The next morning I awoke to the sound of hammered nails piercing wood. I made my way out of bed and into our living area and noticed my father was boarding up a window on our home. The guards who the King sent home with us, just in case, were helping him. 

Drowsily, I made my way outside and asked my father, “What happened?” He looked over at me a bit distraught. “The King was right, it’s not safe for you anymore here”, he placed his hammer down on his workbench and made his way over to me, “Last night someone tried to break in, the guards stopped them, but still it’s too dangerous. Hun, I need you to pack. You’ll be leaving tomorrow, early morning.” he finished explaining, holding me close. I clenched onto him and tears filled my eyes. 

“What about you? Mom and Adelaide? Will you be safe?” I asked, worried. 

“The King plans to have his guards patrol the area and check in on us.” my father explained to me. It was still not enough to ease the pain or worries. I knew it was my time to do my role, my job for my Kingdom. I knew plenty of girls my age left their homes. I just was not planning on having to, all I have ever known was our home. We did not have much but it was my everything. My father’s quick witted humor, my mother’s sweet kind heart, and my sister’s joyful spirit. The royal family was kind to me, but they could not fill my heart the way my own family does. I let go of my father and ran back inside and laid in my bed weeping. Outside I could hear Ada singing with my mother as they milked our cow, like they often do in the mornings. I heard my father talking to the guards, telling them one of his many jokes. My father was so strong, even when faced with trials he found it his job to make others smile. I continued to weep even more at the knowledge I would be parted from them and so soon. 

I must have fallen back asleep because I woke to Ada jumping on my head.

“Sleepy head, mom says it is time to get up.” she said, continuing to jump around me. I got up and tackled her down and began to tickle her. 

“I surrender. I surrender.” she shouted in between laughs. My mom then made her way into the doorway giggling at us. 

“Come eat some breakfast and then we will pack your things.” she quietly said, she smiled but her eyes were red and sorrow filled. 

We all quietly ate breakfast together that morning. My mom made pancakes, eggs, and even some bacon. Ada whimpered through her bites and kept her head down. I couldn’t stand it anymore and so I asked to bring the guards some food. My father nodded and my mother smiled and grabbed a couple spare plates. I piled up the leftovers onto the plates and brought them outside to the guards who took them most willingly. 

“Thank you, for protecting my family.” I said, and was shocked when they bowed my way and did not sit back down until I walked away. I am no better than either of them, why would they bow to me? I slowly made my way back inside to help clean up and pack. 

As we finally began to pack, I felt as if my heart was breaking. We used the little chest my father had made to pack up a small blanket my mother helped me make, the craft my sister made for me at the festival, a nightgown, some undergarments and lastly my emerald pendant. 

“I guess you can leave your dresses. I am sure at the castle they will have beautiful gowns for you to wear. Oh you will learn so much.” my mother exclaimed, trying to sound excited for me. I could hear beneath her words, that her heart was breaking too. 

“Mom, don’t pretend with me.” I said, grabbing her hands and looking into eyes. Her eyes began to water and she pulled me in close. Just then my sister barged into the room. 

“Esme, I found some strawberries!” she said excitedly, but all excitement left her face when she saw my chest being packed up. I turned to Ada, smiling and trying to show excitement, but I saw all joy wash off of her face. 

“Do you really have to leave?” she cried quietly. 

I simply nodded and said to her, “Please Ada, I need you here, to take care of mom and dad.” I embraced her and began to rub her back, trying to calm her. When she was little she used to always have nightmares. She would awake screaming and the only thing that calmed her was singing her back to sleep and rubbing her back. I began to sing to her and she joined in.
“I’m going to miss you so much! Please ask the Queen if I can visit soon?” she asked me, whimpering again. 

“Of course. I am still here for the rest of the day though, why don’t we go pick some of those strawberries together?” I asked her, trying to get her excited again. She smiled up at me again. I ran outside with my sister and followed her to pick the strawberries. Now running through our fields to the woods, I tried to take it all in, all of my surroundings. I did not want to forget any of it. The way the grass blew in summer winds, the crickets songs, or the sound of the sparrows. I tried to soak in every last bit. Living in a castle would be grand, but it would not be home. 

The next day, early in the morning, I braved my goodbyes. Ada was barely awake and just about threw a tantrum as my father carried out my small chest. My father then helped me into the small carriage that the King had sent. 

“I will write everyday.” I told him, trying not to fall apart already. 

“Same here Pumpkin. We will be okay. Be strong and you will be okay too.” he said, giving my hand a squeeze. I  glanced over as my mother waved from our little cottage, she was holding my sister back. 

“I’m trying not to fall apart. I’m so scared. What will become of me without you?” I asked nervously. 

