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Once Upon A Rose by Lorri Moulton
Once Upon A Rose: Enchanted Fairytale 1 Copyright © 2019 by Lavender Lass Books – All Rights Reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, events, places, businesses and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
As for content, this is a fictional book. Every effort has been made to cleanly edit the text. However, typos do happen. If you find any errors, please accept my apology and bring them to my attention, so I can provide a better book for all future readers. Thank you!
“A rose by any other name…” –William Shakespeare
Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named Celsiana, who lived in a castle surrounded by gardens. The queen, who loved flowers, had named her daughter for a favorite rose bush that she and the king received as a wedding gift. Celsiana roses are pink and slowly turn white as they age, so it should have come as no surprise that their little princess would one day transform into a very capable young woman.
The gardens around the castle were quite large and completely surrounded by a high stone wall. Beyond the wall, there was the village on one side and a meadow on the other. A river wound along the edge of the village, then cut through the meadow before it disappeared into the woods beyond.
Celsiana loved the gardens almost as much as her mother did, but she often wished she could visit the young people in the village. Her parents allowed a few girls to come to the castle, but they were always so in awe of the surroundings that they seemed more nervous than happy to be there.
Her two older brothers used to spend time with her, but now all they wanted to do was go hunting or travel to distant kingdoms. Celsiana decided it was time to talk to her parents about visiting the village.
“But my dear, you do have companions,” her mother said, smiling at the king. “Your father and I had some young ladies visit the castle only last week.”
“Yes, but I would like to visit them in the village,” Celsiana replied, tucking a strand of dark blonde hair into place. “They seem so uncomfortable here in the castle, and I wish to visit this school they talk about.”
“The school?” her father repeated. “Why would you want to go to a school, when we have the best tutors available right here?”
“Perhaps those tutors could work at the school,” Celsiana thought…then realized she’d said it out loud.
Her parents were looking at each other in shock. “Send the tutors to the school…” her father said. “Why would I do that?”
“Because then, I would fit in with the other girls.” Celsiana stood tall and continued. “I could go to school with them, and we would all learn about philosophy and science.” She knew her father was very fond of both subjects.
Her mother smiled for a moment and took her husband’s hand. “I remember feeling the same way before I met you.” She glanced over at her daughter. “Maybe we should invite some other royal families to the castle. Soon, Celsiana will be old enough to marry…and meeting some eligible prospects now might be a good idea.”
Celsiana realized this conversation was not going as she’d hoped. “Mother, I do not want to meet eligible young men. I wish to be with people my own age. Have girlfriends. Be normal.”
Her parents both gasped. “Normal?” her father asked. “Why on earth would you want to be normal? You are a princess. Normal people want to be royalty, not the other way around.”
The queen put a hand on her husband’s arm. “Calm down, Roderick. We both know it’s been difficult for her having the boys gone. She misses them.”
The king took a breath and nodded. “Very well. I will send for more young ladies to be brought up here for Celsiana to meet.” He looked at his daughter. “Find two or three you enjoy spending time with, and we will have them stay here for a few weeks.”
Celsiana nodded, then managed a smile. It was not what she had hoped, but maybe spending a longer time in the castle would make the girls more comfortable. And then, she might finally have some real friends.
The next morning, Celsiana woke up early and decided to wear one of her gardening dresses, rather than the gowns she usually wore when visitors came to the castle. She put on her oldest hat and gardening boots, then went to meet the girls. They were all in their best dresses with their hair done up and looked as nervous as ever.
“Thank you for coming to visit me,” Celsiana said as she walked into the hall. The girls seemed surprised by her outfit and one even smiled slightly. “I thought since it was such a beautiful day, we could spend some time in the gardens. I was just finishing a project in one of the rose beds. If you’d like to help me, I have some clothes you could wear. I’d hate to see you ruin your beautiful dresses.”
The three girls glanced at each other, then nodded. “I like gardens,” one of them said. She took a step forward and curtsied. “My name is Janine and I would be happy to help you.” She smiled.
“As would I,” said another. “My name is Laurena.” She blushed, then added, “Your Majesty.”
Celsiana smiled. “There’s no need to curtsy here. And please, call me Celsiana. We are not in official surroundings, and I would like you to be my friends.”
The third girl giggled, then nodded. “Sorry, I’ve been so nervous. My name is Avaleen and I’m very happy to be here, Your…Celsiana.”
They all went to Celsiana’s room and found gardening dresses to wear. In no time, they were having a wonderful time digging in the dirt and planting herbs around the roses.
“This is fun,” said Laurena. “I never imagined I’d have such a good time today.”
“This is a beautiful garden,” Janine said, stopping for a moment and looking around. “You have such lovely flowers and herbs. Do you also have a vegetable garden?”
“There’s one on the other side of the castle, but I spend most of my time here.” Celsiana looked at the other girls, realizing they probably had vegetable gardens at home. “Why don’t we go over there and look around?”
“I’d like that,” Avaleen said. “My mother sells our extra produce at the market. I’d like to see if you have anything we haven’t grown in our own garden.”
“Of course,” Celsiana replied. “Let’s go look.”
The girls hurried along the path and around the castle. As they reached the gate to the vegetable gardens, they heard someone clearing his throat. “Pardon me, Your Highness, is there anything I can do for you?”
“My friends and I…” Celsiana began and smiled. “We have come to see the vegetables.”
“But Your Highness,” the man said, bowing, “you spend your time in the flower gardens. These gardens are not as pretty.”
“We would like to see the gardens,” Celsiana replied. “We will try not to be in your way as you work. In fact, why don’t you take a break and have a cup of tea?” She smiled and led the girls through the gate.
“Um…thank you, Your Highness,” the man replied. He waved at the other gardeners and they went around the castle.
“It must be nice to tell people what to do,” Laurena said, smiling.
“Actually, it gets rather tiresome,” Celsiana replied, “but today, it came in handy.”
The girls giggled and walked around the garden beds. It was a very large garden, divided into areas. There were fruits and berries, cooking herbs, a few edible flowers and a wondrous variety of vegetables.
Avaleen walked from one area to another, mentally keeping track of all the varieties. She finally turned and asked, “Do you think I could write some of these down later, Your…I mean, Celsiana?”
“Of course,” Celsiana replied. “Why don’t we go have some lemonade and scones? Later on, I’ll have one of the gardeners give you a complete list if you like.”
“That would be wonderful,” Avaleen replied, smiling. “Except, I doubt we’d be able to find very many of these plants.”
“Then, you must take some starts home with you.” Celsiana looked at the other two girls and then back at Avaleen. “If you’d like to go home, I can have them sent over tomorrow…but if you’d like to stay, I have guest quarters here in the castle.”
“I would love that,” Janine replied. “I’m sure we all would, but we have chores at home we have to do, and our parents depend on us.”
“That’s understandable,” Celsiana replied, trying not to show her disappointment. “Why don’t you all come back tomorrow, and I’ll have the plants ready for Avaleen to take home with her. Would you like to come back?”
“Oh, yes,” Laurena said, clapping her hands together. “This was a wonderful afternoon.”
The others nodded in agreement, then they all went back and changed into their nice dresses again. Celsiana walked with them to the castle gates and they each hugged her as they left. “You are the nicest princess I’ve ever met,” Janine said, then laughed. “Of course, you’re the only princess I’ve ever met.”
“I still appreciate the compliment,” Celsiana replied, smiling. She waved to the girls as they left, then went back to her room. She had to get ready for dinner and her parents would expect her to be dressed appropriately.
Over the next few weeks, Celsiana’s friends came to visit several times. They spent most of their time in the gardens, but also enjoyed their afternoon snacks with lemonade or tea. As she spent more time with them, Celsiana could see that they had worries she had never considered.
“My mother wanted me to thank you again for the plants,” Avaleen said as they sat down to tea. “She hopes they’ll make a difference this harvest, and she appreciates you taking such an interest.”
“Do you think you’ll make enough money to repair the roof?” Janine asked.
“I hope so,” Avaleen replied. “And my father hopes to get more work in the next village in a few weeks.”
“What does your father do?” asked Celsiana.
“He’s a fletcher, but there hasn’t been much call for bows or arrows lately. He also makes lovely furniture, which he hopes to sell in the next village.”
“Why not here?” asked Celsiana.
“The Chancellor is very strict about Craftsmen, and my father cannot afford to join the guild right now.” Avaleen shook her head. “It’s been difficult, but Mother says such challenges make us stronger.”
“Your father makes such wonderful things,” Laurena said, glancing over at Janine. “Didn’t he build a bench for your mother?”
“He made one as a wedding present for them years ago,” Janine replied. “She has it in the garden and it’s lovely.”
Celsiana just nodded. She decided to speak to her father about this after dinner.
“But I don’t understand,” said Celsiana, pacing back and forth. “Why do we care if a man sells furniture from his own home?”
