Rose’s eyes squinted against the glare of the morning sun streaming in from the window. She stretched on the bed and yawned as her eyelids fluttered open. As sleep left her body, she sensed something different about her room. After a moment, she realized, with surprise, that it wasn’t even her room at all.
Rose sat upright, and the sudden rush of movement caused the room to sway before her eyes and her head to ache.
I must speak with the kitchen staff about that tea. It was obviously bad.
She squeezed her eyes shut until the swaying feeling passed. Slowly, she opened her eyes and looked around. She was lying on a small but comfortable bed in what appeared to be a one-room cottage she had never seen before. On one side of the cottage was a dresser with two supply packs leaning against it. On the other side of the cottage was a table set for a breakfast of steak, eggs, and bread. In the center of the table was a silver tray, and in the center of the silver tray was a rolled-up parchment.
Rose spied her robe draped at the foot of the bed, and she quickly put it on over her bedclothes. She pulled herself out of bed carefully--her legs experiencing a strange, weakened feeling--and tied the robe tightly.
“Hello?” she called.
There was no answer.
As strength returned to her body, Rose searched what little space there was in the cottage for any signs of life. Finding no one, she pulled open the door and stepped outside. The cottage stood in the center of a forest with a single path from the doorway that disappeared into the trees. Rose hurried around the cottage, looking for any sign of where she was or how to return to the palace. The forest looked no different than any of the ones she and her royal guards rode through on summer days but offered no clue as to which direction her home was located. Fear crept into the princess’s heart as she hurried back to the entrance of the cottage. She opened her mouth to call out for aid, then she stopped short.
From somewhere in the forest, footsteps approached.
Rose looked down the path, seeing no one. Whoever was coming, they were making their way through the trees. Quietly, Rose backed into the cabin and closed the door. She listened as the person drew nearer to the cabin. Looking around for protection, Rose quickly picked up a knife from the table and hid it away in the fold of her robe as the latch on the cottage door raised. The door swung open.
“Joseph! Oh, thank heavens!” Rose walked over and pulled the stable boy in.
“Good morning, Princess,” Joseph said as he sat a pitcher of milk down on the table. He slid a goblet toward her and began to pour. “My apologies if I startled you, but I needed to fetch the milk for breakfast before we set out—" Suddenly, Joseph turned his eyes away. “Your Highness, forgive me,” he said. “I thought you would have dressed by now. I will take my leave until you are ready for company.”
Rose stepped between Joseph and the door. “You will not go anywhere until you tell me what is going on, Joseph,” she said, her brows furrowed and eyes blazing. “Who brought me here and why?”
Joseph looked at the princess with a cocked eyebrow. He then glanced at the parchment still rolled on the table. “Ah, you haven’t read that yet.”
Rose shook her head.
Joseph pulled out the chair from the breakfast table and walked to the front door, placing a hand on Rose’s shoulder. “When you are ready, I will be waiting outside.” He smiled, then stepped outside and closed the door.
Rose walked over to the table, sat down and picked up the parchment. The roll contained several pages and was held together by a wax seal. Stamped in the wax was her family crest. Rose broke the seal and hurriedly unrolled the pages. As she did so, she immediately recognized her mother’s handwriting as she read.
Please forgive me for the circumstances you have been placed in, but it is required for the journey on which you are about to partake. Since your birth, I and your father have known this day was to come. Alas, we could not imagine it was to be this soon.
But I must start at the beginning. Many generations ago, this land, our home, was ravaged with a curse. Blight had befallen the land, and the ruling king left seeking a remedy but had not returned. Then, one day, a strange man arrived. He appeared without wealth and seemed on the verge of death as he journeyed from home to home seeking shelter. It was a kindly woman of sixteen who eventually brought the man into her home, sharing with him her meager dinner, and gave him her bed as she slept by the hearth. It was not until the morning that the man spoke his first words.
“My dear,” said he, “you truly are kind of spirit and good of heart. It takes strength to be as such in these times.”
The woman told him to be still and rest, but he would not remain silent. “No, my dear. My time is at hand, as it should be for one as old as I--older than you might believe.
“I am the king of this land, who left many years ago to find the answer to what ails the kingdom, but I am more than that, as well. I am, or I was, a powerful wizard, who founded this kingdom as a place of love and light. I wished to make a happy place of peace where all could prosper, but as years and years passed, I grew lazy and greedy. And so, the magic I worked on this land began to work against me and the people here. I left to find an answer, and after much searching, I know that you are the answer I sought.”
He then motioned to the small bag he had been carrying and she handed it to the man, who pulled out a worn map, much like the one you received yesterday. He held it out and asked her to take it. She grasped one end of the roll as he held the other. As the man spoke, the woman could feel something she would later describe as a warm light pass from the man, through the map, and into her.