My father took my face in his hands and said, “You will use your gift and help many people. Esme, I believe it is your love that has always been your strongest gift, so let love guide you and you will never be lost or alone.” Tears fell from my eyes into his hands, he wiped them away and kissed my forehead. I leaned in and kissed his cheek. 

“Goodbye Father.” I whispered. He stepped back from the carriage and joined my mother and my sister. I waved to them all from the carriage and did not stop until they were no longer in my sights.

The trip felt long, my bottom hurt from sitting and my stomach felt upset from the motion of carriage. I longed to be running free through the open fields and trees once again with my sister. I decided I would try to close my eyes and rest whereas I barely slept last night. Once I had closed my eyes, I realized how tired I truly was and began to thankfully nod off. 

My head had a horrible crick in it when I awoke to the sound of the driver shouting, “We will be arriving soon.”

“Thank you.” I weakly responded, still attempting to wake up. Somehow I felt more exhausted then before I fell asleep. I gazed out the side of the carriage and could see the palace’s gates just a bit ahead of us. I began to feel very nervous. I really hoped I would get to change and rest before seeing the King and Queen. 

A few minutes later the carriage came to a stop and the door opened wide. The drivers hand reached in and said “Here we are Miss.” I placed my hand out and took it, beginning now to step out from the carriage. An older woman quickly, but gracefully made her way down the steps of the palace to me. 

“Welcome my dear, welcome home. My name is Lady Margaret, I will be helping you transition to palace life.” she said happily, greeting me. 

“Thank you.” I replied, thinking to myself, this will never be home. 

“Come now, a guard will see to your things being brought up to your room. We need to get you washed up and ready for dinner tonight.” she explained to me, taking my arm and leading me quickly into the castle. 

“What time is it? I am sorry, I am a bit disoriented from my travels?” I explained, embarrassed. 

“Oh, it is nearly dinner time.” she responded quickly, not slowing her pace at all. When we entered my room she quickly ushered me into the indoor washroom. There was a girl inside preparing my bath, I recognized her as one of the girls from the ceremony who had offered themselves as a maid. 

“Hello, Lena right?” I asked her. She nodded and gave me a polite smile. I thought to myself how weird this must be for her. I thought she too was new here and away from her family. I hoped that we may become friends.
“Well Lena, help Esme get undressed and washed up and ready for dinner. Just like you observed the lady’s maids do for the Queen.” said Lady Margaret. 

“Yes. Mam.” she said, quickly moving forward and beginning to unlace my dress for me. 

“Oh, let me.” I said awkwardly, starting to undress myself. 

“No, Esme. That is not your job.” said Lady Margaret. I froze and tried to not cringe at Lena undressing me. If living in the palace meant not being able to do basic things, liking dressing and undressing myself, I was not going to do well here.  

“Lena you can get rid of her old rags for her. There are plenty of new dresses in her closet.” Lady Margaret announced.  My eyes shot open hearing her call my dress old rags, Lena’s eyes did too. Lena looked at me and knew what I was thinking. “Oh no, I almost forgot to add shoes into your wardrobe. I will be back shortly.” Lady Margaret said, quickly heading out of my room. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. 

“I’m so sorry Lena, this is just awkward. I am more than capable of dressing and undressing myself.” I told her kindly. 

“I know, but it’s just not how things are done here. I won’t get rid of your dress if you don’t want me to, but you should hide it.” she explained to me. 

“My mother and sister worked so hard to make that dress.” I shared with Lena how they just gave it to me for my birthday. 

“It is the most beautiful dress I have ever seen.” she replied softly. She knew how special a dress like that would be. Girls like us did not get new dresses often, especially ones with colors or lace like mine. 

“I used to dream as a little girl to have a closet full of beautiful dresses. A different one for every day of the week.” I said, laughing at myself. “I know it is silly. I never imagined…” I cut myself off. I really had not imagined it would happen like this. 

“I understand. Do you miss your home?” she asked me, putting her hand reassuringly on my shoulder. 

“Yes. I shouldn’t be here, so far away from my family.” I complained. 

“No, you are exactly where you should be. You are special.” Lena said, taking my hand and squeezing it. She smiled at me, a soft and kind smile. 

“I mean… I know, I have weird healing powers. But besides that, I am not that special. I actually always felt weird.” I explained to her. 

“Esme, my Lady, your Kingdom needs you…” she was cut off by Lady Margaret who had just rushed in.

“Oh my goodness, you are still bathing!” she yelped.

Lena grabbed a bucket and quickly rinsed me off and wrapped a towel around me. I quickly followed her to a chair where she began brushing out my hair. 

