“In the beginning, all I remember was revenge. Well, I remember the fight with King Hail. I was only one. I remember the purple cloth I was wrapped in to be carried by my mother.”
In the beginning, all I remember was revenge.
Well, I remember the fight with King Hail. I was only one. I remember the purple cloth I was wrapped in to be carried by my mother. I remember how the people decided on getting back at King Hail for having innocent children work by the hour for him. People whose children were servants. My mother supported her sister and helped attempt to poison the King. And ever since they were caught, everyone who was part of the poisoning, even babies like I was, were pushed in Sapphire Lake and were forced to tread. King Hails guards would watch you 24/7. Some people have been treading for as long as I have. I have been treading for nine years, since the attempted poisoning. They would throw sardines and disgusting food at us out of buckets as if we were seals. When we ask to drink water, well we have water everywhere. Due to education laws, they would sometimes make us tread in a different section to teach us kids basic skills. The only good thing is that once a year, a whistle would be blown. A whistle of freedom. A name would be drawn from a bottle that washed up. If your name was drawn, you could swim to the ladder and get out… forever. Ultimate freedom. But once your name is drawn, you have to get out. No options. But again, I have only known one person who has not reached for the ladder. My mother was let out seven years ago. She didn’t want to leave her daughter. The guards forced her out. If my name is picked tomorrow, my first job is to find her.
TWEET!!! “Listen up!” One of the guards blew the whistle.
His name was Carter. I knew it because he would always sprinkle glitter on his jacket. And on his shoulder pads were some emerald green sparkles.
“You know the rules. We pick the name out of the bottle as usual, and then if you hear your name, you get out of the water. You will be supplied with a meal at the King’s house, and you will get further directions from there. Also, this is our ninth year doing this. Nobody who is not called has permission to come out,” Carter continued on. “If you are let out and run away… let’s just say the consequences are severe.” The sly smile on his face told me that he was not kidding. “Alright, please remain calm and most importantly, don’t get me wet!”
The other guard handed him a bottle. I looked around at the people whose lives were in danger. I looked at my pruny hands. Carter cleared his voice as he read the tiny script name on the slip of paper.
My heart sunk as all eyes turned on the spot Felicity had been in for the past eight years. Nothing was there that you could see except for a bobbing head. She was sleeping on the job. If you sleep during the name picking, even if you get chosen, you can’t leave.
“Well, guess we have to pick again.” He drew another name from the bottle and squinted at the paper.
“Hey, Aberjay,” Aunt Docia whispered to me. She was my mom’s sister so my family is extremely close to hers. “If this is your lucky day, find your mother for me. Don’t work for the King. Promise me.”
I almost laughed. “The chances of that happening are as rare as if we were all let out,” I whispered back.
Carter told me to be quiet.
“The lucky fellow of the year 5036 is… just Aberjay?”
“That’s me!” I yelled. “I don’t know or have a last name, but I promise I am real! My mother, Coco, was let out seven years ago. I promise, I promise, I’m Aberjay!”
The guards eyed each other. “We remember her, little girl. Just be quiet and get out.”
He pointed at the ladder. As I lunged for the ladder, I saw Aunt Docia’s eyes tear up. I swam back to her.
“Promise me,” she said, giving me her necklace that had been passed down.
“No, you don’t have to give this to me. It was passed down from all of the women in the family. I’ll wait for my turn,” I said, tearing up as well.
“It wasn’t, Aberjay. It wasn’t,” she said, tears streaming down her face.
“Let’s move, Eberjane!” The other, non-glitterified guard looked at me.
“It’s Aberjay,” I said stiffly.
“Aberjay,” said Aunt Docia. “It was stolen,” she whispered. “From the King’s daughter. When we snuck in to poison him, Zero gave this to me and said, ‘Mama I got this for you!’” Zero was Aunt Docia’s two-year-old son who was one of the King’s servants. “I took it, not knowing what to do. They wanted Zero punished. He ran away at two. He is thirteen now. If you find him, tell him your name. He will remember you. Show him the necklace but nobody that works for Hail. Go… use this for the greater good.” She gave me a hug.
