Maelyn (The Nine Princesses Novellas Book 1), page 1
The Nine Princesses Novellas
by Anita Valle
Copyright © 2012 by Anita Valle
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anita Valle Art
Cover art by Rob Sullivan
Rob Sullivan Art
First Edition: June 2012
Maelyn - Throne Princess
Coralina - Festivity Princess
Heidel - Kitchen Princess
Briette - Chamber Princess
Lace - Wardrobe Princess
Jaedis - Market Princess
Shulay - Garden Princess
Ivy - Art Princess
Arialain - Door Princess
The child was too young to understand death. All she knew was that Mama would not move. The child prodded and whined and stomped her small feet. But nothing stirred Mama from her bed.
When the cottage darkened, the child slept on the floor rushes, collecting bits of dried grass in her brown hair. At dawn she rubbed her eyes with the backs of her hands and cried at the pain in her belly. She could speak the word 'bread' but she could not find any.
She padded to the door and gripped the latch above her head. Without looking back at Mama, she ventured out in quest of bread.
Everything felt warm. The drying mud that clutched her toes; the breeze against her cheeks; the puddle of rainwater in which she dunked her face, gulping until it dribbled a dark streak down the front of her dress.
She wandered across the scant village, in and out of the scattered huts. No bread. No animals. No people either, except a few who slept like Mama.
In the last cottage she found half an apple and a wedge of cheese on a low sill. She devoured them on sight. The pain in her belly ebbed, but not enough.
Wandering out again, the child watched the stillness around her. She didn’t understand the quiet, only the feeling of wrongness it gave her. So her small feet turned away from the village and carried her across fields of flat emptiness. She found a road and instinctively followed it, walking until her legs ached and the pain in her belly sharpened again.
When evening burned the sky pink as her sun-baked cheeks, she sat on the parched grass by the road and cried into the backs of her hands again. The sound of approaching horses meant nothing to her. Horses were not bread.
“Is that a child?” someone asked.
The child looked up at a very large man on a very large horse. He wore colors she'd never seen and things that sparkled like sunlight on water. She cried harder in fear of his strangeness.
“Yes, Sire. A girl, I think.” A smaller man on a smaller horse rode by the shiny man. He too wore strange colors, but nothing that sparkled.
“Alone,” said the shiny man, his eyes sweeping acres of nothingness behind her. “Must be from one of the stricken villages.”
“None in the villages survived, my lord.”
“None that caught the Fever survived. Clearly this girl did not catch it.” He watched her for a long moment. “Fetch her, Dorian.”
The child squealed and thrashed as she was carried to the shiny man and placed on his horse. “There now, little pet.” The shiny man held her firmly, one arm circled around her middle. He dug through a satchel at his side and withdrew a small golden loaf.
The child stopped thrashing. “Bread!”
The horse beneath her moved onward. The shiny man carefully picked the rushes from her hair. But the child noticed neither as she crammed her cheeks with milk-white softness, richer, sweeter, more satisfying than anything she knew.
“Next town is not far, Sire,” said the one called Dorian. “Shall we leave the girl there?”
With her belly quiet, heavy sleepiness took over. The child curled against the shiny man, cooling her face on his smooth tunic. She felt his hand rest atop her head; his fingers stroke her hair. Just before slipping under, she caught his soft reply.
“No. Not this one.”
Princess Maelyn frowned at the royal messenger. "Rowan, you look terrible. Your face is red as fire."
“I feel terrible.” Rowan grimaced and rubbed his forehead. “But no matter, my lady, it will pass. I’ve come with a message from your uncle, the High King of Grunwold.”
Maelyn stiffened in her throne. She liked her uncle as much as she liked bandits in her bedchamber. Less. At least bandits could be hanged.
“He wants to know if the rumors are true,” said Rowan.
Maelyn lifted her chin. “What rumors?” Though she already knew.
Rowan cast down his eyes, flawlessly respectful. “The rumors that you have dismissed every servant in the castle.”
Maelyn did not even blink. “I have.”
“Even your ladies-in-waiting?”
“All of the servants,” said Maelyn, impatience crawling through her tone. “I expelled every one of them, from the sentries to the scullery maids. No one dwells in this castle but my sisters and myself.”
Rowan nodded. “Very good, my lady. I will tell the king.” Droplets gathered on his forehead and he yanked the cap off his gray hair to dab his face. “Beg your pardon, my lady…. May I ask why?”
“Did the king ask why?” Maelyn raised a single eyebrow.
“No,” said Rowan.
“Then you may go.” Maelyn unhooked her ivory cape and draped it on the arm of her throne. She felt anxious to reach her chamber and extract the combs bearing up her heavy brown hair. “Rest well before your journey, Rowan. Have you eaten?”
Rowan nodded, dabbing his face again. Maelyn noticed a trembling at his knees and sensed he struggled to stand erect. She hurried down the four steps that lifted her throne above her visitors.
