It has now been seven years since I first came to the palace; seven long, enjoyable, challenging, wonderful, hard years. I have grown into an intelligent and beautiful eighteen year old young woman with a passion for my country's people and an ever blazing love for Christ. My wonderful maids are still with me, perhaps not as young as they were but nevertheless, still here. Cimmeron is no longer a foolish young stallion. He is a wising ten year old steed who has sired many of the king's finest horses. Clyde has become a fine soldier in the regiments of the royal military and by the grace of God has been spared in many a battle. My parents have aged and live alone in their mansion as all their ducklings have left the nest. Yet, they are not entirely lonely. They love to house passer-by's and the little children of the village are always visiting.
I have made many friends here at the palace and I love them all dearly. Uncle George (as I have been allowed to call him) is a very pleasant king and the best of friends, his daughter, Princess Lydia, has been my closest and dearest companion, friend and confidant through these years, Prince Caleb and Prince Bert, the kings youngest sons, Andy the stable boy, Mr. Gary the gardener, Mrs. Millie the cook, all the members of parliament and many others. The royal family has practically become my own and I, theirs; except for two members that is. I have never officially met Uncle George's older sons; Prince Luke and Prince Matthew. I have only seen portraits and paintings of them. They are fairly handsome, but one cannot get a satisfactory image or evaluation of a person's character from a painting, can they? Apparently the two have spent their lives in the parliament room and the military training center, not to mention their quarters are on the opposite side of the castle, so I have not seen much of them. Perhaps a small pass in the throne room, a glimpse at a ball, a run in on a horse ride, etc.
Currently, I am in my favorite place on the whole palace grounds, and perhaps the whole country: a glorious cove discretely hidden at the edge of the palace property. I found it one warm morning while riding Cimmeron around the parameter of the grounds. I spent hours and hours there and when I finally arrived back at the palace, learned that it had gone into a frenzy trying to find me. Of course, I was deeply sorry and promised not do such again but Uncle George would not be satisfied with a simple apology and so, not wanting to lie, I told him of the magical place I had found. He had smiled and requested that a small cottage be built there for me to spend my time if I so desired. This was more than welcomed and Lydia and I have come here almost every day ever since.
It is always so peaceful here. I sit down on a piece of drift wood, close my eyes, and listen. A beautiful melody flows into my ears; the gentle crash of waves upon the shoreline, sea gulls calling to one another, wind whipping the sand into mounds, and Lydia's alto voice sailing over it all. Oh to stay here forever. I open my eyes when the singing stops.
"Oh don't stop Lydia, you sound so angelic!" I say smiling.
"But it is time for us to go, dearest sister." She replies, staring down me. I cock my head.
"Have you forgotten already? Luke's coming of age ceremony and ball is tonight."
"Oh!" I gasp. "I suppose I did forget…"
Lydia laughs and helps me up from the log.
"Come on then! Daisy will be in such a fuss if we don't have a decent amount of time to get ready." I grin.
"You mean she'll fuss at you, not me." Lydia says as she mounts Crystal, her painted mare.
"True, very true." I agree, swinging my leg over Cimmeron. "HAH!" I shout to spur him on.
We drop our horses at the stables and hurry into the castle. Sure enough, Daisy is all in a fuss. She bustles about this way and that; brushing on makeup, picking out all the possible jewelry that could go with my outfit, shinning my shoes, brushing my hair into golden-red waves, polishing my nails and much more. By the time she is done, I barely recognize myself. The girl in the mirror isn't me. She can't be. I gingerly touch the cascading locks that lay on the shoulder. Yes, that is my hair, but it looks as if it belongs to someone else. She has the same blue eyes, the same curved nose, yet…yet she is different. My eyes fall to my dress.
"Oh Daisy!" I utter. "It's…beautiful."
"No, you look beautiful." She smiles as I spin around in front of the mirror.
My dress is shimmery emerald green chiffon with a ruche bodice. Beautiful beaded emeralds create a one shoulder neckline that continues down the bodice then scatters at the waist and hints of embedded gold thread flash through the dress when I move. Gold bangles clasp my wrist and gold teardrop earrings hang from my lobes. A green shawl is draped about my arms. Dainty green heals embrace my feet and, to top it off, my favorite crown has entwined itself in my hair.
"Oh Daisy." I repeat. "Thank you!" I say, swinging my arms around her.
