Read A Pearl Among Princes Online

Authors: Coleen Paratore

A Pearl Among Princes

BOOK: A Pearl Among Princes
Table of Contents
A division of Penguin Young Readers Group
Published by The Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa • Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Copyright © 2009 by Coleen Murtagh Paratore
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
is available upon request
eISBN : 978-1-101-13379-8

To my wonderful brothers,
Kevin, Danny, Jerry,
and Michael Murtagh—every one a prince.
With love always,
Gracepearl's Calling
Old Mother Goose when
She wanted to wander
Would ride through the air
On a very fine gander.
Soon, Gracepearl, my girl, soon. Your time approaches, destiny calls.
My mother's strange words dance through my mind as I climb the stone steps of the old bell tower. “What time, Mother? What destiny? Oh, how I wish you were here

When I reach the turret, the wind lifts my hair and I breathe in gusts of fresh salty sea air. Raising my spyglass, I turn the gold rim for a bird's view of the world.
There below is Miramore. Lush trees waving, red and yellow flowered fields, rows of thatched cottages; there's mine, my friends Lu's and Nuff 's, the gardens and orchards, then a turn to the coal yard, the farms, sheep grazing, the rooster-vane atop Mackree's stable,
, a cry escapes, my heart still stinging . . . then up the bend to the forest, the dancing circle, my pine place of peace . . . then off in the distance, the flitting banners of the royal lodge, the dining hall where my father, Cook, toils preparing tomorrow evening's Welcome Banquet, then down now toward the beach, the trading stalls, the fishermen's sheds, the black-robed professors assembling in the stands, clusters of Miramores in their finest garb gathering excitedly to await the arrivals . . . the docks, the piers, and then the water,
, the water, always the water, a vast flat wild blue indigo seacake frosted with white capped waves.
Miramore is a paradise, but paradise is not enough. Where does all that water lead? What lies beyond that horizon?
I have been happy here, well provided for and lucky in the love of my father and friends, but this past year something has changed. I have changed.
Haunted by strange and confusing dreams, faces of people I do not recognize, I wake with a mounting anxiousness, an overwhelming sense that I must go to them. To where or for what reason I do not know. I feel sure, though, with the same certainty that Mother guides me from the heavens above, that the moon will rise tonight, and the sun tomorrow, there is something more than Miramore for me.
My life must have greater purpose than digging coal and peeling potatoes. There is a longing, a rising, a storm-surf pounding, foaming in my heart. I want something more meaningful, more useful . . .
. I am convinced my fate lies beyond this sea. But what will it be?
Who will I be
? And what of the people in the dreams? Who are they? Somehow I sense they need my help.
Your time is coming, Gracepearl, my girl
. Mother's sweet strong voice sings inside me again. The wind strokes my cheek like the palm of a hand, the wild sea beckons, come. Come, Gracepearl, come away.
“But where?” I shout. “How? There is no way to leave.”
The dotted-tail gull on the ledge
and the pigeons at my feet
too. “Easy for you,” I say to them. “You have wings!”
Old Mother Goose when she wanted to wander would ride through the air on a very nice gander
. The familiar rhyme flits through my mind. The only way to leave the island is by boat. The only boats sturdy enough are the royal ships that come each summer, the ships that arrive today. By birth, all Miramores serve the Order here, as our ancestors have done before us. The sons of farmers become farmers, the daughters of seamstresses, seamstresses, the sons of fishermen, fishermen. By lineage I will garden or cook. I hate to cook.
However . . . there is a way, one way to leave the island.
Should one of the visiting princes arriving today choose a Miramore girl to marry, she could sail off with him. This is a very recent change. Much to the giddy delight of the Muffets, those goose-brained girls set on nothing but marriage, the Royal Order of Bark has decreed that the rules of royal matrimony be amended.
A prince now may marry any girl he so chooses, even a peasant Miramore girl.
I could be the first.
“Tell me, Mother, would it be wrong to marry a prince for his ship?”
I giggle. The gull squawks. Today it all begins.
This is the twenty-first day of June, the very birthday of a new summer, and for decades upon decades, centuries now, this is the day the royal boys come to study the charming arts. They stay until September. “Princes in training” they are. Lu nicknamed them the “PITs” when we were little and now she, Nuff, and I couldn't call them otherwise.
Most Miramore girls, especially those silly “Muffets” who work in the fabric mills and dress alike in pink shawls, dream of marrying a prince. The Muffets imagine a life of luxury—servants and gowns and baubles and balls—like they've read about in fairy tales. And now that the rule change makes the fairy tale actually possible, they've even gotten worse.
Me? I prefer true tales. I have never met a PIT who impressed me. Too full of themselves they are, rude and arrogant, self-centered and smug.
Not one holds a candle to my Mackree. Mackree Byre, my life's best friend.
But Mackree is mine no longer. My throat clenches and my lips tremble at the thought of his beautiful face. I have loved Mackree since we were playmates, swimming free as fish in the warm shallow bay, climbing trees wild as monkeys, riding his ponies on the beach. When we were ten Mackree wrote “Purl Will U Maree Me?” with a stick in the sand on Heart's Day. I wrote my answer: “Yes.” We wove each other callaberry crowns. He was king; I was queen, of the sea and forest too.
Mackree loved me then, he loves me still. I know for certain he does.
But why
. . . the tears come again . . .
why is he now so cruel?
He avoids me like a swarm of locusts. What did I do to lose his affection? Why does he scorn me so?
This past Heart's Day there was no bouquet of violets tied with a ragged string, his usual gift to me. And when I brought him my Heart's card and a sack of his favorite skipping stones, which I'd collected especially for him, he ignored the card and tossed off the sack. “I'm a child no more,” he said.
Then, on May Day, Mackree broke off with me for good.
“Summer's coming,” he said, “you'll be sixteen. You want to leave here, Pearl. You've made that plain. Do us both a favor, and be done with it. Go. It's time you said yes to one of those princes always flirtin' with ya each year. And it's time I found a girl content with Miramore.”
Your time is coming, Gracepearl, my girl
. Mother speaks to me again.
Your destiny awaits you, darling. Soon, you will choose.
The Ships Arrive
Three wise men of Gotham
Went to sea in a bowl,
And if the bowl had been stronger,
This rhyme would be longer.
“Choose what?” I call out, but Mother does not answer. Her simple words confound but intrigue me. A foghorn bellows in the distance. I point my spyglass out to the water now, hoping to spot the ships.
The Jaspian Sea encircles the island, a mighty and masterful moat. On this warm morning after spring impishly sent one last goose-bump night to remember her by, the ever-present sheet of fog off shore hangs heavy as an ermine stole.
The PITs come from the twelve branches of the Royal Order of Bark, fewer and fewer of them each year as the mothballed monarchies fade into history books. “The days of kings are numbered,” Nora Baker, the baker, says. “People are starvin'. Them gold crowns have lost their glory.”
Each summer, I help Nora serve a meal to the captains who transport the princes here before they set off home again. These past few years I've heard the old seamen talking of the lands across the water, whole villages of people suffering, as the never-ending war wages on. Last summer, especially, they spoke of neighbors, good men and women, with no work to be found, no way to put food on their families' tables, forced out of their homes, as they cannot pay the tariffs, some begging for bread now, hungry.
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