A/N: This story has been COMPLETELY REVISED. Anything you recognize from the book belongs to Gail Carson Levine. Please remember to review!
:Chapter 1: Hope:
Cling! Cling! Slash!
I am absorbed in the mock swordfight a young boy, well, not quite a boy but not yet a man either, and a trained knight are displaying in my view.
"Not bad, today, Your Majesty," the knight said with a bow as he brought his sword down. His short red hair clung to his forehead, wet with perspiration, although the slight chill of autumn filled the air. Crimson colored leaves scattered the ground around where I sat, just a few yards away from where the two were practicing, though I was concealed from there view by a rather large oak tree.
"Thank you, Sir Brandon," the boy replied, his swarthy skin glowing with sweat. He was quite tall for his seventeen years, towering above the robust, middle-aged man in front of him. He ran a darkish hand, probably from the hours out in the sun, through his straight, brown hair that nearly hung down to his shoulders. "See you tomorrow then?"
The red headed knight nodded. "Till then, Your Majesty," he replied with a bow, and headed away, each footstep though the leaves making a slight crunching sound.
"Jack," I called to the boy, after making sure the red-haired knight was out of sight. I stepped out from behind the tree.
The boy looked over and smiled. With a wave he headed over to where I was.
"So you're here?" He said, dropping his jewel encrusted sword onto the soft ground. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.
I nodded. "There weren't many dishes around," I lied. Though he was only a couple years older, he was nearly a head taller and I had to look up to see his face. "And Mother's not around. She's getting ready for you're lesson." Which is probably true.
Jack sighed. "Yeah. I should go and clean up." He paused for a moment before adding, "But I'll stick around for a few minutes."
I tucked a strand of my long dark hair, which was more than quite filthy, might I add, behind my ear. "So I heard Evan and your father are coming home soon?"
Evan is Jack's older brother who left with their father, King Charmont, a few months ago to hunt for ogres in the Elve's Forest, which wasn't too far from the palace where we lived.
He grinned. I studied the light freckles that sprinkled across his cheeks. "Tonight, actually. Or tomorrow at the latest. Mother and I hadn't been expecting them to arrive for another couple of weeks. She wanted to surprise them with a ball to celebrate their return, but I guess it's a little too late for that." He mocked a sigh of relief. "Thankfully."
I grinned. Jack hated dancing. I remember when we were younger he would sneak into a closet in the back kitchen, where I usually worked, to escape from the possibility of having to dance at the ball.
"Well, I'd better get going now. Don't want to be late for my lesson."
I nodded. "Okay. I'll see you later."
"I'll try to come find you afterwards if I have time."
Jack (more commonly known as Prince Jackson of Kyrria) and I have quite a strange relationship. My mother has been the tutor of the royal children since before I was born, and other than Evan, who's two years older than Jack), that made me the only other child in the palace, thus making me Jack's only other playmate.
Secret, as in Mother was furious when she found out that a commoner, like me, had been mingling with the future rulers of our Kingdom, so we had to be more discreet when playing out little games.
The three of us would go on imaginary adventures around the palace when we were younger, when I was about five or so. Our most common one was 'Ogres in the Forest'. Jack would always be the Ogre (because, according to eight year old Evan, Ogres were smelly and ugly), Evan would be the brave knight, and I would be the princess (as I was the only girl).
Jack and I would hide somewhere in the palace and not make a sound (which I was quite good at, for I would have gotten a beating from Mother if she had caught me playing, though the young prince's were unaware of this), and Evan would come and find us. Once he did, he and Jack would 'fight'. ('Fight' as in Evan, who was older and stronger, would push him out of the way, resulting in Jack trying not to cry, though occasionally I would catch a tear or two roll down his cheek, which I would now find quite odd, considering its been almost ten years since we've played and I haven't seen him shed a tear since then.) Then the brave knight would rescue the princess and give her a peck on the cheek. Immediately following this, I would almost always rush to the kitchen to finish up scrubbing the kitchen floor before Mother caught on.
A few years later, Evan grew 'too old' for us (though he was only a few years older than me and Jack) and went off to do his own thing. He was next in line for the throne after King Charmont and Queen Ella, after all, so he needed to be prepared.
