I had saved half the sandwich and some tomato soup for Blair, she loved it just as much as I did. After all, she was my little sister.
"Mmmm," she cooed as she sunk her teeth into the warm bread oozing with thick cheese.
Mama laughed at her bedside, "what a little drama you are. You've been saying you feel sick all day and wouldn't eat anything. And now Emily brings a sandwich and soup from outside and apparently you're all better?"
Blair giggled, "sorry, ma, but this is really good. Can you make it like this for me at home?"
"Of course, my love," mama kissed her on the forehead and let out a long yawn, "I'm going to take a quick nap,"
"Nap? It's late, just go to bed," I said.
"Goodness," she glanced out our bedroom window, "I didn't realize it was already dark out. What time is it? Your father is late from the store,"
"He usually stays longer after spring," I reminded.
"Right, well, I'm off to bed then. Just wake me if you or Blair need anything,"
"Go, go," I shushed her away. She was horrible at taking care of herself, actually, I didn't know of a mother who wasn't.
"The dress is lovely by the way. I can't wait to see you all dolled up in it," she grinned at me before closing the bedroom door behind her.
"Oh! The dress! I haven't seen it yet!" Blair croaked.
"Eat your food first, I'll bring it upstairs,"
"Now! Now!" She demanded.
"Alright, alright, I'm going," I made my way down the steps. I grabbed the noisy transparent shopping bag and brought it up to Blair.
"It's very...decent," she turned the dress over in her hands, being extra meticulous of wiping her fingers with a napkin first.
"Grace thought it was elegant. And I liked it, too. I didn't want to wear anything too flashy," I didn't know if I was trying to convince Blair more or myself.
"If father gave me money to buy a new dress to go to the palace, I would have bought the flashiest thing I could afford," Blair said matter-of-factly.
"I'm sure you would have. And who knows? Maybe one day you will," I smiled.
"No, it wouldn't matter if I went after you. You'd always be their favorite,"
I laughed, "Blair, what on earth are you babbling on about?"
She yawned, "I don't know. I say funny things when I'm sleepy and tired. I'm going to sleep," She lazily crumpled the sandwich parchment and tossed it into the paper bag on her bedside table. I grabbed the now empty soup container from her other hand and tossed it in the bag as well while Blair laid on her pillow and turned on her side. I kissed her cheek gently before turning off the lamp and dozing off myself.
The next few days were a blur, what with homework, working at the music store in the afternoons, and trying to put in some extra practice on the piece I was planning to play at the Olivian Palace. Even the buzz and excitement about the spring ball at school made the hours go by faster. It was all the girls talked about during break and lunch hours.
"I think you should keep your hair pin straight, especially since your dress is so..so..."
"Me?" Emerald challenged Grace while biting into a candy bar.
Grace rolled her eyes, "I guess. What about you, Emily?"
"Hmm?" I looked up from my Wyalla's sheet music. It was much more complicated than any other instrument's sheet music I'd ever looked at. Magical creatures made everything complicated, apparently. Good thing I had began practicing as soon as Sir Fleming suggested I play at the palace. It was already Friday, the day before my performance and the spring ball.
"Your hair? What will you be doing with it?"
"Shower, dry and comb it, duh," I said absentmindedly while Emerald giggled from across me.
Grace's eyes widened, "You're kidding me, right? I wouldn't do that to our measly old spring ball at school and you're saying you'll do that to your first time at the palace?"
I sighed, "Grace, for the umpteenth time. I really don't care what I'll be looking like that night. I need to focus on playing my piece and meeting a faerie so I can-
"But you can do all that while looking good?"
I looked at Emerald with a get-me-out-of-this-look.
"She's not going to give up," Emerald shrugged.
"Maybe I can do your hair and makeup! Maybe you can have yourself be picked up from my house. Trust me, it will make a better impression than-
"Better impression than? Than what, Grace? My house?"
Grace shrunk in her seat from across while Emerald glanced back and forth at us worriedly, "No, that's not what I meant Emily..."
"Really? Because I think that's what you exactly meant. I'll see you two after. Tell you all about it," I rose from my seat angrily.
"Oh come on, Emily, you know what a big mouth Grace can be sometimes. That's just how she is," Emerald piped in.
