Chapter Four: Mix-Up at the Traveling Market!
I squinted as I spotted a familiar figure in the distance. Through the light mist of the morning I couldn't quite make out his face, but the quickening of my heartbeat gave me a hint. The figure seemed to notice my presence, as he turned his head and began to walk towards me, causing my heartbeat to speed up even more. When I caught a glimpse of the pale reddish, almost mauve hair, I knew at once that my suspicions were correct–Prince Cesar was headed my way. Ordinarily I wasn't this nervous at the sight of the Prince; sure, he was handsome, and sweet, and thoughtful...but there was a reason that today Prince Cesar made butterflies take off in my stomach.
Cesar came to a stop a mere few steps in front of me, a smile lighting up his hazel eyes. Dressed in a light grey long-sleeved tunic with a black sleeveless vest buttoned over the top of it with charcoal grey pants and black boots, I couldn't help but notice that dark colors really suited him. I felt myself blushing at the thought.
"Good morning, Princess Elizabeth," Cesar greeted with the tiniest of bows. "What are you up to?"
"Good morning, Prince Cesar," I replied, trying to smile without appearing as nervous as I felt. I had rehearsed what I would say to him while I got ready for the day in front of my mirror. I just hadn't considered running into him this soon, this early. I was still groggy and not fully coherent. What if I sounded like an idiot? I chewed my lip. "I was just going for a stroll before it's time to practice. Er, speaking of practice, y'know, I had something I've been wanting to talk to you about..." the moment the words escaped my lips in a bumbling cascade I felt like kicking myself. How un-princess like could I possibly be?
Cesar's eyebrow lifted, which I took to mean he was curious about what I had to say. "Yes? What is it, Elizabeth?"
I tried to think of the best way to phrase it without sounding like a complete idiot. Steeling myself, I began, "First off, Cesar, I would like to apologize for turning you down previously." This was kind of difficult for me to phrase, seeing as how the real Princess Elizabeth, not I, had turned him down. But it had to be done.
He took a step closer, which was both encouraging and terrifying. "Oh?" He remarked, his tone unreadable.
I nodded nervously, wringing my hands. "I don't really know what I was thinking." Well, that part was true, at least. "I was just so nervous about dancing in front of all of those people, and so I said no without considering what I was doing, or–or your feelings." I couldn't hold his gaze anymore, which at this point had softened til his amber eyes almost looked like they were open flames. "I feel so bad about the whole thing, and dancing with you yesterday made me realize that you're the only one I could dance with. Would you give me another chance?"
Cesar stepped closer in a split second, so now our faces were only a few inches apart. "Elizabeth," he said, a small smile appearing on his face as he reached for my hands, "I'm so happy that you've changed your mind! I-"
"Princess! Wake up!"
A loud thumping suddenly filled my ears, and though he was only mere inches from me, and I saw his lips move, I couldn't make out what Cesar was saying. "I am so sorry–what?" Cesar seemed to chuckle, then began to repeat his answer, but the interference became so loud I couldn't make out a word of it.
"Princess! You've overslept! WAKE UP!"
I shot upright in bed. "Wha-" I exclaimed before I fully regained my conscious senses. Wait! Where did Cesar go? What had he said? Placing a hand to my chest, I glanced fervently around the room, and realization sunk in.
It was only a dream. I hadn't spoken to Cesar–I hadn't even woken up and started my day yet! I had only dreamed that I had hopped out of bed to the lovely sound of birds chirping, gotten dressed, rehearsed asking Cesar to be my partner in front of the mirror for what felt like forever, and then encountered him.
I blew a straw bang out of my face with a frustrated sigh. Of course the day hasn't started yet. Whenever I have something looming over me I dream about it several times before it actually happens. Usually by the time it does happen I am so nervous from my constant internal rehearsals that I make a fool of myself. Or at least am so nervous I can barely think.
The rapping at the door fully woke me from my half-asleep state. "Princess! The traveling market is today! We have to get going soon, or we'll be completely behind schedule! And don't forget your dedicatory speech!"
"Okay, okay," I grumbled as I kicked my legs out from under my thick pink comforter. "Sheesh, sorry I slept so la-my WHAT?!"
Kip burst into the room, apparently viewing my outburst of surprise as an invitation. "Princess! I know you are still drowsy, but you can't have forgotten that you are giving a speech alongside your father, King Crown, this afternoon!"
My eyes, still filled with sleep, bugged out as far as they could manage at this hour.
Kip grasped the hilt of his magic wand and smiled nervously. "The speech?" he prodded. "The one I told you to rehearse last night?"
Seeing my look of sheer confusion and terror, Kip's mouth widened in horror before he practically shrieked, "YOU MEAN TO TELL ME YOU COMPLETELY FORGOT?!"
I cringed, his high pitched voice making my ears feel like they were going to bleed. "Um, well, to be frankly honest, forgot isn't really the right word...I don't remember you saying anything about a speech at all."