"Careful!" She warns. "You'll wrinkle it." She swipes my lips with a little more lipstick. "Now go out there and have fun." She smiles, her eyes tearing as she pats my cheek.
I meet Lydia in the hallway and gape at her dress. She is clothed in a deep fuchsia ruched tulle stain ball gown that has an amethyst and silver beading halter and waist. Amethyst studded bangles hang on her wrist and giant amethyst earrings hug her ears. The first layer of her dark brown hair is pulled up in a silver clasp and her bangs are slightly curled. A light purple shawl hangs about her arms.
"Oh Lydia! You're beautiful! Absolutely beautiful!" I coo.
"Well, you are just as beautiful, maybe more!" She counters. "Luke would be a fool not to fall for you."
I blush. "He wouldn't notice me, Lydia. Besides, I've never met him."
"Well then, let's go meet him!" She giggles and pulls me down the hall.
"Isn't he busy getting ready for the ceremony?" I call hopefully as we hurry.
"Oh yes, he is, but he always has time for his little sissy."
I gulp and smooth my dress when we reach the library.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" I whisper as the guards open the heavy doors.
"You'll be absolutely fine. He doesn't bite!"
"Well I figured that…" I say under my breath.
We walk slowly into the room and approach Prince Luke who is talking with Uncle George.
"Now, you'll also want to remember…Oh hello girls!" Uncle George calls cheerily. "Why, you look absolutely heavenly. Don't you agree Luke?" He grins.
"Why…why yes, father." Luke stammers. "A-a-bsolutely lovely."
Without meaning to, I blush. Oh stop that, I chide myself but blush again after Lydia introduces me.
"This is my oldest and dearest friend, Luke." She brags. "I'm sure you've seen her somehow. She's lived with us for seven years after all."
"Really?" he says not taking his eyes off me, "Yes…I'm sure I have."
"Well, we must be going. Wouldn't want to distract you from the ceremony!" She calls happily. "Goodbye father! Good luck Luke!"
She turns and pulls me along with her, leaving Luke completely confused.
"I…Uh…um." He stammers as we leave.
"Where were we?" Uncle George asks. "Oh yes I know!"
We rush out of the room in great haste and as soon as we have walked down the hall a ways, Lydia immediately begins giggling.
"Oh did you see the look on his face?" She gushes. "I'll bet he didn't hear a word I said! And when we left he looked as if he was a kid whose candy was taken away!"
"Oh Lydia, please!" I beg. "What was the point in all that if you didn't even give him my name?"
"Don't you see, dear sister? That's exactly the point. Now he has to find you again to learn it!"
"Oh dash it all." I sigh.
"Come on! Let's go get our seats."
The throne room has already begun to fill with numerous guests and it is slow going to the front of the room. Finally, we sit down in the cushioned chairs and review the program. Hearing my name, I look around and smile when I see father walking towards me.
"My lovely dove." He smiles as I hug him. "You look just like your mother."
"Thank you papa. Daisy did a fantastic job as always."
"Yes, yes she has." He says, sitting down.
"So what's the coming of age ceremony for?" I ask, turning to Lydia.
"It's for the son who will one day be king." She replies. "Usually it takes place shortly after the young man has turned twenty. A representative from each village and town comes and either approves of or disapproves of him. He'll give a speech and if enough villages and towns approve him, he enters into a partnership with the king and takes on some of the kingly duties to see what it's like. He also has to find a suitable young lady to be queen before he turns twenty-two." She winks at me and I roll my eyes. "Don't be so doubtful. I think he likes you."
"No really, I do." She urges.
"And you have talked to him about this?"
"He should be able to make up his own mind, dear sister. I don't think God needs you to help him find Prince Luke a wife."
I laugh and give her a hug as the trumpets sound the arrival of the king and prince. The whole room stands and bows their heads in respect as they proceed down the aisle and take their seats in the throne chairs. Uncle George greets us, says a few words, and the ceremony gets underway.
Prince Luke takes a stand at the extravagant podium and begins his speech for the country. It is beautifully done and very persuasive; it talks of hope for the people, progress for the country, and his vision. There is a short interlude as the representatives' talk amongst themselves and then the ceremony continues with their vote. Each and every town and village approves of him as the future king. The first ever in the country's history, apparently. We all stand and give him a round of applause as he stands there in awe of what just happened. He smiles and gives handshakes and waves as he and Uncle George exit the room.
As soon as they leave, Lydia grabs me by the hand and drags me out a side door and into a small sitting room.
