The Huntsman

by: sheralyn pratt

Chapter 1

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

It was said that the queen was equal parts heartless and cunning, with a visage that charmed even snakes with its beauty — a quality the queen was always keen to play to her advantage — enchanting those who threatened her before indenturing them to servitude.

But her looks weren’t the queen’s only tool against her enemies. Her magician father had also gifted her a charmed mirror on her sixteenth birthday.

And she’d asked it the same question every day since. 

First thing, 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 easy. Even with a magic mirror.

One morning, as the queen dressed for a 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, admiring how the fabric contoured over her hips. “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. It was the restaurant she was about to go to.

“Only one possible vexation exists in Her Majesty’s day,” replied the mirror, revealing a woman of uncomfortable allure shrouded in a little, rust hoodie. “My suggestion is to simply stay out of her way.” 

“Stay out of the way of a pauper?” the queen scoffed, even as she leaned in to get a better look at the woman’s eyes and skin. The challenger 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.”

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

There was a beat of hesitation in the mirror’s reply. “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 fetching Little Rust Riding Hood.”

“I … can’t,” replied the mirror. “But I can assure the Shade’s position is to hide in the shadows at the restaurant you will be going to, and you are of no interest to her. 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 another step forward. “I am in control 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’ve got … nothing to show,” the mirror replied. “If you choose to engage her, the outcome is the same. No exceptions. So your course of action is to 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 and shattered, sending shards of glass skittering everywhere — one of which nicked her on the side of the foot.

“Ow!” she hissed in pain, glaring in accusation 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.

“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 waiting in the lobby and ready to leave when you are.”

It was then an idea struck the queen and she blurted out, “No.” But not in anger this time. This time, she was smiling.

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. “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, where I’m going to need him to kill someone.”

“The Huntsman, Your Majesty?” the butler asked, sounding uncertain. “Is he still here? I would have thought he’d have … left by now.”

“Nonsense,” she said dismissively. “He’s 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.

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