"No, Emerald. Grace is not just a big mouth. She is rude and disrespectful and thinks she's better than everyone else," I glared at her.
"Well," Grace huffed, "I'm sorry you had to get so defensive about a simple comment I made. I'm just trying to help-
"I don't need your help," And before things could get any worse, I stormed away.
The next day, I still hadn't talked to either of them to discuss the plans any further. I didn't know why, but what Grace had said about her house making a better impression than mine, really struck something in me. I suddenly felt angry at everything and everyone around me. I didn't even feel like going to the palace that night. What did any of they know, anyways? What it was like to be helpless and not be able to help yourself because you didn't have enough? To run around like headless dwarves begging and pleading with courts and faeries to show a little mercy to you?
I knew the royals and the nobleman and all those other people coming tonight to the palace could help, not only me, but countless others. If only they didn't lead such self absorbed and careless lives, that is.
"What's the matter?" ma could recognize my bad moods from a mile away. I tried my best not to display them, as they were usually short lived and spontaneous and I knew I'd eventually cool off.
"Hmm? Nothing, ma, just tired. And nervous," I nodded to her. I saw a carriage pull up outside the window. Grace and Emerald got out of it dejectedly, with their heads down as they slowly made their way to the front door.
"Hey," I greeted them.
"We just wanted to say we're sorry and wanted to wish you luck tonight," Emerald said.
She nudged Grace, "Oh. I'm sorry about what I said earlier, Emily, it just kind of slipped out. I don't know what I was thinking. I'm really sorry,"
I sighed, "It's okay, I don't really want to talk about it,"
"Well, we have to go and get ready for the ball. Try to have fun tonight, alright?" Emerald winked.
I smiled, "I will,"
When they left, I began to get ready. Mother let me borrow an old robe of hers so I didn't ruin the dress when getting ready. I took a long, hot shower and shampooed my hair and carefully shaved to avoid any cuts and washed myself with perfumed soap. After wrapping my hair in a towel, I took all of mother's makeup and the little I had of my own and sprawled it in front of me on the dressing table. Powders, blushes, lipsticks, kohl's, glitters and eyeliners. I went to work.
"This one," Blair picked up a cheek color from the table and waved it in front of my face.
"Thanks, Blair, it may be a little too dark," I took the magenta cream blush and gently placed it back on the table.
She huffed impatiently, "can I pick the lipstick then?"
"If it's reasonable," I grinned.
She smiled back, then scanned the pile of makeup and picked up a glossy, pink lipstick, "this one!"
I briefly inspected it, deciding it was the a good shade and that it would go well with the dress,"it'll do."
After finishing my hair and makeup, I shrugged off mother's robe and put the dress on.
I stared in the mirror, it was still me, but undoubtedly prettier. I had a sudden moment of amazement how far a little primping and grooming could go. I had chosen to make soft waves in my hair. It flowed and looked shiny and voluminous, rather than a tangled mess I tried to keep up as I never felt I had the time nor care for it. Little specks of gold glitter clung to my eyelids, and a little foundation, powder and blush freshened and brought my complexion to life. I grabbed a napkin and dabbed my pink, glossy lips, just to make sure the lipstick didn't appear too dark.
"Oh, Emily," mother gasped, "you look stunning,"
"My beautiful sister!" Blair's tiny body hugged me around the waist.
"Now let's just hope I play that Wyalla as good as I look,"
"You'll be great. I know it," mother beamed, "your carriage will be here any minute. Hurry and put your shoes on," mother held up a pair of glittery gold heels. They were her favorite and she took great care of them, and luckily, they fit me just fine.
A black, horse-driven carriage with gold trimming and wheels pulled up in front of the home. Mother, Blair and I stood in front of the window and our mouths opened a little. It was unlike any carriage we'd had ever seen, even the really nice ones some of the wealthier families had in town didn't have anything like it.
For a moment, I wished father had been there with us to see it, the elaborately carved gold, the horses, the coachman. If only he didn't have to be at the store all the time.
Blair giggled by my side, "the man driving looks funny," she pointed.
The coachman wore a dark blue, velvet top coat and thick, white pants and shiny, black boots. He wore a hat that looked a lot like the one Lady Elaine wore to the music store, except his did not have any feathers on it.
The four, white horses in front hoofed the ground impatiently as he made his way to the front door.
