Short Story: The Witch-Queen and her King

The fight that ended their friendship also happened to break the realm. A girl stood on the edge of the chasm she’d opened in the earth and glared across the gap at her best friend’s retreating back. His knights closed in around him and she turned away, not willing to be caught staring. She stalked away from the gash as ash and cinders rained down around her.

The King moved the kingdom’s capital further north, hoping to avoid the worst of the environmental fallout. The landowners in the south moved their loyalty to the newly-crowned Witch-Queen in response to her promises to keep their land fertile. The kingdom slowly tore itself apart as everyone chose a side.

It was quiet for years, as resentment built on either side. The north was bright and cold. The peasants shivering and exhausted from their labors as they tried to pull life from the frozen ground. The south was dark and the sun’s heat built up underneath the ash that covered the sky. Magic flowed in the shadowed land, cruel and capricious. People there were well-fed but angry at the injustice in the land.

It was quiet for years, until all at once it wasn’t. Glares and whispered insults erupted into full-out violence over the smallest provocation. The villages on the borders were lost to the war, refugees flooding into the capital cities.

The Witch-Queen filled the ranks of her army with conscripted magic users. The King filled his with battle-hardened knights. The first official battle was forecast to be a nightmare of cold steel and fireballs. Soon after the battle had begun, though, the Witch-Queen herself waded into the melee. After calling her sorcerers to stop casting, she raised her arms and the bright sky dimmed slowly until it was as dark as night. The southern army was used to the dark, but the northern knights were not. They tried to hold their ground, but soon fled the field, led by their King.

An aide whispered to the Witch-Queen in the quiet aftermath, “How did you know they would retreat?”

“Because he’s always been afraid of the dark,” came the whispered reply.

In the second battle, the northern army came prepared with hundreds of torch-bearers. But that wasn’t what stopped the southern army in shock. They were startled, rather, by the salmon-pink paint coating every piece of armor. A horrible screech of anger rose from the middle of the southern army. The wind picked up unnaturally, swirling through both camps. Dirt and debris flew through the air until no one could see two feet in front of them. Both sides retreated some, afraid they would attack their own in the chaos. When the wind died down, every combatant had been so coated in dirt, they were impossible to tell apart. They shot stray arrows and fireballs at each other from a distance, but eventually gave up and retreated, calling the battle a draw.

The King watched as a depleted Witch-Queen was carried from the battlefield. His second-in-command stood beside him and shook his head in bewilderment.

“I can’t believe you were right. She really hates pink.”

.The nobles on both sides attempted to begin peace talks.The monarchs and their entourages met at a castle near the border. A peace treaty was composed, with excruciating slowness as scribes were forced to run from one solar to the other as the royals refused to actually see each other. A final dinner party was arranged by the Witch-Queen to accompany the final signings of the treaty.

The King sauntered into the dining hall with a cocky grin. It disappeared as he stood looking at the stuffed pig on the feast table. Color drained from his handsome face, then flooded back as he shouted.

“You SWORE! You swore you would never bring it up!” He grabbed his nearest nobles by their cloaks and dragged them back towards the door. “The treaty is OFF!”

The Witch-Queen had just entered the hall from another door and stared disconcertedly between the stuffed pig and retreating king.

“Oh dear.”

“But, your majesty, didn’t the king’s brother prepare the menu?”

“Yes. Oh, this isn’t good.”

The Northern Kingdom took its King’s insult to heart, though no one was quite sure what the actual insult had been. The King’s brother fled to the south and was assumed to be a traitor rather than just a jackass.

The Witch-Queen’s guards were all sent to the stocks when her pet bird was discovered missing, a taunting note left in its cage. “You always did leave your windows open at night.” A few months later, a new type of coin was minted in the north with a figure of a canary stamped on one side.

In retaliation, the southern army was ordered to set up barricades to stop all trade of cocoa into the northern kingdom. Food and other trade caravans were let through, but all cocoa products were confiscated and burned in great piles on the border to torment the chocolate-loving King.

The unrest in both kingdoms continued, and fights broke out often among the few people still living near the borders. The armies, however, seemed to be occupied more with winning a giant staring contest than actually going to war. Spies in both courts were kept busy with the tasks ordered by their respective royals, but the tasks tended towards inconvenience and annoyance rather than true sabotage (one spy in the Northern capital was put in the dungeons after getting caught hiding dead fish in crannies all over the castle).

Harvest came and both monarchs were forced to dismiss the majority of their armies to gather crops. Winter soon followed, and the conflict dwindled down to insults carried by royal couriers. Everyone dreaded the spring, when the war was sure to start again.

The neighboring kingdoms had stayed out of the struggle thus far, but an enemy was gathering to the north. They attacked the northern kingdom during planting season, while the army was scattered in the fields. A wave of refugees poured over the border and were quickly taken in by their southern neighbors. The capital was taken and the King captured within a fortnight.

The messenger who brought news of the King’s capture wasn’t sure what to expect from the Witch-Queen. Perhaps joy for the defeat of her enemy, or fear for the coming armies? Instead, she stood, burning with fury and ordered her generals to be gathered. The army was already pouring in, the planting taken over by northern refugees.

The army marched at dawn the next day, the Witch-Queen riding at the front. The weather reflected the Queen’s displeasure and the air crackled with electricity. The march north took a few weeks, and northern soldiers who had been scattered quietly joined the column.

The invading battalion wasn’t expecting much resistance. Their first strike had been a complete rout, and all their intelligence informed the command that there should be no support from surrounding kingdoms. When a full army showed up, they were surprised and quite confused. It was a rather ragtag army, full of angry sorcerers and knights in dirty pink armor. And in front of them all was a young woman with power sparking off her skin.

“I am the Witch-Queen,” came her amplified shout, “and you will turn over the asshole…I mean the King.”

The invaders laughed uneasily and refused. The battle was quick and brutal, with the sorcerers raining fire down on the invaders’ heads and the queen opening up the ground under their feet. The enemy couldn’t get close to the magic users to stop them as the pink knights formed a solid wall around the ranged fighters.

When the bulk of the invaders had been destroyed, the Witch-Queen rode in with a detachment of both knights and sorcerers to storm the command center.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to rescue you, dumbass.”

“I don’t need to be rescued!”

“Fine, stay there then.”

“…Wait!”

“What?”

“…Thank you.”

“…You’re welcome.”

It took a lot of work to repair the damage that had been done, both to the world and to the people. A lot of apologies on both sides, magic and hard work. Both monarchs offered to resign in recompense, but the people wouldn’t hear of it. They did insist on merging the kingdoms again, though. There was a long period of debate about who would rule, but in the end it was easily settled with a royal wedding.

There was no easy happily ever after for anyone in the realm, but there were plenty of good times. Trade flourished between the north and south so resources were distributed evenly. They built a full-time army made of both magic users and knights, and every single troop wore salmon-pink armor or robes. The currency was all changed to feature a canary rather than choose one of the royal faces. Stuffed pig was never allowed on the royal menu, but there was always plenty of chocolate.

The King and Witch-Queen’s arguments were legendary and common, but they limited the damage to their own apartments and both had learned to apologise. They had each learned the dangers of arrogance and stubbornness, and each valued the other too much to risk losing them.

The great chasm that the Witch-Queen had ripped in the earth remained untouched as a reminder of the dangers of pride. Of course the meaning was lost within a generation and it became just another tourist attraction. But the story of the Witch-Queen and her King was never completely forgotten.