Aryssa glanced at the castle entrance and shook her head with a wry grin. She took a single step forward then leapt back as rows of sharp blades sprang from the ground to meet the portcullis dropping from above. She chuckled to herself as the ring of clanging metal subsided.
“This castle has teeth.” She said to no one in particular.
A golden-haired cherub with bright blue eyes hurried up to the entrance frowning.
“You do know that it is considered bad manners to kill your guests after granting them access.” She said to him.
“Deepest apologies, Gracious One.” He said, his voice melodic. “Someone was supposed to have shut the gate off, Esther!”
“I only have two hands, Dave!” Another voice said from above.
Aryssa looked up to find two more cherubs hovering above the works of the portcullis as a third was tinkering away. There was a pop and the mangled bits of metal slowly pried themselves apart, returning to their original undamaged state as they reversed position.
“I would be honored if you would follow me,” Dave said and started back towards the castle.
Aryssa followed and soon they came to a beautiful garden bursting with exotic flowers and the song of birds the Godmother had never heard before. They approached a large well that bubbled with fire like the rivers below and sitting on a marble bench beside it was a small woman in blue robes. Her skin was pale and clear like porcelain. Her eyes were large in her head and blue, her lips small and pink, and her hair was a golden cascade down to her knees. A crystal band rested upon her brow with a teardrop sapphire nestled in the center.
The small woman smiled as Dave and Aryssa approached.
“Godmother of Davenmour, your coming was foretold.”
“You have my apologies for not arriving sooner, Great Queen.” Aryssa knelt before the ancient queen and gently kissed her palms. “How does she fare?”
“As well as can be expected.” The queen sighed. “She has been through much.”
Aryssa nodded. “Much has occurred since her departure.”
“You will see her, of course.”
“She will not go back.”
“That is to be expected.”
“You still wish to speak with her.”
The queen gave a slow nod and waved a hand smoothly to a tall hedge on her left. The vines and branches shrink back to reveal a set of stairs leading up into the castle. Aryssa dropped into a gracious curtsey and ascended the staircase. The higher she climbed, the quieter it became and as the smell of flowers faded, she could hear a strange, despondent humming. The voice was clear and light and should have been singing about lovely things like rainbows, butterflies, and romance. The tune the Godmother heard made her heart wrench and nearly reduced her to tears despite her best efforts.
At the top of the stairs, Aryssa found she was at the top of a golden tower littered with diamonds and crystal. Sunlight danced along the gems, shooting bands of rainbow fluttering along the walls. In the center of the room sat a nude young woman beside a golden basin. Aryssa watched as the young woman dipped a crystal goblet into the basin and poured water on to her sodden champagne tresses. Then she picked up a comb made of gold and ran it through her hair.
“Primrose?” Aryssa called, gently.
The girl looked up, her brown eyes growing wide and her lips formed a bow upon her heart-shaped face.
“Please, do not make me go back!” She brandished the comb like a dagger. “I would sooner sicken and die than return home.”
Aryssa closed her eyes and sighed inwardly. Fates preserve me from the drama of youth! She raised her hands and shook her head.
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, princess.”
Princess Primrose relaxed and Aryssa approached slowly to sit beside her and take a closer look. She had not seen the girl for several years and remembered her as vibrant and happy, almost bubbly. The young woman in this room was subdued and gaunt, and the Godmother had the terrible feeling that it stemmed from long before the attempt on her life.
“Would you like to tell me what happened to you, Primrose?”
The princess paused her combing and violently shook her head.
“Please? It would help Ravenshade.”
Primrose looked at her. “Is Ravenshade in trouble?”
“I’m afraid so.”
The girl nodded slowly. “So the plan worked.”
“Ravenshade’s plan to keep me safe. You do know she would never try to kill me, whatever anyone else says, she cares too much to cause me harm.”
Aryssa smiled. “I know it, which is why I need you to help me save her from execution.”
She gasped and nodded. “Yes, of course.”
Primrose gazed into the distance for a long moment and just when Aryssa thought to prod her again, she began to speak.
“Mother had been acting strangely for a very long time. We worried for her, Father and I, but the Mystic insisted there was nothing to fear. Not until Mother’s birthday was I truly convinced something was amiss.” Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke. “She was so mean and hateful. The things she said to me, that I was not her daughter, that I deserved not the love of a good man like Logan because I was not even human.”
“It was more than I could bear. I fled from the castle to my favorite hiding place. This lagoon I discovered years ago.” A small smile danced on her lips. “It was there where Logan and I first met. He had stopped to rest and water his horse before appearing at the palace to see my parents. He did not even know it was me until I came down to dinner later that night.”
“Was he surprised?”
“He looked so astonished, he leaned on a tray beside him which sent the soup tureen flying into the wall!” Primrose giggled.
Aryssa laughed. “The poor prince must have been so embarrassed.”
“I did not know a person could turn so many shades of red.” Primrose laughed, wiping the tears from her eyes with the kerchief Aryssa handed her. “We were already in love at the lagoon but that just clinched it for me.”
“And that angered the Queen?”
The princess sobered. “I suppose. She became very cold any time the prince was mentioned afterward. There was a time when I thought perhaps Mother would break our engagement but Father assured me there was no reason for this to happen. The Dark Fairy found me while I was crying at the lagoon and I confided in her.”
The princess looked at Aryssa with a soulful gaze. “I know everyone says such terrible things about her and perhaps she is not very polished and proper but Ravenshade has always been nice to me. She lets me cry on her shoulder and she helps me find ways to end my troubles.”
“What did she say when you told her about your mother?”
“She was very concerned, she almost looked angry, which was very frightening indeed. She asked if I had voiced my concerns to the Mystic but I did not. Truth be told, Godmother, I have never liked the Royal Mystic. Her eyes are mean.”
Aryssa chuckled and patted her hand. “I understand. Is that when Ravenshade came up with the plan?”
“It is. She told me to meet her at the lagoon at midnight on the night of the new moon, which I did. She told me to remove my gown, took me in her arms, and brought me here. I was to remain in this room, washing my hair and speaking to no man until either she or you came to get me.” Primrose paled. “But I will not return to Davenmour, not if there are people trying to kill me!”
“It’s alright, princess, as I said you don’t have to return home if you don’t want to. The prince is waiting for you in my office and will bring you to Silvermire upon our return.”
Primrose brightened. “Logan is waiting for me?”
“He is and he is most concerned about you. Think about how happy he will be to learn you still live.”
The princess beamed, the love for her prince shining on her face, transforming the sad maiden into a beautiful woman. Aryssa always loved that look. Suddenly, Primrose glanced down and blushed.
“Oh, but I can not meet him like this!”
“Of course not, child, which is why you have me.”
“Godmother? I thought you no longer granted wishes.”
Aryssa grinned. “Just this once, I think I’ll make an exception.”