I sucked in a breath as mother answered and Blair tried to squeeze in front of her.
"Yes...she's ready, Emily?"
I let out my breath and stood in front of the door.
The coachman briefly curtsied and smiled. I returned the gesture.
"We'll be ready to leave whenever you are, my lady,"
"I'm ready," I smiled stupidly.
I cleared my throat while mother and Blair watched the interaction between us in fascination. I kissed and hugged them on my way out while they whispered quick wishes of luck.
The coachman led the way to the carriage. I paused momentarily to look at the horses, their giant hooves and majestic manes. Even in the fading sunlight, their white coats glistened. The coachman opened the carriage door and offered me his hand and helped me inside. I tried to climb as gracefully as I could, only to have my heels twist underneath my dress and landed on the couch with a soft thud. It was very cushiony and a dark, red velvet. When I had adjusted, the coachman gently closed the carriage door and made his way to the front.
The horses neighed and the carriage lurched forward. I waved goodbye to mother and Blair and sat back. It was certainly going to be a long journey. The Olivian Palace was situated on the highest mountain of the kingdom. The mountain area where it had been built was especially carved and trimmed for its building. It overlooked the Great Sea, which stretched as far as one's eye could see. I had never seen it. Most people had not, unless they had been to the palace. It was through that very sea one could get to the kingdom of Sebille.
"Are you alright in there, miss?" I heard the coachman as I absentmindedly stuck my head out of the coach window. We had finally passed through the town and were heading towards the mountains. Anybody I had seen on the way had paused and gawked. I couldn't blame them, I probably would have paused myself to get a good look. It was very rare to see a palace coach in town, as the royals mostly kept to themselves.
"Oh, yes," I responded, sitting back again in my seat.
The coach began to tilt upward ever so slightly and the ride became a bit bumpy. I watched in amazement as little by little, we went higher. Eventually, I could see the whole kingdom from my single, coach window. Clusters of trees and forests, patches of open land, buildings and homes that now began to twinkle like golden stars below as the sun set and the lights began to turn on. A cool, evening breeze swept in and tickled my skin.
The horses began to slow their pace and the sound of water splashing filled my ears. A majestic fountain spewed water high into the air. The water gurgled and whooshed down into a glittering marble pool beneath. We circled the fountain and the coach finally stood in front of a wide staircase that led to a towering, double door. My heart beat wildly in my chest. It was the entrance to the Olivian Palace. The coachman got off his seat and opened the coach door for me and held out his arm.
He smiled as he noted my expression, "We have arrived, my lady,"
"Yeah, I got that part," I nervously laughed as I took his arm and climbed out.
"I will be waiting here to take you back home after the event, my lady,"
He wasn't allowed to come in? What a rotten job, I thought to myself.
"Okay, thanks," I smiled. If I had been someone important, I would have let the coachmen join the party.
Several people had been climbing up the stairs already, women in sweeping, glinting gowns and men in fancy suits. I bit my lip. Suddenly, I began to feel very out of place. The shopkeeper at the store had been right. Some of the dresses, like the one I bought, would just make me look like I did not belong.
I had to remind myself that the most important thing I could possibly wear came free: confidence. Mentally shaking out of the negative self talk, I straightened my back, took a deep breath, and began to climb up the steps. Horse driven coaches and carriages parked around the giant fountain behind and the cool night air filled with hurried, excited chatter.
Upon entering, a crystal chandelier above was the first thing to greet me. Two new staircases, on either side, spiraled behind it. The palace foyer was filled with people. Servers dressed in black swarmed through the clusters of crowds with giant trays of food and offered hors devours with big smiles on their faces. Glasses and chinaware tinkled and there was even more chatter and conversation inside. A piano played softly in the background.
"Emily?" I turned to find Sir Fleming standing and smiling at me.
"Sir Fleming! It's so good to see you, I don't really know anyone here," I babbled nervously. I really, really was glad to see him.
Sir Fleming beamed, "that's quite alright, dear. Let me take you to the grand hall? There is a stage set there, and all the performers are meeting backstage and getting situated,"
"Sir Fleming, I don't mean to be impatient, but, the faeries?"
