Excerpt for Avalon: Princess by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



AVALON


Princess


By S.R. Ahuja


Copyright 2018, 2016 S.R. Ahuja


Smashwords Edition



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DEDICATION


This book is dedicated to my first audience, Mom and Dad. Without your love and support, I never would have had the courage to do something as crazy as write a book.

Preface

The wind pushed Fay toward the street. One stiletto slipped off the curb, and pain shot through her leg as she stumbled into the street. The horn blared as a sedan sped around her.

Fay let out a frustrated grunt as she hobbled back to the sidewalk. Sitting on the curb, she yanked off the offending heels and threw them to the side. Angrily, she pulled out her phone and tapped it furiously.

Where are you??? glared back at her in blue. Just below it was the message Read 11:16.

Anna had read her message over an hour ago and had chosen not to reply.

The wind howled again and pushed her hair into her face. She shoved the curls out of her eyes and thrust the phone back into her purse. She heard the clinking sound of her keys hitting the pavement beside her, but she didn’t pick them up yet. She shivered and wrapped her arms tightly around her torso. It had been stupid of her to wear Anna’s dress. Longingly she thought of her favorite cardigan, sitting on the back of her desk chair at home.

“Excuse me.”

Fay looked up to see a man standing over her. The anger fled as fear chased through her veins. She thought of the pepper spray buried in her bookbag. Why hadn’t she thought to transfer it to her purse tonight?

She grabbed her keys, holding them in her right hand and surreptitiously slipped her house key in between her third and fourth finger, balling her hand into a fist.

“Are you all right?” the man asked. He was obviously dressed as some kind of super hero because she could see the shadow of his cape waving in the wind. He was standing with his back to the street lamp, so she couldn’t see his face, but Fay thought he seemed older than her, too old to still be in college, which made her anxious.

“I’m fine,” was all she said.

The man extended a hand toward her. “Do you need help?”

What Fay really wanted was for the man to just go away, but he was not taking the hint.

“I can do it on my own, thanks,” she said coolly.

The hand retreated as the man took a step back. “Can I walk you home? It’s late for you to be out all alone.”

Fay rose, more steady on her bare feet than she’d been in the stilettos. She pulled the strap of her purse over her shoulder and held her shoes tightly in her free hand. Her right still clutched the keys.

“I’m fine. My sister is actually meeting me here any minute,” she lied, not wanting this stranger to know that no one was waiting for her, no one would notice her absence for hours, possibly days if Anna had found another place to sleep that night.

“Is she?” he asked.

Fay’s eyes shot straight to the man’s hand as he reached into a pouch he carried at his side. Her only thought was of him pulling out a gun, but instead, when he pulled his hand out of the pouch, he was merely holding what looked like a pinch of dirt.

Without warning, the man tossed the dirt into her face. Fay closed her eyes and gasped, stumbling backward again in shock. She was utterly prepared to scold the man, or possibly slap him across the face, but when she opened her eyes, everything had changed.

The dirt was now glitter falling in spirals to the ground. Although it was still night, everything was brighter. She could see the man more clearly now. He stood at least six inches taller than her with sand colored hair that he had pulled back behind his head. He was not dressed as a superhero but as a knight. The chainmail that he wore glinted softly in the dim light, and a sword shined at his side.

His eyes were what caught and held her. They were warm and dark brown, full of worry and compassion; full of love.

Her arms fell to her sides and her purse slipped from her shoulder, hitting the ground along with her keys and her shoes.

“Oh,” was all she could say, staring in amazement at the sight before her.

“Fay, would you like to come with me to see my home?” he asked her.

He extended his hand to her once more, beckoning her forward. She reached out to touch him, but something made her pause. There was a part of her that was buried deep inside, that had been buried since she opened her eyes to this new world. She knew better than this. How many times had she schooled Anna on the dangers of going anywhere alone with a man you had just met? And yet, a bigger part of her, the part that was connected to the warm feeling in this man’s eyes, was telling her that he meant her no harm, that he loved her.

She placed her hand in his. The second their skin touched, the wind stopped blowing, the sounds of the parties raging in the distance ceased, and heat flooded the air around her. Leaving all of her belongings on the sidewalk, she stepped forward and allowed this man to lead her into the night.

On the ground, Fay’s phone buzzed and fell out of the purse. It hit the cement but did not shatter. The streetlight overhead flickered into blackness, but the screen of the phone glowed brightly.

Sorry! Just got home. You will never believe this perv I met. Where are you?

Chapter I

Halloween

Jade kept glancing up at the clock anxiously. She wasn’t allowed to leave the stifling office until the bell rang, but she dreaded going home.

She hated sitting in the chair in the office. Every time someone new came in, they gave her a look that said they knew exactly what she had done even though they really didn’t.

Tommy’s mom had picked him up two hours ago, but Aunt Anna had never come for her. She knew why. Aunt Anna was at work. She worked at the big school down the road, and she couldn’t just leave whenever Jade did something stupid. It used to be that Grandma Molly would have been the one to get the call. She used to wait for Jade at home, but not anymore. She and Grandpa Charlie were in the Home now. They weren’t allowed to come pick up Jade anymore. Now Jade and Aunt Anna had to go to the Home to see them.

The minute hand ticked one minute closer to Jade’s release. She wanted to cry, but she knew that if she did, someone would see and it would surely get back to Tommy, and she could have none of that. So she held back her tears, and watched her life tick by much too quickly.

Mr. Knucke had already called Aunt Anna at work; Mrs. Johnson had told Jade that when she came to give Jade her homework. He’d called Tommy’s mom too. That’s why she’d come to pick him up. Aunt Anna would be furious. Jade was usually a good kid. She got her homework turned in, she helped out Mrs. Johnson after school sometimes, and she even helped her aunt around the house, but she had an awful temper especially when it came to stupid people.