Kip gasped, his jaw dropping and his mouth forming an upside down 'D.' I almost giggled, but then caught myself when I realized how horrible this situation was. "I am so sorry, Kip. I have just been so nervous about this whole dance competition, and whether or not I should ask Cesar to be my partner, and-"
This new information seemed to distract Kip from the current disaster for a moment. "Oh, have you made a decision about asking Prince Cesar to give you another chance?"
I nodded, striding over to the vanity and grabbing a hairbrush to try to tame my messy hair, trying to exude confidence."Yes. I am going to ask him to be my partner the next time I see him." And hopefully he won't completely and utterly reject me.
In the reflection of the mirror I saw Kip nod his approval. "I think that's wonderful! You two would make excellent partners. I can tell you like Cesar very much, and he seems to feel the same."
I dropped my gaze, feeling my cheeks burn. Before I could say anything more, Kip prattled on, "But that is not the most important thing at hand. Today we must take care of the Traveling Market, and the Royal dedication! You must be prepared! The people and your father cannot become suspicious about you due to poor performance!" Kip suddenly stopped in his tracks, looking thoughtful. "Although, come to think of it, the real princess has never been very prepared for anything. A real slacker, that girl."
As I positioned a jeweled clip in my hair, I asked, feeling completely frazzled, "Why do I have to make the speech with my father? Why can't my mother, you know, the Queen do it?"
Kip shook his head as if this was the most obvious answer in the world. "Because, princess, your mother is away in the River Kingdom hosting the gala of the nymphs!" Seeing my puzzled expression, (Nymphs? Seriously? That is so cool!) he sighed and continued, "If you had been listening last night this wouldn't be such a shock...I suppose I'll have one of the advisors help come up with something, and then you can add you own touch to it. We still have a few hours to prepare..." Adjusting the bow tie he wore around his neck, he cleared his throat and said, "Well, there is no time to waste! Be dressed and have eaten your breakfast..."
I turned and noticed three small floating chipmunks levitating a tray filled to the brim with toast, marmalade, oatmeal, pastries, poached eggs, cinnamon, sugar, bacon, waffles, and orange juice. I felt my mouth water and my stomach gave a tiny growl. Ah, this eating like a princess thing was fabulous.
"Within half an hour. We simply must get to the traveling market and thank everyone for coming to our kingdom!" Muttering to himself, he turned towards the door. "Oh! Yes, I almost forgot! Don't forget the new royal tiara! Your mother specifically requested that you wear it."
"Oh, should I put it on?" I asked as I reached for its floral patterned velvet box on the vanity.
"No, no, no!" Kip instructed, waving his little wand. "Not yet. We don't want your ceremonial attire getting sullied as you walk around the market. Just make sure to bring it with you so that we don't have to return to the palace before your speech." With that, he left the room.
I sighed. "I take it I'm not having a dance lesson today, at least not right off the bat." Reaching for some eyeliner, I frowned. If only Cesar were the least of my worries...
"Your highness? Would you like me to select a dress for you?" A tiny little voice piped up. I turned to see an adorable little white owl in a pink silk dress hovering near my armoire.
"Hm? Oh, yes, that would be very helpful, thank you!" I turned my attention back to my mirror, cringing at the mess my morning face and hair was. "Some princess you are," I muttered at my reflection.
After a good breakfast and the help of the royal attendants, I managed to appear in Samba square looking presentable and princess-like in a knee-length emerald green dress with a scooped neck and flower jewelry. I clutched a large green and gold purse, in which I had remembered to stuff the case which held the royal tiara before hurrying to meet Kip.
I looked around, surveying the usually bustling square to find an almost chaotic crowd of people milling about various outdoor stands which seemed to sell all sorts of products; mouth watering melons, pies, bottles of wine or cider, jewelry, hats, books, dresses, handbags, you name it, it was there.
"Wow," I breathed, wide eyed, "Does this happen every year?" I turned on my heel, trying to take it all in. I felt my lips spread into a grin. "I could get used to this kingdom."
"The Traveling Market visits our kingdom once each season," Kip answered, "And it is always extremely busy, so be careful not to get lost in the crowd."
I nodded, hoping that I wouldn't soon be groveling to Kip after losing my way.
We walked for a few minutes, Kip calling out every so often to describe to me in great detail the unfamiliar and exotic curios.
I slowed my steps as I approached a store that had "Genevieve's Magical Accessories" etched into the window pane. My eyes widened at the display of beautiful jewelry in vibrant colors that lit up the window.
"Ah, yes," Kip said, noticing my interest, "Madame Genevieve's Accessory Shop is native to Flower Kingdom, but during the Traveling Market she brings out some of her rarest items and lowers her prices considerably!"
Well, that settled it. I had to go in. Shouldering my bag, I hurried into the somewhat crowded shop.
"Welcome, Princess," a lovely middle-aged woman who I presumed was Genevieve greeted me. "We have many accessories for you to choose from, such as bows, ribbons, broaches, chokers, necklaces, and bracelets, all containing the magical component to allow you to transform your outfit into something truly splendid. Go ahead, look around!"