“Are you coming or not?” the guards said, not amused.
They rolled their eyes. I doggy paddled to the ladder. As I climbed out, I felt the breeze in my soaking tee-shirt and shorts, and I put on the necklace. The main guard walked me down the pier to where a trolley car waited for me. I looked at Aunt Docia who was smiling at me through her, hopefully, happy tears.
“Hello, Miss Aberjay,” the coachmen said as we started to move away from Sapphire Lake and towards the woods.
The man was about in his mid-60’s and had salt-and-pepper colored hair. It looked like a wig.
“So it’s my job to explain how your life is going to be once you are in the King’s palace. This is my ninth time doing this, so you can trust me.”
I wasn’t sure I could trust anybody working for Hail, but I listened anyway. I wrung out my shirt out the window, which the coachmen did not appreciate very much.
“First off, you will be greeted by servants and important rulers. Then, a feast will be set up with the King, and you will be provided with hospitality for a week. Don’t get used to it, kid, ‘cause most that do… don’t end up so well. After that, girl, you’re on your own. The woods have plenty to give, and if you meet someone from, ya know, someone you knew, don’t interact. We don’t want alliances or whatnot so it’s more of an every man… or woman for themselves.” He started whistling as we made a right turn down a paved road, the only one you could see.
Pshh, I could care less about what this coachmen said. I looked at the necklace. It was a penny-sized, circular pendant made of gold. And a normal chain. I bet thousands of people had that necklace. I kept looking, wondering what made it so special, but then I saw it on the back. It said Duchess. (For Duchess Ice). But I guessed I was going to have to hide it. It could be my little secret.
“We are here, miss.”
The coachmen opened the door. The palace was stunning. The whole palace was white and engravings of griffins were on the door. The windows were red, and ivory colored curtains were visible too. I was led over the moat by the coachmen, and the water from it was the only thing that made me feel at home.
“Hello,” bowed one of the servants.
“How do you do,” a cook said.
I couldn’t make it through the door because everyone was rushing to meet me. A guard dressed in the same uniform as the one guarding the lake led me up a massive spiral staircase. On the top step were three people, the first being King Hail. I knew by the white hair, grey eyes, white lips, pale skin, and white suit. I had heard the legends. To his right stood a woman to not be mistaken as the First Lady, Cristina. She had curly, white hair that sat on top of her head. A white dress and white shoes matched the First Lady’s white hair. And next to her stood a ten-year-old Duchess. She had her mother’s metallic blonde hair that also sat on her head. She had her dad’s gray eyes and a white outfit.
“Criminal!” spat Duchess Ice, pointing at me like a baby.
“Ice,” the King’s voice said sternly. “This girl was one when the ‘incident’ happened. Though she did not take part in the ‘incident,’ her mother was part of it.”
How did the King know so much about my past? I took mental notes about how I could get out information about my mother as Ice stared at me.
“Mother, does she talk?”
“I do,” I said, shocked at how raspy my voice was compared to the silk-like voice of the Duchess’s.
We were both ten, yet I seemed so much more mature.
“How about you show Aberjay her room and then take her to her closet,” the First Lady said, looking back and forth between Ice and me.
“Alright, Eberjane,” Ice said, once we walked in the room. “Here is where you will be staying.”
“It’s Aberjay, actually.”
“Whatever, I don’t really care,” she said, rolling her snowy eyes.
I examined the room. The walls were all white, and the floor and ceiling and everything else in the room was white except for the red bed and a vase of roses on the cabinet.
“Whoa,” I looked around.
“Yeah, it’s one of my favorite rooms in the castle.”
She opened the curtains and I gasped. The view was amazing. Beyond the rolling hills, I saw Lake Sapphire, not the area where people were treading, but I saw… boats, motor boats, sailboats docked, canoes and ones I couldn’t name. Even though Sapphire Lake was an important part of my life, it was a cruel area, a painful period of time.
“Do you know how to sail?” Duchess Ice asked me, breaking the silence.
