The carriage rolled through the prim and proper streets of Utopia approximately one hour later. Cleanliness was considered perfection, so there was not a speck of dirt on the land.
The people came out of the houses and buildings and stared in awe at the carriage that bore their new queen. Their curious eyes fell to the tightly drawn shades and the bolted doors. Who was their new queen? And why did she appear to be such a secret?
One civilian, Anda, who was respected for her perfect ways and wealth, stepped forward. She was already jealous of this new queen since she loved Nicholas dearly and greatly aspired the throne. If I were a princess, would he choose me for his bride, high goddess? She asked in thought. After all, I know him well, through the acquaintance with his sister. I'm wealthy, perfect, and an adult of 15! Whatever does that royal ninny have that I don't? O, if I could find fault in her, how I'd love to tear her from the throne.
The carriage rolled onward towards the castle. Once inside the gates, Nicholas stroked her hand affectionately. "Let us go inside, my lady."
As Nicholas opened the carriage, he noticed the large crowds that had gathered behind the gate and by the castle. Hastily, he pulled Sarah out and enclosed her beside him. Gasps arose at their veiled queen.
Nicholas spoke in a loud, almost angry voice to cover up his nervousness. "No one in this land is to set eyes on my queen's face," he commanded. "This order was given unto me directly from Cliché!"
The gasps got shriller and louder. Your Heigness, you saw the high goddess?" A curious girl's voice rang over the crowd. Immediately, a hand was slapped over her mouth. No one could question the king unless he was breaking the laws.
"Yes, I did." Nicholas answered. "Those were her words so you must abide by them!" With that, he stalked into the castle, dragging Sarah away from the astonished crowd.
Nicholas stopped one of the few servants still inside the castle walls. "Where is my sister?" He demanded. "Surely she did not go out and join that fray!"
The servant shook his head nervously, staring in fascination at the queen until Nicholas tilted his chin toward him. "Indeed, my lord, she is not," he stammered. "She is helping the servants decorate the queen's bedroom."
"Exactly where I wanted to go," Nicholas said with an inner thank you to Cliché. The sooner he got Sarah away from his people, the better. "We shall proceed there at once." He motioned for Lars to follow him. The driver staggered after the royals, trying not to drop Sarah's luggage.
Nicholas' sister, Princess Marianna, spun around when she heard footsteps by the door. Nicholas and Sarah stood at the threshold. "Nicholas! You're back!" she cried out happily. "And this must be my sister-in-la-" she stopped abruptly as her eye fell to Sarah. "Why the name of Cliché does she have that veil on?"
"Leave." Nicholas ordered the servants darkly. Hastily, they obeyed. Nicholas closed the door and leaned against it. Slowly, he removed the veil.
Marianna gasped, nearly falling over the bed. "Good Heavens! She's- she's-"
"Don't say it!" Nicholas hissed. "We all know. Besides that, she is mute."
"Nicholas, how dare you bring such imperfection to our land!" Marianna cried, outraged. "I shall alert the people at once."
Nicholas lunged forward and pulled her to him, gagging her mouth. As Marianna struggled aggressively, Nicholas whispered, "Be quiet! Do you want the whole kingdom to hear? I am aware that I am breaking the laws. But such permission has been given to me from Cliché herself." Nicholas removed his hand.
"How should I believe you?" she sputtered. "You have broken Cliché's very laws to begin with!"
Nicholas was about to retort when he heard some soft sobbing from behind the bed. Dragging Marianna with him so she couldn't escape, Nicholas approached the bed.
Sarah was crouched by it, holding her head in her hands. She looked up at her husband and sister-in-law with tears dribbling down her face. For a moment, Marianna was able to glance at that face and not see it's physical flaws. She saw a human being- same as her- who hadn't been given a fair chance because of two things which she could not change.
Sensing the change in his sister, Nicholas spoke more soothingly to win her over. "Marianna, I realize that I'm breaking the laws," he repeated. "But maybe it's time for Utopia to realize that true beauty comes from the inside: not the outside. But such a drastic change upon an entire nation may not be possible. However, it can start with you. Please, give her a chance to show you who she really is."
Marianna felt distinctly uncomfortable. She'd been taught to accept nothing but perfection, but in her heart she felt that keeping Nicholas' secret was the right thing to do. "Well, alright." She said hesitantly. More firmly, she added, "But if you want me to accept imperfect civilians, you've got another thing coming."
"Thank you so much!" Nicholas hugged his sister and pulled Sarah up. The queen shot a genuine smile to the princess that made her feel good. Suddenly, without alerting her, Marianna's subconscious let go of her pre-judgements about imperfection.
Unfortunately, Marianna's pre-judgements weren't the only aspects that stood in the way of her and her oath. Marianna's new reason became apparent the next day when her good friend, Anda, made a house call.
