Authors: Suzanne Williams
To Mark, my perfectly
The Sword Fight
Calling All Princesses
Up and Away
Back to the Castle
A Sweet Ending
YSANDRA THREW DOWN
her embroidery and sucked at her finger. “I hate sewing!” she said crossly. “My needle is always pricking me.”
Princess Gabriella, Lysandra's older sister, looked up from her own stitching and frowned. “Practice makes perfect.”
“But sewing's not something I
to be perfect at,” Lysandra grumbled. “Why can't I
learn to use a sword, like Cousin Owen?” Her cousin had begun fencing lessons a year ago when he turned ten, the same age Lysandra was now.
Brushing back her golden locks, Gabriella sighed. “You know the reason. Princesses have no need for swords.”
“And no need for husbands either, right?” Lysandra said, slyly changing the subject.
Gabriella blushed. “That's not true. I'd marry
in a minute if the right prince came along.”
“What was wrong with the last one?”
“Prince Hubert?” Gabriella sniffed. “He had the table manners of a pig. He rooted around in his food and mixed his peas with his mashed potatoes. He chewed with his mouth open and picked his teeth with his knife.”
“So what's wrong with that?” Most of the men in the kingdom chewed with their mouths open and picked their teeth with their knives. And as for mixing peas in mashed potatoes, Lysandra thought they tasted better that way.
“âGood manners reveal a fine mind; bad manners, a poor one,'” recited Gabriella.
That saying, Lysandra knew, came from Gabriella's favorite book:
Courtly Manners and Duties.
Gabriella had studied the book so much the binding was falling apart.
Lysandra picked up her sewing again.
“What about Prince Lowell?” It had been three years since he'd visited the castle, but Lysandra still remembered his elegant mustache.
table manners were perfect,” Gabriella said with a sigh, “but he sang like a crow and couldn't dance three steps without tripping over his feet or, worse, mine.”
Lysandra struggled to untangle her thread. She could live without dancing if she could learn to use a sword. Gabriella was just too picky. She'd come close to marrying once, but that was years ago, when Lysandra was only a baby. Though she wondered what had happened to break off that engagement, she never asked. Gabriella was touchy about her love life. It seemed
man would ever be perfect enough to suit her. And at twenty-five she was almost too old to wed; most princesses were married by the age of sixteen.
Lysandra stabbed at her embroidery, piercing
her finger again. “A plague upon this needle!” she yelled.
Gabriella lifted a perfectly shaped eyebrow. “Princesses do not swear.”
Lysandra pressed her lips together to keep from saying worse. Once she'd read about a princess who pricked her finger on a spindle and fell asleep for a hundred years. That didn't sound so badâespecially if it meant a hundred years without sewing.
To Lysandra's relief, the trumpets blew, announcing the beginning of the midday rest period. With a small yawn, Gabriella set down her embroidery and rose from her red velvet chair. “Come along,” she said to Lysandra. “Time for our naps.”
After leaving the Sewing Chamber, the two princesses made their way down a short corridor to the bedchamber they shared. Lysandra would've preferred a separate room,
but Gabriella liked having company. That's what she said, anyway. What Gabriella
liked, Lysandra suspected, was having someone around to nag. Nevertheless, to spare Gabriella's feelings, Lysandra kept on rooming with her.
When they reached their room, a chambermaid was waiting to help the two princesses out of their gowns. Before climbing into bed, Lysandra checked to make sure the magic purse she always wore around her neck was still there. A gift from her father, King Sheldon II, the purse refilled with gold coins whenever it was empty. Though Lysandra was careful to keep the purse safe, anybody stealing it would get a nasty surprise. When it was opened by anyone except Lysandra, swarms of bees flew out and pursued the thief.
Truthfully, however, Lysandra never had much use for her purse. Most of the things she
was allowed to spend money onâgowns and sweets, for exampleâweren't things she cared all that much about. Well, she enjoyed sweets, but she could only eat so many of them before she made herself sickâ¦or got a toothache.
But there was
thing she enjoyed spending her coins on. Lysandra glanced across the room toward Gabriella. Her soft snores signaled that she was asleep.
Reaching under her pillow, Lysandra pulled out a book. It had been worth all the gold coins she'd spent on it. An adventure story, the book was about a prince who was on a quest to find a magical herb to cure his sick father. Along the way the prince battled an ogre with eight heads, slew three dragons, and outwitted an evil sorcerer.
could have adventures like that. It was frustrating to only be able to read about them. And even that had to be
done in secret. Princesses weren't supposed to read adventure storiesâjust poetry and romances, and the etiquette books that Gabriella favored.
After she finished her chapter, Lysandra closed her book and hid it under her pillow
again. She threw off her sheets and slipped out of bed. Then she wrapped herself in a brown woolen cloak, pulling up the hood to hide her wavy blond hair. Then, tiptoeing so as not to wake Gabriella, Lysandra escaped their room.
YSANDRA CREPT TO THE END OF THE CORRIDOR,
then ran downstairs to a small room that overlooked the castle courtyard. The thud of wooden swords on wooden shields met her ears. Below, Lysandra's cousin Owen and his friends, George and Henry, practiced fighting. Unlike princesses, boys didn't have to take naps. It was unfair. But Gabriella always said, “Princesses need their beauty sleep.”
“Ow!” yelled Owen.
