Chapter 1: When I Wake Up
The time is finally here;
everything till yesterday was a prologue to the prologue
Two souls meet in the dark. They have seen each other before, their eyes wide with recognition. But where? How? Why are they meeting again?
"Are you crying?" he asks.
"I do, sometimes," she answers. "When I wake up."
He nods and reaches out a tentative hand. "It's like a dream I can't recall."
"A dream," she echoes. Their fingertips connect. "A dream where I am looking."
"I'm looking for someone."
"Someone I can't find."
Their eyes meet, and they are both startled. She reaches for him, and he reaches for her, but the universe is falling and they are wrenched apart and
Elizabeth woke up.
Her eyes fell on the ceiling as the room came into focus. Rays of light came through the window, making streaks of gold across the stone ceiling. She turned her head as the dream faded away, breathing in deeply the fresh morning air and listening to the sounds of the castle coming to life. With a sigh she sat up, and pushed the sheets away, stretching her arms up over her head.
The bedroom door opened with a bang that startled her so badly she nearly fell out of the bed. Once Elizabeth righted herself she looked in surprise at her sister Veronica standing in the doorway, her arms folded. "I see you're not touching yourself this morning," she said sarcastically.
"What?" Elizabeth squeaked, her arms immediately covering herself. "What do you mean by that?"
Veronica rolled her eyes and said, "You're so weird sometimes. Come on, Father expects us at breakfast."
She puzzled over what her sister could mean as she hurried out of bed. As she began pulling out her clothes her lady-in-waiting arrived with a fresh basin of water and towels. Before long Elizabeth was washed, dressed in a flowing yellow dress, and sitting as the girl combed her long silver hair down her back. Elizabeth watched in the mirror, still blinking away the last wisps of the dream she had been having. There was an odd feeling still lingering, as if on the back of her neck or the edges of her vision.
But she brushed it away as the girl finished her work, and Elizabeth carefully fixed her bangs into their place over her eye. Then, the last piece: she slipped the blue earring into her ear, the treasured gift from her older sister that carried the crest of their family and kingdom, the sun and crescent moon.
Finally ready, she hurried to the small, informal dining room the princesses used when eating together outside of the banquets and formal state dinners. Both Veronica and Margaret were already there, the former giving her a bit of a smirk and the other offering a curious smile as she made a beeline for her seat. But it was her father, the king himself, whose presence set her on a bit of edge. He did not often share breakfast with his daughters.
"Good morning," she murmured after a quick curtsey. She took her place on his left and nodded a thanks to the servant who placed a serving of eggs in front of her. Elizabeth could feel her family's eyes on her, so she quickly snatched up the sugar bowl and began dropping cubes into her cup.
"Feeling better today, Elizabeth?" Margaret asked.
The cube of sugar made a little splash as it fell into the tea. "I… feel fine?" she stammered out, peering up at her sister through her bangs.
"I'm glad to hear it," answered Margaret with a nod. "Your behavior was rather unusual yesterday. I was afraid that you were coming down with something."
"My behavior?" At that Elizabeth looked up, her eyes wide in surprise. "Did I do something?"
Veronica snorted. "You came down wearing some awful dress, your hair was a mess, and you barely knew anyone's name!"
Elizabeth frowned and looked back at Margaret, who was nodding sadly. "You were quite strange, Elizabeth. I thought for sure you had been ill. You even forgot to wear your earring."
"You wouldn't do any of your lessons," Veronica went on. "And you chased the cook around the kitchen with a frying pan."
"I did what!" She gasped and looked between both of her sisters, and then turned her shocked expression to her father.
The king was looking back at her, his eyes narrowed and his lips pressed tightly together. Still he did not speak, however, and Elizabeth felt the soft blush that had been forming on her cheeks flare into a hot streak across her face and down her neck.
The rest of the breakfast was finished quickly and silently, before the things were cleared and Margaret announced it was time for the younger two to attend their lessons. All three princesses stood and gave their goodbyes to the king, but as Elizabeth hurried towards the door after the other two, he called out her name.
Elizabeth froze. Slowly she turned and inched back towards the table, her eyes down. "Yes, Father?" she whispered.
"No more nonsense today," he admonished her, and the girl nodded eagerly. "I don't want to hear my daughter is acting foolishly, especially on an important day like today."
She was not completely sure what he meant, but Elizabeth nodded again and gave a small curtsey. He turned back to his teacup, which she took to signal her dismissal, but before she made it to the door he called after her, "And stand up straight."
