Princess Rose sat on the steps of the royal dais among the dresses, jewels, draperies, and shoes that were her birthday presents. Her head was slightly cocked to one side, her blonde hair spilling over one delicate shoulder, catching the late morning sunlight which was cascading across the courtyard. Her slender face bore a look of curiosity as she studied a colorful map in front of her.
Now, Rose knew what the markings on the map meant; her mother had insisted she be taught about them once she was old enough to read. As much as Rose enjoyed maps, she was puzzled as to why it had been given to her on her thirteenth birthday— the first day of her womanhood. Her younger sisters—Tulip, Blossom, Daisy, and Violet—sat around her, silently admiring her gift, though, Daisy could not help but fidget, as was her nature.
“Why, thank you,” the princess said as she looked at the guests for the grateful face of the unknown giver. Each person regarded the other, but no one responded.
“Well, I say, that looks to be very interesting,” said King Charles, which was his response to every gift Rose had received that day. He leaned forward in his throne and held out his hand for the map. Rose bowed to her father and gracefully passed it to him. The king sat back and stroked his beard as he gave the map his full regard. “Yes, yes. Very...,” the king turned the map right side up, “…interesting.”
A hearty laugh rippled through the group of royal guests. King Charles was known for joking often in close company, and the kingdom loved him for it. Of all the royals of the known kingdoms, His Highness of Ametheria was regarded as the most at ease with himself.
Queen Isabel gave a polite smile in response to her husband's foolishness. “My dear, you know your head is for swords and horses, not maps. May I?”
The map now passed from king to queen with a smirk and a shrug from His Highness causing more laughter from the guests. Queen Isabel sat straight in her throne as her dark eyes glanced briefly at the map. Aside from the color of her eyes and hair, the queen looked very much like Rose. With a slight nod, she rolled up the map.
“A fine gift. Very thoughtful,” she said and handed the map to her chambermaid with a whisper.
Rose watched as she did this and realized that, perhaps, for the first time in her life, she had just seen her mother troubled.
The party went on as most royal parties did with a feast, dancing, carnival games, a gypsy parade, and horseback riding. Rose danced with her sisters as the royal court musicians played a festive tune. Dancing was not Rose’s finest skill, something her sister Blossom often took pleasure in pointing out to her, but she laughed as she made her way zigzagging between her sisters until, inevitably, she collided with the youngest, knocking her to the ground.
“Oh, Violet!” Rose cried as she helped her sister to her feet. “Forgive me!”
Rose fretted about the girl looking for any injury. Violet was tiny for her age and appeared as fragile as an eggshell.
“Did you knock over the ‘Little Sparrow,’ again, Rose?” Blossom asked with a smirk. “I would wager you will break at least one of her legs by the time we get to your fifteenth birthday festival.”
Rose scowled at her sister’s sharp tongue, but Violet, ever the gentle soul, said softly to her oldest sister, “I am not hurt. Don’t be upset.”
Rose patted her sister on the head with a smile and kissed it. “Your patience could fill the oceans beyond the horizon.” She then leaned close with a sly smirk and glanced around as if someone might spy. “How about you sneak us a sweet roll from the baker’s tent?”
Violet’s eyes narrowed and she, too, looked about. Being small did have advantages and, less than a minute later, she and Rose sat on the grass, sharing a pastry dripping with colorful swirls of icing, and laughing together.
As fond as Rose was of carnival treats and games, she took the most pleasure from riding her prized horse, Wisher, for the entertainment of their guests. Her father held Rose as the best rider in the kingdom and often had her demonstrate her skills to others.
As Rose walked to the courtyard, she could see Wisher already waiting inside the fence. The horse’s golden coat and mane had been freshly brushed, making their sheen nearly identical to that of Rose's blonde locks. Joseph, her royal stable boy, stood next to Wisher. Rose had befriended Joseph years ago during her riding lessons and felt as close to him as she would a brother. The lean fifteen-year-old lad patted the horse lightly and guided the horse toward the approaching princess.
“Good afternoon, Princess Rose of Ametheria,” Joseph said with a bow.
Rose blushed. “Here, now. What is this formality, Joseph?”
“You are a woman now, and I am humbled to be in your presence,” Joseph said, bowing deeper.
Rose slapped the top of Joseph's head and looked about. “Stop it. You'll have the Duchess of Lenstein spreading gossip, and my mother shall have to go to war over it.”
Joseph stood. “By 'going to war,' you mean, sending His Highness the King to the Duke's manor and drinking the night away? That's a war I'd like to start.” The two friends laughed for a moment as Wisher stood by patiently. Joseph stepped to the horse's side and offered his knee to the princess. “Your horse, Princess,” he said.
Rose placed a foot on Joseph's knee, took his hand, and deftly swung up onto Wisher's back. She carefully adjusted her riding habit and took the reigns as Joseph stepped away. When she was at the ready, she patted Wisher on the side and said, as she always did, “Run free, Wisher, and carry me with you.”
The party came to a standstill as Rose and Wisher began their ride around the field. If a horse had been born for a rider, Wisher had been born for Rose. King Charles stood from his chair and strode to the fence to watch his daughter perform.
