The Huntsman: Chapter One

an original short story from the world of the Pimpernel

Picture of castle on a wooded hill with the moon in the background. Image by @waytogonate on Instagram
Image by @waytogonate on Instagram. Follow him for stunning pictures of his world travels!

Once upon this one time, a young queen lived in a mountain castle.

The queen was said to be equal parts heartless and cunning, with a visage that charmed even snakes with its beauty — a quality she often used to enchant those who threatened her before indenturing them to servitude.

But looks weren’t the queen’s only tool against her enemies. On her sixteenth birthday, her magician father had also gifted her a charmed mirror that would answer honestly whenever she asked it anything.

And the young queen had asked the mirror the same question every day since. 

After rising and grooming for the day each morning, the queen stood before her mirror and asked: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, show me how my enemies will fall.”

In reply to her query, the queen saw visions of how to ensure no one got the upper hand on her that day. And she followed those visions to the letter. After all, being flawless was kind of her thing, and maintaining that facade did not come easily. Even with a magic mirror.

One morning, as the queen dressed for brunch with her best frenemy, everything seemed normal … routine … no different than any other day.

Well, okay, one thing was different: she’d never worn the royal blue tunic dress before. And, as the queen stepped in front of the mirror, she nearly took her own breath away as she did a 360-turn to check the fit.

“Loves it,” she cooed to her reflection, admiring how the fabric contoured over her hips. The rich fabric also flawlessly matched the sapphires in the royal necklace she wore everywhere she went. “I’ll take one in every color.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” her attendant said from the side of the room.

The queen kept her eyes on the mirror. “That is all. You’re excused. I will be down shortly.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the attendant said. Then she disappeared behind a door and shut it behind her.

Finally alone for the most important part of her day, the queen took three steps closer to her reflection, admired her perfection for one more glancing moment, then completed her morning routine. 

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, show me how my enemies will fall.”

In reply, the queen’s reflection morphed into a swirling of colors on the mirror’s surface that resolved into a reflection of a different space. 

The queen knew the place well. It was the restaurant she would be visiting that day.

“Only one possible vexation exists in Her Majesty’s day,” the mirror replied, revealing a blue-eyed figure peeking out from under the shroud of a little, rust hoodie. “My suggestion is to simply stay out of her way.” 

“Stay out of the way of some fashionless pauper?” the queen scoffed, even as she leaned in to get a better look at the woman’s eyes and skin. The queen would never admit it out loud, but her challenger of the day was quite beautiful for a nobody. “Who is she?”

“She is Shade to the Cobalt Pimpernel,” the mirror replied. “And you have no business with her master. Therefore, she has no business with you. Leave her alone, and she will ignore you.”

“Good,” the queen replied. “Show me how to defeat her anyway.”

Then the mirror did something quite odd. It hesitated before making its response. “There will not be a problem unless you make one, Your Majesty.”

“Nonsense,” the queen replied. “I never start trouble. I only finish it. And she looks like trouble. Now show me how to defeat this Little Rust Riding Hood.”

“I … cannot,” replied the mirror. “The way to overcome trouble today is to ignore it.”

It was then that the queen’s mood turned and her true colors became more apparent.

“I am queen,” she warned the mirror, taking a step forward. “I am in control of all those around me, or I am nothing. And I refuse to leave anything to chance! Now show me how to defeat this Shade of a Pimpernel. Everything you’ve got. I want to see it.”

“I have … nothing to show,” the mirror replied. “If you choose to engage her, the outcome is the same. No exceptions. Thus, your course of action is simply not to engage.”

“No!” the queen screamed in disdain as she reached out with both hands for the mirror’s frame and ripped the ornate fixture from the wall with all the strength she had in her. “Unacceptable!”

The mirror hit the marble floor below and shattered, sending shards of glass skittering everywhere — one of which nicked the queen on the side of her foot.

“Ow!” she hissed in pain, glaring at the mess she’d just made. “You’re a jerk until the end, aren’t you?”

The mirror didn’t reply, nor did the queen expect it to, as she reached for the servant’s bell and gave it a ring. The response was instant.

“You rang, Your Majesty?” her butler said, stepping into the room.

“Send in the surgeon to look at my foot,” she commanded.

“Will that be all, Your Majesty?”

She rolled her eyes at the man. “And re-forge my mirror. Obviously.”

“Of course, my Queen. If that is all, then your security detail is ready for departure and awaits you in the lobby.”

Her security detail. Yuck. What a sour-faced lot. It had been decades since they inspired proper fear in anyone and the queen found herself rather annoyed at the thought of seeing them.

It was then an idea struck the queen and she blurted out, “No!”

Her butler froze, awaiting further instruction as the idea finished forming in her mind.

“I don’t want a security detail today,” the queen declared. She already knew she didn’t need it anyway, thanks to her mirror’s prophecy. No one at the restaurant had any desire to harm her. “I want a hunter. Someone who never misses…”

A cat-like smile curved her lips as she realized who would be perfect.

“Go grab the Huntsman for me and tell him we’re going on a date to one of the finest restaurants on this planet. But tell him his meal will not be free. He will pose as my date, since security is not allowed inside. But …” She grinned wickedly. “… dueling patrons are. And I’m going to need him to kill someone for me.”

“The Huntsman, Your Majesty?” the butler asked, sounding uncertain. “I do not recall such a person. Where should I seek him?”

“In the dungeon, of course,” she said dismissively. “Right where he should be. Go prepare him for brunch while the surgeon sees to my injury. I’ll expect the Huntsman waiting on the plane when I am finished.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the butler said, then disappeared to the other side of the door as the queen took a seat and awaited treatment for her feet.