Chapter 3 – Moving to The Castle

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. 

Chapter 2 & Special thanks to Elizabeth Boyle

Concept art for the book by Elizabeth Boyle. She is so talented! I am so grateful for her help in editing, writing, and creating beautiful art for Evesland. This piece here is called Angel on The Lake. Read the Prestory to learn more about this scene from the story.

Chapter 2 – The Festival

We reached the palace gates and found a guard. My father explained we were supposed to be meeting with the royal family. The guard, looking confused, sent for a royal advisor. I guess they don’t welcome many commoners into the palace. Just a few minutes later a gentleman appeared and began to usher us inside the castle walls. 

“Now which of you lovely ladies is gifted with the special ability to heal?” he asked, leading us in. 

I glanced at my father, who nodded that it was okay to say, “I am, Sir.”

“Oh, wonderful. My name is Stephen and I must say, what a marvelous blessing you have, to be gifted with Magic. Evesland is very lucky to have you. The royal family is very eager to meet you. We have heard all about the wonderful healings you have performed. Oh, and you are a beauty too. Just wait until the king’s sons see you. Oh, you must feel so honored to have her.” he said, looking at my parents. 

“Oh, yes. She is quite special. Selfless and always willing to help others.” responded my mother. This man sure liked to talk a lot, I thought. I remained quiet, my hands shaking and my palms sweaty. I was so nervous to meet the royal family. Ada however was beaming, eyes wide, taking in the castle. I glanced around as we quickly moved down a long hall, it was beautiful. The ceilings were so high and they were painted too with pictures. Candles lit our way down the hall to two large doors. 

“Ready miss, to be introduced?” asked the gentleman. 

“Ahh, I think so.” I responded, shaking. 

“Your name then, miss?” he asked.

“Esme.” I answered. 

Two guards opened the doors, simultaneously. The gentleman took my arm over his and led us inside. 

 “May I present to your majesty, Miss Esme, The Healing One.” He walked me in, and once in front of the King and Queen I bowed. I realized I should probably be curtsying, so I quickly lowered myself and remained in my curtsy until the King spoke. 

“Rise, my darling child. Esme, on behalf of Evesland and the royal family, I would like to personally thank you for your sacrifice. I have heard of all you have done and the price you pay. I trust you are well today and that you and your family had a good journey here?” he asked me.

“Yes, your majesty, and thank you. It is an honor to be before you and your family.” I replied. 

“Of course, child. Now allow me to introduce us all to you. I am King Phillip Eves. My wife, Queen Angelise. My children, Prince Fredrick, Prince Derek, and my youngest Princess Annalise.” he announced, all standing when he called on them. 

“Why don’t you introduce us to your family?” the Queen asked, smiling at me. 

“Thank you, your majesties. My father Henry Smit, my mother Mary Anne, and my little sister, Adelaide.” I announced. I glanced at Ada and she had the biggest grin and was clearly admiring the royal family. The Queen was beautiful, she stood with such grace and spoke with such poise. 

“It is wonderful to meet you all. Now Esme, are you ready to be introduced tonight? My own son Prince Derek will be introduced as well. It would be my family’s great honor to present you together. I know you have kept your identity a secret, but now we feel you deserve to be honored. Would that be alright with you, my child?” the King asked me. I glanced over at Prince Derek who was smiling at me. He was so handsome and it would be rude to refuse a King, I thought. I looked once again to my father for approval, he nodded his approval hesitantly.

“The honor would be mine, your majesty.” I responded. 

“Your majesty, if I may?” asked my father, seeking the King’s approval to continue. 

“Yes, of course.” he answered.

“It is a great honor. I just worry for my daughter’s safety, if she is known amongst everyone, well, everyone will then seek her out, demanding her help.” he explained, concerned. 

“You are very right. That is why we plan to have Esme move here, to the castle to be protected. That way we can monitor who seeks her help. Of course you would always be welcomed to visit and it need not be immediately, but sometime after the festival.” the King explained. I looked at my mother, now grasping my father’s hand. She looked worried. I did not want to live here, but I did want to be safe. I knew I probably did not have a choice, if the King wanted me here.
“That is a generous proposition, your majesty. I will need to speak to my family about this first, before any final arrangement is made. But if you can assure her safety, then it is fine that she be revealed to the people.” he responded. 