“What do you think?” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Sorry, I forgot,” she squeezed her two hands together.
I hate when people ask stupid questions.
“I hate when spoiled children forget!” I yelled. “You are just some brat who doesn’t know what it’s like. I swam when I was one! I was one! I was pushed into a lake and was forced to literally sink or swim, Ice. I love how you spend your days sailing around, while people who were innocent like me are pushed against their own survival, and you ask me if I can sail?”
A tear rolled down both of our faces as I realized what I did. Oops! I had to push out the last words I could be executed for saying.
“And when I first came in here, you called me a criminal!”
“I am sorry for that… I am,” she quivered.
Here I go. “But just remember, Duchess Ice, that while here you might be royalty, you and your perfect family are loathed by those 256 people down there threading for their lives right now.”
She was sobbing at this point, and not a bit of me felt any sympathy.
“Where’s my bathroom?” I said, feeling dominant.
She sniffled, crumpled on the ground as she limply pointed her hand towards the back of the room.
“Thank you,” I said.
I took a towel and walked to the bathroom, slamming the door, leaving the sobbing Duchess to herself. I was afraid to shower because I wasn’t used to warm water. I think my skin is sensitive because even lukewarm water made my back turn red. So I did what I was hoping not to do. Take a cold shower.
After I left the bathroom, I was shocked to see my hair dry. Exiting the bathroom and entering back into the bedroom, I saw an all red ballgown on my bed with a red bow. All of a sudden, two women wearing white maid gowns and white jewelry ran to me — one was short and one was tall, both squealing.
“Oh darling, we are going to make you look gorgeous,” the short one said.
“Sit down, deary, won’t you?” The tall one pushed me onto the stool she had put down moments before.
She took out what they called a “curling iron” and wrapped my hair around it. Half of my hair was up, held by the red bow — the rest of my hair were big ringlet curls falling down to my shoulders. I finally looked at myself, and I laughed. My black hair was half the length, and my fingernails were red. Great.
“Is this permanent?” I asked, pointing at my nails.
“Yep,” the short one said laughing.
“If you try to break into the city, people need to know who you are,” the tall one said.
“What does everyone else get?” I ask.
“White,” they both said in unison, showing me their white.
I was frustrated. I was never going to have a fresh start. I didn’t even commit a crime.
“Why do I not get a fresh start?” I asked the maids.
“It’s not that, deary. You just carry a piece of your past with you,” the tall maid said, stroking my new hair.
A moment of silence passed, two moments… three…
“My, oh my! How time flies when you’re having fun! Aberjay, cupcake, go downstairs and join the King and First Lady and Duchess for their feast!” the small one said.
“Okay. Bye and thank you!” I said running down the spiral staircase.
I ran through the tons of hallways and down thousands of stairs, my map being the scent of food. Finally, getting to the dining hall, my mouth dropped open. Roasted chickens with currants and curry filled every plate. In the center table was garlic butter-filled rolls, caviar and crème fresh, snails – eww – and some artichoke dish.
“Welcome Aberjay. So glad you could make it,” the First Lady said, motioning for me to sit.
The feast began. The food was delicious! As I was eating the curried chicken, a question popped in my head and came out too quickly.
“Please don’t take this offensively, but why is everything in the castle white or red?” I asked.
The King jumped to respond, “Aberjay, white is to represent the angels like citizens of the city, Halo. And the red is to represent the devilish people of Sapphire Lake, and that is how our country was named Lophire.”
Ouch! I felt like I was being framed.
“Is that why my bed is red, my nails are red, my dress is red, and my bow is red?! Am I the devil?” I said, a tear rolling down my cheek. I made eye contact with Ice.
She was next to me and rubbed my back. That is when I made the connection. Her life was unfair too. Nobody, not even me, had any right to dislike her. Well, almost no right to dislike her. Just like me, she was one when the incident happened. She didn’t throw anyone into the lake, or ask to use children and turn them into servants. She was as innocent as I was. She rested her hand on mine. And that’s when I saw it. Her Nails. Not just white, but red too.