All fairy tale stories must begin the same way, or else they cannot truly be considered a fairy tale. Cliché as these four words may seem, they are the true beginning to any proper story. Thus we begin with:
Once upon a time…
Once upon a time, a sleeping beauty was awakened by true love's first kiss. After spending a century dreaming of the moment she would fall in love, Princess Meleprene opened her eyes to gaze into the face of the man who would hold her heart forever.
Theirs was a whirlwind romance. Their first kiss took place two seconds before their actual introduction. Within three weeks, they were engaged and two months later, they were man and wife.
But King Gustave's and Queen Meleprene's story did not end happily ever after, for no true love story ends immediately after the wedding. Their marriage was filled with joy and laughter, and their love continued to grow with each year that passed—and as each new daughter was placed in her bassinet. There were seven in all, two of whom were twins.
The couple had been married ten years when Meleprene decided to visit her slightly old-fashioned-but-surprisingly-young parents in the kingdom of Elensar, a half-day's journey from their manor in Kyoria. The youngest daughter, Eurielle, was put into the care of her father and eldest sister, Eralie. Meleprene departed with the full intention of returning by nightfall.
But Fate was not kind that day.
Not ten minutes into her journey, the caravan was beset by a ruthless band of plundering marauders. The thieves swiftly slew all three of her guards and all but one attendant, then fell on the lady herself with their wicked daggers. Gathering all valuables, including the horses, they disappeared into the forest without a backward glance, leaving Queen Meleprene for dead.
The surviving attendant had fled for help almost as soon as the attack began. Even so, the sun was already high in the sky, having already dried the puddles of blood lying on the forest floor, before he returned. A distraught King Gustave hoarsely ordered for his unconscious wife to be carried back to the manor.
It was nearly night time before the physician voiced his diagnosis to the gathered family: the queen could not be saved. Tears silently ran down the faces of Eralie and Cliodne, the eldest daughters. The three middle girls—Callia, Thaleia, and Raia—wailed loudly at the top of their lungs, while Petra and Eurielle merely looked to their father in confusion. King Gustave's face was disbelieving, shell-shocked.
Seeing that her father was in no shape to deal with anything, eight-year-old Eralie took charge. One by one, she sent her younger sisters into the sickroom to speak with their mother one last time. As each emerged from their mother's room, Eralie noticed newfound serenity in their faces, and knew that this final glimpse of their mother would prove ever valuable in the ensuing years.
Her father's face was another story. He remained in the sickroom for well over fifteen minutes, and when he came out, his face was even more stricken. Without a word, he stumbled down the hall and disappeared into his study, closing the door behind him with a definitive click.
It was Eralie's turn. Before stepping into her mother's room, she turned to Cliodne and murmured softly, "Take the others to our room. I'll be up soon." With that, she opened the door and ventured inside timidly.
The windows were closed ominously, admitting little—if any—light inside. The bed curtains were open, and Queen Meleprene lay prone under the many blankets, her brown eyes drooping lethargically. Her luxurious black hair spanned across the pillows underneath her head. Eralie stepped to the side of the bed and placed her hand inside her mother's much larger one, nearly jumping out of her skin when Meleprene's fingers squeezed her own with a slight but definite pressure. The young girl's eyes were drawn to the red stain on the bedcovers—the only indication of her mother's injury—but flew back to the woman's face when she heard her speak.
"Eralie," Meleprene began softly, "Listen closely, not only to me, but to your sisters, too. It is up to you now to look after them. They'll depend on you now more than ever before. You're their eldest sister; take care of them."
Eralie nodded and looked down at the bedspread, her eyes stinging. Meleprene slid one hand out from under the covers and underneath her daughter's chin, forcing her head up to meet her eyes once more.
"You will have to grow up very quickly, dear, and for this I am sorry. But whatever happens, look after yourself as well. Don't be afraid to ask for help, whether from your father or Cliodne, or someone else entirely. I know that you can't do it all alone, but I also know that you can do it. Most of all, please don't lose track of your dreams, for they will be your strength."
Tears were now running freely down the faces of both mother and daughter. Meleprene weakly gathered another breath, setting her hand down once more. Her eyes slid shut as she rasped "I love you, honey. I'm so proud of you."
The room seemed fraught with tension as the once great lady lay back against her pillows. A gasp of air—a single sob—and Lady Meleprene breathed her last.
Eralie squeezed her mother's hand one last time before standing and pressing a single kiss upon her brow. Salty tears stained her cheeks as she walked over to the door and opened it quietly. The look in her eyes told the physician all he needed to know as she closed the door once more.
Shoulders drooping, the eldest daughter climbed the stairs and entered her bedroom. Six pairs of eyes stared soberly back at her from her own bed. She silently plucked Eurielle off the bed, then deposited her on her own lap after sitting in the now-empty spot. Collectively, the seven sisters all leaned towards each other, comforting one another in their time of grief.
In his study downstairs, King Gustave stared, unseeing, at the desk in front of him. His beloved wife…gone. Stolen through the cruel intentions of dishonorable men. His daughters, left without a mother.
The mere thought of his daughters caused him to shoot upright in his chair. He hated the thought that they would be exposed to a world in which mothers were brutally murdered, leaving innocent children behind.
Gustave's fist tightened with determination. From this day forward, his daughters would be protected from any and every form of danger that may come their way. If he had to lock them inside the manor at Kyoria, then so be it. He never wanted them to experience the same fate as their mother. He wished never to endure such an agonizing loss ever again.