The Switching of a Princess

CHAPTER THREE

By Star

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Hi everyone. Chapter three has been sitting on my computer for awhile so I just revised it a bit and am sending it in. Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! I'm still trying to get used to my new tablet. ^o^ Enjoy!

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Luna paced the garden the balcony and steps of the room had led to. Her curled fingers hovered by her lips in her distress, eyes alert and ever averting to the room she had left. Oh dear, she would work herself into a frenzy. But her heart continued its rapid beats and her mind its endless worrying.

She preferred the sky's velvet blue, scattered with stars, to the buttery glow of candles and lamps in the room, but she was impulsed to return and watch the sleeping girl. When she had first set eyes on her, her stomach fluttered. It was as if seeing the dead princess alive and well within a peaceful slumber.

Tears struck her eyes at the images of the fallen princess in the darkened corridor. It was still fresh in her mind, raping her of any ability to concentrate. Her nerves were frayed, arms still randomly shivering despite the warmth her robes gave her. She turned and swept back down the path she had come, idly waving away the slight silver butterflies that fluttered too near to her troubled form.

She paused at the sound of steps and turned to see Artemis standing on the balcony. He nodded at her, expression set. "She's awakening," he said and walked back into the room.

Luna wasted no time and fled up the marble steps and through the billowing silk curtains, hurrying to Artemis's untroubled side as he stood by the bed.

Her chest heaved and she threw him a sidelong glance. "How can you be so bloody calm?" she demanded, breathless, before turning back to the golden haired beauty that stirred beneath the enveloping covers.

Serena sighed and twisted in the bed, mind fogged and thick with sleep. Something bothered her though. Visions of a garden, a white cat amidst the leaves with discerning silver eyes, a regal woman, a dark cavernous room. Fragments she couldn't quite make out until she persisted to remember. As she did, her eyes peered open, and she stared disorientedly into an alabaster room lit by a warm yellow glow. She breathed in deeply, something fluttering in her stomach as she fought for where she was. But the last she could remember was curling beside a fountain.

Her gaze wandered from the alabaster ceiling and her breath caught as she saw the two people staring down on her. Her mouth dropped open, words lost in her throat. An elegant woman with midnight hair stared with worried hazel eyes, a slender hand hovering by her chin. The other was the enigma white man from earlier.

Her heart gave a jumping bean pulse in her neck as she pushed herself up from the drapery of covers. Was she dreaming? Was that it? This was all a bunch of nonsense! Poppycock. It couldn't be real. The white cat, the gardens of the Shai Cathdrun, this man, meeting the Queen, everyone speaking and acting so odd. All of a sudden being in a cavernous white bed. She swallowed, shivering lightly at a cool breeze that came through a balcony and billowing curtains. She looked to her lap. A dream. It had to be a dream. She stared right at the man and woman who stood expectantly over her. And they were a dream too, she thought in a dazed manner. Oh yes… a dream. Convinced it was so, she turned her head away from the figments of people and slipped out of the bed, eyes glazed and mind murky. A dream never made sense, and this certainly didn't.

Luna and Artemis shared a confused look at the girl's unusual response. She padded in bare feet across the floor as if she didn't see them, looking at the majestic room with lost blue eyes that didn't quite seem to comprehend it.

Artemis straightened and walked up to the girl. She didn't acknowledge him. He rested his hand on her shoulder, biting his lip against calling her Serenity. "Are you alright?"

Serena's gaze drifted to the man, almost searching in their blue depths. "I'm dreaming," she whispered.

Artemis' eyes softened at the girl, his voice gentle as he insisted, "No, you are not dreaming."

The girl bit her plush pink lip, brow furrowing as if his words brought her distress. And that they very well did, he reflected. She shook her head, glancing over to Luna's hesitant form. "Where am I?"

Luna twisted her hands together and stepped forward. "You are in the Royal Palace. This is the," she looked to the white bed and then back, "Princess Serenity's bedchambers."

"The—" Serena's mouth jammed shut as she looked around with bewildered eyes. She sucked in a breath. "I want to go home."

Artemis stepped forward and lightly began guiding her back to the bed. "Please, if you would—"

Serena wrenched herself from his lax hold, staring at him with stern azure eyes. "I want to go home." She squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head. "Nothing makes sense here. I want to go home. Please."

Luna walked over, eyes searching and eager. The girl had said home. "Who are you?" Artemis laid his hand over Luna's arm, as if to stop her from mentally and physically from going where she was going.

But the girl stared at them, shaking her head. "Only Serena Grainger, an orphan at the Sulveny Home." Her tone of voice was clear in its underlying message. I am but a lowly girl, why am I here?

Luna bit her lip and turned to Artemis. He though seemed withdrawn, murmuring Serena, as if too finding the irony in not only did this girl resemble their princess, but had a name in likeness as well. The whole situation was strange, Luna marveled. No wonder the girl believed it to be a dream.