“It’s not the way things are done,” her father replied. “Not the way things have always been done.”
“But you are the king,” Celsiana said. “You can change things.”
“Why should I?” her father asked.
Celsiana took a breath to calm herself. “If a person creates beautiful things, it seems a shame not to let others enjoy them.” She smiled and added, “I would like to buy one of his benches for the garden.”
“I cannot allow…” her father began, then stopped and smiled back. “Very well. I can see you have your heart set on this, but I warn you…I will expect a bench worthy of being in our gardens.”
Celsiana simply nodded and hoped her friends had been right about Avaleen’s father.
The next afternoon, the girls came to the castle after school. When Celsiana told them the king had agreed to commission a bench for the garden, Avaleen was overjoyed.
“Celsiana, this is wonderful!” she exclaimed. “You are a true friend” she added, hugging her and twirling them both around. Avaleen paused and let go of her, taking a step back. “I am sorry.”
“I’m not,” Celsiana replied, hugging her back. Then the others joined in and they all laughed until they were almost crying.
As the other girls started walking down the hall, Janine took Celsiana’s hand. “You did a very good and noble thing today, Your Majesty.” She smiled and then added, “And I am very happy to call you my friend.”
Celsiana smiled back as they followed the other girls out to the garden.
School ended, and the girls spent more time at the castle. They had fun working in the gardens, going riding, walking in the meadow, and they even spent a few nights in the castle. Everywhere they went outside of the castle walls, they were followed by at least two guards. The girls soon got used to it, but Celsiana wished it wasn’t necessary.
One day, Avaleen’s father brought the finished bench to the castle. It was indeed beautiful, carved with ivy leaves winding around the edges and even had a few small birds hiding in the leaves along the back. Celsiana was very happy, when her father paid him a bonus and stated that perhaps it was time to re-examine the rules for independent craftspeople.
She asked that the bench be put in the garden, near the Celsiana rose bush. The queen had said there was a legend that the flowers changed color because they gained wisdom as they aged. Celsiana always liked that legend and hoped she would live up to her namesake. Looking at the bench, she decided there was more she could do to help her friends.
Celsiana had given this idea of hers a great deal of thought and the next evening, she decided it was time to talk to her parents. However, it was also the evening her brothers returned home from their visit to a nearby kingdom.
As she walked into the main hall, she was very pleased to see Bryce and Trevor…but she was surprised they had two lovely young women with them. No one had told her anything about this. One of the women had long, light blonde hair, while the other had dark brown hair, which was done up in a mass of curls.
“Celsiana, little sister,” Bryce said, picking her up in a hug. “It’s very nice to see you!” He glanced back at the blonde and added, “I’d like you to meet my fiancé, Princess Arabella.”
“I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance,” Celsiana replied with a curtsy.
“And this is Princess Seraline,” Trevor said, walking up and hugging Celsiana. “She is my fiancé.”
Celsiana curtsied to the other princess, saying, “I am very happy to welcome you to our home.”
The women both smiled and glanced at each other, seeming to share a secret between them. They nodded slightly and walked over to the brothers, who escorted them into the dining room. Celsiana was very happy to see her bothers, so she did her best to make the other princesses comfortable.
When her parents joined them, the two women became quite animated, asking all about her mother’s interests and fawning over her father. Celsiana realized she was probably being too judgmental. She had gotten used to her friends and had forgotten what most royalty was like. She smiled to herself and did her best to keep track of the conversations around her. No one was really paying much attention to her, so she ate dinner and nodded at the appropriate times.
After they finished eating, Celsiana debated whether she should wait to talk to her parents about her idea. After a moment, she decided they would only get busier with two visiting princesses.
“I have something I’d like to discuss,” she said to her parents as they started to leave.
“Very well,” replied the king, smiling. “Would you like to commission another bench?”
No, well…yes, that would be very nice,” Celsiana replied, smiling. “But I wanted to also ask you about the gardens. I’d like to open them to the people of the village for tours. Then, they can find out more about our plants and maybe even get some seeds or small starts of their own. I’d like to do it with all the gardens, but especially the vegetable gardens.”
“Have peasants tromping through your royal gardens?” asked Arabella in shock. “They would destroy them.”
“And sharing plants with commoners?” Seraline winced. “I do not think my father would understand such an outlandish idea.”
“Nor would mine,” agreed Arabella.
The king glanced from one princess to the other, then returned his gaze to Celsiana. His own princess had such hope in her eyes, but he couldn’t see the point.
“Having your friends visit is quite enough for now,” he replied. As she started to object, he added, “I hope I will not come to regret that decision.”
Celsiana nodded and glanced at the two princesses, who both looked at her like she was out of her mind. She curtsied to her parents and walked past the others on her way out. When she got back to her room, she decided it was time to make a few changes.
The next morning, Celsiana told her parents she would be in the garden. She wanted some time alone, and her friends were not planning to visit for a few days. When she got to the bench, she sat and thought about her plan one more time. She knew there were risks, but she had to do something.
Her brothers might be all for marrying royalty from other kingdoms, but what kind of husband would they expect her to find? And what if he was even worse than these two royals? She would have to live in his kingdom and under his rules. She couldn’t do that. She had made her decision and it was time to act.
She slipped off her dress as the garden outfits were always a little too big. Underneath, she was dressed as a boy. She had always liked using her brothers’ old clothes, when she was doing really messy work in the garden. That had been a few years ago, but luckily, some still fit.
Celsiana hid her dress under the rosebush and glanced around one more time. No one else was in this part of the garden, so she walked over to the wall and moved aside some trellis. There was the old drainage pipe that was no longer used, but large enough for her to fit into. She doubted that anyone, but the gardeners even knew it was there. She tried not to think about spiders as she pushed her way through, and then she was on the outside of the wall.
She looked out at the meadow and realized she’d have to work her way around to the village side. The meadow had little cover and anyone watching from the castle would see her. Or they’d see a young man walking in the meadow. She laughed as she tucked her hair up into the hat.
Celsiana did her best to look like a normal young man walking across the meadow and eventually headed towards the village. On the way, she decided to stop by the river and get a little mud to wipe on one cheek. She also got mud on her boots. They were entirely too clean for someone who spent time in the meadow every day.
She had a rough idea where her friend Avaleen lived, and she followed the creek as she walked along the edge of the village. When she reached the last street and turned right, she thought she recognized the garden as Avaleen had described it.
“Excuse me, do you need any help in your garden?” Celsiana asked in her lowest voice. As Avaleen turned, Celsiana couldn’t help a small giggle.
“Oh, my goodness!” Avaleen said, putting a hand to her mouth. “I can’t believe it. What are you doing here?”
“I’m taking a day for myself,” Celsiana replied. “And it’s high time. I have two princesses visiting the castle and they’re driving me crazy. Fortunately, they don’t want to spend much time with me, so I made my escape.”
“But Your Maj…I mean, you can’t be here,” Avaleen whispered. “You could be in danger.”
“In danger of what?” Celsiana asked. “We haven’t had anything but good relations with all the nearby kingdoms in over twenty years. I doubt anyone will be trying to nab a princess.”
Avaleen giggled. “I guess you’re right. Why don’t you help me? If anyone asks, I’ll say you’re working for a free meal.”
“An excellent idea,” Celsiana replied, smiling. “Now, what can I do to help?”
They had a wonderful time that afternoon, and Celsiana did stay to eat lunch. She had to leave after that because she was afraid someone would notice she was missing from the castle. As she made her way back through the drainage pipe, she made sure no one was watching. She quickly grabbed her gardening dress from under the rosebush and slipped it back on. A few hours later, she sat down to dinner with the rest of the family. She might have been a bit flushed, but otherwise did a very good job of hiding how proud she was of her little escapade.
Celsiana managed to get away almost every day that week. After the second day, they had to tell Janine and Laurena. Then, all four worked in the gardens together. Either at Avaleen’s home or one of the other girls’ homes. A couple of times a week, they would still meet in the castle, but did their best to avoid the two visiting princesses.
The one time they bumped into Arabella and Seraline, the two were quite rude to Celsiana’s friends. They greeted Celsiana and pretended not to see her friends, then whispered and giggled together after they passed.
“You have to put up with them all the time?” Janine asked, glaring at the retreating backs of the two princesses.
“I know they don’t like me, but they didn’t have to be rude to all of you.” Celsiana shook her head. “I really don’t understand what my brothers see in them.”
“Maybe their fortunes?” Laurena asked, then blushed. “Sorry, I just…”
She stopped as Celsiana bent over laughing. “Forgive me, but I find your outlook most refreshing, Laurena.” Celsiana giggled again, then hugged her friend. “I wish you were here all the time.”
Laurena looked at the other two girls, before laughing as well.
“They are rather awful,” Janine agreed.
“They’re pretty,” Avaleen said, thoughtfully, “but looks fade.”