It seemed like only seconds ago that she and Tommy had been on the playground with all the other kids at recess. She refused to give up the swing. It was hers. She had waited in line, and she wasn’t going to give it up just because Tommy wanted it. So, he started talking. The more he said, the angrier she got until finally, she dug her heels into the dirt, got off the swing, and walked right up to him. He was grinning happily because he thought he’d won. That was when Jade’s fist had met his face.

The bell rang right over her head. Jade leapt from her chair, grabbed her jacket and book bag, and high tailed it out of the office before Mr. Knucke could call her back into his office. The short walk from the school to the house went quickly. A little golden light followed right behind her, singing nonsense words in the prettiest little bell voice.

Jade couldn’t remember the first time she had seen Lali. She had just always been there. Aunt Anna called her Jade’s imaginary friend. Jade didn’t blame Aunt Anna for thinking Lali was imaginary because Lali was very shy. She only ever came around when Jade was alone and needed someone to play with.

She was a nice little fairy, but she was always getting Jade into trouble. On her way home, Lali kept going on and on about all the things she would have done to Tommy if she’d been there. Jade ignored her mostly. Nothing Lali could say was going to make her feel better because she knew exactly what Aunt Anna was going to say when she got home.

She dumped the contents of her book bag out on the floor of the living room as soon as she entered the house and went to the kitchen. She filled her backpack with snacks, and then grabbed her journal off the counter where she had left it that morning. She didn’t say a word or even acknowledge Lali as she walked out to the woods. She followed the trail that she herself had worn through the trees to the small clearing with a circle of mushrooms and sat down with her back leaning against her favorite tree.

She took out a pencil and opened her journal, but she did not start drawing. She just sat there and waited as the sun crept closer and closer toward the ground.

“Jade Elizabeth Green!” Aunt Anna called all too soon. “You get in this house this instant!”

Jade stood up, dropping her journal in the dirt where she had sat. She did not pick it up. Leaving her book bag there too, she started trudging back toward the house. She walked as slowly as she could, but soon enough she had broken through the line of trees and could see Aunt Anna standing at the kitchen door, arms crossed, still dressed in her work clothes with her ID badge hanging around her neck. Lali left her side the moment Aunt Anna called her name, so Jade approached her aunt alone.

Aunt Anna stepped back to allow Jade to walk into the house first. Jade went in and sat at the kitchen table. Her feet dangled several inches above the ground. She examined her feet closely, picking out every speck of dirt, trying to pretend like Aunt Anna wasn’t glaring a hole through the top of her head. She heard the other chair squeal against the linoleum as it was pulled back.

“Well,” Aunt Anna began, “do you want to tell me your side of the story?”

Jade squirmed in her seat. “It wasn’t my fault…”

“Stop right there.” She held up her hand to silence Jade. “I’ve already spoken with Ms. Johnson and Mr. Knucke. I’m giving you the chance to tell me what happened not whose fault it is.”

Jade glanced up at her aunt’s face. She wasn’t smiling. Her eyebrows were drawn together, but she didn’t look angry; she looked sad. Jade couldn’t stand it much long than a few seconds. She had to look away.

“I punched Tommy Tinkus during recess,” Jade admitted to her sneakers.

“I’ve gathered as much. Do you want to tell me why?”

Jade glanced up and back down again. “He said that magic wasn’t real, and he said that I was stupid for believing it was.”

Aunt Anna sighed heavily. “Jade, we’ve been over this before, and this is not the first time a kid has said that to you. Why did you punch Tommy? You know physical violence is just unacceptable.”

“Because…” Jade said defiantly and then trailed off.

Aunt Anna didn’t say anything. She just waited for Jade to continue.

Jade sighed and finally all of her pent up words came rushing out of her in one long breath. “Because when he said magic wasn’t real and I was stupid for believing in it I told him that it was real and that grownups like you knew it was real and he was the stupid one and then he said that if you thought magic was real then you were even stupider than me and I would have been better off living with my druggie mom who didn’t even want me.” As she said the last words, tears began to roll down her cheeks.

“Mr. Knucke didn’t mention that part,” Aunt Anna said quietly.

“I didn’t tell Mr. Knucke that part.”

“Jade, come here,” Aunt Anna said, opening her arms to her.

Jade jumped off her chair and rushed into her aunt’s open embrace.

No longer angry, she said, “That was an awful thing for Tommy to say, but you know it’s not true. You and I have talked about your mom. You know that she would have kept you if she could and that she loved you very much.”

Jade buried her face in Aunt Anna’s chest and nodded silently.

“But there is no excuse for using your fists, Jade. You know better.” Aunt Anna was quiet for a long time while she slowly rocked Jade back and forth. “You know this means no trick-or-treating this year.”

“Please! Aunt Anna!” Jade begged, looking up at her. “Halloween is my favorite! Please don’t make me miss it!”

“I’m sorry, Jade, but this behavior is not acceptable and you are not leaving this house again tonight.”

Jade climbed off her aunt’s lap and backed away from her until her back was against the kitchen wall. She slid down to sit on the floor, staring at Aunt Anna, letting the betrayal spread from her heart through every part of her.

“In fact, Jade, I think it’s time that you and I have a talk about our fairytales.” She stopped to take a breath before she kept going. “This world is a wondrous place, and I see little bits of magic all the time. Do you remember when we saw that baby bunny? That was one of the most magical things I’ve ever seen, but the magic in the stories… the fairies, the sorceresses, the magical worlds… Jade… do you know the difference between real and imaginary?”