“I suppose I will just have to pick you out a dress.” said Lady Margaret, as if I had just caused her a deal of pain. Lena began to braid my hair and put it up into a bun. Next she proceeded to put some powder onto my face and a red paint on my lips. It did not taste pleasant. I must have made a face because Lena giggled at me. 

“You must let it fully dry.” she explained to me. 

“This is all so strange.” I explained, leaning forward and looking at myself in the mirror. Lady Margaret passed a pale pink dress with a floral bodice and flowy sleeves to Lena. I stood up and Lena helped me into the dress. I barely recognized myself when I looked in the mirror. I was not sure if I even liked who I saw. Pink was definitely not my color. Lena opened up a small drawer that had a few small head pieces and jewels. She took a pink ribbon and weaved it through my hair. 

“Do you like this?” she asked me. 

I shrugged and responded, “I look pretty. It’s just still weird.” She smiled at me like she truly understood. I slipped into some slippers Lady Margaret had brought. Lady Margaret smiled seeing me finally ready.
“Just in time. Thank goodness. Here put these on.” she said, handing me a pair of long white gloves. 

“What is this for?” I asked her. She rolled her eyes and giggled. 

“Oh goodness, there’s a lot I will have to teach you.” she said, taking me by my arm and leading me down a long hallway. We entered a room that had food already laid out on the table. 

“We will not sit yet. You may only sit after the King has sat and asked for everyone to be seated. Until that time you will stand here by your chair facing that door…” she pointed at a pair of double doors, “where the King will enter. This spot will be yours. It is next to me and the princess and directly across from Prince Derek.” she explained, winking at me at the end. I tried not to roll my eyes. Prince Derek had been kind and charming, but I really did not like the idea of being forced to possibly marry. Just a moment later the Princess and her lady maid had arrived. She ran over to greet me.
I curtsied at her and she curtsied back saying, “I am so excited to have you here. It will be like having a big sister. I always wanted a big sister, big brother’s are not very fun.” 

I giggled at that and then Prince Derek entered the room responding to the princesses comment, “Oh really, not very fun” he said, lifting her in the air and spinning her around. 

She giggled and responded, “Most of the time.” He set her down and walked over to me, smiling. I curtsied and he bowed back, taking my hand and kissing it again. 

“I’m very glad to see you again, my Lady. I hope you had a pleasant trip.” he stated. 

“I will only say that I am glad to have finally arrived. Traveling is not for me.” I shared, trying to not sound like I was complaining. He seemed to take my response just fine. 

“If you are not too tired, I would love to accompany you for an evening stroll after dinner.” he asked me. I looked at Lady Margaret, half expecting her to have plans for me. She nodded that it was okay. 

“A short stroll should be nice. I do have to admit, I am very tired, your majesty.” I responded. I did not want to be rude, but I was quite tired. Prince Derek nodded and moved to his spot across the table from me. Prince Frederick arrived next and stood by his chair. Just moments later the servant announced the King and Queen into the room. The Queen made eye contact with me and smiled kindly my way. 

The King quickly sat, “You may be seated.”

I looked at Lady Margaret for more of an approval to sit. She nodded quickly. I sat down and placed my hands in my lap. I was so nervous for I had heard that royals had different table manners. A servant came around and served each one of us. 

After a little while into the dinner the King finally said, “Since you will be living with us for now on, you shall be considered a Lady. You will officially be addressed as Lady Esme, Healer of Evesland.” I nodded his way. I was afraid to speak. 

“How are you liking your quarters?” the Queen asked.

“They are beautiful. Thank you, your Majesty.” I looked to Lady Margaret to see if I had responded appropriately. She did not seem to have any objections to my response. The rest of the dinner we ate quietly. The King finished and announced he would be off to do some work to prepare for a hunt in the following days, he had Prince Frederick accompany him. 

Once they had gone, the atmosphere seemed to grow lighter. The Queen spoke freely to her children and to me. She asked me about my family’s history. I shared how we used to be miners, but once the mines closed we had to settle with cattle raising and farming. 

“That must be how you came to have such a lovely gemstone necklace. I knew it was not one of the castle jewels.” she commented. I then told her the story of my Great Grandfather. The princess thought it was a romantic story. She was a bit dramatic, just like my sister could be at times. She was seven, almost two years younger, whereas Ada’s 9th birthday would be coming up soon. 

“Well it is getting late. I shall retire.” said the Queen, rising and walking to exit. Her ladies maids follow in suit. “It will be truly lovely having you here Lady Esme, I do hope you find yourself at home quickly enough.” she added and headed out of the room. The princess, seeing her mother leaving race off behind her. It was just Prince Derek and Lady Margaret here with me now and some of the other castle staff. 