“Come. I’ll help you to your horse.” She tucked herself under Rowan’s arm, alarmed at the fierce heat coming from his body. “Lean on me.”
She felt him settle against her shoulder. She intended to give him light support, but suddenly the full weight of his six-foot stature crushed down on her. Maelyn gasped as she crumpled to the marble floor with Rowan on top of her.
“Rowan!” Maelyn cried, uncertain whether to be outraged or terrified. He felt like a boulder on her ribs. His hot face pressed against her neck. She squirmed until she’d freed her hands and pushed back his head. His eyes….
Maelyn’s shriek reached every corner of the castle.
“People die too much,” said Princess Coralina Corissa at breakfast.
Maelyn looked horrified. “Coco!”
“Tell me they don’t!” Coralina challenged with her vivid purple eyes. “Every twelve seconds somebody drops. From plague or treachery or just stupidity. Can’t they find something better to do?”
“Rowan wasn’t stupid,” said Arialain, the youngest princess. She drooped over her berries and porridge, her wispy yellow hair nearly dipping into the bowl. “He was kind…. Even when I was little….”
Maelyn nodded. It didn’t surprise her to see Arialain so distraught. Her soft heart was easily touched. “He was kind. We’ve lost a faithful servant.”
Coralina rolled her eyes theatrically. “We’ve lost all our faithful servants, remember?”
Maelyn bristled and dug her spoon into h
She flicked a glance at the other princesses seated at the table. Either Rowan’s death had a quieting effect or they had given up arguing about the servants. Only Coralina seemed unaffected.
“Well, which was it?” Coralina asked.
“What?” said Maelyn.
“Plague, treachery or stupidity?”
Maelyn shut her eyes. “Red Fever.” Without looking she could feel the startled eyes of her sisters. “I thought the realm was finally rid of it.”
“Are you… are you sure?” Arialain asked.
Maelyn nodded. Rowan had probably woken in perfect health yesterday morning. By evening he was dead. That was Red Fever.
Coralina lifted a wedge of cheese off a silver platter and bit off the tip. “Who will carry our messages now?”
“No one, I hope,” said Maelyn, and Coralina laughed. But Maelyn brightened with a new thought. No messenger meant no correspondence with her uncle, the High King of Grunwold. Rowan would not be returning to answer for the “rumors”.
Hopefully the king wouldn’t notice.
When night blackened the castle windows, Maelyn turned the latch on her library door. She needed to be Maelyn for a while. Not the daughter of a king. Not the eldest of nine sisters. Not the ruling princess of Runa Realm. Just Maelyn and her books.
She had spent the day dutifully. Attended Rowan’s burial. Gave his wife a satchel of goldens. Prayed with the friar. Sung with the minstrel. Spoken with eloquence of Rowan’s faithful service. Ate the mutton pie served to her.
Maelyn sighed. She was grieving. But displaying grief as a duty was disheartening.
She lit a candle and gazed about her library, comfortably cluttered with padded reading chairs, miniscule tables, and towering shelves of books. She’d find a new story and steep her mind in another world.
She held her stub of candle at eye level and searched the nearest shelf for a book she hadn’t read. The Finicky Fairy – that was fun, she’d read it last winter. The Useless Unicorn. A bit silly but animal stories were never her favorites. The Carnivorous Carriage. If books were any less scarce, she’d have burnt that one. It still gave her nightmares.
Her candle flame passed all the titles on the shelf, then the two shelves above. It glided to the next bookcase, brushing each book with its gentle light. Methodically, the flame worked its way across the walls, lighting shelf after shelf. Maelyn found herself murmuring the titles aloud. “The Peculiar Prisoner, The Nauseous Knight, The Sinister Slippers, aren’t there any I haven’t read?” Ten minutes of careful searching later, Maelyn faced the dismal truth – she was bookless.
Disgusted, she blew out her candle and stalked to the window, though night hung too heavily to see beyond the glass. This meant a walk into town and a wearisome haggle with the Book Miser.
She hated that man.
“You can’t be his younger brother,” said Maelyn. “Rowan had only a sister.”
“I was not born his brother,” said the young man before her throne. “His mother took me in as a child.”
“You were an orphan?” Maelyn asked.
“Yes, my lady. We have that in common.”
Maelyn blinked, stunned at his boldness. Though all of Runa knew her birth story, no one spoke of it. Ever. “And what do they call you?” she asked to change the subject.
“Willow, my lady.” The young man grinned. “The family is fond of trees.”
Maelyn pinched her smile before it spread. The sister was Maple. The father was Spruce. Even Rowan’s infant son had been called Lumen for the ancient trees native to Runa.
Still she felt suspicious. “Why have I never seen you before?” Though she’d noticed him at the burial, he looked too unlike Rowan to be taken for family. Slender and tall. Yellow hair in careless waves. Barely older than herself, she guessed.
