The Seven Princesses of Jarryn
Breanna hung over the balcony railing, eyes wide. "Theyíre here!" she squealed. "They set it all up during the night. Itís like magic!"
Sophie joined her sister as they both peered down at the palace courtyard which had been transformed into a faire. Every square inch of grass was now covered with colorful tents and booths. Musicians, jugglers and other entertainers strolled between rows of flowers. Wonderful smells and enchanting sounds floated up from the crowded courtyard to where the two sisters stood.
"Are you two ready to go downstairs?" Breanna and Sophie turned to see their eldest sister standing behind them.
"Weíre ready," Breanna said, bouncing up and down in her excitement.
"Come along, then," Amelia said. "You both need to wash your faces and hands before we go. Who braided Sophieís hair this morning?"
"I did it myself," four year old Sophie announced, swinging her head to display her handiwork. The long blonde hair had been tugged and coaxed into a rather lumpy braid. The ribbon holding the ends was starting to come undone. Strands of hair that hadnít quite made it into the braid stuck out along her neckline.
Amelia smiled and patted her baby sister on the head. "Not bad for your first braid," she said warmly. "But, today is a very special day and we want to look our finest. Why donít I do something special with your hair? How would you like a triple braid?"
"Yes, please!" Sophie cried. She took Ameliaís hand, following her into the bedroom. They passed the twins, Jocelyn and Clarisse, who were pinning strings of pearls into their long braids. Anya stood before the looking-glass, holding up each of her three favorite gowns, trying to decide which to wear. Daniella, the first to be dressed and ready, as usual, sat on a cushion-lined couch near the door, watching her sisters and giving advice.
"Will we go downstairs soon?" Sophie asked as Amelia brushed her golden hair and began re-braiding.
"When everyone is ready," Amelia answered.
As Ameliaís fingers styled Sophieís hair, she kept an eye on the happy chaos around her. All seven sisters shared the enormous bedchamber. Each had their own bed, wardrobe and dressing table. A stranger, walking into the room for the first time, would gain valuable clues as to the sistersí personalities by studying the way each had decorated her part of the shared room.
Soft pinks, blues and yellows danced across Sophieís flowered coverlet. Although she had smoothed the covers after springing from her bed that morning, a few rumpled spots remained. Picture books lay scattered across her favorite chair and the toy unicorn who was her faithful companion lay on the floor where she had dropped it moments earlier.
Breannaís bed wore a quilt of midnight blue, decorated with silver stars. Her favorite books were neatly tucked into the small bookcase which sat beside her writing desk. A silver flute lay on a small table beside her bed.
The twins, Jocelyn and Clarisse, had enjoyed dressing alike every since they were old enough to realize they were identical. But, although it was difficult for anyone other that their sisters to tell them apart by appearance, it became a simple task once their actions were observed.
Jocelyn, the elder twin by two full minutes, loved horses, archery and spending time outdoors. Her favorite color, red, dominated her part of the bedroom. She could often be found wearing borrowed menís clothing and climbing trees or riding bareback on her favorite horse. Yet, when duty required it, she could dress as elegantly as any of her sisters.
Clarisse loved embroidery, playing the harp and attending balls. She was a talented artist, always carrying a sketchpad and pencil in a pouch she slung over her shoulder. Splashes of yellow decorated her bed and the cushions on her chair, while her favorite drawings were tacked up on the walls.
Anya was the quietest of the seven. Soft, peaceful greens graced her part of the bedroom. She watched the people around her thoughtfully, learning much from what she observed. Her deep blue eyes and dark curls had captivated many hearts in the kingdom of Jarryn. Had she been the eldest, she would have already received numerous marriage proposals. But Jarryn law was clear: the eldest princess must be married first before the others were free to choose a husband. For her part, Anya did not mind the law. At seventeen, she was content to wait a few years before becoming the wife of one of her admirers.
At eighteen, Daniella was eager for adventure. She looked forward to the day when she could leave the palace and travel throughout Jarryn, perhaps even visiting neighboring Katara or Alaria. Maps and travel journals were often spread across her table. Her orange bed coverings seemed to reflect something of her adventurous spirit.