“Well your highness, how about we start that stroll you suggested?” Lady Margaret asked. 

“Of course, I shall tour Lady Esme around the palace I think.” he answered with a smile on his face. I smiled back at him. I finally felt a bit more relaxed, I could be more of myself around him. Prince Derek stood up and came over to my chair and helped me out. I took his hand and followed him out of the room. Lady Margaret followed us from behind, chaperoning every move. I couldn’t help but turn and watch her. I felt like she did not trust me to do or say the right thing. Prince Derek could sense my discomfort.

He whispered, “let’s cut this tour early. I can always sneak to your room and take you on a real tour once she has gone to sleep.” I thought his idea sounded good and so I faked a yawn. “Oh dear, are you tired. Of course you must be. We can always finish this tour another time. I shall let you retire.” he said loudly. Lady Margaret raced up to us hearing this. 

“Thank you for showing Lady Esme around, your Majesty.” Lady Margaret said curtseying his way. 

I smiled at him and replied, “Yes, thank you Prince Derek for a lovely stroll. I look eagerly forward to our next one.” Lady Margaret took my arm and began to lead me back to my room. I turned my head quickly and winked at the Prince.

He smirked back and mouthed “See you soon.” 

When we had finally arrived Lady Margaret instructed Lena to help me get ready for bed. 

“Lady Esme, you will want to get plenty of rest, tomorrow I will begin teaching you all about life here and how to behave like a lady.” she explained. 

I nodded and replied, “Thank you.” and then she was gone. I let out a deep sigh of relief to finally be out of her presence again. 

“Would you like my help getting ready for bed?” Lena asked me. 

“Actually no” I began to say, but just then we heard a knock on the wall. I knew who it was. Excitedly I replied to knock saying, “You may enter.” Lena looked shocked. 

“Did you not know about the secret tunnels?” I asked her as he entered. 

“It’s not that my lady, it’s just that, well it’s not proper.” she stated. 

“Ahh yes, that is why only we will know about it. I couldn’t wait to see you again, so I decided to sneak in the tunnels and listen for Lady Margaret to depart.” the Prince replied. He walked over and took my hands and spun me around like he did when we were dancing before at the festival. 

“Oh how excited I have been for your return. I am glad to finally have you alone, where we can really talk and get to know one another.” he told me, taking my hands and pulling them up to his face. He smiled down at me. He was very charming. 

“Your majesty, I apologize but I don’t want Lady Esme’s reputation to be at risk. You really should visit her during the day and in a public setting.” Lena interrupted, while quietly looking down. He looked down at me disappointed, but clearly contemplating his next decision. 

I pulled away and responded, “Maybe she is right.”

Prince Derek seemed irritated now. He took my hand again, pulling me back and responded, “No one will know of our secret meetings”… I cut him off. 

“Secret Meetings”… I placed extra emphasis on the S, knowing he already planned to come secretly to me again, “someone is pretty confident that this will be the start of a trend.” I stated. 

He smirked at me and replied, “Well I had hoped that things would go well and you would want to see me again?” 

“Of course.” I responded, smiling up at him. He led me over to the fireplace and had me sit down beside him. 

“Like I was saying though, no one will know. If someone was to find out, we would know who had tarnished your reputation and they would be dealt with.” he finished, his tone had changed. This statement was obviously directed at Lena. 

“Lady Esme, if you no longer need me I shall retire for the night.” she said quietly, backing away towards the door.  The Prince’s words had frightened her. I felt bad, but the Prince was my only friend here and I wanted time with him. 

“I think that would be best.” Prince Derek responded for me. I nodded my approval for her to go. After she left the room, Derek and I finally decided to speak plainly with one another. 

“Esme, when we are alone let’s drop the titles and just be ourselves.” he stated, giving my hand a squeeze, this time instead of letting go he continued to hold my hand. 

“I would like that, Derek” I responded. It felt weird to just call him that. We talked for a little while, he asked me more about the place where I grew up. I told him about the colors of the fields in the different seasons, of falling asleep to the crickets song, and awakening to the birds singing. I asked him what growing up in the palace was like as well. He told me it was not as exciting as I may have thought. He spent most days having to watch his father and the elders, learning from them.

“I used to sneak off and watch the guards practice fighting. One day they caught me looking at the swords and they decided to teach me how to fight too. My father was angry but eventually agreed that I should learn how to fight. Once my brother ascends the throne and has an heir, then I will be free to be a soldier.” he explained to me.

I enjoyed our conversations, but I found myself yawning often. When I yawned he sat close beside me and placed his arm over my shoulder. This was not proper, but it was comforting. I had felt very alone since leaving home and this was the only bit of comfort I had found, the only real friend. 

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