Lucy has the slightest suspicion that there is something her father hasn’t quite told her. No, no it’s nothing sinister. Nothing to do with storybooks and secrets hidden in its pages. It’s more to do with the way his eyes get this gleam to them whenever he calls her his little princess. Lucy Mills is ten years and a half and has known for some time now that she is not a princess. It is not something she minds of course, she thinks of Princess Mary and the portraits on the kingdom’s soap bars. White as snow with straight hair pinned up. Lucy could never be like that, if she had the slightest inclination to try. If she were a real princess, she thinks, she could never steal one her mother’s cinnamon rolls and grab one of her father’s quills to set out for the day. She wouldn’t like to be one at all, Lucy settles, watching her mother correcting her father’s pronunciation of plumazo with flour on her forehead. His eyes have that gleam to them again and Lucy remembers there are things he doesn’t tell her.
She still thinks about it when she runs ahead of her mother and father to the town festival.
“Not too far Lucy!” Her mother calls after her. “Were you like this when you were her age?” Her mother is grinning, it’s easy to tell.
“I was worse.” His heart seems to drop so Lucy slows her pace because this must be part of what he keeps to himself.
“Your poor mother.”
“Yeah,” It’s breath more than a laugh. “Yeah, my poor mother.”
Her father will never say more than that but still she lets herself fall behind just to feel his hand lightly squeeze her shoulder.
“What are you most excited about, Luce?” He asks taking her mother’s hand.
“Hmm,” She rubs her chin letting her answer linger. “The sword fighting...no! The play!”
“Of course you are.” He replies with a triumphant glance at her mother. “Who wouldn’t be?”
“What about the jousting tournament?” She winks at Lucy knowing she has absolutely won this contest.
“Oh yeah! With Big Barda and the Sapphire Knight!” Lucy mimics holding a lance and charges. “No way does the Bear stand a chance!
“See? She isn’t all you.” Her mother smiles so wide that Lucy wonders how is that she learned.
Her father sticks out his tongue to her scrunching his entire face and she rolls her eyes. Lucy knows, like any bright child, that her mother only pretends. She picks up the pace just as the sounds and lights of the festival become clearer and believes that this just may be the greatest day of her life.
It’s the biggest festival in the Kingdom, it’s all anyone has been speaking about for months and months. The cider makers making sure no worm makes its way to the cores of their apples, the archers stealing the cider makers apples to practice their shots, the writers agonizing over each word on parchment, the actors doing the very same. However if you were to ask any subject of this royal Kingdom what the festival celebrates there would be no one answer. Some men will claim that a Great Battle was won many ages ago, some other men call it the harvest and that is why it takes place during Autumn. Some women will call it the Festival of Light, marking the beginning the anniversary of the coronation of the first Queen without a King. Lucy had asked her father and that was the answer he had given her. It’s the best he could do as someone from a land far, far away.
“How far away really?” She’d asked him knowing she was far too old to be tucked in.
“The farthest you can imagine!” His voice had gone low like it does when he tells stories. “Beyond all the mountains and seas! So far only magic can get you there!”
Seeing him looking at her mother for reassurance in the festival Lucy, for the first time, understands that this must be some part of the truth. Her mother hands him a cup of cider and she must see the same thing Lucy sees.
“Is cider alright?”
“Perfect,” He takes a gulp and his eyes shine again. “Come on, I think I see bark candy ahead!”
“Ay, God help him.” Her mother sighs because she is trying not to laugh.
“We are not letting him have it to himself, right mamá?” Lucy asks already skipping ahead.
“And God help me.” This time she does laugh and lets her daughter lead her by the hand.
Her father stops the candy once he starts looking a little green and needs to sit down on a bench while her mother speaks to the Captain of her forest guard.
“I’m getting old, kiddo.” He tilts his head back and breathes out.
“So does that mean no cotton candy?”
“No cotton candy.” He echoes. “When I was your age I ate my body-weight in Twizzlers and didn’t let ma sleep for the whole night.”
Lucy is ready to ask a hundred different questions because he seems so willing to say these things now and because he is more at ease when his eyes are closed and the breeze is hitting him. She clears her throat and readies her words, like she was taught when she is interrupted before she can begin.
“Hey, Mr. Writer!” Says Mr. Rigg slapping her father’s back as he joins them on the bench. “Ready for the play? You must be really proud!”
“I didn’t write it this year, Bert.” He straightens himself out and ruffles her hair just enough to have her attempt to glare at him. “But I’ll take it anyway.”
“Heard it was written for the visit of the foreign royals.”
“Jacinda really isn’t kidding when she says you can’t be pulled away from your books, huh?”
“Hey, I leave the forest patrol to her and I stick to the page.”
“And the cleaning.” Lucy feels obligated to add in to defend her father’s honor.
“And the cleaning. A writer and sheriff can’t afford to keep a dirty home.” His lips go a little tighter as Mr. Riggs chortles.
“Well, all that writing and cleaning made you miss the biggest news in all the land, Mills.” Mr. Rigg takes his time with any sort of news or gossip, Lucy knows this. Her mother says it makes him feel important, old men are like that. “The Kingdom on the border, the one with the name…”
“Alforría?” She answers before her father and his smile reaches his eyes.
“That’s the one!” Mr. Rigg all but ignores her. “Anyway, their King died some months ago. The whole Court had seen it coming, they’d been in shambles looking for an heir.”
“No sons, no daughters?”
“Not even a bastard! Advisers starting looking down all his lines and low and behold they found someone. Not ideal,mind you.”
“Why not?”Her father’s voice grows raspy like it always does when he is tired of a particular person, a fact unknown even to himself.
“A long lost cousin of his, royal of another land for some time! Too old to be an heir to anything if you ask me. Besides, she always travels with the strangest companion…”
“Alforría is getting a Queen? Well, good for them.” He says wistfully and Lucy can tell he is praying that her mother catches his eye and rescues them both. “I suppose we’re just a stop along the way.”
“She must pay her respects to the King, after all!” Mr. Riggs sounds somewhat outraged.
“Think she’ll stop by the festival, daddy?” Lucy’s eyes go wide with interest and curiosity, maybe the women are right about it being the Festival of Light. Any Queen would know that, she thinks.
“Maybe, sweetheart.” She knows he means no but does not have the heart to say it.
“Is Henry giving you trouble, Bert?” Her mother appears to save them both with the expression she saves only for the neighbors.
“No, not at all!” He gets to his feet to greet her mother, something she always accepts gracefully. “I was just telling your boy here about the new Queen’s visit.”
“This year’s play is in her honor, isn’t it?”
“You knew about this?” His outrage is only pretend.
“Special operation and security detail. Sworn to secrecy. All that stuff.” She nods towards Mr. Riggs. “Though it’s hard to keep anything from you, Bert.”
“ Mamá, I can’t believe you.” Lucy crosses her arms and huffs, the decent thing would have been to share the news with her. “You could have at least given us clues!”
“I’m with her on that.” Her father pipes in.
“And ruin the surprise?” She bops her nose with her finger. “I don’t think so.”
Horses neigh in the distance and their gallop makes it sound as if they’re at least ten. Trumpets begin to play royal tune that is barely heard around these parts. People start leaving their stands, places in line all to be able to greet the Queen and companion on time.
“And that is my cue to go.” Her mother smirks before running to get to her position at the front of the crowd.
“Honestly, Jaz!” He shouts after her.
Lucy is not at all surprised to find Mr. Rigg missing when she searches for him, the old man is quick to get to gossip and funerals. The trumpets play once more and make an announcement she can’t make out this far away. Clapping and cheers follow it, she has never seen anything like it.
“Looks like you got your wish, Luce.” Her father stands up and cracks his back before extending his hand to her. “Let’s go find our seats before the play begins.”
“Think we’ll get to meet her?”
He shakes his head in disbelief. “If your mom kept anything else from us we might even be her dinner guests. It’s a good day for wishes, kiddo.”
Lucy can only nod as she remembers that perhaps there is only one thing she wishes and she never utters it. Her father cannot know of it,
Their seats are the farthest from the stage and away from the Queen’s box at the center of it all. She can glimpse the back of her seat, that for a Queen isn’t as grand as she expected. There is another chair set next to Queen’s and Lucy wonders who this person must be to be allowed there. Not a King or Prince, surely, Mr. Riggs would have said. Lucy even stands on her seat and can’t see much more than the red of Queen’s sleeve. She settles in her seat once again and sulks.
