This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Once upon a time in a mythical land there was a girl. Her father was the Royal Painter and her mother the Princess’ governess; and how they met was through a painting. Or rather it was through the king of that land who commissioned that painting. Ever since the birth of his son, the king had sought earnestly for one gifted enough to paint a Royal Portrait. Twas in the village of Rosehampton that he stumbled upon a lowly artist named Andrè. Impressed with the young man’s skill, he commissioned him to portray that painting: a portrait of the Royal Family — himself, the queen, their young daughter and infant son. To this great joy and distinction, Andrè accepted delightedly and promptly moved into the Palace to begin the work. Very soon it became obvious that it would be a wonder among the world of art, for the young artist poured all his skill and feeling into that masterpiece. And an overabundance of feeling he possessed for, during the sittings, Andre espied and fell in love with one of the queen’s handmaidens, Belle. She was beautiful, with beams of sunlight shimmering in her long brown hair and radiating forth from her grey eyes; and it was after one look at the lovely Belle that Andrè lost his heart to her, for not only was she beautiful — as her name implied — but she was also good and kind.
However, she was of noble blood, and the poor painter pinned after her with an almost hopeless longing. She was not blind to his suit and, after a few months of passionate love letters and meetings whom they thought secret (though everyone at the Palace knew of their love and smiled at their vain attempts to hide it), she and Andrè felt it time to request permission of her father for his blessing upon their betrothal. Of course they expected their announcement to cause quite a stir, but Belle’s father was not so blind as he looked and had known, like the entire Palace, of his only daughter’s attachment. He liked the handsome, courteous painter and knew he would go a long way with the king’s favor, so when Andrè humbly asked for Belle’s hand in marriage, he wholeheartedly agreed. Accordingly, the bans where published and, on a bright, glorious day in May, Andrè and Belle were married in the Cathedral. Nodding and smiling from their balcony, the Royal family were the guests of honor, the Queen holding their year old son, and the King grinning beside their eight year old daughter. At the reception held in the Great Hall, the King solemnly bid Andrè arise and gravely bestowed upon him the title of Royal Painter. At this highlight of the most perfect day in his life, Andrè fell at the King’s feet and joyously pledged allegiance to him forever. Then he took his lovely bride to Rome for a month; and unto their return home, Andrè and his wife moved into the Palace: Andrè taking up his duties as Royal Painter and Belle becoming Princess Penelope’s governess.
A year later, a beautiful baby girl was born to Andrè and his beloved wife. So moved where they by the joy her appearance brought them that they named her Elle — meaning “all” or “fairy maiden” — because she completed their lives so perfectly. As the months passed and as Elle grew, she also grew in beauty: she was perfect in every way, never cried, was always happy and, through some inexplainable way — like a fairy of delight — spread her contagious joy everywhere she went. She was the pride of her father, the joy of her mother and a constant source of pleasure to everyone in the Palace.
Another baby soon followed a year after Elle whom the blissful parents named Richard. Two months later, he took ill and died. Belle and Andrè were devastated and though Elle, in her innocent baby fashion, tried her hardest to make her mother smile again, she failed and Belle wandered about the Palace with red eyes and heavy heart. It made Andrè grieve to watch her so, and he too went about painting a mural, touching up a garment, finishing a portrait, sketching a miniature, with a distracted air. His wife needed a change from the area that reminded her constantly of her infant son. It was while watching Elle pick up castaway brushes and stare at paint wonderingly that the idea came to him to start his own studio in the nearby town and teach apprentices his trade. It would be a change of scene for his wife and perhaps make the loss easier to bear. Never a man to delay once he had set his mind to it if his wife’s happiness was at stake, Andrè accordingly went and asked the king’s permission.
“Indeed, you may, my dear Andrè,” boomed the King pleasantly, “You have my full approval. On one condition: that I may call on you at any time to paint another portrait of my family. My daughter is growing up and my son fast following in her footsteps. I shall need a new one soon to replace your first, painted two years earlier.”
