The next couple of days were filled full and Eveline went to bed drained each and every day. When she wasn’t helping with preparations for the ball or getting fitted for her new dress, she was helping Elaine search through the library to find information or spending time with her other sisters in the infirmary.
“You ready for the ball?” Harper asked one night as she was brushing Eveline’s hair.
“Not in the least,” Eveline said, “Every time the word ball is mentioned I feel like I’m going into a panic attack. There will be so many people in one little room. I’ll have to curtsy and dance. I’m terrible at curtsying, and when I dance it’s like I have two left feet. I can’t go through with it. I just can’t.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll do just fine,” Harper said, finishing up braiding Eveline’s hair.
“Thanks,” Eveline said, turning gratefully toward Harper.
“If you’d like, m’lady, I can help you practice some of the dances so that on the day of the ball you’ll float across the dance floor.”
“It’s worth a shot,” Eveline said, pulling the covers up and lying down.
“Well, good-night, m’lady,” Harper said, getting off the bed and leaving the room.
“One, two, three, one, two, three, one two three,” Harper counted.
Harper had spent the better part of the afternoon trying to teach Eveline how to waltz. Harper’s feet were aching from being stepped on over and over again for hours. It had taken hours, but Eveline finally managed to get one of the dances down.
“I am exhausted,” Eveline panted, “Let’s take a break.”
“Good thinking,” Harper agreed gratefully as plopped down onto the couch.
Eveline fell onto the couch and threw her arm over her eyes. She didn’t know that dancing could be so exhausting.
“You’ll never believe it! Guess what?” Elaine said, running into the room and kneeling down beside Eveline’s chair.
“What?” Eveline asked, turning her head tiredly to look at Elaine.
“I found him! I looked him up and I found that he was still alive! So I did some more research and I found out where he lives! We have an appointment with him in half an hour!”
“Wait, wait,” Eveline said, “Slow down. You found who? What’s going on?”
“Mr. Hawberry, of course,” Elaine said like she was stating the obvious, “The person who wrote the manuscript. Anyway, I was right, he is still alive and I got us an appointment with him today in half an hour.”
“We?” Eveline asked.
“Yes, we. Come on.”
Eveline pushed herself off the chair and followed Elaine to the stables. A young man was waiting at the door of the stable with two horses ready to go.
“Here are the horses you requested,” the man said, handing over the reins to Elaine.
“Thank you, Jordan,” Elaine said, grabbing the reins.
Jordan helped Elaine and Eveline onto the horses. He patted the horses gently as he handed the girls the reins.
“Have a nice ride, ma’am.”
“Thank you Jordan,” Elaine nodded politely before turning her horse around and heading off.
Eveline followed closely behind Elaine. After half an hour they came upon a little cottage on the outskirts of the town. It was small and white with a thatched roof. Elaine and Eveline slipped off their horses and tied them to the post outside the door.
Elaine knocked on the door. It didn’t take long for the door to open slightly and a face looked out at them. It was a tan, leathery, wrinkled face. Grey eyes were sunken into his face.
“Hello?” he asked, his voice was husky, like he hadn’t used it in a long time.
“I’m Elaine,” Elaine said, “This is my sister Eveline. I wrote to you.”
“Oh yes, I remember,” the old man said, opening the door wider and stepping aside to let them pass through.
The inside of the cottage was small and dark. A bed was pushed against the far wall, a table stood in the middle of the room. Black curtains covered each of the windows. A there was a fire glowing in the fireplace.
“Please,” the man said, gesturing to a chair, “Have a seat.”
“Thank you,” Eveline said, taking a seat at the table.
“So,” the old man said, bustling about the kitchen area, “You wanted to know about the curse on the royal family?”
“Yes,” Elaine said excitedly, her face glowing.
“Well, let’s see,” he placed mugs on the table and carefully poured each of them a cup of coffee, “It all started about 300 years ago,” the old man said, finally settling himself down, “The queen had just had a baby girl. The first child born to the young couple, and they were delighted. The whole kingdom joined in celebration.
“Everything was going wonderfully. Life couldn’t have been better for the little kingdom, but all that was soon to change. War was coming to the little land,” the old man took a sip of coffee before continuing.
“The war was going good for our side, we were winning, but it was a long war and supplies were getting short. To top it all off, that winter was the worst winter they had ever seen. Illness raged throughout the land and there wasn’t enough medicine or doctors to go around.
“No one was exempt from the illnesses, not even the precious little princess. She got extremely ill one day, and of course a doctor was sent for immediately, but by the time a doctor could be located and brought to the castle the little girl’s fever was high, and she was getting worse. The doctors couldn’t do anything about it. She lasted for two weeks before she finally succumbed to the illness and died.
“The queen was overcome with grief. She couldn’t handle the loss of her daughter. Shortly before the war ended, the queen, overcome with grief, threw herself off the highest tower of the castle. She fell into the moat and drowned.
“Later the king remarried, and had more children, but he never got over his first wife and child. It is said that he was angry at the loss. He vowed to get revenge, so when he died he haunted the people in his family to get his revenge for the loss of his family. All the women in the family either go crazy, or get ill. In the end all of the girls end up dying.”
“How long do they have?” Elaine asked.
“Well, the crazy ones usually have no more than two years. The ones that get ill have never lasted more than a year.”
“But why would he haunt his family?” Eveline asked.
“His family were the ones who urged him into the war. He said that if they hadn’t gone to war the doctors would have been available and they would have been able to save his daughter, and if his daughter had survived his wife would have also.”
“Is there anything we can do to stop this?” Elaine asked.
“I don’t know of anything,” the man shrugged.
“We can’t just sit back and do nothing,” Elaine cried.
“I’m sorry, but there is nothing to be done about it.”
“There has to be, there just has to be,” Elaine said almost hysterically.
She stood up quickly, knocking her chair over in the process, and ran out of the house.
“Sorry about that,” Eveline said quietly.
“It’s alright,” the old man said, “She’s upset. It’s understandable.”
“Well, thanks for your time,” Eveline stood up and left the cottage.
Elaine’s horse was gone by the time Eveline walked out of the cottage. Eveline swung herself onto her horse and headed in the direction of the hoof prints. She urged her horse into a trot, keeping a careful eye on the ground. It didn’t take too long for her to come across where Elaine had left her horse. Sliding off the horse, Eveline followed the trampled grass.
“Hey you,” Eveline said when she came across Elaine.
She was sitting on the edge of a pond, her arms clinging to her knees that were up to her chest. Her toes were dangling in the water, she looked so small, and even more childlike than usual. Eveline sat down next to her and wrapped her arm around Elaine’s shoulders, and brought Elaine close.
“What happened back there?” Eveline asked softly.
“Nothing,” Elaine said.
“Come on, there’s something going on,” Eveline urged, “Talk to me.”
“Our sisters are trapped in the cycle. They may not have much time left!” Elaine cried, “You aren’t really part of this family, so I guess you don’t care about them, but I do! I can’t just sit back and watch them die!”
By this time Elaine was hysterical, her voice was rising, and tears were streaming down her face.
“Elaine,” Eveline began.
“No,” Elaine said, “Don’t. Just leave me alone alright?”
Elaine stood up and ran off toward the horses. Eveline turned and watched Elaine until she disappeared from sight. Eveline pulled her knees up close to her and rested her arms on them. She rested her chin on her arms and stared at the little pond.
She played the whole scenario again through her mind. She tried to figure out what she had said that could set Elaine off like that. It wasn’t like Elaine to fly off the handle like that. She could be excitable at times but her temperament was usually sweet and happy. It just didn’t make sense.