“You know, I bet the sheriff can get us at the front of the crowd as she walks back the carriage.” He whispers to her as he points to her mother standing by the sidelines.
“She owes us.” She affirms sticking her chin out. He looks like he is about to say something judging by the passing shadow on his face but decides not to in the end. Instead he kisses her forehead as the curtain draws open.
The stage is much bigger and finer this year, golden and purple details line every piece of art there. There is castle on a mountain top in the background, it’s nighttime in the play and all the stars seem real. A small woman appears on stage, dressed in the same purple of the art. Her hair is braided and her hands are clasped in front of her.
“Once upon a time,” She begins with her voice stronger than Lucy had expected. “There lived a Queen in a far away land and though she had everything she could want for, there was a hole in her heart. Food began to taste like ash and every day felt like the last. But one day she gazed upon the face of a child and discovered that she had been aching for a child of her own. And so she began her search across the land…”
Lucy looks at her father and finds him biting into his lip. She knows those words, they are his words. It was the first bedtime story he ever told her and the one she stopped asking for when she picked up on the gleam on his eyes, as if it hurt to tell it the older she got. It is her favorite and she had it missed it dearly.
“I thought you didn’t write it this year.” She whispers to him watching the actors move around on stage.
“I didn’t, sweetheart,” He hesitates for a second as if he might have forgotten he did “I really didn’t.”
“It’s the Queen’s story.” Miss Thompson, who had been sitting oddly quiet next to them, tells them. “Apparently the King asked if there was a particular thing she wished to see and this was the story she sent.”
“Did she?” His voice wavers and his knee begins to bounce.
“Wrote it herself or so I heard from Bertha from the Princess’s service.”
Her father grows quiet as the actors playing soldiers say their lines before the Queen’s Little Prince is found. It’s a little different than she remembers, a young girl gives up a baby as the Queen anxiously waits in her castle. They both cry as the Queen holds the Prince for the first time, one of happiness and one of sorrow. Lucy turns to ask her father if this is right, if this a story from his land that is so far away but stops short. His fingers are rubbing away at his eyes and his breathing is uneven. It’s shocking thing for any child watch a mother or father cry, but especially for Lucy who had only just discovered what lies hidden in his eyes. There is nothing to do but to try and wrap her arms around him. He lets her and rests his forehead atop her head.
“I love you, Lucy.” He breathes out.
“I love you too.” She replies quietly watching how night turns to the day on stage.
Before she knows it the actors are taking a bow and everyone but the Queen and her companion stand for the applause. She can only supposed it had a happy ending as most things do. Her attention had solely focused on father’s breathing and wondering what his silence had meant.
“Let’s find your mom before we get throttled by the crowd.” He tells her with an odd sense of determination. “She’ll know the best spot to get a look at the Queen.”
“OK.” She replies folding her hand into his.
They take large strides to reach her mother whose brow relaxes once she sees them approaching.
“So...how was it?”
“Great!” Lucy answers so that her father doesn’t have to lie.
“Better than the jousting tournament?” She puts her hands on her waist.
She nods more enthusiastically than necessary and her mother’s eyes go from her to her father.
“Well...alright, I guess. Everything OK, Hen?”
“Just tired.” He tries to smile. “And we came to ask the sheriff for a favor.”
“Oh?” She quirks an eyebrow,
“Our little princess here wants to get a good look at the Queen before she leaves for the night. Think we could have a place of honor?”
“My, Henry Mills you never struck me as one to ask the sheriff for favors.”
“Good thing my wife approves.” His eyes are still red but his voice is strong and for that Lucy is glad.
“So can we?” Lucy asks aware of how important this has become.
Her mother rolls her eyes at them both and motions for them to follow. She leads past all the people lined up, to the very end. Near the carriage that will take the Queen away to the castle. Murmurs start growing as she suspects the Queen and her companion begin their long walk.
“How many hours do you reckon it took to make that dress?” A man besides them asks his friend.
“Heard she’s a witch queen. Must have magicked it herself.”
“Could have magicked her companion something better than trousers and vest if that were true, don’t you think?” He stands on the tip of his toes to try and get an advantage.
Every word around her is making Lucy’s heart beat faster, she wouldn’t have thought it would have. But feeling her father’s palm become clammy she understands it isn’t about royalty at all.
“Here she comes!” Someone announces and it finally has her looking the path behind her to search for her.
The Queen’s delicate dress is a deep red that trails after her and she looks taller than she is. Her eyes are lined with black and her hair is pinned up. It looks nothing like Princess Mary’s on the soap bars, a large strand of it is grey and falls on her face. Her skin glows and Lucy knows, somehow, that there must truly be one of her in the world. Her companion is her perfect opposite, not minding soiling her boots if it means the Queen avoids the mud altogether. She too isn’t like anyone Lucy has ever seen. Her blond hair is tied back and her coat goes past her knees like a man’s, barely hiding the sword under it. Lucy concludes that she must be the Queen’s most trusted personal guard. This, she believes, is confirmed when the Queen barely trips and her hands catch her waist.
“Careful, Your Majesty.” She tells her with a smile so smug Lucy swears she recognizes.
The Queen whispers something back and the guard shakes her head because she cannot hide her affection. Lucy recognizes that too.
She turns her gaze to her father and sees him frozen in place, his breathing uneven again.
“Daddy?” She tries shaking his arm but he remains quiet. The air around him grows heavy, as if he is suddenly too small for all this.
The Queen and her companion pass them without a glance, looking too exhausted for a word or two. Her heart is sinking as she watches the Queen accept her companion’s helping hand into the carriage and knows that whatever heavy thing is floating in the air around them will soon be gone. It’s a bad thing, she feels. Just as the companion has one foot on the carriage he moves forward.
“Mom!” He says so convinced. “ Moms! ” His voice is desperate as he leads them both to the carriage.
The Queen’s companion turns around slowly and Lucy’s heart is about to burst from her chest. Her eyes that have begun crinkling are brimming with tears and the Queen herself practically leaps out suddenly looking nothing like royalty. More like her mother when she had finally found stuck in a tree in the middle of the forest. She takes her companion’s hand without really knowing it and stands looking at them, with her lips parted.
“Moms…” Her father says lowly, sounding like all he had kept hidden behind the gleam of his eyes is finally coming out.
They all take a step forward and meet halfway and the air is the heaviest it has ever been.
“Is it…?” The companion begins as tears run down the Queen’s face.
The Queen cups her father’s cheek and thumbs his nose and smiles so wide through her tears.
“Our son found us, Emma.” Her voice is hoarse but it’s all happiness.
“ Oh, Henry…kid” The companion breathes out, practically shaking.
His father pulls them both into an embrace, leaving her between them. Lucy can barely breathe and she closes her eyes trying to focus on the way the Queen’s dress feels against her cheeks.
The Queen and her companion laugh and cry in her father arms as the crowd’s gasps and murmurs grow louder and louder. Lucy can feel something coming as they all shake and her stomach grows cold. The royal trumpet cuts through everything, playing longer than she has ever heard it.
“People of King James may I present to you the Royal Family of the Kingdom of Alforría, reunited here in our very own festival!” He announces with all the strength his lungs will allow him. “Let us pay them our respects!”
The embrace is broken and the air feels cold as it hits her and Lucy blinks, twice before she understands the image before. The whole of the festival kneeling, kneeling before them. Not just the Queen and her companion, but before her father and his red eyes and before her. Before her, Lucy Mills, the owner of two scraped knees and who will never be on a soap bar.
There is a curious thing about becoming royalty with a stomach full of bark candy and apples, Lucy thinks. It makes her want her feel dizzy and sick inside the castle walls she had never thought about in her whole ten and a half years. She and her father had been stuffed into the royal carriage along with the Queen and her companion. Her mother had ridden one of the horses escorting them, occasionally giving her father a look through the window . There had also been a representative of the King who had not let anyone but the Queen speak for more than three seconds. Every time her companion or her father had opened their mouths to answer he would move on to different topic. That is until the Queen’s voice had snapped.
“Clarence, I will be discussing these matters with the King himself. There is no point in going over them now.” It had been biting and maybe Lucy had scooted closer to her father while being unable to look away from her.