The others nodded in agreement as they walked out to the gardens.
Celsiana had made her way into the village three or four times a week for the past few weeks and still had not gotten caught. She enjoyed her time with her friends ‘on the outside’ as she thought of it. She didn’t know how long it would last, so she planned to make the most of her free days.
She’d never regretted posing as a boy during her visits until she had a meal one afternoon at Avaleen’s house. They had just sat down to eat, when a young man joined them.
“This is my brother, Nicholas,” Avaleen said as Celsiana sat down.
She nodded at the young man, as Avaleen explained, “This is my friend, Cecil. He’s been helping me with the garden.”
Nicholas didn’t take much notice of his sister’s new friend and opened a book to read, but Celsiana couldn’t help glancing over at him. He was tall with dark hair and green eyes. Actually, he looked a lot like Avaleen, but Celsiana hadn’t realized green eyes could be so intriguing.
She did her best not to talk too much. Avaleen’s mother hadn’t paid much attention to her daughter’s work in the garden, and her father spent most afternoons in his shop building furniture. However, Nicholas was another story.
“How are the plants doing in the garden?” he asked Avaleen. “Did those new ones you got from the castle make it worthwhile to assign part of the garden to them?”
“Well, if you weren’t gone all the time, you’d know the garden is doing very well.” Avaleen glanced at Celsiana. “We’ve had great luck with the new plants.”
“I hope you don’t think we can pay you for your help,” Nicholas said, looking directly at Celsiana. “We aren’t wealthy, so I hope you’re all right working for food.”
“Food’s just fine,” Celsiana replied in as deep a voice as she could manage.
Nicholas shrugged and went back to his book. “My brother is studying with some of the masters in the next village,” Avaleen explained. “He doesn’t often grace us with his presence.”
“Leave your brother alone,” Avaleen’s mother said, smiling slightly. “He needs to study.”
“Or he could help in the garden,” Avaleen said, not able to resist prodding her brother.
Celsiana shook her head slightly, but no one seemed to notice.
“Fine,” Nicholas replied, setting down his book. “Let’s see what you and your friend have accomplished since I’ve been gone.”
Celsiana followed Avaleen and her brother out to the garden, where he stopped and whistled softly. “You have gotten some things done,” he said, looking at Avaleen and smiling. “Not bad.”
“I’d say it’s great!” Avaleen replied, arching an eyebrow. “Do you want to see the new plants?”
Nicholas followed them over to the other side of the garden and had to admit he was impressed. “I’ve only seen some of these in books. How did you get the starts?”
“The princess is my friend,” Avaleen replied, glancing over at Celsiana, “and when I asked her, she gave them to me.”
“Enjoy it while it’s lasts,” Nicholas replied, a bit sullenly. “I used to be a friend to Prince Trevor, but once he got old enough to take on his royal responsibilities, he didn’t have time for his friends anymore.”
Celsiana didn’t remember ever seeing Nicholas at the castle, but she wondered if he and her brother used to go hunting together. That seemed to be her brother’s favorite pastime.
As if reading her thoughts, Nicholas said, “We used to spend time hunting with some of the other boys in the village. The prince was a bit spoiled, but not a bad sort until one day, when he told us he didn’t have time to enjoy childish pursuits any longer.” Nicholas shook his head. “Too bad, but it wasn’t realistic that we’d remain friends for long. Royalty has to stay with royalty.”
Avaleen looked over at Celsiana, then back at Nicholas. “Maybe you chose the wrong royal to be friends with,” she said, then started pulling some weeds. Nicholas shrugged and went back into the house.
“Avaleen,” Celsiana said, quietly. “I would never abandon you or my other friends.”
“You’ve been a true friend to all of us, Celsiana. That’s why I want to ask this.” Avaleen looked closely at her friend. “What’s going to happen, when your parents decide you’re old enough to marry?”
“I hope that won’t happen any time soon,” Celsiana replied, thoughtfully. “My father has occupied his time with diplomatic negotiations, and my mother spends most of her days catering to the visiting princesses. Until my brothers marry, they won’t be too concerned about my future.” Or so she hoped. She smiled at Avaleen, and they went back to gardening.
Celsiana didn’t have a chance to leave the castle for the next few days. She was stuck spending time with her mother and the visiting princesses. Arabella and Seraline were excited about planning the party, where they would announce their engagements. Celsiana could understand the kingdom wanting to host their families and even having a ball, but the demands they made seemed a bit extreme.
“Live doves?” Arabella asked. “Are you sure we’ll have enough to release after the announcement?”
“And what about the orchids?” Seraline stopped and put her hands on her hips. “My family will expect orchids. Hundreds of them.”
“My dear, we don’t have orchids here,” the queen explained. “We could import them of course, but…”
“Then, do that,” Seraline replied, flouncing out of the room.
“And don’t forget the live doves,” Arabella reminded them, following Seraline back towards the guest chambers.
“Those young women do try my patience,” the queen admitted, glancing over at Celsiana, then they both started laughing.
“I don’t know what my brothers see in them,” Celsiana said. “I know they’re pretty, but…”
“It’s not just that,” the queen replied. “Arabella’s father has the kingdom between ours and Seraline’s, and your father is hoping to negotiate a trade agreement with the latter. That means, we need good relations with both kingdoms, and this seemed the easiest way to accomplish it.”
“I hope I don’t get caught up in something so commercial,” Celsiana began, half joking, but stopped as she caught the look in her mother’s eyes.
“Darling, I was very lucky to marry your father and of course, we’ll do all we can to assure you have a good match…but as you know, being a royal means putting your kingdom before your own happiness.”
“I know we all have to do what benefits the kingdom.” Celsiana glanced back towards the guest chambers. “How exactly is this trade agreement going to do that?”
“It’s complicated,” her mother replied.
“Which means father wants something they have,” Celsiana said, shaking her head. “What is it? Some rare jewel to add to his collection?”
“Celsiana, that’s not fair. Your father is a great king, and everything he does is to benefit his subjects.” He mother gave her a disapproving look. “This agreement would mean more opportunities for our craftsmen and especially help the guilds.”
“The same ones we offended, when we had Avaleen’s father make our garden bench?” Celsiana knew a few of the guildsmen had been upset by her interference. However, she didn’t realize how much until the next day.
When she was finally able to leave the castle, it was almost too late to go to the village, but Celsiana wanted to see Avaleen. Or at least, that’s what she told herself. If Nicholas was still there, that had nothing to do with it.
As she helped Avaleen in the garden, she saw Nicholas walk out of his father’s shop. Behind him came his father and one of the guildsmen.
“I don’t want any trouble,” Avaleen’s father said. “The king commissioned the bench, and I could not refuse him.”
“We don’t want other craftsmen wondering if they can leave the guilds,” the man said. He glared at Nicholas and added, “Or getting above their station. Why aren’t you working here in the village, rather than studying with the masters?”
“That is none of your business,” replied Nicholas, taking a step towards the man. “But if you continue to make threats towards my father, I may stay here a bit longer than I’d planned.”
The man turned to go, then looked over one shoulder and added, “I trust we understand each other.”
His father nodded and followed Nicholas into the shop.
“What was all that about?” asked Celsiana. “Has that man been here before?”
“A few times,” Avaleen admitted.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Celsiana said. “I could have talked to my father.”
“And done what?” Avaleen asked. “You’re my friend, and I am so grateful for your help, but even your influence has its limits. I don’t want to see you, or my father, get into more trouble over this.”
“Why would your friend get into trouble?” Nicholas asked, walking up behind them.
“He wanted to know why that man was here,” Avaleen said, “and I told him we don’t need more trouble.”
Nicholas nodded. “That man is a pain in everyone’s side, but he’s got influence with the king. I’m afraid he has even more since the king set his sights on accessing those ports to the south.”
Celsiana wanted to ask more, but she was afraid to say too much in her fake deep voice. She merely nodded and went back to her weeding. That evening, she would try to find out what was really going on.
As Celsiana dressed for dinner, she decided that asking her father directly would probably not work. Instead, she planned to steer the conversation to the southern ports and see what she could find out.
As the servants brought in the main course, Celsiana looked over at the two princesses and smiled. “I’m so envious of you both. You’ve been able to travel here to see us, while I’ve never been to any of the other kingdoms.”
Arabella glanced over at Seraline and nodded, slightly. “It is a beautiful area and I’m sure you’ll be seeing it sooner than you think.”
“I’m especially interested in the sea with all those lovely shores and the ports…” Celsiana stopped as Arabella’s words sunk in. Hoping she meant visiting during the wedding, she continued. “How wonderful to have access to so many exotic foods and wares.”
Arabella nodded. “And there are so many eligible young men, but none as fine as your brothers.” She winked at Seraline. “And we must have you come to visit us after the engagement party.”
Celsiana smiled and glanced over at her parents. They didn’t seem to notice anything, so she continued. “That would be lovely.” She glanced down at her dress. “I’d love to go shop for fabrics and get some new dresses made before the wedding.”