“Yes,” Jade said quickly. “Real means that it is something I can see or something that really happened and imaginary is just pretend.”

Aunt Anna nodded. “The story you told me just now about you and Tommy, was that real or pretend?”

“Real,” Jade said definitively.

“And the story that your principal told me, that you punched Tommy on the playground, was that real or pretend?”

Jade had to think this time. “Real, but he didn’t know everything that happened.”

Aunt Anna nodded again. “And, the story of Princess Lunette and her magical kingdom, is that real or pretend?”

Jade was quiet for a long while before she finally said, “That story is true.”

Aunt Anna didn’t nod this time. “Jade, that story isn’t something that really happened. The dragons, the unicorns, the monsters, they are all just pretend.”

“No,” Jade shook her head. “It’s true. You told me it was true.”

“It’s fun to pretend that stories like that are true, but at the end of the day, Jade, you need to understand that it is just pretend. Fairies and dragons and goblins, they’re not real, Jade. You are fighting with your classmates over something so small as a bedtime story.”

Aunt Anna reached out to her, but Jade didn’t move. She stared at Aunt Anna, not fully understanding. Fairies were real. Jade had proof. Out in the forest, not a mile away, there was a very real fairy waiting for her. She knew that. She knew it.

“Fairies are real,” Jade said, slowly rising with her back still pressed against the wall.

“No, Jade.” Aunt Anna did not smile. She stared at Jade, and her dark green eyes, the eyes that Jade shared, turned hard and cold. “They’re not.”

“You’re lying.” Jade shook her head. “Why are you lying?”

“I’m not lying…” Aunt Anna began.

“No!” Jade closed her eyes and shook her head. “Fairies are real. I know they’re real! Why are you lying to me?!”

“Jade…”

Jade felt Aunt Anna’s hands brush her arms. She threw her hands against the sides of her head, covering her ears to block out anything else she might say.

“No!” Jade screamed. Her eyes flew open. Aunt Anna was crouching right in front of her, stroking her face with her hands.

“No!” she cried again. Pushing her aunt to the floor, she took off running out of the kitchen door and ran straight for the forest. It was dark now, but Jade knew the path well. She could hear Aunt Anna calling her name hysterically from behind; she could hear her heavy footfalls too, but they were fading as Jade gained distance on her, and she just kept running. Soon enough, Lali appeared alongside her.

She ran for only a minute before she reached her favorite tree. With one hand, she grabbed her backpack and with the other she grabbed her journal.

Without stopping, she ran right for the fairy circle. She knew this time it would work. It had to work. There was nothing left for her here. Her future was on the other side of that fairy circle. She squeezed her eyes tight and jumped.

Her feet struck the ground, jarring her brain inside her head. She didn’t open her eyes. She had been absolutely positive that it would work this time, but nothing felt different. It was still dark. It was still cold. She was still standing on a ground of grass.

She was afraid to open her eyes, afraid that all she would see was her own forest. Lali was ringing in her ears, but Jade didn’t listen. She focused solely on the grass beneath her feet, but then some part of what the fairy was saying sunk through her concentration. Aunt Anna wasn’t calling for her anymore.

Jade opened her eyes. She was still in the forest. She spun around quickly, taking in her surroundings. It seemed darker than a moment ago, like the trees had suddenly grown thicker. She spun on the spot, searching for her trail, the trail she had worn through the trees by walking the same path over and over again. It wasn’t there. Her trail had disappeared.

“Where are we?” Jade asked the silence.

Lali jingled near her right ear. Jade whipped her head around, her long braid smacking Lali in the back. She immediately started yelling, but since it was still just bell tones, it was easy enough to ignore.

“Sorry, Lali,” Jade said absent mindedly. She stepped out of the fairy circle, and it felt like someone had just punched her in the ears. The moment she left the circle, the sound of music hit her like a brick wall. It was raucous to say the least. Great loud bangs of some kind of drum reverberated off of the trees around her, making the whole forest feel as though it were vibrating. She started walking toward the noise, and as she walked, the music grew louder and the colors of the world brightened. Finally, she broke through the line of trees, and she was not in her backyard.

It was lighter out of the forest. A great full moon, the largest Jade had ever seen, shone down through the clear night onto the open meadow. Lined up near the trees, near where Jade had just stepped out, there were five grown up men hitting great, large drums with their bare hands.

They were singing, or at least, some kind of sound was coming out of their mouths that went along to the beating of the drums Everywhere, people were dancing, the long, silk skirts of the women flying out into huge circles around their waists as they spun. Everyone was yelling and singing and laughing. It was clearly a celebration, but it made Jade’s head hurt to try to take it all in at once. She looked all around herself but couldn’t see an easy way out of the chaos.

“Jack!” Jade heard someone cry.

Jade turned to see the woman who had shouted. She was dressed like the other women there. She wore a long navy skirt that brushed the ground and a cropped top with long sleeves that fell off her shoulders. She had pulled her dark red hair back into a perfect ponytail.

The woman began to approach Jade, calling loudly over the music and the yelling, “Who are you? Where is your mother?”

Jade just looked up at the woman’s face, overwhelmed by the chaos around her and unable to think of what to say.

The woman looked very serious, even angry. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

Jade just shook her head quickly.

A man suddenly appeared over the woman’s shoulder.

“What is it, Shae?” he asked impatiently.

As Jade watched, he wrapped his arms around the woman, his hands on her stomach.

“Jack, stop,” Shae said, reaching up and turning his chin forcefully so that he was looking at Jade.

“Oh,” he said.

“Come here,” Shae said, grabbing Jade’s hand a little too roughly.