"Thank you!" I replied with a smile and curtsy. I wandered over to a small table which held an array of broaches on different cushions. "Are these all really magic?" I whispered to Kip.
Kip nodded, adjusting his glasses. "Yes! Just like the royal tiara, when you put on one of these items, your clothing will transform into a unique and elegant ensemble. Why don't you pick one out?" Seeing my surprised look, he added, "Even if you have a partner for the ball, you still must look your best with a lovely outfit. Go ahead and pick any item you want. All of Madame Genevieve's merchandise is at the height of fashion."
I nodded, pleased. "All right, then!" I circled the store. Everything was so gorgeous, it was going to be really difficult to select just one. A topaz ring caught my eye, and so did an emerald green choker. I skirted around a woman as I made my way to a necklace display. "Wow, it sure is getting crowded," I noted under my breath.
Suddenly a pink glint caught my eye. I turned slightly and saw just mere inches away a beautiful necklace, a pink-orange color that seemed to be made of shells. "Kip, I think I know what I want," I said as I reached out and lifted the necklace from the display...
And bumped right into another person!
"Oh!" I exclaimed in surprise as I looked up, still clutching the necklace in my hand, as I saw the person I had bumped into was a girl, probably around my age.
The girl looked at the now empty display and then to my hand. Her eyes widened and flashed in what seemed to be disappointment and annoyance. "Hey! I was going to get that! I was just reaching for it when you bumped into me!"
I gasped, feeling a rush of guilt. "Oh, my gosh! I am so sorry! Here, here take it, I can just get something else!"
The girl looked up from staring at the necklace in my hand and then did a double-take. "Oh, your highness!" She exclaimed in surprise. "No, no it's all right. I'll just pick something else out." Despite her words, however, her mood didn't seem to change completely; she seemed to become more composed, but remained upset. Was it because she was afraid of arguing with royalty?
I shook my head, holding the necklace out to her. "No, please take it. I just thought it was pretty, I can select something else."
Isabel looked tempted at first, but then crossed her arms over her chest. "No, I wouldn't think of it, Your Highness. I will just select another item within my price range." With that, she turned on her heel and left, her dark pink hair trailing after her.
I lowered my eyes and bit my lip, staring at the coral necklace in my hand. "Now I feel bad..."
Kip put a paw to my shoulder. "Don't feel too bad, Princess, you did all you could. That was Miss Isabel, daughter of Edmund Laurent, the owner of the local patisserie. His wife is a seamstress. She and the Princess are acquaintances, but they've never seemed to get along very well."
I furrowed my brow, still thinking about the encounter. "I will just select another item within my price range." I knew exactly how she felt. Back home, my family wasn't exactly what you would call rich. I've had plenty of catty girls flaunt their expensive accessories and privileges in my face. I hadn’t even been able to afford studying abroad, like practically every other student at my school. But now, I was a Princess, at least for the time being. And Isabel was the one who had the budget and the limitations.
"Princess? Are you going to get that item?" Kip's squeaky voice interrupted my thoughts.
I sighed. "Well, since she refused to take it, I suppose I might as well."
When I brought my purchase to the counter, Madame Genevieve clapped her hands together. "Splendid choice! I hope you will be happy with the ensemble, Your Highness!"
I smiled. "I'm sure I will, thank you." As I fished the proper amount of coins out of the pink coin purse from my bag, I looked around to see what Isabel had chosen. When I couldn't seem to spot her in the shop anymore, I furrowed my brow, then handed Madame Genevieve the tender. I guess she left, I thought, feeling bad.
As we left the shop, I tried to shake my feelings of guilt. After all, I had insisted several times that she take it. She was probably too proud, and felt obligated to let the princess have her way.
After walking around for about twenty minutes, I caught sight of Vince at a nearby cart selling pastries. Still a bit miffed about the whole silly string incident, I turned around and started to walk in the other direction, praying he hadn't seen me.
"Good morning, Princess Elizabeth!"
I cringed, my shoulders tightening. No such luck. Plastering a pleasant smile on my face, I cleared my throat and turned back around. "Oh, hello Prince Vince."
"What are you up to?" He asked with a smile.
I shrugged. "Just enjoying the Traveling Market. And you?"
He lifted a delicious looking cinnamon bun slathered with whipped cream. "Same. You really should go get one of these. But I would be careful. It's a pretty hot day, and you don't have a parasol. You might get sunburned."
Kip lifted a paw to his mouth. "Oh, dear," he remarked, looking at the sky. "He may be right, Princess. Allow me to purchase a parasol for you!"
I cast a glance at the sun myself. It didn't seem overly hot, and my skin didn't seem to be irritated in the least. I thought both of them were overreacting.
"That won't be necessary," Prince Vince said with a grin. "I just happen to have some sun block right here!" He pulled a long, flat yellow tube out of his pocket. "Go on, I have plenty!"
I narrowed my eyes at him warily. "I'm a Princess, I can handle a little sun, thank you very much."
Noticing my sarcasm, Kip whispered, "Princess! Don't be rude!"
