Five hours later, as we're approaching Corallone the scenery changes from endless trees and long stretches of fields to civilisation. Small towns that have delicately mosaic tiled houses with three or four floors. And all around us are people going about their daily lives, milking cows, herding sheep, collecting water. Then it changes again, into towers of mosaic, with glass windows and turret roofs. These people are dressed smartly for work in offices and coffee houses. These views stay for a while, but then as we round a corner, a giant shape looms over us. The castle has five turrets, each one taller than the last, it's covered completely in mosaic but this mosaic has meaning. It tells the story of the Corallone I read about on the way, how there was a civil war over resources and land a hundred years ago and that the Kingdom is still recovering. There are still battles fought but less and less every year. Around the castle is a stone wall that stands over 10ft tall, no mosaic, just the looming, cold shadow of the wall. Going through the gates we're suddenly immersed in army training, with regiments stood to attention in every direction.
Pulling up outside the steps of the castle I can't help but feel nervous. I mean, what will I find? If I find anything. A groan from beside me tells me Ginger is waking up so I take her hand and say "We're here."
She sits up and checks I'm correct before climbing out and taking me with her. Stood on the steps a butler scurries out of the doors and quickly says as though he's in a rush "Your majesties. Please follow me to the throne room."
Then he hurries back inside setting a quick pace we all struggle to keep up with. Moving so fast I don't take notice of anything around me, I make note to ask for a tour or some time to look around while we're here.
Corallone's throne room is massive. It has a set of steps leading to three marble thrones decorated with velvet cushions. The Queen sits in one and her husband King Leon sits next to her, Miles sits in Ginger's usual seat back at home, him being Prince and all. His face shows his boredom but then it lights up as he sees us. He raises a hand in greeting and I raise one back, smiling. The family, sat on their thrones look like statues until Leon sees Alex, and then he laughs a hearty laugh and says "Long time no see old pal." He gets up and walks down to us giving a manly hug to Alex before turning to Ginger and saying "Hey Squirt." Ginger smiles giving Leon a hug. Seeing my confusion she says to me "Leon comes to our kingdom but we'd never had Lola and Miles before. My dad and Leon knew each other and that's it." Nodding my head Leon turns to me and says curiously "So who do we have here then?"
"Lillia, your majesty."
Ginger says sneakily "She's my lady-in-waiting in training."
Looking at her he smiles and then carries on chatting to Alex. Lola descends the steps in her regal manner, and addressing me says "I assume you'll want a tour and a look around?"
Nodding I say "You read my mind."
Upon hearing this Miles jumps out of his throne and bounds down the steps saying "Mum I'll do it. I'll give them a tour. I don't have anything to do today anyways."
Nodding she says "Fine, but have them back here for lunch."
I'm respone he just takes Ginger's hand and pulls us out the hall and into the corridors. Stopping at the first corner he explains proudly "This is the crown room, and the east wing, and then that way is the gallery."
Piping up I say "Can we go to the gallery first?"
"Sure, but I warn you, it's dreadfully dull. But I suppose, we should get the boring parts over with first. There are two galleries," he explains as we walk, "One for the depictions of battles and important things and one of all the royal families of the past. We can go to the battles one first because it's way more interesting."
As we wander around the gallery, with Miles explaining each one, the hours pass by without us noticing. My hand stays clasped in Ginger's the entire time, butterflies still ravaging my stomach. Just as we start looking around the family gallery Lucas announces "Ok, so we can come back after lunch if you want but if we don't leave now then we're going to be late."
And so we leave, my worries not yet gone. Knowing I need to know about Lola's sister. This Hannah that I apparently look like. The lunch hall is filled with a table full of food, all that smells delicious. Sat at the head is Leon, to his left Lola, and to her left is an older man and woman whom I'm assuming is Lola's parents, Miles' grandparents. Lola turns to them and says "Mum, Dad this is Lillia. Lillia this is Lady June and Sir Nathan. My parents."
June looks to me and gasps saying "Hannah?"
"No Ma'am, Lillia, although I have been told I look like your Hannah."
"The spitting image." She says, sitting down June continues to tell me of Hannah. How she had run away at a young age, having been under too much pressure with royal life. Looking at Lola I see her eyes flicker with guilt and I wonder why but for now I ignore it and listen intently to the stories of Hannah. How she was graceful and loved to dance, how she helped all she was able to, how much she was adored. After lunch, June agrees to show me her photograph in the family gallery. And as we walk, I learn more and more about her, how she was a rebel, and snook out at night. How she adored riding and the balls and the galas. How when she laughed it lit up a room, and how devastated the family were at her running away. June stops us in front of a silver framed photo, that includes a younger version of herself and Nathan. A baby faced version of Lola, a baby in her arms. June says fondly "That babe, that's Hannah."
