It was not only my birthday, but it was the birthday of our home Evesland. I was now sixteen and Evesland, well, was a lot older than that. I think this was our fifth hundred and eleventh birthday now. Today would be a busy day and we would have to travel into the city for the celebration. In past years I was more excited, whereas it was my only time to play with other children. Ever since my parents learned about my gift to heal they kept me isolated from neighbors. I never got to go into town with my father, go to school, or make any friends. My parents did this for my safety I knew, but it was still lonely.
When my parents first discovered my gift they feared I would be taken away, but now my gift helped us survive. However, with crops being so small for many years and only getting smaller we began to use my gift to survive. When there’s not enough food my family offers my help to the rich, who thankfully are willing to pay for my help. I have used my gift to heal their children, pets or even livestock from sickness or injuries. My healings did not always work though; one time a man got angry when I couldn’t help heal a cough he had for a long time. I told him I couldn’t heal him but that if he stopped smoking his pipe it would probably just clear up, he didn’t like my response.
Though we had helped many people now, we tried hard to keep my identity a secret. My father would take me to those who needed help and we would always wear a mask. We created a way that if someone needed help they could post a note on the wall at the town’s pub and leave how to find them. Rumors got around and soon many people reached out. We have had a few people try to take our masks off, for people desperately wanted to know who we were. No one had been known to have this type of gift. In old stories some people had magical gifts, but no one in a couple hundreds years was known to.
I was only eight when I first discovered my gift. I was picking berries in the woods when I came across a wolf and her pup. I was so scared that the wolf might attack me. However, she didn’t move, just growled and whimpered. That is when I saw that she was caught in a trap. The wolf pup had snuck over to me and was chewing at the end of my dress. I picked up the pup and placed it back by its mother. She nuzzled her pup and then just stared at me, she appeared weak. I am sure she was worried about what I would do. I thought to myself I couldn’t let her die, her pup needed her. The sun was hot that day and shined down bright into the forest. I knew she must be thirsty if she had been stuck long. I needed to help her fast. I studied the trap on her leg, it looked tight. I knew I had to try to release her leg though. I grabbed the trap to open it but suddenly felt pain on my leg as I pulled at it. I released the trap and cried out in pain as the pain grew. The wolf whimpered loudly too. I looked down at my leg and was surprised to see it was fine. I went and quickly grabbed the trap again, opening it fast, enduring the pain again in my leg. The wolf pulled her leg out and I dropped the trap and clutched my leg. When I finally looked up again I saw the wolf with her pup nearby, her leg was healed and then slowly my pain left. It seemed like I had felt her pain. I was confused and wondered if I had somehow healed her too. I decided I would have to test my theory and so over the next year I tried to heal any sick or injured animals I found.
I finally told my parents my theory about my gift when my baby sister Ada was sick. She had been sick for nearly two weeks and the doctor had not been able to help. I told my parents to watch me, as they did not believe me. They were overjoyed when I was right and so I was I. I was glad to have helped my sister, but also glad they finally knew. They were afraid though of the possible dangers if people knew. They made me promise to keep my gift a secret, but that did not last long when our neighbor’s new baby calf was sick. They traded milk to us in order for me to heal the new calf. Our harvest had been so small that year and we often went to bed hungry. We continued to trade my help for food or money. That is how healing became like a job for me. Most people in Evesland choose their jobs, this chose me. I was happy to help others, but some healing’s hurt a lot and were difficult to endure. My mother told me it was good to help others, that way I would never be selfish, just like our first King Gabriel.
Today I wanted to be selfish and not share my gift. As I was out picking berries with my sister I could not stop worrying about the festival. My mother could see how nervous I was in the upcoming days that she had decided to make me blueberry pancakes for breakfast. Ada and I were excited for a special treat so we agreed to come out early to find berries. She was also going to make her famous blueberry pie for the upcoming festival in the city. My sister and I ran through the woods and quickly gathered all we could find. I knew we would not have enough for both so I decided to pick some currants as well. Currants were a bittersweet berry, but if steamed down on the stove with some sugar they were pretty good. We were lucky to live near the forest and to have these sweet berries growing nearby, in the city they did not have these, unless you were rich.
Ada ran over to my side and cried out, “Esme, look! I have found a new berry.” She held out a small green prickly looking fruit.
I laughed at her and responded, “I fear we can’t eat that. Remember some fruits are poisonous. Remember mother taught you which fruits in the forest are good to pick.” She frowned at me and nodded. “Come on, let’s head back.” I added, pushing her wild hair out of her dirty face.
“Yes, because it’s your birthday! I can’t wait for pancakes!” she exclaimed, jumping into the air, excited for me.
When we had returned my mother and father were working to fix a hitch on the wagon together. They were both laughing as my father had just dropped the hammer on his foot. He was jumping around squeezing his foot, pretending it hurt more than it actually did. Ada ran over to him, pretending as well that he was very hurt and asked him, “Oh no papa, do you think you will be able to ever walk again?”
“I think in time, if lucky, I may recover.” my father said, pretending to be very worried.
“You better recover, this hitch needs to get fixed. We leave at noon for the city.” my mother replied, in a joking tone.