I internally rolled my eyes at his scold. He didn't seem to grasp that Vince's intentions weren't always so innocent. "I mean, sure, Prince Vince, I'll gladly accept some sunscreen. Thank you." I reached for the bottle, hesitantly.
As I unscrewed the cap, I screamed as a rubber grasshopper popped out of the tube. Dropping the tube and cap to the ground, I placed a hand to my heart to steady my breathing.
"Haha!" Vince doubled over with laughter, pointing at me. "Gotcha!" He took off, laughing the whole way.
I grit my teeth. "Get back here!" Realizing it was a lost cause, I blew out a short, quick breath, ruffling one of my bangs.
"Oh, I am sorry, Princess," Kip said quietly, raising a tiny paw to his mouth, "I just assumed that he was offering you a kindness."
I waved my hand, laughing. "Oh, it's ok, Kip. I've already been the victim of Prince Vince's practical jokes. He's pretty much exactly like his counterpart in my world."
I walked on, stopping to admire a booth that displayed fine, silky scarves of varying lengths and colors. Kip suddenly said, "Princess, I am going to go talk to one of the guards for a moment. Please, I will be right back."When I turned to see where Kip had wandered to, my eyes caught a glimpse of a young man with wavy mauve hair in the distance. Cesar...? I wondered to myself, my heart skipping a beat. Mumbling a good-bye to the vendor, I quickened my steps in his direction.
I didn't think I would see him so soon. All right, I hoped I wouldn't see him this soon. I slowed my steps. Did I want to ask him right now? What if he was busy? What if that's not actually him? What if I bother him? I looked down at my feet. Or worse...what if he's with someone? When I finally dared to raise my eyes, they widened. Cesar was now nowhere to be seen! I slapped a hand down to my thigh. Well, of course, I blew my chance. But maybe that wasn't really Cesar? He was pretty far away...and I might not have been able to catch up to him in this crowd, anyhow.
There suddenly were an awful lot of people. It was probably getting closer and closer to lunchtime. My stomach rumbled as if on cue. Well, I guess I had better grab some food before all the stands get too crowded.
I stopped at a stand that was selling what appeared to be steaming hot meat pasties. Pulling out my coin purse, I payed the gentleman the proper amount of silver coins and thanked him. I took a step back to place my coin purse back inside the depths of my over-sized green shoulder bag.
I must have stepped too far, because I bumped into someone or something quite forcibly and lost my balance. My opened purse flew from my arms, as well as my food, and skittered away from me. The other girl's bag did the same, sliding across the cobblestoned ground.
"Oh, dear!" I exclaimed, lifting my head to see whom I had crashed into. "I'm terribly sorry, are you all right?"
The girl raised her head. Dark pink hair...it was Isabel!
She frowned a fraction when she saw it was me. "Oh, it's you, Princess. Please, don't worry about it. It's quite crowded here." I could sense the slight distaste in her voice despite her polite manner. She and I both stood. My eyes widened as I noticed that her stockings had a run in them, and her knee was bleeding, ever so slightly.
"Oh, my gosh!" I cried out, "I'm really sorry, are you ok? I can buy you some new tights! Do you need to visit the ladies' room and patch that scrape up?"
Isabel had already stooped to grab the contents of her purse. I realized I should do the same and followed suit, grabbing all the items I recognized. Isabel grabbed her belongings so fast that I wasn't sure what was hers and what was mine. "No, it's fine, Princess. I'm in a hurry, so I should be on my way now." She handed me my coin purse and then brushed past me, taking off in the opposite direction.
I bit my lip, reaching for the crumpled paper that held my now soiled pasty. I sighed, tossing it in the nearest trash bin.
I turned my head to see Kip flying towards me, looking upset. "Are you all right? I saw from over there..."
I smiled. "I'm fine, Kip. I ran into Isabel again. Literally. I guess I had better buy a new meal."
The vendor had seen everything and offered to replace the meat pasty I had dropped, which I thought was quite nice of him.
When I had finished my meal, the butterflies that had burst out in my stomach after seeing Cesar, albeit from a distance, finally settled.
"Well, Princess, we can continue to walk around for another half hour or so, and then it's on to practice your speech! Luckily you brought the royal tiara with you, that way we've saved some time...
I nodded, wiping my mouth with a napkin before crumpling it and tossing it in the waste bin. Suddenly my heart stopped. The tiara?! I halted my steps and slid the shoulder bag down my arm. Oh, no, no, no...my bag had felt a bit lighter since I bumped into Isabel...
I searched my purse twice for the floral tiara case. No, no, it had to be there. I remember that I searched the ground a few times before I left the area after Isabel and I crashed together, so that I wouldn't forget anything. Unless...
"Princess?" Kip asked, his small eyes widening behind his glasses. "W-what's wrong? What are you looking for...?" His tone seemed to suggest that he knew, he knew exactly what was missing.