“But Your Majesty, with all due respect our protocol dictates…”
“As I understand it, Alforría has very little patience for protocol. Enough.” The Queen had turned her gaze away from him and to her. It had softened and her lips bloomed into the widest smile.
“Is she your..our…?” She’d begun with all her bite and confidence gone abruptly.
Her father had nodded and given her quick squeeze. The Queen and her companion had looked at each other with brittle eyes and unsure of what to say. Before anyone could make up their minds about their words, the carriage had stopped and they had all been ushered inside the castle.
The castle is cold and filled with more gold Lucy would have thought existed in the land. There are so many questions she wants to ask but she feels, for the first time, that now is not the time. Not when her stomach aches, not when they are many people talking at them and certainly not when her mother is following behind them like a hawk. The Queen is directed away from them before she knows it.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She cups her father’s cheek again and then turns her gaze on her companion. “I promise.”
“Kinda makes you miss town meetings, doesn’t it?” Her touch on the Queen’s forearm is the briefest but enough to get her to laugh.
“That would be reach, Miss Swan.” It’s easy to tell she doesn’t mean it by the softness of her voice and her reluctance to move.
“Go. I’ll look after them.”
The Queen nods and turns toward a hall carpeted in red.
“Feels like old times.” Her father sighs into a content smile.
“Almost kid, almost.” She says trying to wrap around him. “You’re bigger than I remember!”
“Ma..!” He sounds like Lucy whenever her mother calls her little lady.
“Kid,” She takes a deep breath. “It’s been so long. Too long.” Her eyes examine every inch of her father and Lucy watches her swallow back her tears.
“Your Majesty, excuse me..” Her mother ventures into the conversation.
“Oh, the only Majesty here is Regina,” Her father snickers as her cheeks redden. “I’m just Emma.”
Her mother is perplexed, blinking twice at the request, Lucy knows too well. “May I speak to my hus... Henry for a moment?”
“Sure,” She answers with a smile that seems to know too much. “It’ll be a while before Regina is done with the King anyway.”
Her mother grabs by the elbow and walks so quickly into one of the many castle rooms that she never noticed Lucy followed. There is crack in the door and through she sees her mother with her arms crossed and her father sticking his hands into his pockets.
“Well? When were you going to tell me?”
“I didn’t know!” He shrugs his shoulders.
“Oh, you didn’t know that your mother was a Queen? ” Her mother hasn’t moved an inch.
“That I did know, I mean I didn’t know…”
“That you’re some sort of long lost Prince?”
He sighs and Lucy thinks that for all his writing and storytelling this is one story he had not expected to tell.
A tentative hand falls on her shoulder and Lucy gasps. It’s the Queen’s companion, Emma, who is gently steering her away from the door.
“Let’s give them some privacy, huh kid?” She drops her hand as sooner than Lucy expected and clears her throat. “With all this fuss you didn’t even manage to get your name out.”
“Lucy. Sara Lucía, really.” Lucy looks up at her and her gaze is just like her father’s. “But mamá only calls me that when I’m in trouble.”
“Your dad used to get that from Regina too.” She seems to have caught herself because her eyes widen and she presses her lips together. “A lot of that was actually my fault.”
Lucy lets the words hang in the air as they walk in complete silence along the hallway until they find a balcony. It overlooks a rose a garden that looks pink and orange in this sunset. It is here that Lucy puts thoughts into words to ask the obvious question.
“So, you and the Queen are my grandmothers?” Lucy allows herself to get a little closer to her.
“Yeah, guess we are.” She laughs, shaking her head, as if it had taken them far too long to get it. “You know of all the ways we thought this day would go, this was not it.” Lucy quickly decides she very much likes her, and does not mind her being a grandmother at all.
“How did you think it would go?”
Her grandmother’s eyes crinkle again as she searches for an answer.
“For starters I would be in that throne room with Regina, trying very hard not to fall asleep.” She says lowly as if they’re sharing a secret and Lucy. “But I’d probably still be starving.”
“You didn’t have anything to eat at the festival?”
“Apparently eating at the Royal Box is a breach of protocol in this kingdom.” Her grandmother rubs at her stomach.
Lucy searches her dress pockets for leftover bark candy and finds the largest bar she was saving up for tonight. She wastes no time in handing it over to her. “Alforría has very little patience for protocol?”
Her grandmother barks out a laugh as she accepts the candy from her and almost chokes as she bites into it.
“Regina’s gonna love you,” She tells her striking her chest, trying to rid it of any candy pieces. “She already does.” Lucy has suspects that it is much easier to talk about the Queen than it is about herself, it’s obvious from the way she doesn’t cut her sigh short.
“What should I call her? I know daddy calls you ma, so that makes you grandma.” She is suddenly fidgeting like she never has before. Before this she had no grandmothers, let alone a Queen and her sworded companion for grandmothers. She thinks of the dress that trailed after her and the authority in her voice. “Do you think she’d like grandmother or…?”
“Hey, hey. She’ll love whatever you pick,” Her grandmother ruffles her hair the way her father does. “But if it’s that important to you, you should ask her.”
She goes over every variation she knows of grandmother in her head and can’t quite find one that suits her perfectly. Not the grey in her hair and for the sharpness that so easily dissolves into softness. It’s better that she does ask, especially when there are a million other more pressing questions.
“If daddy is the Little Prince from the story what does make me? What does that make mamá?”
“Royal lines have never been my strong suit, had enough trouble wrapping my head around Regina’s new title” Her grandmother furrows her brow. “ But I think that this would make you and your mother princesses.”
Lucy looks at the garden once more and the darker shades of what promises to be night. Thinks of climbing trees and slipping on rocks by the river. She remembers the way her mother chases after men on horseback and how masa gets all over her apron. She thinks of royal trumpets, advisers who won’t let them speak and not eating at the Royal Box. She remembers Princess Mary and the rumored milky glow of her skin. Lucy doesn’t even try to pass her grimace for a smile.
“What’s the matter? Not crazy about being royalty?” Lucy doesn’t dare look up at her, she fears what she might find.
“No.” She replies quietly.
“Good,” Her grandmother squeezes her shoulder. “It’s keeping the family tradition.” Lucy raises her eyes and finds her smiling so wide that she can’t help but return it.
There is something she isn’t telling her, she has the same tell as her father. She rubs at the back of her neck and searches for something to offer before a question she does not want to answer surfaces. Lucy will not ask what she is to travel at the Queen’s side always, to be her son’s mother too. There is no ring on her finger to give her away the way her eyes do. And for the second time, she decides to hold her questions.
Hurried steps come closer and closer along with the clatter of metal.
“Madam, you are requested at the dining hall. If you would please follow me.” Says a man in an armor and out of breath.
“And leave the Queen’s granddaughter on her own? I don’t think so.” Her grandmother straightens her shoulders and hardens her eyes.
“You misunderstand me, madam. The King has requested everyone join him, the Queen and Princess Mary at the dining hall.”
Her grandmother reaches for her hand for the first time.
The dining hall has stained windows that resemble tear drops, if there had been sunlight instead of candle light and torches there would be different colors playing on the white of the floor. The table is the largest table in the whole kingdom, it is after all the King’s. He seats at one end with his daughter at his right-hand side and his adviser on the left hand-side. The Queen holds the other end, her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, seated at her right-hand side and her father at her left-hand side. She and her mother face each other. It’s not hard to see that her mother’s trousers, her father’s shirt and her dress are of the wrong sort to be dining here. But the smile and conspiratorial winks her grandmother gives her make her forget all about them.
“Just copy whatever Regina does and you’ll be fine.” She had whispered in her ear before the armored guard had opened the doors for them.
It had not made her any less nervous, it most certainly had not made the table smaller, the goblets less golden and had not diminished the pale glow of Princess Mary’s complexion. Still, Lucy watches the Queen, her grandmother, and tries her best to keep up with her. She sits with her shoulders so straight that is a feat to be able to reach for cutlery. Her goblet almost slips from her grasp because her fingers are not so delicate as hers. Lucy is grateful for when her plates are removed and thinks the evening is done. They will go home and her father will sprinkle cinnamon over everyone’s chocolate. Her crowning achievement, she soon discovers, is being able to contain a whine when a different plate is placed in front of her. It catches the Queen’s ear and she feels like she might melt under her gaze.
“Do you know what is truly a shame, Your Majesty?” King James asks the Queen. His eyes area sharp blue and his brown hair lies flattened by his crown and his smile she cannot trust.
