Here’s a link to part 1, and part 2. And summary below.
Bella’s story begins as usual–her mother dies, her father remarries. Then her father dies mysteriously, and the stepmother poisons Bella and has her daughters bury Bella in the woods. But Bella comes back as a powerful necromancer, and uses her powers, with the guidance of her mother’s ghost, to sneak into the ball to meet the prince. She dances with him, and raises and envoy to prevent a war, and the prince rewards her with a position as a queen’s lady in waiting.
My chance to win over the prince, when it came, was offered freely. I did not have to creep about to find it.
“I ride to battle,” the prince said early one morning, having called me to a room full of his generals and a few aides. “You spoke of being my mage. Will you ride with me?”
“I am no fighter, but if I can be of use, I will come.”
“The men will not fight, if you mean their corpses to be puppets,” a general said, nervously.
“Oh, no!” I waved my hands. “There is my army.” I pointed out the tent, and brought my wolves closer, so he could see their eyes catch the torchlight brightening the pre-dawn gray of the sky. There were many now.
“I do not count a human life so cheap, or their death, I promise you. I would not be a monster.”
“So these wolves, they will fight for you? That is all you offer?”
“I… I can do more, but it is not honorable.” I thought of my dealing with my stepmother, which could be useful here.
“War rarely is. Tell us.”
“I can send rats to spoil their supplies. Foul their food and chew holes in their water barrels. Rip their clothes and gnaw their shoes….”
“It is not just our soldiers’ lives saved if they surrender, but theirs, too. Do it.”
“Tell them to focus on the food and water, but leave the rest, except they should target the saddles and tack.” The general said.
“And the pikes,” an aide added. “It is time consuming to replace the shafts.”
We rode out to the army encamped on our land, and set up camp of our own. That night, I sent my minions at their utmost stealth, nibbling away at those supplies hidden from sight. That took two nights, and on the third, I sent them to attack the rest. As soon as they were caught at their sabotage, I stirred them into a frenzy. Every supply ruined was the hope of safety for our people. Eventually, the soldiers destroyed them—my dead are hardly, but not indestructible.
“It is done,” I said. My saboteurs had taken two-thirds of the enemy’s supplies, before they were done.
The general nodded grimly. “An army marches on their stomach. This is a deciding blow.”
“Send your wolves to guard the camp,” the prince said. “We will have to be wary of raiders. There are farms and villages not far from here.”
“Should I…” I paused. “They saw my rats, they know what they face. Should I let them feel the presence of my wolves? Or do you wish to catch the raiders unawares?”
“This one has a sound strategic mind,” one general said.
I disliked being spoken of as if I wasn’t there, but I said nothing.
“Yes, do that,” the prince agreed. “We will try to capture them, to be ransomed later.”
It wasn’t easy to keep the enemy alive, when they were trying to kill you—even when your fighters were dead who didn’t feel pain. Of the seven invaders who snuck out of camp, one died fighting, and another died of their wounds after.
I apologized to the prince for the loss, though he said I had done well.
One of the aides suggested raising the dead enemies, and I shook my head fiercely.
“I won’t do such a thing. It will destroy our hopes for peace at the end of this. Imagine if they raised our dead.”
The aide’s hands clenched in anger, face flushing, and then he deflated, and nodded. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
After the conversation had moved on, I sidled over to the prince. “Highness, you should keep an eye on that one.”
“Him? Why? He’s harmless.”
“He doesn’t see the other side as people. Anyone who’s capable of such a feat can apply it to any person not like them, and use it to excuse many terrible acts, given time and reason.”
“You look very sad,” he said.
“My stepmother and her daughters didn’t see me as a person, towards the end. I saw it happen, my very selfhood dwindle in their eyes until there was nothing left but an inconvenience.”
He nodded, and I saw him studying the aide thoughtfully, which was enough for now. I’d made note of the man as well, and would offer some advice in the ears of friends I’d made. He’d be watched, one way or another.
Their raiding failed, the enemy instead rallied their troops, and attacked at first light. I would have felt sorry for them, were it not my home they were trying to destroy. I sent my army–mostly wolves, some large cats, boars, and even a bear–to pick them off at the edges. They knocked them unconscious if possible, and dragged them away.
Our lines of prisoners grew steadily.