"The faeries do not travel by road. Usually, they are the last to appear and the first to leave, not to worry. I'd rather you focus on your performance for now," Sir Fleming ushered me through the chatting groups of people and led me to yet another towering, double door. More people. More noise.
"The stage is straight across the Grand Hall, I have a few things to take care of out here, you'll be alright, won't you?"
"I-I think so," I anxiously craned into the room. There were tables of ten clothed in shimmering cloths, topped with crystal vases and flowers. Chrysanthemums, carnations, roses, tulips, in an assortment of colors. Besides that, chinaware trimmed in gold and silk napkins crowded the tabletops. Some of the guests were already seated. Women graciously laughed while suited men leaned over to them and spoke softly in their ears.
"That dress," a short, plump woman appeared at my side, "is a breath of fresh air I tell you."
"Oh, thanks" she took me by surprise.
"All these bright colors and bedazzling jewelry is giving me a headache," she rolled her eyes. She herself was dressed in a plain, knee length black dress. Then I realized, she was one of the servers.
"You're one of the performers aren't you? We're missing one. Has to be you,"
I furrowed my brows, what made it so obvious that I was a performer? I felt slightly insulted, not really knowing what she was getting at, "what do you mean?"
"I saw Sir Fleming with you, dear, he's the event coordinator?"
"Oh, right," I relaxed. It wasn't anyone else's fault that I was so on edge over here.
"I'll take you to the stage. Nobody wants to be caught walking alone around here. Talk about social suicide, royal edition" she snorted.
I chuckled, "I don't really care, actually. I doubt I'd ever see anyone from here again. I'm Emily by the way,"
"Name's Agatha. Though, to tell you the truth, I always wondered what parents would name their only daughter Agatha. Too bad they're mine,"
I laughed, "I think it's a lovely name,"
She beamed, "you're too kind. A breath of fresh air, just like your dress! Here we are," she climbed some side steps attached to a sprawling stage and led me towards the back.
More people dressed in black rushed back and forth, men in black suits and women in black dresses, a lot like the one Agatha had been wearing. Looking closer, I realized it was a uniform. Besides them, there were women dressed in colorful, bright dresses, and gowns. Some of them held flutes, while others rested violins by the side of their chairs while they nervously looked through sheet music. A man in the corner sang what sounded like opera. Another not far from him sat exercising his fingers.
"We will set up your Wyalla when it's your turn, here is your number," Agatha walked over to a small wooden table and check marked next to my name and scribbled a number next to it. She gave me a small piece of paper with the same number on it.
"Good luck, Emily. It was a pleasure," she gave me a quick grin and disappeared.
I had rehearsed and practiced so many times at this point, I couldn't bear to look at my sheet music anymore. Interestingly, I didn't feel nervous. I wondered what Emerald and Grace had been doing at that very moment. Were they dancing? Taking pictures, eating? Suddenly, I felt an emptiness in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to be with my friends. I wanted to attend my Spring Ball of my last year at the Olivian Academy. What was I doing here, sitting alone backstage in a stupid pink dress? Performing for all these people whereas to them I was nothing but just another silly entertainer? I started thinking about what it would have been like if I had attended the ball with Flynn, if I had met him at Merlin's Shack on time. My mood began to deteriorate. For some reason, it had been happening a lot lately. I suppose was beginning to run out of patience for the toll that this illness had been taking on my life. Though it made me feel as if I was being selfish, sometimes I just didn't care nor was I able to always control it.
The chatter and sound of chairs screeching back and forth quieted, and I could tell the lights in front had dimmed. The sound of a microphone turning on filled the hall.
"Welcome! To the Annual Spring Gala of Olivia!" A male voice boomed through the speakers, quickly followed by applause.
"We are so glad to see all these beautiful faces here tonight! We thank you for coming and hope you enjoy your evening. And now, I request you please rise from your chairs to welcome our very own, the royal family," an upbeat, female voice spoke this time.
The sound of trumpets filled our ears, I looked around and stood from my seat. The rest of the performers also looked around, some of them walking over and peeking through the dividers.
The trumpet sounds were replaced by the sound of something else. The guests on the other side gasped and chattered excitedly amongst themselves. I looked up and noticed there were sparks flying and spreading across the entire ceiling of the grand hall.
"That's faerie's magic," one of the performer's whispered to another. My eyes widened. They were here.