"Oh, no." I felt hot suddenly, very hot and sick, like I always do when I am in a panic. And I was definitely panicking now. "Kip?" I began, terrified of how he was going to take my news, "I think...well, the tiara is not here." Seeing his eyes widen and then narrow in an instant, I quickly said, "But I am sure I know where it is. Isabel must have grabbed it when our stuff spilled. She picked all of her stuff up really fast, so I think she wasn't paying attention. No one else was around, so I'm sure no one stole it..."
Kip sighed, looking frazzled. "Well, then, we had best find her as soon as possible. Which way did she go?"
I frantically looked to and fro. "I think she went towards that crowd that way, near the scarf stand." I pointed.
"All right, let's get moving!" Kip wasted no time, taking off faster than I'd ever seen him. Good thing I'd worn comfortable shoes. I broke into a run after his disappearing figure.
Moving swiftly through the crowd, apologizing to those I bumped into and skirting around the rest, I looked back and forth, trying to spot her dark pink hair. "Isabel!" I called. "Isabel, where did you go?" I muttered under my breath.
Suddenly I spotted a familiar face amidst the foreign in the crowd. "Kiefer!" I called out, rushing over to the Keith look-alike clad in a blue jacket. "Prince Kiefer," I said more calmly once I had reached him, giving a tiny curtsy. Kip saw me stop and floated over towards us.
Kiefer looked puzzled, adjusting his glasses. "Yes? You seem to be in a bit of a panic, Princess Elizabeth."
"Yes, well, I lost something very important, and I think my, er, friend has it. Have you seen a girl a little shorter than me with pink hair and a purple dress anywhere?"
"Hm..." Kiefer put a hand to his chin thoughtfully. "Yes, I think I did."
"You did?" I squealed. Seeing his look of distaste, I tried to remain calm. "I mean, would you mind telling us where she went?"
"It seemed to me that she was headed towards Jive Park." He replied, casting his eyes to the side as if he was extremely bored.
I looked at Kip, who gave a quick nod to tell me he knew where that was. "All right, thanks!" I called to him, running after Kip. Probably not very princess-like, but I didn't care at that moment.
As we made our way to the nearby park, I whipped my head back and forth to make sure I didn't miss Isabel on the way. I slowed my steps as we reached the center of the rose garden, my heels clacking against the cobblestone. I leaned forward to catch my breath, massaging a stitch in my side.
"I don't think she's here..." Kip said with a sigh, his head drooping.
"Excuse me, but aren't you Princess Elizabeth?"
I lifted my head at the voice, and turned to see Prince Klaus standing a few feet behind me. "It appears like you're looking for someone."
"Oh, Prince Klaus! Hello," I replied, giving a small curtsy. "Actually, yes, I am." I launched into a quick tale of what happened with Isabel. "And, you see, I need to tiara to give my speech that's just in an hour!"
Klaus' eyebrows crinkled in concern. "Why, that's terrible! Shall I help you look?"
I smiled, genuinely surprised and happy. "Oh, would you? That would be fantastic! Are you sure you don't mind?"
Klaus' green eyes shone with kindness as he smiled. "Not at all. I actually know your kingdom pretty well, so I should be able to help you look swiftly."
I smiled and nodded at him as way of thanks. Wow, that's lucky...but sort of weird...oh, well.
"Let's go back to Samba Square. We'll comb the area, then head to the coast if we are still unsuccessful."
We walked along quickly, making small talk along the way. As popular as Klaus seemed to be, he was surprisingly easy to talk to, and really nice.
Klaus slowed his steps near the produce stands. "Hello, Prince Liam!" he called out. I saw the green-haired prince admiring some flowers in front of one of the carts, holding a shopping bag.
He stood up and smiled at us. "Oh. Princess Elizabeth, Prince Klaus. Good afternoon to you both."
"Good afternoon, Prince Liam," I replied, bowing my head slightly. "We actually have a bit of a problem. Have you seen a young woman with pink hair?" I explained to him what had happened.
Liam frowned. "I'm sorry, I haven't seen her...I've just come to the market to pick up some things for dinner. Onions, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots..." he stopped looking through his bag and frowned. "Hey, wait a second. The carrots are missing!"
Klaus knit his eyebrows in confusion. "First the tiara, now the carrots? What a day this has been! Where could they be?"
"Your carrots are missing? When did you last see them?" I looked around, then stopped when I heard a suspicious crunching noise. "Wait a minute...Kip, isn't that a carrot you're eating?!"
Liam turned to look at Kip, whom we caught red-handed with a carrot in his tiny paws, mid-way through another bite. Kip lowered the carrot and looked distressed, waving his head back and forth. "I-I'm sorry! I found them on the ground over there! I was so hungry, we've been running around. I didn't know they were yours..."
I immediately felt bad for scolding him, my face softening.
Liam smiled, his entire face softening in an instant. "Oh, that's quite all right. You go ahead and keep the rest. Enjoy!"
"Thanks, Liam." I said with a smile.
Kip's face lit up with surprise. "Oh...thank you!" He took another happy chomp.
Looking between Liam and me, Klaus said suddenly in an irritated voice, "Elizabeth, we don't have time for this!"
His tone surprised me, and I looked at him in confusion.