“No, I do not,” Her chin is raised even if her tone is polite. “Your Majesty.”
“That you had not been reunited with your Prince sooner,” He looks at his father only. “We might have joined our two Kingdoms!”
Her mother’s jaw drops and she can tell by the new strain on her shoulders that her knuckles are clenched. Her father meets her eyes and never looks away. Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, grips her knife tighter and the Queen places a protective hand over her son’s forearm.
“Let’s not forget I have yet to be crowned and we had we found our son sooner Your Majesty would not have found it convenient,” She smiles and Lucy can tell it is something meant to be subtly frightening. “I would have been deprived of a granddaughter and daughter-in-law and Alforría of its Princesses.”
“And how fortunate they are to gain heirs when before their land had been bereft of them!” His lips are stained red from the wine. “Of course, there is still an acceptable way in which our two Kingdoms could become one.”
Lucy has never heard a threat in her life and so she is barely able to recognize one, especially one that had been uttered so slyly and with such a broad smile. She learns all too quickly when her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, goes green. Avoids looking at the Queen altogether and Lucy thinks perhaps she should. If she were to do it, she would see a hint of purple in her eyes and a spark between her fingers that must have been Lucy’s mind playing tricks on her.
“My dear King James, that type of offer is not usually made to aging Queens.”
“Indeed it is not.”
“Father, enough of this talk! It’s all best reserved for the throne room,” Princess Mary interjects. “And we still have three more courses to go, it does us no good to have these affairs hanging in the air. Especially in the company of such an...extraordinary Royal Family.”
“How lucky am I to have you for a daughter, to keep me in my senses and reel me in.” The King says squeezing the Princess’s hand and it is the Queen’s face that turns a sickly shade this time, almost like she has a seen a ghost.
“Your Highness,” It’s her grandmother with crinkled eyes that intervenes this time, in behalf of the Queen it would seem. “I heard from your adviser that you have a day out in the country planned for us tomorrow.”
“Ah yes, to our lavender fields!” Lucy can’t help but notice how she truly matches the chalk color image on the soap bars and wonders if it wasn’t supposed to tell them something. “They are truly magnificent and the air is perfumed around this time a year. Alforría does not have lavender, does it?”
“No, Your Highness, the land does not allow it.” The Queen replies followed by a sip from her goblet. “I am sure it will be a sight to see for the whole Royal Family.” She punctuates with such finality that it sounds like an order.
“Um, yes, only the best for our Royal guests, Your Majesty.” Princess Mary suddenly seems smaller in her seat.
Lucy turns her eyes toward, the Queen, her grandmother, and finds her giving her a secret smile and suddenly Lucy feels bigger in her seat.
The peculiar thing of belonging to a kingdom that plasters the image of its princess on its soap bars is that the Princess herself can talk endlessly about scents, oils, and lavender when out in the fields. Lucy realizes that she speaks of it as she would of her favorite toy except Princess Mary has no intention of ever sharing. She can only tighten her grip on her mother’s hand as they walk through the fields and the smell permeates their hair. Protocol requires that her father walks arm in arm with her grandmother, the Queen, and she and her mother walk behind with her grandmother, the Queen’s companion. The King and Princess lead them, and only speak to her father and grandmother. Everytime the Queen, her grandmother, bares teeth or something close to a laugh her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, lays a hand on the hilt of her sword.
“It smells like Bed, Bath and Beyond died out here.” She mumbles as they are led towards the country palace.
“What was that, grandma?” Lucy asks puzzled.
“Nothing, kid.” She replies with a pat to her back.
“Something from for your land?” Her mother asks with sympathy. “Henry told me.”
“Something like that, yeah.” She scratches the back of her head.
“Do you miss it?” Her mother asks and Lucy knows that it more for her grandmother’s benefit than her own curiosity. It’s one of her mother’s way to display grace.
“Sometimes,” She swallows something back. “We’ve been gone so long, it hasn’t mattered in years. Sometimes it was easy to forget when…” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, stops as if she has caught herself.Lucy follows her eyes to find them resting on her grandmother, the Queen.
And Lucy wonders once again.
“Did you know my grandfather had the palace built for the days he needed peace?” Princess Mary chirps excitedly.
“Did he now?” The Queen, her grandmother, replies and her father gives her a gentle nudge. “The castle was much too grand, I imagine.”
“Precisely!” Lucy wonders how Princess Mary understands even less than she does. “The horrid thing is, of course, that this palace must be accessed on foot.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Your Highness.”
“I’ll defer to your opinion, Prince Henry, when have reached the palace.” She laughs a laughs so small and looks at her father through her eyelashes that she cannot discern her intention. Lucy only knows she doesn’t like the Princess by the fire in her belly and by the way her mother clears her throat.
Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, places a hand on her mother’s shoulder and whispers.
“It’ll be over soon.”
“Save that energy for the ball!” The King exclaims, as if he heard them.
“The ball, Your Majesty?” The Queen, her grandmother asks.
“Mary, have you not shared the good news with our guests?” Is not a real scolding or in fact a question at all.
“I would have thought Clarence handled communication,” Her smile somehow grows wider and it makes Lucy stomach turn itself into a knot. “We have decided to throw a ball in your honor, of course! It’s not every day a lost Prince is found!”
“You shouldn’t have bothered, dear.” It’s a true skill, Lucy learns, to be able to say something and mean the complete opposite with just one word. “Alforría would have celebrated enough.”
“Indulge her, Your Majesty. Take it as gesture of goodwill and kindling friendship between our kingdoms.”
“How much longer to the palace, Your Highness?” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, interrupts foregoing any manners she might know.
“Are the Princesses tired already?” She covers her mouth as she looks back at them and Lucy loathes her.
“I believe I speak for my family when I say we’re just anxious to see the palace you have spoken so much about, Your Highness.” The Queen, her grandmother, tightens her grip around her father’s arm as she looks back at them.
“Of course, of course Your Majesty.” It’s the apology in her tone that has Lucy fuming.
She fumes as they make their way through the far end of the field, she fumes as they go over the footbridge and she fumes as the Princess makes them stop to admire a sculpture at the entrance to the palace garden. She feels her sturdy boots digging deep into the mud she, her mother, and grandmother are forced to stand on while the Princess stands on grass.
“Wouldn’t you able to write wonderful stories here, Prince Henry?”
“Umm, almost as well as I do at my kitchen table, uh,” He looks at her grandmother, the Queen, with pleading eyes. “Your Highness.”
Lucy feels the shake in her mother’s hand and her neck grows so hot that next thing she knows she’s kicking mud into the Princess’s dress and staining the orange into brown.
And so she runs.
“Lucy!” She hears her mother calling after her but she can’t bring herself to stop.
She shouldn’t have run away, Lucy knows that. The familiarity of her room does nothing to diminish her guilt and her bed feels hard under her covers. Her mother had caught up with her soon after she had gone up the tallest tree she found in the garden. She’d climbed with just as much ease and sat on the sturdiest branch saying nothing, Lucy would have preferred it if she had yelled.
“Mi amor, vámonos.” She’d said so gently and Lucy believed she hadn’t deserved it. She’d surely embarrassed them all and she had reminded herself that she isn’t a real princess. And how desperately she doesn’t want to be one.
Lucy had thrown herself at her mother’s arms because she had always been scared of the climb down.
“It’s OK, it’s OK mama.” She’d said onto her hair. “I’ve got you.”
“You’ve got everything you need, sweetheart?” Her father asks tucking the covers under her arms with a small smile.
“Daddy I…” She begins because he hasn’t said a word about the whole thing. He’d taken her in his arms before she even hit the ground.
“We’re going home.” Is all he’d said and Lucy hadn’t had the heart to question it.
“Is she very mad at me?” Lucy finally asks, sinking into the mattress.
“No, not her.” She replies quietly wondering why she hadn’t thought of Princess Mary until now.
“Your grandmother, you mean?” He cups her cheek and she nods shamefully. “Why don’t you ask her yourself?”
Lucy’s eyes widen. “Mom, it’s alright. You can come in now.”
The Queen, her grandmother, appears at the door. She looks nothing like she’d look today, her hair is loose and there is more grey in it that Lucy had thought. Her clothes are simpler, there is no grand dress, just straight lines that seem to have been magically sewn together. Still, she looks like a queen and Lucy’s heart races.
