Chapter 1

The Girl in the Blue Hood

Chapter 1

It is a beautiful spring morning on the eve of my 16th birthday and I’m lothed to spend it inside doing lessons, I’ve spent the last hour staring out the window that looks from our classroom onto the gardens. It’s quite a view, in the foreground we have the palace gardens. An epic maze of well groomed hedges and flower beds, there is even a small grove of fruit trees at the center. Then past the gardens is a wide expanse of green farm fields in every shade you can imagine and just beyond that you get to the edge of the city. With street upon street of shops and taverns, schools and whore houses. Every shade of human experience you can think of can be had in the Capital.

I’m so deep in thought about the possible adventures to be had I haven’t been paying any attention to the insistent drone from our instructor but to be honest that isn’t anything new for me. You would think as a princess I would have some control of the decisions made about what I do and when, and true I have more control than my cousin Lynet, but that’s mostly because I take every opportunity I can to buck the system. All of a sudden a loud bang gets my attention, my head snaps in the direction of the crack and all I see is Mrs. Tibil our mathematics teacher glaring holes into my skull with her hands gripping her hips as if they would enjoy nothing better than to spring from their rather wide perch and wring my neck.

"I’m so glad to have your attention again your highness." Her voice practically drips with sarcasm. She bends over and picks up the textbook she dropped. "Now do you have an answer for me?" I’m at a total loss, I have no idea whatsoever what the question was, so I just give her my tried and true disinterested shrug. She lets out an exasperated sigh. I’m saved from her inevitable lecture on how important mathematics is to running a kingdom by my cousin Lynet who raises her hand, and before she is even called on she blurts out the answer. "56." "Correct, nicely done Lynet, why don’t you go over the last few equations with Morac while I go and get her a new study guide seeing as she has failed to bring hers with her."

As Tibil opens the door and leaves to walk down the hall to the storage room I can see a member of the Blue Guard standing outside our classroom door. No doubt a precaution taken by my father the High King after my last escape a week ago during our etiquette lesson. Guess that rules the door out as an option. I’m estimating I have a minute maybe two before she is back and my window for escape is shut. Window! My attention turns back to the window, but this time instead of looking at the view I’m looking at the old lock that holds it shut. I could pick it if I just had the right tools. I look back over to Lynet, who has gone back to her own work without even bothering to try going over the equations with me, and find exactly what I’m looking for holding a few strands of wispy blond hair out of her face. I lean over to her and swipe the hairpin.

"Hey!!!" Lynet looks up from her own work and rolls her eyes at me when she sees me starting to fiddle with the lock. "Where are you off to now?"

I hear the lock click and put all my weight behind lifting it up enough to slip through. After a frozen moment of tension it gives and I haul myself up onto the sill. I stop midway through my escape and turn to look back at my dear cousin. "Surly anywhere is better than here on a day like today. Come with me. Do the wrong thing for once in your life."

Lynet is shocked at the idea. "I don’t think so. At least one of us should act like a Lady and not be a disappointment to our fathers."

I shrug and toss the hairpin back to her. "Suit yourself but I’m not spending the day before our birthday locked away in this stuffy palace when I know there will be no escape from it after tomorrow." I move so my legs are hanging out of the window and I’m sitting perched on the sill, I risk one last look over my shoulder."last chance cuz?" Lynet turns her back to me and her attention back to the lessons on the table in front of her.

Without another word I slip off the sill and out of the window to the garden below, landing in a soft hege. I crouch down among the leaves and hide to make sure none of the gardeners heard the fall and are coming to investigate, and to take the time to review my options. Having played in the maze garden since practically before I could walk I could navigate it in my sleep and i knew from my current location that I have two options. I could travel back through the maze to its beginning and to the door that leads to the ground floor of the palace, but that would leave me exposed to being spotted by anyone looking out of the windows on this side of the building. Something Tibil is sure to do when she discovers I’ve disappeared, and the guard confirmed that I didn’t come out through the door. Thinking of the guardsman outside the door I feel sorry for him, he no doubt will be reprimanded for letting me get away again, something from his post outside the room he was in no position to prevent. While the Blue Guard are the official protection force for the royal family, being ordered to babysit is really beneath them. But there is nothing I can do about it now so I turn my attention to the old apple tree on the other side of the garden my only other option for escape. It takes me the better part of 20 minutes to travel along the old stone wall hidden by the tall exterior hedges of the maze to the base of the massive fruit tree. It’s been growing for decades, some even say it’s been there since before the keep was built. it’s so tall that the branches easily clear and hang over the other side of the 25 foot wall.