"Are you done yet, Lia?" Sophie asked, twisting her head to catch a glimpse of her sisterís handiwork.
Amelia laughed, putting her hand on her baby sisterís head and gently turning it so she could continue her braiding. "Almost finished, Little One," she said as her fingers wove the ends together, fastening the braid with a ribbon. "All done."
"Thank you," Sophie said, bouncing off the bed to join her other sisters. Amelia smoothed the purple coverlet on her bed, glancing into the mirror over her dressing table, then nodding to herself. "Time to go downstairs," she announced. She reached for Sophieís hand, then led the way through the door and out into the hallway.
Amelia nodded politely to the two guards stationed outside the bedchamber. "Weíre going down to breakfast, Lars," she told the nearest guard.
"Very good, Your Highness," he answered, nodding as the procession filed past.
The sisters made their way down several long corridors, down a flight of stairs, along a twisting hallway and down three wide steps into a high-ceilinged parlor. A tall, thin man with sharp grey eyes came forward to greet them, his arms wide.
"Good morning, my daughters," he said cheerily.
"Good morning, Father," the sisters chorused. Sophie chirruped, "Good morning, Father," a few seconds after the others, adding, "I tried to braid my hair by myself today, but it got all tangled up."
King Darrian smiled fondly at his youngest child. "It did? Well, it looks quite nice now."
"Lia fixed it for me," Sophie said, smiling with pride at her eldest sister.
"Did she?" King Darrian asked. He nodded thoughtfully, looking from youngest to eldest. "Amelia takes good care of you, doesnít she? Well then, letís go to breakfast, shall we?" He offered his arm to Amelia and they led the procession into the dining room.
Amelia enjoyed her familyís mealtime chatter. Queen Elise had insisted that meals be relaxed and enjoyable, not strained and formal affairs. "Children need to learn to express themselves," she would often say. "It is unnatural for children to sit through a meal without speaking." Consequently, meals in the dining room were often noisy, but highly enjoyable, events.
Across the table from her eldest sister, Sophie was almost bouncing in her chair as she expressed her eagerness to visit every booth at the faire. Amelia could not help but smile at her sisterís enthusiasm. She watched Sophieís animated face, then allowed her gaze to travel around the table, resting in turn on each member of her family. When she reached her father, sitting at the head of the table beside her, a pang tugged at her heart as she noticed how much silver now mingled with the dark brown on his head and in his beard. Sensing her eyes on him, her father turned, smiling at her with great warmth in his eyes before turning his attention to something Jocelyn was saying.
Even though it had been almost four years, Amelia still missed her mother, especially at times like this when the family gathered together. Queen Elise had become ill quite suddenly with a high fever. Five days later, she died in her sleep. Sophie had been barely two months old. From that moment on, Amelia had taken her motherís place at table and in her younger sistersí lives. While Queen Elise was alive, Amelia had often played at being "mother" Ė now it became her reality. Although she missed her mother, sometimes with an aching heart, she never questioned her new role. She knew, deep in her heart, that it was where she belonged.
There was one place in their family, however, that remained empty. Unlike many other kings in Jarrynís history, King Darrian had chosen not to remarry. He had no wish to produce further heirs. After six months of mourning, draping his wifeís throne in black cloth, King Darrian had removed it from the great audience hall. Now a single throne sat on the raised dais.
As the eldest, Amelia knew she would one day rule Jarryn, allowing her father to step down for a much deserved retirement. She knew it was something he hoped to do in the not too distant future. His wifeís death had taken a piece of his soul and, although he tried to hide it for his daughtersí sakes, he was not the same strong, decisive man he had once been. According to Jarryn law, however, Amelia could only become Queen either at her fatherís death or when she married.
Unlike other countries on the Continent, Amelia was under no law compelling her to choose a husband before a certain birthday. Queen Elise had been very firm on that. "Marriage is far too important a relationship to rush into," she often stated. "I will not have any of my daughters pledging their lives to a man they do not love in order to satisfy either law or tradition."
