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The Choice by Ashley Marie Bergner Thunder rumbled gently in the distance as Sabine sat huddled beneath a stone archway in the ruins of the ancient castle. Lightning ripped across the sky, and rain poured through the collapsed roof. Shivering in her drenched gown, Sabine wrapped her arms more tightly around her knees, the raindrops mingling with her tears. He’s not coming, she thought. My father’s already told him the news and ordered him not to come. She felt as if her life were slowly collapsing and crumbling around her, much like the ruins of this castle. Two months ago her life had seemed so perfect, back when she first realized that she was in love with Sir Martin, a young knight in the service of her father, King Aiden. When she first met Martin, he had appeared quiet and withdrawn, but as she came to know him better, she discovered that his thoughts ran deep. Beneath his stoic exterior was the soul of a poet—Martin composed beautiful poems and ballads, using words with such power and feeling that it took Sabine’s breath away. They would often meet out by the ruins of the stone castle, where Martin would read his poems to her, and they could talk and philosophize together. Although in the beginning their relationship was merely one of friendship, as the weeks passed, Sabine found herself slowly falling in love with Martin. Then one night, before Martin had to leave for a battle, he professed his love for her. Sabine had been in raptures. Unable to contain her joy, she rushed to her father’s throne room to tell him the news. Yet before she could share her joy, King Aiden informed her that he had some news of his own. “Sabine, I just finished speaking with Lord Devlin, one of my advisers. He has asked for your hand in marriage, and I have accepted his offer on your behalf.”


Sabine stared at her father in shock, for a moment too stunned to even speak. Until now, her father had not seemed to take much interest in her life or her future, and ever since the death of his wife, who was killed by a plague when Sabine was but a child, he had been somewhat cold and distant. He had never discussed with Sabine his expectations regarding her marriage, and she had mistakenly assumed that she would be free to choose her own husband. “But Father,” she finally stammered. “Lord Devlin is more than twice my age, and I barely know him. You, yourself, barely know him.” King Aiden stiffened, frowning in displeasure. “Lord Devlin is powerful and wealthy, and would make a fitting marriage partner for the daughter of a king. I have already given my word.” “But can’t you see what he is doing?” Sabine protested. “He wants ally himself more closely to you through this marriage, and he is only using me to gain more money and power. He does not love me. And, I have already given my heart to Sir Martin, and I will love no one else.” King Aiden’s face reddened in anger. “Sabine, you are a princess, and it is your duty to marry well for the sake of the kingdom. You should not degrade yourself by consorting with a lowly knight. How dare you speak to me of what you have or have not given away—you have nothing of your own to give. A thief! That is what your Sir Martin is. You will marry Lord Devlin in three weeks, and by such time, Sir Martin will find that he no longer has a place in my court.” Now the wedding was less than two days away, and Sabine’s only hope was that somehow, Martin would find a way to help her. Although he had been away from the kingdom fighting in a battle, he was due to return this very night. Sabine had asked one of her handmaidens to give him a message as soon as he arrived, requesting that he meet Sabine at the


ruins. She now sat waiting in the darkness and the pouring rain, hoping against hope that he would come. She knew that she and Martin were left with only two choices—to suffer from doomed, unrequited love or defy her father and secretly elope. Sabine heard footsteps behind her, and she turned around, her heart skipping a beat. However, it was not Martin who appeared before her, but rather a mysterious figure clothed in a ragged scarlet cape. It appeared to be an aged woman, bent and haggard, with scraggly hair and frighteningly clear, piercing eyes. “Who are you?” Sabine asked, slowly standing to her feet and reaching for the dagger that was strapped to her belt. The old woman smiled. “There’s no need to be afraid, my darling. I have not come to harm you. I was merely taking a stroll through the ruins.” Sabine continued to grip her dagger, watching the old woman with suspicion. Although the rain had abated somewhat, it still seemed very strange that an old woman would be wandering the wild, lonely moor on a night such as this. There was something eerie and unnatural about the woman, and Sabine did not like the way those bright, piercing eyes seemed to bore into her soul. “Something is troubling you, child—I can see it,” the old woman said, her voice soothing. “I heard you weeping, the sort of weeping that can only come from a broken heart.” “That is my own business,” Sabine said coldly. “I do not wish to be spied upon, and I ask that you please go away and leave me be.” “But child, I can help you,” the old woman said, reaching for her satchel and pulling out a vial filled with red liquid. A jagged bolt of lightning lit up the heavens, setting the old woman’s eyes aflame and causing the red liquid to sparkle.