I was so close.
Another round of applause, except this one was louder and followed by cheering. I was certain the royal family was entering at that point. I thought about Grace being in the crowd and how she would have almost fainted at the sight of the prince and smiled.
I tapped my feet while a few more speeches and acknowledgements were made. It was strange to hear the King's voice in person. I had only ever heard it on a radio or seen it on television.
Before I knew it, one by one, the performers went and played their pieces. They each played so beautifully, that despite my extra rehearsals and practice, my palms began to sweat. I rubbed my hands against my dress. I was next.
The assistants in black hurriedly brought out a giant Wyalla. It really was the biggest I had seen. I rose quickly while they set it up behind a curtain while another performer finished. The lights dimmed and the hall filled with applaud. The performer grinned happily as he walked backstage and sat back in his seat.
"Number 7! Emily Waldorf!" A woman looked back and forth at the remaining performers.
"It's me," I squeaked, though of course, I didn't mean to. I cleared my throat and waved my palms in the air, trying to make the perspiration go away.
"Hurry up! Here's your bow. Good luck!"
"And now, we have Emily Waldorf of Olivia performing 'Water in You' on one of the most enchanting instruments, the Wyalla, give her a round of applause!"
The hall filled with claps. The curtains lifted. I tried to keep my breath steady and tried to hold on to the long bow a little tighter, but my grip was weak and shaky. A spotlight turned on and faced me.
Even in the dimly lit hall, I could make some of the faces staring back at me. Waiting. Anticipating. I could see the King, he was hard to miss with that gold crown on his head. Next to him, a gaunt woman and next to her a young man sat. It was the Queen and prince of Olivia.
I couldn't get myself to begin, suddenly realizing where I was and went blank. What if I messed up? What if I wasn't any good? I'd let down Sir Fleming forever. I took a deep breath, focused on the sheet music in front of me, and put bow to string.
I tried to distract myself with my thoughts. I thought about what it would be like if Blair was all better. Grace, Emerald, Blair and I could continue our studies and attend boarding school, the Kingdom of Arya was known for them. We'd have sleepovers and pillow fights, we'd paint our nails, put avocado and cucumber masks on, go out for ice cream, and talk about boys that made us swoon. We'd eat candy, chips and popcorn and drink malted shakes.
Then like waking from a dream, reality hit me. Reality was that Blair was very sick, and if anything went wrong today, my family and I could lose her forever. Reality was that the boy that made me swoon was probably dancing and laughing with another girl tonight.
I couldn't put a name to what I was feeling, but whatever it was, it seemed to be slipping out of my fingers and clinging to the strings of the Wyalla as I moved my bow against them.
After I had finished my last note, all I could feel was a pin drop silence. If we were outside, we would have heard the crickets chirping in the night.
Then, a figure rose and slowly clapped. The others quickly rose after him and applauded. It was the King.
"That was...incredible! Give her another round, ladies and gentleman!" The crowd began to cheer.
I took a sigh of relief, a bow, and walked backstage.
"Hey, that was awesome, great job," one of the performers winked and gave me a thumbs up.
"Thanks, I was so nervous," I said breathlessly, even though I had been sitting the whole time.
She smiled, "we all were. But it's over now. Enjoy the rest of the party,"
Enjoying myself was the last thing on my mind. When the performers began to disappear from backstage and the guests began to mix after dinner was served, I searched for what I came for. Faeries.
I noticed a group of them seated in the corner, at a table of their own. Figures they'd be low key, but there's only so much a a faerie can do to stay low key. Their tiny, transparent wings in the back were their biggest giveaway. They dressed in pastel colors: blue, pink, mint green.
I needed a proper introduction. I knew I'd only get one shot for help and I had to make a good impression. I looked for Sir Fleming.
He found me first, "Emily! I have someone very important for you to meet," He was smiling so hard, his eyes squinted.
My heart skipped a beat, "Yes?"
Two men stood behind him. The first was broad shouldered and had a short, trimmed beard. He also had a very soft look about him. A gold crown glinted above his head. Next to him, a young man, maybe a few years older than me, held his hands behind his back. He wore a dark blue suit with a silk white shirt inside.