The woman pulled her through the crowd. It was all chaos, and she had no idea where this woman was taking her, but after a while they broke free of the crowd. The music was much further away, so they could hear each other without the need to shout.

“Now,” Shae turned back to Jade, “what’s your name?”

“Jade,” she whispered.

“What?” the woman asked.

Jade really didn’t want to open her mouth again, but the man came to her rescue.

“She said her name is Jade,” he said, and then he turned to Jade. “Are you here on your own?”

Jade looked around, but she couldn’t see Lali at all. She must have gotten lost in the crowd. “I was here with my friend, but she must have gotten lost.”

“Do you know how to get home from here?”

Jade shook her head.

“Do you know the name of your home? Do you live in the Hamlet?”

“What’s a hamlet?”

The man exchanged a look with Shae.

He kneeled down next to Jade. “Jade, are you from Avalon?”

Jade shook her head. “What’s Avalon?”

The two exchanged another look, but this time Shae looked scared. They stepped away from Jade for a moment, but despite the noise from the party, Jade could still hear exactly what was being said.

“How does she not know what Avalon is?” Shae asked.

“Think about what night it is. The only night a year it’s open.”

“Sweet Sisters, you don’t think? She couldn’t be… Why did we have to find her? She’s going to be such a hassle. I just don’t want to deal with this!”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” the man said, looking over to Jade. “I’m going to take her back to the castle. If she is from here, that will be the easiest way to find her home, and if she’s not from here… the King will want to talk to her.”

“The King?” Jade spoke up. Now that she was out of the chaos of the party, her curiosity was peaked once more.

The two exchanged looks again.

“His name is King Henry,” the man told her before turning back to Shae. “I’ll take her to the castle. You go back to the party.”

“Jack,” Shae whined, “we were supposed to go together. You never get a night off.” She glanced over at Jade and stopped talking.

The man smiled. “I’ll only be a minute. I promise I’ll be right back.” He kissed her on the cheek, but the woman continued to scowl at Jade like she had wronged her in some way.

“Come on, Jade,” he said.

The man led her away from the party and down a very long road that eventually led to an enormous castle. There were two men standing on either side of the double doors. They were dressed identically in blue gray uniforms with dark cloaks fastened at the shoulders. The golden handles of swords gleamed at their hips. The man leading her nodded to them. They nodded back and opened the doors for him. Jade hurried right behind the man as he walked through the castle. He clearly knew his way around, and Jade wondered what his job was, why he knew the castle so well. Eventually, they came to a stop in front of a set of double doors that were just as large as the front doors, but these were decorated with beautiful swirls of what looked like real gold. Once again, there were two guards, dressed exactly the same, standing outside of the doors.

“What are they talking about?” the man asked the guards.

One of the guards glanced at Jade before he spoke. “It is a matter of security within the kingdom; that is all I know.”

“Well, you must let me in because I bring a serious matter of security to the King.”

The guards exchanged a look.

“Sir Jack, we were told not to let anyone inside.”

“By whom?”

“Sir Galeron.”

“Well, now I’m telling you to let me in. Blame it on me if you like. Tell Sir Galeron I overpowered you, but I need to speak to the King.”

They still looked uncertain. “Does the girl need to accompany you?”

He glanced down at Jade. “No, actually, it would probably be better if she stayed out here with you. Just for a moment.”

Jade reached out to grab Sir Jack’s hand, afraid for him to leave her alone again.

The guards finally nodded and stepped aside.

“Jade, stay here with these men. I’ll come back for you in just a moment,” Sir Jack said, shaking off Jade’s hand and entering the room.


Chapter II

Meeting the King

Jade stood there staring at the guards. It really did only take a minute though. Soon, the doors were open again, but it wasn’t Sir Jack coming out. Several men all dressed in simple clothes and wearing red cloaks over their shoulders exited into the hallway. Each one stared at Jade as they passed. She wanted to turn and hide her face, but even more than that, she wanted to find Sir Jack. He was the last one to exit the room.

“Follow me,” he said, leading her into the enormous room that was twice as tall as the hall outside. Windows rose from the floor all the way to the ceiling, but they were all covered by thick, red curtains. There was also a very simple, wooden round table standing in the middle of the room. Around it were thirteen wooden chairs. In one of these chairs, there was a man who rose as they entered.

This man was dressed just like the other men had been, but instead of a red cloak, it was a purple cloak that hung from his shoulders. His sandy colored hair matched the well-trimmed beard that covered his face. His deep brown eyes looked kind as he watched Jade enter.

“Ah, here is our little anachronism,” he said, opening his arms to welcome her. “What do you call yourself, young one?”

“Jade,” she said quietly.

The King smiled at her and then turned to Sir Jack. “Thank you, Jack. You may return to the festivities now.”

Sir Jack bowed to the King and left so quickly that Jade didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. She stared up at the King who seemed as tall as a giant.

“Please, sit down.” He motioned to one of the wooden chairs as he sat down next to it.

Jade hopped into the chair, letting her feet dangle. She watched the King who was watching her. Finally, he spoke.

“Is Jade your full name?” he asked.

“My full name?” Jade asked.

“I mean, do you have any other names?”

“I have a middle name and a last name,” Jade hedged. When the King smiled at her, she continued, “My name is Jade Elizabeth Green.”

The King nodded. “Elizabeth, that’s a beautiful name. Fit for a princess. I wonder, Jade Elizabeth, do you live with your mother and father?”

“No, I live with my aunt.”

“And what is your aunt’s name?”

Jade paused. She felt like there was something off, like the King was really asking her a different question, but she couldn’t figure out what that question was. “Her name is Anna Marie Green.”