“Oh, there are so many choices!” Seraline piped up, dark curls bouncing. Celsiana realized she’d finally found a subject that interested this princess. “My father has connections with all the best silk traders and the diamond merchants across the southern sea. Not to mention the sapphires…” She stopped and smiled. “Arabella plans to have sapphires made into two half rings to completely surround her diamond engagement ring.”
“Oh, how unusual,” Celsiana said, trying to seem more interested than she was. “And what would you like, Seraline?”
“I love emeralds,” Seraline replied, smiling brightly. “I have these absolutely amazing emerald earrings I brought to wear at the engagement party.”
Emeralds made Celsiana think about Nicholas and those green eyes. Forcing herself to stay on topic, she turned to Arabella. “It must be nice to have access to so many beautiful things.”
“It is,” Arabella said, but without the animation Seraline had exhibited. “Very nice indeed.” Celsiana felt a tiny shiver across her skin. Arabella had a coldness in her eyes she had not noticed before. And then, it was gone. Brushing her long blonde hair over her shoulder, Arabella smiled, adding, “My father promised me anything I want for an engagement present. I plan to make the most of it.”
“The shops are one of the things I will miss,” Seraline said, looking over at Trevor with a fondness that surprised Celsiana. Maybe this princess really did love her brother. “Although, being the second son means we can spend more time in both kingdoms. My father will be very happy about that.”
Celsiana nodded. “It would be difficult to leave your home and all that is familiar.”
“Which is why having Arabella here has been so much fun,” Seraline said, smiling at her friend. “We’ve known each other for years.” Then she reached across and took Celsiana’s hand. “And you will be the little sister I never had.” Seraline laughed. “I will take you shopping myself, when you come to visit.”
Celsiana smiled and glanced over at Arabella, who seemed a bit bored by their conversation. “I’m glad you came to the castle,” she said, smiling at Seraline, then glanced back at Arabella, adding, “Both of you.”
“It’s late,” Arabella said, standing up, “and I have many things to do tomorrow. Come on, Seraline, we need to write letters home. You wanted to ask about the orchids and I need to tell my father about plans…for the engagement.”
The way she paused made Celsiana wonder if Arabella was thinking about something else. But what else could it be? All they ever talked about was the party. It was probably something about the live doves.
Glancing over at her parents, Celsiana realized she probably had her answer. It was the diamond merchants that would interest her father the most. It was his preferred means of currency, when trading with other kingdoms. Having a cheaper way to access them meant the entire kingdom would benefit.
This might be why the guilds were trying to maintain control. They received a percentage of every good their members sold. Celsiana decided to find out more about this the next day. It was time to visit the village and get some help from her friends.
When Celsiana arrived at Avaleen’s home, she was surprised her friend was not in the garden. As she walked towards the house, she heard raised voices coming from the kitchen.
“I don’t care,” Nicholas said, angrily. “That man has no say over where I study or what I choose to learn.”
“It’s not that simple,” Avaleen’s father replied. “If you leave tonight, there will be consequences.” He paused. “I know it’s not fair, but your mother and sister could be affected by your decision.”
Celsiana paused by the window, wondering what had happened. She was pretty sure this had to be about the man from the guild.
Nicholas stormed out of the house and almost ran into her. “Sorry,” he muttered under his breath.
Avaleen came out right behind him. “Nicholas…” Avaleen stopped when she saw Celsiana. “Oh, I didn’t realize it was so late.” She turned back towards the house. “I’ll be in the garden with Cecil.”
Avaleen’s father nodded to them as he walked to the shed. Celsiana wanted to ask about what was going on but decided to wait until they reached the garden.
“What are you doing here?” Avaleen whispered. “It’s too dangerous for you to be here right now.”
“I want to ask you about something,” Celsiana whispered back, “but not until we have some privacy.
They walked to the middle of the garden and began weeding. “So, what did you want to ask?” Avaleen brushed her hands together. “The soil is almost too wet to weed today.”
Celsiana nodded. “I wanted to find out more about the guilds and if they’re involved in what’s happening at the castle.” She glanced over at her friend. “And why is your brother so upset?”
“This morning, the head of the guild told Nicholas he could no longer study in the other village.” Avaleen shook her head. “It’s not fair, and I don’t want to be the reason he has to stay here.”
“I heard what your father said,” Celsiana admitted. “Do you really think they would threaten you and your family?”
“I do,” Avaleen replied. “The guild has always tried to control what happens here, but it’s getting worse.” She lowered her voice. “I’ve never seen my father so worried.”
Celsiana debated whether to tell her friend about the diamonds. She didn’t know if it would help, so instead she asked, “How long ago did the man leave?”
“Why?” Avaleen’s eyes narrowed. “What are you planning?”
“I think my father needs to know what’s happening in the village,” Celsiana said, “but I doubt he’ll be concerned if Nicholas is not able to return to his studies.” She hesitated. “It’s not that he doesn’t care, but his focus will be elsewhere the next few weeks.”
“The weddings?” Avaleen asked.
Celsiana nodded. “I think if I could see the head of the guild actually doing something that would threaten the safety of our subjects, my father would act.” Or so she hoped.
“I don’t know what we can do,” Avaleen said. “Nicholas might help us if you told him who you really are.”
“No.” Celsiana shook her head. “He would probably insist I return to the castle.” She paused. “I can tell you this. There are some alliances involved with the wedding that may impact the guild, which might be why they’re so adamant about maintaining control right now.”
“That makes sense,” Avaleen agreed. “We could try…” She stopped as she heard the shed door slam.
“I don’t want to discuss it,” Nicholas said. “I’m sorry, Father. I just need to clear my head.”
“Let’s go.” Celsiana pulled Avaleen up with her.
“Where?” Avaleen asked.
“We’re going to follow Nicholas,” Celsiana replied. “I would guess he plans to do more than take a walk.”
“What makes you think that?” Avaleen hurried after Celsiana.
“I have two brothers,” Celsiana reminded her. “We’ll make sure Nicholas doesn’t do anything he’ll regret.” She smiled. “And maybe we’ll find out what’s really going on.”
“Do you think he knows?” Avaleen asked.
“I would imagine he has a fairly good idea,” Celsiana said. “Royalty or not, men usually don’t share all the details with us. I think this is one time we need to work together.”
Celsiana and Avaleen followed Nicholas as he walked towards the stream and then turned right, following the water until he reached the edge of the village.
“Do you think he’s going to the other village?” Celsiana asked. “Even after what your father said?”
“No,” Avaleen replied. “He wouldn’t do that…and he definitely wouldn’t leave without his books.”
Celsiana nodded. “That makes sense. I wonder where he’s going?”
They followed him a bit further, then Nicholas turned at the last street and walked towards a tavern.
“I don’t think we can go in there,” Celsiana said.
“It looks like he’s going to the back of the building,” Avaleen replied. “I think there are some rooms above.”
“Have you been inside?” Celsiana asked in surprise.
“No,” Avaleen said blushing slightly, “but I’ve dropped off vegetables with my mother at the back entrance. The cook is a regular customer of ours.”
Celsiana pulled her hat lower on her head. “Just stay behind me,” she whispered.
The two slowly walked through the rear door, expecting someone to question what they were doing. Instead, there was no one inside…only stairs leading up to the rooms above.
They listened and heard Nicholas ask, “Is he here?”
“Yes,” a voice replied. “Why are you here?”
“I need to see him.” They waited, but Nicholas didn’t say any more and they heard a door close.
“Let’s go upstairs,” Celsiana said.
Avaleen placed a hand on her arm. “Are you sure? If they see us…”
“They’ll see a young man and a girl who delivers vegetables. We’ll say we got confused on the way to get the cook’s order.” Celsiana smiled. “Trust me.”
Avaleen wasn’t convinced but followed her up the stairs. “Which room?” she whispered.
Celsiana shrugged and motioned for Avaleen to follow her to the door at the end of the hall. They listened but couldn’t hear anything.
“Maybe that one?” Celsiana whispered.
They moved to the next door and listened again. This time, they could hear Nicholas talking but couldn’t make out the words.
“Let’s wait outside,” Avaleen said. “We can ask him what he’d doing here, when he comes back down.”
“Give me one minute,” Celsiana said, taking off her hat and putting her ear against the door. She could hear Nicholas but still couldn’t make out what he was saying. She was about to give up, when she heard a deeper voice ask, “And what do you plan to do about it?”
She motioned to Avaleen to come closer. “I can hear someone else talking,” Celsiana whispered.
“I want to know if you’re going to do something or just give up?” The deeper voice paused. “How you face a challenge is what defines your character. If you want to continue your studies with Vargas, you need to demonstrate that you are worthy of his time.”
“And how do you expect me to do that?” Nicholas had raised his voice and they could finally make out what he was saying.
