Stay with Me

By Haleigh Wiener

Florian could not fight the growing apprehension that took hold of him. His heart fluttered in his chest, and he could not trust that Ravenna would allow him to move from his cross-legged seat in the corner of the cell. Not before she finished her story, anyway. 

Ravenna continued, breaking eye contact with the drawing. “The girl loved her brother very much. And her brother loved her very much. They did everything together. They played pretend, they drew pictures of each other, and they liked to walk through the garden to see all the pretty flowers.” She paused again, her face falling. “But the king and queen…they didn’t let that happiness last for very long. The girl and her brother couldn’t have fun like they used to.” 

“Why?” Florian asked, hesitant to test his bravery. 

     “Her brother, though younger, was next in line to the throne,” she answered. “He had to have lessons when he got older to learn what being king was all about. He spent hours every day in one room. He didn’t play as much. And one day, he had so many lessons that he couldn’t play at all. He began to let his sister come to his lessons so they could see each other. But then he couldn’t pay attention—he was so focused on his sister who tried to entertain him. So, the teacher hit him. He hit him until his hands were red and bruised. Then the teacher yelled at the girl and said that she couldn’t stay with him anymore.”

Ravenna’s voice began to quiver, and she twiddled with her fingers as she continued her melancholic story. “The girl had to learn to play by herself. That wasn’t as fun. She went to the king and queen and asked them why they made her brother take so many lessons. They told her that he needed to be prepared. They said he needed to know what being a king was like because a girl could never be queen without a man at her side, and they yelled at the girl to never bother him again during his lessons.”

“Those days without her brother were very lonely. But one day, he ran into the girl’s room. He was crying. She asked him what was wrong. He told her he couldn’t take it anymore. He said he ran away from his lessons and wasn’t going back. He said he didn’t want to be king.” Tears were streaming down Ravenna’s face now. She breathed big, heavy breaths to force down the sobs that crept into her trembling voice. When she spoke again, it was so softly that she hardly did so above a whisper. “Then he hugged her.” 

She crossed her arms as if to give herself her own hug, staring at the drawing of Braxton. “It was the best hug in the world,” she mumbled, seemingly unaware that she was still entertaining company. “It was like hugging a big bear. It was nice and tight and warm.” 

Ravenna only broke out of her daze when Florian gave a cough to remind her that he was still there.  

“The girl’s brother said he was going to run away. He was going to take his horse and some money, and he would go someplace where he wouldn’t have any lessons. No one would hit him when he misbehaved. And when he found a nice place, he was going to take the girl with him and they would live together, away from the mean king and queen. And he left, and the girl waited for him.” Ravenna looked at Florian, who jumped at her haggard appearance. Her eyes were bloodshot, and the streaks of tears on her sunken cheeks glistened. She looked like a puppy that had been kicked too many times the way her searing brown eyes pleaded for respite from her anguish. “Do you know how long she waited?” 

“Um…” Florian’s panicked mind rushed to think of an answer, but he was cut off before he could give one. 

“I waited for three days!” Ravenna screeched at her guest. “Three days! My brother didn’t come home! But do you know why? Do you know what came home instead?” 

Paralyzed in fear, Florian could only shake his head and cower farther into his corner.  

His head! Someone had killed him and gave the king and queen his head!”  

Ravenna tore the blankets off her bed and heaved them at the wall with the drawing of the king and queen. She began to groan, then howl, then scream. She bellowed at the drawing like a wild beast. Her face flushed the more she screamed at the king and queen, and her voice became hoarse and mangled, yet she did not stop. Her hungry eyes lay affixed on their faces, then suddenly, she sprang at them. 

She pounded against the wall, harder and harder. She threw her fists upon the king and queen with voracious intent, as if prepared to kill. She punched their faces and scratched at their eyes, yelling the bitterest insults and swears that Florian had ever heard. Fearfully, he scrambled under Ravenna’s bed and covered his ears. I’m going to die, he thought, I’m going to die! Where is Astrid? Please, Astrid, I need you!  

Then, as quickly as she had transformed into the savage maniac Florian had witnessed, Ravenna’s shrieks and assaults stopped. A deafening silence overtook the atmosphere. Florian could hear nothing but the racing of his own heart and the rapidity of his breathing. Ever so slowly, he crawled from under the bed to look upon the shattered remains of his host.  

Ravenna was panting. Other than the aggressive rise and fall of her chest, she stood perfectly still, looking on at her work. Florian poked his head out to see what it was that she had done, and an overwhelming horror consumed him when he put together what he saw. 

The portraits of the king and queen, once clean and elegant, were now smudged beyond recognition, but that wasn’t the worst part. Where Ravenna had punched and scratched, splatters and smears of blood were left. Its evil glimmer shone against the wall as it carefully dripped from her blows. And she stared at the canvas of red with pride and with anger, oblivious to the scars on her hands that oozed her medium. 

Her palms were caked in it. From her knuckles, it poured out like rivers, staining her ragged clothes and dripping to the floor. There wasn’t a single finger that didn’t appear broken. Her nails were all either shredded to chipped stumps or ripped clean off. Those were the fingers in the best shape. From the rest, bone was exposed so that it gleamed horridly in the torchlight.  

Florian suppressed a dry heave. What had happened to Princess Ravenna? She was once the face of Solamore. She was kind and gentle. And then three years ago, the king and queen pronounced her dead. They said that she had been consumed by a terrible illness. Now here she was, alive and well—less well than alive, more accurately—and had been demoted to a life beneath the world in a lowly prison cell. There was nothing left of her, only the shell of a broken girl who once loved and chose peace. And now, the remains of her sanity and care were whittled to nothing as she stood before the bloodied stone wall before her. 