Kip snapped out of his hungry stupor. "Oh, he's right, Princess, we must find Isabel!"
With Klaus and Kip pushing me along, I hurriedly said goodbye to Liam. "Thanks for the food!" Kip called as we raced off.
"Let's go check out the beach!" Klaus said in a rush, seeming even more eager to find the tiara than I was. I quickened my pace. Hopefully if we find the tiara it will take care of how sweaty and icky I'm getting, I thought. Casting a glance at Klaus, he turned to me and smiled, his green eyes crinkling. It's really nice of him to help me like this. I smiled back.
When we reached the dark wood stained docks that overlooked the pure, sandy beaches and the gently lapping waves of the ocean, I took in a breath. It's so beautiful. This has to be the most beautiful beach I've ever seen in my entire life! Better not act surprised, though, I noted, After all, I am supposed to have been living here my entire life.
Klaus squared his shoulders, lifting a hand to shield his eyes from the sun and scan the coast. There were several people on the docks as well as on the sand, but no one with pink hair. I sighed. Isabel...where did you get to? I wondered in frustration.
I turned my head to look at all of the different shops and restaurants that lined the long boardwalk. Maybe she was in one of those places? My heart skipped a beat when someone exited one of the smaller buildings, which appeared to be a café. Cesar! I thought, and couldn't decide if the butterflies that exploded in my stomach were pleased or panicked. A little of both, perhaps.
Lifting his head, our eyes met, and to my surprise and, dare I admit it, sheer delight, his face lit up with a smile. "Why, good afternoon, Elizabeth. What a pleasant surprise this is!" He offered a small bow.
"Good day, Prince Cesar," I greeted him with what I hoped was a graceful curtsy.
"I don't see her anywhere, Elizabeth." Klaus said, reappearing at my side.
Cesar turned his gaze to Klaus and his smile instantly faded. "Hello, Klaus," he said stiffly, his eyes no longer friendly. "What are you two up to?"
Whoa, I thought, What's with the change of attitude? I glanced at Klaus, who seemed every bit as agitated as Cesar. "Hello, Cesar. Elizabeth and I are looking for someone," he replied curtly.
"Oh?" Cesar seemed interested, but still on guard.
What the heck? Do these guys not like each other or something? Seeing Cesar's curious look, I quickly filled him in. "Yes, I need to find a girl, about twenty or so, with long, dark pink hair? Her name is Isabel."
I don't know if it was something I said or did, but Cesar's face suddenly softened, just a little. I felt a pang of something. Is he thinking of Isabel? Does he know her? Did her name create this change in attitude?
"Is something wrong? You seem desperate to find her." Cesar said gently, placing a hand to my shoulder.
My heart sped up. Oh. Oh! He wasn't thinking of Isabel...he was worried about me!
I opened my mouth to tell him everything that happened this morning, when Klaus suddenly said, with that hard edge still present in his tone, "Yes. Isabel has something that Elizabeth needs. She walked off with it."
Cesar knit his brow, and to my disappointment, took a step back from me. "She stole it?" He asked, and I wasn't sure if the harsh undertone was due to Klaus basically inserting himself in front of me, or the information he'd given.
"No!" I said hurriedly, giving Klaus an irritated look. What was up with him, anyway?"We crashed into each other earlier at the market and our things got mixed up. The royal tiara was in a case in my purse, and I think she picked it up by mistake when it fell. I have to give a speech in..." I trailed off.
"About half an hour," Kip said crisply, startling me. I had almost forgotten that he was with us.
"Yeah," I said, dropping my eyes. "My mother specifically instructed me to wear it, and if I show up without it, I'll be in big trouble."
Cesar put a hand to his chin thoughtfully. "I think I saw someone who matches your description."
"You think?" Klaus snapped, narrowing his green eyes. I gave him an incredulous look. What was wrong with these two?
Cesar set his jaw. "There was a young woman with long pink hair headed towards Viennese Waltz Lake not ten minutes ago. Do you want me to-"
"You hear that? It must be Isabel. Let's go, Elizabeth." Klaus interrupted, then turned on his heel and headed down the dock. I looked at him, then turned back to Cesar. "Um, sorry about that, Cesar. I guess he's more in a rush than I am. Thanks so much for your help, Cesar."
He looked at Klaus' retreating figure, then again at me. "Good luck." He said, not completely without a smile but lacking his usual warmth.
"Thank you!" I called as Kip and I took off after Klaus.
"Yes, thank you!" Kip added.
As Klaus, Kip and I raced towards the Lake, I thought back to the encounter I had just witnessed. I don't get it, why were two usually polite princes so rude and cold towards each other? And I didn't get the chance to ask Cesar if he would be my partner... I tried not to think about it as we approached the grassy clearing that banked the crystal blue waters of the lake. This kingdom sure is gorgeous, I thought.
"Oi! Prince Luciano!" Klaus called out to the tall, dark-haired young man who stood staring out at the glassy body of water.
Luciano turned, his amber eyes locking with mine for one brief moment. "Yes?" he asked, seeming bored. "What brings you to the ocean shore, Prince Klaus?"