“Wonderful, and of course, we can talk and figure the rest out, father to father. Esme, if you will follow the Queen, she would like to help you get ready.” the King said. My eyes probably popped out of my head a bit hearing this. I was to go with the Queen to get ready. 

“We will see you after you are announced then.” said my mother, hugging me. I could tell she was shaken. I knew she would not want me to live so far away. 

“Okay mom… Ada, have fun and make some friends tonight. Will you make me a pretty craft for my room?” I asked, hugging her. 

“Sure. Esme, are you going to leave us?” she asked me. 

Leaning down, hugging her I responded, “I could never truly leave you. I’ll see you after the festival. Behave.”

Lastly, I hugged my father. He kissed my forehead and told me, “I’m proud of you…” and whispered into my ear, “Everything will be okay.” With that I followed the Queen out a side door of the throne room. 

“It truly is an honor to have you here with us. There has not been anyone gifted with magic in the land, well, in a very long time. I have personally never met anyone gifted before, though I have heard stories.” the Queen shared. She took my hand and walked me down a long corridor. We finally arrived into a room filled with dresses, crowns, and jewels. A lady rushed over and began measuring me. 

“Umm, what is this for?” I asked. 

“For your dress. This dress you have is very pretty, but we want you to match the royal family’s attire tonight.” the Queen explained. 

“Oh, thank you.” I responded, politely.

“Well I will leave you with some of my ladies. They will help you get ready. See you soon… Esme, don’t be worried, by the way. You will love living here. You will never have to be hungry and you’ll have beautiful dresses all the time.” the queen explained, smiling. She then walked away with a couple more of her ladies. Her ladies who stayed behind with me worked quickly removing my old dress and fitting me into one they had been preparing. The dress was silver, made of soft velvet fabric, with little white beads on the neckline, and sheer lace sleeves. The dress slipped on and fit me like a soft glove. It was much easier to breathe in surprisingly, no corset. They then played with my hair a bit and applied some make up to my eyes and cheeks. They brought me silver slippers that laced up. Lastly they placed little white beads through my hair. When they brought me before a mirror, I barely recognized myself. They all awed over me and expressed their satisfaction about what a wonderful transformation they had given me. They told me I was so lucky and that I would be able to wear dresses like this all the time now. 

One lady said, laughing “Maybe the Queen will even let you wear a tiara from time to time.” I tried to picture myself with a tiara. I kind of liked the idea, but I still preferred the little white flower my father placed in my hair. The ladies walked me out of the room and back to the throne room. 

“Prince Derek will meet you in here shortly.” a guard announced upon my arrival. 

“The Prince… Oh ah, Thank you.” I replied, then turning and thanking the ladies who helped me prepare. Just shortly after the ladies went on their way, Prince Derek had arrived. He paused upon entering the room. He was looking at me, up and down. I feared he found me ugly. I could not imagine a Prince wanting to be announced with a commoner. He smiled though and began walking my way. 

He took my hands and said, “I can not believe they made you even more beautiful. You are simply breathtaking.” He complimented me. 

“Thank you, your majesty. Is that the proper name that I should be calling you by?” I asked, shyly, slightly embarrassed.  

“Yes, technically. But no one else is around or listening. Please, just call me Derek. I have never been a fan of formalities.” he said, laughing. 

I smiled and whispered, “Alright. Derek.” 

“So how do you feel about living here?” he asked me.

“Honestly, I was about to ask you the same…” I said, betraying a nervous laugh, “the ladies kept mentioning the pretty dresses and the good food, but…what is it really like? I’ve never been away from home before.” I responded. He laughed at that. He began walking us out of the throne room, continuing to talk. 

“They would mention the dresses…” he first commented, rolling his eyes and laughing some more. “Well, for me I think it’s been a bit of a different experience. My father keeps my brother and I busy studying, practicing fighting; preparing us to take his place. But you would have your own studies, someone could teach you how to play instruments even. Annaliese is learning the violin right now, though she is already pretty good on the piano. You also need not be worried about homesickness. Your family is always welcomed. Also I will be more than willing to keep you company. You’d be actually doing me a favor, my older brother is quite boring if I am honest, and my little sister mostly wants to play dress up or with her dolls.” he shared, laughing. 

“I suppose I could also use a friend. Ada also enjoys mostly doll playing…” I hesitated, as my mind drifted again to the uncertainty of my future and the suddenness of beginning my new life. “I know it won’t be safe anyway after everyone knows who I am and what I can do. I am thankful for your family’s protection.” I replied. 