Amelia smiled as memories of her mother filled her mind. Queen Elise had spent many hours talking with her eldest daughter about everything from how to keep long hair free from snarls, to favorite books or sharing silly jokes. As Amelia began to change from child into woman, their conversations moved to other subjects, especially relationships. "My desire for each of my daughters," Queen Elise had said one day while the two were on a private picnic, "is that they find a husband who will love and care for them; one who will appreciate their beauty now, but will love them even more when grey hair and wrinkles come. Someone to share laughter and joy, yes, but also someone to have by your side during the dark and painful times which everyone must face." Judging by the affection her parents displayed, the Queen had followed her own advice well.
"Poor Father," Amelia thought, watching him as he finished his breakfast. "He really misses Mother." She sighed softly, adding to herself, "I miss her, too."
Her motherís words about relationships and marriage had been on Ameliaís mind lately. Within the past three months she had received four marriage proposals. The first had come from Lord Reginald of Dynalia; a wealthy man, owning large tracts of land outside Jarrynís capital city, Kiara. There was only one problem Ė Reginald was nearly sixty. Far too old to be considered as a husband.
Three other offers of marriage had come since then Ė Geoffrey of Maryn, a prosperous merchant, Lord Benedict of Tamith and Sir Dolan, a powerful warrior from neighboring Alaria. Each had been considered and then turned down Ė Geoffrey was pompous, overbearing and quite fat; Lord Benedict was arrogant and cared more for his horses and falcons than Amelia; and there was fairly credible evidence that Sir Dolan had left Alaria to escape punishment for a variety of less than gentlemanly activities.
It was rumored that Prince Corin of Katara might propose to Amelia if his courtship of Princess Marina proved unsuccessful. Amelia had mixed feelings about this. Marrying Prince Corin would strengthen Jarryn by aligning it with Katara. But would she wish to marry someone who saw her as his second best choice?
"Well, my dears, you may all run along now and enjoy the faire." Amelia brought herself to attention at her fatherís words. Everyone had finished eating and was preparing to leave the dining hall. "Coming, Amelia?" her father asked, smiling and extending his hand.
"Yes, Father," Amelia said, rising from her half-eaten breakfast.
Her father glanced at her plate, then studied her face. "Are you all right, my dear?" he asked, gently squeezing her hand.
A rush of warmth swelled within her heart at the love and concern in her fatherís eyes. At that moment, Amelia realized she would do anything for this man who was both her king and her father. Squeezing his hand in return, she answered, "Iím fine, Father." She shrugged and then grinned. "I guess my mind was already at the faire."
King Darrian patted her hand. "Well, make sure you sample some sweets at the booths. Iíve been smelling some wonderful aromas coming from the courtyard."
"Will you be joining us?" Amelia asked.
"I hope so. I do have some meetings that simply canít wait. But I plan to join in the fun this afternoon."
"Good. It just wouldnít be the same without you," Amelia said.
"Keep an eye on everyone for me," King Darrian said, kissing his eldest on the cheek.
"I will, Father." She gave him a warm smile and then the two parted Ė King Darrian to his matters of state and Amelia to a day of entertainment and festival.
"Hurry up, Lia!" Sophie called, holding out her hand while dancing impatiently. "I want to see the jugglers!"
Holding her sisterís hand, Amelia stepped through an archway and out into the sunshine. Brilliant colors, wonderful smells and a flurry of activity greeted her eyes. "Itís even better than last year!" Sophie cried, bouncing up and down.
"How would you know?" Breanna scoffed. "You were only three."
Sophie stood up tall, pointing her nose in the air. "I remember," she said with a sniff in her sisterís direction. She studied the colorful chaos in front of her for several moments. Then, with a cry of delight, she released Ameliaís hand and raced forward toward the area where the jugglers were preparing. Amelia followed her youngest sister, keeping an eye on each of the others as they scattered to their favorite booths.
Years ago, when Amelia had been young, the King and Queen had taken their three oldest girls to the Faire that was held yearly in the open fields just to the south of Kiara. Amelia remembered the day well. She had been six, Daniella was four and Anya had just turned three.