“I’ll leave you two alone.” She is quick to take his hand as plead to get him to stay but he merely squeezes her hand and gets to his feet. He kisses the Queen, her grandmother, on the cheek before leaving.
She moves to sit at the foot of her bed, as if she’d been the one who had thrown mud at the Princess. She seems to be picking at her memory with her hands firmly clasped on her lap.
“I’m sorry.” Lucy breathes out because she cannot take the silence for much longer.
And she smiles and it’s bright enough to confuse her.
“It’s alright, sweetheart,” Her grandmother, the Queen, puts a hand to her chest. “I’m sure Princess Mary has more than enough hands to wash her dress for her.”
“But it was..”
“Wrong? It was.” She moves closer to her. “But if all I had ever done to a Princess had been throwing a bit of mud at her when she was being hateful I would be a better person.”
Lucy nods not understanding at all and is thrown by the way she can be both Queen and the person in front of her.
“Besides, temper runs in the family.” She presses her lips together for a second, looking unsure of what she will say next. “Your father told me your full name is Sara Lucía, do you know why they named you that?”
“It was my mother’s mother name.” Lucy replies not knowing where this will go.
“Do you know why my mother named me Regina?”
She shakes her head.
“Because one day I would be Queen. She never stopped to wonder if it was something I wanted,” Her voice is soft and Lucy’s shoulders relax with it. “My point is, you don’t have to be someone you don’t want to be. Not even if it’s in your name.”
“I thought princesses could never stop being princesses.”
“Oh no?” She laughs fondly. “Why do you think your grandmother Emma carries a sword and leaves all the talking to me?”
“She’s a princess?”
“The dresses and singing never agreed with her. Almost killed her mother in ways I never could with those news.” This times it’s her eyes that widen because she hadn’t meant to say any of that. “Your father hasn’t told you our story, has he?”
The way her face lights up tells Lucy that her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, has nothing to fear or grip her sword so tightly.
“Not all,” She can see her so clearly in that stage in the festival now, with the purple and gold. It couldn’t have been anyone else. “He never said how he got lost.”
She grips her covers to steady herself, perhaps Lucy shouldn’t have asked. “There was something in our land he couldn’t quite understand, I think. He decided he needed answers and left to go looking for them. But travelling with magic is dangerous, sometimes it decides that you should never return. Of course your grandmother and I couldn’t stand for that.”
“What did you do?”
“We left everything behind to search for him, travelled to every land in every book” She brushes her thumb on her brow. “We had only hoped we’d find him, we never expected to find you too.”
Lucy jumps and throws her arms around her neck.
“Abuela.”It comes out without a second as she burrows her forehead in the crook of her neck.
“Is it OK?”
“It’s perfect, Lucy.” She feels her grandmother, the Queen, melts right alongside with her.
Balls are supposed to be wonderful or so Lucy has heard. Whenever her father mentioned a ball in one of his stories she pictured a room full of silver and the moonlight shining through, it is, after all, how he had always described them. His words had always made them sound like they just happened with no preparation, there came an emissary of the King and suddenly there was a girl stitching her mother’s dress together. There was also of course the boy the girl had preferred over the Prince because he’d help her pick pumpkin off her dress. There had never been any talk of dance lessons in any variation of that story.
“Mom, do we really have to do this?” Her father asks and he sounds more like a son than her father.
“It’s a set-up by the Princess, anyway. ‘Traditional cultural exchange my as…’” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, glances at her and then at her grandmother’s, the Queen, raised brow. “My butt. My butt.”
Lucy laughs from her place by the window. There are no instruments and both her grandmothers had refused musicians or anyone else in the room with them. Maybe it’s a sort of custom to learn dance steps with no music and the moment she is content watching her father and mother standing tall in the stained glass sunlight.
“Which is exactly why we’re here. If she wants us to make a fool of us,then we’ll just prove her ridiculous,” Her grandmother, the Queen answers and her companion, her grandmother, looks like it takes all her strength to keep her affection in line. “I think the dance is supposed to start with us, Henry.”
She holds out her hand and her father takes it gladly. This, she knows, he will always do without protest.
“Aren’t you forgetting something, Regina?” Lucy feels her nudging her ribs and with devious look on her face.
“Twenty-five years and you still haven’t got it down.” The Queen, her grandmother, smiles even as she rolls her eyes. “Next time, it’s on you.”
“Yes, dear.” The Queen’s companion, her grandmother, is suddenly radiant with false mockery and Lucy keeps wondering about them.
Her grandmother, the Queen, raises one hand and then folds her fingers in so delicately that Lucy almost misses the purple coming from them. Out of the purple come guitars, harps and drums and she feels her jaw drop.
“Just who are you people?!” Her mother asks just as struck as she is.
“Welcome to the family, Jacinda.” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, puts her hand on her shoulder.
“Ay, run away from a prince at a ball and end up going to another ball married to one.” She laments. “And he can’t even dance.”
“Unfair and not true!” He replies letting her grandmother, the Queen, readjust his shoulders and hands. “Though last time we did this…”
“You could stand on my shoes.” With a wave of her hand the guitar begins playing itself. It’s a sweet sound and Lucy imagines her father recognizes it by the look in his eyes. Not that gleam that hid all this from her, but rather a kind of happiness.
The dance it’s slow, like the music, and careful. They are mostly swaying and there’s a twist and turn somewhere and her grandmother’s, the Queen, dress is made for it. Her father’s steps are measured.
“This isn’t too bad, is it?” She asks him like she has doubts, as if might run away at any moment.
“Not bad at all, mom.” He shakes his head and lets her turn one more time.
“Is that from Alforría?” Lucy asks her.
“Part of it, I don’t know it all.” Her grandmother, the Queen, motions here to come closer. “It’s your turn now, mi vida.”
“Stand on your dad’s boots if you need to, they can take it.” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, pushes her forward.
Lucy is tentative in her steps and takes his hands firmly, determined to not stand on his boots. She is much too old to depend on the sturdiness of leather. As she tries to follow the music Lucy realizes that it follows them and the harmony of it only improves when her feet are moving like her father’s. The harp joins every few seconds and she is glad that this is the very first time seeing magic.
“Regina…” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, scolds her.
“What? A little help never hurt anyone.” She raises her chin and dusts her sleeves as if they needed.
“You know, you could just cast a dark curse on Princess Mary that has her trapped for twenty-eight years and be done with it.”
“She isn’t worth the effort.”
“God help me.” Lucy sees her mother closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.
“Your turn, Jaz.” Her father pulls her away from her spot. “Don’t think you’re getting out of this one.”
“My wedding vows.” Her mother laughs and both of her grandmothers have a hand on their chest.
Lucy doesn’t miss the way two of the Queen’s fingers hold on to the very tips of her grandmother’s fingers.
Lessons end with her father and the Queen’s companion, her grandmother, laughing hysterically through a piece that turned less and less harmonious as they blundered and stepped on each other’s feet.
“Maybe you should enchant your feet at the ball, dear.” Her grandmother, the Queen, says fixing the collar of her shirt.
“I honestly should.” She replies still red-faced from dancing with her father.
“We should get going,” Her father says. “Or else we’ll be offered to stay at the castle for the night.”
“And no one wants that.” Her mother completes the thought.
They leave with simple goodbyes and are about down two floors worth of stairs and one hallway worth of suits of armor when Lucy thinks she should have hugged them good-bye. She turns on her heel and runs back to them.
“Sara Lucía, where are you going?!” She hears her mother’s harsh whisper behind her.
Lucy picks up her dress to run up the stairs and hears her muffled steps on the carpeted halls and avoids knocking two or three suits of armor as she searches for the right door. She is about to burst the door open and announce herself when she hears music coming from the room. It’s deeper and every note is perfectly attuned to the next one. Lucy cracks the door open, just enough, to peek inside. There they are, the Queen and her companion, her grandmothers dancing together. Their palms of their hands are pressed together and then their fingers lock as they bring their arms down to their sides.
“You’re doing fine, Emma.” She sighs deeply in something like contentment. “No need to enchant your feet.”
She nods and Lucy sees her holding her breath when the Queen, her grandmother, rests her chin on her shoulder. Sees hope and recognizable gleam in her eyes as she breathes her in.
It’s that look of silent melancholy that sparks an idea into Lucy’s mind.