He still hadn't acknowledged me yet, even though I know he had seen me. How rude, I huffed.
"The ocean?" Klaus asked me, under his breath so only I would hear, "What's with that? Doesn't he know this is just a lake?"
I shook my head, trying to shush him. If he was anything like Lucas, pointing out his mistakes would just make him mad, and then he wouldn't ever help us, even if he could have. "Oh, you're right, Prince Luciano," I told him, putting on a cheerful air, "the ocean is so beautiful!"
Luciano seemed surprised that I spoke. He took me in with his eyes as if he really was seeing me for the first time. "You're...Princess Elizabeth, right? Yeah!" he added with a cheerful nod, "The ocean is really great! You're so lucky to have such a beautiful ocean right by your castle. I'm from an ocean side kingdom myself. But," he began, furrowing his brow as if something was troubling him, "This ocean is strangely calm...almost like a lake, in fact..."
I tried to hold back my laughter. This Prince was sort of cute!
"Is this guy for real?" Klaus muttered under his breath.
I smiled. "Well, Prince Luciano, we hate to disturb your, er, enjoying the ocean view, but have you seen a young woman with long pink hair anywhere around here? It's really important that we find her." I added.
"Hm..." he began thoughtfully, his eyes starting to space out.
"Have you or not?" Klaus broke in, impatient.
Luciano snapped his fingers. "I did."
"Really? Where? When?" I asked, feeling desperate. We just had to find her, soon!
"Well, it was a few minutes before you guys got here. I'm not sure what she was up to, but I think she said she needed to go to Practice Hall."
I grinned. "Thanks for your help, Prince Luciano. Prince Klaus!" I nodded towards my companion, "To Practice Hall!"
As we raced to the square and up the cobblestone path, Kip said, out of breath, "I do hope she's there! We're running out of time!
Please may she be there! And please may she have my tiara! I prayed silently.
The three of us when we reached the door exchanged glances before Klaus roughly turned the knob and flung the door open.
Standing in the entranceway were Tony the talking rabbit and Isabel. They had seemed to be engaged in an animated conversation, but stopped and stared at our abrupt entrance.
"Oh, Isabel! Thank goodness!" I cried out.
Isabel looked at me carefully, as if she was nervous.
Tony turned to me. "Ah, Princess Elizabeth. Isabel seemed to have found herself in a dilemma. She was trying to find you to return this, which she took by mistake earlier." He lifted his palm, which balanced the floral case that held the Royal Tiara.
"Oh, thank you!" I exclaimed, coming forward and taking it from his paw. "I'm so glad we found each other before my speech, Isabel!" Seeing Isabel's face, which instead of looking pleasant or even somewhat happy, looked uncomfortable. "Um," I began, looking at Klaus and Kip, then Tony, "Could you give us a minute?"
Tony bowed his head slightly. "Of course, your highness." He left, retreating down a long hall.
Kip adjusted his glasses. "The Prince and I will wait for you outside."
Once the door clicked shut, Isabel looked at me and said quickly, "I didn't steal it, I promise! I didn't pick it up on purpose, I thought it was mine! I was just-" she looked down at her feet. "I was trying to find you. When I realized that I had it, I backtracked to where we had bumped into each other, but I couldn't find you anywhere."
"I was looking for you too," I said with a laugh, "And of course you didn't steal it. I didn't think that for a minute!"
"Really?" Isabel asked carefully, looking almost as if she didn't trust me. Maybe she and the Princess didn't get along, but she seemed nice enough to me.
"Of course!" I smiled at her. "I really appreciate you taking the time to track me down. My parents would've gotten really mad if I hadn't worn it this afternoon." I held up the case. "I'm really sorry about the necklace thing earlier. Can't we be friends?"
"...Friends?" Isabel took a deep breath. "It's just that–people are always blaming me for things, because I'm from a poor family...it's hard for me to make friends. Besides, I thought you didn't like me. You've never been all that nice to me before. I guess I just don't really know."
I opened my mouth to protest, but before I could she pushed past me and ran out the door. I saw Klaus and Kip stare after her through the open doors.
"Well," Klaus said to me as I approached him, deciding not to comment on Isabel, "At least you got the tiara back." I nodded, still a bit upset by Isabel's behavior. Sorry the real princess isn't very nice, I mentally apologized to no one in particular.
"And with no time to spare!" Kip said, waving his wand. "We must hurry!"
As we returned to the square, Klaus asked, "So, Princess, what's so special about this tiara, anyway? Just sentimental value, or-?"
I grinned, looking at him out of the corner of my eye. "No, but it does have magical powers." I teased.
He raised an eyebrow, intrigued. "Really? Like what?"
I winked. "You can fly!" I don't really feel like sharing all of my secrets with Klaus, I decided, not really sure why I didn't feel completely comfortable.
Klaus laughed, deep and robust sounding. "You're such a kidder. Well, Princess, this is where I take my leave. You had better get ready for your speech."
I smiled and curtsied. "Thanks for everything."