It was a beautiful, sun-drenched day. The sky had been a deep blue, freckled with a handful of puffy clouds. The royal family, dressed in their finest, had ridden through the streets of Kiara in an open carriage. Amelia remembered all the people along the way, smiling and waving at her family. Jarryn had long been on friendly terms with its royalty, something King Darrian and Queen Elise saw as both an honor and a responsibility. "Our lives are often on display," King Darrian had explained to his young daughters. "We must set a good example to those who are watching. You may have an impact on anotherís life without ever saying a word. Your actions speak louder than any trumpet blast."
Although King Darrian expected his young daughters to behave well in public, he also wanted them to have fun. He encouraged Amelia to participate in the three-legged race. She was paired with a young girl named Teryl, whose name had been chosen by random from among all the six year olds in Kiara. Giggling and clinging to each other for balance as they practiced before the race, the two girls became friends. Moments later they took their place at the starting line and sped across the grass, easily passing all the others. They were awarded gold medallions, but each girl considered their budding friendship to be an even greater prize.
"Amelia! Hello! Anyone in there?"
The laughing voice shook Amelia out of the past. A petite girl with sparkling brown eyes and long brown hair cascading to her waist stood before her.
"Teryl!" Amelia hugged her best friend. "It is so good to see you!"
"It seems like ages since weíve seen each other," Teryl said, squeezing her friend tightly.
"I know," Amelia agreed with a sigh. "But, Father doesnít like us to travel very far from home."
"The Faire is not far from the palace," Teryl said, catching her friendís arm as the two walked along together. "Your whole family used to come. And you used to go riding or for walks outside Kiara." She grinned and her eyes sparkled. "Remember that time, four summers ago, when we hiked to Shanara and got caught in that rainstorm?"
Amelia smiled at the memory. "We were completely soaked! Then the wind shifted and started blowing so hard. I remember being so cold, my teeth were chattering!"
"But we were all right in the end," Teryl said. "Thomas of Mazen offered us a ride in his wagon and some warm blankets."
"What ever happened to him?" Amelia wondered aloud.
"Well," Teryl began, mischief dancing in her eyes. "It just so happens that his father bought some land two miles down the road from my familyís farm. We ran into each other at the farmerís market. I couldnít believe he still remembered me! Anyway, he talked to my father and was given permission to start seeing me." She smiled shyly as she added, "I think he means to propose soon."
"Oh, Teryl! Thatís wonderful news!" Amelia cried, embracing her friend joyfully.
"So, what about you? Are there any handsome princes visiting the palace these days?"
Amelia shook her head. "Not really. I have had a few marriage proposals, including one from a man old enough to be my grandfather." Teryl made a face, making Amelia laugh. Then she sobered and added, "None of them are men I really want to marry."
"Just wait. Someone will sweep into your life and steal your heart," Teryl said soothingly.
"Weíll see," Amelia answered. "But, I really donít want to think about marriage proposals today. Letís just enjoy the faire." The two friends set off, searching for their favorite entertainers and crafters.
Hours later, while listening to a talented harpist, Amelia once again found her thoughts wandering into the past. She remembered how concerned her parents had been when Thomas had brought her home, dripping wet from her hiking adventure. Even in summer, it was possible to become seriously ill. The physician had given Amelia hot tea made from a special blend of herbs and sent her to bed for several days. He sent a packet of herbs with Teryl, making certain she had dry clothing before leaving the palace to head home in Thomasí wagon. Neither girl became ill as a result of their adventure and they were soon together again, riding horses or taking long walks. They were, however, careful not to travel too far if the air smelled of rain.
Everything changed when Queen Elise died of the fever three months later.
At first, Amelia was too numb to do much of anything. She was grateful for her sisters, focusing on taking care of them to escape her own pain. But, as the weeks crept by, the pain grew more bearable. She found herself finding reasons to smile and even laugh. Riding horseback in the fields around Kiara began to interest her once again.
But, when Amelia expressed her desire to go riding, King Darrian gently but firmly denied her request. "It is best for your sisters if you stay close to home for now," he said.
Amelia reluctantly obeyed, hoping her father would eventually change his mind. She did, however, make every effort to stay in contact with Teryl. Royal messengers frequently carried messages between them and, when she could be spared from her familyís farm, Teryl would come to spend several days at the palace.