I make quick work of climbing the tree branch by branch and when I’m high enough to slip over the top of the wall I take a moment to look around. I can see my cousin through the window from which I made my escape, still hard at work with whatever useless lesson Tibil had given us today. I say useless not because I don’t like mathematics and think it’s not a required skill, because I do, they are useless because Tibel’s lessons teach me nothing I don’t already know. From a very early age I remember my father telling me that knowledge is power, and as a 6 year old I could find no other place in my small world of the palace so full of knowledge than the library. Since I was old enough to read I’ve spent every free minute I had, that I couldn’t spend outside on an adventure, in the palace library. I’ve read every book in there at least twice, including all of the mathematics texts. (Come to think of it there are probably a few things about math that I could teach Tibil.) That thought makes me laugh till I see Tibil stick her head out of the window and I instinctively duck behind a branch. In the thick foliage of the tree and in my dark clothes I’m perfectly camouflaged standing on the wall. I watch as she scans the garden below searching for any sign of me. Frustrated she resorts to yelling, "Morac Dovana!!!! I will be reporting this to your father the King!!" And with that she slams the window shut.

It’s still fairly early in the day and most of the staff ( father ingrained it into me at a young age that while they may serve us they are not servants, they earn an honest wage working in the palace and are to be treated with respect) would still be at their morning chores. After thinking about it for a few minutes I decided to head for the kitchens. Mrs. Plum, the head cook, is fond of me and would probably furnish me with a parcel of food to take with me on today’s adventure. With one last look around from my perch on top of the wall to make sure no one is coming I slip down the overhanging branches on the far side of the wall and head for the service entrance to the kitchens where deliveries from the city are brought into the palace.

I’m surprised to see a stream of merchants coming and going when I get to the courtyard outside the kitchens and then I remember about tomorrow. It will be my and Lynet’s 16th birthday and there is a huge party being prepared, of course Mrs. Plum would have ordered a bunch of extra food. I slip in through the door between the Miller, pushing a cart with a huge load of flower, and the dairyman with casks of fresh milk tucked under each of his arms. And with all the stealth that years of sneaking down to pinch sweets off of Mrs. Plums cooling rack have taught me, I duck into one of the storerooms just off the kitchen to watch the comings and goings.

Besides the miller and the dairyman there were 3 different butchers from town each hauling slabs of different meat, 2 bakers carrying trays of breads and pastries, and the brewmaster from the local public house and a few of his men bringing in more barrels of beer and mead than I can count. All the while there is Mrs. Plum, with her usual giant spoon in her hand, at the epicenter of the action directing the entire thing with gruff orders and all out yelling. It was quite a sight. And every now and then some of the kitchen girls would come into my storeroom to fetch this or that and I would quickly hold up a finger to my lips silently pleading with each of them not to tell that I was there. They would smile, nod and continue on with their work never revealing my presence.

Most of an hour passes before the activity starts to slow and Mrs. Plums outbursts become fewer and farther between, even then I decided to wait a few more min before heading into the kitchen proper. I have learned the hard way that Mrs. Plum does not always take kindly to intrusions into her domain while she is working, and I’ve been on the receiving end of that giant wooden spoon on more than one occasion. Something I wasn’t eager to experience again so I decided to give her a few min to regain her normal composure before making my presence known and asking for anything.

"You might as well come on out here little one."

My shoulders slump a little bit, apparently my entrance hadn’t been as stealthy as I thought. I slowly make my way out of the storeroom to the main kitchen area to find Mrs. Plum looking at me over a huge pile of some kind of dough.

"How did you know I was here?"

