I fell in love with a prince who turned out to be a villain.
He wasn’t the knight in shining armour, riding on his horse to save me, but a sorcerer of black magic, dealing in potions that glimmered with dark radiance and evil objects capable of inflicting curses. Even though he was handsome, he was dark, dark as sin, and a curl of black vine-like tattoos traced across his left cheekbone, like a mark, a brand of evil. He came to me, not to love me or rescue me, but to take my blood and my power, both magical, and make him mine, a veritable endless supply of sacrificial blood and strength.
I was hoodwinked at first, by his beguiling voice and good looks, his scent, intoxicating and sweet, like mushrooms cooked in caramel. We met at a tavern, while I was running errands for a friend of mine, helping to supply her midnight rendezvous with chocolate cake, the cocoa beans used to make it in short supply, the Midnight Wraith one of the only places that still stocked it, as a delicacy for the drunk. It helped, apparently, to ease the wooziness that came with ingesting too much mead. He was sitting in an alcove by himself, in a black cape, a guarded look on his face—but something made me go over to him, and talk to him, ask him about his day as I waited for my order. He looked like a prince, that was for sure, a prince in hiding, and I imagined for him a sorrowful life, in which he was forced to dress as a commoner in order to obtain some little freedom every so often from the daily tolls of palace life. How wrong I was. There was a sword in his sheath, and he was soon talking of rescuing maidens from dragons and having a sorcerer for a mother, who had taught him a few tricks. I was smitten, lost the moment I looked into his emerald eyes, with their golden pupils, and when my order of cocoa beans came, it seemed the most natural thing in the world, to bring him back to the cottage where I lived and invite him to have some supper.
He didn’t ask for blood at first. He didn’t even tell me I had the kind of magical blood he was looking for: potent, but only useful for making spells; instead, he regaled me with stories of palace life, playing along with my idea of him being a prince, a wry smile on his face that I thought was charming, but in retrospect was arrogant, as if he enjoyed fooling me. Still I was drawn to him, pulled like a crystal towards a wellspring of magical water, the way he laughed, bitterly and coldly, as if he were lonely and afraid, deep inside, and the confidence he exuded, which made me feel he had seen and done things I could only dream about, fought off demons in far-off lands, perhaps, or flown on chariots made of lightning. He had done those things, as I later found out, but not for the sake of discovery or exploration or enjoyment—he’d done them to get what he wanted, and what he wanted was power, enough power to become the strongest sorcerer that ever existed.
As for the blood-taking, he did it slowly, gently, idly asking me one day if he could “borrow” some blood for spell to help a woman who was struggling with infertility, and I did as I was told, because I wanted to please him. The extraction of the blood was a gruesome process: instead of using needles and a syringe, he employed a glass snake, attaching its fangs to the veins in the crook of my elbow. When he muttered an enchantment, the snake came alive, siphoning blood into its body so that it turned a deep red, almost black, colour. Once the snake was filled from tail-tip to fang-tips—it was only about a hand span’s width—he whispered another command, and the snake turned back to glass once more, filled with blood. He took this blood-filled snake over to the cauldron he had set up in my bedroom, using my wooden spoon for stirring it, which I’d used for baking cookies and cakes, and, unlatching its belly with his finger, poured the liquid out of it and into the cauldron, giving it a shake for good measure to get rid of the last drops of blood left in it. Then he stirred the cauldron’s mixture. The effect was instantaneous. The potion, originally dark burgundy in colour, turned red, bright red, like cherry juice, and began to flash all sorts of colours, blue, green, yellow, orange. It was like watching an angry chameleon change colours in a matter of seconds. Then he began stoppering the liquid, placing it into bottles and sealing with corks and binding symbols etched onto their glass surfaces, and they turned a dark brown. It seemed an awful lot of potion for one infertile woman, and I asked him that, but he simply glowered at me and moved on, bringing an armful of books on black magic which he had brought with him in his trunk to the table, laying them out and beginning to peruse them.
The first time he summoned a demon, I was asleep. When I awoke, blearily, the ghoul was already floating in the centre of the room, above a pentacle etched in glowing, blue lines, and it was eating the soul of my friend, who had come to visit. It hovered above her, over her prone body, sucking a bluish essence out of her, and I launched myself at it and threw it across the room. It hit the wall with a thwack, despite seeming incorporeal, and turned into a dead skull, empty of magic, of life, of anything. That was the first time I encountered his rage. It roared upon me like a wave upon a shore in a storm, and he dragged me into the storeroom and locked me in it, with no food or water, for two days.
Still, I loved him. Make no mistake: I hated him, too, with every fibre of my being, every shred of my soul, and would not have hesitated to kill him if I’d had the chance, a stab to the heart with a shard of glass, a bit of poison slipped in his food. He was evil, and he didn’t care who he stepped on or whose lives he discarded in order to achieve his aims. But some part of me adored him,too, in a way I had never adored anyone before: it was like seeing a painting come to life, seeing him move around making his potions and casting his spells, and to me, his face and mannerisms were as fascinating as the inner workings of a watch. His voice dipped up and down, like music, if the music was destined for funerals and other similarly depressing events, and his happiness, when it came, poisonous and selfish, like a child delighting in killing the bees because he got the honey, was as alluring as the winter moon. His whole face would light up, wild with delight, stunning in its ferocity, and I’d be left breathless and fascinated, as if someone had hit me lightly in the chest, right over my heart.
