Wardrobes are not pleasant places to hide. They are dark, stuffy, and much too small for two twelve year olds. But they definitely imitate the atmosphere of a cave quite well, which was why I had chosen to play in this particular spot.
“And now our worst nightmare approaches,” I hissed in Timon’s ear as we crouched in the corner of the wardrobe. “A huge, ugly, monster!” He gazed at me with wide eyes.
“Shall I slay it?” he asked, pulling out an imaginary sword.
“Not yet. Wait until it gets closer so that you can be sure to stab its heart. It’s coming closer and closer,” I warned.
He prepared to deliver the fatal thrust, when the door began to open. We both froze. Was it the nightmare? My eyes widened, as I saw the figure in the doorway. It was my worst nightmare.
No, the apparition at the door was neither a monster nor ugly. On the contrary, it was a slim, beautiful woman. My mother. Queen Aurelia II, queen of Jiblaya.
Next to me, I could feel Timon squirm in discomfort. I moved aside and he slipped silently out the door. I sighed. That was the end of a good playmate. The son of one of the many castle cooks, he was a lot of fun to play with, but was unlikely to return any time soon. They were all like that. Fun to play with, but would run off and never return the first time that we were discovered. Not that I blamed them, but...
I looked over at my mother, still standing in the doorway. Tall and fair, she was dressed in a gown of midnight blue. Sapphires sparkled in her ears and at her throat, and her long, honey-blond hair was wound up behind her head.
As mothers went, she was a good one (not that I’d had any others), although she did tend to favor my sister sometimes. It was only natural probably, as she was much better behaved and much more ladylike than I. Still, I could’ve used some leeway now and then, especially now.
“Juliet Sapphira, come out of that wardrobe right now please,” Mother said in the no-nonsense tone I hated so much.
“I can’t imagine how she slipped out!” My tutor, Mistress Enkro stepped out from behind my mother. “Highness, I had my eyes on her the entire time!” She wrung her hands anxiously, and I bit my tongue, suddenly regretting chasing out my last tutor, who at least had been sweet. I loathed Mistress Enkro with all my heart, and she loathed me in return.
I was quite unused to being on the receiving end of loathing, and I was not at all eager for her to stay. Now I saw my chance.
I slid out of the wardrobe, and gave my sweetest smile. “The entire time that you were speaking to John?” I asked innocently. The sentry who was supposed to stand guard outside of my schoolroom had lately begun spending far too much time inside the room whenever Mistress Enkro was there.
Mistress Enkro’s plump face turned pale, and then scarlet, and then quickly settled on a beautiful shade of mauve. Her tight brown curls bobbed as she shook her head violently. “Highness-”
I caught my mother’s warning glance, but continued to press the point. Glee bubbled up inside of me, and I had quite a task repressing it. “Did he like the way my phoenix clip looked in your hair?”
I had lately found my jewelry and hair adornments missing at odd times. Mistress Enkro had mysteriously become very adept at finding them in the very places that I had already searched.
The mauve deepened until I felt certain that she would burst a blood vessel. Mother ignored her outraged sputtering, giving her a calculating glance before turning back to me. “Mistress Enkro, you may go,” said Mother. I felt a sudden rush of apprehension, wishing I hadn’t gone so far. I had a gift for opening my mouth too much too often, and it generally did not end well for me.
“Juliet,” she sighed as soon as Mistress Enkro had exited.
“I’m not at all sorry,” I muttered defiantly, crossing my arms. I scuffed my slipper on the floor, noticing that it had sported a new hole in the toe.
Mother raised her delicate brows. “Sorry about what?” Really, I had thought she had higher regard for my intelligence. It had to be the oldest trick in the book to get someone to tell what they’d been doing.
“Not sorry about anything,” I said, pressing my lips together. “Especially not about what I said to Mistress Enkro.”
“If it is true,” Mother said gently, “Then I would not be sorry either.” I opened my mouth to reply, but she held up a hand. “And that will be investigated. However, I would be sorry for ripping my gown, stealing the guards’ swords, pouring water down their necks, and acts of that sort which cause unnecessary trouble for so many people.”
I had never thought of pouring water down the guards’ necks before, although I was guilty of the other charges. It seemed like a good idea, and I wondered why it had never crossed my mind.
“Juliet?” Mother prompted.
“Well, I’m sorry that people were caused trouble but I am not sorry for what I did,” I replied stubbornly. “And anyhow, if the guards aren’t paying enough attention to avoid their swords getting stolen, then they deserve a bit of trouble. It will hopefully make them more vigilant in the future.”
Actually, I hoped not, for the palace guards were very fun to bother. I vowed to try the water trick at my earliest opportunity. Perhaps I could convince one of the kitchen boys to come with me.
Mother sighed again, and I could tell her patience was wearing thin. “The vigilance of the guards is not really your concern, my dear,” she said at last.
That was not a good sign. The more Mother said “dear” the less charitable she was feeling toward the subject, generally me. So I decided it would be a good idea to back down.
“Anyhow,” she continued in a brighter tone, “I came to find you because I have some very exciting news for you.”
“Yes?” I said warily. Mother and I often had very different ideas of exciting news.
“Well, I wanted to tell both of you together, so let me get Seraphina and I will be right back.” She left the room, and I sat down on the bed. This was one of the nicer guest suites in the castle. We had chosen to play here today because it sported an extra-large wardrobe.
Lucky Timon, free to do as he pleased. Although I didn’t think I would particularly enjoy being the daughter of a cook, Timon’s life was so much freer and less complicated. It would be nice to be able to do whatever I wanted all day.
Mother soon returned, Seraphina in tow, interrupting my pleasant reverie of freedom. Pale, blond, and two years younger than I, Seraphina was an 11-year old dream. Well, to me, she was more like a nightmare. She was quiet, obedient, sweet, and had perfect manners. Her tutors adored her, as did everyone else in the castle. Except for me.
She sat down on the bed next to me, smoothing her pale-blue dress which matched her wide eyes exactly. I moved away.
“Girls,” said Mother, a repressed note of excitement in her voice. “I have received a letter.” Mother got letters relatively often, and I didn’t really see why she was so excited. “A letter,” she repeated.
“From whom, Mother?” Seraphina asked.
“A letter from my brother, King Derek.” Well, this was exciting after all. Mother’s brother was the king of nearby Gilyad and didn’t correspond very regularly.
“My brother is coming to visit in one week from today. You’ve met him once before girls.”
Five years ago, when Mother was sick, King Derek had come to see her. I had been confined to my room as punishment for some misdeed or another, and spied on him through his window while he slept. I wasn’t sure that that counted as meeting him, but I had no desire to remind Mother of the incident, so I kept silent.
“He is bringing his wife, Queen Minya, and his children, Prince Marcus, Prince Tristan, Prince Dakar and Princess Zarah. I will be making a ball in their honor, and so-”
“New dresses!” squealed Seraphina.
“New dresses,” I echoed, feeling my heart sink to my toes. My hand moved automatically to my throat, a nervous habit that I rarely managed to suppress. “I don’t need a new dress, Mother. Really, I’ll be just fine without it.” New dresses meant hours of fittings, and the need to be careful with yet another piece of silk.
“New dresses all around,” Mother said firmly. “Absolutely. Especially you young lady.”
“I really don’t need it,” I repeated. “I have plenty of dresses.”
“And each adorned with a rip or stain in some place or another. No, you need a new dress my dear.”
“Dear” twice in one day. I was not doing well. “Fine,” I said sulkily. “But if the fitting takes more than an hour, I am leaving, whether the seamstress is finished or not.”