“I’ll finish this up. You all go in and get breakfast ready. Esme, there’s something for you in your room.” my father responded. I proceeded inside to my room and on my bed my father had placed a small wooden chest with my name engraved on it.
My mother walked in and said, “He thought it may be time for you to have your own. Check the closet too.” I went over and opened the small closet and there was a brand new dress.
“Mom and I made it. See my embroidery is getting really good, I did a lot of the flowers.” Ada exclaimed. My sister did have a natural talent and at such a young age. It was a beautiful shade of blue, blue like the river and it had white lace and yellow and purple flowers on the corset.
“I wanted you to look your best for the festival this evening and to meet the royal family.” my mother said excitedly. I got a bit shaky when she reminded me that I would be personally meeting the royal family. Recently I had healed a rich man who worked in the palace and he refused to let us leave until we showed our faces. He told us how word had gotten to the royal family and that they had commanded him to discover our identity. Guards came and stood around us and so we removed our masks and gave our names. The man agreed to keep our identity a secret and to only tell the King and Queen. Soon after a guard showed up at our house with an invitation from the palace to meet the royal family.
My mother always tried to act excited in front of my sister and I, though I knew she was nervous. I had overheard my parents one night discussing their thoughts as to why the King and Queen wanted to meet me. My father questioned if those at the palace had an alternative motive. I had been afraid too and worried often since being invited to meet the royal family. I had told my mother I did not want to meet the royal family and she said she had heard the Queen was very kind and beautiful. She also told me it would be rude to refuse an audience with them and that we would have to go. I wanted to discuss with her my other fears, but I did not because I knew she would not have a solution.
“The dress is beautiful. I just love it.” I told them both with a big smile, trying to hide my nerves. “Why don’t I help you with the pies mother for the festival. How many do you think we can make?” I asked, walking out with her into the kitchen.
“Well I have a few pumpkin ones all done. Thank goodness for the good harvest of pumpkins. I think if we mixed some currants in with the blueberries then we can get a couple more. We will have to work fast.” she explained.
“Ada, can you make the pancakes while mom and I make the pies?” I asked my little sister. She was now on the floor braiding her straw dolls hair.
“Okay…” she said, reluctantly putting her doll down.
“I’ll grab the flour from the cupboard.” I said, reaching up high into the top shelf. I picked up the bag and it was quite light. “Ma, is there more flour?” I asked.
“Oh no, I meant to ask your father to go and trade some potatoes for some more. We are not going to have enough for the rest of pies, let alone pancakes. I am sorry Darling.” she replied, in a disappointed manner.
“It’s okay Ma. We are going to have a delicious meal tonight.” I responded. She smiled at me and nodded, taking the sack of flour and trying to measure out what we could make.
“I think one pie and maybe a few small pastries.” she said, disappointedly.
“Ada you help Ma. I am going to look to see if we have any apples in the far woods that are ready for picking. Maybe we can share those.” I suggested.
“Thank you Darling, we should bring a bit more for tonight. Just a few pies is going to look insulting to share at the feast.” my mother stated. I grabbed a basket and raced down the path, through our potato field and into the woods. It was a bit of a far walk, but it would be worth it if we had something else to share.
The festival tonight was a big deal in Evesland and tonight’s especially for my family. Now that I was sixteen I would be presented to the Evesland and I would announce what profession I would pursue. This was what also scared me. I did not know what I would say, I did not want to tell the Kingdom of my gift.
Festivals in Evesland history were always important and people used to get together to celebrate often. With the harvest being smaller each year, the King decided we would only meet once a year. This celebration combined two important occasions, Evesland birthday and welcoming new working members.
Tonight there would be different activities going on in town and at the palace, like hearing old stories of days when people would celebrate and dance together in the heart of Evesland. Stories of when the people used to celebrate all the time and sometimes for no reason at all. The people were overjoyed when they first moved here, a new, beautiful and prosperous land. My mother told me how when the people first came to Evesland everyone lived close together and celebrating was a lot easier then. Then families began to move away to farm, mine, and hunt. Celebrating all the time was more difficult this way. That is why tonight everyone in Evesland was supposed to come together and celebrate. We also must bring something to share, even those who had little would pick flowers or bring wood to burn. My father would also have to pay his yearly tax and bring records of his harvest. If the Kingdom felt you were being greedy or did not bring the right amount of money for your taxes, then you could get thrown in the dungeons or made to be a servant in a rich household or the palace. My father told how many families were afraid of this, with the past few years being especially hard on everyone. I imagined the feast during the festival would be a little less grand this year. Thankfully I knew my father would have enough because of me, that gave me some peace. Most of our own crops did not do well this year, we had a lot of pumpkins and a decent amount of potatoes.
As I quickly made my way to the orchard, I kept thinking about it being my first year joining the adults in the feast and dancing. My mother and father had been teaching me all year how to dance. I was not great, but I really enjoyed it all the same. I hoped that I would fit in amongst everyone and I hoped that some handsome young gentleman may even ask me to dance. My little sister was sad that I would not be with her this year, but she was still looking forward to the festival. She would have to stay with the children and their own festivities. The caregivers of the children always had fun games and puppet shows. I decided to put my fears out of my mind and try to just focus on finding apples.