Artemis lifted his head to the girl with speculative gray-blue eyes. "Have you ever seen the Princess Serenity," he paused," Serena?"

Her brow scrunched and she shook her head slowly. "No… I don't believe I have seen any of the Royals… well, at least before today."

"Yes. Well then perhaps… you should see something." He met Luna's stare with a nod.

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Serena stepped back with a gasp, staring at the portrait. The similarities were startling, frightening even. The oil painting was a battlefield of the mellow light of Artemis' torch and the light of the Earth, as if they were the element of fire and ice themselves. The porcelain face of a girl her age stared back at her, and she self-consciously touched her own smooth skin of her face. Sooty eyelashes framed dueling blue eyes and Serena shut her eyes. She had already noted the golden tumble of hair. Her hand touched a lock of her own and her eyes peered at it.

"It cannot be true," she breathed, looking back to the painting, her eyes catching on the crescent moon symbol upon the girl's forehead and the drapery of silver skirts and robes.

"It is," said Artemis' subdued voice from behind her.

She turned and looked at them with baffled eyes. "But how?" she cried.

"I'm afraid we do not know how, Serena. But these aren't just a few similarities. You resemble her in every way."

Serena lifted her head with a voice dazed with a new realization. "You thought I was the princess."

"Yes," Artemis confirmed.

"I—," Serena bit her lip, "Well, now that you know I'm not her… I can go home. Right?"

"I'm afraid that it is not that simple," Artemis said.

Unease rolled within Serena like a sea. "If this is about me going into the Shai' Cathrdrun, I'm sorry!" she cried out on a desperate impulse. "Please. I will never do it again!"

Luna looked at her, startled, and then quickly strode over and clasped her hands over the fretting girl. "Oh no, dear, it is nothing like that!"

Serena paused, then gave a searching look to both Luna and Artemis. "I don't understand… What else—" her voice dropped, melting into pure confusion.

"It might be best if we leave for a different room for this," Artemis said.

Serena hated the shared glances between the two as they led her through the dark corridors but she stayed silent. She huddled in the enveloping robe that Luna had draped over her as they had left the room. Her eyes kept straying to the silver loops and flowering designs on the white material and her touch kept marveling at the silky countenance. It still didn't seem real. None of it. The robe was only one more thing her mind seemed to dub as an element of a dream.

Reality was simple beige material, neither coarse nor soft, rubbing against her skin, or at best, her worn lace dress. But she was still wearing that dress, she acknowledged.

Reality mixed with the dream.

She blinked, dragging her gaze back to the two people as they stopped by the ornate double doors that Serena recalled as the room the came from, the princess's bedchambers.

Artemis let her slip in first, then Luna. He paused by the door, as if checking for the unwanted presence of another, before coming inside.

By her side, Luna took in a long breath, her lips wobbling to a smile in her direction as she gestured to one of the cavernous couches in the room. Serena sat down, and discarding propriety or the fact that these were esteemed people of the palace, she curled her cold feet under her legs and said, "well?"

Luna sat beside her, but Artemis began pacing before them both. "Something terrible has happened today. Something no one but Luna, myself, and a few select others are aware of." He met her gaze directly. "The Princess was assassinated."

Serena gasped before she was aware of it, startled eyes swimming with horror. Both Luna and Artemis stared at her stiffly as the reactions crossed her face. "The Princess Serenity?" she said, voice weak in her dread. Even the peasants of the land far understood the importance of the prophesied princess. Despite her infamous nature, she was their hope for a future. Her eyes began to drift down when Artemis spoke again.

"Luna and I beseech you to parade as Serenity."

Her eyes shot back, all of the chaos of the past events smashing back. "What?" Her tone announced her bewilderment on a whirl of speech.

Artemis cast her leveled gaze, hands clasped behind his back with his pale face serious. Despite it though, she questioned, "This is not a joke?"

Luna reached her hands over and enveloped Serena's own that twisted and fumbled in her lap. Serena took in a breath, looking into the woman's pleading hazel eyes. "Please Serena, dear, consider this. I understand that you have trouble comprehending everything. I can't believe it's happening at times, either. But it is. Oh Serena, it is. If word got out right now that the Princess is dead… The consequences could ruin this kingdom, your home."

Serena kept trying to breathe through her tightened chest, brow furrowed as her fingers dug into her lap. She stared into the fireplace. "For how long?"

"Just until a discussion can be made with the council and we find a way to approach the future and of presenting this to the kingdom," Artemis assured.

Her head whirled, almost painful in its turning. This was insane, was her one numb thought. An overwhelming desire to leave clutched her. She had to see Sammy, Maman, the home.

Reality.

