The white tree bark on the pines looked like marble in the first bright moments of dawn. A fog had formed during the night and they had started later than they had planned.
Ellie let her horse gallop ahead of the men. She felt the last licks of night air on her face and her pulse quickened.
"Patience, Lady Elena," Dirk scolded her. "Haste will get you nothing but a tired mount, and it will get you to the coastline no faster."
Ellie reigned in the animal until she maintained a trot by Dirk's side. She could feel the thick binding of her ledger tucked inside the satchel that hung at her back. She had forgotten about it this morning when she awoke, but now she felt that familiar ache of wanting to write.
Dirk must have felt her sulk forming. "I promised your father I would look after you… What troubles you?"
Ellie remembered how her older brother's wives had mocked her when she sat in the sowing circle scribbling verse into her notebook while her mother worked hypnotically at her spinning wheel. "Let her be, girls," Aurora had chided them, but their words were harsh and they filled her mind with doubt. Her mother had warned her not to let others see what she was doing. It was not customary to teach a girl to read, let alone write, but Aurora had insisted on it, and learned alongside her daughter. That afternoon Ellie filled a single page with everything she could remember about her mother. It had already been announced that she would leave soon to meet her betrothel and be married and those first few days of apprehension and fear gripped her.
"You must be brave," Aurora had told her. "No matter what happens you must be brave."
Ellie bit her lip, and Dirk raised an eyebrow as she asked: "What if I do not like it there?"
"What if they do not like me?"
"You will have your aunt Katrina," Dirk reasoned.
"Aunt Katherine," she corrected him, no one in her family referred to her as Katrina any longer. Dirk was the only one left. She had never met her aunt, although all her life she had been told tales of her beauty and kindness.
Dirk hardened. "Your aunt will help you. You will do well. I hear Prince Edward is very amiable."
Amiable… Ellie fought the urge to open her notebook and scribble the word onto the parchment with quill and ink that she did not have access to. She didn't want to forget it.
"I remember when the news of the Prince's birth reached us," Dirk continued. "It was after Karel was born, and all of Manobriar was jubilant over the birth of an heir—it would be many years before your own birth—" he smiled at her. "But your father declared that his first daughter should wed such a Prince. The marriage contract was agreed upon before the fortnight was out and sighed by both Kings."
Ellie had always found the idea strange—her fate was decided before she was even born.
"Besides," Dirk went on. "Edward has a sister just your very age. I know you have always longed for a sister."
"Instead all I have are older brothers," Ellie pouted. She loved her brothers, but they were all so much older than she was, and their wives had always tormented her. She tried to picture Isabella, Edward's sister, who would soon be her own sister through marriage. She tried to picture her face but she could not. Ellie had been told that Edward had dark hair and dark eyes, but beyond that she only received descriptions from messengers and travelers as to what he truly looked like. She hoped he was handsome. She prayed that he would not find her ugly, or odd.
She regretted bringing her ledger with her, but in the same breath she knew that she could never live without it.
Ellie and her caravan rode throughout the day. At dusk they set up camp in an open clearing in the woods and rumor ran wild though the camp that they would reach the ocean by mid afternoon the next day.
Ellie tried to sleep in the dim tent where a single candle billowed and sliced against the light breeze. She had her ledger propped up on her lap and she had been writing for the better part of an hour, but the light was fading her and with each new cluster of words she had to fight a yawn. Her bones ached, but she could not stop.
All her life Ellie had been told stories about the sleeping princess locked in a castle. Her mother had whispered the tale to her before she fell asleep each night, and dazzled her with the image of her father rescuing her from the dark world she had grown up in. How they had traveled to Manobriar and all of the events that led up to it.
Ellie had always been fascinated about the missing princess Aurelia. Like Aurora, Ellie had always wondered what could have happened to Aurorette's little daughter. Or the boy Oren—had he died during the illness? Was he alive somewhere to this very day?
Ellie continued to stroke her quill against the page; the scratching sound of the words formation was like a heartbeat. She imagined that the same sound was in her very veins, churning her blood. No matter where she went she wanted to make sure she would always have her mother's story with her. She wanted to tell it to her husband once she met him, and she wanted the knowledge of her heritage to be passed down to her own children, and possibly grandchildren.
She was afraid, but she continued on. She began her tale with: The messenger arrived with great tidings…
A/N: And they lived happily ever after? Okay, I really just wanted to fit that statement in here somewhere…
A huge thank you to everyone who has reviewed To Sleep up to this point. I appreciate all of the feedback, and keep in mind that this is the first body of work that I've finished since I was seventeen. I used to be able to crank out a novel every month or so when I was in High School, but nowadays life is very life-like, lol, so I have to fit writing in when I can. I know that it's a bit ruff around the edges, and needs a lot of work, but again, thank you everyone.