at the princess.
“I have it, mistress! I will clean it thoroughly and return it to you promptly.” Ruby beamed at her accomplishment. Amirah was crestfallen, waving her hand in a dismissive manner. Ruby rushed from the room, cupping her apron under her soiled hand. Amirah returned to her sorting, every so often flinging an item into the box. She was so absorbed in her task that she did not hear her father enter her room.
“Amirah,” he addressed his daughter in a halting and formal voice. She started, sending a hand fluttering to her mouth. She dusted off the piles of satin and silk and jumped to her feet. She faced her father, the king, and bowed low, her jewel encrusted tiara slipping just slightly as she did. He towered over her, all sashes and buttons and fringe. He had a full mustache and beard that ruffled when he spoke. His deep brown eyes were small yet piercing, making Amirah feel ill at ease. He was a noble man that treated people, if not kindly, then fairly. “What did you do to the hand maiden?”
“I did nothing. I have done nothing at all to anybody all day long, Father.” Amirah gazed up; feigning innocence, knowing it wouldn’t work. She loathed the days her father was home in the castle. Long trips visiting foreign dignitaries, meeting with his generals, captains, and other military personnel kept him away for days and weeks at a stretch, and she could do as she pleased. As her mother had long been dead, there was no one but her father to outrank her.
“Chef told me she started boiling a ring in his kitchen, smelling like the pigs. Why do you suppose that is?” His eyes caught hers, peering into her soul.
With a sniff, she flopped childishly back into her silken heap, causing her heavy and ornate dress to billow slightly, as she answered, “It isn’t my fault that stupid girl dropped my ring into the chamber pot. Should I have had to recover it?”
“The girl would not have had occasion to be holding your ring. How many times must I tell you to be even handed and judicious with those that serve you?” The king was exasperated and wore a look of deep disappointment. His furrowed his brow, causing a well-worn crease between his thick, dark eyebrows. Amirah refused to meet his eyes, all too familiar with that note of frustration in his tone.
“I am sorry, Father. I will try to do better,” she said stiffly. Shaking his head, he left the room. Amirah was incensed, taking an armful of her fine things, marching straight over to her open window, and hurling the stuff to the grounds below.
That sniveling, whining COW! Running to that boorish chef to tattle. So what if her filthy hands got a little filthier doing as I ask? She’s just a worthless servant, Amirah’s thoughts screamed inside her head. She fumed as she paced up and down the length of her living quarters. She stumbled over a large shiny golden locket. She reached down, and angrily pitched it at the wall. It hit its target with a jingling thud before finding a resting spot back on the hardwood. The hinge had burst open, revealing a lock of blond hair. Amirah approached it slowly, her ire draining. A streaming wisp of smoke erupted from where the locket lay; it began to take on shape. Amirah realized with a rush of horror that some spirit must have been released. She turned to run, to scream, to quickly put as much space between her and the malevolent specter as possible, but found she was frozen. Before her stood a tall, beautiful woman. Her hair was fair and cascaded down her back. Her features were sharp and feminine. She had one hand held high above her head, her lithe fingers curled, as though holding a marionette’s strings.
She examined Amirah with harsh eyes, tilting her head from side to side. “My, my. What a delicious little imp you are!” The woman’s voice was cold, her words hitting Amirah’s ears like shards of ice. Amirah strained against this magical hold, trying to spit curses at the witch, but to no avail. The woman took two nimble steps and was inches from Amirah’s nose. She traced Amirah’s chin with her pointer finger, chuckling lightly. “You are a naughty thing. Aren’t you? I can smell it. You reek of it.” She circled Amirah, swishing her velvety robes. Coming to a stop, she placed both hands on Amirah’s cheeks. “I have been trapped in that horrible locket for too long. Thanks to you, I have my freedom. I owe you a debt, dear child. How shall I pay you?” The witch tapped her finger on her soft pink lips, as though actually considering the options. “I will take your place here, unburdening you from the heavy crown you bear,” she suggested, her voice oozing venom. Seeing Amirah’s panicked expression, she continued, “No thanks necessary. And you, darling girl, will take my place. Won’t that be delightful? And no one will ever know!” As she spoke the last few words, she leaned down, and kissed Amirah’s forehead.
The room swirled and rocked, throwing Amirah off her feet and hitting her head. When she opened her eyes, she convinced herself she was dreaming. She was in a spacious circular room, the walls lined with crimson drapes. There were several plush cushions littering the floor. Amirah was situated directly in the center, atop a lush bed bedecked in thick blankets. There was no door. Amirah launched from the bed and searched for some exit. She found none. There was only a mirror hanging just a few feet up. She touched the gilded frame. The contact seemed to breathe life into the reflective glass. Her face faded away and the room she knew as her own bloomed in its place. It wasn’t a dream; it was a nightmare! The witch she had liberated was frolicking about the place. She’s wearing MY clothes!
Amirah banged her fists against the mirror, screaming. “Help! Please let me out! Anyone! Can anybody hear me?” The sorceress continued prancing in stolen garb as Ruby entered the room once more. Amirah squealed with excitement, “Ruby! Oh you daft cow! Look here! I’m trapped! Get me out! Call the guard and throw that horrid beast in the dungeon! Ruby!”
But Ruby did not hear Amirah. Ruby walked toward the imposter, and handed her the ring.
“All better mistress? Anything else I can do for her highness?” Ruby asked, curtsying. The woman cast a sly glance in Amirah’s direction as she dipped, taking Ruby’s hand, raising her up.
“No, thank you, dear. I am perfectly content at the moment.”
Amirah balked, stepping back from the magical mirror. She was horrified, bewildered, and utterly hopeless. As Ruby took her leave, grinning bigger than ever, Amirah’s heart sank. She drooped onto the bed and felt the tears overwhelm her. She cried like the child that mourned her mother so long ago. She sobbed herself into oblivion, waking what seemed like hours later. Her eyes red, swollen with sorrow, she sat up and once again looked out upon the world from which she was forever hidden. The room was empty. With the witch wearing her face like some costume in a bizarre masquerade ball, Amirah assumed no one would ever know she was gone, and, even if they did, since she had always been so retched to them, they would not care.
Days went by as Amirah moped around her strange prison. At first she thought she would starve or die of thirst, until she had said out loud that she was hungry. As she said the words, a hot meal appeared on the bed, served on a highly polished silver tray. She soon learned the room made available the things she needed to survive, but nothing more. She had asked for a new dress, but nothing appeared. She asked for a door, but she was again denied.
Stranger things happened outside the locket. One evening she went to bed after gazing longingly at a young Ruby, prodding embers in the large fireplace in the corner of her room, the fake Amirah relaxing on a mound of fluffy pillows in the center of her goose down mattress; when she woke, the room had changed – furniture moved and replaced. When Ruby came in to dress the other princess, she was many years older. She still had the fresh face and same unkempt hair, but her body was fuller and swollen about the middle. She’s with child? How?
Time moved in crawls, then leaps, leaving Amirah feeling lost. The face in her mirror never aged, never changed in the slightest while the world beyond spun riotously forward. When the castle draped itself in black, grieving the king’s death, Amirah could take no more. She asked the room for a blade. It obliged. She picked up the sharp janbiya, and admired its lethal beauty. The smooth rhinoceros horn hilt and the curved Damascus steel came together as a perfect dagger. She knelt before her magic window, said a prayer for her long-lost father, and plunged the knife into her belly.
“I am so sorry father,” Amirah whispered, and she meant it.