Mrs.Plum smiles, "I saw the top of your head bob by behind the pile of flower that the miller brought in. You’re not as little as you use to be. That and every time one of my girls came out of that storeroom they would be grinning ear to ear and on the verge of giggles. It didn’t take a high inquisitor to figure out someone was hiding in there and the fact that the girls didn’t tell me who it was meant it had to be you or your cousin. And since ​she​ is a proper young lady and would never do such a thing as spy on me in my own kitchen I knew it wasn’t her. That left only you."

I laugh, " You should have been an inquisitor, your powers of deduction are wasted in a kitchen."

Now it’s Mrs. Plums turn to laugh, "Flattery will get you no where young one, and besides if I were an inquisitor who would make sure you and your father eat, your both skinny as a willow and not from lack of trying on my part I tell you. Now what do you want? and be quick about it I’ve got work to do."

I work as hard as I can to remember every pleasantry I have ever learned and form them all into a request knowing it would take all the charm I have to talk Mrs. Plum out of anything in her current state. I straighten up, pull my shoulders back and look Mrs. Plum square in the eye. "As you know, by evidence of all you festivious planning and preparations, tomorrow is my and Lynet’s birthday. I know I will be stuck inside all day tomorrow and I was hoping to take one last adventure around the city today, before I am forced to wear the heavy social shackles of a young lady of the court. And I was wondering if you could find it in your most gracious heart to spare the smallest of morsels that I might be able to take with me on this last joyous treck through the city?"

Mrs. Plum starts laughing so hard she has to sit down on her stool. After she regains some amount of composure she turned a bright smile to me. "Oh I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. It’s hard to believe those sweet words just came out of your mouth, you the little rascal that ended up on the wrong side of my spoon more than once for the foul language that has come out of your mouth down here in my kitchens. It’s good to see those etiquette lessons are doing some good.When you decide to attend that is."

I roll up the sleeves of my shirt and start kneading the dough Mrs. Plum has left abandoned in her laughing fit. "Not really, Father said if I didn’t clean up my mouth for the party he would borrow your spoon and show me the proper way to use it. Now I’m not saying you don’t intimidate me when you wield it but I would not like to see it in the hands of my father."

Mrs. Plum returns to her kneading, "Nor would I little one. Tell you what, there is a tray of cheese, bread, and fruit over on the table by the stairs. I was going to have one of my girls take that up to your father after a bit since he didn’t eat any of his breakfast but since you are here why don’t you take it up there. If it comes from you he might actually eat. And when you get back I will have a small snack and lunch packed up for you. Deal?"

I give her a big grin and clap my floury hands together sending a cloud of the white powder into the air. "Deal!"

Mrs. Plum coughs some of the flour out of her lungs. "And clean up first, I won’t be blamed for you tracking flour all over the house."

After a quick wash of my hands I pick up the tray of food and head upstairs. Its a long climb through the castle up to the north tower where my father, the current High King, keeps his personal study. There are indentations worn into the stone stairs from centuries of foot traffic up and down. No one knows how old the castle really is but it is said that parts of it date all the way back to Quintos Dovana.The founder of our bloodline and the first High King. By the time I make it to the landing outside fathers study I’m breathing a little hard, I take a moment to catch my breath and then knock on the heavy iron banded wooden door.

"Who is it?"

I clear my throat before answering. "Its me father."

"Come in."

I lift the latch, push the large door open and step inside. I find my father sitting at his desk looking at dozens of pieces of paper strewn about his desktop, he doesn’t even look up as he starts to talk to me. "Shouldn’t you be at your lessons?"

It’s hard to see how Mrs. Plum could call him skinny, Drumos Dovana is a bear of a man with long, wavy, dark brown hair pulled tightly to the back of his head to keep it out of his face. It is easy however to see why his enemies found him so imposing on the battlefield with his great big arms and broad shoulders. He is dressed in his official blue and white tunic of our house, and has his gold circlet resting on top of his head. No doubt he has a day of listening to petitions from the public in the great hall to look forward to today. It is one of the few times he goes to the trouble of getting dressed up and flying the colors as it were. We haven’t seen each other in a little over two weeks, he had been out on patrol with the Blue Guard in the lowlands south of the capital searching for a group of bandits that had been raiding merchants on their way to the capital market, and he just arrived back home late last night. I had been hoping what with his extended absence and all that he would have forgotten what my schedule for the day should have been but I of all people should have known better. My father has one of the best memories, he only had to hear something once to be able to instantly recall it. As evidenced by his tendency to quote my own words back to me from my childhood.