It is fairly complicated to try and make sense of the lingering gazes of her grandmothers, the Queen and her companion. Surely, Lucy thinks, that if two people looked at each other like that they must know the truth. She had asked her father about it in a moment of peace and quiet and he’d sighed deeply and confessed that it’s the answer that has eluded him for years.
“Give it a little time, have faith in them.” He’d told her as he handed a dish for her to dry.
Lucy believes in them but she does not believe she can afford the luxury of time, not with the way the King had smiled at her grandmother, the Queen, and the way the Queen’s companion, her grandmother, had seemed to resign herself to tightening her grip around the hilt of her sword. If time is what she needs, then she must steal it. Like any precocious child with newly found grandmothers she is aware of the powers of a well placed pout.
“Pleeeeease, abuela.” Lucy begs of the Queen, her grandmother, as she bids her goodnight at her door. “There are so many things you should see and you’ll be gone soon. Please?”
“Well, I don’t know.” She answers with her resolve clearly shaken. “It’s grain negotiations that…”
“You could get him to agree to whatever conditions through one of your letters,” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, cuts in with a smile that carries more weight than Lucy comprehends. “I should know, I used to get those letters.”
“And did they ever work?” She crosses her arms and Lucy cannot tear her eyes from them.
“They came really close to it?” Her shoulder shrug and her gaze is insecure in ways it doesn’t need to be. “Come on, Regina. One day, you, me and the kid.”
The Queen, her grandmother, laughs after she grins and it’s nothing like the calculated ones she gives royalty. It’s so bright that Lucy thinks it impossible that it is not obvious to her grandmother who stands basking in its warmth.
When morning comes she becomes privy to another secret of the Queen’s companion, her grandmother. Besides being a princess, however a bad one, she too has magic. Golden instead of purple and tickles as it envelops all three of them.
“You better not make me look like some two-bit…” Her grandmother, the Queen, half glares as the gold encircles her.
“You can relax, Your Majesty,” She snorts. “I’ll only go far enough to help us blend in.”
The Queen’s dress turns into fitted brown trousers, a leather vest and white wool covering her neck. But even her braided hair and the wear on her black boots cannot hide the truth, not in her granddaughter’s eyes anyway.
“You look exactly the same, Emma.” Her tone is dry and her brow is raised in disapproval.
“What are you talking about? I changed my vest from blue to green.”
“And my skirts to red!” Lucy adds feeling the fabric with her hands.
“You were the one sticking out like a sore thumb, Regina.” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, gloats as she leads the way into the village.
“To be a true sore thumb I’d need a red leather jacket, dear.” She huffs in reply and takes Lucy’s hand and picks up her pace.
“That almost sounded like you meant it.” Her green eyes have that shine to them, like she’s somewhere in the past Lucy doesn’t know of. “Almost.”
“What makes you think I didn’t?”
“Were you always like this?” Lucy asks both deciphering in expert manner the true intent of their words and remembering the deep turn the music had taken as they danced.
“Like what, sweetheart?” Asks the Queen, her grandmother, with a hint of concern in that last word.
“Weird.” It is something else entirely she means in the hopes that her thread will be picked up.
Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, stifles a laugh while the Queen, her grandmother, presses her lips together. The battle is half won, as her father would say.
“Right kid, what did you want us to see?”
So Lucy takes them everywhere, amazed at the lack of recognition by people who had just days ago bowed and knelt for them. Hadn’t they known Lucy before, surely they must have been taken aback that Lucy Mills who used to promise to bring a coin or two tomorrow to pay for sweets is a princess? But Mrs.Midence only wraps up her spiced fruit not wondering how is it she can afford this time and Mr. Howard doesn’t bat an eyelash or two when her grandmothers hand her coins to pay for a large boat to row in the lake. There is something she almost calls disappointment lingering in the air, she hadn’t wanted to be faced by a bowing crowd but she would have thought at least having grandmothers would have caused a stir.
“Is something wrong?” Her grandmother, the Queen, asks her shielding her eyes from the Sun as her companion rows the boat.
“No,” Lucy begins knowing the truth would sound somewhat silly. “I don’t know. I just thought things would be a little different?”
“You thought someone would recognize us, that it?” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, asks because she already knows the answer. “It wasn’t only our clothes I changed.” She wiggles her eyebrows.
“Oh, you idiot. ” Her palm covers her eyes. “What do I look like to everyone else?”
“Abuela!” Lucy reprimands her only after catching the pride in her grandmother’s voice.
“Would you kill me if I said milkmaid?”
The Queen, her grandmother, in a undignified act, grabs a floating lilypad and hurls it at her face.
“Classy.” She says prying it off, unable to act in any way displeased.
“I’m a milkmaid, I don’t have to be.” Her huffing is the most act intricate act Lucy has seen.
“Admit it, it’s a good illusion.” She cocks her head and that seems to do it for the Queen, her grandmother.
“You had a good teacher.”
“You taught grandma?” Lucy squints looking back and forth between them.
“I tried to, she was the worst student I ever had.” Her grandmother, the Queen, has to bite down her smile.
“I was your only student!”
“Can you teach me?” It comes out like a reflex because she may not want to be a princess, she may not want dance lessons, a castle with a thousand rooms and her face on soap bars but she wants this. This that bonds her to them.
“I…” Something like darkness covers her grandmother’s expression, like an unwanted memory had come to surface.
“We can,” It sound as if her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, is strong enough for the both. “When the time’s right.”
“When the time is right.” The Queen, her grandmother, all darkness vanished from her face.
“Can the the time be right now?” Lucy has also discovered the powers and abilities of a well placed in grin.
“Lucy, I don’t think..”
“It doesn’t have to be anything big! Please, please abuela?”
The Queen, her grandmother, sighs and Lucy knows there is no losing here. Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, barely breathes a syllable.
“Don’t you dare call me soft.” The threat is empty as it usually is and it’s mostly joy the Queen, her grandmother, holds in. She is not terribly good at it, no better than her companion.
“I haven’t said anything,” Her eyes shine a little brighter under the Sun. “Just maybe no fire?”
It is not the first and certainly not the last royal scoff Lucy has heard.
They are in the middle of the lake for their first lesson. Her grandmother, the Queen, had explained that magic is all emotion. It takes a sharp mind to know what to do with it but it requires a strong will to wield it.
“Both things you have, mi vida.”
“A Mills, through and through.” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, adds like she has forgotten that she is hers too.
“If she has any of your raw strength we might need a bigger boat.” It’s reassuring and just soft enough that her pale complexion flushes pink.
“What are we doing?” Lucy asks imagining what feats could be accomplished in a rowboat in the middle of the lake, fetching a sword or perhaps even bringing fish up to the surface.
“Making a splash.”
“That’s it?” She sits back and tries to keep disappointment away from her face. Splashes hardly need magic.
“Hey, you did say it didn’t have to be big.” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, ruffles her hair. “And trust me, you want take it slow when your abuela’s involved”
Lucy raises her brow picturing how many thousands of dangers they must have faced together for her to be so sure. They must have been a great too many and she thinks that perhaps that this inexplicable distance they keep must be one of their scars.
“Ignore her, sweetheart.” She clears her throat and straightens her shoulders. “Just close your eyes and think of the water. The tide, where it goes, where it came from…”
It’s easy to do as she’s told when her voice seems to almost sing with the breeze, it’s the easiest thing Lucy has ever done. It’s blue she sees, how it vanishes when it’s cupped in her hand. Rain and puddles, mist on a cool Autumn morning.
“Now think of where you want it to go. Up.” Her grandmother’s, the Queen’s companion, her voice isn’t so musical but it’s just as gentle. With it she sees the sky, just as blue as the water. Sees wisps of clouds, thinks of the dark of the night and the strength of the wind. How it lifts anything in its path when it’s determined. Her mind wanders on its own when the instructions stop, she thinks of water and wind together, of storms and anything that stands in their path.
It’s of thunder she thinks of when she hears a loud crack beneath her feet and is quick to open her eyes. Water punches through the middle of the boat, in a tall column that is gone as quickly as it came. The two halves of the boat push off against each other with her, her, magic and she watches her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, sinking away from them just as the cold of the water seeps in. Her grandmother, the Queen, is quick to fix it with a flick of her wrist.
“There is no way of denying she’s ours.” Purple emerges from the tips of her fingers and warmth folds itself around them.