“Yes, everyone will want to use your gift. Does it tire you or pain you terribly? I have heard a few stories.” he asked me. 

“Well most times I can tolerate the feeling well enough. But some ailments prove harder to heal and have been quite painful. Last summer a neighbor’s son fell from the roof of his barn, and he was torn up badly. He had a couple broken ribs and a broken arm, cuts all over. When I laid my hands on him to heal him, I felt his pain acutely in my own body. It was dreadful.  But some injuries I still can’t fix…once a woman was sick and was not responding. Her doctor said she should have awakened when the fever broke. When I reached to heal her, I got dizzy and unaware of my surroundings. I became so disoriented, I couldn’t help her. Her family was very upset…it burdened me so much to disappoint them in their hour of desperate need. ” I told Derek, sadly. 

Derek was looking at me with respect and concern in his eyes. “Here we can protect you, make a way for you to safely heal people, and prevent you from exhausting yourself.  I can’t imagine having to share in the pain of those you heal. You must be very strong.” he replied. 

“Mostly just strong willed, so says my mother. I’d help everyone, if I could.” I replied. Just then we reached a balcony that was covered by curtains. I could hear the music of instruments being played beyond them. 

“Everyone is nearly gathered, your Majesty. We will announce you both shortly.” said the same gentleman who announced me earlier before the whole royal family. 

“Thank you Stephen.” said Derek to the man. He must have noticed me shaking, again, because he turned and put his hands on my shoulders, rubbing them. 

“Don’t be afraid. They are going to love you.” he told me, trying to calm and assure me. I smiled back at him and nodded. Just then the music stopped and Stephen was speaking loudly to the crowd,

“Welcome all. Once again we gather together to celebrate our great country’s birth. We know that the past year has been very hard on everyone. The royal family would like to thank everyone for pulling together and offering wonderful gifts to be shared amongst friends, family, and neighbors at tonight’s grand feast. Your beloved king and queen truly believe that our best years are just ahead of us, thanks to the strength and dedication of this kingdom’s people. Now as always we will begin tonight’s festivities by introducing our kingdom’s young people to the society of Evesland. In the next few years they will choose a path to become hard-working citizens, helping to provide and make the land plentiful. The king and queen are especially pleased tonight that their own son, Prince Derek, will be amongst them. As is tradition, each child of Evesland who has turned sixteen will be announced and asked to share the path they hope to pursue. Well, let’s begin!” The crowd cheered in anticipation and pride. “To begin, it gives me great honor to announce his majesty, Prince Derek and Lady Esme.” The curtains opened wide and Derek led us out, waving gallantly to the people. I followed suit, trying to be graceful like Queen Angelise. 

Derek began speaking, “Thank you! Thank you! I look forward to the glorious years to come. It is my honor to serve the kingdom. I will be learning from my father and if in any case my brother Prince Frederick is unable, I will serve my country as king. I pray for good health for my brother and hope I will continue to serve in the King’s guard.” The crowd clapped and cheered thunderously for his speech. Girls in the crowd starred in adoration at Prince Derek. I felt lucky to be beside him. 

Stephen began to speak again, “Wonderful. Thank you, Prince Derek. We are so blessed to have your service. Now, people of Eavesland, I am sure you are all wondering, who is this beautiful lady on Prince Derek’s arm? May I present Lady Esme. She is soon to be adopted, so to speak, into the royal family’s household, for she is blessed with an incredible gift. I should say we are blessed to have her. Lady Esme, why don’t you share your path with your fellow people.” Derek smiled at me and nodded, gently pushing me forward. 

I grabbed the balcony’s edge for support and began to speak, “Hello all, I too wish to serve my people and my beautiful home, Evesland. When I was just a girl, I discovered my gift. Some of you may even have experienced it…”, whispers began to fill the crowd… “I used to hide it, wear a mask. But no longer. I will serve my homeland through my gift of healing.” The crowd also clapped and cheered for me, shouting my name and proclaiming that the country had at last been blessed. Derek came and stood by my side, clapping as well. I turned and smiled at him. Just then, loud shouting came from within the crowd. 

“How do we know she is telling the truth? Not all of us have seen this healing done.” an older man shouted. 

“He’s right. What if it’s a trick?” another woman said. I felt sharp panic beginning to grip me. The thought raced through my mind, why would I want to trick my own people about this?

