Princess Rebecca has been trawling through old, fat tomes, trying to learn more about their kingdom’s alliances with several Lords of the council just to keep the boredom at bay. After another hour or so, however, the young lady tires of the tedious activity and makes her way to the window.
There’s a gust of wind that greets her upon opening the glass, and the scent of bright yellow daffodils fills her room, reminding her that winter is drawing to an end. She sends for her personal maid to prepare the horses as they’re going for a hunting trip; the game animals will be out soon and Rebecca would like to go hunting for stags.
At dawn, a group of knights on horses is gathered at the gates, waiting on the princess whose horse comes trotting out next to her personal maid’s. She is well dressed in leather and straps, and, although she used to be a shy little girl, but she is grown to be fierce and fearless. Despite that, she still shows magnificent elegance suited for a lady of royalty.
“Zoro,” she calls the knight who will lead the expedition. He is her father’s most trusted. He is as handsome as a God and his strength in battles has been rumored to be prodigious.
“My lady,” He nods slightly. “Are you prepared?”
Ever since she was a child, Zoro has always been there for her. He’s protected her throughout her childhood, which is why her resilience to make him notice how fine of a lady she’s become has been one of her priorities.
“I am,” she said, and added with a smirk “are you?” With that, she tugs at the reins and the horse neighs, moving past the green-eyed knight.
The sun is slowly rising and the sky is still a little dark, but the clopping of horse heels grinding dry leaves is a comfort in the dreadful silence.
Princess Rebecca knows that, in order to fulfill her role, she will have to be married off to another royalty, it will expand their family’s influence and strength their kingdom’s relations to others, but that can’t stop her feelings for her knight from growing.
“Tell me, Zoro,” she starts, and now that they’re very deep in the woods, her voice resonates across the tree lines. “I’ve been hearing things about you, and a certain mademoiselle. Robin, if I remember correctly, daughter of the court’s physician Olvia,” the thing about Zoro is that his face never gives anything away, and it requires a lot of prodding and peering to discern certain feelings; even that could not be true. The man is facing forward, his tanned muscles flexing against his leather armor. He doesn’t follow her coaxing. “Come now, Zoro, I know something is brewing.”
“Gossip is a bad color on you, my lady.” Ignoring her little intake of breath, Zoro flicks his eyes to the sky and says, “The sun will catch up on us very soon, we ought to quicken the pace.”
Just as he says that, a shriek is heard. He looks over his shoulder and finds the princess falling off her horse and landing with a cry. The horse startles and darts away. Zoro pulls the rein as he ushers to the other knights to guard the place, and he rushes to the princess who is withering in pain, pulling her to his chest.
“Where is the pain coming from?” He demands, thinking that she’s been shot by an enemy arrow, but quickly removes her boots after the lady motioned at her foot, finding a red mark on the lady’s ankle that was turning purple. He quickly flips the boot over and shakes it, a horned white spider tumbles to the ground, moving its appendages. Dread fills Zoro’s chest, his eyes widening in horror; that’s the Devil’s Eye! The spider can inject its prey with one of the deadliest and fastest working poisons, the victim experiences long spells of painful fits until they pass. There’s no time to bring the princess back to the palace; she’d be dead before they reach the citadels.
“Zoro, am I going to die?” Rebecca pleads, her cheeks are already flushing and her lips are losing color, which bespeaks the speedy deterioration of her health. “Am I?”
Zoro’s eyes run over the lady’s body, and then her face. “No, you aren’t going to die. I’m taking you back to the physician’s right now,” Saying so, he carries her in his arms, and the lady chuckles through her fits of agony.
“Have I given you another reason to see this Robin?”
Zoro ignores her delirium and attempts to mount his horse, but he hears slight crunching coming from the shrubs at the side, before a man in a filthy black cloak emerges, carrying a basket full of plants and herbs.
The man finds himself surrounded by the princess’s knights, the sharp ends of silver swords pointed at his head. “Great,” he drones. “At least someone is excited to see me.”
“Who are you?” Zoro demands, emerald eyes glaring heatedly.
“What awful manners!” the man exclaims. “You need to introduce yourself first, you heathen, before you make demands.
"Who are you calling heathen, wart-nose!" Zoro seethes.
“Yes, I remember now!” One of the knights, the one with a cleft chin and broad shoulders, Frank, he cries. “You’re the Witch of the Valley, aren’t you?”
And then another exclaims. “Is it not the same Witch that killed that merchant and all of his comrades?”
“Yes, indeed!” Frank confirms. “He also cursed a hunter!”
There’s a pause, intermittent by little gusts of wind, before the wary man nods.
“Yes, I am.” The grips on the swords tighten and their sharp ends are jutted closer to the witch’s face, which they can’t see much of because of the cloak. “What of it?”
Rebecca’s body withers more, and despaired cries leave her dry lips. She arches in Zoro’s arms that the man finds no other option but to place her back on the ground again.
The witch takes a large intake of breath. “What a beauty!" and then scowls. "It seems that she has been poisoned?” The witch hums. “And it looks like a fast-working poison, too. She's really pretty and it’s a shame to see her go.”
Instead of doing what he’s been trained his whole life to do upon coming across a witch, which is instant engage and kill, the tanned knight snaps pleading eyes at the witch and says, “You’re a witch, you know magic, can you heal her?”
There’s pregnant silence for a beat before the witch nods. “Yes, I can.”
“Then do it.” Zoro rumbles, his body rising up.
“Why would I?” The witch asks.
Admitting the rational part in the witch’s question, Zoro lowers his head and says, “The King bid me take all care of her, you have to help us!”
“It seems you haven’t been listening; I don’t have to do anything for you,” The witch said, added “I’ve not yet hurt anyone, but you already have your men point their swords at me.”
“You admitted to several crimes; I’d kill you where you’re standing and nothing would stop me.” Zoro deadpans.
“Still, this situation doesn’t require me to treat you any differently; you have to know that not all people will be at your beck and call just because you demand it,” and added as an afterthought, “nor because of your weak threats either.”
“You’re just as vile as they made you be!” Zoro roars.
The witch shrugs. “I’ve heard worse.”
The princess’s body clamps and releases, again and again, while she is crying out in pain. The witch watches with sinking disappointment how the vicious knight from earlier is now but a whining creature cradling his head in his hands, all in desperation.
He’s forgotten how to have someone fear for his life like that, and he almost envies the lady.
“I'll help her,” he starts, and almost falters at the way the tanned knight lifts imploring eyes at him. “But on one condition.” In a moment of confusion and yearning, the male witch decides he’d like to try and have that for himself for once, and hence the condition, “I will bind you to me for two excessive years.”
Thinking it a good sort of deal, Zoro agrees; he’d be bound to the witch for two years only while Rebecca will gain her life back. It’s a great deal, indeed!
The witch decides to bind the knight to him first; otherwise, he might turn and bite if the lady is no longer in need of the witch’s aid. He mutters an incantation the summons a rope of light, each end wraps around Zoro’s neck and the witch’s, binding them by magic, before disappearing.
He heals the lady next, bringing that basket of herbs and plants and making a quick work of mixing, hitting them with an abandoned rock before placing everything on the wound.
“Keep this on the wound for the next three days,” he instructs, now wrapping a torn piece of his cloak around the wound. “This beautiful lady will be healthy in no time. She only requires rest for now.”
“If it's alright, I’d like to take her back to the castle myself and stay with her for the next three days, to make sure she becomes healthy again.”
The witch rises to his feet after having gathered his things in silence, and then huffs. “You can’t escape from my magic, so don’t try anything funny, muscle-guy.” He sighs, now making his way into the woods again. “I’ll wait for you here on the fourth night.”
Frank turns to his commander and frowns. “What have you done!” he bellows. “That witch is rumored to have killed a dozen of men after using them, not to mention the countless people he’s cursed.”
Shaking his head faintly as if to dismiss whatever that is being said to him as reproach, he lifts the princess in his arms again and mounts his horse. She is sighing comfortably now that the pain has passed, and snuggles closer to Zoro’s marble chest.
“Let’s head back first,” he announces. “And leave the witch to me.”
If the evil witch has indeed been killing people and cursing them, the Zoro will use the chance he’s been given to scheme a masterful plan to kill him…