It had been a long few days. James was used to hard labor. As a wood carver, he worked to order. And most people wanted beds, cribs, chairs and tables. Not exactly the precise and delicate pieces he preferred, but what mattered more was keeping food on the table. So, he spent many mornings picking out the perfect lumber, carting it home, creating sketches and rounding corners. Most of his commissions had been for the simplest creations – sturdy things that would last a few decades. All the same, James always added his own touch of style. A stork on a crib, a sunflower on the side of a chair; small things that made him truly happy.

Nothing about this work made him happy. He had spent most of the first day cleaning out the rotting stables. The second day had been devoted to repairs. By the third, James had run out of curses for the Princess who idled nearby, taunting him and leering with every drop of sweat that ran down his forehead.

In all honesty, all James wanted now was a dip in water, a filling meal and fresh clothes. The ones he wore were the same he had arrived in, and the holes from the briars were stretched and enlarged with the constant movement. Evangeline hadn't even deemed him worthy of the standard uniform. Then again, that might have had something to do with the fact that the castle had to restock completely, and there were a myriad of repairs to be done.

Princess Lily couldn't have seemed less interested, unless the changes affected her directly, of course. Either she refused to believe that there was no sugar to spare, or she had knowingly sent James on a four hour long wild goose chase that made him no friends among the frantic kitchen staff.

If there was a word to describe the way James was feeling, it would best be defined as frustration. Day in and day out, he was forced to slave to the Princess's every petty whim. She barely spoke to him, and forbade the other servants from doing so unless they were giving instructions. So here he was, cutting fresh wood and dragging it in, then cutting it into rough planks to repair various parts of the castle. He was blocked from hearing anything about whether the King had confirmed his story, and if he was going to use the information given to him to prepare for anything that would come from the Emperor.

Starved for information, James took to eavesdropping whenever possible, an act which made him a new enemy and a new friend.

It had been barely a week since James had been commanded to wait on the Princess's hands and feet, and James was going insane. That morning, the Princess had watched as James scrubbed the floor of her bed chamber in total silence. Three hours had washed away with the grime that caked the stone floors, and left James with aching knees and rough hands. Lily had sat perched on her bed, throwing whatever insult she could at him. Occasionally, she would make him redo a stone, or would intentionally drop her tea onto the bit he had just done.

When he finally had gained her approval, she sent him on a quest for boiling hot water for her bath. Never mind that this meant finding a suitable bucket or shaping a new one, and since the Princess (naturally) lived in the highest room of the tallest tower, any water he slugged up would most likely be 

only lukewarm by his arrival. She would then pout, and he would dump the water out the window while she watched with a smug grin. Then, the whole process began again.

James had barely made it up a flight of stairs when someone came barreling down the hallway. A small body crashed into his larger one, sending the pair of them tumbling down the stairs, water sloshing over both of them and making the well worn steps slick. James had only managed to right himself when he slipped again, bumping down the remainder of the steps.

The person who had crashed into him was in much worse shape. The young boy – no older than thirteen – was nursing his arm, blinking back tears and tentatively moving each of the fingers. He yelped when he got to his thumb, and James winced in sympathy.

"Let me see that." He said softly. The lanky youth looked at him nervously, but presented his hand for inspection. The joint in question was slightly swollen, but it didn't appear to be broken. Just to be safe, James bent it slightly, and was relieved to see that though it caused the boy some pain, it was nothing more than a minor inconvenience.

"It'll hurt for a while, but you'll live." James said reassuringly, offering his hand to the smaller boy. He smiled slightly, glad to be something more than 'yes miss' or 'if it pleases your highness.' The boy shrugged off the hand, determinedly scrambling to his feet.

At first glance, the young fellow appeared to be no more than long arms and legs, as his body was as scrawny and long as the rest of him. He had pale blonde hair, and large brown eyes that reminded James of a fawn. He was a good-enough looking boy, but he obviously needed time to grow into his limbs, which seemed to grow longer by the second. All in all, he was nothing extraordinary.

Except for one thing; he was clothed in the musty livery of a message boy. And as such, he had access to every level of the castle, and could listen in on conversations without being questioned. After all, he was supposed to be within arm's distance in case someone needed a message carried across the castle.

James's smile grew as he realized the potential news that the lad would hear – all of the things that James yearned to know. Finally, something had gone his way in this treacherous castle.

"What's your name?" He asked, cutting short the boy's bumbling apologies about his clumsiness.

The lad swallowed, and peered at James, trying to figure out what the oddly accented man wanted

"Finn. My name is Finn. Sir. Mister."

"It's James. Just James."