“It was their fault,” Ravenna growled, then her eyes snapped to Florian, who shrieked and retreated once more beneath the bed. A mistake. 

In a flash, Ravenna threw herself upon the floor and seized his hands before he had a chance to draw away. He screamed at once and writhed in her grasp, but by some terrible miracle, her broken hands did not budge. The blood seeped through his little fingers, coating them with its deceptive warmth, tainting his fair skin with its evil hue. 

“It was their fault!” Ravenna’s voice was now harsh and raspy. “They were the ones who abused my sweet brother, my little Braxton, and drove him to his limit! And then he was killed! I knew they never thought he would amount to anything! He was unfocused and sloppy! But they never tried to help him!” 

Florian hardly heard Ravenna’s story. He was crying and squirming, and he wailed, “Please! Let go of me!” 

Ravenna paid no attention to the crying boy that lay beneath her. “Do you know what they did when his head showed up at the gates?” she asked. “They finally paid attention to their daughter and gave her the same treatment he had! They threw me into those same damned lessons, gave me the same damned beatings whenever I misbehaved, and expected me to be queen and marry before the solstice! They didn’t let me grieve! And when I told them that I didn’t want to be queen, they only beat me harder! Then they locked me down here because I was ‘too indignant’!” 

“Let me go!” Florian finally managed to wrench his hands free of her bloody grasp. 

Ravenna willingly withdrew, but she still held his gaze. It was hard, swimming with a violent evil that not even the most tortured soul in the world would dare hold, yet it was pained, as if begging for sympathy that she was confident she deserved. “It was their fault,” she repeated. “But I know something. He wasn’t killed by them, or by someone who wanted him dead. Oh no, that would be only too easy.” She inched closer to the poor wreck before her so that he could smell her hot breath. “It was suicide. I know it was. He killed himself because he knew no one else would do it for him. Everyone loved him. Except them. He killed himself, and then it would only have been a matter of time before someone found him and brought him back to the castle.” 

“Please,” Florian muttered, still only half-listening. “Please, let me go home.” 

For a moment, all that could be heard was his soft whimpering.  

Ravenna said nothing at first. She attempted to adopt a gentle façade, but she eyed her score ravenously, almost malevolently. Her pain could not remain hidden. Despite her smile, all that could be seen was the manipulative predator that stole away poor Florian, who had been too naïve, too scared to flee from her.

“You’re my Braxton now,” she said sweetly. “I have nothing left. Stay with me. We will live down here together. It may not look like much, but we will be together. I will treat you like the prince he was. All you need to do is stay.” 

“No!” Florian’s snivels had warped into sobs. “I want to go home! Please, take me home now! I’m not Braxton! I’m not, I’m not!” 

“You don’t need to be! You can still be Florian! Just stay! Stay with me and we can both be happy!”  

“I don’t want to stay! I want to go home! I want Astrid! Where is she?” 

“I-I don’t know, but you have to stay here with me! She…she doesn’t want you anymore, but I do! I’m s-sure she was always mean and—” 

No, she wasn’t!” Florian’s bravery slowly found its way back into his voice. “She was my sister, not you! I don’t want to stay with you!” 

“L-Look, Florian—”  

“No! Tell me where Astrid is! I know you know where she is!” 

“I told you, I—” 

Tell me!” 

“I killed her!” 

Ravenna pounded the floor beneath them, splattering blood onto Florian’s sleeve. But he didn’t flinch. 

“Y-You what?” 

Ravenna bit her lip and looked away. “I killed her,” she repeated.  

Florian couldn’t say anything. The words had just begun to settle upon him. I killed her. Automatically, before he could process them, understand them, believe them, his eyes welled up with fresh tears. Agony seized him and his entire body shook. He wanted to scream, but nothing came. It was as if a great hand had clamped around his throat, silencing his grief.  

A fleeting image of Astrid danced in his mind. He could see her long, chocolate brown hair gliding down her petite figure, her blue eyes that always seemed to smile as much as her thin lips, her elfish face accentuated with those delicate freckles. He could see her grinning down at him, hear her smooth, deep voice speaking kindly to him, feel the warm touch of her hand in his. Then…she was gone. Reduced to a distant memory. And it was then when he was reminded of the panting, bloodied killer before him that had tricked him and stolen him away from his family just as she had stolen Astrid.  

“Shh now, it’s okay,” Ravenna cooed, and reached to stroke Florian’s face. 

A mistake. 

Florian shoved her hand away violently, not giving a single care to the blood that was swiped onto his own from her devilish touch. “You leave me alone right now!” he screamed. His throat burned as the words were forced from the tortured depths of his being. “I don’t want you, you’re a horrible person! You killed my sister! You leave me alone! Get away from me!” 

Ravenna’s face fell. It fell and fell until it was devoid of all emotion. There was no sadness, no anger, no confusion. Nothing to read. It was like staring at a statue, stone-cold and still. Somehow, it was more frightening than anything Florian had witnessed that night. When she finally spoke, it was decadently, horrifically sweet. 

“You don’t want to stay with me?” 

As those simple words passed Ravenna’s lips, Florian’s bravery perished. He could say nothing. 

Then, without warning, Ravenna seized his throat.  

As Florian gasped and struggled, her emotionless stare lay fixed upon him. “I thought we could be happy together,” she mumbled absentmindedly to her dying prey. “You don’t know what it’s like to be lonely like I have been. All I wanted was a brother. I’ve looked and looked for weeks, and I found lots of little boys and girls who came home with me, but then they wanted to leave, too. They didn’t love me. They didn’t know what love is. So they died, too. I thought you could help me, but… you don’t seem to love me the same way I was hoping to love you. You’re just like the other little children.”

And with a final squeeze, Ravenna silenced him forever, leaving behind nothing but a lifeless body and another statistic. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *