Lizana’s palace was even finer than Prince Ephraim’s own. The furniture was made of perfect white ivory and decorated with intricate carvings of various scenes; the back of a chair depicted a peacock by a lake filled with lotus blossoms, a table featured a maiden sunning herself under a willow tree, and a desk featured an image of an orchard full of white-blossomed trees. The walls were lined with silken tapestries and the floors boasted soft plush carpets and velvet rugs. There was a curious absence of courtiers, pages, servants, or waiting ladies.
“Where are your servants?” asked the prince. “Where is your court? Is it only you here?”
Lizana nodded. “Yes. This palace is mine and mine alone.”
“Can you truly call yourself a queen without a court?” the prince ventured to ask.
The queen did not answer him, but the way she tensed up told him how he had offended her. “My apologies,” said the prince, and he remained silent.
They reached the queen’s bed chamber, where she set him down on the silk bedspread. “Show me your wound,” she said.
The prince turned his back to her. She lifted his tunic, and he felt her gently work the stinger out of his skin. She rubbed some sort of cooling ointment over the wound that dulled the pain. It was a soothing process, yet he felt very uncomfortable. He didn’t pay much mind to the cold, stinging liquid she administered next; he didn’t think he could feel any worse than he already did, no matter what kind of pain he was in.
Finally, she pricked him with a syringe and held it there for about a minute before working it out. “It is done,” she told him. “The remedy has been administered.”
“Thank you kindly, Queen Lizana,” said Prince Ephraim, turning around to bow to her. He got off the bed and waved to her as he headed for the door.
The queen caught him by both arms. “I did not tell you that you may leave,” she said.
“You told me that I may return home after I told you that I loved you and you gave me the remedy,” the prince reminded her.
“But if you love me,” said Lizana, “then why would you ever want to leave me?”
The prince felt his stomach tighten up. “Queen Lizana,” he ventured to say, “did you not give me permission to return home?”
“Yes, I have given you permission,” said the queen, “but you also told me you loved me, and said you meant it. If you really loved me, and if you really meant it, then you would not want to leave me. Otherwise, I cannot help but feel that you have told me a falsehood.”
“You said you were willing to let me go my own way!” cried Prince Ephraim, though he knew how futile it was. It had all been a trick and a test all along, and the prince’s anger and fear mixed with his shame for having fallen for it.The desert queen began to pull him back to the bed. He struggled against her and tried to break free, even kicking at her, but she caught him around the throat and said, “Behave now, or you may find yourself receiving another sting. And this time, there will be no remedy!” Her voice was like that of a desert snake.