The chosen one lived up to her destiny by defeating the evil wizard that had plagued her land and enslaved her true love. She rescued her beloved from atop a high tower, the townsfolk rejoiced and made her queen, and within a year she’d married and had her first daughter, Elindria.
End of story.
Until, that was, Elindria turned nineteen, the same age her mother had been when she saved her father from the wizard. That’s when Elindria began storming away at any mention of her mother’s tale, a particular favorite among the people of this realm. Elindria’s tutor, Sarna, watched in silence, hoping the girl would outgrow her peevish mood, but the girl did not. One day the queen came to Sarna and asked, “Can I entrust you to watch over my daughter, to make certain she does nothing foolhardy?”
“For my queen, anything.” Sarna bowed, glad to hide the redness in her cheeks. To be called upon for such prestigious duty! “I’ve always done my best to oversee her education, and I will not fail you.”
As Sarna was returning to her quarters she caught sight of Elindria traveling the path leading to the woods beyond the castle. She chased after the girl.
“Where are you going?”
“Away.” Elindria carried a leather pack laden with supplies.
“Please, your mother will worry.”
“Let her.” Elindria held her head at a lofty angle. “No prophesy speaks my name like it did hers, and nothing will ever happen to me at the castle. I must make my own destiny by besting a wizard.”
“But your mother drove all the dark wizards from the land.”
“Yet there are enchanters still, and they love their riddles and games. I shall test one and come away the victor.”
“I am going.”
Sarna sighed and followed. She had a vow to uphold.
Later that day they came across a woodcutter laboring in a shady grove.
“You there,” Elindira said. Her nose wrinkled. “Your odor offends me, but I’ll allow you to tell me what you know of enchanters in the area.”
The woodcutter began to protest but, upon seeing the fine cloth of Elindria’s dress and the cutting look Sarna gave him, he instead spoke of a mysterious girl by a lake that played arcane tricks on fishermen. The familiar sent to do her bidding was unknown, so the villagers couldn’t guard against it.
“I shall discover this girl’s familiar,” Elindria said, “and free the villagers of her petty tyranny.”
“But it’s just a girl playing tricks,” Sarna said.
Elindria’s eyes narrowed. “Do you think it beneath me?”
“No, my lady.” In truth, it was, but she had to protect the girl’s feelings.
“Do you think me incapable, then?”
“No, my lady.”
“Then cease you chattering or return to the castle.” Elindria stomped away.
The woodcutter raised an eyebrow. Sarna looked away and wrung her bonnet before trotting along after her.
The princess questioned everyone they passed on the forest road, and they followed the tales of chickens that laid lizards’ eggs and grain that wouldn’t mill until they came to a lake with a hut on the shore. A sallow-faced girl stood with her back to the thatching, weaving a wreath of lavender.
“Go away,” the girl said.
“Are you the wizard?” Elindria asked.
The girl tossed the wreath. It shed an impossible number of petals, thousands, as it flew, and they gathered about the women’s feet like a purple-tinted snow drift.
Elindria wavered, mouth agape, before finally speaking in the tone she reserved for state dinners. “I’ll have you know I am the princess of this realm, and I have it upon good authority that you have been a nuisance to my people. So reveal your true form to me so that they may avoid it.”
“If you’re a princess, then you’ll have a gold coin,” the girl said. “I would only take it with fair intent.”
“So a contest, then?” Elindria said.
“Indeed,” said the girl. “Bring forth your gold.”
“Wait a moment,” Sarna said. This was all quite vexing.
Elindria dug through her pack and produced the coin. “And if I best you, you’ll reveal your familiar to me?”
The girl nodded. Elindria held the coin between them. The girl snatched it and tossed the coin into the murky water of the lake.
Elindria stammered, her face red. “I hadn’t realized we’d begun. What good is gold down there?”
The girl shrugged.
“A contest must have rules, young lady,” Sarna said, her brow furrowed.
The girl gave Sarna a wink. “So it does. Let us go again.”
They set the rules. If Elindria could keep the second coin in her hand for a count of twenty she would be the victor. Elindria studied the hollows of the girl’s eyes before digging through her pack again. Once the coin appeared a wind carried half-heard whispers. Elindria flung the coin and watched it sink beneath the water with a wistful expression that cracked as soon as the spell broke.
Elindria’s mouth puckered. “You tricked me.”
The wizard girl laughed. “Now will you leave me alone, fair princess?”
Elindria muttered about how the whole affair had been unfair from the start and how next time, with the next enchanter, things would be different. She stomped away, calling for Sarna to follow. Before Sarna could leave the wizard snapped her fingers three times and a gar swam to the bank and spat one of the gold coins into the silt.
Sarna’s eyes widened. “Your familiar is a fish.”
“You’ll need this.” The girl tossed the coin to Sarna.
“Why? To keep me from calling upon the constable?”
“It’s for having to put up with her. Needs to treat her help better, that one.”
Sarna nodded. Then she returned to the castle alone, thus ensuring a new education for the princess. A life of privilege had done nothing for Elindria, so Sarna would let the coming days of failure work their charms.
Jesse Knifley lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he works for the public library. His fiction has appeared in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Electric Spec and Hills of Fire: Bare-Knuckle Yarns of Appalachia. Find him on Twitter @jesseknifley or at his blog, jessereadspaperbacks.wordpress.com.