Chapter 1

'Alyssa dear, wake up. Wake up, hunny.' I opened my blurry eyes and saw the wrinkled face of our housekeeper, Marie. She woke me up every morning and would help me wash and dress. I clumsily clambered out of the big wooden bed and followed Marie down the stairs to the kitchen. She had filled a tub with some hot water, not enough for a bath, but enough to scrub me off properly. She was muttering things under her breath as always while I finally woke up.

'Marie?' I asked quietly. 'Do father and mother need me today?' She had woken me up earlier than normal, which often meant I had something to do that day other than playing out in the forest.

'Oh no honey. Your father just wanted to see you before he goes to the capital. He has some important business to take care off and will be gone a few days.' My father went to the capital quite often. He was an important man after all, being the mayor. Marie dried me off roughly and, covered with the blanket she dried me with, shooed me back up the stairs to my room. She dressed me in one of my slightly better dresses, but one I was still allowed to play in. That meant I could go into the forest today, I thought with glee. Marie told me to go wait by the door to say goodbye to my father and that I would get some breakfast after.

I had been waiting only a few moments when my parents arrived from the dining room. Father was dressed in traveling clothes, the capital was a two day journey, and mother wore a soft yellow dress.

'Alyssa, hunny.' My father said in his booming voice. 'Will you be good when I am gone?'

'Yes father.' I said like the good girl I was. He patted me on the head for a bit and turned to say something to mother. He left moments later and mother returned to the dining room. Left alone, I moved for the kitchens.

'Oh there you are dearie. Done so quickly?' Marie asked when she saw me enter the kitchen. She had been talking to the cook about something in hushed tones, but put all her attention on me now.

'Come dear, sit down, I'll make you a plate.' She said, bustling around the kitchen. I sat down on the high chair at the kitchen table. They put it there for me so I could sometimes help the cook. There were little things for me to do and I liked helping her. She was a nice lady.

Marie put a place with scrambled eggs and a slice of bread in front of me.

'Eat it all dearie, I'll get you an apple to take with you.' She said when she returned with a glass of milk. I ate and drank it all in silence while Marie started whispering with the cook again. She noticed when I finished though and came to get the plate. I jumped of my chair and ran to the backdoor.

'Alyssa! Don't forget your apple, dearie.' Marie yelled just before I was out the door. I grabbed one from her outstretched hand and ran off again. Behind me I could hear Marie chuckle lightly.

I ran right out our front garden, through the still empty street, by the church and into the woods. Only when I had left the first few rows of trees behind me, I slowed to a walk. The forest. I came here every single day I could, which was most days in fact. Soon I was joined by the dryads Ptelea and Carya. I had lots of friends here in the forest and they were only two of them. Ptelea and Carya giggled while hiding behind trees and running out in front of me. We ran through the woods all morning, playing catch and hiding from each other. When noon came, I was deep within the forest and probably wouldn't find my way back without my friends, but they never let me down. I sat down near the creek as Ptelea went to have a bath and Carya braided my hair. She always loved my hair. It was yellow as the sun, very different from their woodsy colours. While eating my apple, I looked down at the creek and saw Ptelea being joined by Salila, a naiad. I waved when she saw me looking. Carya and I joined them on the shore after a bit and we played in the water for a few hours. The laughter of the nymphs rang around me like bells and I couldn't not join in. We laughed and played and only when I saw the sun starting to set I started to walk back home. Carya and Ptelea walked me back to the edge of the forest. I waved weakly at them and walked out of the forest. As I neared the church, I started to run again. I was already late, having forgotten to pay attention to the sun while playing in the creek. I hoped Marie wouldn't be angry with me and that mother hadn't noticed. I arrived home out of breath and steadied myself to the back door.

'Alyssa? Is that you hunny?' Came Marie's voice from inside the kitchen. She appeared behind me in the door opening.

'Alyssa! You're all wet! What did you do!? Take a swim!?' She sounded worried. 'Come sit in front of the fire. Swimming in April.' She sighed dramatically. 'Whatever am I going to do with you young lady?' She tried to look stern, but failed miserably. I smiled up at her.

'I wasn't cold at all. The sun was shining and I was having fun with my friends.' I told her. She smiled forgivable down at me.

'Jane, would you warm up some water? This young lady needs a bath.' She said, before turning back to me. 'Your mother wants to have dinner with you.' My smile vanished quickly. Why would she want to eat with me? She barely ever gave me any thoughts, preferring to have me taken care of by Marie. I started to look up to Marie, but before I could say anything, she spoke.

'Now young lady, don't you look at me like that. She is your mother and she wants to spend some time with you. That's a good thing.' She paused for a bit. 'Let's go pick out a dress while the water boils, all right?' I nodded meekly and followed her up the stairs to my room. Marie went about choosing a dress, while I sat down on my bed and nodded at the right places between her muttering. Mother was never nice to me. She only ever had bad things to say. I didn't sit up straight enough. What happened to my hair? Is that another hole in your dress? It never stopped. Why in earth would she want to have dinner with me. I only ever ate with them if father wished to. He seemed interested in me at least, asking about my day. I could tell him about my friends, he'd smile down on me. Mother would just say it was nonsense and tell me to swallow before I spoke.

Marie put me through a proper bath this time and washed my hair out. Afterwards she dried me, helped me put on the blue dress she picked out and brushed my hair. I was not really paying much attention to her chattering, preoccupied with guessing what mother wanted to eat together for. Finally, Marie deemed me to be ready and told me to wait in the room next to the dining room. Mother would join me there before dinner.

I sat there, alone. I was nearly swallowed by the squishy cushions of the couch I sat on and looked around me nervously. Even though I lived in this house, I barely ever came in this room and it was even rarer to have a chance to look around. I noticed for the first time the little figures on the dresser beneath the window. Little porcelain, I think, animals. I recognised a horse, a dog and a cat. I reached out for a creature I did not recognise, when I heard a sharp intake of breath behind me.

'Alyssa. We do not play with the decorations.' Mother had arrived. I turned to look at her. Her dress was covered with frills and her coif kept her hair mostly from view. The lines of her face seemed etched into it and she wasn't smiling.

'Come on, Alyssa, don't just stand there. Come here.' I was surprised, she wanted me closer? Cautiously, I took a few steps in her direction.

'Make a turn. Slowly.' She said. Ah, it clicked in my mind. She was worried about my appearance. After all, I was the daughter of the mayor and I had to represent such a status. I sighed.

'Lady's don't sigh Alyssa.' My mother reprimanded me, inspecting me closely as I turned.

'Your dress is becoming too short and your hair to long. I'll have the seamstress and barber over this week.' She said, walking to the desk in the corner to note it down. Marie walked in that moment, announcing that dinner was served.

I sat through a long and boring dinner. Mother was lecturing about some etiquette or something, reprimanding me whenever I failed to do something exactly right. I slurped while eating soup. I used the wrong spoon for dessert. I didn't sit straight. I shouldn't roll my eyes. When she finally announced dinner was done, I was so tired I didn't even want Marie to tell me a story when she put me to bed. As soon as my head touched the pillow, I was gone. Deep in sleep, playing with my friends in the forest.