“Stand up to the guild,” the voice replied. “Show us that you are who we hope you are…who we need you to be.”
“My family could be in danger,” Nicholas said. “Am I supposed to risk that?”
“Your family will be protected,” the voice replied. “I will give you the means to do so.”
The girls looked at each other. “Time to go,” Avaleen whispered.
“Don’t you want to know more?” Celsiana asked.
Avaleen shook her head and pulled Celsiana away from the door. “We need to leave. Now.” When they reached the street, Avaleen said, “You should return to the castle.”
“Why did you want to leave so quickly?” Celsiana asked.
“I…um.” Avaleen paused and took a deep breath. “Don’t say anything, but Nicholas is studying with a sorcerer in the other village.”
“A sorcerer?” Celsiana shook her head. “You know those are only in bedtime stories.”
Avaleen glanced around. “All right, sorcerer might be a bit extreme, but he’s an apothecary with a very good knowledge of medicines and elixirs…and they say he can cast a love spell or a curse for the right price.”
“Where did you hear all this?” Celsiana demanded.
“I know things,” Avaleen replied. She held her friend’s gaze for a moment, then looked down. “Fine. I heard it at school after Nicholas left to study with Vargas.”
“Have you asked Nicholas about this?” Celsiana asked.
“Not exactly.” Avaleen pushed some dirt around with the toe of her shoe. “He’s my only brother. What if he says it’s true?”
“I don’t think it’s true, but I would like to know what their plan is to keep your family safe.” Celsiana paused. “And how they expect Nicholas to do anything about the guild.”
“What do we do now?” Avaleen asked.
“Nicholas has to come out some time,” Celsiana said, “and when he does, we’ll be waiting.”
Nicholas walked out a few minutes later. He didn’t see them, but quickly turned the other way and started down the street.
“Now what?” Avaleen asked.
“We keep following him,” Celsiana said.
“How did I know you were going to say that?” Avaleen replied.
They hurried after Nicholas, who walked very fast, and they almost had to run to keep up with him. When he finally turned a corner, they almost ran into him. He stopped at a large building and was looking up at the sign above the door.
“It’s the guild,” Avaleen said. “We should have guessed he would come here.”
Nicholas started to open the door, then glanced over and saw them. “Avaleen, what are you doing here?” he demanded. “And why did you bring the gardener?”
“Better than the help,” Celsiana whispered.
Avaleen ignored her and focused on Nicholas. “I was dropping off vegetables to the tavern.”
“Really?” Nicholas looked at her and they both waited for the other to say something. Finally, Celsiana asked in her deepest voice, “What’s this place?”
“Surely, you know of the guild,” Nicholas replied. “I’m dropping off some papers for my father.”
“Where are the papers?” Avaleen asked.
Nicholas glared at her. “Go home, Avaleen.”
“We want to know…” Celsiana began, when the door opened, and the head of the guild walked out with two other men.
“What are you doing here?” one of the men demanded.
“I need to see you, Master Orris,” Nicholas replied. The other two men glanced at the head of the guild, who shook his head slightly.
“This isn’t a good time,” the man replied. “Make an appointment and come back later.”
Nicholas glanced from Orris to his sister, then shrugged. “I’ll make an appointment.”
The men turned and started down the street as Nicholas walked over to Avaleen. “Go home and tell Father that I’ll be back by dinner.”
Avaleen started to reply, when Nicholas spun around and followed the men.
“So much for getting answers,” Celsiana said.
Avaleen shrugged. “I guess we’ll have to wait until tonight.”
“I have to be back in the castle for dinner,” Celsiana replied. “I’ll see what I can find out about the guild tonight.”
“I doubt Nicholas will tell me anything, but maybe Father can get him to talk.” Avaleen smiled. “I can hear everything from my room.”
They walked together to Avaleen’s house, then Celsiana hurried back to the castle. She had just returned to her room, when her mother knocked on her door.
“I wanted to let you know we have the dressmaker coming tomorrow,” her mother said as she walked in.
“Really?” Celsiana smiled. “How lovely.” She wondered how she was going to get out of this.
“We need to make you a dress for the wedding…and maybe some extra things for traveling.” Her mother smiled. “I think we’ll take a trip once the wedding is over.”
“We will?” Celsiana had never left the kingdom.
“Your father and I think it’s time you visited some of the other kingdoms.” She smiled. “There are really no eligible young men for you to meet here.”
Celsiana had hoped this would wait another year. “Mother, I’m in no hurry.”
“I was in no hurry, when I met your father,” the queen replied. “It was so romantic. I want that for you, too.”
“And that would be very nice,” Celsiana replied. “Perhaps, next year?”
Her mother just smiled. “Once you see the lovely fabrics tomorrow…”
“Could I do it next week?” Celsiana asked. “I have to finish my work in the garden, and then all my attention will be on dresses.”
Her mother raised an eyebrow. “You can finish in the garden tomorrow, while I get fitted for a dress. Then, all your attention can be on dresses the next day.”
Celsiana smiled. “I’d better get ready for dinner. Thank you, Mother.”
The queen nodded and walked out of the room. Celsiana realized she was running out of time. She would have to find out all she could about the guilds tonight. Tomorrow might be her last chance to visit Avaleen for quite a while.
At dinner that night, Celsiana listened to the elaborate party plans and tried to look enthusiastic. She lingered over her dessert, waiting for the princesses to go with her brothers for a walk around the garden.
“Father, I would like to ask you a question,” she said as her father stood to leave.
“Very well,” the king replied. “Is this about your garden?” He looked over at the queen and smiled. “I understand you’re working on a project tomorrow.”
“Not exactly,” Celsiana said. “Mother said I might be doing some traveling soon and I was wondering if our guilds interact with those in other kingdoms.” At his look, she smiled. “Princess Seraline was telling me about the wonderful items they make in her land, and I would very much like to bring some home…but after the bench, I don’t want make any missteps.”
“And what brought about this change in perspective?” the king asked. “I thought you didn’t like the guilds.”
“I didn’t like it, when they objected to my bench because that was made by my friend’s father,” Celsiana explained. “However, buying foreign goods and bringing them back to the castle might be seen as an insult, and I wouldn’t want to do that.”
The king nodded. “Very royal of you, my dear. We must always consider our subjects first.”
Celsiana hoped her father really meant that. “Of course.”
“I don’t see any problem with you bringing back whatever you like,” the king said. “I doubt the guild would have the same products since we specialize in carpentry and masonry, while Seraline’s kingdom is known for their jewels, luxury fabrics, and blown glass.”
Celsiana nodded. “And Princess Arabella’s kingdom?” She smiled. “Just in case we visit there as well.”
The king glanced at his wife. “I would imagine you can bring home anything you like, but Arabella’s kingdom specializes in precious metals, which is why the two kingdoms are so close. Together, they make the most beautiful jewelry available.”
Celsiana remembered the rings. “I see. And do they make anything else?”
“All types of metalwork,” her father replied. “Many years ago, they were known for their weaponry, but those days are over. Now, their steel is used to make all types of items.”
“How interesting. Thank you, Father.” Celsiana wondered why she’d never heard any of this from her tutors. She knew about past disagreements and long-ago battles over disputed lands, but not that the kingdom had been known for their weaponry as well as their metalwork.
“I believe all our kingdoms will benefit from our future trade opportunities.” The king looked over at the queen. “I’m glad our sons have found a way to combine duty with romance. They both seem quite happy with their choices.”
The queen smiled. “Very happy,” she agreed. When she glanced over at Celsiana, the princess wondered what trade opportunity her marriage would create. She tried not to think about it.
She stood up and curtsied to her parents. “Good night.” She walked back to her room and thought about all she’d learned. Something was bothering her, but she wasn’t sure what it might be. If she got some sleep, maybe it would come to her in the morning.
Celsiana hurried out to the garden the next morning. She was surprised to see Arabella talking to someone by the main gate. The man turned and walked away before Celsiana reached them, but she saw he was tall and had a long cloak, which was not the normal attire for their kingdom.
“Just another party detail,” Arabella said, smiling at Celsiana. Taking her arm, she added, “I can’t wait until I’m your sister. We’ll have so much fun.”
“That will be nice,” Celsiana replied, a bit surprised by Arabella’s attitude.
“What are you doing in the garden so early?” Arabella asked.
“I like to work out here,” Celsiana said, waiting for Arabella to say something about it being beneath a royal to garden. When she didn’t, Celsiana glanced over. “I enjoy seeing the idea in my mind come to life in the garden. The colors, the fragrance, the overall design.”
Arabella nodded. “I know what you mean. Having a plan and seeing it realized can be very rewarding.” She stopped and turned to Celsiana. “I wish I had such an interesting hobby. Perhaps, you can show me sometime.”
Celsiana could see her plans for the day falling apart. “Of course.”
“Maybe after the party,” Arabella said.