Her cheeks once again burning, Elizabeth hurried to the study where the tutor would be waiting. Margaret, being the oldest, had finished her studies the previous year, but would occasionally join them for fun. This was not one of those times, however, and Elizabeth slipped into the room under the scornful gaze of the tutor. "There you are," she said as Elizabeth sat beside a snickering Veronica. "I thought perhaps you had forgotten what day it was."
"No, miss," she replied, and when the tutor turned around to pick up a book, she elbowed Veronica sharply in the side.
"I trust you'll remember things better today, Your Highness?" the tutor went on as she turned back around. She gazed down at her over the rim of her glasses. "You had quite a bit of trouble with math and languages yesterday. Hopefully today you'll put in a bit more effort, hm?"
Elizabeth nodded, the blush returning again to her face. Quickly she opened her notebook, but the tutor said, "No regular lessons today. We need to work on your roles for the ceremony this evening."
Veronica nodded and pulled out her own notes, but Elizabeth looked around confused. "Ceremony?" she whispered to her sister when the tutor's back is turned. "What does she mean?"
The older girl rolled her eyes and gives her a look of pure annoyance. "Seriously, what's wrong with you? We have to do the goddess ceremony. At the horn?"
"That's tonight?" Elizabeth squeaked. Frantically she began to turn the pages in her notebook, praying that she had finished writing her part. Yesterday was such a blur… what had happened to her?
She reached the last bit written, swallowing in relief to see it was finished. But then, on the blank page opposite, was written a message in large, bolded letters, in a script not her own:
Who are you?
By the time Elizabeth was released from her lessons for lunch, she was feeling more off than ever. The tutor had made her go over her part for the goddess ceremony at least a dozen times, and as lunch approached her nerves were too frayed to even think about eating. So instead of heading back to the dining room, she went instead to find her two closest friends.
Elizabeth tried the open training field first, and was pleased to see her instinct was right. There she found Howzer and Jericho stretched out on a blanket under a tree, passing a skin of water back and forth. The girl perked up as the princess approached, however, and waved enthusiastically. "Elizabeth! Over here!"
With a sigh of relief she plopped down next to her friend. Howzer and Jericho were enrolled in the early program for Holy Knights, having been identified as candidates as children. They lived in the barracks that were attached to the castle for knights, in a special wing for pre-apprentices. Although Elizabeth received a separate education and had different duties than they had, there was still plenty of time over the years for them to be together, unable to leave the castle grounds without a reason. Because of this, the three had formed a close friendship growing up in the castle. Howzer and Jericho were the two people in the world who knew her best, and the only people she could be around without all the formality.
"Are you all right today?" Jericho asked, eyeing her suspiciously.
Elizabeth frowned. "Everyone keeps asking me that. But I can't remember yesterday at all! What did I do?"
"What didn't you do is more like it," Howzer laughed as he stretched out on the blanket. "You were like a whole other person."
"You didn't seem to recognize anyone," Jericho continued. "When someone said your name, you wouldn't answer, as if you didn't hear them. You forgot where everything was, and didn't even know us!"
Drawing her knees up, Elizabeth rested her chin on them. "I just don't understand," she said quietly. "What do you think happened to me?"
"No idea," Jericho answered. "You even forgot to wear your earring."
Immediately her hand went to the little blue charm that dangled from her ear, the bead feeling familiar in her hand as she turned it over in her fingertips. Just then she remembered the strange message written in her notebook: Who are you? Did she write that? Why couldn't she remember?
"Are you ready for tonight?" asked Howzer. "We'll be there as part of the color guard."
Elizabeth sighed heavily. "As ready as I'll ever be, I suppose. I'm pretty terrified. It will be so many people!"
Jericho gave her arm a reassuring squeeze. "We'll be there, so just look for us. You're a princess, Elizabeth. It's in your blood. You're going to do fine."
"I hate being a princess sometimes," she whispered.
"Are you serious?" Howzer asked, as Jericho cried, "What do you mean?"
Elizabeth sighed. "You will both be Holy Knights one day, and get to go somewhere. You're stuck here for now but it won't last forever. But I don't have a future… at least not one where I get to go and be… anything." Her voice drifted away, and when she spied the confused looks on their faces, Elizabeth quickly stammered, "I'm sorry, sorry, I didn't mean that. It's just… I've just felt… so strange today." Who are you? "Lately, it's like I'm not myself. Like a dream I can't wake up from."