"Alright, now the key is to wait until almost everyone is in the ballroom so that he has to wade through the crowd to find you; if he's really interested in getting to know you." She says, her eyes gleaming with delight.
"And who are you?" I say raising my eyebrows. "A male behavior specialist?"
This sends her into a fit of laughter and she clutches her sides.
"…gasp…what are you…gasp…trying to do? …gasp…joke me to death? …gasp…that was funny though…gasp." Her breathing becomes normal. "No, but I know my brother and what will get him most excited; and right now you are the thing he's most excited about. I can tell."
"Lydia, really. If you spend too much time trying to figure out my romance you'll miss your own."
"Not really." She says winking. "I'll just get the ball rolling for you."
"Oh you rotten scoundrel!" I say teasingly while I tickle her sides.
"Stop! Stop!" She pleads.
I stop obligingly and walk back to the throne room.
"Empty enough for you?" I inquire.
"Yes, this is perfect. He's probably been searching for you since he walked out of the ceremony!"
I sigh and follow her into the ball room.
"Oh it's so lovely!" I gasp, looking around at the couples dancing among the gold flower urns.
"Now let's get you dancing!" She says as she grabs my wrist. "Oh look! There's Prince Charming." She smiles. "Just look at him. Isn't he just handsome?"
"Ouch…" I say as she playfully punches my shoulder.
"That could not have hurt."
"Um…yes?" I say hopefully.
"You were just avoiding my question."
"Enough talk. I think he's seen you."
Oh Lord help me! I plead.
I am always with you, Dearest.
"Oh Luke dear!" She coos. "We were just talking about you! Your ceremony was quiet impressive! Wasn't it Sarah?"
"Oh...yes it was. Your speech was very persuasive." I manage.
"I'm glad you think so." He smiles.
I feel my heart beat speed up. Oh nerves…always acting up when you don't want them too.
"I don't think I had the pleasure of learning your name earlier as my dear sister hurried you away so quickly." He says, raising his eyebrows at her. She smirks at him.
"Sarah." I say. "Sarah Elizabeth Anderson." I inhale sharply as he bows and kisses my hand.
"Anderson, eh? That name sounds very familiar."
"My father is in Uncle George's…I mean the king's parliament."
He chuckles. "So Veronica's not the only one who can call him that."
I wince. Veronica. She and I are not exactly on good terms. Yet I'm not sure why. I don't think I have ever done anything to offend her. Perhaps it is because she is jealous of me, but what I have that she hasn't I have no clue. She and her two ignorant friends, Amy and Monica, are always making trouble for me. I turn my attention back to Luke.
"Would you care to dance? I hear they have some beautiful waltzes planed." He asks.
I am sure my heart stops beating. I look around for Lydia but she has obviously made herself scarce. I stare at his outstretched hand for a few moments.
"It would be an honor." I gulp.
I send up a silent prayer and away we go; swept up into the flow of the other dancers. I am suddenly very aware of his hand planted gently on my waist and his green eyes staring at mine. My hands begin to sweat.
"My sister said you have spent seven years here?" He asks.
"Yes." I stammer. "My parents started my education early and sent me here at eleven to continue in higher studies."
"Impressive." He smiles.
I notice we are slowly drifting towards the gardens outside the ball room.
"I believe I have seen you in the parliament room before." I say, hoping to deflect the attention away from me.
"Ah, yes. I have spent many a day there."
He goes into a long discourse on parliament; how it works and the debates that often occur there. Of course I know everything about parliament, as I spent much of my time there too, but I don't mention this. Yet he finds out pretty quickly that I am not just any parliament man's daughter as my familiarity with terms, cases and other knowledge comes freely from my mouth.
"Begging your pardon, but how have you come to know so much about parliament? I would think that it wouldn't interest you."
"I started my education at four and a half. The main reason for my coming to the palace was to learn government, economics, law, and politics."
He looks at me in awe. "Very impressive. And all this at age eleven?"
"Yes." I smile.
"At age eleven the last thing I was interested in was parliament." He laughs.
"What were you interested in?" I inquire.
As I await his answer, I suddenly realize we are in the garden. I told you not to get side-tracked! I chide myself.
"I spent most of my childhood in the military training center; studying war tactics, army maneuvers, toying with swords and riffles, etc."
I must look slightly exhausted for he says, "Why don't you sit down for a bit."
"Thank you." I breathe, sinking down onto a bench.
I notice he looks somewhat nervous, as if he's debating within himself if he should say something or not.
