Once Upon A Rose

Check back every Friday for the next chapter! This clean/sweet fairytale is a story the whole family can enjoy. ❤

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Chapter 1

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.

Chapter 2

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 Grace,” 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.

Chapter 3

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.

Chapter 4

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.

Chapter 5

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.

Chapter 6

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.

Chapter 7

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 asked Avaleen’s father to 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.

Chapter 8

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.

Chapter 9

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,” Avleen 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.”

Check back each week to read the next part of the story!