Celsiana smiled. “That would be nice. Maybe we should invite Seraline to join us?”
“She doesn’t like to get her hands dirty,” Arabella replied. “I don’t think she’d enjoy gardening.”
With that, the other princess turned and walked back into the castle. Relieved to be on her own, Celsiana hurried over to the rose garden, changed her clothes, and slipped through the drainage pipe. She would still be able to get to Avaleen’s house before lunch and spend one last day with her friend.
Avaleen was not in the garden, so Celsiana knocked on the kitchen door. It flew open and Avaleen’s look of hope disappeared. “Oh, it’s you.” Covering her mouth, she said, “I’m sorry.”
“Who were you expecting?” Celsiana asked. “And don’t apologize. We’re friends.”
“Nicholas is missing,” Avaleen said. “My parents have been out looking for him since early this morning. We don’t think he came home last night because his bed hasn’t been slept in.”
“Missing,” Celsiana repeated. “Do you think it has to do with those men we saw yesterday?”
“I don’t know,” Avaleen said. “My parents have gone to check with a few of his friends and I want to tell them…but they won’t be happy we went to the tavern.”
Celsiana nodded. “Maybe we should check for ourselves. We could get Laurena and Janine to go with us.” She smiled. “We wouldn’t want you walking around alone with a young man two days in a row.”
Avaleen looked at her friend and smiled. “You do look a bit scruffy in those gardening clothes. I guess a few more friends might be a good idea.”
They left a note for her parents, then walked to Laurena’s house. She was happy to help, but Janine was not home.
“I guess it will be the three of us,” Laurena said. “Janine is probably working at the market today with her family.”
“We’ll go to the guild and if Nicholas is not there, we can stop by the market,” Avaleen replied.
They quickly walked to the guild and stopped at the corner of the building. “What are we going to say?” Laurena asked.
“I think you’re going to have to be the one to do the talking,” Avaleen said, looking at Celsiana. “The guild doesn’t allow women to join.”
Celsiana rolled her eyes. “Why am I not surprised?” She straightened her hat. “I’ll be right back.”
“If you don’t come back, I’m getting my father,” Avaleen said. “Be careful.”
Celsiana nodded and walked to the main door. She opened it and stepped into a large reception area with doorways opening on each side. A very large man was sitting behind a desk with two others standing by one of the doorways.
“What do you want?” the man behind the desk asked.
“To join the guild,” Celsiana replied in her deepest voice.
“We don’t take just anyone,” the man said. He looked at her clothes. “What are you? Some ditch digger?”
“I’m a gardener, but I want to move up in life.” Celsiana glanced around. “I’ve been told the best way to do that is join the guild.”
“You’ve got that right,” the man replied, “but we don’t take gardeners. You need a skill.”
Celsiana thought about what Nicholas was studying and nodded. “I’ve got a talent with herbs and other elixirs. My grandfather taught me before he passed.”
The man raised an eyebrow. “And who was your grandfather?”
Celsiana smiled. “Gerald of Harringford.” Her brothers had told her scary stories about the old wizard, who lived in the woods. She didn’t know if he was real, but she knew many had heard the stories.
“That’s not a real person,” the man said, glancing at the other two. “This one says he’s related to Gerald of Harringford.”
“Can you prove it?” one of the men asked, walking over.
“I can,” Celsiana replied, “but not to you. I want to see the man in charge.”
“Why have you waited so long to come to the guild?” The man behind the desk frowned. “Seems like that’s a skill you’d want to make the most of.”
“I didn’t need to until now.” Celsiana shrugged. “I met a girl and…”
The other two smiled at each other and the second man nodded. “I’ll go get Orris, but if you’re wasting his time, he won’t be happy.”
Celsiana waited and hoped this would work. Her science tutor had shown her this ‘magic’ the year before, saying most people didn’t realize it was possible. She just hoped he was right.
“This is the one I told you about,” the man said to Orris as they walked up to Celsiana.
“You can do magic?” Orris asked a bit skeptically.
“I can manipulate the elements to suit my needs,” Celsiana replied, shrugging slightly. “It’s easy enough to do, when you know how.”
“And you’re related to this Gerald of Harringford?” Orris looked over at the other man and raised an eyebrow. “I thought that guy was made up to scare children.”
“If you have a candle, a deep bowl and some wine, I’ll show you,” Celsiana said. She slid her hand in her pocket and felt the small crystals at the bottom.
They were natron, which her tutor had said were gathered from the salty marshes in a distant kingdom. He’d worked there before coming to their land and had brought some with him. When Celsiana realized they could be used in the garden to prevent powdery mildew on her roses, he’d given them all to her…once she’d done well on her science project. She always kept some with her, when she gardened.
“Go ahead and place them on the desk if you like,” Celsiana said, glancing at the man standing there, “but magic can be tricky in unusual spaces.”
The man took a step back. “I think we should do it over by that table,” he said, looking at Orris.
Orris laughed and walked over to the desk. Glancing behind him, he told the other man, “Bring everything here.”
When the man returned, Celsiana moved the bowl to the middle of the space. As she put the candle in, she carefully dropped a few crystals around it. They were very small and almost clear, so no one noticed. She took a step back and explained how the magic would work.
“I’ll light this candle, then when the wine is poured into the bowl, the candle will go out.” She smiled. “Without my blowing on it or moving near it in any way.”
She lit the candle, then took a step back and dramatically lifted the wine, pouring it into the bowl but taking care not to touch the candle. As she stepped back, nothing happened for a moment. “Flame be vanquished,” she said. A moment later, the flame went out.
“How did you do that?” Orris asked, stepping forward. The wine was several inches below the wick.
“I’ve shown you what I can do,” Celsiana replied. “Let’s talk about what you can do for me.”
Orris glanced around. “If you’re half as good as you think you are, we may be able to find something for you.”
Celsiana followed him back to his office and leaned casually against the doorway as he rummaged through some papers. “I have a few possibilities, but nothing much until next month.”
“I need something sooner if possible.” Celsiana smiled. “My girl won’t wait forever.”
Orris nodded. “There’s something tomorrow night. I thought I had someone lined up, but he’s turned out to be less useful than I’d hoped.”
Celsiana told herself to stay calm as she tried not to look too interested. “Your guy not as good as he claimed?”
“Let’s just say he hasn’t been as cooperative as I’d expected.” Orris moved a few more papers.
“I’ll need to see the space,” Celsiana said, lightly running a finger along the doorframe. “To get the best results, the energy needs to flow through the area.”
“Fine,” Orris replied. “I’ve got some paperwork to finish but come back in half an hour, and I’ll take you there myself.” He paused. “Maybe, you can work with the guy I have. If not, I’ll find something else to do with him.”
Celsiana nodded and lazily pushed herself away from the doorframe. “I’ll be back.”
She did her best to swagger a bit as she left, hoping she didn’t look too ridiculous. As soon as she got outside, she hurried around the corner to find her friends.
“I think they’re holding Nicholas somewhere,” Celsiana said as she joined the others.
“What did they say?” Avaleen asked. “Is he all right?”
“I believe so,” Celsiana replied. She quickly told them what had happened, and that she’d have to return in half an hour.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Laurena said. “You got lucky once, but what if they want you to do more magic?”
“I doubt that will happen, but you can follow us.” Celsiana turned to Avaleen. “Once we get there, you and Laurena can find your parents and tell them where we are.”
“I appreciate you wanting to help,” Avaleen said, “and I love my brother, but you are our princess. I can’t ask you to take such a risk.”
“You’re not asking,” Celsiana reminded her. “I’m volunteering.” She took a breath and stood straighter. “Besides, it is my duty to protect the people of our kingdom. From external threats…and internal ones.”
Orris looked up as Celsiana walked into his office. “You’re right on time. I like that.”
Celsiana nodded and waited for Orris to stand. “I appreciate the opportunity.”
They walked out to the street with one of his men. Celsiana resisted the urge to glance behind her. She knew her friends were following them.
They walked about half a mile, then Orris turned right and headed down an alley. A few minutes later, her stopped in front of a large building. “We use this for storage,” he explained as he took out a key and unlocked the padlock.
Celsiana followed him inside and immediately noticed the smell of chemicals. She wasn’t familiar with what type, but she could tell the building needed more ventilation.
“Don’t worry,” Orris said, seeming to read her mind. “It’s nothing that’s explosive…yet.”
Celsiana forced herself to relax. If they were planning something dangerous, she really needed to find Nicholas and get them out of there.
“Here’s the one I told you about,” Orris said, opening a door into another room. This one was smaller, but still large enough to hold storage crates stacked up almost to the ceiling. Behind them, she saw a long table and someone sitting at one of the chairs.
“I’ve brought you some help,” Orris said, walking over and pulling the man out of the chair. It was Nicholas. He started to say something, then stopped when he saw Celsiana.