“When I am gone, this parchment will be all that remains of who I was,” he said. “You must follow it to the beginning of your journey. Once there, it will serve you no more. You must then continue until the journey is at its end. If you succeed, you will be blessed with a homeland free of its curse and full of richness and peace that you shall rule over. You shall also be blessed with children beautiful in spirit and body. But these blessings must always be earned. Every firstborn daughter of the royal bloodline henceforth will receive this parchment when they are ready to take their own journey. And, none of these daughters must know of the journeys prior, for their knowledge of travels past may affect their travels future. When they return, they will be the new ruler of this land.”
The sorcerer released the parchment and lay back on the bed, very weak. He closed his eyes and spoke his last words:
“Tomorrow will be a shining day in the land of Ametheria. Do your best to be kind and good to all those you meet.”
The woman, your Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother Elsbeth, cried as the man’s spirit passed on. To her astonishment, his body shimmered in a golden light and vanished from her bed. The only remnant of his existence was the map she held in her hand.
And so, the woman who would be known as Queen Elsbeth of Ametheria set off on her journey. Several years and many adventures later, she returned. Her wisdom guided the people of the land, and by the time of her marriage to your ancestor, King Consort Eldric, Ametheria was enjoying its first joyous year.
And now you know of the purpose of the map you have before you. You are the youngest to have ever received the map, and for that, I have great fear. But to deny the journey is to risk darkness befalling the people of Ametheria, and as Queen, I cannot allow that to happen and must have faith in you to partake this hardship now. But you shall not have to take it alone.
Many times, a companion has been chosen to accompany the princess on her journey. I and your father have chosen Joseph for this task. This choice was made for many reasons but mostly for his deep loyalty to you and your trust in him. Have faith in these two things, for they will be a help and comfort for you.
Know that no matter where your quest leads you, no matter how far you are from home, I am always there with you. I love you. Be good and kind to all those you meet.
Rose placed the pages on the table as emotions swirled within her. She stood from the chair, approached the dresser, and looked inside. Instead of the dresses or gowns she was accustomed to, the clothes of a common girl lay within. She dressed and went to the front door.
Joseph sat waiting in the grass beside the path. He looked up at Rose with a smile and offered her a newly-picked buttercup. Rose walked over and sat next to him, taking the flower.
“So, how long have you known of this?” Rose asked as she looked at the flower.
“Since I turned thirteen, Princess,” Joseph replied. “I wished to tell you many times, but your mother, the Queen, was adamant—and rightly so—that you should not be burdened with knowing until the map arrived.”
Rose gazed at the delicate yellow flower in her hand. She turned and regarded Joseph for a moment, considering all she had just learned about the person she knew as a friend. She then tickled his nose with the buttercup.
“I think we had better eat our fill,” she said. “We apparently have a long journey ahead of us.”
A half-hour later, the breakfast plates were empty, and Joseph and Rose sat hunched over the map. Using her knife, she guided Joseph along the markings.
“See here? This is the cottage,” Rose explained. “The small line is the path leading away from here and to a road. You have seen that, I take it?”
“No, Princess,” Joseph replied. “I was sent here through another path, hidden in the forest, shown to me by the Queen yesterday. I do not know what lies beyond the path leading from the door.”
“Very well,” said Rose. “We follow the road until we come to a small river settlement. Once there, we must ferry across and travel due east until we come to a single building standing by the road. It appears that building is our destination.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Joseph.
Rose pointed to a small cross by the marking of the building. “See there? That means there is something by the road in front of the building. I think whatever that is will contain the information we need to begin our quest.”
Joseph stretched and gathered the two supply packs. With a heave, he hoisted them onto his back. “Then, I suppose we had better be on our way.”
“Hold,” the princess said with authority. “I will carry my pack, if you will.”
“Your Highness, a princess—”
“Is not travelling with you,” Rose said. “I am not dressed in my royal robes, and I do not carry the royal seal of Ametheria. I think this is for disguise, and you shall abide by that. Am I understood?”
“And that is another thing,” Rose interrupted. “No more of this ‘Princess’ or ‘Your Highness’ nonsense. You will refer to me as ‘Rose’ until this journey is at an end.”
Joseph’s face flushed and after a moment, he said, “If you insist, Rose.” He set one of the packs on the floor, and Rose slung it over her shoulder. Joseph, with eyes turned low, walked past Rose and started to open the door.
“Joseph,” Rose said. Joseph turned and looked at the kind eyes of his friend. “I’m glad it’s you with me.”
And, with that, they left.
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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.