“Do you know what your mother’s and father’s names are?” he pressed.

“I know my mother’s name. Her name was Fay Evelyn Green. I never knew my father.”

The King was quiet for a while before he finally said, “Your name was never meant to be Jade.”

“What do you mean? I’m Jade. That’s my name.” Jade shook her head.

“Your aunt called you Jade, I believe, because she thought your full name was too ostentatious, too flashy, if you will, for a little girl. But it is the perfect name for a young princess.” He paused.

It took a moment for his words to sink in, but once they did, Jade’s eyes grew wide. “Am I… a princess?”

“Yes, Princess, that you are.”

Jade jumped off her seat. “But… if I’m a princess, and you’re the King, does that mean…?”

“Yes, Princess. I’ve been waiting for you to return for a long time.”

Jade was speechless. She had dreamed of being a princess. She’d watched the movies and played princess with her friends, just like every girl did. Never, never had she thought this would really truly happen. All she could do was stand and stare.

She was silent for a long while, but then she asked, “What is my name?”

“Your full name is Princess Amalthea Gwendolyn Pendragon, heir to the Round Table, daughter of King Henry James Pendragon and Queen Fay Evelynn Green Pendragon,” he said the words with great pride, and Jade liked the way they sounded.

“Amalthea Pendragon,” she tried out the sounds on her own tongue. It certainly sounded more like a princess name than Jade Green did, but she wasn’t sure that she really felt like an Amalthea. She felt like a Jade.

Jade suddenly realized something that she should have thought of immediately. “Is my mom here?” She looked around the room like she might be hiding in one of the curtains.

“No, Amalthea. She’s not,” the King said slowly. “It is a sad story, I’m afraid, and one you may not want to hear tonight.”

Jade backed up and sat back in her chair. “Is she dead?” she asked quietly.

He didn’t answer for a few minutes. Those few minutes felt like an eternity to Jade, waiting to hear the fate of her mother, the one person she’d longed to meet her entire life.

“Yes, your mother is dead,” he said and heaved a great sigh. “You see, Amalthea, many years ago, when you were just a little baby, your mother was tricked by a demon. He is a creature of evil who can change his shape to whatever is your greatest weakness. Your mother always had a weakness for helping children. She followed him one day, and he led her to an evil sorceress. She captured your mother and would not let her go unless I gave her you.”

“Me? But wasn’t I just a baby? Why did she want me?”

“You were not just any baby. The day you were born, one of the Nine Sisters who have been here since the beginning of time foretold a prophecy about you. She said that when you grew up you would be the only person who could rule Avalon the way it should be ruled. I believe that the Sorceress meant to kill you so that she would one day be able to take over the kingdom.”

“Did she kill my mom because you wouldn’t give me to her?” Jade asked.

“I couldn’t speak to your mother, but I know in my heart that she would have made the same choice I made. That is why I sent you to your aunt, to keep you safe. No one can pass through the portal into the Northmanni World except the One Rightful King of Avalon.”

“But I came through the fairy circle,” Jade protested.

“The one exception is on the Autumnal Equinox, or Halloween as you call it, any child who is pure of heart and soul may pass through. I knew you would come back to us one day when you were ready.”

“Did Aunt Anna know about this?” Jade asked, wondering if she had been living a secret life for so many years.

“All she knew was that your mother could no longer care for you. I thought it was best that way. Adults in the Northmanni World have trouble believing the way children can. The way you can.”

Jade nodded and then stifled a yawn.

“Look at us talking so late. You must be exhausted,” the King said.

“I’m not…” Jade began but was cut off by another yawn.

“Come with me,” the King said. He stood and placed a hand on Jade’s shoulder, guiding her out before him. Once in the hallway, he said to one of the guards, “Go find Menelwen – she should be nearby – and return at once.”

In no time the guard had returned with a woman by his side. She was quite short for a grown up although still a foot taller than Jade. Her skin shimmered somehow; in the candlelight, it seemed to glow almost green. There were other oddities about this woman; her eyes were thin and slanted, and her ears were pointed and stuck out from her black hair.

“Ah, good. Amalthea, this is Menelwen; she will make sure you find your bedroom and anything else you might need. Menelwen, this is Princess Amalthea Pendragon,” the King introduced them.

Menelwen curtsied slightly to Jade. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Princess.”

“Hi,” Jade mumbled quietly.

“Follow Menelwen, Amalthea. I will see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight, King Father,” Jade said, taking Menelwen’s outstretched hand.

She thought she heard the King chuckle behind her as he said, “Goodnight, Princess Daughter.”


Chapter III

The Village

Menelwen led her upstairs. She talked as she walked, but Jade was so overcome by her sudden exhaustion, she didn’t hear most of what Menelwen said.

After what seemed like ages, they finally arrived at an enormous bedroom – at least three times as big as Jade’s room back home – but all Jade could focus on was the big, king-sized bed that sat, invitingly, in the middle of the room.

She wanted to just fall down and sleep, but Menelwen made her dress in a nightgown first and then tucked her in under the blanket. She brushed Jade’s hair gently as she tucked her in, and Jade fell asleep immediately.

When Jade woke again, the sunlight was pouring in through her open window, spreading across her bedspread. She sat up and looked around at her new room. It was much bigger than she was used to, as was the bed. You could have fit ten of her in there and all would have slept comfortably. Off to the left was the door and an odd little desk with a large mirror. To the right, there was a dresser and another door, although Jade did not know where it led to. She was about to get out of bed and check when the door to the hall opened. The woman with the shimmering skin was back.