Once I finally arrived at the orchard I was disappointed to see all small green apples. Frustrated, I sank down against the tree and closed my eyes. Last year we had a lot of trees produce early. I remembered how beautifully red and sweet those apples were. I let out a deep sigh of frustration and decided I might as well head back home. Opening my eyes I locked eyes on a tree full of red apples. I was a bit confused as to how I missed it. Standing up, I brushed the dirt off my skirt and picked up my basket to fill with these beautiful apples. Much to my surprise I was able to almost fill the entire basket. It took me a bit longer getting home while carrying the heavy basket, but it was worth it, now our offering to the festival would not feel so small.
When I got home the pies were in the oven and my mother sent us to start to change for the festival. My sister wore her a plain green dress and my mother braided her hair into two braids and then tied the two braids together with a matching green ribbon. My sister was very pretty with blonde hair like my mothers and freckles. I had freckles when I was little too, but they have faded, thankfully. My mother then helped me into my dress, which had a corset; my very first. I grunted as she laced it up, it was not very comfortable. My mother told me I was too old now to wear my hair down or in braids, so instead she pulled my hair back into a bun. Some of my curls popped out on the side. My hair was always a bit uncontrollable when the summer was hot like today. She then pulled something out of her pocket and placed it around my neck; a small green stone pendant on a golden chain.
“It is beautiful, mother.” I cried.
“I thought you would think so, I have one for your sister too when she turns sixteen. Your father went to a jeweler and had him split your Great Grandmothers emerald into two necklaces. Green like the forest you both love to play so much in.” she said. I remember the story of the emerald she was talking about, though I had never seen it until now. My Great Grandfather used to work in a mine within the mountains. They used to find jewels and sell them to the rich or bring them as gifts to the royals. He was looking for a stone for a ring to ask for my Great Grandmother’s hand. Instead he had found a beautiful green emerald stone. It was so beautiful that he did not want to cut it. Instead he presented it to her as a wedding gift. It was beautiful, but very heavy. It got passed down through generations and now my sister and I would both have pieces of it. We were very lucky whereas there were no longer any miners. My Grandfather and many others had died in the mines and so the King forbade mining years ago. The fact that my parents kept this versus selling it for food was a big sacrifice.
I turned and hugged her and said, “Thank you Ma.”
“We are so proud of the woman you have become.” she replied, her eyes watering.
“Oh Ma, don’t cry.” I responded, jokingly. I had a feeling her tears were not happy ones. I knew she too must be a bit afraid for tonight’s festival.
She hugged me tighter and said, “You are going to shock the royal family with your beauty.”
“Thanks, Ma… Ma, what is going to happen tonight? What will I say to the people?” I asked, concerned.
She lowered her head for a moment and pulled me in close again saying, “We are hoping that the King and Queen will intervene and offer protection.”
I then went to grab my shoes, “I guess I’m ready to go now.” I told her quietly.
“Well I’ll see if the pie is ready to come out of the oven. They will need to cool a bit before we can go. Why don’t you see if your father needs help loading the rest of the carriage up.” she stated, smiling at me as she turned to leave my room. I stared at my reflection in the small mirror in my room, I barely recognized myself and the green emerald looked like it was almost shining on my neck. Yes, this will do I thought, now I feel fit to meet royalty.
I slowly made my way outside to help my father hitch up our carriage, now daydreaming about this evening’s events. I helped place in the few harvest goods we would share and or sell in the city. He called my sister and I over, placing a white flower in each of our hair.
“I am so lucky to have two beautiful daughters. Thank goodness you both take after your mother and not your funny old looking Da.” he said, jokingly. We both giggled at him as he made silly faces, trying to make himself look crazy.
My mother came out with a basket and passed it to me saying, “Be careful, it is still warm, but we should really get going. Hopefully it does not get upset on the way.” My father then lifted my sister and I into the back of the wagon with the food.
The ride into the city would take a while since we lived on the outskirts of Evesland’s with all the other farmers. My father whistled while the rest of us sang songs that we may hear at the festival. I tried to be excited to come out as a member of Evesland society and to mingle with others, but I was nervous because I did not talk to others often. I did not have any friends, my parents would not have allowed me to meet them. My gift had it’s benefits for us, but I longed to just be a normal girl with friends. My mother talked on the ride there about how she had heard this was a small group this year, only twenty something children coming of age. I thought maybe I would not have to do a lot of mingling then. I longed to have a friend, but I was happy enough to have my family.
When we finally arrived we dropped off our food with the castle servants. It would be taken to the castle’s kitchen where the cooks would add it along to what was already being prepared. Normally we would head to the city square and look at art and shop at booths where people sold treats, crafts, toys, and more. There is also usually a show about the Great King Gabriel as well, but that happened early in the day and we never seemed to make it on time. Later in the day the real celebration would begin, a giant feast for all. However this time we were to go to the castle first to meet the royal family.
More to come…
What will happen now that Esme is about to meet the royal family? Will they keep her gift a secret? Esme is to be introduced to society, announcing her role to everyone, what will she say?