The jealous queen
Cassandra settled her crown firmly around her head, and leaned out of the window.
“Yoo hoo!” she called to the gardner. “Mister gardening man!”
The gardner looked up at her; he had a shovel in one hand, and a pair of silvery gloves hanging out of his pocket.
“Yes, m’ldy?” he called up.
“Haven’t those roses come in?” Cassandra asked. The gardner looked aside at the royal rose bushes.
“No,” he said. He hesitated, and then turned back to his digging. Cassandra watched his shovel bite into the loamy flower bed. She wanted him to tell her that the roses were ready. Cassandra turned into the room, and swept towards the door.
“Martha!” Cassandra called ahead through the hall. “Martha, we’re going out!”
Cassandra watched the gardner prune away the dying blue roses; she put her fingers against the cool metal of her crown, and thought of taking the gardner into her confidence.
“You’ll be like a rose yourself, if you don’t watch out,” her mother had said. “Pruned away as soon as you wilt.”
Cassandra’s fingertips smoothed down her temple, and her cheek. Perfect in every way, but she was nearing twenty-five. The toughening would start soon, and then the thickening around her jaw. She had watched her mother’s maids grow old in this way.
Martha’s buckets made a gentle rustle as the maid entered the chamber. Cassandra turned speculative eyes on the maid. Smooth skin, and a dewy complexion; Martha would suit very well.
“Martha,” Cassandra said. The maid looked up from the hearth. “You’re going to go on a very special journey with me,” Cassandra said, her eyes combing hungrily over Martha’s neat chin, and clean cheeks.
“Yes, ma’am,” Martha said, blushing, and ducking her head.
“And you’ve got to speak of it to no one,” Cassandra warned. Martha looked up at the queen, and Cassandra felt a bubble of shame in her chest.