“Well, you look much more alert today,” the woman said as she walked toward the bed. “I’m Menelwen. I expect you don’t remember me from last night. I’m going to be your governess.”

“What’s a governess?” Jade asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“It means that my only job is to take care of you and to make sure you are safe and happy.” Menelwen smiled. “Sound good?”

Jade nodded.

“All right, well, we need to get you up and dressed. I’ve spoken with the King, and he wants you to meet your subjects this morning, so we’ll need to get ready in a hurry.”

Menelwen led Jade into what turned out to be a closet on the other side of her bed. She let Jade pick a very pretty purple dress with sparkly embroidery to wear, and then she sat her down in front of the mirror to do her hair.

When Jade was ready and presentable, Menelwen led her downstairs to a room with a long table piled high with breakfast food. Jade ate alone, and when she had eaten her fill, Menelwen led her to the front doors.

“This is where I leave you, Princess. Your father is waiting for you just outside.”

“Aren’t you coming?” Jade asked, holding onto Menelwen’s hand.

“No, Princess, I’m not. I am not allowed outside the walls of this castle.”

“Why not?” Jade asked.

Menelwen patted her hand softly. “It is a long story and you should not keep your father waiting. I promise I will tell you all about it another time.”

Jade frowned, but she had a feeling that arguing with this woman would be a pointless task. Although Menelwen was calm and quiet, she had a sense about her that she wouldn’t put up with mischief. She reminded Jade of Aunt Anna. A sudden pain went through her belly when she thought of Aunt Anna. She would be worried about Jade. She should probably go home.

The King and Sir Jack as well as several other knights were waiting for her outside. All of the knights bowed to her the moment she appeared and then mounted their horses. There was no horse for Jade.

“Good morning, Amalthea,” the King said as he bowed too. “You’ll be riding with me this morning.”

“Don’t I get my own horse?” Jade asked as she skipped down the steps to stand beside the King.

“Do you ride?” he asked, surprised.

“Yes, I went to camp once where I learned to ride on a horse named Linda. She was so sweet, but she didn’t go very fast. And Aunt Anna has been taking me to a ranch in the summer times ever since. We go on trails there, but I’m never allowed to go faster than a trot.”

“Well, I will make sure a horse is ready for you next time we go on an outing,” the King promised. “But, for today, I think it is best you ride with me.” He reached to help her up onto the horse, who was big even for a horse, but Jade stepped back, stopping him.

“When do I get to go home? I think my aunt will be very worried about me.”

The King became very serious, the corners of his lips turning down and his eyebrows coming together. “Amalthea, this is your home. Avalon was always meant to be your home; Northmanni, where you lived with your aunt, was just temporary, and I’m afraid you can’t live in both worlds.”

“You mean, I have to pick between living with Aunt Anna and living here?” Jade asked, her mind already reeling at the possibility of having to choose. How could she possibly pick?

“I’m afraid, that you may have already made that choice. You see, I thought you understood how the portal worked, or else I certainly would have had someone explain it to you last night. None but the One Rightful King of Avalon may pass through the portal on any day except yesterday. You, and everyone else here, must stay in Avalon until next Autumnal Equinox.”

The King’s words brought back a memory to her of last night, something the King had mentioned, “No one can pass through the portal into the Northmanni World except the One Rightful King of Avalon,” but he had not really explained it, and it had been late and a long day for Jade, and maybe she had just thought he meant coming into Avalon, not leaving.

She had been angry with Aunt Anna, sure, but she never thought that staying here would mean she could never see her again.

The King must have seen the tears welling in her eyes because he spoke quickly, “I am truly sorry, Amalthea, and I swear to you that if you wish to go home, I will do everything in my power to find a way back to your aunt, but I’m afraid that changing such ancient magic as the portal will take much longer than just waiting the year until next autumn.”

Jade brushed the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. That’s right; there would be another Halloween next year, even though a year felt very far away to her right then. But, Jade thought to herself, would she really have chosen to go home to Aunt Anna? Her aunt had proven to her last night that she really didn’t believe in any of what Jade had seen with her own eyes in the past few hours. Aunt Anna’s words replayed themselves in her head, “You need to understand, Jade, that they’re just pretend.” Jade wouldn’t have chosen to live in a world where no one believed her, not when she could be with people who knew the truth. She couldn’t have chosen it.

Jade quickly brushed away the remaining tears and held her head up high to meet the gaze of the King. “No, King Father, you were right. Avalon is my home. I would have made the same choice anyway.”

He finally smiled again. “You have no idea how happy your words make me. Now come along, child. You have many people to meet.”

Their first stop was the Castle Hamlet, which was where most of the humans in Avalon lived. It was less than ten minutes on horses down the thin dirt road from the castle. The people were all very nice; the adults all bowed and curtsied when the King and Princess rode by.

The children were not as proper, waving eagerly and jumping in front of their horses to reach for the small copper coins that the King had given Jade to throw. The King explained to her that the Hamlet was the only village in Avalon where the people used money. Even though it was very common in the Northmanni World, in Avalon, the creatures merely traded to get what they needed.

After the Hamlet, their next stop was the Domus, home of the centaurs. The Domus was really just a big, circular clearing in the forest. The centaurs filled the clearing by the time the King and Jade got there. There were men and women, but no children. The men were naked to their human waists, which blended seamlessly into the furry shoulders of a horse.

The women were shirtless as well. They had no noticeable breasts, and in fact, the only visible differences between the men and the women were the softer muscles and slight hour glass shape of the women’s torsos before they blended into the horse body, although not all of the women were soft; some looked just as strong as the men. All of them had a long strip of hair in varying shades of white and brown that started on top of their heads and ran down their human backs. Most of the men’s hair was cropped short while most of the women’s was longer, hanging to one side or the other.