She jumped up from the couch, a sharp, "No," on her lips. Her muscles felt weak but without turning her eyes on either of the two, she rushed to the end of the room and down the steps that came from the balcony to manicured gardens. The gardens seemed so different from the Shai' Cathrdrun, not wild or free, just a sculpture of green. She took in a panicked breath of the night air that drifted with scents of dew and flowers. She paused as Artemis called her name, but quickly kept going, winding her way through the shadowed paths.

She gritted her teeth, flustered with her surroundings, the absurdity of it and her lack of knowing which direction to turn. Her steps were aimless, but she kept jogging one way and then the next, chest heaving and eyes desperate. She had to escape it all. But then she stopped, realizing the part of what she was running from was draped over her very shoulders. The white robe hung open, swooping sleeves enveloping her slim arms and the tail sweeping over the pebbled path.

Take it off.

But even as the thought came, her hand clutched at its collar. The material was soft… softer then anything she had ever worn before. It was warm, and covered her like a safe blanket. Bloody, how could this happen? Her chest twisted as she stood there. The robe covered her worn lace dress that no longer reached past her ankles.

A meow drifted to her ears and her eyes widened as she turned to the white shadow that sat on the pathway before her. The cat, she thought in a daze. "Will you show me the way out of here?" she asked, not even feeling shame in it. This cat wasn't like others.

After a moment it stood up and padded past her, and without hesitation, she followed. When it turned, she turned. Relief washed through her, loosening her muscles and lifting her spirits. Soon she would be back at the home, hugging Maman tightly and apologizing. Though she couldn't tell the woman what happened. No, definitely not. She would push its memory away and go upstairs and snuggle in her humble bed, thankful for the thin mattress and worn hand-stitched quilt. It was home--reality and a comfort zone for her bewildered mind. She had stumbled into an alien territory, and would never do so again. Of course… how could she forget the assassinated princess? It was news that would effect everyone. Could she keep it from Maman and Sammy? Surely, it would be announced within a few days to the public though.

It'd be like holding a nightmare and not being able to tell anyone. How would she sleep tonight knowing what she did? She grimaced, pushing her attention towards the cat ever before her. And then she stopped short and felt like strangling the feline.

It led her back to the balcony! She gave a silent cry, unable to do anything as the cat skittered into the shadows without a trace. The cat gave her direction, but now she was lost more then ever, unable to move from where she stood as she stared at the dim yellow glow from behind the transparent curtains. What was she to do?

She took in a settling breath and crept up the stairs to peak into the room. Maybe if she saw what Artemis and Luna were now doing… She gasped, stepping back and darting behind a crevice in the wall as Luna walked towards the balcony. She watched the woman stride to the parapet, arms wrapped around her richly clad form. Worn hazel eyes stared into the clean gardens, just as lost she had felt. Serena's posture softened.

Luna's lips were tight, her cheeks hallowed in fatigue. What happened next surprised Serena. Tears formed and crept out of the woman's eyes, even as a polished hand rubbed them away with a stubborn swipe.

Serena stepped forward, words locking in her throat. Calling this woman simply Luna seemed deeply inappropriate despite it was the only names they told her. She pushed calling the woman's name away, and instead said, "I'm back." Simple and unsure.

Luna's head perked and then snapped around to stare at Serena with a gaping mouth. And then---an action that Serena would have dubbed absurd for this woman---she wrapped her arms around Serena. It helped. Somehow, the warm embrace from this woman so much higher in station than she washed away her fear of the situation, calmed the babbling thoughts in the back of her mind. And then she leaned her cheek against the woman's shoulder and sighed with her eyes warming over.

The slender arms around her tightened briefly and Luna took in a collected breath. "I truly am sorry," she murmured. "I don't wish to bring you into this, but—"

"I know," Serena interrupted, voice gentle and reassuring. "I know."

Luna brought her head back to look at Serena. "Does this mean you will do as we ask?"

The voice was so quiet, filled with understanding at any decision Serena may have but a gentle pleading as well. Serena bit her lip and looked at her through a helpless gaze and with lift of her shoulders. "How could I pretend to be Princess?" she asked. "This world is alien to me. I'll be so lost."

A smile played along Luna's lips, seeming to ease the sharpness of her face in a calming wave. "That's where you will have Artemis and me to help you." And then she pushed back a golden curl of Serena's hair, one arm laying on her back to guide her back into the room. Artemis wasn't in the room Serena found, and was glad of it.

Almost as if she was in a trance, she let Luna help her into a silk nightgown that slipped over her like cool jade. A strange calmness hung within her. She didn't know she could feel that way if she came back to this absurd place. Neither Luna or her spoke a word, all movements like a quieter dream to Serena. Still so strange, but a calm and safety with no chaotic thoughts storming her mind.

She crept onto the enveloping bed with pounds of plush silken blankets. Luna brought them over her shoulders and smoothed away Serena's hair with a quick and tender kiss to her forehead. And then she left and Serena stared at the candle by the bedside as sleep drifted around her.