Smiling at the happy family picture, I walk slowly towards the one at the end, covered in a black curtain. Walking towards it I reach my hand out to uncover the vale but before I can June says sternly "Don't don't do that child. That is the deceased. If you remove it you'll wake up ghosts."
Feeling riled by the fact that I haven't found anything that solves any of my curiosities, I snap at her "Well, your Hannah could be my Hannah and if this is her I want to see it. I need to know who she was. Because everything you've said so far has basically been my mum. Who surprisingly was called Hannah. So please, please let me see all the photos so I can find out."
She glares at me before saying "No."
Angry now I just pull it back to see my mum. The spitting image of her. The strawberry blonde hair, the hazel eyes, the jawline, the smile. Everything.
Breathing June comes up behind me and goes "She is the dead. She never contacted us, not even to let us know that she was ok. I miss my child. I miss my sweet daughter."
Quietly I say "June, this is my mum. This is her."
June gasps, "But she wasn't pregnant. She ran away because of pressure. I saw the note."
"She talked about you, how her parents were amazing, but she couldn't bear the secret of me. She always said she didn't want the life she had for me. So she'd run away. I guess she ended up in Loutocia, got a job as a maid, and then had me a few months later. I grew up in the opposite of the life she had. And she adored that life."
"You speak of her in the past tense."
Nodding I say solemnly "She died two years ago. She got pneumonia. But it killed her. Can I ask what your last name is?"
A short sound escapes my mouth before I say ever so slightly bitterly "Lillia Lola June Quartz. My full name. Apparently she named me after you and her sister Lola. If she is the same person that makes me Miles' cousin. Which would mean I'm Lola's niece and then your granddaughter."
Turning into Ginger I hold her tighter than ever, needing her support. June stands next to us, staring at her picture, and then after what seems like forever she goes with almost a sad tone to her voice "Come on, we need to clarify some things with Lola."
And so in silence we walk back, my arm clinging to Ginger's and holding June's hand on the other side of me. Walking into the throne room, Lola sits talking to Miles, unprepared for this. June announces, her voice echoing back at us "Lola! What did the real note say?"
Lola looks confused before saying "What?"
"Hannah's note. The real one. What did it say? We need to know."
Lola's eyes go wide as she stutters out "What do you mean? The real one?"
June's voice softens slightly "Dear, you know exactly what I mean."
Then Lola's shoulders slump and she starts crying, the tears flowing down her face. June runs up to her and holds her before saying "Come on dear, we need to know."
"We need everyone here for this."
And so we gather everyone in the throne room, Alex and Leon joining us too.
Lola takes a deep breath before starting "Hannah didn't come down for breakfast and so I went up to get her, and when I opened the door her bed was made perfectly and there was a note on her pillow. So I'd picked it up and read it. It said that she had run away, because of the pressures of royal life and another reason. That she was pregnant, with a child from the secret boyfriend she had down in the town which is who she snook out to most nights. And then at the end she'd written that she knew it would be me that would find the note and she told me not to tell you. She said to forge a new note with just the pressures of royal life. And not to look for her, because she didn't want to be found. But mum, how did you find out? About the forged note?"
"Me." I say, "Mum was always talking about how she didn't want me to have the life she did. My full name is Lillia Lola June Quartz. My mum was your sister. She ran away to Loutocia. Hello Aunty."
Everyone's silent as the news sinks in. Lillia is related to Lola's family. Lola's niece. Asking a much needed question I say "So if Lil is your niece Lola, doesn't that mean that she's nobility? Like she's automatically a Princess. Because if Hannah was a Princess set to be Queen then if she'd kept Lil in the castle then she would have been in line to be Princess? But then she ran away and Lola you became Queen first instead and so now Miles is Prince. But does that make Lil Princess? Dad?"
My dad seems to be following my train of thought and he says "Yes that would make sense. Leon?"
Leon takes a couple more seconds to get on the train but he seems to get there eventually and then he says "Yes, I believe it would. Lola honey?"
"Yes I agree it would because Hannah was older than me. Dad?"
Nathan speaks for the first time since I met him saying "Yes, it would almost definitely make her a Princess. June deary?"
June stands staring at Lil for a long time and then says "Yes. Hannah was the eldest child and so you would have been in line if she'd stayed."
Lil seems to be in a state of shock because she doesn't say anything for a long time before she says slowly, as though testing the word, "Princess? As in, in line for the throne?"
Everyone nods their heads and she carries on "So like am allowed to be Princess seen as my mum left? And also if I'm a Princess what would that entail or like what would happen?"
June answers "Well she was never disowned so you would be in line. But because Lola is currently Queen you would be next in line, unless you were to go to another Kingdom. And even then you'd have to get married. For now though I mean you can stay in Loutocia because no one actually knows about you. At some point, maybe at your lady-in-waiting ceremony we can announce you as Princess instead, yes, that would make sense."
Then she pulls Lillia in for a hug, her eyes brimming with tears.