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The ones who no one sees
Don't worry, you never had a chance.
Hot tears flood my eyes as I charge up the castle steps. One, two, three - there are fifteen of them up to the princess' bedchamber, twenty-four to the queen's quarters, and a measly three in the kitchen. Steps according to importance. Steps according to status. My room doesn't have any steps at all.
It's okay. It happens to all of us.
My short maid's gown barely brushes the tops of my shoes as I climb. We get a new one every year or so, always the same color and style. Black, with mid-length sleeves that sit snugly around my forearms and a high collar that nearly touches my chin. Not attractive. Not pretty. Not anything at all. I always ask why we never get fancy clothes like the royal family does. Why we throw away so many gowns that the princess doesn't wear. Why her wardrobe bursts at the seams with lovely outfits that she seems to hate, and why we don't get to wear them instead. The answer is always the same.
Hide your eyes, little one. You know how the Story ends.
A tear leaks down my cheek as my legs push me forward. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen steps. The circular staircase keeps winding onward, and I follow it like a hunting dog after a rabbit. Obedient. Faithful. That's all I've ever been to them. Someone in the background, to change sheets and fluff pillows, serve tea and little cakes and wine. Say "yes, ma'am" and "no, sir" and "as you wish, your highness", curtsey like a lady, and otherwise be entirely invisible.
I was good at it. Until him.
It's not your Story. Never was.
I grit my teeth as pain sears through my heart. My hands hit stone as I collapse against the wall, a sob finally escaping. I know the truth, though I never understood it. What puts one person in one station and someone else in a better one? Why do I suffer, merely because of my calling? Why does she - that stupid princess - get everything, even though she never lifts a finger, not even for her One True Love?
Just a little while longer. You can hold on until then.
For three months now, I've wanted to give up. Sit down and wait for death, let my body rot and turn to dust. Ever since the Prince's ship touched our shores, I knew. Everyone told me to ignore him, that the pain dulls with time, but I couldn't resist his allure. Every time I saw him meet with her - in the gardens, in the dining hall, in the stable - I felt it clawing at my soul, begging to be satisfied. When I caught him sneaking out of her bedchambers one morning, it became too much to bear.
Why are you letting it bother you so? You know you're not Meant to Be.
My feet drag up another step, then another. Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three. The heavy stone supports me like a crutch. I am better than she is. I am more worthy than she is. Why can't he see me for who I truly am? Why does he pass by me as if I'm invisible, just a maid in the corner, a plain-looking Foil?
This is our lot in Stories. You know that.
More tears pour down my cheeks. He's a Hero. He always has been, and always will be. And the princess is his Heroine. She will stand by his side in every story to come, facing twists and turns and Climaxes and Falling Actions with pride. It will be my responsibility to watch over them, to help their Story develop, to disappear when not in use.
Twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight.
Nobody ever thinks about the background characters who help the story along and make it believable. We're never destined to become Heroes and Heroines, nor Mentors or Allies, or Friends and or even Enemies. We don't play any kind of important anything. We just exist, like shadows, only to serve those who have a higher calling. Heroes and Heroines. Villains and Mentors. Princes and Princesses.
My legs shake as I reach the top of the staircase. Thirty steps. The highest spot in the castle.
The door at the top of the stairs seems imposing. Too large to be at the top of a tower, too heavy to open, too dark to really see. I throw my weight against it, my shoulder at the center. It groans from years of loneliness, but swings open to admit me into a circular room. It's dusty and dirty, with an old spindle on one side and a rusty suit of armor on the other. Storage, that's all this is. They'll need those items further down the tale, but it's not time yet. Until then, they sit up here. Gathering dust. Just like the rest of us.
My own footsteps trail behind me as I stumble across the tower. A small window allows a little light and air in, and far below, I hear the music and merrymaking. Peeking out, I see ribbons and streamers everywhere, food and drink and merriment abounding. Guests from the surrounding nations dance and eat, talk and laugh. Somewhere, the princess beams at her new husband as they sit at the head of the table, their hands clasped together as a symbol of their everlasting love.
Forget him. Protect your heart. It never works out for characters like us.
He was never mine. Heroes don't notice Foils. I did everything to move their story forward, help them fall in love, and ignore my frail and bleeding heart. This is my reward.
With one hand on the stone, I step up and balance myself on the windowsill. It's a long way down, but if I do it right, maybe he'll finally see me. Maybe it'll ruin her happily-ever-after day. And maybe someone else will feel the pain that dogs my every step. If nothing else, that's worth the world to me.
I'll never be a Heroine, but at least I can be a Villain today.