“I got you!” George pointed the tip of his wooden sword under Owen's large chin. “Now
the knight and
have to be my horse.”
“No fair!” cried Owen. “My shield's too small. With a bigger one, you couldn't have gotten me.”
Lysandra grinned. Owen always had some excuse for his poor fighting skills. In truth, his shield was slightly larger than the other boys' shields.
“Face it, Owen,” said Henry. “George got you fair and square.” Lysandra rather liked Henry. He was kind, and besides, he could squirt a fine stream of water between his two front teeth.
Owen's face went red. “That's it! I'm through playing with the two of you!” Tossing his sword and shield, he ran off.
George and Henry looked at each other
and shrugged. Then they raised their swords and shields and went on with their game, charging each other and slashing the air between them.
Pretending she held a sword and shield too, Lysandra copied their moves, adding some fancy footwork. Take that, Troll! she thought as she swung her imaginary sword. Not that she'd ever seen a troll, of course. The rare times she was allowed outside the castle, she had only caught a glimpse of the
countryside as it passed in front of her carriage.
Lysandra rested her imaginary sword in the middle of the imaginary troll's massive chest. “I will let you go,” she said, “if you leave the kingdom and never come back.”
“R-R-R-R-ROAR!” came a growl from behind her.
Startled, Lysandra spun around so fast, her hood flew off.
“Got you!” Owen laughed. “I don't know
what you think you're playing at,” he said. “Fighting is
work. Why, even the smallest troll could swallow you in a single gulp.”
Lysandra drew herself up. “Not if I could defend myself.”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Owen said, sneering. “You're a
, remember? Sneaking out during your nap, pretending to fight trollsâ¦.” He shook his head. “I can't
to tell your mother.”
Lysandra looked at him in alarm. “Please don't tell.” She plucked nervously at the purse strap around her neck.
“Please don't tell,” Owen mimicked in a high voice. Then he grinned. “Tell you what. Give me enough coins for a
sword and shield, and I'll forget I saw youâthis time.”
Sighing, Lysandra opened her purse and shook a large pile of coins into Owen's outstretched hand. She knew her uncle, Owen's
father, would never allow Owen to buy a
sword and shield. Owen would likely spend the money on sweets instead. She hoped he'd end up with a horrible stomachache.
“Thanks,” Owen grunted, pocketing the coins. “Now scoot,” he said, “or I might change my mind.”
Lysandra fled back to her room. Gabriella was still napping. Thinking hateful thoughts about Owen, Lysandra flung off her cloak and crawled into bed. Without meaning to, she fell asleep. She dreamed she was battling an enormous troll that had eaten several villagers. The handle of her silver sword gleamed with diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. “Take that, you beast!” Lysandra struck out with her sword. It flashed within an inch of the troll's hairy hide.
The troll reared back, his tiny eyes flickering with fear. Compared to the size of his
body, his head was quite small. But he had a large chinâcuriously like her cousin Owen's. In fact, the troll looked a lot like Owen. Besides the chin, he had the same beady eyes and sneer.
Lysandra pointed her sword at the troll's chest. “I've got you now!” she exclaimed.
“No fair,” whined the troll. “If I were bigger, you couldn't have gotten me.”
Lysandra couldn't believe his nonsense. The troll was taller than the castle's highest tower and as big around as the moat. “I got you fair and square,” she said. “Now leave.”
“Fine,” said the troll, pouting. “I don't want to stay here anyway!”
As it stomped off, Lysandra felt a stab of pity for the troll. He might be an enormous, human-eating bully, but at heart he was nothing but a big baby. She opened her purse and
flung several handfuls of gold after him. “Buy yourself a cartload of meat pies!” she shouted.
Gabriella's voice interrupted Lysandra's dream. “Wake up, Sleepyhead. It's time to redecorate the Crystal Ball Room.”
Lysandra groaned. Next to sewing, decorating was her least favorite thing to do, and the Crystal Ball Room had to be constantly redone. Not a place for dances, as some people might think, the Crystal Ball Room was where her mother kept their crystal ball. It was the cleanest room in the castle, dusted by chambermaids five times a day. Fresh-cut flowers, replaced daily, stood on highly polished tabletops. And even though the room was rarely used, a fire roared in the fireplace all day and all night.
The reason for this care was simple: If anyone looked in on them from a crystal ball in another castle or palace, this was the room
they would see. And her family's castle
to be seen in the best possible light. But, really, it was rather silly. Everyone knew Crystal Ball Rooms were only for show. Even the shabbiest castles had nice-looking Crystal Ball Rooms.
“Since you're just now getting up,” said Gabriella, “I'll go on ahead. Meet me there in a few minutes, all right?”
Lysandra nodded, but she took her time getting dressed. When she finally entered the Crystal Ball Room, two workmen were already busily repainting the wall, changing the color from midnight blue to dusky pink. A chambermaid was arranging red roses in a crystal vase, and Gabriella was pinning up some new curtains. She spotted Lysandra. “Find something to cover up the crystal ball, will you, please?” No one was supposed to see the room before the changes were complete.
Feeling bored already, Lysandra found a
cloth and placed it over the ball. Surely there must be other princesses like herselfâothers she hadn't yet metâwho longed for a more adventurous life. If only there was a way to find them.
Lysandra stared at the covered crystal ball, and slowly an idea came to her. It was such a great idea, she didn't know why she hadn't thought of it before.