The queen is ill and the hidden heirs to the throne must be found before she dies.
“Who?” I asked.
“You know. The Children,” she said. “The ones the queen mentioned.”
“Oh. I'm not really sure,” I answered.
“Wouldn't it be amazing if it were us?” she asked.
“I suppose,” I said. “It couldn't be both of us, though, because one must be a boy. However, you could be the girl. You look like you could be a princess, just you're in a peasant's dress.”
Cassandra didn't read the scrolls much, like many of the people on the island, which led to much confusion of the sick queen's words, “Find the Children.” I, however, loved to read through them, so I was able to explain to my friend what was meant. That there were two children to be raised by commoners so that if someone were to kill the king and queen to become the new ruler, there would be an heir to the throne in their way. That not even their parents knew that their children were the heirs to the throne, or if they did, they were sworn to secrecy.
“What about you? It's just as likely to be you, isn't it?” Cassandra asked.
“Oh, no. It couldn't be me,” I denied. “I'm just a simple peasant girl who had better get the water from the well before Mother gives another lecture about staying focused on the job at hand and all that.”
I smiled and pulled the rope. I could hear the water sloshing around inside the bucket as it rose higher and higher. I unhooked it and carried both full buckets back to our cabin, trying to keep from spilling it when I stumbled on a stone. I was just glad Terry wasn't around to see me trip. He gave me so much trouble over everything I did wrong, that annoying kid.
When I arrived, I noticed there was man inside the house, talking to my mother and father. Based on how clean his clothes were and the variety of color, I guessed he was a nobleman.
“Sire, this is my daughter, Liora,” my mother introduced. She carefully grabbed the buckets from me, indicating I was to stay and speak with the man. While I was glad I didn't have to wash our dishes, I wasn't sure what would come from talking with him.
“Liora, you must come with me to the castle for your evaluation by Queen Katherine,” he said in a deep voice. “You are within the boundaries for being a Child, one of the queen's heirs.”
“Yes, sire,” I said respectfully, my mind racing. I had never realized all of the children in the kingdom within the age limits were to see the queen.
He walked out of the cabin, and I followed. He took me to a line of children of all ages. I knew from reading the scrolls that all of the children in line would be aged of five and older, because only the king and queen knew exactly how old the heirs were. More children lined up behind me, including Cassandra, before we were led along the long, dusty road and to the castle.
I had never been so close castle before. I had far too many chores and it was so far away from our house that I never got the chance. We then walked into the keep, where the queen would be. The inside was decorated beautifully. There were tapestries on all of the stone walls, and many of the windows were stained glass in all different colors.
We were given a place to sit while each child went up to the queen's bedroom, alone except for one of the queen's servants as an escort. I sat alone to think, despite being able to talk with Cassandra.
I ran my fingers through my long, tangled brown hair and sighed. I wished I had a chance to prepare for this. Then I'd be able to at least be able to wash my ugly face, make myself look a little bit more presentable. Or take a bath and get the dirt off my arms and make them look a little lighter, more fashionable. Maybe it was good that I was dirty, though. At least it would distract from my utter ugliness.
My name was called, and I followed a woman in a dress about as basic as mine up the stone stairs. She opened the door and told the queen my name, then stood outside the door, waiting for me to come out. I stepped in cautiously. I had never been in the queen's presence before, and I wasn't entirely sure how to behave.
“Queen Katherine, madam,” I said, bowing to the ground at the woman sitting up in bed. At her command, I stood up.
“Liora,” she said, then closed her eyes. I stepped forward.
The queen opened her eyes again and put her hand on my shoulder. Then she felt along the band around my belly. She smiled and pulled a small gem out of a secret pocket not even I knew about. She grabbed a crown from next to her and fit the red jewel into a hole, then handed me the crown.
“Princess Liora,” she declared.
“P-princess? B-but I'm not a princess. I'm j-just a peasant girl. I can't be . . .” I stuttered. She nodded, and I looked for another excuse. “But I'm ugly. I don't look like a princess!”
“You are my daughter and heir to the throne,” the queen said. “It does not matter how you appear, but that you are kind and a good ruler.”
She placed the crown on my head, but I took it off. She smiled at me and nodded. By the time I got down to where the other children were, all the other girls were already leaving. I wondered how they got the message that I was the princess already, but at that moment I didn't really care. I just wondered how it could be that I was the daughter of the queen. The queen!
Princess. I didn't feel like a princess. I wasn't expecting to be called the princess. The crown felt strange in my hands. I knew that somewhere in the crowd in front of me was my brother, and that was an odd feeling, as well. To think that all along, I there was a boy in the village I was related to, but never knew it. I stared at my crown and sighed. I placed it on my head and decided to make the best of it.
A while later, a boy came down with a crown, this one with green gems instead of the red, like mine, on his head. His clothes were dirty and had patches all over them, like me, but the crown meant he was the prince. I walked over to him. I figured if I was going to have to live with him, I might as well get to know him. Suddenly, I recognized the boy. He was a constant annoyance in the village, a boy I always hoped wasn't playing near the well when I had to get the water, as he often called me names and insulted me.
“Hello, I am Liora. Er, Princess Liora,” I introduced myself carefully, hoping he didn't recognize me.
“Prince Terrel,” he said in a firm, confident voice.
I could see how he could be related to me. His hair was the same color as mine, and his nose looked exactly like mine. He even looked like he was my age, eleven.
“Does it feel strange?” I asked.
“What?” he asked.
“Suddenly being the prince.”
“Yeah. I just wanted to be a farmer. When I was little, I even wanted to be a knight, although that is no longer an option,” he said.
“I know what you mean. I was going to be a normal woman, just like my mother. Or at least, who I thought was my mother. I just can't . . .”
“You can't be royal?” Terrel asked.
“Yeah. I don't have the slightest idea how to act or what to do, and I don't want to have to take lessons on the proper way to walk or the correct things to talk about at the dinner table.” I sighed.
“Of course you wouldn't,” he shrugged.
“Terrel!” I exclaimed, pushing him away.
“Hey, if we're going to be living together, we better get along. It won't do to be constantly fighting. Truce?” Terrel said.
I considered his proposition. If I were to agree, he couldn't be mean to me any more. On the other hand, if I didn't, I could have a bunch of fun “defending” myself against him. But who knew what sort of behavior I had to have as the princess in the castle, especially after the queen died and Terrel and I would have to rule the land. I sighed.
“Truce.” I smiled and shook his outstretched hand.
I had a feeling my new life as a princess was going to be somewhat bearable.