“Anything thou so desires, Your Majesty,” bowed Andrè.
So Andrè moved his little family to a mansion in the heart of Pleasantowne and opened a shop. If he had any concerns about the wiseness of leaving the Palace, they were immediately put to rest when his wife brightened up and began to smile again and many eager young artists and apprentices flocked to his shop. But more than Belle began to smile, Fate smiled too and, a year after the move, two other daughters — each one born a year right after the other — where born to Andrè and Belle. Like Elle, who was now five years old, these two new sisters were lovely to behold; but where Elle’s hair contained only hidden tints of sunlight, her sisters’ hair were the full brilliance of that sun; and, while Elle’s eyes were grey like the evening twilight, their eyes were the clear blue of the morning sun.
Named Annabelle and Isabelle, these two new sisters of Elle’s were a source of constant delight to her parents and to the wondering Elle, who viewed her new sisters with awe and soon became their willing slave. She would sit the closest and watch them the longest whenever she was not underfoot in her father’s shop. It enraptured her to see her sisters’ long eyelashes come down slowly over their sleepy blue eyes; she was fascinated at their many attempts to talk and sit up. Sitting close by, Belle smiled benignly as she saw Elle gently pull Annabelle’s hair back or kiss Isabelle on the forehead; she was gratified to see her daughter love her sisters with such a fierce affection. It was Elle’s pleasure to hold them and sing them to sleep whenever her dear mother would let her; it was her joy to wake each morning and roll out of bed — her nurse trying to restrain her — and dash into her sisters’ nursery beside her room and help their nursemaid dress and feed them. In a year or two, that joy soon turned into taking each sister by the hand and to walk them around the village, hearing all the “ohs” and “ahs” that followed in the wake of her lovely little sisters’ footsteps with a proud smile. But while Elle’s sisters filled those that passed, with delight at their innocent beauty, Elle filled them with an interior beauty. For while her sisters’ names meant “beauty”, Elle’s still meant “fairy maiden” and she filled the people she passed with a lasting joy and delight that stayed even after the image of her sisters’ beauty had faded.
Andrè and Belle treasured their two youngest even more dearly than Elle, the thought of their lost son always before them. So they guarded them jealousy and showered them with so much love that, over time, Annabelle and Isabelle soon learned that they could get whatever they wanted with just a pleading look and word and, therefore, were spoiled quite completely. Elle was their favorite to beg favors from; she was so blind in her love for them that she willing did whatever they asked of her and they found great pleasure in their young lives entreating her to perform the simplest tasks for them; and very soon Elle found herself waiting upon her sisters hand and foot. They would come running into the shop and ask Elle to tie a ribbon for them, or mend a tear or play a game with them in the garden, or some other some little item, and Elle would smile and leave her painting and go do as they asked.
As Elle had grown older, it had become her dearest desire to paint like Papa. When still a child, she would follow him to his shop and sit beside one of the many great windows the studio boasted of and watch him instruct and teach the apprentices that came to him from kingdoms over. Sometimes she got in his way; if she peered into the clay oven to see the pottery baking, he would start with fright and order her away; or if she, in her eagerness to learn more, accidentally got too close to a tray of egg whites and pigment and dumped all its contents over her, an angry Andrè would send her home again to her governess. One day when she was three, she learned how to hold a pencil properly and furiously began drawing whatever she saw over everything she could lay her hands on. This was accompanied again by many scoldings of her new governess (the other one had left on account of having to continuously clean dye from her frocks, and her hands now being raw from the continuos encounter with water and lye) who threatened to take her pencil away. That made Elle confine her drawings to old linen and paper — though paper was scarce everywhere — and when she grew a little older, she learned how to behave in the studio and sat quietly sketching away by the tall glass window. When Andrè saw her drawings, he realized that his eldest daughter had talent and began carefully evaluating her work, giving her little tips and pointers. Thus, Elle spent her time, when she was not needed by her sisters nor when she had lessons in reading, writing and sums from her governess.