“I don’t venture out much,” said Willow. “I work best in solitude.”
“Yet you wish to be Royal Messenger?” Maelyn lifted her eyebrows. “That means venturing out quite a bit.”
“I do wish it.” Willow’s face grew earnest. “My brother served as your messenger, and his father before him. It would honor me to do the same.”
His voice rang true but Maelyn groaned inwardly. A new messenger meant her uncle’s question must be answered. She wished she had another task for Willow, something to delay sending him to Grunwold….
Maelyn pressed her scepter to her lips for a long moment. “Willow… do you know the Book Miser who lives in Creaklee?”
Willow looked taken aback. “I – I do, my lady. I’ve dealt with him.”
“Does he like you?”
Willow smirked. “Does he like anyone?”
Maelyn laughed, ashamed that she did. “I have your first task.” She reached beneath the legs of her throne and withdrew The Finicky Fairy. “I’m in need of something new to read. Take this to the Book Miser and trade it for whatever he will give you.”
Willow took the book from her outstretched hand and bowed. “My deepest thanks, my lady. I will not fail you.”
He strode for the arched doors at the far end of the throne room. Maelyn relaxed in her chair. How perfect. Her uncle would receive no message. And she would gain a new book without a verbal tussle with that wretched miser.
It was the messenger’s fault.
If he hadn’t revealed he was an orphan, she might be sleeping now. Not watching the shadowy folds of her bed curtains while her mind simmered with memories.
Maelyn pushed back the curtains and lit a candle on her bedside table. From a small drawer she removed a worn and tattered journal, lifting it with reverent fingers. She settled back in her pillows and opened to the first page. Her smile softened at the firm handwriting, comforting as the face of a friend.
Once there was a king so enchanted by his beautiful bride that he named his realm anew, calling it Runa in her honor.
The king gave his precious queen all her heart could ask, but one. She longed for a daughter. Nightly the couple prayed, but for nine years the nursery sat as empty as the queen’s arms.
In their tenth year, a terrible fever struck the realm, bringing death to nearly every household. In desperation, the king journeyed to nine distant kingdoms in hopes of finding a cure. But like a filthy cloak, the fever covered them all.
Before turning back, the king chanced upon a small child, the sole survivor of her village. An idea sprouted in his mind. He could not cure the fever, but perhaps the hole in the queen’s heart.
Months later the king returned home and presented his astonished queen with not one, but nine baby girls. “One from each kingdom I visited,” said the king. “They are orphans.”
The queen wept joyously at the row of cradles, each bearing a sleeping infant. After bestowing a kiss on each child’s forehead she said, “Now they are princesses.”
Maelyn returned her father’s journal to the drawer. She’d been the oldest baby in that row of cradles – about three years of age when Father found her by the road. Arialain had been less than a week, frail and born too early. Nine girls from nine kingdoms, orphaned by nameless strangers. Suddenly they became sisters, bound not by blood, but by their parents’ love.
Maelyn slid out of bed, shivering as her feet touched the floorboards. She wrapped a heavy shawl over her nightdress and padded to the window. The kingdom nestled in darkness thick as a wool blanket but the first smudges of sunlight colored the horizon.
She remembered only fragments of that distant day. Mama’s dead face. The long road that blistered her feet. Her terror when Dorian, the king’s manservant, lifted her off the ground. How good the bread tasted….
“You never saw us as orphans,” she said, addressing her unseen father. “You called us ‘hidden princesses’. Born in other lands, waiting for you to find us.” Maelyn smiled weakly. “But Father, many do not see us this way. I n
The peasant boy never looked up from the floor. He clutched a wriggling piglet in his arms and reddened with shyness.
Maelyn smiled at her last visitor of the day. “Flynn! You’ve grown so tall, how old are you now?”
“Twelve, my lady,” said Flynn. The piglet squealed and Flynn rubbed between his ears.
“And why have you come to me?” Maelyn asked.
“I came to…. Mama sent me to….” Flynn sniffed and rubbed his nose.
Maelyn removed her ivory cape and left it on the throne with her scepter. She sat on the marble steps below her throne and patted the place beside her. Flynn sat reluctantly, settling the piglet into his lap.
His eyes drifted over the small throne room. No chamber or corridor lacked a theme and here it was birds: sparrows painted across the walls, peacocks glowing in stained glass windows, swans carved in stone niches.
“Tell me about your pig,” said Maelyn.
“I bought him,” said Flynn. “A kind nobleman gave me a golden. I want to raise a pig herd.”
“Very wise,” said Maelyn.
Flynn stroked the white bristles on the piglet’s back. “But Mama’s angry. She says I should’ve bought food with the money. Says I can’t raise a herd with one pig. She wants me to ask… if you would buy him from me.” His last words wobbled and he sniffed again.
Maelyn reached over to let the piglet snuffle her fingers. “You like pigs?”
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