My smaller minions, I sent to check the wounded. Those might survive, my wolves carried to our battle healers.
“They keep bringing us to the enemy wounded, too,” a healer complained to me. “Can’t they tell the difference?”
” Can we not ransom the wounded, as well?”
“Well, yes, if they live.” He frowned, “Oh, very well.”
“I can tell them to leave the enemy,” I pressed, as his face was twisted in a scowl
“You’re a bleeding heart for a dead mage. No, no, as you were.” He strode off.
His discourtesy stung, but I had weathered worse, so I focused on my tasks. The dead could follow simple commands, but the tasks I’d set them to weren’t terribly simple, so many of them needed guidance. It kept me quite busy.
“Lady,” a voice said, loudly.
I blinked and looked up into the face of the prince. “My apologies, I…”
“You’re doing too much, aren’t you? You mustn’t exhaust yourself, we may have need of you for a vital part of our defense.”
“I am fine, your highness, I won’t let us down.”
“You must rest. Leave off all but your rescue efforts. I command it.” He waited.
I bowed, giving the rest of my army a simple task–withdraw, hide, or harry. Lifting my scattered focus did feel better. Less stretched-thin and dizzy.
“Yes, my apologies for wasting—”
“No, no apologies. You’re not single handedly winning this war, though you are putting in a good effort. Did you know one of your wolves is ripping the seat out of the pants of every enemy soldier he captures? They’re a sorry lot, wounded in their dignity.”
“I…” I covered my mouth, pressing my fingers over my lips, trying to keep the laughter that bubbled up from escaping.
He waited, and when it was clear I couldn’t answer, said “No matter. I see you are less pale. Good.”
“It can be difficult to balance serving and overworking myself,” I acknowledged. “Thank you for your reminder.”
“Do not forget, your value is not only in your magic,” he said, nodding and striding away.
What casual kindness, I thought, warmed, and kept my attention on shepherding the wounded to safety.
Eventually, the enemy was forced to surrender, after a group made a push to flee, and ran into our reinforcements instead.
We gathered up the prisoners, and secured them, with healers and guards. I did my part with my animals, wolves patrolling the outside, though my mice and rats did the better job of keeping them contained. I caught more than one plot before it had fully developed, and reported them without hesitation.
Soon, they’d been ransomed back, the money going a long way to refilling war ravaged coffers—though much of it left as soon as it entered, to pay our soldiers, purchase food, and help a few villages the invaders had pillaged on their way to battle.
Because of my efforts, I did get a place among the prince’s advisors, as well as a reward I had not expected.
An offer of marriage.
I sputtered in shock when the prince offered his hand one evening, two years past the ball where we’d met.
He smiled at my surprise. “Lady, we get along well, and I am in need of an heir. You’re well respected, and it’s to be hoped your children might inherit your skills.”
I hoped not, as I’d learned from my mother that a true necromancer had to die to gain the ability to raise the dead, and not merely speak with them.
“I will have no pampered lady to rule beside me, and none of our allies have an unmarried daughter of age. We suit each other, do we not? Think on it, and give me your answer when you are ready.” He captured my hand and brushed a kiss across the back. “I wish you a pleasant day, lady.”
Stunned, I stood there for a long moment, and then retreated from the gathering. I needed to think—and to talk to my mother.
After I found a quiet place, I summoned her spirit to me, and explained what had happened.
“You should marry him,” she said, “if you like and respect him. You will be protected and can do much for others with your power.”
I nodded. “If I have your blessing, then I shall marry.”
And so I did, becoming a princess, and a queen in time.
Being queen wasn’t always easy. We had other wars, and I marched my army of dead alongside the living. I sent them out into our kingdom, as spies, and caught an enemy attempting to infiltrate us more than once. Another necromancer tried to kill me, along with a few less magical attempts.
My guards were loyal, and my people loved me. My children, too, had their father’s charm. And though I’d prayed for it not to happen, my son fell into a river, and had a terrible fever after. He rose a true necromancer like me, taught by myself and his grandmother’s spirit.
My stepmother never remarried, though one of my stepsisters did marry a man who was much less wealthy than she must have hoped. Letting them live small, stingy lives, without the wealth and privilege they’d craved was satisfying. My happiness–with my kind, thoughtful husband, and my three wonderful children–was the best revenge by far.