"Dear Princess, I feel as though eons have past without communications between us," Anda said sweetly when one of the servants alerted Marianna of her presence.
"Do, do come in and sit down!" Marianna said cheerfully, indicating to a chair. "And tell me how you have been!"
"How have you been with a new member to your family? Do tell: what is our queen like and why is she kept such a secret from us?"
Marianna's brows came together. "Nicholas told me of the order that he issued out to the people," she lectured. "You know that it's imperfect to disobey the king."
"Indeed I do," Anda said slowly, trying to maneuver around her mistake. "But I did not ask to look at her. I merely asked you what she is like."
"The king has not permitted me to talk of such things," Marianna said quickly.
"A total secret?" Anda gasped, astonished. "Her mysterious identity must cover up her flaws!"
"Anda, one more imperfection and you shall have to be sacrificed to Cliché!" Marianna cried. Perhaps this unlawful queen is spreading her imperfections in different forms to the civilians! Her mind hinted at her. Marianna violently shook that thought from her head. A memory of raw emotions still clung to her mind from the previous day.
Anda was prostrating herself at the princess' feet. "I'm sorry, Your Heighness, please forgive me for my imperfections!" She sobbed. "I'm just worried about the emotional health of our dear King Nicholas! Perhaps the throne should be open to a queen whose perfection's aren't questionable." Like myself, she added in thought.
Marianna felt numb; knowing that Anda had a subconscious but valid point. Against her will, she started to reason, If I were head of Utopia, I'd pick a king that bore no imperfections. If I were queen, if I were queen.
"I forgive you," Marianna said distractedly. "Anda, do you think that I'd make a good queen if I had the throne?"
Anda stood up, trying to conceal her emotions. Bingo! Marianna is so consumed with being queen that sooner or later, she'll reveal the current queen's identity! And she'll surely find some fault in her- for the sake of the throne! But Cliché would never forgive her for breaking her oath; therefore the throne will be mine! I'm so perfect: I can easily think up a plan where Nicholas will have to marry me. Now let me give her some bait. "Of course, dearest," she said soothingly. "The King's perfections are amicable, but yours stand me in awe, despite the fact that you are two years his junior. The glory of a kingdom run by you is unimaginable."
"You think so?" Marianna muttered, lost in daydreams.
"Of course. Now I have to go Your Heigness. But I shall come to visit you tomorrow."
"Please do," Marianna said, anxious to hear more praise about herself.
For the next few months, Anda came to visit Marianna daily, each time, bringing some new well thought out praise about the princess. Her plan worked marvelously. The affect of the praise was slowly changing Marianna's values to those that were much more self-centered than her usual personality would allow.
Finally, one day, Marianna couldn't stand to hide the secret any longer. The throne, she thought greedily. I want the throne.
"Your Heighness," said one of the servants, entering the room. "Civilian Anda has come to see you."
Anda stepped inside. She was astonished to find the princess pacing the room, a wild look in her eyes and her hands grasping out to inner illusions. It is finally time to reveal your queen, Anda thought wickedly. "My dear, your wishes are apparent," Anda said calmly. "Now let me tell you how to achieve them. Find fault in the queen- any fault. Your brother and she will be banned from Utopia, leaving only one heir to occupy the throne."
"Finding fault with Sarah is easy," muttered Marianna. Suddenly, all sensibility- all humane aspects- were gone from the girl, and she said the one line that changed the fate of the kingdom forever. "The queen is ugly and mute."
Anda gasped in outrage. How dare he chose a girl of less value than a peasant over me! Suddenly, her reaction shifted. But the queen is so full of error, that Nicholas would be sentenced to death. But since I shall be the one to point out the queen's disabilities, the nation won't argue with me, when I give Nicholas the one and only option out of death. He'll have to marry me and Utopia will think that I'll cure his disease, brought on by this Sarah. And I will, once I get tired of the power of being a monarchy. So that way Cliché will know that I am still perfect!
These thoughts soared through Anda's head in a second, as Marianna replied to her gasp. "I know, it's a disgrace. Well, at least now the secret is out and I- a respectable heir am free to rule the nation."
"Indeed," Anda lied. "Now here is what I shall do…" She began whispered feverishly to the Princess and the two of them, in all of their greed and selfishness, grinned wickedly.
Nicholas and Sarah took a daily ride along the countryside. Both agreed that it wasn't dangerous, with the locked up defense of the carriage and the King's order not to see the queen. It has been months anyway, since Sarah had first come to the land and no trouble had yet made itself presentable.
The people did stare in awe at the carriage every day though. They had to abide the King's order, but he couldn't take away their curiosity. Today, Anda and Marianna hid in a secluded alley, near the road and in the sight of a popular place to watch the royal procession.