When a knight lifted her off of her father’s horse, the centaurs all stood four or five feet taller than her. As she followed the King through the crowd, the centaurs bent their knees to the ground so they would not tower over her so much. They bowed and reached for her hands. They, none of them, ever spoke to her any more than murmuring “Your Majesty.” A few of the men spoke to the King, but never to her.

When they left the Domus, the next stop was the Elven Village. It was midday by then and the Elves had a great banquet waiting for them.

The Village was just inside the dark forest. Their small huts were scattered amongst the trees, but there was a long, slender clearing where they had prepared the food. The King sat on one side of the clearing to eat and Jade on the other. They sat on the ground like the Elves and ate with their hands. The food was all fruits and vegetables that they ate out of woven baskets.

As soon as Jade saw the Elves themselves, she knew exactly who they were. They were very similar to humans, although on average maybe a foot shorter. The differences were small but noticeable. Their skin was not sparkly, but it shimmered subtly where the sunlight shone through the leaves. They all had thin, dark eyes and short cropped black hair. Their ears stuck out of the sides of their heads, just like Menelwen.

Although Jade was surrounded by adults on both sides, children from the Village kept coming up to offer her various fruits, murmuring something unintelligible before running away to be with the other children. Jade took special notice of three of the girls. They always came up together. They had thin eyes and large, pointed ears. They looked like tiny versions of Menelwen. The three girls she was watching kept whispering to each other and giggling.

Before Jade was done eating, a knight from the castle arrived in the clearing and whispered something in the King’s ear.

Immediately, the King stood and began walking toward her. Sir Jack, who had been standing just behind her the entire day, stepped forward as the King approached.

“Your Majesty,” he said, bowing slightly.

“Sir.” The King nodded. “I have some urgent business with Hrothgar, and the rest of the guard will be attending me. I need you to see that Amalthea makes it safely back to the castle. Do not leave her side until you’ve seen her safely into Menelwen’s hands. Can you do that?”

“Of course, Sir.”

“King Father, are you leaving?” Jade studied his face intently.

He knelt down on one knee so that his face was on a level with hers. “I’m afraid so, Princess, but your knight will take good care of you. I promise. He will see you home immediately.”

Jade just looked into his eyes for a moment. “Do we have to go home now? Can we stay in the Village a while?”

The King studied her face carefully before speaking. “I think it would be best if you return sooner rather than later. Obey whatever your knight tells you. Treat him with the same respect you would me.” He kissed Jade’s forehead, which made the elves murmur happily amongst themselves, and then he left.

Jade breathed out heavily through her nose. “Sir Jack, does that mean we have to leave now?” She looked up at the tall man to see what he would say.

He smiled at her and patted her shoulder gently. “If it was up to me, we could go on whatever adventure you wanted, but I’m afraid I must obey the King’s orders.”

Jade got up and followed Sir Jack to his horse. She smiled at the three elven girls on the way, which made them all grin and wave energetically.


Chapter IV

Caeci and Azatae and Sehali and Jade

After the first few days when Jade had to meet all of the tribes and elders, things at the castle started to settle down to what must have been normal. The King spent at least half of his time out of the castle. Jade never knew exactly where he was going all the time, but Menelwen told her that he was “meeting with citizens and fixing problems.”

Getting back to normal meant that Jade had a lot of free time to herself. The other children in the Hamlet all either had school or chores to do for most of the day, so Jade was left on her own. She wouldn’t start school for another few months, according to Menelwen, because the King wanted to give her a chance to get used to her new home first.

Lali still came to visit her occasionally, but she spent most of her time in the forest with the other fairies. Menelwen would tell her stories if she asked, but she didn’t go outside, and she didn’t like Jade running around the halls of the castle.

Jade ended up spending most of her time exploring the giant castle. Not that that was all bad. There were a thousand rooms to explore and always something new to find.

She spent an entire day exploring the library. It was like something out of a movie. Two floors tall with an enormous pointed ceiling and stacks of books wall to wall, Jade couldn’t have read all the books if she’d had an entire lifetime. All day long, she read about mermaids, unicorns, and werewolves; she read about heroes riding off to face their deaths in battle; she read about evil twins and secret sorcery; she read about warrior kings, kind queens, and forced marriages. She read all day long, but come evening, she still found herself eating dinner in the enormous dining room all alone.

Spending so much time alone made her miss Aunt Anna. She hadn’t forgotten her aunt’s betrayal, but that didn’t mean she didn’t miss her. There was no one in the castle who took care of her the way Aunt Anna had. Menelwen told her stories and tucked her in at night, but it was not quite the same. She frequently thought about trying to find the Portal again to see if she could return, just to see her aunt, not to stay, but she was not allowed to go so far from the castle without a knight escort “To keep you safe,” the King said. Plus, Jade knew the laws of the Portal. Even if she could find it again, it wouldn’t open to her until Halloween, which was almost a whole year away.

One day, about a week after Jade had arrived, she decided she couldn’t stay indoors a moment longer, and she pushed her way through the giant front doors. Normally there would be two guards on the door, but the King had taken most of the guards away with him to visit a different world outside of Avalon, so there was no one to stop her. Jade technically wasn’t allowed to go outside without an adult, but she was only going to go around the castle grounds. It wasn’t like she was going to run off into the forest.

Jade peeked her head out the door first, just to check that the guards really had gone. Then she stepped out with first one foot and then the other. She jumped a little when the heavy door slammed behind her.