“She’s not lying. She healed my own son from his wounds and broken bones.” said my neighbor, whom I recognized. 

“You too could be lying. We want proof!” said the same old man. I looked at Derek who seemed startled by the crowd’s agitation. 

“I should have expected this…they want proof.” I told him, frowning. 

“Then proof we shall give them.” he said. He walked back behind the curtain and emerged shortly with a dagger. 

“You want proof?” He shouted, “I shall use this dagger and make my own hand bleed, then she shall heal me.” Derek pressed the blade against his palm for all to see. I looked at him, concerned and then turned to see the king and queen, who kept their silence, but also looked slightly alarmed. 

“Wait!” said the woman who had fueled the old man’s suspicion. “I have a son who she could heal. He has been sick for a week now. Send a guard to fetch him.” At that the king himself finally rose. 

“No, my son’s demonstration will be enough proof. From now on, if you have a need for healing, it will be requested through my court first. Now my son, as you so kindly offered to demonstrate.” he announced. sternly looking down at the crowd. 

“Yes. Thank you father.” he replied, taking the dagger and trailing it across the skin of his palm. He grimaced as he made the cut. He then lifted his hand so the whole crowd could see the blood. 

Then he turned to me, whispering, “It appears you are at risk. I’m sorry you have to do this today.” He held out his hand to me. 

I looked him in the eyes and smiled, saying “You can repay me with a dance tonight.” Thankfully it was just a cut and would not take much of me at all to heal. Taking his bleeding hand, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I held his hand in both of mine, breathing until I had tuned out every sound, the crowd’s agitated chatter, the soft clinking of the china the servants were laying out, even the rustle of the leaves in the trees. In the silence I focused my attention and willed the wound to mend and close itself. My hands grew warm and I felt the familiar sense of compassion rise in my chest. I opened my eyes. The world flooded back to me, and I saw the newly unbroken flesh of my prince’s hand. Once it was healed, he wiped away the blood with a handkerchief in his pocket and showed it to the people, raising his arm high for all to see.  Most of the crowd began to cheer, but some still seemed to doubt what I had done. The king noticed and nodded to some guards on the ground, they quickly and discreetly removed those people from the festival. 

The King rose again, saying, “Now that this little demonstration is over. Let us continue to welcome the other new members of Evesland, and then on to the great feast!”. Stephen had brought two silver chairs and invited us to sit while the other sixteen year olds were welcomed. I tried to focus on the names announced and clap for them, a pair of eyes in the crowd kept catching at my gaze, distracting me. A young man was staring at me. He did not seem to be in a state of disbelief or anger, like some others who had been removed. He seemed to almost be studying me. I tried to not make it obvious that I noticed him looking. Prince Derek noticed however. 

“You are safe. I promise. You can relax. Nothing will happen, especially not with me by your side.” he told me, taking my hand in his. 

“Thank you.” I replied, giving his hand a little squeeze. I looked down at the line of sixteen year olds, some did not have shoes or were in clothes that did not fit them quite right. I realize the expense my parents probably went to for the dress that they made. I felt guilty. Most of my fellow sixteen year olds said they would work in the fields to feed our people. There was one who wanted to be a doctor and another who offered himself to the king’s guard. The king smiled at that. A couple girls who offered themselves to be maids in the palace. I found myself searching the crowd once more for the eyes that had been watching me, but they had disappeared.

Once the welcoming ceremony was over, Stephen ushered us into the banquet hall. 

“Esme, you and your family will sit up here, near the royal family themselves.” he said, pointing out and guiding me to my exact seat. 

“Thank you.” I said, taking in the beautiful lanterns on the table and seeing the array of food. There was not much variety, but still it was much better than any meals at home. There was roast chicken and ham, gravy, potatoes, corn, and warm buttered bread. In the corners of the room were smaller dessert tables which held small cakes, fruit, and chocolates. 

“You may wait here. Prince Derek may wait with you until your family arrives. Guests will enter and be seated first and then the king, queen, and Prince Frederick will be announced in.” he explained, and then quickly headed to a grand set of doors on the other end of the room. He waved for the guards to open them. My parents were at the front of the crowd and rushed over to see me. They hugged me.
“Nice speech.” said my Dad, with a nervously joking tone. 

“Thanks. Guess the big secret’s out forever now.” I said, laughing nervously as well. Derek shook my father’s hand and they began to chat, admiring the feast. Typical men. The spread of food was their main priority now, and there would be no tearing them away until they were satisfied. 