Rose and Wisher trotted around the fence line once. After the lap, Rose patted Wisher, and the horse began a gallop to the center of the yard where two of the queen’s royal guard stood. As Rose rode toward the first guard, he knelt and held out a sheathed sword. The horse did not break stride as Rose swung herself gracefully over the saddle, grabbed the handle, and unsheathed the sword as she rode past.
The party members applauded as Rose straightened in the saddle and rode toward the second guard. Rose whistled, and the guard tossed an apple into the air. Rose’s sword glinted in the midday sun as she sliced the fruit in half. As the applause grew louder, Wisher approached a wooden target. Rose hefted the sword over her shoulder, aimed, and let it fly. Cheers erupted as the blade sunk into the center of the painted circle.
King Charles beamed and clapped as Rose trotted over to him and gave the reigns a slight tug. Wisher halted and bowed his head at the king.
“My eldest daughter!” the king announced. The partiers applauded again. The king called for his horse, and his stable boy set off to fetch it.
But Rose was not watching her father or listening to the applause. Her attention was fixed on something happening in the farthest corner of the party.
Queen Isabel led Joseph behind a carnival tent, both deep in a private conversation. As they started to step behind the cloth, Joseph turned and regarded Rose with what appeared to her to be worried eyes. He then turned away and disappeared behind the tent.
Rose and her sisters, dressed in their bedclothes and robes, entered their parents’ chambers as they prepared to turn in for the night. Queen Isabel and King Charles placed the cards they had been playing face down on the table as their children stood in a line from youngest to oldest.
“We have come to bid you goodnight, Your Highness,” the littlest said.
“And goodnight to you, My Precious,” said the queen as she held out her arms. The six-year-old ran over and squeezed her mother tightly. “Oh, you will be a handful tonight, will you not?” the mother said with a light laugh. Violet giggled and joined her sisters. One by one, each daughter hugged her mother goodnight until it was Rose’s turn.
Rose approached her mother but hesitated.
“Why, dear, what is the matter?” asked the Queen.
“Mother,” Rose looked closely for the trouble she had seen brewing earlier in the queen’s eyes. Now, she could find none. “Does a Lady still hug her mother, the Queen, or do I now curtsey?”
The Queen smiled. “A Lady always hugs her mother, especially one who loves her daughter so.”
Rose embraced her mother, and all her fears and worries from the day vanished. “I could never have dreamed of a finer mother than you,” she whispered. When Rose pulled away, she saw tears in the Queen’s eyes. Rose gave a curtsey to her father then joined her sisters.
King Charles took his wife’s hand as she dabbed her eyes. “Nevermore has there been such a blessed family as the one in this room,” he said.
Isabel looked at the princesses. “Now, what do we say, my children?”
In unison, the sisters said, “Tomorrow is another shining day in the land of Ametheria, and we must do our best to be kind and good to all we meet.”
“Always remember that, my darlings. Especially you, Rose,” the queen said.
Rose, momentarily surprised by her mother’s interjection, bowed. The five princesses turned and left the chamber, closing the door behind them.
In the hall leading to the bedchambers, the princesses walked in silence. As each sister reached her chamber, she curtseyed to the remaining princesses and entered. Inside each chamber was a waiting chambermaid, ready to tuck her in. Soon, the two eldest princesses, Rose and Tulip, were left alone walking in the hall.
“Tulip, what do you think Mother meant by that last remark?” Rose asked.
Tulip contemplated for a moment. Rose had always found Tulip’s extraordinary intelligence helpful, especially when it came to figuring out the thoughts or behavior of others. “I suppose, as a woman, you must be more courteous than we children are expected to be.”
Rose nodded. It was as good an answer as she could come up with, and in keeping with the spirit of the day, it made sense. But then, as Tulip reached for the latch on her chamber door, she turned and looked at her sister in a frightful seriousness.
“Mother is not herself today,” said Tulip, “and I’m not sure why.”
Without another word or chance for Rose to respond, Tulip entered her room and closed the door.
Rose stood motionless in the hall. The air had a chill she had not noticed before, and she clutched her robe tightly to her breast. This was the first night Rose would be without a chambermaid, and she now felt isolated and alone.
Silly goose. You are too old for childish fears.
Rose approached her chamber and went inside. She removed her robe, sat on the edge of her bed, and drank the cup of tea her parents always left for each daughter at bedtime. She noticed the tea had an unusual flavor to it that evening, and it had an odor much like fermented fruit, but as a dutiful princess, she drank the rest with no waste and settled in for her first night’s sleep as a woman. She gazed out her window at the dark clouds drifting over the moon. Crickets in the grass far below seemed to sing a soothing lullaby as Rose’s lids grew heavy and closed in a deep sleep.
All text and black and white artwork Copyright Jennifer and Daniel Frazier 2019.
Color artwork Copyright Catalina Murcia Alejo 2020 and licensed to Jennifer and Daniel Frazier.
Color artwork Copyright Catalina Murcia Alejo 2020 and licensed to Jennifer and Daniel Frazier.