I tried to kill him. I really did. He imprisoned me sometimes, kept me shackled to the wall in chains he’d conjured out of nowhere, and drew my blood without permission, the shadows underneath his eyes growing as the days passed, and other times, when I was behaving well, he would let me run free. Disgustingly enough, I’d feel strangely pleased when he rewarded my good behaviour, as if he approved of me on some level, him, a high-level mage, and this sickened me to no end. One day, after another blood-drawing, and returning home—it was his home now, not mine, the cottage transformed into a devil’s den of potions, cauldrons and the bitter, acrid stench of black magic—after leaving for several hours, he found dinner laid out for him, a roast chicken and peas and potatoes, an entire pecan-nut cake. He sat down, and he ate it, but before he could even take a bite of the pecan-nut cake, a demon of red light shot out of the necklace he always wore around his throat, with a pendant shaped like an animal’s tooth, and swirled around it. The cake blackened and grew dark, and the poison I had filled it with, black widow’s venom, rose up to the surface, in tiny, glistening drops.
I was in disgrace after that. I wasn’t imprisoned, or trapped. He turned me into a painting, and hung it on the wall, and I stayed there, week after week, always looking at the same patch of wall. Sometimes, when I tell this story to people, they ask how it felt, to be a painting on a wall, and, well, I couldn’t possibly describe it to someone who hasn’t felt it. It was like the world had shrunk, like the world had flattened and grown small, and all I could see was the scene of the room, the cauldron bubbling, him moving about.
He knew that I loved him. I didn’t know how he knew—I kept it as secret as I could—but he knew, oh he knew. And he used to his advantage, as any self-absorbed, cunning sorcerer would, sometimes doling out a little affection, like feeding a starving man crumbs to keep him hungry for more, a gentle word here, a glance out of the corner of his eye there, to keep me tethered to him. Then there were the times he tortured me, brought home beautiful women and let me watch him court them, kiss them. He always extracted something from them afterwards, be it information, or the strength of first love, a potent ingredient in dark potions used for making people bend to your will and persuade minds. I hated those women, hated them with a passion, and that only made me hate myself all the more.
He finally left me, one day, and it was a while before I realised why. One night, while he’d been out, I’d snuck into the town, escaping the magical barrier on the door—I’d learned a few magical runes myself by now, and it was a simple task to draw them over the existing ones with a sharp kitchen knife—and found myself at a small ball held in the village hallway. There, I danced with a man, eager and clean-shaven, and all the passion that had been building inside of me in that house all those years came to a crescendo, and we slept together in the adjacent barn, amongst the hay and the smell of animals. It was over quickly, and I returned to the house before he got back, but the damage had been done: apparently, in black magic, only the blood of a virginal female is useful, and once she experiences sex for the first time, her blood not only loses its magical potency, but begins to become useful for undoing magic, rather than creating it. In short, I became a threat to him, instead of a resource, and I was to be eliminated. He tried to kill me, in one short blast of magic, but I slashed my arm and blocked the spell with my own blood seeping into the crook of my elbow, absorbing the magic. Then, using my own blood, I drew a simple warding rune, quickly, on the floor of the room, and that certainly sent him into a tailspin, howling and knocking things off shelves as some kind of unseen pain assailed him. Finally, he left, in a whirlwind of black dust, his black cape sweeping like some evil creature’s wings out of the window and into the night.
I had a lot of cleaning up to do after that. I was twenty years old by then, no longer of marriageable age, and, besides, so many years of staying around black magic had changed me, made a scar grow on my own cheek, white as snow, against my skin, of a rose losing its petals, a sign of extended exposure to evil spells, and I had seen too much of the magical world to leave it. I began collecting magic books, ones that undid spells and banished demons, and began sketching runes in books in my spare time, muttering spells under my breath. The only thing I didn’t do was experiment with my own blood. In all the magic books I read, none had mentioned the effects of years of close proximity to black magic spells on the power of one’s blood, and one day, in trying to cast a simple finding spell, I pricked my finger on the needle I was using as a makeshift compass, and a drop fell on the thin, pointed metal. It immediately began to glow, white-hot and bright, and, ordinarily, if what I read was true, blood that could undo spells would strengthen spells only slightly, make them a little more stronger and better working. But my blood changed the tiny needle into a small, silver compass, in a flash of light, delicate and perfect, and its needle, minuscule and lovely as a diamond set in a ring, pointed straight to the north-east, in the direction he had gone.
I think I will find him someday, and I still don’t know, when I do, if I’ll kill him or kiss him, or perhaps do both. I know he’s out there somewhere, finding his way ever deeper down the paths of black magic, trying to build enough power to raise an undead army or bring torrential rain, thunderstorms, earthquakes and fires across the world, to prove to himself and everyone there was no-one stronger than he, and I intended on turning each walking, dead thing back into a corpse, and every fire, storm, wind, rain or cyclone of his conjuring into spring and summer breezes. And then, maybe, just maybe, he would look at me with fear, instead of hate, loathing, indifference or arrogance, like a scared, little boy, and I would finally be able to stop loving him, as I still did, travelling across the world in my white cloak, one hand occasionally touching the rose on my cheek.