Princess. Captive. HeroIne. Caught up in...
The Magnum Opus
CHAPTER
1
The world is on fire.
It’s a chaotic blur of the elements - fire launching from rock, smoke disguising the earth, water watching peacefully below.
Only it’s more personal than that sounds. They’ve set the castle alight, they’ve burned down the only place I’ve ever known. My home.
“Move it, moneybags,” a nearby pirate snarls nasally. “We’re trying to accomplish something here. The Magnum Opus. Our great work.”
I shuffle forward on the boat deck, peering at the line of captives ahead of me. None of them are really royals - they’re all just pretentious lords and ladies. But then, there were only four of us in the castle. They went for Father first, as the King, in the siege; I haven’t seen either of my sisters since this morning.
We’ve been led to an adjoining deck now, where they sit us down on benches - cutlasses ever ready. Some people shiver and hold each other; others weep; others look ill.
I’d heard of this Magnum Opus - that they were coming. We all knew it. I guess that’s why - the night before... I finger the scroll under my cloak.
The pirates are leading more people in now. Some commoners too - a housemaid I vaguely recognise, a farmer and his wife, a couple of bearded wayfaring types.
“Excuse me, is there room for me here?”
Her voice is tired and hoarse, but as I look up I see that she’s smiling. Granted, a weary smile, but a true one nonetheless.
“Of course.” I budge over a little, and the bench creaks as if in surprise.
“Thanks,” she whispers. That smile again. “I’m - Tawnie, by the way. Tawnie Fairclough. Landlord’s daughter at the Mawkish Toad.”
“Chryseis,” I return. Her eyes widen with recognition, but I hold up a hand. “Yes. The Princess. But I sense titles won’t matter here - call me Chryssie.”
She nods, and her frizzy shock of hair bobs along.
“It’s awful, all this, isn’t it?” Tawnie says, glancing over the boat’s side at the remains of the town. Smoke still wanders tentatively. Ashes litter the water. Brynsdon is - or was? - a town of buildings on the ocean, with narrow passageways connecting them like a spiderweb. Our castle was the spider in the centre.
“Mm,” I murmur. “Goodness knows what they’re trying to achieve.”
“What we’re trying to achieve?” comes a familiar thick voice beside me. The nasal pirate is scowling in my face. “Only a fair government, madam.” He curtseys mockingly. “One where we don’t have to bow to an oppressive King, who raises taxes every new moon, who makes us work our behinds off, who -“
“Alright, alright -“ I raise a hand calmly, trying not to show my offence. “But how? Surely not by burning down the whole of Brynsdon!”
He chuckles - a rather ugly thing to witness - and sighs. “It’s all part of the Magnum Opus. The great work. We need to start a new kingdom, with a ruler who cares for the people, as the good Queen Helena did.”
I nod solemnly. I wasn’t lucky enough to know her, but from what my sisters tell me, she was all a person could wish for in a mother.
But last night changed it all. With the scroll, maybe I could -
“So we’re getting rid of the lot of you.” He turns and eyes the rest of the crowd now, making this a public announcement. “Somehow or other. And then, at last, we’ll be free. Free to make our own society, to start anew!”
I’m in a daze as I stand, distant from my own movements, as though it’s someone other than myself. And then I’m there, facing the nasal pirate, drawing the scroll from my cloak...
“You might like to rethink that,” I say firmly. “Because the Queen still lives.”
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