“You’re…you’re a witch!” Sabine cried in astonishment. The old woman’s high, screeching laugh sent chills through Sabine. “Call me what you will, but I can give you the help you seek. In this vial is a deadly poison. Slip it into the goblet of the one you hate so you can be with the one you love.” Sabine recoiled in horror, not only because of how much this strange woman seemed to know about her, but because of the horrible crime she was suggesting. “I…I could never do such a thing! I hate no one!” “Would you rather then endure a love unfilled or rebel against your father?” the witch asked. “You have only considered two options, but I can offer you a third choice.” She held out the bottle of potion. “Think about it, Sabine. How much do you truly love your brave knight? How far are you willing to go to ensure that you can be with him forever?” “Get away from me,” Sabine rebuked the old woman. “I have no use for dark magic, and I want nothing to do with you or your evil potions. Be gone!” The witch’s eyes flashed. “You are a fool then. But I know your resistance will eventually wane, when you think of the fate that awaits you.” She forcefully pressed the vial into Sabine’s hands. “Farewell, Sabine.” “No!” Sabine tried to push the old woman away, but she stumbled over a root and fell to the ground. She scrambled to her feet as quickly as she could, but it was too late. The witch had already disappeared, and the vial remained in Sabine’s hands. Still trembling from her encounter with the old woman, Sabine jumped when she heard a twig snap. “Sabine, it’s me.”


Martin’s voice was strong and comforting, and Sabine felt a flood of relief. She threw her arms around him, burying her face in his cloak. “I came here as quickly as I could,” Martin said, holding her tightly. “I heard about your engagement and…” “I can’t go through with it,” Sabine said, looking up to meet his gaze. She thought again of the old woman’s words, and she shuddered. “Martin, we have to run away. We don’t even need to go back to my father’s castle. We can leave right now, and we’ll never have to be parted again.” Martin stepped back, a tortured look in his eyes as he slipped out of her embrace. “Sabine, I…I can’t.” “You what?” “I…I just can’t,” he repeated, the words paining him greatly. “What your father is doing is wrong, but I cannot disobey his orders. To do so would be to forsake all my honor as a knight and betray my duty. I cannot run away with you against the king’s express orders.” “But Martin!” Sabine felt her heart wrenching. “You cannot doom me to this fate! You speak about your honor, but what about mine? Can you really force me to spend the rest of my life with Lord Devlin, a man who only wants to marry me because he craves more power? I cannot bear the thought of being united to him forever!” She stared into Martin’s eyes, trying to find some cause for hope, but she saw only bleak resignation. “I’m sorry, Sabine,” he said, turning away. “I love you, but my duties to the crown must come first, even when that duty goes against my inclination and sentences me to what is essentially a life of exile.”