"I…" he begins.
"Luke! Oh Luke!" A female voice interrupts him.
Veronica. I don't know whether I should be angry she interrupted or relieved.
"Hello Veronica." I call.
"Oh Sarah…" She mutters. "I didn't notice you were here."
"Of course I'm here Veronica." I smile. "I do live here after all."
She glowers at me then turns to Luke.
"Congratulations Luke." She coos, slithering over to him.
I shiver. If she were an animal she definitely would be a snake.
"Thank you." He says with little emotion.
"You know Sarah. I do believe Lydia was looking for you earlier."
Oh no you don't, I think. Luke's mine. Whoa, wait a moment Sarah. No he isn't. You just met him. I sigh.
"Is she really? Well then, I wouldn't want to keep her waiting." I say. "It was nice to dance with you, Luke." I start to walk off. I realize I didn't use the title 'prince'.
"I…I'll escort you!" He calls after me. "You never know at these balls. One could get trampled under the dancers' feet."
He catches up with me and offers his arm.
"Thank you." I smile.
I look back a Veronica and almost laugh. She practically has steam flowing from her ears. When I turn back, Lydia bounds up and takes my other arm.
"I tried to keep her away as long as I could." She whispers in my ear. "You wouldn't believe the hard time I had keeping her in one place. The girl was practically searching the ball room for him the entire time."
I laugh. "Oh Lydia, you are such a dear sister."
"A dear sister?" Luke inquires.
"Oh yes." Lydia gushes. "Sarah has no sisters and neither do I. Yet we've spent so much time together and confiding in each other that we may as well be."
He nods knowingly and we all walk over to Uncle George.
"Well, I see you three have been having fun." He comments.
"Oh yes father!" Lydia explains. "I've been fighting off dragons while they basically took a walk in the park."
We all laugh heartily.
"Would anyone like to eat?" Uncle George asks.
"Yes please." I smile.
We make our way to the dining room and Luke pulls out my chair for me. Unwillingly, I blush again. What is wrong with me? I think. You've seen him a good amount before and never once gave a thought to it. Lord? What's going on?
Wait and see, Beloved.
I sigh. Okay then.
The meal goes by smoothly and is very delicious. It could never be as good as Carmen's cooking but Mrs. Millie is an experienced chef so I can't complain. Luke sits across from me and I am not sure if it is better than if he sat right next to me. I blush several times before the evening is over.
After one last dance it is time to say our goodnights. Lydia hugs as many guests as possible, thanking them over and over for approving of Luke and Uncle George continues to talk to members of parliament. I have a feeling it is to leave Luke and I alone for a moment.
"It was very enjoyable to spend the evening with you, Miss Anderson." He says, his eyes shining. Oh those beautiful green eyes. They're as green as my dress.
"I enjoyed it myself." Oh how dumb, dumb, dumb. You couldn't think of anything else?
"I mean it was quite lovely." No…still not right.
"It's quite alright, Miss Anderson. I completely understand."
I sigh, relieved. I am about to say a final farewell but am stopped as he says, "Will I see you soon?"
I'm taken aback. "I… I would suppose so." I stammer. "Now that we've been properly introduced."
"Good." He smiles.
I blush. Darn these blushes.
"Goodnight Miss Anderson."
"Goodnight Prince Luke." I smile.
Lydia comes over, says goodnight, and whisks me away to my room.
As Daisy pulls on my nightgown, I can't think straight. Is this what it feels to like someone? Like you are walking on air? When Anna and Charlotte ask how it went, my answers are very muddled.
"I…um…it was…he did…wonderful?"
"Someone's in love." They tease, laughing.
"No I am not!" I protest. "I just met him."
"Mmmm-hmm. Sure." Charlotte says, winking at me.
"It's not funny…" I mope.
"Well, he's got to get married to someone." Anna muses as she brushes my hair into a braid.
"Yes, but it doesn't have to be me. Besides, I'd need to find out certain things about him and pray about it."
"She has a point, girls." Daisy says wisely.
"Thank you Daisy."
"You're welcome, sweetie." She pats my head then shoos Anna and Charlotte off to bed.
I pull my slippers off and crawl into the fluffy covers.
"Would you like me to pray for you, honey?"
"Yes please." I sigh. "I'm going to need it."
We both bow our heads and pray to God the Father. It's a great comfort and I feel much better as she leaves.
"Sleep well, dear one." She smiles.
I fall asleep still praying.