I move over to the corner behind his desk and sets the tray of food down on the one little table I can find that isn’t strewn with papers, then I walk around to stand in front of the desk between the two cushy chairs that are set facing it.

"Yes sir."

"They why aren’t you?" He finally lifts his head up to look me in the eye. The trait I love most about my father are his icy blue eyes, my eyes. I inherited the slight build and auburn hair from my mother but the eyes, the eyes were all his. I try not to squirm under his steely blue gaze but it’s not easy.

"Well sir. I wanted to have one last adventure before tomorrow. I know that after my birthday you will expect me to a proper young lady of the court, and for you father I will be, but I’m going to hate absolutely every moment of it. I know I will no longer be allowed to go out on my adventures into the city and I just couldn’t bare to spend my last day of freedom cooped up inside doing lessons. I wanted one more day of fun memories before my forced incarceration in lace and corsets."

He lets out a big sigh and stands up to walk around the desk and lean against the edge of it so that our eyes are level with each others. With me still standing in front of him he is within arms reach, but he makes no move to close the distance between us. We have never been a touchy feely kind of family. "Is it really going to be all that bad?"

I break the eye contact and flop down in one of the soft chairs in front of his desk. "Have you ever tried to wear a corset?"

"I can’t say that I have."

"Well then you have no idea. It just isn’t fair father. If I had been born a boy I would have been long gone, going on a year now, getting my education in and from the world. You and uncle Raymon got to go, and your father and his father before that all the way back as far as the records in the library go. You got to go learn about people and places by going there and meeting them. But by an unfortunate turn of the coin of fate I was born a girl, and instead of travel and adventure I get corsets and boring parties with boring people all sizing me up like a prize piece of meat hoping to convince you to let one of their sons marry me. Which by the way, will never happen if I have anything to say about it, I will never be the property of some man being viewed as anything less than his equal in every respect. So in all actuality the parties will be a monumental waste of time and money."

"Please tell me how you really feel."

"Sorry father. I guess that little rant has been building up over the last few months, but it’s not like we have had all that much time to talk of late."

"I know and that is my fault. I know you’re unhappy with the situation so please tell me, what is it you want? What will make you happy?"

"I’ll stay and be happy about staying if you let me train to be a knight like you. I want to be able to protect the family like you have all these years. In the early days of this kingdom women had just as much right to protect their families as men did."

It’s an old argument between the two of us but I know I have to try at least one more time to get father to change his mind.The King sits down in the other chair and takes one of my hands in his.

"Morac we talked about this. I woman can not be a knight, it just isn’t proper. Not in this day in age. Now I have gotten away with a lot socially, while raising you. Mostly because I was a King and no one could really tell me not to, but I would loose all kinds of support if you started openly training and became a squire for the other knights at court. I know you have the skill but you would never be taken seriously. And if you are going to rule this kingdom some day you can not afford to be thought of as a joke."

"Well what is it you always say? If you didn’t want to hear the truth you shouldn’t have asked the question. You know it’s the only thing I have ever wanted, and it was cruel of you to teach me how to hunt and fish and all the other skills you let me learn knowing full well I’ll never get the opportunity to use them."

I pull my hand out of his, jump to my feet, and head for the door. Trying as hard as I can to hide the tears that are threatening to fall from my eyes, I open the study door and then turn back to my father. I am bound and determined not to let him see me cry.

"There is a tray of food there by your desk. Mrs. Plum says to eat it, that you are too skinny. You can choke on it for all I care."

And with that I sprint back down the stairs to the kitchen after slamming the study door behind me. I’m already regretting my last comment but it is too late to take it back now. I grab the bundle of food that Mrs. Plum has made and set out for me off the kitchen table, and without stopping to talk to anyone break into a flat out run towards the center of the city as the first hot tears roll down my cheeks.

Next Chapter: Chapter 3?