He gave a little bow, and then left.
"Princess?" Kip, at my elbow, spoke up. "Here is your speech. You still have about ten minutes. You can get changed, then look over your speech, and add your own life to it."
I nodded, trying to calm my nerves. "Okay."
I headed into the tent set up for the royal family, located behind the wooden outdoor stage that was set up. Looking around the lavish interior of the tent, I realized I was alone, and so I pulled out the tiara and placed it on top of my disheveled hair. I felt the magic, like a slight spark at first, take over my body from head to toe, until I was dressed in the pink ball gown from the other night, my green flats now suddenly matching pink heels. I looked in the mirror of the vanity in the center of the tent. "Ah, thank goodness for magic tiaras. I was so sweaty before. Now I'm good as new." I lifted a brush from the dressing table and ran it through my now-smooth and glossy hair. I quickly fixed my make-up before I lifted the small cream papers Kip had thrust in my hands before. The speech wasn't too long; it basically was just meant for me to re-assert my father's welcoming of the Traveling Market and a review of the events that were to come for the following month, ending in the Grand Ball. I took a deep breath. You can do this. You can do this. It's not like you'll know anyone here, anyway. Then I had a terrifying thought. What if the princes were in the crowd? Liam? Klaus? Cesar? I bit my lip. I needed to find a partner, and I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of the future monarchs of the surrounding kingdoms! Especially since most of them were so cute, and nice...I sighed, and looked my reflection straight in the eye. "No. You can and you will do this. No turning back. It'll be fine."
I took a shaky breath, trying to calm down my pounding heart as I returned to the Royal tent almost an hour later. The ceremony was over, and I actually think I did a pretty good job at my speech. My "father," the King, had beamed at me when I was finished, and the crowd seemed pleased with what I had said. Now, according to Kip, I just had to do a short meet and greet before heading back to the palace for a brief rest and then other princess lessons. I sighed. This day seemed so long already, I couldn't wait for it to be over.
I looked in the mirror to make sure everything was in check and brushed my hair one last time before again exiting the tent. I hope people won't ask too many questions, I thought, I don't want to get in over my head. I'm still new at this whole princess thing.
I walked towards the throng of people, wringing my hands but trying to remain calm.
"Princess!" I turned at the voice. It was Liam, his green eyes gentle with a smile. "You did an excellent job. I look forward especially to the Flower Expo."
"Thank you, Prince Liam. I am sure it will be wonderful. I love looking at all of the flowers!"
Suddenly, someone called Liam's name in the distance. He gave me an apologetic smile. "I suppose I must run. Take care, Princess!"
"Good day, Prince Liam!" I walked on, smiling and chatting with those who stopped me. Luckily, I didn't, get asked anything that made me fumble, at least not too much. Finally, the crowd had thinned a little bit, when I saw someone in the center of the throng, who lifted a hand in greeting. Cesar! I thought, biting my lip. His lips spread into a grin, and I couldn't help but feel a pang as I noticed, for the second time that day, how handsome he looked in the white button-down shirt that he wore. As I began to make my way over to him, someone blocked him from my view. My heart stopped.
A young woman, about my age, I supposed, had appeared out of the crowd, her red-gold hair trailing halfway down the back of her blue silk dress. I noticed Cesar's eyes widen slightly as she said something, then he appeared to laugh. She laughed too, a bit exaggeratedly, I thought bitterly, as she placed a hand on his forearm.
I'd seen enough. I turned on my heel, and began to walk as quickly as possible away from the pair. I wonder who she was? She was really pretty. Not that it matters. I argued with my own subconscious stubbornly. What would he see in a pretty, tall, young lady with beautiful hair and perfect features? I didn't know what was happening between them, but I tried not to care. Maybe they were old friends? Maybe she was just a girl from the village, flirting with a handsome young prince? I felt my eyes sting with hot tears. I refuse to cry. Princesses do not cry in public, especially over guys they barely know.
"Princess Elizabeth? Are you all right?"
I looked to my right to see Prince Klaus had appeared out of nowhere, and was peering at my face in concern. "Did something happen?" he asked softly, placing a hand to my elbow.
"Oh, Prince Klaus," I said quickly, "It's nothing, I'm–I'm just a little tired." I cast a glance back at Cesar. My heart missed a beat when I realized he was looking at me too, but he quickly looked away when our eyes met.
"Oh. Well, you gave a wonderful speech." He said with a smile.
I forced a small smile. "Thank you. Actually, if you don't mind, I think I will, um, return to the castle. I have a lot more duties to tend to for the day."
"Oh." He seemed surprised by my abrupt choice, but immediately recovered. "Certainly, your highness. I hope the rest of your day is lovely." He gave a little bow.
I nodded with a tiny smile and walked away quickly, trying to calm my racing thoughts. I just needed to rest. I just needed to think. I guess I wasn't going to get to ask Cesar to be my partner now...would it have even made any difference? I felt one lone tear trickle down my face, and quickly wiped it. "Princesses don't cry in public," I repeated to myself as I made the journey back to the palace.
To be continued...