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The Smallest Serving-Girl
Once, in a time not so long ago, in a place not so far away, there was a beautiful kingdom with a wise king. This king was very just, and very kind, and the people loved him. They were glad to have such a king, and to live in such a peaceful country, and all who lived there were very happy.
The gods of the world saw what a good ruler the king was, and they were also glad, so they blessed him. Never could any soul harm him, they decreed, if that person struck at him with malice in their hearts. The sharpest sword, the most vicious blow, it did not matter—as long as the one who struck held ill will towards the king, it would be as though the blow had never fallen.
But then, one day—slowly, as such things are wont to do—darkness crept over the land. Dissatisfied with the power he held, the king called together a great army and marched out against his neighbors. His people still loved him, though, and so they followed him into war, justifying his actions to whomever asked. However, even they knew that something was wrong, and that such deeds were iniquitous, though they would never have said so to others. So they marched with their king to conquer other lands, following him despite the doubts that filled their hearts. Unprepared for the onslaught, the other countries fell before them, swept under the tides of destruction as the army crashed over them in wave after blood-hued wave.
Finally, the gods looked down on the realms and beheld the chaos that had overtaken the world, and they were angry that the king had thought to shatter the peace they had bestowed upon the land. Yet, even as they struck, they were defeated by their own blessing, and could not kill him. Instead, they cursed him, making all of his people, who had doubted him deep in their hearts, turn their backs on him. Then, the gods imprisoned the king in his own castle, and hid it behind a strong wall that none could pass, to wait for old age to take the king.
But the king was angry at their actions. For many nights and days, he sat on his throne and plotted his revenge, though he no longer had the means to take it. And, beyond the strong wall, the people went on with their lives, choosing a new king to rebuild their country. They forgot about the imprisoned king, though he did not forget about them.
On the eve of his revenge, the king paced through his castle, seething with anger. He planned to overthrow the gods themselves, in retribution for his fall, and then kill every person who had turned their back on him. So he cast a mighty spell, and called up a great storm, one that would lay low the kingdom and leave no one alive. Yet, outside the walls, the people—happy with their new lives and their new king—looked at the looming storm and felt no fear, having long forgotten their old king and his ire.
One person had not forgotten, though. Deep in the heart of the castle, the smallest serving-girl—the only one who had stayed with the dethroned king—heard the rising storm and knew what it meant. She left the kitchens and washed the flour from her hair, then braided flowers into her golden tresses and dressed in her finest clothes. Afterwards, taking the king his supper, as she did every night, she mounted the stairs to the throne room. The king was there, weary from the casting, and glad for the food. Bidding her enter, he nodded to her as she set down the plates, then began to eat. She waited patiently while he did, and when he was finished, she came forward to collect the dishes as he sat back in his throne, preparing to rest before he finished the spell.
However, the smallest serving-girl did not take the dishes as she was bid. Instead, she drew from her sleeve a long dagger, and approached the king calmly. And, as he opened his eyes to look at her, the serving-girl took the dagger and plunged it into his heart, heedless of the power of the gods’ blessing.
When she did, the king’s eyes went wide, and he arched back in shock. A rattling cry broke through the bubbling blood that filled his lungs, and he collapsed. As the crimson liquid began to trickle from the corners of his mouth and flow from the wound as though a dam had been breeched, the king lifted his startled gaze to the smallest serving-girl, the only one of his people who had stood beside him without any doubts in her heart.
“How?” he whispered, as the stream of blood began to flow and his eyes dimmed with the shadow of death. “Why?”
And the serving-girl smiled at him through her tears, and pulled his head onto her lap, wiping the blood from his face.
“Because I love you,” she said.