When the time for the yearly Faire drew near, Amelia hoped her father would agree to a family outing. "It would be good for all of us," Amelia suggested cautiously.
"I will consider it," her father said.
Several days passed. Amelia and her sisters waited in eager suspense for their fatherís decision.
That evening, after dinner, King Darrian made an announcement. "We will bring the best of the Faire here, to the palace!" he exclaimed. "You will each be allowed to invite one friend to spend the day with you. It will be our own, very special faire."
The seven princesses greeted this news with a measure of uncertainty. While the thought of their own private faire was somewhat appealing, the older girls remembered past visits to the Kiara Faire with great fondness. "It just wouldnít be the same," Anya said thoughtfully.
"It will be even better!" King Darrian insisted. He gazed lovingly at each of his daughters. "Let me do this for you. I know you will enjoy it. And I would feel much better knowing you are all here, safe at home."
And so, as the citizens of Kiara celebrated in the fields outside the city, the royal family and their invited guests held their own faire. Everyone tried to enjoy themselves for their fatherís sake. All in all, it wasnít a bad substitute for the Kiara Faire. Little did the princesses realize that this marked a lasting change in their lives.
During the four years following Queen Eliseís death, other more subtle changes took place. Out of respect for King Darrianís concerns for their safety, the princesses spent more and more time within the palace. Tutors had regularly instructed the princesses in their royal home. Entertainers, too, were often invited to give a special performance in the palace. But the princesses had regularly visited the shops near the palace to purchase clothing, writing paper, books or other items. Now, however, King Darrian arranged for the merchants to bring their wares to the palace on a regular basis, making it unnecessary for his daughters to leave their home.
As time went by, the princesses became more and more accustomed to the new patterns of their lives. The more time they spent within the palace, the less attention they paid to news of events taking place within Jarryn or even their home of Kiara. Certainly news came into the palace on a regular basis. King Darrian even made royal visits to cities in various parts of his kingdom. Tailors, booksellers, physicians and beauticians brought not only their services, but also their news. The princesses entertained friends as well, visiting within the sanctuary their father had created for them.
But, eventually, King Darrianís travels slowed to almost nothing. The younger girls found their friends had moved on to other interests. Little Sophie grew up with only her sisters and tutors as friends. Only Amelia maintained a friendship with someone outside the palace. And that might soon change, if Terylís suspicions about Thomas were correct. Once she was married, Teryl would have much less time for her royal best friend.
"I wish Father would allow us to go out, the way we used to," Amelia found herself thinking. "How can I rule Jarryn when I no longer know my own people?"
The harpist finished her concert. The applause broke into Ameliaís thoughts. She smiled and joined in. Then she took her best friendís arm and they set out once again, looking at all the items offered for sale.
"What beautiful necklaces!" Teryl exclaimed, pulling Amelia closer for a better look. She stroked a garnet pendant hanging from a silver chain.
"Pick your favorite and Iíll buy it for you," Amelia said. When Teryl began to protest, Amelia added, "Consider it an early engagement present."
Teryl blushed at this. "Thomas hasnít officially proposed yet."
"He will," Amelia grinned. "Go on. Let me do this for you." Teryl embraced her friend, then turned her attention back to the jewelry display.
Amelia smiled as she watched her friend. A sudden movement caught the corner of her eye. She turned to see a wrinkled old woman watching her intently. "Princess Amelia," the old woman said gently in a melodious voice. "Come with me. I have a great gift for you and your sisters."
Amelia studied the old woman carefully. "What gift do you have?" she asked.
"Shhhh! Not here!" The old woman looked around. "We must speak privately."
The old womanís tone intrigued Amelia. What harm could it do to follow her? She was safe within the palace Ė the King made sure of that. "Iíll be right back, Teryl," Amelia said, touching her friendís arm. Teryl nodded absently as she studied an amethyst brooch.
Amelia nodded to the old woman, who began leading her to a secluded corner of the courtyard. Here several rows of hedges met, forming a shadowed space. The old woman slipped inside, pressing herself back against the hedges to allow room for Amelia.