“You are beautiful, darling.” my mother said, hugging me again. I could tell she was very nervous and trying to hold it together. 

“Thank you, and I’m okay mom.” I said, trying to reassure her. She smiled and hugged me again. Everyone began to stand by their seats as Stephen started to see to the seating arrangements, rather manhandling the task. Derek pulled out my chair for me and helped me in. Then he kissed my hand as he left for his seat. 

“He is clearly quite charmed with you.” said my father to me. 

“And I am with him.” I whispered back, admittedly. My father smiled, laughing quietly at me. Just then Stephen began to announce the entrance of the royal family. Once they had been seated we too were invited to sit. The king blessed the feast and we all began to eat. It was the most delicious meal I had ever had. The food was so scrumptious I almost failed to notice the set of eyes on me again. Directly  across the room at another table, sat the same man who had been watching me in the crowd. I tried to tell myself I was just being paranoid. 

After the banquet was cleared we were all ushered out to the courtyard. There were beautiful lanterns all around and music playing. My father bowed to my mother and asked her for her first dance. She giggled and accepted. I made my way over to a fountain that had flowers and little candles floating on it. I had been studying the way they gently bobbed atop the water when I was stopped by Prince Derek.  

“Good evening, my Lady.” he said bowing to me. 

“Good evening, my Prince.” I replied, curtsying. 

He took up my hand and said, “I believe I owe you a dance.” I smiled, giggling a little at his charm. I followed him out and we began the next dance together. The music was upbeat and lively, and the dancers spun and switched partners. I quickly picked it up, careful not to trip on my dress. Somehow, through the dance, despite switching partners, I maintained eye contact with Derek for a long while until a hop, skip and a few twirls carried me away. I was shocked that when I ended the dance, it was no longer Derek looking across at me, but the young man who had been watching me earlier from the crowd. We made eye contact and he smiled, bowing at the end of the dance. I curtsied in return. Quickly Derek was by side again and whisked me away. 

“I have a surprise for you.” he told me. I tried to muster some excitement, but all I could think of was that man, those haunting eyes watching me. 

“Derek, did you know that man who was facing me at the end of the dance?” I asked him. He looked at me, a little confused by my question. 

“No. I admittedly do not get out or socialize with many outside of the castle. Why do you ask? You didn’t find him more handsome than I am?” He asked with a wink and a twinkle in his eye. 

“Ahhaha, of course not.” I replied, sharing in his joke. I tried to ignore the questions in my head as Derek led me back into the castle. I wondered now where he was taking me. 

“Now I am probably not supposed to show you this, but I couldn’t wait.” he said, motioning for our guard to open a door. He led me inside of a large room. The room had a fancy bed with a canopy. It also had a fireplace and windows with stained glass. The room was filled with beautiful art, books, lanterns hung off the wall, and there was a fur rug in front of the fireplace. It was the most beautiful room I had ever seen.

“Is this your room?” I asked Derek. 

Laughing, he responded, “No. It’s yours. Apparently my parents were planning on asking you to stay, so they had the maids prepare a room just for you. Do you like it?”

“It is the most beautiful room I think I have ever seen.” I responded, smiling. I tried to picture myself needing such a large room. It was basically the size of my house. 

“There’s a bit more.” he explained, heading to two doors on the opposite side of the room. He opened up a door and it was filled with fabrics for dresses. Then he opened another door, revealing a lovely washroom. Then he led me back towards the large canopy bed. He pushed on a panel on the wall and a secret door popped open. 

“Follow me.” he said, grabbing a lantern from off the wall. It was dark and the path was narrow. But after walking down a hall and up a small flight of stairs, he pushed on the wall and it opened into another room. It also had a large bed, some art, books, and some beast’s head above the fireplace. There was also a beautiful sword resting on the mantle,with jewels shining in its hilt. 

“Oh my.” I said, running my fingers over the blade.
“I’m glad you approve. This is my room. That was the servants tunnel, so our rooms are connected. So you never need to feel alone while you’re here. I will always be nearby.” he told me, grinning. 

I smiled back at him, replying, “Honestly, I will probably still get lost in that tunnel.” 

He laughed at me, saying, “Well, we will have to work on that. I suppose I should probably return you to the festivities. It would probably be frowned upon if we were found here…alone together. Though someday, it may not be deemed inappropriate.” he said, winking at me. I tried to ignore his flirting for my own sake. He was handsome, but I couldn’t imagine the king and queen approving of a relationship with me, a commoner. 

