Written by J. W. Zulauf
Illustrations by Luke Spooner
You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.
“And they stood by each other’s side in love for the rest of their lives,” Princess Scarlet said. She snapped an old, dusty book shut and drank the rest of her Preservation Potion, grimacing at the acrid taste.
Scarlet hated drinking the horrible concoction each morning, but she did so to avoid withering back into the corpse she was prior to her resurrection.
After setting the book and empty vial down, Scarlet jumped in front of a tall mirror and flourished herself into a bow. Her crimson hair kissed her pale shoulders as it waved back and forth. She drew closer to her reflection, examining her amber eyes. Her thin lips curled down into a frown.
The characters in her books always appeared so perfect, so beautiful, but in the mirror, a sallow, pale girl peered back at her.
Scarlet glanced at her owl, Screech, and smiled. The owl perched atop a bedpost, watching with misshapen eyes. His gray feathers stuck out in ruffled patches, like he had flown straight out of a tornado.
Screech was the first gift she’d received from her father, King Hurlock. He had found the owl’s corpse at the base of a tree in the graveyard above their kingdom, Balderdash.
“Doesn’t love sound so wonderful, Screech? They’re always holding hands, kissing, and standing next to each other!”
“Hoot.” Screech tilted his head.
“Oh, what do you know?” Scarlet ran to the window. “What am I going to find being cooped up with you, anyway? I need to be down there celebrating the Renaissance of the Revived.” She clenched her fists at her sides. “I was resurrected, too. I want to celebrate alongside everyone else in the kingdom!”
Music rolled up the castle walls, accompanied by laughter and singing.
After listening for a moment, Scarlet decided to confront her father and demand he allow her to join the festivities. She scooped up the book and left her chamber. She stormed down the hall and burst into the throne room.
King Hurlock dwarfed Scarlet by almost four heads. He wore a long, gray beard, matching the length and color of his hair. His eyes gleamed a bright cloudy blue, bookended by crow’s feet clawing out from the corners. When he smiled, his teeth looked like tombstones. Strangest of all were the swords, knives, and arrows poking from his back, suggesting that he’d been betrayed in his prior life.
The weapons made it difficult for Scarlet to embrace him, but the apothecaries—the kingdom’s healers and potion makers—refused to remove them, unsure of the outcome. The Preservation Potion was designed to help sustain a remnant of someone’s being, not repair gruesome injuries.
Though he appeared to be mostly muscle and bulk, his jowls quivered when he spoke. “Daughter,” King Hurlock said.
“I want to attend the Renaissance.” Scarlet stamped a foot.
“Poppycock, you do. You just think you want to.”
Scarlet sighed and furrowed her brow. “How am I ever to fall in love if
you keep me trapped in this musty castle?”
Hurlock laughed. “How long have you been going on about falling in love, Scarlet? I told you it’s something we can’t experience. If love were real, it died when we died. You can care for someone, much like I care for you, but this ‘falling in love’ thing is some fiction the humans above ground created to make their lives seem tolerable.”
“Then why does it matter if I try to find it? Please, I’ll be good. Plus, I have Roland to protect me!”
As if on cue, a man in old, rusted armor slid into the room, the clinking and clanking stealing her attention.
The knight’s long, raven hair blended with his coarse beard, causing his hazel eyes to appear dimmer than they were. Where his skin lacked any signs of old age, the colors of death remained. The Preservation Potion had failed to pale him, leaving him with a soft, seaweed green complexion.
Not only did the potion fail to remove the seasick color, it wouldn’t regrow the flesh on his right arm. From his ulna and radius all the way to the top of his humerus, Roland’s arm revealed only bones. The apothecaries suspected that whatever the knight had done to his limb in his previous life had ruined it for the present.
Roland bowed to the princess and then to the king.
King Hurlock turned to face him. “Perfect timing, Roland. I was just telling my precious daughter here that she is not to attend the Renaissance for any reason. Is that understood?”
Roland glanced to Scarlet and winked before throwing his bony arm up into a salute. “Aye, aye, Captain King.”
Hurlock leaned forward in his throne. His voice lost its seriousness and fell to a soft, endearing tone. “Scarlet, don’t you remember what happened the last time I let you go?”
“I scraped my knee, Father. I tripped.”
“Exactly. It’s dangerous, and I don’t want anything else to happen to you.” His sweetness disappeared just as quickly as it came. “If we are going to act like commoners, then what’s the point in having these titles? You are the princess, I am the king.”
As a last effort to sway her father, Scarlet held the book out in front of
her. “Then why do all these books talk of falling in love and living happily ever after? Every one of them. They were buried in the graves, so they were obviously important!” Scarlet threw the book at Hurlock’s feet and stormed out of the room.
Once outside the throne room, she listened to Roland and her father talk.
“Captain King, Sir. I want ye to know that I’d never let anyone harm me lady, if ye wanted her to—”
Hurlock lashed out at Roland with venom in his voice. “Enough, Roland. I don’t want to hear it. And stop calling me Captain. I’ve told you for nearly a hundred years that King will suffice.”
Scarlet pictured Roland lowering his head. As if to confirm, she heard him reply in a sorrowful tone, “Aye, aye, Ca… er… King Hurlock, Sir.”
“I don’t know how I managed to choose the one pirate out of the entire graveyard to be our protector.” A moment of silence stole the air before Hurlock added, “You’re dismissed.”
Once the clatter of Roland’s exit began, Scarlet realized she had wasted too much time eavesdropping. She ran to the top of the long staircase where guards stood on either side of the exit, blocking the path out of the castle. She looked around for anything to distract them but saw nothing. Just when she was about to give up, a loud crash sounded from the dining hall.
The guards glanced at each other and ran toward the commotion.
Scarlet rushed down the stairs, taking them two at a time. She pulled the huge castle door open, stopping long enough to see Screech fly out of the dining hall with a vase gripped in his claws. Water, roots, and glass from the vase scattered onto the floor. She silently thanked her feathered friend and slipped out of the castle.
Read More: Chapter 2