Almost laughing at how easy it had been to leave, she ran out into the grass that had been warmed by the sun. Winter was on its way now; a heavy chill hung in the air, but with the sun shining so steadily, you could almost forget the way the cold bit at your nose and fingers. Jade ran through the tall grass, letting her fingertips brush across the surface as she went. She ran around the side of the castle where the few knights who had stayed behind were training. She crouched down low in the grass so they wouldn’t see her, and crawled closer. She could see Sir Jack through the slits in his metal helmet. He was practicing with one of the other knights, trying to hit each other with dull swords.

Jade was distracted from watching the fight in front of her when she heard a high, girlish laugh coming from the front of the castle. Curious, Jade crept back the way she had come, and saw, to her surprise, three elvish girls standing near the castle doors.

“Hello!” Jade called eagerly, hoping up out of the grass. “What are your names?”

The girls stared at each other, unsure of what to do. Then the girl in the middle who looked just slightly older than the other two stepped forward and curtsied. Quickly, the other girls followed suit.

“My name is Sehali, and these are my sisters Azatae and Caeci. And you are Princess Amalthea,” she said, bowing her head slightly again.

“You can just call me Jade.” Jade stuck her hand out to Sehali.

“Why would I call you Jade?” Sehali asked, examining Jade’s face carefully.

“That’s my name, or one of them I guess. You could call me Amalthea too if you wanted. I don’t really care.”

None of them said anything, so Jade continued, “Do you want to play?”

The other girls looked at each other cautiously. Azatae spoke up, “We were going to go on an adventure, but…” she trailed off, looking to Sehali for guidance.

“But what?” Jade asked.

“Well, we’re not really supposed to be out without an elder. We could get in trouble if anyone from the Village found out,” Sehali explained.

“Oh, don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone,” Jade promised. “What kind of adventure were you going to go on?”

The three girls exchanged looks again before Sehali asked “Do you know about the Waterfall?”

“No, what waterfall?” Jade asked, already intrigued.

“If you want, you could come with us. We can tell you the story on the way,” Sehali offered.

“Yes! Of course I’ll go!” Jade cried excitedly, glad she had someone her own age to play with.

Sehali and Azatae led the way, leaving Jade and Caeci to follow, but Sehali didn’t start telling the story yet. She said that she would tell it when they reached the waterfall. They were, all three of them, very quiet girls. They really only spoke when Jade asked them questions. Jade did learn that Sehali was indeed the oldest. She was ten, although her small size made her seem a few years younger, and she had just started school. At least, it sounded a lot like school to Jade. Sehali said that she went every day to study with some of the older girls from the Village. They learned how to listen to the sound of the world, and eventually they would learn how to become a part of it. She said that they had one day off a week, which was why the girls had decided to go on an adventure.

“Of course,” Sehali said, looking at Jade. “Your lessons will be different. They teach children differently in the Hamlet, although, if you’re lucky, one of the Nine Sisters will see some magic in you and pick you to go study with them. Then you might get to learn some of the same stuff I learn. I don’t know how the Sisters do their magic.”

The Nine Sisters had been one of the stops Jade had had to make to meet all of the Tribes of Avalon.

Sister Morgana was the one in charge, or she seemed to be in charge from what Jade could tell. She’d also met Sister Morgana’s eight sisters. She didn’t remember their names though. There had been too many names in those first few days to remember them all.

Azatae was the next oldest; she was eight. She and Caeci, the youngest at five, spent their days running around the forest and meadows with the other children, although they still studied with the elders once a week.

“But one time,” Caeci whispered to Jade confidentially, “One of the elder women from the Hamlet taught Azatae and me an old lullaby from the Northmanni world. That one’s my favorite, but we can’t sing it in the Village.”

“Why not?” Jade whispered back.

“Oh, the elders wouldn’t like it.” Caeci shook her head. “They wouldn’t like us singing the songs of a different people, but also, we’d get in trouble for going to the Hamlet.”

“What? Aren’t you allowed to go to the Hamlet? Don’t you get to play with the other kids there?” Jade responded, confused.

“Well, sure we get to play with those kids, but only if one of the elders takes us. We’re not allowed to go on our own.”

Jade digested this news for a moment. “Maybe you could sing that lullaby for me when no one else is around to hear it.”

Caeci’s eyes lit up. “Of course, your majesty!” she said excitedly.

After a very long time, the grass started to thin out and a dark gray fog started to settle over the land in its place. Jade coughed heavily as the air became denser.

“What is this place?” Jade asked

“It’s called the Fog Plains,” Sehali explained. “It’s the boundary between Avalon and the Other Kingdom.”

“What other kingdom?” Jade asked innocently.

The three girls exchanged another one of their looks.

“No one told you about the Other Kingdom?” Caeci asked.

“No,” Jade said, feeling uncomfortable under their gazes.

“The Other Kingdom,” Sehali explained, “is where all the bad creatures are. That’s where the boggarts and goblins and werewolves and vampires and powries and even dragons are. They’re all not allowed to cross the boundary into Avalon, so that we’re always protected from them.”

Jade looked up at the older girl with wonder, “Dragons are real? Can we go see them?”

“No!” Sehali exclaimed in horror. “That’s far too dangerous. Long ago the King locked them all away in their own world because a dragon killed a princess.”

Jade stared at her, wonder replaced by fear. “It killed her?”

“Yes. Many years ago, before any of us were born, there was a little baby princess, no more than a year old. She was out in the forest with her mother, the Queen, and the other elvish children. The children were taking care of the baby princess, but suddenly, a dragon came out of nowhere and scared all the little children away, and they left the baby princess all by herself. By the time the Queen and elders found the baby, she was already dead, and the dragon was eating her!”

“That’s why we can never go into the Other Kingdom,” Azatae finished.


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