Enjoy this new Chapter-a-Week story. It’s a sweet fairytale novelette with a bit more romance and suspense than the other series!
“The pearl is the queen of gems, and the gem of queens.” ~ Grace Kelly
Five kingdoms surrounded the massive forest, which paralleled the mountain chain dividing the upper realms from the lower ones. The three kingdoms of the lower lands bordered the South Sea, while those to the north were rich with precious metals and gemstone deposits.
The main trading route that connected these two realms ran along the east side of the forest, then through the one and only mountain pass that could be used year-round, before heading south towards the sea. To take another route would have added weeks, if not months, to the trip.
Since this made the road a likely target for bandits, it was heavily patrolled by royal guards from all five kingdoms. However, along the north side of the forest, there was little need for such patrols. This was one of many routes taken from one kingdom to another. It is here that our story begins…
Pearl looked up from the book she was reading. “How much longer until we arrive at the castle?”
Mrs. Harrison smiled. “Another hour I’d guess.” The woman looked over at her husband. “It will be nice to be home.”
“It will indeed,” Mr. Harrison agreed. He glanced out the window of the carriage. “Looks like the guards are slowing down.”
“So are we,” Pearl observed. “I wonder if one of the horses is having a problem?”
“I’m sure the horses are just fine,” Mr. Harrison replied. As they stopped, he opened the carriage door. “I’ll be right back.”
Mrs. Harrison nodded, then looked over at Pearl. “This will give you time to finish your book, Princess Pearl.”
“You don’t have to call me Princess Pearl,” she replied. “Pearl is just fine. You’ve known me my entire life.”
“And your mother before you,” Mrs. Harrison said. “Such a beautiful queen she was too.” Her eyes clouded. “I still miss them.”
“As do I,” Pearl agreed. “He was such a wonderful king. And she was so smart and strong…beautiful and kind. I don’t know that I’ll ever be as good a ruler as they were.”
“Don’t say anything like that again, Your Majesty.” Mrs. Harrison looked stern, then smiled. “At least, not in front of anyone but me.”
Pearl smiled back, then turned to the window. “I wonder what’s taking so long.”
Mrs. Harrison pulled the curtain back and gasped. “Run, Pearl!” She quickly opened the door on the other side of the carriage and practically pushed the princess out. “Run to the forest and don’t look back!”
Pearl did as she was told. She jumped out and ran as fast as she could towards the trees.
“We made it,” Pearl whispered, glancing behind her as she reached the trees. “Don’t worry, we’ll send for help. Whatever these bandits want, my uncle will take care of it….”
She stopped talking as she realized Mrs. Harrison was not with her. Hiding behind a large fir tree, she cautiously looked back at the carriage. It rolled forward and she saw the five bodies on the ground.
“You idiot!” a man yelled. “There was no need to do that.”
“They would never have gone along with it,” the man replied, and Pearl recognized his voice. He was one of her guards.
“Well, how are you going to explain this?” the other man demanded. “He said he only wanted the princess killed. And to make it look like an accident.”
Pearl shrank against the tree and closed her eyes. Everything started to spin, and she willed herself to breathe. “I can do this,” she whispered. “I have to do this.”
“Take the bodies and lay them out by the road,” the first man instructed. “And for the love of everything holy, find that girl!”
The guards started moving towards the woods, so Pearl ran. Wiping her eyes, she told herself she would mourn her friends later. Right now, she needed to focus on getting away. Her uncle would punish whoever was responsible for this. Why would anyone want to kill her? She was no threat. If anything, she was almost old enough to wed and an alliance would be an asset to any of the other kingdoms.
She heard the men yelling to each other as they moved through the forest. “She’s over here!” one shouted. “Never mind, it’s only a deer moving in the brush.”
“Find her!” another shouted back. “She can’t make it back to the castle. The instructions were very clear.”
She heard the water before she saw it. She’d never been in this forest, but she recognized the sound. They had a small waterfall in the wooded area behind the castle. She slipped off her cape and threw it into the water, hoping she wouldn’t regret that later. The nights were cold this far north.
She carefully walked along the rocks and back into the trees. With any luck, they would think she slipped and fell into the water. She ducked down and waited as the men got closer.
“She’s not here,” a man said. “She must have fallen in the water.”
“Lord Jarrod will not be happy,” another voice replied. “He will want proof that we accomplished our task.”
Pearl put a hand over her mouth to stop the sob. Her uncle was behind this? But why?
“Get the cape,” the man said. She recognized him as the one yelling at the guard earlier.
“What do we do now?” a man asked.
Pearl heard a groan and then a splash.
“You don’t do anything,” the man replied. “I can’t abide failure.”
Pearl stayed where she was for a long time, then cautiously went back towards the carriage. What she saw shocked her. All the guards were dead. Every one of them. Those who had been loyal to her as well as the traitors.
She slowly walked over to the carriage and glanced around, then bent down to brush her hand against Mildred’s cheek. She would never have allowed the princess to call her by her first name, but that’s how Pearl would always remember her.
The man responsible for all this was gone, and he’d taken the horses with him. Or he’d let them go. Either way, she had no way to travel but to walk.
She took a breath and spun around. There was no way back. She had to move forward. The only two people she could have trusted were lying dead by that carriage. She wiped her eyes and walked into the forest.
Check back every Friday for the next part of the story!