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A Touch of Poison


Gwen somehow managed to spend even more time sitting in her room, staring out her window in melancholy despair as the days trickled into weeks. She hardly slept, and when she did she'd end up having nightmares featuring her struggling helplessly, trapped in some inescapable, terrifying scenario or another.

She spent a good deal of time taking care of the horses, since Rhosyn couldn't perform the daily chores that needed doing. It wasn't the horses fault that their keeper wasn't around to attend them, and it hardly seemed fair to Gwen that they suffer as a consequence. Servants and staff around the castle likely thought it was strange, a princess going out and doing stable work herself, but she really didn't care. Tending them was actually one of the only sources of real pleasure she had these days.

Her only real contact with anybody occurred when she was summoned to the dining hall for her daily meals, which were still being supervised.

Occasionally she'd find Bryn and Anifail there as well, eating a quick meal while taking care of whatever scrap of castle business had occupied their attention. Half the time they didn't pay her any mind at all, practically ignoring her as she sat there and ate. There were moments, however, where she'd catch one of them regarding her with a smirk, or chuckling over some whispered comment the other had made.

Gwen would do her level best to ignore them both, eating her food in silence, and then quickly retreating to the isolation and comparative solace of her bedroom.

Once there, she would just stare out the window, considering her situation, wondering about her best friend, and generally just thinking in circles.

She'd come up with some idea or clever plan, and her thoughts would return to Rhosyn . . . her best friend, being held hostage for her cooperation. Often, Gwen thought about trying to follow Anifail to find out where he'd imprisoned Rhosyn, but every time she considered doing it she began to think of what would happen if she was caught. If she showed even the slightest amount of resistance at this stage, or if it was discovered she was planning anything at all, it would probably go very badly for her Rhosyn.

It didn't stop her from staring out the window, though . . . thinking of things she might do and then immediately dismissing them, wishing that things were somehow different. She'd thought she'd felt trapped before, when Prince Caine had been her unlucky suitor, but that was nothing compared to how trapped she was now. It was like a spiritual noose sitting around her neck, with her helpless to do anything about it.

When the day finally came that she glimpsed a royal procession approaching the castle gates, Rhegar's colors flying merrily in the wind, she could almost feel that noose tightening around her neck, making it difficult for her to breathe.

Gwen knew that it was just a matter of time before she was told to come downstairs and meet her newest suitor, and she dreaded the summons. She was once again wearing that long, flowing dress that she'd worn upon Prince Tremaine's arrival, the one she simultaneously loved and hated. Just as before, she had no idea what she could do to avoid what seemed inevitable at this point.

Really, what could she do? Her only hope was that she might find a way to prevent this marriage without it appearing to have anything to do with her, and how exactly was she supposed to do that? If something went wrong and the wedding was called off, her father and Anifail would naturally assume she had something to do with it regardless!

The sound of slippers padding their way up her bedroom stairs came much sooner than she'd anticipated, a mere half-hour after she'd first spied the Rhegarian convoy in the distance. Gwen listened in silence as they got louder and louder until they finally reached the top of the stairs, just outside her door. There was a few seconds of anxious silence, followed by a tentative knock at her door.

"Princess?" an older woman's voice called from beyond the door. "Your father sends for you . . . your presence is required in the garden."

Gwen walked over to the door so that she might open it and give the speaker, whoever it was, a quick smile of thinks. However, in the few seconds it took for her to get there, she could already hear the woman hastily retreating back down the tower stairs.

The rumors had been getting worse and worse. Most of the staff avoided her entirely now, throwing her fearful, worried looks from time to time. On the rare occasion when she did walk into a room and encounter servants or other castle staff talking to one another, they would often stop their conversation mid-sentence and regard her warily, as though they'd just been talking about her, or were suddenly afraid she'd order them hanged. In fact, a few days ago, she'd overheard a conversation where a chambermaid professed to hate 'that spoiled brat of a princess' who no longer even deigned it necessary to speak to lowly servants such as them.

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