“Why did you bring the gardener?” he asked, then glared at Orris. “You said you’d leave my family alone.”
“You’re related?” Orris turned to Celsiana and took a step towards her.
“Not even close,” Celsiana replied, keeping her voice lower than usual. “I did some work for the family in exchange for food.” She shrugged. “One of the few things I can’t conjure when I need it.”
“We have food,” Orris said, glaring back at Nicholas. “What we don’t have is the special item I promised my client.”
“It can’t be done,” Nicholas replied, glancing over at Celsiana. “There’s no way to make what you want from the items you have here.”
“I’m not so sure,” Orris said, glancing over at Celsiana. “This one blew out a candle with a glass of wine. I think he might be able to help you, then we’ll both get what we want. I’ll have a very grateful client…and you’ll go home to your family.”
Nicholas looked past Orris to Celsiana. “Let’s see what you can do.”
“I’ve got some people to meet,” Orris said, “so I’ll be back to check on your progress very soon. And there had better be progress.”
He spun around and walked out of the room with the other man. Celsiana walked over to the table and waited until she heard the other door close. “I’ve come to get you out of here,” she said quietly.
“Really?” Nicholas asked, raising one eyebrow. “And how do you plan to do that?”
“I’ve got a plan, but we’ll need to stall Orris for a little while.” She looked at the papers on the table. “What exactly does he want you to do?”
“Prepare a potion to make arrows burn without going out,” Nicholas said. “Surely, all gardeners can do that.”
“I understand you’re frustrated,” Celsiana replied, “but I’m all you’ve got at the moment. Do you want to give it a try?”
“We can’t make something like that,” Nicholas said. “Who knows what he plans to do with it.”
“Sell it to his client, it would seem,” Celsiana replied. “All we have to do is give him something that lights on fire, right? It doesn’t have to burn for very long.”
Nicholas’ eyes narrowed. “What are you thinking?”
“That we just need to make something that keeps burning for a little while after someone throws water on it.” Celsiana walked over to the jars and bowls on the other end of the table. “Do you have any linseed oil?”
“I think so.” Nicholas walked to the other side and picked up a jar. “It will burn, but not for long.”
“How about some soap?” Celsiana asked as he handed her the linseed oil.
“There’s some over by the basin,” Nicholas said, looking over at the dresser on the other side of the room.
“Then, this should work.” Celsiana walked over and picked up the soap, then came back and sat down at the table. “I don’t suppose you have a knife?”
Nicholas pulled out a small pocketknife and handed it to her. “You’re going to put soap into the linseed oil?” He sat down beside her. “That would burn for a moment, but not long enough to impress Orris.”
“It will when I finish,” Celsiana replied. “We’ll need a metal bowl if you have one.”
Nicholas came back with the bowl and set it on the table. “I don’t suppose you want to tell me how you plan to make this work.”
“Watch and learn,” Celsiana said with a small smile.
Celsiana poured a small amount of linseed oil in the bowl, then took a handful of soap flakes, making sure she already had some of the natron she always carried in her hand. She knew the lye would burn for a moment, but she also knew her natron would burn a lot longer.
She nodded to Nicholas as he brought over the candle. “Are you sure about this?” he asked.
“Go ahead,” Celsiana replied, “but stand back after you do.”
Nicholas lit the oil and they both watched it burn, then spark and burn brighter as the soap ignited. After another moment, the flames jumped up.
“How did you do that?” Nicholas asked in amazement.
“Even lowly gardeners can do magic,” Celsiana replied.
“All right, I’m sorry about before,” Nicholas said, “but seriously, how did you do that?”
“I added something in with the soap,” Celsiana explained. “It’s called natron.”
“I’ve heard of it,” Nicholas said, “but how did a gardener end up with such a rare commodity.”
As Celsiana frowned, Nicholas held up his hands. “Sorry. It’s going to take a while for me to get used to the idea that the young man helping my sister in the garden knows the tricks of a master apothecary.”
“I’ll explain that later,” Celsiana said. “Do you have any idea who the client is that Orris mentioned?”
“I’m not sure,” Nicholas admitted. “I probably should have spent more time trying to get information out of him and less refusing to help him.”
Celsiana nodded. “It shouldn’t be too much longer until my friends…” She stopped as she heard the door open.
“Well?” Orris asked, walking into the room with two of his men. “Did you have any luck? My client wants to see your progress.”
“Actually, we have,” Nicholas said, glancing over at Celsiana. “Your gardener actually had some good ideas.”
Orris glanced over at one of his men. “What is it about studying with Vargas that makes these apprentices so arrogant?”
The man smiled as Nicholas said, “Do you want to see what we’ve come up with or not?”
Nicholas picked up the linseed oil and made a big show of pouring it into the metal bowl as Celsiana picked up the soap. She made sure to have the natron crystals in her hand as she took a small amount of soap flakes and sprinkled them into the oil.
“We’ve come up with a combination that should do what you ask,” Nicholas said, taking the candle and lighting the oil. He smiled as the flames jumped up.
Orris took a step back, then smiled. “Very nice. My client should be quite impressed.” He glanced down at the table. “How much can you make?”
“How much do you need?” Celsiana asked.
“That’s none of your concern,” Orris said. “Just put together enough for tonight, then you can show my guys how to make it.”
“It’s not that easy…” Celsiana began, when the man standing next to her shoved her back.
“Watch your mouth,” he said.
Celsiana grabbed for the table, but her hands were slick from the soap flakes and she fell to the ground, knocking her hat off. They all stared as her dark blonde hair came down in a braid.
“You’re a girl,” Nicholas said in disbelief.
“Oh, she’s more than that,” Celsiana heard a woman’s voice say behind her. “Aren’t you, little sister?”
Celsiana looked up to see Arabella standing there with the man she’d met at the gate that morning. “You’re the client?” she asked in disbelief.
“Why so surprised?” Arabella asked. “Did you really think my life would revolve around meaningless parties and producing royal heirs?”
“Who is she?” Orris demanded.
“It seems you have the princess of your kingdom helping to make our little surprise,” Arabella replied. “How wonderfully ironic.”
“What are you planning to do?” Celsiana asked.
“That’s enough out of you,” the man next to Arabella said, then smiled. “Seems we have an even better situation than we planned. We can ransom her back to the king, then launch the attack.”
Nicholas looked from Celsiana to Orris. “How could you work with enemies of our king?” he demanded.
“I was promised a large reward and control of the guild here,” Orris replied.
“You already control the guild,” Celsiana said, “so why betray my father?”
Orris smiled. “Did I mention it was a large reward?”
Celsiana glared at him, then looked over at Arabella. “What about Seraline? Is she part of this?”
“Of course not,” Arabella said. “I told you, she doesn’t like to get her hands dirty.”
“How can you do this?” Celsiana asked. “Don’t you care at all about my brother?”
“He is handsome, but I plan to do more for my kingdom than participate in an arranged marriage.” Arabella smiled. “I would think you of all people could appreciate that.”
“I would never betray my people,” Celsiana replied.
“And neither have I. In fact,” Arabella glanced over at her companion, “we plan to make everyone in our kingdom much wealthier.” She looked at Orris. “Tie them up and we’ll deal with them later.”
“This is going to cost you a lot more,” Orris said as his men tied Celsiana and Nicholas to the chairs.
“I can’t believe Seraline knew about this,” Celsiana said, looking up at Arabella. “I always thought you were cold and aloof, but she seems to really care about my brother.”
“She does,” Arabella said, rolling her eyes. “One reason I didn’t tell her what I had planned. And I doubt her father would go along with it even if we had told him. He’d much rather come up with some diplomatic solution that would cost us half our profits.”
“Do you want me to gag them?” one of the men asked.
“No need,” Arabella replied, turning to Orris. “No one will hear them, and we’ll be back to take care of them very soon. Do you have the item we discussed?”
Orris dumped some of the soap into the linseed oil jar, then put on the lid. “I saw them demonstrate this and it’s exactly what you wanted.”
“When we attack the castle, this should keep our arrows burning long enough to do some real damage.” Arabella smiled at Celsiana. “I want to thank you for all your help.”
Celsiana glared at her but didn’t say anything. She watched them all leave, then turned to Nicholas. “How soon do you think they’ll test it?”
“Soon,” Nicholas replied. “Since you’re a princess, please tell me your friends are the royal guards and not my sister and her friends.”
Celsiana looked down for a moment. “I told them to get your parents once they found out where Orris was taking me.”
“Do you want to tell me why you did all this?” Nicholas asked. “You’re a princess and while I admire your courage, what exactly were you hoping to accomplish?”
“I needed to get out of the castle,” Celsiana explained. “I wanted to spend time with my friends…the first real friends I’ve ever had.”
“Well, at least this explains how you got the natron.” Nicholas smiled. “Trevor mentioned you had a science tutor from that land.”
Celsiana smiled back. “Are you ready to get out of here?” she asked, holding her hands up.