“Martin!” She tried to call after him, but much like the old woman had done, he vanished into the darkness, leaving her all alone. Sabine sank back against a stone pillar, her fingers clutching the vial of poison as tears once again filled her eyes. She felt as though her last hope was crumbling into nothingness, leaving her with a dark, empty future she could no longer prevent. *

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The night of Sabine’s wedding soon arrived. Her handmaidens finished helping her to dress, then they left her alone for a few moments before the ceremony began. Sabine stood in front of a mirror, staring blankly at her reflection. She was clad in a magnificent white gown that was decorated with thousands of sparkling beads and had long, billowing sleeves made of delicate lace. A tear slipped down her cheek and fell on her gown. The event she had been dreading was finally here, and she was powerless to stop it. Even worse was the thought that she would be forever parted from Sir Martin, trapped in a marriage with a man who did not love her. There was no escape, unless… Trembling, she walked over to her bed and withdrew a small box that she had hidden beneath it. Lifting out the vial filled with red potion, she turned it slowly over in her hands. She took a silver chalice from her nightstand and carefully poured the red liquid into it. She hesitated for a long moment, considering her options. She could kill her father so that he could not force her to marry Lord Devlin or command Sir Martin to depart from the kingdom. She could kill Lord Devlin, and, as a widow, choose her own husband. She stared at the glistening liquid in the chalice, faced with a terrible choice. She could never take another’s life, as the old witch had suggested, but neither could she spend the rest of her days separated from the man she loved. In the end, she knew what she had to do. If she could


not take the path that had been offered to her by her father or the path that had been offered to her by the witch, then she would be forced to choose her own destiny. She shut her eyes and took a sip of the red potion. She choked and almost set down the chalice, but she forced herself to keep drinking, until she had swallowed the last drop of liquid. Almost immediately, her head began to spin, and she collapsed on the floor. She could no longer feel her arms and legs, and her vision began to blur. As the chalice slipped from her fingers, she offered up one final prayer. If she could not find solace in the arms of Martin, then she would find solace in the arms of death. She did not know what awaited her beyond the mortal realm, but she knew it must be better than the dismal future that awaited her here. *

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Meanwhile, Martin waited with the other guests down in the banquet hall, where the wedding was to be held. The more he thought about Sabine and the approaching ceremony, the more he began to wonder if he had made the wrong choice. He remembered the desperate look in her eyes and the pleading sound of her voice that night at the ruins, and his heart twisted. How could he have done such a thing to her? Although he hated the thought of abandoning his duties as a knight, in reflection, he realized that to abandon his duty to Sabine would be a far greater sin. Keeping his honor meant nothing if it forced her to give up her own. His resolve hardening, he decided to find Sabine and beg her forgiveness. He was determined to do whatever it took to save her from this marriage. Slipping away from the crowd, he hurried up to Sabine room’s, hoping to catch her before she left for the banquet hall. Although he received no answer when he knocked on her door, after several minutes he decided that he could wait no longer, and he burst into the room. “Sabine, I must speak with—” He suddenly spotted her lifeless form lying on the floor, and he


sank to his knees, dread filling his heart. “Sabine, no!” He shook her by the shoulders, desperately trying to wake her. But she was already gone, and her limp body did not respond to his touch. Cradling her in his arms, he wept over her, crying tears that could not bring her back to life. The rest of the wedding guests soon learned of Sabine’s fate, and the kingdom spent several days in mourning for the princess. Stunned and angered by his daughter’s actions, the king refused to bury his daughter in the same tomb as his wife, despite the fact that it was tradition to bury members of the royal family together. Martin renounced his knighthood and burned the book full of poems that he had written, retreating to a monastery not far from the castle ruins where he used to meet with Sabine. He spent the rest of his days as a monk, plagued by the image of Sabine’s pale, lifeless face until the day of his own death. According to some, on cold, stormy nights, Martin’s ghost can still be seen outside the monastery, praying for the soul of the woman he once loved. Not far away, another ghost can be found wandering through the ruins of the ancient stone castle—a young woman wearing a shimmering white wedding dress. She weeps in the darkness, slipping from shadow to shadow and drifting through the castle’s crumbling halls. Both ghosts are doomed to haunt the lonely moor forever, separated from each other by the choices that they made.

The Choice  

A short story about tragedy and choices, in a medieval/fantasy setting. Originally appeared in the 2009 edition of "The Gallery," the Friend...

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