Finn's eyes widened. "James? The James? The one who woke up the Princess Evangeline?"

He said the last two words reverently, his face taking on a dreamy cast. It was a full thirty seconds before he seemed to realize that he had abandoned a conversation for his reverie. He turned to James again, this time with a critical eye.

"If you don't mind me saying so, you don't seem much her type. She generally likes them tall…"

"Dark and handsome. I know" James interrupted, growing frustrated with the star struck youth. "In any case, I need a favor, Finn. You're a page, right? Well, I bet you know the castle inside and out. I need your help, um, navigating. A task for the Princess, I'm sure you understand."

Ah, he had spoken the magic words. It seemed that Finn was part of the Princess Lily fan club. Apparently, he had never had actually spoken to the Princess, nor served as her target practice. In any case, it looked like James wouldn't have much trouble getting him to lend a hand. Or an ear, in this case.

Finn took a moment to consider his offer, a frown creasing his forehead. Finally, he nodded. Before James could give his instructions, though, the youth held up one finger, indicating that he had a few conditions of his own.

"I'll help you – if you tell the Princess just who helped you. And, I would like a favor of my own. And finally," he blushed scarlet "I want to tell me about what it was like, kissing the Princess."

James almost groaned. Now, there was one memory he had tried his best to blot out, however unsuccessfully. He grimaced, but nodded. Learning about what steps had been taken in the castle was worth reliving even his worst memory (which included two chickens, a dog and a well. But that's another story).

After explaining his desired destination, he was pleased when the lad didn't ask any questions, and just scampered off. James didn't find it odd that the boy didn't even hesitate when he told him he wished to be able to listen to the King's council chamber, and remain completely hidden. Even a boy had to get bored sometimes, and there was a lot of castle to explore.

As they proceeded down the halls, James took a moment to really see the damage that years of weather and dirt had inflicted on the castle. Tapestries that must have once popped with color were now so dust ridden and moth bitten that it was barely possible to tell what they were meant to depict in the first place. The windows were broken in most places, and what remained of them was opaque with years of grime.

Statues placed in corners had crumbled, victims of harsh weather and no care. The fields visible from the broken window panes were disordered, overgrown and unseeded. The stables were still as haunted and lonely as they had been several days ago, and the paint on the walls had chipped away to reveal the bare stone beneath it.

James sighed, wondering idly what the castle must have looked like in its prime. As it was, scores of servants were repairing, cleaning and planting. The place had begun to show signs of life again, 

and with the level of dedication evidenced by the workers, James didn't doubt that the place would soon be restored to its former grandeur.

Soon, all signs of opulence disappeared as the pair wove their way deeper into the bowels of the castle. Before long, there was no natural light, but Finn skipped lightheartedly through the dank halls. All at once, he stopped, gesturing for James to be silent. It was then that he could hear it – the muffled murmurings of a room below them. James crouched, pressing his ear to the mossy wall.

The voices became more distinct, and he could just glean what was being said. Apparently, some of the warding spell on the castle remained, for he had been the only one from 'outside' to find his way to the gates. They did not know, however, how long that would last, and just what to expect when everyone found an entire country where there used to stretch a huge forest.

There was a lot of discussion about whether Charles's existence should be announced to the people, and just how to explain to them that they had been asleep for one hundred years, and essentially had to start a-fresh at their livelihoods.

After the fourth time that order was called for, James decided he had heard enough. He pulled back, only to find that his companion had fallen asleep as he had listened. Panic gripped him – how long had he been in here? He shook Finn awake, and the boy grouchily led them back towards the light and bustle of the main halls.

They had barely taken three steps out of the passageway when a high, angry voice stopped them in their tracks.

"The Princess has been looking for you, and she isn't pleased. It's been four hours, you know."

The speaker was a slender child of maybe ten years. She stood in a grubby apron, her light blonde, frizzy hair severely braided against her head. James didn't have time to question exactly who she was, for a moment later, an enraged shriek confirmed her words.

Grimacing, James turned to trudge up the stairs. About halfway up, an idea came to him. He spun around only to find the boy and girl arguing about something. He grinned, hoping that the children would play into his plans willingly.

"Say, Finn? You wanted to meet the Princess, didn't you?"


So, I know it's been a long time. I could come up with a lot of excuses, but that would just be wasting your time and mine. I'm sorry? Hopefully, I'll be able to update at least one more time before I fly to Minnesota (go Knights!) for my freshman year. Not sure how regular the updates will be, but I'll try my best.

I would write acknowledgements to my reviewers, but I'm all ready behind on packing. Just know that I love you guys, and I hope you stick with me!