The Queen’s companion, breathes out and forms a half smile. “Guess she is.” She picks up the oars showing more and more teeth the closer they get to shore. Lucy can only blush feeling their gaze on her as she stretches her fingers aching with magic.
People are gathered at the shore, expecting them and perhaps it’s that their disguises have finally worn off. But then Lucy notices their wet garments are dripping wet and their expressions are all shaped into scowls.
“They’re the ones who done it, Howard!” One of them points. “Don’t know how, but soon as they rowed to the middle lake water broke into all the boats!”
“Wouldn’t King James love to know how that happened?” Someone in the back shouts.
“The King can wait! Who’s going to pay for my blasted boats, you?” He point at her grandmother, the Queen. “Pay in milk, will you?”
“Hey buddy, watch it!” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, gets in between them with a glare. She reaches to her side only to remember that there is no weapon attached to her hip.
“Oh, for God’s sake.” The Queen, her grandmother, rolls her eyes and with another flick of her wrist lifts the illusion. Her dress is darker than any she has worn so far and the lines that make up her face seem sharper. Lucy believes that in this moment she is getting a glimpse of what her grandmother, the Queen, wields as her sword.
“Your Majesty…” Mr. Howard says taking four steps back.
“What do you say if we forget that this ever happened?” She takes Lucy hand and gives it a firm squeeze just as she silently signals her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, to step aside. Lucy doesn’t have to look to know all eyes are on them. “You’ll be reimbursed, of course. Fully.”
“Yes, yes. How very generous of Your Majesty..to..to.” He stutters. “Except..uh..um, Your Majesty. We are all bound by law to inform the King of what’s happened today.”
She seems about to raise her arm once again but catches herself just as her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, touches the small of her back light as a feather.
The Queen, her grandmother, forms a smile just as her eyes try to pretend softness. “But as knights of the Kingdom of Alforría you’d be sworn to secrecy.”
“Knights, Your Majesty? Us?” A young man in the back asks.
“Yes, knighted for good character!” She doesn’t stumble over her words, as if they were all true. For a second or two, Lucy herself doubts that they are completely made up. “Of the Order of…”
The Queen, her grandmother, glances at her companion and then returns her eyes to Mr. Howard. “Of the Order of the Swan.”
“What the hell....” Lucy hears her grandmother mutter under her breath as the men begin cheering.
Lucy is in awe of her once again as one by one the men kneel before her, to have their shoulders touched by a broken oar Billy the baker boy had surrender to her grandmother, the Queen. All of them swear allegiance and with three more bows they are dismissed.
“That was amazing, abuela! They all just...wow!” Lucy swings their hands, still not quite believing every part of today. Not her magic, not bakers and farmers turned knights.
“I can’t wait til that kid with the cheeks show up at Alforría with that suit of armour he promised to make.” The Queen’s companion, her grandmother, shakes her head and she has never looked more content.
“Good luck with them. They’ll be under your care, darling.” The word had escaped her and the Queen, her grandmother, doesn’t seem to realize as she leads the way back.
Lucy knows that it had not escaped her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, and that she is holding on to it judging by the silence that follows it.
Finally, the dreaded night arrives and like all dreaded nights it creeps in slowly and makes everything surrounding extend for an eternity. Starting with the customary ball preparation at the royal castle, not even the gold and purple of her grandmothers’ magic had been able to spare her. There are hot combs in her hair and a balms and oils she hadn’t known existed until today.
“I don’t understand. Grandma probably isn’t doing any of this.” Lucy can hear the whine in her voice but it’s a small price to pay if it gets her out of her seat. “Why do I have to do it?”
“Your grandma Emma has a sword...ow!” Her mother shudders as her own scalp suffers on the hot comb. “And your abuela.”
“Not fair.” Lucy pinches her eyes shut feeling metal closing in by her ear.
“But you’ll look so beautiful, Princess!” The lady holds her chin up to the mirror so that she can see half of her hair falling longer on her shoulders. “With your straightened hair and your pretty dress!”
“She’ll just look different, is all. Dressed for the night.” Her mother’s tone turns harder and reaches across her chair to hold her hand.
“Yes, Your Highness.” The lady replies demurely.
Lucy knows that her mother cannot take to that title, much less than she can but endures it in this moment. When her words would have become an argument they are now an order, an invitation to silence. So the ladies arranging the red, purple and white flowers in her hair say nothing and the girl helping her into dress only hums a song. Her skin is perfumed without a word escaping anyone’s lips. Perhaps it hadn’t been what her mother intended because she says a thousand thank yous as they tighten the lace at her back. Yet, there is no apology and for that Lucy loves her.
“Are you ready?” Her mother asks her standing by the door. Her hair is braided held away above her neck and she is dressed in such a pale blue that it verges on white. Looking at her Lucy believes that there might be something to the bows that follow them everywhere they go.
“No.” Lucy answers but opening the door herself.
“It won’t be so bad.” Her hand goes to Lucy’s neck, to smooth out the chills on it.
“Promise?” She looks up and realizes it could never be so bad with her around.
“I promise. I heard there will be some cinnamon rolls going around.” And just like that Lucy is making them as her reward for a dance well danced.
Her father emerges from the door next them, dressed in black except for the white of his shirt. He looks like his breath catches when he looks at her mother, it isn’t the first time, but it’s the first time he looks like her grandmother, the Queen’s companion.
“How do we look, Prince Henry?” Her mother pulls him closer and kisses his cheek.
“Like I’ll forget all my dance steps.”
Lucy settles between them and feels her stomach turning as they walk closer and closer to the ballroom. The royal guards hold at the door so that they can play the royal trumpets to a new and unfamiliar tune.
“Prince Henry, Crown Prince of Alforria, his wife Princess Jacinda and their daughter, Sara Lucía, Princess of Alforria!” They announce to the room that is suddenly standing in still silence, inspecting them as they make their way to pay respects to the King and Princess.
There is no silver but so much gold that it blinds the eye, red roses in every corner and a whole hall of mirrors so that the room stretches beyond where Lucy can follow it. It’s nothing like she had imagined it to be, she would have thought at least all royalty would have wanted to have their ball filled with small details that caught the eye instead of this.
“Your Majesty, Your Highness.” Her father says in a way that feels unnatural but seems to delight the King and Princess.
They bow like they had been told by Clarence and the King smiles in that way Lucy cannot trust.
“May this ball be the first of many, many things my Kingdom and Alforría do together!” He announces with his goblet is raised into the air.
“Here, here!” The crowd responds as Lucy finds her grandmother, the Queen’s companion looking sullen at the announcement and standing by a table covered in food.
Her brow is so furrowed and her hands rolled so tightly into fists that Lucy does not notice the Queen, her grandmother, appearing at her father’s side with an expression that reads fake to all but the King and Princess.
“And now our royal friends will gift us with traditional dances from Alforría!” Princess Mary raises her hands to clap and every subject follows suit. “May the way be cleared for Her Majesty Queen Regina and His Royal Highness, Prince Henry!”
Her grandmother, the Queen, takes her father’s arm and her expression turns true once she glances at her father. If Lucy had not been watching for it, she might have missed the hint of purple escaping her fingers and heading straight towards the musicians before the guitar begins to ripple across the room. She steals another look at the Queen’s companion, her grandmother, and she seems no better. It’s like she cannot even bear to watch her family dance.
“I’ll be right back.” She whispers to her mother.
“Just don’t stray too far.” Her mother bops her nose with her finger.
If Lucy could run in her dress she would but she cannot afford to trip and fall. She avoids what seems every lady, every lord and every server at the ball until she reaches her grandmother, the Queen’s companion.
“Grandma!” Lucy mocks whispers as she wraps her arms around her waist.
“Hey, kid!” She gives her a tight squeeze and it’s how Lucy knows she’s grateful she’s come this way. “Come to watch the dance and steal some cinnamon rolls with me?”
Lucy nods because she could never confess to her, the Queen’s companion, with a sword on her hip and sturdy boots that she had seemed sad.
“Right, I’ll cover you and…”
“Miss Emma Swan!” The King voice cuts their efforts short. “You’ll have to excuse me, I forget your title.”
“Protector of the Crown, Your Majesty.” She answers through gritted teeth and with one arm around Lucy’s shoulders.