"What gift do you bring?" Amelia asked. "Why must you speak in secret like this?"
"Hush! Not so loud!" the old woman hissed. "What I bring is very valuable. It is a gift that must be kept secret." Her eyes darted from side to side, even glancing over her shoulder several times until she was satisfied that they were truly alone. Then, after muttering to herself while digging in the basket she carried, she drew out a small cloth-wrapped object. This she held out triumphantly.
"What is it?" Amelia whispered, taking it from the old womanís hand.
"Open it and see," came the answer.
Amelia carefully removed the cloth wrappings to reveal a heart-shaped box. The sides and bottom were made of wood, but the lid was smooth and milky white. "Itís beautiful!" Amelia whispered, caressing the lid with her fingers.
"The lid of the box is made of moonstone," the old woman whispered.
"Moonstone?" Amelia looked up. "I thought moonstones could only be found in Aphela Forest."
The old woman nodded, a smile curving her lips, revealing broken and uneven teeth. "That is correct, my dear. The stone used to make this box came through many dark dangers to reach you. It is worth more than many of the jewels contained in the royal treasury. And moonstones have great power Ė the power to make dreams come true."
Amelia studied the box again, turning it over slowly. There were no markings, no designs carved into the wooden sides or bottom. Golden hinges held the lid at the top; a golden clasp latched the lid in place.
"Whatís inside?" Amelia wondered aloud.
As her hand touched the latch, the old womanís bony fingers stopped her. "Do not open it now, Princess," she warned. "You must take this box to your bedchamber. Place it on the window ledge where moonlight falls. At midnight tonight, when the moon is full, the moonstone will become charged with great power. When the moonstone calls to you, rise and open this box. Remove the treasures inside and share them with your sisters. Then you will see your dreams come true."
"But what Ė " Amelia began.
"Enough," the old woman hissed. "I must go. Tell no one of our conversation here. Follow my instructions and you will find all you wish for." With that, she left their meeting place, melting into the noisy crowd.
Amelia stood in the shadows for several thoughtful moments. Then she wrapped the cloth around the box, placing it in her bag. Moments later, she had rejoined Teryl at the jewelry booth.
"What did that old woman want?" Teryl asked.
Amelia opened her mouth to tell Teryl about the mysterious box and her conversation with the old woman. But, as she started to speak, her throat felt as if it was being squeezed shut by invisible hands. She coughed, then gasped as the feeling faded away.
"Are you all right?" Teryl asked anxiously.
Amelia nodded, clearing her throat. Perhaps it would be best to keep the box a secret, even from her best friend. "Iím fine. Something just stuck in my throat." She looked at the jewelry display. "Did you find anything you like?"
Teryl smiled as she held up a gold chain with a deep blue pendant. "Isnít it pretty?" she asked.
"Itís beautiful!" Amelia agreed. She purchased the necklace for her friend, then the two continued through the faire. The box and the strange old woman were not mentioned again.
An hour after sunset, the old woman cautiously made her way to the outskirts of Kiara. She walked along the road leading away from the city, then turned aside to follow a winding trail through scattered trees and brush. Soon the trail opened into a small clearing, ringed by six large oaks. The branches from these trees had twisted into each other, forming a living barrier.
The old woman stepped into the center of the ring. Above her, a full moon lit the night. A gentle breeze ruffled the leaves, causing them to dance. The old woman reached into her bag and pulled out a crystal sphere the size of her fist. She held it up in the moonlight. Soon the sphere began to glow. A mist covered its surface, then cleared as a face appeared.
"What is your news, Edwina?" the image in the sphere demanded in a harsh voice.
"I have done what you asked," the old woman answered. "Princess Amelia has the moonstone box."
"She knows to set the box in the moonlight?"
"Yes, my lord," came the answer.
"Good. Our trap is set. Soon King Darrian will come to me in order to free his daughters from the spell of the moonstone." The image in the sphere smiled cruelly. "And I will free them Ė in exchange for his crown."
"You would rule Jarryn?" Edwina asked in awe.
"Yes," the wizard answered. "Soon every country on the Continent will be mine."