As the carriage suddenly came up to them, Anda jumped up to it and using the key that Marianna had given her, unlocked the carriage door. Before the royals could react, Anda was dragging Sarah out of the carriage and into the presence of most of the population of Utopia.
The crowd gasped and individuals started fainting and talking angrily on the spot. As soon as Nicholas recovered from his shock, he pushed Anda out of the way and hid his queen behind him. He glared at the crowd, wanting to punish them profusely for disobeying his law and worse yet, ruining his life with their prejudice. But he was speechless. The law ordained for them to do as they pleased with him, since he had broken the most important one.
Picking herself up, Anda climbed onboard the carriage, so the people from all around could see her. "My people, I have found out that the king has sinned against us! Therefore I wish that this traitorous king and imperfect queen should die!"
The crowd cheered in agreement until Anda put up a hand. "But I can't be completely one sided. In the past, our King has proven to be perfect and lawful in all aspects. This beast must have destroyed his values! So we must give the King a choice! Kill this witch in society and marry me; I was the one who brought forth the imperfection, and I am the one who can set the King back in his right mind! If he does not accept, then he shall die beside her and I shall rule alone!"
The crowd, desperate to be followers of a perfect monarchy, once again cheered in agreement. Suddenly, a royal's voice rang out over the crowd. "Wait, Anda," Marianna whined with surprising volume. "I thought he would be banned and I would be queen!"
For the first time, Nicholas was able to voice his outrage. "Marianna?!?" he screamed. "You brought on such devastation by breaking our promise! My own sister! I trusted you! I believed that this ignorant fool standing on top our carriage ended my life!"
At this information, the crowd gasped again. Both royals traitors to perfection? Anda grinned maliciously. "My dear, you have also broken our precious laws by keeping such a devastation to Utopia a secret." She yelled in an loud voice so the whole crowd could hear her. "Therefore I vote for your sacrifice!" The crowds' agreement with these words was clear.
"So it is settled then!" Anda concluded. "Marianna and Sarah will die. And now, dear Nicholas, you must choose, in front of your people, the fate of yourself. Shall you live or die?"
To the whole crowds' surprise, Nicholas made his answer quite clear. "I shall die. I am not selfish, like all of you fools that I was once so happy to rule. If I put any of you in my situation, I know that you'd chose to rule this hateful land. But not me. I shall listen to what is right in my heart, advice given straight to me from Cliché. If Sarah dies, then I die."
That night, the royals stayed in the dungeon, to await their sacrifice the next day. But before Nicholas left the mortal realms for the last time, there was something he needed to clarify. So once he had helped Sarah cry herself to sleep, he went to find his sister.
He found her, crying into the pillow in her corner of the cell. The greed had vanished from Marianna, leaving her confused and ashamed. I have broken a vow that Nicholas had kept sacred and I have ruined the remains of his life, she thought sadly. We shall leave this world hating each other because I was selfish. "I have lost my brother," she said aloud.
"Not yet you haven't," Nicholas said without emotion, stepping into the room.
Marianna spun around. "Nicholas," she gasped. "I'm so sorry…"
"It doesn't matter now," Nicholas said bitterly. "What I want to know is why."
"Because I wanted power of course. Nicholas, listen to me, there is still a chance for you. Kill Sarah and rule with my one time friend Anda. You still have a chance at the life that I nearly took so wrongfully away from you."
"You don't understand anything, do you?" Nicholas shouted. "This isn't about me. This is about fairness and about perfection and how single minded it is. If I turn my back on Sarah, then I'm not following the True Way."
At Marianna's puzzled expression, he sighed. "You are too close minded to realize what I am talking about. But you will understand someday." He walked from the room, stopping at the threshold. "My sister, I forgive you for your imperfections." He said. Then he was gone.
The next day, the people gathered by the sacrificial grounds. They grinned as the one-time royals were herded into chains, surrounded by piles of hay. Anda held a lighted torch as she stepped up into the grounds. "King Nicholas, as custom goes, you have one last ruling to make before you are sacrificed, as long as it doesn't interfere with the laws. So what shall it be?"
Looking directly at his captor, Nicholas ruled, "I order for my sister, Marianna to take the throne."
Gasps sounded in the audience. Marianna could only look on in shock. Anda was the first to recover. "That is unlawful!" she cried. "Your sister has broken a law!"
"But if what you said yesterday was true, then the Princess was bewitched my wife's imperfections. They clouded her judgement as they did mine."
Surprisingly, the crowd began to nod and mummer in agreement. How well could this Anda be trusted, being wealthy but never a royal? At least Marianna had a history of being a princess.