Her two friends passed a look between them, and then Jericho said, "It's probably just nerves for tonight. Once you get through your part, you'll feel back to normal."
"Yeah!" Howzer assured her. "Then we'll sneak out and go hit up a tavern or something to celebrate."
"Or a café!" Jericho said excitedly. "A café would be fun!"
"I wish," she murmured, and the conversation continued as the two friends went on about the places they would go to if they were allowed out. But Elizabeth still felt the nagging feeling she had had since that morning, as if there was something else.
Elizabeth fidgeted nervously, pulling on the uncomfortable gown she wore. The fabric was so heavy she felt as though she had added an extra twenty pounds just in dress. Standing out in the warm evening, the air feeling like summer had arrived early, was not helping either. She was sweating under the swaths of fabric, making it itchy on her skin.
"Stop squirming," Margaret whispered to her, and Elizabeth immediately stilled.
"I'm sorry," she whispered back. "It's just so hot."
Margaret looked down at her sympathetically. "I know. But it's only for a little while." They resumed their silent watching for a few moments, until she whispered again, "Are you ready?"
Elizabeth swallowed. "I think? I hate talking in front of people. But I don't really have a choice."
Nodding, her sister answered, "You're right, you don't. But I'm sure you'll do fine."
Wishing she could be half as confident, Elizabeth watched as Margaret stepped forward from where the three princesses stood at the side of the dais erected in the main castle courtyard. A large crowd of important dignitaries, nobility, Holy Knights, and citizens had gathered to watch the annual ceremony where the royal family would offer thanks to the goddesses for their protection. It was a tradition that went back thousands of years, to the founding of Liones, and although the names of the goddesses were lost and the only knowledge they had was simply legend, it was the one thing that remained from the old days.
The king offered prayers of thanks, and then each princess would give their own offering for a specific request for the kingdom. Elizabeth, who had turned sixteen the past year, was now old enough to join in the ceremony. She watched as Margaret gave her speech confidently, the traditional robes making her look as though she could be a goddess from the ancient times. Her prayer was for the Holy Knights of Liones to grow in strength and wisdom in the next year. The conclusion was met with polite but enthusiastic applause, and she turned and laid her bouquet of irises in the small pyre in the center of the dais. Veronica moved confidently forward next, her voice powerful as she prayed for prosperity for the kingdom, and offered grains of wheat into the fire.
When it was her turn, Elizabeth was already shaking, and walked to the center slowly. Her heart felt as though it would beat right out of her chest, and her eyes quickly scanned the crowd, looking for Jericho or Howzer. But they were impossible to find in the sea of faces, so Elizabeth simply took a deep breath, trying to keep her voice steady.
"Goddesses," she began, "I come to give thanks and ask for your blessings on Liones as a princess of this kingdom." Who are you? "Your gift to us of this kingdom is blessed and-"
Her voice faltered as her mind went blank. She closed her eyes to ward off the unsettling feeling that was filling her chest. What was she supposed to say? Who are you?
"Elizabeth," the king whispered harshly, and her eyes snapped open.
"We ask for your blessings and keep the people of Liones safe," she finished in a rush. As quickly as she could she walked to the pyre and set in the small bottle of fermented wine, stepping back to join her sisters, her face a bright red.
Afterwards, the girls returned to their chambers to change before the extravagant banquet to celebrate the continued blessings. As they walked, Margaret said to her, "You did well, Elizabeth. I know that wasn't easy."
She smiled weakly at her sister, but Veronica teased, "You almost forgot, didn't you?"
"Yes," she admitted. "My mind kind of went blank. I couldn't remember what the wish was for."
"You know," Margaret said, linking her arm in hers as they carefully climbed the stairs, "it's a tradition too for each of us to make our own wish."
"It is?" Elizabeth asked happily, and Margaret nodded. "But it's our secret."
"I'm wishing for them to serve ice cream at dinner tonight," Veronica sighed as she gathered up her long skirts.
The other two laughed, and Veronica stuck her tongue out. "Well we know what Margaret will be wishing for: Gilthunder."
Margaret aimed a playful swat at her sister, who scurried away and up the steps. Elizabeth giggled to herself, until the older girl asked, "What would you wish for, Elizabeth?"
She thought quietly as they reached the top of the steps, then paused to look out the window. "I wish to be normal," she said. Letting go of Margaret's arm, she stepped to the window and called out, "In my next life, I want to come back as a boy! A normal boy from a normal village with a normal life!"