“How did you do that?” asked Nicholas.
“Even we gardening princesses can do a little magic,” she said, holding up the pocketknife Nicholas had given her. “See, magic?”
“Very funny,” Nicholas replied as she cut him loose.
“We need to find your family and then warn my father,” Celsiana said.
“We should warn the king first,” Nicholas stated.
“Arabella won’t do anything until they know I’m missing. She’s too greedy to pass up a ransom like that.” Celsiana wound up her braid and put her hat back on. “You know, I never did like her.”
“The feeling seemed to be mutual,” Nicholas replied as they quickly made their way to the main door. “Locked,” he said.
“We can go out the window,” Celsiana said, “if you help me move a few of those crates.”
As they walked over to the other side of the room, they heard wood splintering. A moment later, the door flew open and Nicholas’ father walked in with men Celsiana didn’t recognize.
“I’m so glad to see you,” he said, hugging Nicholas. “Your sister told us you were here. She and her friend are with your mother at Reginald’s house.”
One of the men nodded. “She told us about Orris being the one behind this.”
“Father, I have much to tell you, but first, we have to see the king.” Nicholas took Celsiana’s hand. “Right away.”
“You want to take our gardener to see the king?” his father asked in surprise.
“She’s not a gardener,” Nicholas replied, then smiled. “Well, not just a gardener. She’s also our princess.”
His father looked from Nicholas to Celsiana. Taking off her hat, she said, “Thank you for coming to our rescue.”
“Your Majesty,” the men said, bowing before her.
“This is why I snuck out,” Celsiana whispered to Nicholas, then turned and smiled at the men. “If you would be so kind, I’ll need your help to stop a traitor.”
As they reached the castle, Celsiana realized the drainage pipe would be too small for the others to use. “We’ll have to go to the main gate,” she said to Nicholas.
“I’m guessing that’s not your usual entrance after these visits?” Nicholas asked.
“I do have an alternate route, but I think this will be more effective.” Celsiana replied.
They walked up to the gate and a guard came out to see them. “Do you have business with the king?” he asked.
“Actually, I do,” Celsiana replied. “Hello, Jasper.”
“Your Majesty, how did you get out here?” he asked, then looked at the other men. “Are you all right?”
“I need to speak to my father immediately,” Celsiana replied, “and I would like some guards to accompany us.”
The guard nodded and opened the gate. “Stand down, it’s the princess. And you four” he said over his shoulder, “go with them.”
“Keep a careful watch tonight,” Celsiana added. Jasper nodded and returned to the gate.
It was late enough that Celsiana knew her parents would be in the dining room. As she walked in, her father stood up. “What are you doing in that ridiculous outfit? And why are these men with you?”
“Father, I have news,” Celsiana replied, “but first, where is Arabella?”
“She’s writing a letter to her father,” the queen said, “and should be joining us any minute. Celsiana, why are you dressed like that?”
“I need to tell you what’s happened,” Celsiana replied, walking up to them. “Arabella has…”
“Broken our engagement,” Bryce said, walking into the room. “She just told me she can’t marry me, then left with the man her father sent to accompany her home.” He glanced around. “What’s going on?”
“Arabella is planning to attack the castle,” Celsiana said. “No time to explain, but we have to stop her.”
“You will absolutely explain,” the king demanded. “You will tell me everything, beginning with why you’re dressed in that ridiculous costume.”
“Your Majesty,” Nicholas said, stepping forward. “Your daughter and I were held captive by this woman and her guard. She was going to send you a ransom note for the princess, then attack the castle.”
The king seemed at a loss for words. “I…I can’t believe it. We have an agreement. Her father and I…”
“Who else is involved?” Trevor asked, looking at his fiancée.
“Seraline is not,” Celsiana said, smiling at the princess, “but we need to stop Arabella.”
Nicholas’ father stepped forward. “We are here to help you in any way that we can, Sire.”
The king nodded. “I appreciate that, but you have brought my daughter safely home and I will always remember that.” He looked at Celsiana. “We will discuss this once we find Arabella.”
Celsiana nodded and looked over at Nicholas, who was already leaving with his father and the other men. “Wait,” she said. As Nicholas turned around, she smiled. “She thinks the oil will work.”
“You’re right,” Nicholas said, smiling back.
“She and our traitor will be very disappointed,” Celsiana replied.
“What traitor?” the king demanded.
“Orris,” Celsiana replied. “He’s working with Arabella in exchange for control of the guild and a lot of money. Father, she’s planning to attack the castle and she thinks she can win.”
“They must be meeting the others nearby,” Nicholas whispered. Looking at the king, he bowed. “If you please, I think I have an idea that might help us catch a traitor and stop the princess…but we’ll need to act quickly.”
Arabella and her guard had met with a group of soldiers from her own kingdom. “We can see the castle from here, but not what’s happening inside the walls,” Arabella said.
“It’s not perfect, but far better than being in the dungeon.” Orris smiled. “Without my men warning you of the princess’ escape, you would have been captured.”
“You will have earned your reward,” Arabella replied, “if your flaming arrows work as well as you say.”
“They will,” Orris said. “I assure you.”
“They’d better,” Arabella’s guard said. “Once we light the arrows, they’ll have our location.”
“By then, it will be too late to stop us,” Arabella said, smiling. “My father will be very pleased and hopefully, I’ll never have to hear him complain about not having a son…ever again.”
Nicholas and Celsiana made their way to the southwest tower with the guards close behind.
“I didn’t realize your father agreed to you coming along as part of the plan,” Nicholas said.
“He didn’t say I couldn’t,” Celsiana replied, watching the guards carry the container of linseed oil mixed with soap flakes and natron up the stairs. “Of course, with all the excitement, I may have forgotten to ask.”
Nicholas chose not to respond to that. “We know they have to be either to the west or the south,” he said. “They wouldn’t be able to see the castle from any other location.”
“Yes, but which do we choose?” Celsiana asked. “We’ll only get one chance to make this work.”
“Your brothers rode out with the guards in each direction,” Nicholas reminded her. “We just need to distract Arabella while they get into position.
Celsiana nodded. “You’re right.” She smiled. “I’d guess the south. What do you think?”
“I think you’re right,” Nicholas replied. The guards followed them and placed the container of oil on the stone parapet, then Nicholas handed her the torch. “If you would be so kind, Your Majesty.”
Celsiana lit the oil, then stepped back as the flames shot up. “I may have put too much natron in this time.”
“We want to make sure they see it,” Nicholas said, watching the hill to the south. “When they think we’ve made our own flaming arrows, they’ll either run or try to shoot first.”
Celsiana nodded as the guards continued to scan the hill. “There!” one of them exclaimed.
Nicholas looked in that direction, then grabbed Celsiana and pulled her down to the stone walkway as an arrow whizzed overhead. “It seems they plan to shoot first.”
“I thought they’d run,” she said in surprise.
“We’d better wait here until your brothers capture them.” Nicholas smiled. “I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”
Celsiana looked up as more arrows sailed overhead, then heard the guards cheering. “They got them,” one of the men said.
She smiled at Nicholas. “We did it!” she said.
“We certainly did,” he agreed.
When her brothers brought Arabella and the others to the castle, Celsiana walked over and stood next to Seraline. Taking her hand, she squeezed it. “There’s no way you could have known.”
“I thought she was my friend,” Seraline said quietly. “What will happen to her now?”
“She’ll go back to her own kingdom I would imagine.” Celsiana paused. “After that I have no idea.”
Trevor and Seraline got married as planned, then they took a long trip to her homeland. She wrote Celsiana every week, telling her about all the wonderful places they visited and the many shops they had.
Orris had confessed to everything the night he’d been captured in hopes of making some kind of deal. He was banished from the kingdom after being stripped of all his wealth. If he or his men ever returned, they would end up in the dungeons…or worse.
Arabella returned to her kingdom, but her actions caused her father to abdicate in favor of his younger brother. The new king had a daughter that Bryce had already met, whom he found quite charming and intelligent. They were married that year.
As for Celsiana, she didn’t see Nicholas for some time. He went back to his studies with Vargas, while she promised her parents there would be no more sneaking out of the castle. When he returned, Celsiana was surprised but very happy.
“Your Majesty, I have come to offer my services as a trained apothecary,” Nicholas said, bowing. “I have finished my apprenticeship and would like to be added to the list of approved practitioners.”
“I see,” the king replied. He glanced at his wife and tried not to smile. “It seems we are in need of an apothecary in the castle, but you would have to be knighted to serve here.”
Nicholas looked up in surprise. “Your Majesty?” He took a moment to recover, then bowed again. “I would be honored.”
Six months later, Celsiana and Nicholas were married. And they all lived happily ever after.
I hope you enjoyed this first book in the Enchanted Fairytale series. Follow this website and/or sign up for our newsletter to know when more stories will be available.
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