So ends the story of my childhood.
I stared as I saw the outline of Jack's body get smaller and smaller as he headed towards the entrance of the palace.
I yawned. I'd better get back to the kitchen before Mother noticed I was out here.
I stood up and brushed away the dirt on my unkempt skirt. Then something in the grass and leaves caught my eye.
Jack's sword. He must've forgotten he had left it on the ground.
"Jack!" I called, cupping my hands around my mouth to make a louder sound.
He was gone.
I sighed and reached down to pick the sword up. It was surprisingly heavy. I was about to head back when-
My hand flew to my stinging cheek and I dropped the sword onto the gound in front of me. The blade barely missed my bare feet.
I looked up.
She smoothed out the front of her skirt, which appeared sparkling clean compared to mine. It was obvious that she, the tutor of the royal children, held a much higher status than her daughter, a lowly kitchen maid.
"Who do you think you are, daughter, addressing His Royal Highness by his first name?" she spoke in a calm, yet bitter tone.
My eyes began to burn with tears. I blinked them away. I couldn't cry. I couldn't let her win. "I-I'm his friend. . ." I whispered before I could stop myself. Bad move.
She struck my other cheek. I cried out this time. I cursed at myself in my headfor letting her get a reaction out of me.
"Look at me when I talk to you," she spat.
"Now what did you just tell me?"
I eyed the sword on the floor right in front of me.
"Answer me!" She raised her hand.
I backed away, getting ready for another strike.
She set her hand down. "You say you're his friend, eh?"
Yes. Though I didn't dare answer her.
"Well let me tell you this, you filthy little wench. Just because the kind prince pities you in no way means that he enjoys you're company. Now why don't you stay out of his sight from now on and do him a favor?"
I could feel my whole body surging with anger. I bit my bottom lip to keep from exploding at her.
"In fact, why don't you do ALL of us a favor and stay behind the kitchen doors with that loathsome cook of yours. Now get back to work like a good maid should."
I dashed away, hiding behind a tree that was
near the palace's back entrance to the kitchen.
I gathered all the strength I could muster and punched the tree's trunk.
"Ow!" I cried out in pain. I stared at my bleeding knuckles. I must've gotten at least tensplinters. I sighed. This is what I get for being so moronic.
I headed over to the back entrance of the kitchen and lightly swung the door open.
"Hey, Sweets," greeted the gray haired cook. She was currently scrubbing at the dishes I had forgotten to do.
"I'm sorry, Mandy. . ." I replied, walking over to where she is standing. "I'll take over." I reached for the dirty plate she was scrubbing.
"Oh no, I'll take care of- Hope, what happened to your hand?" She stared wide eyed at my blood stained, scratched up hand.
"I punched a tree. On accident."
She didn't speak another word and continued to scour the dishes. That was one of the things I loved about Mandy. She knew what to say and what not to say at the right times. And right now I didn't want her asking any questions.
In the next few hours, I helped Mandy prepare a large supper, in case Prince Evan and King Charmont arrived early.
"Are you sure this is enough to feed the royal family AND all the knights from the hunt?" I asked as I took a mincemeat pie out of the oven. I glanced at the vegetable stew, roast pork and cream tarts. Judging from their appetites, I bet that Jack and Evan could finish off this food themselves.
"Don't worry about it, there'll be plenty," Mandy assured me as she stirred the stew. "Get started on the dishes, Sweets. Take your time."
It took me less than half an hour to finish up the dishes, but by that time it seemed as though the food we have prepared multiplied by ten.
I stared in awe. "Mandy! How did you do this all just now?"
Mandy chuckled. "I have my secrets." Mandy was, indeed, the best cook that ever lived. "Thank you for your help, dear, now run along. I'll get some of the other maids to set the table. I'll call for you if I need your help."
I stepped outside. The air had cooled quite a bit, and the sun was replaced with a cool dark sky and a scatter of stars.
I heard low murmurs from a few yards away. I noticed a crowd of knights on horses talking amongst themselves.
They were back! I wondered if Jack knew this. I looked around for him, but he was nowhere in sight. He was probably still at his lesson.
I walked over to the crowd of knights and stopped. Something was wrong. Maybe they didn't capture the ogres?