"It's the king," I blurted out. Though, I wasn't the most thrilled to meet him. Secretly, I had a bit of resentment towards him. There he stood in his shiny golden crown and lavish clothes. It's like father said, it was his ignorance to blame. He had the power to change things in the kingdom but a couple of sick commoners didn't exactly make it to his priority list, I supposed.
King Herald smiled, "It certainly is. I just wanted to personally thank you for coming here tonight and playing the Wyalla so beautifully. It was certain your heart was in it and truly, it touched my soul," he laid his hand against his chest. I gave him a forceful smile.
The young man was still behind him, his hands still behind his back. His shiny black hair was skillfully parted and gelled in place and his dark brown eyes glinted like two pools of chocolate. I recognized the face, it was the same face from Grace's poster in her locker.
Despite my resentment, I couldn't believe they were right there, standing merely a few feet away from me. The prince and king of Olivia.
"The pleasure was all mine, your highness," I curtsied.
"Emily, is it?" the prince asked me. He didn't bother introducing himself, as he was under the assumption that I already knew him, and he was correct.
"Where did you learn to play?"
"I taught myself,"
He paused for a second, "Impressive, doesn't seem like the easiest thing to master,"
"It isn't, actually. But where there's a will, there's a way,"
He grinned, "well, Emily, it was a pleasure meeting you. I hope I have the opportunity to listen to you play again. Perhaps, future concerts and such?"
"Oh, I don't know about..." my voice trailed away as through my peripheral vision, I could see the group of faeries rising from their table and hurriedly walking towards the entrance.
"No!" I barked.
"I beg your pardon?" the prince looked startled.
"Excuse me, I'm so sorry. I don't mean to...wait!" I pushed past him. The hall was so crowded now that everyone was standing and mingling. I accidentally toppled someone's dessert out of their hands as I scurried past him.
"What a rude girl! Can't even watch where she's going!" the old man yelled after me.
"Sorry!" I yelled back. I could make out the faerie in the mint green but she was already walking out.
I tried to follow them out, making sure to keep an eye out for their pastel dresses through the swarms of guests. Instead of heading towards the giant double doors, they turned the other way and disappeared through a glass door.
I ran breathlessly after them, my dress catching in my heels and I could hear it tear beneath my feet. Finally, I pushed the glass door open and walked out into a garden. Little fountains, flowers of all sorts and fruit trees stood before me. The air was crisp and clear, and the stars twinkled above in the night sky.
Puffs of colored smoke were rising into the air on one side. My heart sank. Along with it, the faeries vanished.
"No...no...this can't be happening!" I stomped angrily as I watched the smoke thin.
The glass door whined open behind me. I didn't care to look who it was.
"Emily?" the prince's voice filled the night air. I didn't bother turning to look at him as my lips trembled and tears welled in my eyes.
He watched what remained of the smoke and then came and stood beside me, "are you alright? Father felt that something was troubling you and told me to check up on you,"
I gulped back tears, "I needed to speak to the faeries. It was too late. And now, I may never be able to."
"What makes you say that?" the prince furrowed his brows.
So naive, so ignorant to what transpired out of the palace walls. My hurt and sadness transformed into frustration and anger, "what do you know," I said through clenched teeth. I had enough of this stupid palace and I didn't feel like talking to anyone. Not even if that 'anyone' happened to be a prince charming.
"I would if you'd tell me,"
"And what would that accomplish? Forget it. Thanks for checking in on me. Tell your father I'm fine and I'm going home," I thought about bringing up the matter with the king, but realizing that Sir Fleming himself didn't mention anything to him yet meant something. It meant I wasn't supposed to, either.
The prince cleared his throat, "very well, Emily. I hope you had a pleasant time at the palace, for the most part. Good evening,"
"Good evening," I dejectedly curtsied and made my way back to the palace entrance.
I could stop the tears from forming, but the despair and hopelessness building inside of me was something I couldn't control. What would mother and father say? That I came all the way here, that the faeries were here, and I missed them? How much more ridiculous could I have been? They were counting on me. Blair was counting on me, and I let them down. My biggest fear and that feeling in my gut that something wrong would happen became my reality. It happened so quickly. They were so discreet and so quick about their departure, and I couldn't do anything to stop them.
I looked down at my dress, it had shredded due to my heels. But tonight, it was my hope for a better future that had shredded the most.