Once back at the festival I found my father talking to the king. He seemed to be reassuring him of something, yet my father still looked worried. My mother was mingling with some of our neighbors. I decided to join her. 

“Hello dear, you have spent a lot of time with Prince Derek today? Is he nice to you?” she asked me, smiling but with an air of concern. 

“Yes, he is quite a gentleman. Very handsome too.” I answered, blushing. Shaking hands now with some of our neighbors I had not seen in years. After I shared my gift with my parents they had tried to keep me close to home, but I recognized some faces. 

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Esme. We honestly worried that you had gotten sick when your parents never traveled anywhere with you anymore. It all makes sense now. You truly are blessed and so also is Evesland.” one lady told me. 

“Thank you. I suppose things will be easier now that I don’t have to hide.” I replied. Just then my father appeared by my side. 

“Esme honey, I need to talk to you and your mother alone.” he said, pulling us from the crowd and taking us to an empty garden off the courtyard. 

“What is it, father?” I asked.

“You will be returning to the palace in a week to stay. I tried to ask the King to send guards to our home instead to protect you, but the King wished for you to be here. He believes you can benefit much from a life here. He says you will even have a tutor. He believes with the help of the elders, you can learn more on how to control your gift. Also Esme, he hinted at a union between you and Prince Derek. I must be honest, I fear the king wants to control your gift more than protect it. You will have to be careful from this point on. The king will offer protection, but that does not mean you are not in danger.” my father explained, sadly. 

“Well, you do seem to like Prince Derek. Maybe this won’t be so bad for you. You will learn more than either of us could teach you.” my mom said, as always trying to find the silver lining. 

“Esme, how are you feeling about all of this?” my father asked me. 

Looking at my father, I tried to find words, but nothing much was coming out. My eyes began to water. 

“I’ll miss you all so much.” I finally managed to choke out those words. I sat down on a bench and my parents sat on either side of me, hugging me. We began to hear Stephen delivering a speech, announcing the night coming to an end soon. My mother helped dry my cheeks. We all slowly made our way back to the courtyard to join everyone. Just then I realized we had not been alone, but my stalker had been listening from a distance the whole time. 

“Let’s say our goodbyes and go home.” said my father to my mother. 

“Yes dear. Esme, will you go to fetch your sister?” my mother asked of me. 

“Of course, mother.” I responded. I saw the King and Queen as I was leaving and they waved and smiled at me. I smiled back,curtsying goodbye. Derek must have seen me leaving because he ran over to me. 

“Leaving now?” he asked. 

“Yes. Just going to fetch my little sister.” I answered back. He was handsome and kind, but I hated the idea of an arrangement being forced between us. I wondered if he already knew. 

“It was lovely meeting you Esme. I enjoyed our time together very much. I will eagerly await your return.” he said, bowing, he took my hand and kissed it once again. It sent butterflies through my stomach when he did that, maybe marrying a Prince would not be so bad. 

I continued out of the courtyard and to the room where the children were taken care of during the festival.

I heard a voice echo as I walked down the hall by myself, “Lovely meeting you Esme.” it said. 

“Who is there?” I asked, turning quickly, looking in all directions for someone the voice may belong to. I found no one, but I was pretty certain whose voice it was. My strange stalker. “Leave me alone. Whoever you are, I know you have been watching me. Leave me alone!” I shouted into the empty hallway. All the lanterns near me blew out upon me shouting. I wondered if I had done that. I quickly made my way down the hallway and to the next. I opened the door to where my sister and the other children were, most were fast asleep, not Ada though. I was still shaking from what had just happened when Ada ran and jumped into my arms, nearly knocking me over. 

“You look like a Princess.” she exclaimed. 

I laughed, saying, “I suppose I do. Time to go home.” She hugged me close as I carried her out to meet our parents in our buggy. She rambled on about the fun she had and asked me lots of questions about the festival. I did not have the heart to tell her yet that I would soon return to the castle to live. It broke my heart thinking about leaving family to live with one I barely knew. I knew that within the castle there would be lots of rules for me to follow and expectations of how to behave. It would not be an easy transition and I so longed to not go. When we made it home we all quickly went to bed. It was so late and the sun would soon be rising again. I would be returning to the castle before the week’s end. 

Evesland – Chapter 1

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?