"Excuse me, Sir," I said, tapping on one of the knight's shoe. He looked down at me from his seat up on the saddle.
I recognized him immediately. It was Evan.
"Your Majesty." I greeted. I swept into a curtsey.
He glanced over, looking quite distressed. He stared at me for a moment with a puzzled look on his face. Then his eyes widened. He paused for a moment as if he was deep in thought. "Hope?" he replied with a hint of doubt.
I nodded, a smiled nervously. This was the first time he had addressed my name since our imaginary ogre game days.
His skeptical look was immediately replaced with a grin. "Wow! How long has it been since we last spoke? Almost ten years?"
I shrugged. "I believe so." And in those past ten years, he had certainly changed. He shared many of Jack's physical features. Same swarthy skin, sprinkle of freckles, and both were quite tall. The only difference was the hair. They both had the same hair color, but Evan inherited his father's curly hair, while Jack had Queen Ella's straight hair. He also appeared a bit more built than Jack, but then again, he was a few years older.
"You've changed so much! The last time I saw you must've been less than half your age!"
I nodded, not knowing how to reply. Sure, I've seen him around the palace while cleaning up, but we hadn't exchanged any words in a long while.
"Your Majesty-" I said, curtseying again.
"Don't be ridiculous." He cut me off, chuckling. "It's Evan, remember?"
I smiled nervously. "Evan, then. Does Jack know you're here?" It was kind of awkward saying his name, for we were now no more than strangers.
The mention of his brother's name triggered something in him. His cheerful attitude immediately faded. He nodded. "He went his room. . . I'm not sure if he wants anyone to visit right now, but if he does, you're probably the first candidate, considering how close you two are."
"What happened?" I asked, a bit alarmed. "Is he alright?"
Evan nodded, chuckling a bit. "I'm sure he's fine." One of the knights called for him. "I've got to go. It was nice seeing you again, Hope." He rode off.
I rushed back inside. Something was wrong. Very wrong.
I stepped through the kitchen and grabbed a rag. I was surprised Mandy wasn't in there. Mandy's always in the kitchen. Maybe she decided to go to bed early. . .
I walked out of the kitchen and tiptoed up the marbled spiral steps, though I know I'm not allowed. Only the chambermaids and the royal family were allowed on the second floor. Maybe if they saw I had a rag they would think I was just doing my job. . .
I peered down to the marble floor below as I continue up the staircase. I remember when we were younger, Jack and Evan and I would take turns sliding down the banister. I grinned at the fond memories. Mandy would throw a fit when I arrived in the kitchen with a torn skirt.
When I climbed the last steps I was greeted with a long hallway of doors. I sighed. There must be over a hundred rooms to choose from!
I pondered upon which one Jack was in, for I had never been into his room. Or even on the second floor, for that matter. Evan said he was pretty upset, so I figured his door must have been locked.
I reached for the closed door closest to me and turned the knob. It easily twisted the whole way, meaning it was open. I continued to do this until after about twenty sets of doors, I reached a locked one. This may be it.
I quietly tapped the door.
"Who is it?" someone asked.
I recognize the voice immediately. Mandy! What was she doing up here!
"Wrong room," I quickly replied, disguising my voice so she wouldn't recognize me and send me back to the kitchen. Mandy was kind, but she was also very strict about rules.
I continued to check the doorknobs when I come across another locked one. I quietly rapped on the door.
I taped a little harder this time.
Still no answer.
I was beginning to wonder if someone had locked the room before they left, but I knew that the palace doors locked only from the inside, so there must be someone in there. . .
"Jack?" I spoke softly. I pause for a few moments. Frustrated, I was about to move on when the door slowly creaked open.
I had found him. Deep bags have formed under wide eyes, as though he hadn't slept in days.
"Jack?" I repeated quite alarmed. Whatever happened, it must've been pretty bad.
He didn't even bother to let me in. "He's gone," was all he said. He looked and spoke like a zombie, his hand still frozen on the doorknob of the half open door, his face expressionless.
He? Who was he? I racked my brains to think of who he might be talking about. "What do you mean? Who's gone?"
"My father is dead."
A/N: Hey! I hope you enjoyed the beginning of this story. Please leave me a review and tell me what you think!