“Of course, forgive me.” He laughs in anticipation of what he will say next. “You were protecting the crown before there was a crown to protect. Or so I have heard.”
“I don’t follow.” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, most certainly follows.
“I only wonder what will become of you when there is no need to protect...the crown.” He shows his teeth and Lucy wants to shout that her grandmother is a princess too but that she doesn’t need to be. That he can keep his smiles away from them.
“I’ll always watch over it.” The words come out strained and Lucy feels her grandmother restraining herself as best she can.
“That is what I’ve been told but…”
“What other things have you been told about me, Your Majesty?” She cuts him short. “Did you know I slayed a dragon with the sword I’m carrying? It’s kind of a funny story, actually.”
“Is that a threat? I don’t think Queen Regina would take to kindly to that.”
“It’s not. But try and take my family again and you’ll be my next funny story” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion shakes her head as if she’s found her strength. “Now that’s a threat.”
“Just wait until the Queen learns about you, about this…”
“I’m sure she’ll love to hear about it.”The Queen’s companion, her grandmother, takes a cinnamon roll right under the King’s nose. “It’s time for our granddaughter’s dance with our son, excuse us.”
Her grandmother does not bow, does not smile and does not even look back and Lucy loves her for it.
Lucy watches as she dances with her father, he seems to have caught on and does the very same. She takes one big bite from her roll, an earned trophy. Her eyes then fall on the King pointing at her as he speaks with the Queen, her grandmother, and Lucy sees the incredible. Her grandmother, the Queen, in a dress finer than all things in this room put together, laughs in the King’s face. He goes red while the Queen, her grandmother, finds her composure. When she gathers it she says something Lucy knows is the sharpest and far worse than anything than her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, had said because the King’s red face is replaced by green and sickened complexion. She turns on her heel and marches towards her companion and takes her by the hand out into the terrace.
How Lucy wishes the music would slow down and end the piece so that she could follow them. Because she is her grandmothers’ grandaughter the music bends to her will and her father bows to signal the end of their dance.
“Go, quickly.” He tells her with a wink.
Lucy slips through the crowd and runs because she can now afford to trip and fall. When she reaches the terrace she works her hardest to be silent as she looks for her grandmothers. They stand in a secluded corner looking only at each other, holding hands. It is, of course, imperative that Lucy gets closer to them undetected. She circles the terrace until she manages to find a hiding place behind some garish looking plant pots.
“I almost started a war because of you, idiot.” The Queen, her grandmother, says so softly that it sounds sweeter than any sonnet she’d ever heard recited at the village. “I’m not even officially Queen again.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.” She tries to temper her voice but it begins to break,“I..just...I didn’t like thinking that he could take you away from…From us. ” This is something her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, had never expected to say, Lucy can tell. “From me.”
“Did you really think that could happen?” Her fingers are curling in her grandmother’s blonde hair. “After everything we’ve lived together?”
The Queen’s companion, her grandmother, shrugs her shoulders in reply.
“Emma .” She says like she had suddenly realized that the gleam in her eyes is there. “Emma, don’t be ridiculous. No one could take me away from you.”
“They’ve really tried though.”
“Yeah and it’s never worked, has it?”
Lucy raises her head above the plant pots to get a better look and sees the Queen, her grandmother, pulling her companion closer until she places a kiss on her lips. Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, acts surprised until the very end, until a second kiss begins. Lucy falls to the ground, trying to contain herself and her racing heart. She hears giddy laughs, unfit for a Queen and the protector of the crown.
“It’s alright kid, you can come out now.” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, says into the night.
Lucy comes out, unable to keep her smiles to herself, their hands are still joined and their eyes wet with happiness. They open their arms for her and she is nestled between them.
“What took you so long?” She asks, happier than she would have thought possible in her ten and a half years.
Almost starting war with a King has a consequences, Lucy had learned soon after the ball had concluded. The Queen and her companion, her grandmothers, had overstayed their welcome and trespassed on the hospitality of the royal hosts. All a breach of protocol, Clarence had dutifully informed them. They were no longer welcomed at the royal castle, hardly a punishment for anyone who had suffered through endless lavender fields. Lucy supposes that it had been the fear her grandmother, the Queen, had instilled into the King’s heart that made this possible. To her delight they had not left for Alforría but taken their trunks to their house and sent their carriage ahead. It’s past dinner time and there is no royal table, no ball that could compare to this.
“And you’ve never cooked? Henry Daniel Mills I raised you better than that.” The Queen, her grandmother, scolds her father. An apron is tied around her waist and her hair in a loose bun.
“I’ve tried!” Her father replies as he peels carrots at the table. “Things just have a habit of...burning.”
“This is your fault.” She points with a wooden spoon at her companion, who had been very contently picking at almonds.
“How is the kid burning things my fault?” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, is worse and worse at hiding her bliss.
“And I am for one very grateful that he is only on knife duty now.” Her mother says watching it all from her place at the table.
“Everyone ganging up on me is not how I thought this would go at all.”
“I’m on your side!” Lucy proclaims as she fetches a bowl for his offerings.
“That’s because you’re my little princess.” He smiles as does she because it’s the first time he’s called her that since that day at the festival.
Lucy’s eyes find her grandmother, the Queen, with a hand to her chest, forgetting the pots and pans boiling behind her. And Lucy loves her for it.
Mismatched plates and bowls soon fill the table, smelling of mint, onion and cumin. Steam comes from the meat, from the yuca and flat bread, more food than any of them can eat. But if Lucy knows her family, and she knows her family now, they will die trying if they must. Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, appears to be drifting off an hour and three helpings of cider into the meal. It earns her a kiss at the very corner of her mouth from her Queen.
“You’ll embarrass the kid.” She mumbles gladly folding into affection.
“Oh, I am so not embarrassed.” Her father replies cutting into the flan. “For you, maybe. Twenty-five years…”
“Shhhhh.” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, waves her hand in the air. “You’re lucky all your baby pictures stayed in Storybrooke.”
It’s as if as she has said the magic words or maybe the cursed words because the air changes and it’s become quiet enough that Lucy can hear the cricket chirping in the garden.
“Mom, what happens now?” Her father asks looking at her grandmother, the Queen, with something that sounds like fear in his words.
“Sweetheart, when we set out to find you we never thought it would take so long,” She sighs to keep from crying, Lucy has learned. “We thought…”
“That’d we’d find you in a week and everything would go back to normal.” Her companion, her grandmother, fills in when her voice falters. “But then we began forgetting street names and what Granny serves on Sundays.”
“Somewhere down the line we just accepted there was no going back.” She takes a sip of her cider and bites her lips. “Then of course my long lost cousin had the nerve to die with no heirs and made me Queen again.”
“So what? You go to Alforría and we stay here?” Her mother asks with clearing her throat to hide her own fears.
“If that’s what you want.” Her grandmother, the Queen, answers never betraying whatever her true yearnings might be.
“I hear there’s an opening for a sheriff in Alforría.” The Queen’s companion, her grandmother, nods towards her mother knowingly.
“And who told you that?” Her Queen asks with a quirked brow.
“The Protector of the Crown.”
“You’re drunk, Miss Swan.” She rolls her eyes as if that would make her subtle.
“Mhmmm.” Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, rest her head on her Queen’s shoulder and closes her eyes. “You don’t need to decide right now. Your mom’s gonna be Queen forever.” There is a dreamy quality to her voice. Maybe that’s what a princess in love is meant to sound like, Lucy thinks.
“I take it back, I am embarrassed.” The lie is blatant, even through dropping eyes Lucy can see that.
“Please, you’re at least twice as bad as they are.” Her mother throws her napkin at him.
Lucy rests her chin on her hands and fights off a yawn. “You’re all embarrassing.”
Her grandmother, the Queen’s companion, snorts, the Queen, her grandmother, can’t contain herself and her mother and father kiss her cheeks until she’s laughing. If this is what being their Princess entails, Lucy thinks, then it isn’t the worst thing. She’s a princess and can steal from her mother’s cinnamon rolls and let her hair flow like her grandmothers do late at night. She could still let the sun turn her skin even darker as she climbs trees with her father's quill in her hair. Lucy could become a princess with a sword at her hip or a Queen who makes whole King turn green. She wouldn’t mind being one, Lucy settles, watching her grandmother, the Queen, running her fingers through her companion’s hair. Her father watches them too, the gleam in his eyes replaced with only brightness.