"No!" Anda cried. "This cannot be! If you have both been bewitched then you come back and rule this kingdom!"
"I could never rule without Sarah," Nicholas proclaimed. "That is my wish and it must be settled by democratic vote. All in favor, say 'aye'." Hearty cheers erupted. "All not in favor, say 'nay'." There was total silence except for Anda's loud voice. She immediately quieted when she heard that she was alone. "Then it is settled then. Despite the fact that she is only a child of 13, Marianna shall be the next heir to rule."
"Long live the Queen! Long live the Queen!" The people chorused. Anda was forced to relieve Marianna from her bonds. She stared in shock at her brother, trying to understand the full extent of his selflessness. "Why did you do that?" she whispered, tears running down her face.
Nicholas never answered her, he kept his face turned to his love. "This is it," he whispered. "We're off to a land where you'll never be ridiculed again."
About a year later, Utopia was celebrating an annual holiday dedicated to Cliché. The people weren't gathering in separate temples though, they gathered in a group by the castle. Legend had it that Cliché would come to them in the mortal realms on one of these celebrations, to teach them how to abide even more by her laws. But only once, and then she would leave her people to puzzle out the new laws that she gave them and to abide by them.
This holiday, called the Day of Perfection, was held seven months after Nicholas and Sarah's sacrifice. Queen Marianna stood alone on the royal balcony and the entire nation stood below it. They all held white candles that were lighted: to symbolize their pure perfection was lit, and meditated, willing Cliché to come on this day.
Suddenly the clouds darkened and thunder rolled from above. The people started to vent out their terror. The few civilians who heard the Queens order of silence made it known to the rest of the crowd. "The law states that we have to meditate, no matter what!" Before she could even finish, though, an illusion, as big as the castle, appeared before the people. It had two front sides and no back, so the people and the queen could see her angry face. "I am Cliché, high goddess of this land," she roared. "I have chosen this Day of Perfection to come because you have shamed me! I issued an order to my follower Nicholas and two of you, Queen Marianna and Civilian Anda have broken it! Now the whole kingdom must pay the price for their imperfect perfection! But in specific, I must punish those who went against me." As people gasped in fear and fainted, the goddess' shadow covered Anda; the girl had turned to stone. "Your punishment is that you will live your life in the seclusion and prejudice that you created," she proclaimed. "These people will only remember that you disobeyed me today, but they will not kill you so that you can live out a lifetime of punishment, where they will all hate you, as you hated those who you called imperfect." Simultaneously, the people did as Cliché had decreed, moving away from the civilian, forming another clump far away from her until she was utterly alone.
Cliché turned to the Queen. "And you shall finally see the extent of evil you placed on your brother so many months ago. Come with me." Cliché projected herself into Marianna's soul, and for a brief moment, there was nothing but white. Then, the queen was gone.
Marianna found herself in a beautiful garden. She stood there in confusion until an all too familiar boy came toward her. "Nicki?" she whispered, suddenly beginning to sob.
Nicholas smiled and took her hand. "My dear Mari. How have you fared in the mortal realms?"
Marianna found that she could not answer, stuttering over her own tongue. Nicholas let it slide. "I'm sure you remember my wife," he said, signaling to a strange darkness in the corner. Sarah emerged, and as Marianna looked at her, she found in shock that she could not hate her ugly face. It was still there, but being in the immortal realms allowed her to see something she never could before. She looked into Sarah's soul and found the compassion and kindness that her brother had fallen in love with long ago.
In an instant, the True Way came to her. She realized how her people had judged perfection from appearance and had not given people a fair chance. She realized in an instant that perfection was imperfect in all its close mindedness. But at the same moment, she realized that it didn't matter, because it was ok to be imperfect.
At these realizations, she began to feel herself fade. "No!" she cried out to her brother. "Let me stay with you!"
Nicholas smiled. "We shall be together soon, Marianna."
With that phrase, Marianna found herself back in Utopia, in a land ruled by unfair judgements and imperfect perfection. She selfishly wanted to return to where she wouldn't be judged. And in that plan, she found an action to make the mortals one step closer to the realization of the True Way.
Cliché was gone now, leaving everyone staring at the queen. Marianna knew what she had to do. "Cliché did not punish me," she shouted out to the people. "She gave me a gift. A gift to an understanding that you all will have one day too. It is now time to move closer to that realization. You will not understand my actions now, but hopefully, a few generations down the road, our children will. I hereby give the throne to civilian Anda who so wanted it for years. For I am through being head of this inimical race. It is your turn to lead this imperfect perfection. But I am going to a place where all people are accepted for who they truly are. Goodbye, my people."
Marianna smiled at the Utopians for the last time. Then, she took out a dagger and plunged it into her heart.