My Dearest Margarita,

It is with the greatest regret that, for the first time in our long acquaintance, I must decline your most generous invitation of a springtime romp at your estate. I am not currently held in the highest favor around here, and running away at this juncture would seem too much like cowardice, even for me. It’s not just my stepmother who hates me, this time. Every courtier I meet looks as if they would gladly pounce on me, skewer me, and roast me over a fire in the Great Hall. Now, I know you well, and I know that you’re always thinking the best of me, and for that I truly do thank you. However, I really am rather to blame for my current situation. “My dearest Sophia!” you will say, “Are you letting your worser nature get the better of you?” To which my response will be, “Yes, I am afraid so.” To which you will respond with some inspiring speech meant to hoist me out of the doldrums for all eternity, which I will dismiss by adding, “But it was worth it.” For, you know, in every great struggle, sacrifices must be made.

The sacrifice that most immediately calls my attention is a string of violent sneezes. I am currently confined to my bed with a dreadful case of the sniffles, the shakes, the spots, and other unsavory little annoyances. Indeed, the whole castle is affected various manners of sickness. How did I, the Princess Sophia, the paragon of good health (the opposite of my poor mother), become ill? Well, you shall hear.

Four days ago, I was in my tower room studying Accounts of the On the Eastern Rim of the World. (This is an excellent book that I would recommend to you, but I know that your tastes tend more towards the sentimental and than the violent.) However, I will admit that for once my thoughts were not on my reading. Instead, I was meditating on what to do concerning His Royal Highness, King Darren of Rongolan. You know, that stuffy little northwestern kingdom that you always forget during geography exams. So far, His Excellency’s visit was going splendidly. That was a circumstance I was determined to set aright.

You know, of course, that my most honored stepmother is determined to see me married off to some foreign person of importance. She is so violently set on it that I, even I, the ever-stubborn, have, in the darkest hours of the night, thought it only slightly inconceivable that I might give in to one or two of the more tolerable candidates. But, honestly, am I to get married off and let her brat inherit the kingdom? Not likely! You know my good father’s health isn’t what it should be, which means she would be regent for her spawn! Leave her to ruin the kingdom with her “exquisite taste in diamonds” (which she already does behind my father’s back)? No!

Yes, yes, I will calm down now. All this to say that, at the moment King Darren arrived, I immediately put on my least flattering gown (yes, it’s the one you’re thinking of) and, of course, I began squinting. Even if the kingdom wasn’t at stake, I believe I should still resist his majesty. I don’t want to waste good deal of paper attempting to describe the dullness of his character. Know this: He has a dark mustache shiny with much too much scented oil. That should tell you everything you really need to know about him. That, and that he simply would not go away! He oozed around the castle for a full month! I was actually a little bit…perturbed, shall we say.

And so, I sat in my tower and stared into space, thinking of how to get rid of the King. Of course, I came up with a plan; I always do. But it involved one of the people I was recently lamenting about: my half-brother, little Henry.

When I arrived at his “schoolroom” (as it is called), the little fool was screaming at the top of his lungs and effectively ruining a fine sheet of paper by tearing it into shreds. His tutor was covering his hears and wincing. I therefore offered to take Henry on a short walk to calm him down. I was not refused; the poor tutor looked positively grateful. We walked along the corridors on the east side of the castle, the quietest section.

“Henry, dear,” I said, “There is something I would very much like you to do for me.”

“WHY?” Henry is currently at that stage where he can’t say anything quietly.

“Well, it would be very funny, you know. It would be quite exciting.”

“WHAT IS IT?” he asked. I could tell I had successfully captured his interest.

The actual conversation took a good while; my stepbrother is quite dense, even for a five year old. The long and the short of it is this: I raided the apothecary’s medicine cabinet. I helped myself to all those nasty herbs and powders, the kinds that bring on sneezing and vomiting and other things. I gave them to Henry, with this admonishment: “Now, Henry, remember, you must sprinkle this substance only on King Darren and his courtier’s plates.”

“ALRIGHT.” Ah, fool that I was not to detect that gleam in his eye as he snatched the substances! I even failed to discern the true meaning behind that little grin of his as we returned to his “lessons.”

That evening, I entered the dining hall…oh, why should I prolong the matter? You have doubtless guessed what occurred. I was doing my best to be as nasty a conversationalist as possible to King Darren, who was seated next to me, when my stepmother, who was lounging next to my father, began to sneeze. Indeed, I began to notice an uncanny amount of sneezes and belching among the populace in general. Shortly after, I began to experience symptoms, as well as the King. Then I noticed that my dear brother, Henry, hadn’t eaten a thing, not even his favorite strawberry tarts. Shortly after that, we all felt too ill to continue our supper, and promptly staggered to our own chambers bed.

I am supremely grateful my dear father eats only gruel now, which Henry didn’t touch. And while King Darrin and his entourage are laid up, I shall take care to have my usual Rumor Ring get to work. You know, whispered conversations between two bedside servants about the all my horrible qualities, including my notoriously squinty eyes.

Thus, I shall hope to have the King driven off by the time of his recovery. I have half a mind to punish Henry…but in the end, I think I won’t. He is just a silly child, after all. I shall have greater foes to conquer once I ascend the throne. To be completely honest with you, I must admit a certain chagrin that I didn’t think of plaguing my stepmother myself. I can imagine she looks properly terrible.

With All Fondness,

Sophia

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