In such a blissful and happy time, six years passed quickly; and one day a Royal Messenger arrived and told Andrè that he was summoned to paint the Royal family again. With the same talent that wrought the lovely portrait of that same Royal family twelve years earlier, Andrè once again visited the sovereign family to discuss a sitting. The same time that had blest Andrè and his growing family also had wrought changes in the royal personages: the King and Queen were more careworn but still retained their ageless grace; the princess, now a lovely young beauty and sought by many princes kingdoms wide, also possessed grace and poise; and the young prince, though handsome like his mother and strong willed like his father, was known to be a little strong minded and thoughtless many times.
Andrè set to work again with the same fervor of pouring out all he had into this important commission. Sometimes he even brought Elle with him; and she would sit very quietly beside him and watch him paint or would sketch while he drew. Whatever she thought as she watched him, Andrè could never tell. She was always absorbed in what she did and never seemed impressed by all the opulence and grandeur of the Palace. Sometimes Andrè wondered if she even knew the importance of this commission and one time asked her if she knew who it was he was painting. “Yes, Papa,” she replied solemnly, “It is the King and Queen you are sketching.” “Then why are you not impressed child? Do you think that it is everyone who has the chance to see Their Majesties?”
Elle turned her beautiful eyes to him. They were riding home in the Royal Carriage and she had been looking out the gild window at the lush countryside. “Tis only the King and Queen, Papa. They are people just like anyone else…except with more responsibility and money. I do not envy them their life…nor their riches.” At that, Andrè leaned back in his seat and shook his head, “You are a very peculiar child, Elle.”
“Wherefore, Papa? I love my home and my life. I would not wish to be in charge of others. ’Twould be too much of a responsibility.”
“Aye, and because of that responsibility you must pity them their position?”
Elle looked at him, thinking a moment over what he said, “I — I guess I never thought about it that way, Papa. Aye, I do not envy them their position at all.”
“Not even for all their money?”
Elle shook her head emphatically, “Especially not for the money, Papa.”
Shocked, Andrè could only shake his head again, “You are a peculiar child, Elle.”
Twas this indifference for money that made Elle at odds with the Prince. Contrary to Elle’s strange ideas about true value, he thought money was the greatest prize in the world. He would enter arrayed in his best and try to spark some response in the quiet Elle to his richness.
“Come Elle, you always sit here so quietly. You have not even raised your eyes to see my new sword. Are you never impressed with anything besides your silly drawings? What do you think about as you sit there, you funny girl?”
Elle would raise her beautiful grey eyes, “Funny Highness? I was not aware I was so. But I think about many things one of which you have just addressed to me. What impresses me is when I behold someone trying to make another happy. I have discovered that to make someone happy is a very difficult thing to do, probably the hardest thing on earth.”
“Humph,” the prince would snort, “Tis nonsense that is. Making people happy is nothing to be impressed at. With just a bit of money, anyone can be happy. The normal thing to be impressed with is to see all the riches that one can obtain.”
“And what is the purpose of those riches if thou cannot share them with anyone Highness?” asked the quiet young girl, “Everything in life has to have a meaning — a goal to work towards — but if thou work towards the one that has thee at the center, then thou shalt find that thee art still unhappy though a possessor of great wealth. But if thee should work towards the goal of making others happy through thine work, then thou shalt discover that though thee may be poor, thee shalt be the richest man alive.”
The prince would shift a little, feeling very uncomfortable under the innocent, serious gaze before him. For some reason, he was ruffled: he did not like being talked down to from one younger than he. She was only eleven years old, what could she know of these things of which she spouts so surely. He, on the other hand was at the very mature age of fifteen and had seen more things than she had never thought possible. To save face then, he would make some other comment and dart off to fence with the pieces of wood that Andrè had left in his studio. And Elle would sigh and again lower her head to study her sketch. Twas such a pity the Prince took no notice of anything else besides gold…he would be a handsome young man if his face lost that hungry look of one searching for something. Elle knew she had already found what it was he unconsciously lacked and she sighed again. Perhaps one day soon, he would discover it for himself.
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