Margaret laughed and pulled her away. "You are silly. Someone will think you snuck some of that wine if they hear you say such a thing."
Elizabeth ducked her head a bit to avoid revealing the blush that graced her cheeks, moving as quickly as she could to catch up to the others.
Elizabeth jolted awake, falling from the bed and landing on her arm. "Ow," she muttered, rubbing her head. How much wine did she drink at the banquet? With a groan she sat up, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, and looked up.
Her room was completely changed. Instead of the large, plush bed, it was a smaller one without the pillows and embroidered curtains, just a few simple linens on top. Her mouth dropped open as her head turned: no vanity, no jewelry boxes, no wardrobes filled with dresses of all kinds. No racks of shoes or gilded hairbrushes or long heavy curtains sweeping ceiling to floor. Instead, there was a simple table and chair, light curtains on the large window, and smattering of clothes hanging about. One small set of drawers was pushed against one wall, and Elizabeth thought that the entire room would fit into her closet.
Nervously she ran her fingers through her hair, freezing when they reached the tips of the strands just a few inches off her head, instead of being able to pull the long, waist-length locks over her shoulder. Did someone cut my hair? she wondered in panic. Then she looked down, her eyes widening as she took in the unfamiliar body: muscled arms, flat chest, a sleeveless shirt and shorts instead of the soft nightgown. Her hand flattened against her rapidly beating heart, and then dragged down the pectoral that replaced her breast, the abdominal muscles there instead of the flat curve of her stomach, and then between her legs… where something very strange and very sensitive and very not belonging to her resided heavy in her palm.
With a shriek she clambered up to her feet, launching towards the mirror on the wall, and gasped when she caught sight of herself. No more blue eyes, long silver hair, slender limbs, womanly curves. Instead a young man with green eyes and messy blonde hair stared back, looking just as shocked as she felt. Once more her eyes dragged down the hard body in the mirror, until they landed on the center that had startled her so badly, her face blushing a furious red with the memory.
"Captain!" someone called. "Did you oversleep? Let's go!"
Elizabeth gasped. "Uh, coming!" she called back. Looking around, she pulled on a white shirt and black pants that were hanging over the end of the bed, grabbing the boots sitting by the door as she headed out.
There was a small hallway, with stairs leading up and stairs leading down. Cautiously she headed down the steps, once more shocked as she stepped into the main room of a tavern. Elizabeth grinned to herself as she took in the sight. What a vivid dream this was! There were large, rounded tables in the center of the floor, surrounded by wooden stools. Light streamed in through the huge window at the side, and her eyes traveled over the green front door and the little bell that hung above. On the opposite side, a huge bar with more stools took up the entire wall. Behind shelves were lined with bottles of all shapes and sizes, and in front of it all, a tall man in a red jacket and pants scowled at her.
Next to him was a large pink pig, who also seemed to be frowning deeply. "Took ya long enough!" the pig shouted.
Elizabeth's mouth dropped open. "It's talking!" she squealed, clapping her hands in delight. Yes, definitely a dream.
"Did you oversleep again?" the pig snapped. "I'm not getting ready by myself."
"No, I—" She paused, hearing a voice not her own come out of her mouth. "You know a girl has to get her beauty sleep!"
"Girl?" the man asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Boy!" Elizabeth corrected, and when both brows raised, she hurried on, "Man! A man needs sleep!"
Who are you?
The words in her notebook flashed in her mind, but she shook her head to clear it. "Sorry, I… lost track of time." Looking around, she asked. "Is this a tavern?"
"Don't start this again," he groaned. The tall man easily hoisted himself over the bar, coming up to peer down at him suspiciously. "This memory trick of yours is getting old. Now I'm going to prep the food, so start unloading the ale delivery, got it? Merlin will be here soon and I'm not listening to her complaining again."
With that, he stepped around her and disappeared through a cellar door, his footsteps fading out as he headed down. Elizabeth took a deep breath as she turned and looked back at the room. Eventually her eyes landed on the pig, who regarded her suspiciously. "You're weird," he declared, before trotting in the direction of the kitchen and disappearing behind the door.
This was the strangest dream she had had in a while; but this is what she had wanted right? She crossed to the window and looked out, finding a town she didn't recognize just beyond a small rise. Her heart soared a bit at the sight, smiling to herself. She was somewhere new, doing something different, and even if it was just a dream she was going to take what the goddesses gave her.