9: The Wicked and the Witch

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"Open up!"

A flurry of furious water swirled about Princess Aren as she hammered on the door.

"Open up!"

She had been at the remote building, set apart from the city in an area resplendent with colourful coral and swarms of fish of all species, for an hour. At first, she'd laid in wait, watching for signs of movement or anyone coming or going. She'd quickly grown impatient of the silence, broken only by the occasional fish which tried to speak with her. They all knew who she was and most were respectful in keeping their distance from the royal princess, but some would swim across to her, wanting to talk, to be able to tell their friends they'd been having a conversation with none other than Princess Aren! It hadn't taken long for the visits to stop. Twice, she'd told the fish to leave her alone. Once she'd threatened to strip it scale by scale and feed them to the sharks for lunch.

She was left alone after that.

Eventually, though, Aren gave up any semblance of secrecy and stormed up to the door, slamming her hand against the smooth wood, making it shake in its frame. She had been shouting for the house's resident for longer than she cared to think. Too long for anyone, let alone a princess.

"I said, OPEN UP!"

Still, there was no answer. It had occurred to Aren that the house was empty. She'd gone to the city. She was visiting a friend or a relative. She wasn't there. The princess dismissed such thoughts. If there was no-one in, the fish would have left. They were here because they were drawn here. Swimming in these waters made their scales feel fresh and their fins energised. And such feelings would only remain whilst she was here. So:

"Open up now, witch! I command it!"

Silence. In despair, Aren dropped her hand. It was no use. The house must be empty. She'd have to come back. She turned to leave.

"Hello, Princess," said a voice.

Aren turned quickly to find the door open and the witch standing in the doorway. The witch, Ursen, was smiling, an expression which only served to make Aren more tense, more frustrated.

"Witch!" she spat. "Where have you been? How could you not hear me?"

"Princess, I could hear you. I choose not to acknowledge such juvenile, arrogant behaviour, indifferent to the needs or feelings of others."

Aren was indignant.

"How dare you..." she began, but the witch cut her off.

"How dare I, Princess? How dare I? Am I the one who shouts and orders and makes more noise than a Tsunami? What of my fish? You've frightened them! What of my door? You've hurt it! What of my ears? You've insulted them with your bellowing! How dare you ask 'how dare I'?"

Aren opened her mouth and closed it again. She didn't know what to say. The princess had never been spoken to in such a way before. No-one had dared. No-one had ever thought to. She was a princess! The king's daughter! She commanded respect just by being! On reflection, Aren realised her approach might have been perceived wrongly. She was nervous. She was impatient and she wouldn't normally have behaved in such a manner. She knew how to talk and act around people, especially if she wanted her own way. She could be manipulative and meek and strong on the flip of a shell. She bowed low.

"My abject apologies," she said, all traces of ire having left her voice. "I have urgent need and I believe only you can help me.

"In that case, Princess, you had best come in," said Ursen with a curt nod of her head.

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