Edwina nodded, then frowned. "Wonít there be trouble if King Arnon finds out what you are doing? He defeated you in Kyr and Ė "
"King Arnon!" Kazab hissed. "Yes, he managed to free the Ursa fairies from under my control. I was not strong enough then, but I have been slowly rebuilding my power. I will not be defeated again. Besides, King Arnon is far away in his precious Kyr. He cannot see what happens here in Jarryn."
"But Iíve heard it said that King Arnon watches over everyone who lives on the Continent," Edwina began uncertainly.
"A foolish tale for children," Kazab shouted. "I have wrapped myself in deepest darkness. My plans are hidden from him. I will not fail." He glared at Edwina as he added, "Is that clear?"
"Yes, my lord," she stammered.
"That is all then. You may go."
Nervously, Edwina licked her lips. "But you promised to pay me for delivering the box," she said with a whine. "When will you Ė "
"Receive your payment!" Kazab bellowed.
A flash of light exploded from the sphere, filling the clearing. It was followed by a loud cracking sound. A moment later, the crystal sphere fell to the ground. In the moonlight, the form of an old woman could be seen within the sphere. She pounded at the walls of her prison and cried out, but no sound escaped. Only the rustling of the leaves could be heard.
It was past eleven when Amelia led the way upstairs that evening. She carried a sleeping Sophie in her arms while her sisters followed wearily. The princesses had given their father goodnight kisses in the courtyard before heading upstairs. Everyone agreed that it had been a grand faire, despite the fact that they had not left the confines of the palace.
After helping Sophie into her nightclothes and tucking her into bed, Amelia moved to the window. Moonlight created a silvery pool on the wide ledge. Amelia set the moonstone box down, watching curiously as the lid began to glow. Then she turned her attention to her sistersí bedtime preparations.
Soon all seven princesses were safely tucked beneath their colorful quilts, each ready to dream through the night. Amelia gave the moonstone box one final glance before curling up and closing her eyes. She remembered the old womanís words Ė something about the moonstone calling her. What a silly idea, Amelia thought. A stone canít talk. Maybe I should stay awake to see what will happen. She tried to keep her eyes open, but the soft sheets and her sistersí peaceful breathing soon lulled her to sleep.
As the clock in the corner struck midnight, the moonstone box began to shimmer and sparkle. A gentle breeze began to move through the bedchamber, seeming to come from the box itself. The sound of tiny bells traveled on the breeze, blowing around each of the sleeping princesses.
"Amelia Ė Amelia Ė Awake!" A voice, at first sighing, the growing in volume, filled the room. "Amelia Ė Amelia Ė come to us!"
Amelia rolled over in bed, then blinked her eyes. She lay still, ears listening. Was someone there?
"Amelia Ė come to us!"
Amelia sat up slowly. Her eyes were drawn to the box on the window ledge. Swirls of shimmering light streamed from the box to dance around her. Fingers of light drew back the covers of her bed, the caught her hands. She felt a light touch on her wrists. Then she was moving forward toward the moonlight and the glowing box. Strangely, she did not feel afraid Ė only curious.
When she reached the window ledge, Amelia carefully picked up the box. She lifted the lid and gasped. Inside were seven necklaces, all alike. Each one had a moonstone cut in the shape of a heart which was suspended on a golden chain. The light coming from each necklace seemed to pulse as if it had its own heartbeat.
"Share us with your sisters," the moonstones seemed to sigh. "Share us with your sisters."
Slowly, drawn by the fingers of light, Amelia moved to each of her sistersí beds. As she approached, each princess opened her eyes, sat up in bed and took the necklace Amelia offered. Then, one by one, the sister formed a line beside the window. Amelia took her necklace from the box and fastened it around her neck. She placed the box back on the window ledge.
"Come to us Ė step through the doorway and come to us!" the voices called.
The princesses joined hands. A circle of darkness formed within the swirling lights. Soon it became a doorway into nothingness, surrounded by moonlight. Amelia stepped into the opening, followed by her sisters. The swirling lights were sucked into the darkness and the room was still. Only the box remained, waiting in the moonlight for the princesses to return.