Better late than never? Chapter two is now up and ready. At the top of the page, click on the ACROSS JASPEN BAY tab, which will take you to both Chapter one and two of my debut novel.
I’m really excited to share this world and these amazing characters with you. My current Work In Progress isn’t really a prequel, but does include two of the characters already introduced in AJB, set two years before the events of this novel.
“Here you go, Princess. Copy these words onto your page and try to match the script. You can trace mine first if you need help.” The youngest princess and her tutor sat at a wrought iron table in the south garden of Elora Castle. Malcolm had laid some pages out, ready to begin their daily lesson. “Each one of the words is a town in Valedonia. Think back to our history lecture the other day. What do you know about the names of all the towns?”
Though he may have been ready, she was clearly not. She knelt on her chair and gazed out over the low stone wall beside them. Malcolm followed the little princess’s gaze towards the harbour beyond. The clear sky revealed only a wisp of a cloud in the distance, the sun reflected off the tiny waves like crystals. Rain would elude them once again. If it weren’t for the humidity, everything would be dust.
The princess’s dog, Mosley, her constant companion, had curled up by the foot of her chair for a morning nap. With his long black fur over his medium-build frame, he must have been hot. But there was no way he’d venture far, so used the Princess’s shadow for shade.
Malcolm stood and absentmindedly peered over the wall at the shear drop that faced east over Breslau Harbour. Never enthralled by heights, he rarely acknowledged the altitude of the castle. Why did he bother to look now? His vision blurred in waves at the sights below. Enormous platforms had been carved out of the cliff in staggered terraces, with granite stairs connecting each. The bustling village of Port Breslau lay below them, well beyond the lowest level, with tiny specks of movement like ants. It may have been the height, but as his eyes settled on the greenhouse; the one that housed many of the imported fruits only a single level from he stood, his stomach churned. It reminded him he’d skipped breakfast. After script writing they would stop for a grapefruit on their way to the stables.
Returning to his student, he peered down at the princess’s blank pages. She still gazed out into the harbour. Her attention wasn’t on the village, however. It didn’t seem to be on anything at all. Why on earth hadn’t she started her script? He supposed it was their last day before holiday from her studies. Really, he should have anticipated there wouldn’t be much focus from her, but they had a full day of lessons and he was expected to make the most of it.
He tapped the parchment. “Your Highness. Let’s get going, please. I asked you a question.”
The Princess sighed and barely looked his way. “When our ancestors traveled from the Old World, they named each town in honor of a matching town from across the Impassable Ocean.”
Malcolm nodded in approval, though the little girl’s lack of enthusiasm wasn’t missed. “Exactly. Glad to know you’re still paying attention. Now, let’s get started on the script, please.”
The tips of his fingers ran along the cool metal of the iron railing. Attached to the four-foot stone wall, it stretched an enormous semi-circle around the top platform of the palace grounds, from the escarpment on the east, around the south of the castle, ending just before the lane at the west.
The princess still hadn’t moved. “What are you thinking about, Vivie?” he asked.
“Going on a voyage with Gabe,” she replied. Her round chin rest on her hands neatly folded over the top of the wall. The chair she knelt on raised her enough to see over the flat grey stones. “One day he will take me, Malcolm. He promised.” A hopeful glance revealed the same crystal blue eyes as her brother, with the same dark circle around the iris.
Only ten years old, Vivie was so much younger than her siblings. Seven years spanned between her and Gabe, nine and ten and a half with Edward and Sephine. Though she was optimistic, and took every opportunity to tell Malcolm they would one day include her in their wild adventures, the truth was, they rarely gave her any notice.
“One day, Vivie, but don’t get your hopes up. You are still very young, and your brothers and sister would never want to put you in danger. The predicaments they get themselves into are no laughing matter. Now, please get started on that script writing.” Tapping the parchment again wasn’t going to make the words appear any faster, but it might direct her attention to the pages, so he tapped anyway.
Malcolm turned his back to the harbour and leaned against the railing. The sun bore through his dark shirt as he nodded at two of the palace guards that passed. It was supposed to be autumn for goodness sakes, yet a bead of sweat ran down his back.
The sound of the old castle doors creaking open startled him, though it shouldn’t have. The queen breezed through the south entrance with four ladies-in-waiting. In the corner of his vision, Vivie scrambled back to her script and managed to get some words on the page before her mother approached. The little princess should have known the queen would show up at any moment; she checked in on them all the time. Albeit sporadically, staying only a few moments, but she was determined to personally oversee that Vivie received proper training. Not that she didn’t have faith in Malcolm as a tutor, but the first three children she’d written off a near-failures in etiquette, Vivie was her self-proclaimed “last hope” of a proper princess and she was set on constant check-ins.
She walked the tiled path, past flower beds, trees, and a few grassy patches.
“Good morning, Your Highness,” he greeted with a bow.
“Good morning, Malcolm. How are you this hot day?” She fanned herself with her hand. One of her ladies-in-waiting immediately opened a parasol and held it over her head. There was something comforting about her Brisburian accent. It had been years since he’d last been in the country to the south, but every time the queen spoke, he smiled.
“Very well, Your Majesty, and yourself?”
Vivie quietly groaned and rolled her eyes at the cordial conversation between Malcolm and her mother. While the queen fussed with her dress, straightening out the folds, he shot the princess a warning glare and she sheepishly returned to her parchments. Why did she always test the rules? It was such a battle to maintain etiquette, but he couldn’t let the queen down.
Mosley, who Malcolm had barely noticed greet the queen with a filthy stick in his mouth, now found a new spot of shade to curl up under, the stick by his feet, one eye on Vivie. Queen Katarina had ignored him.
“I’m well, thank you,” she said. He stepped over to the chair across from Vivie, and brought it back for her to sit. “Oh, why thank you, Malcolm. Such a gentleman.” Queen Katarina gingerly perched on the edge of the chair.
Never comfortable with compliments no matter how slight, his eyes found their way to the ground, his cheeks hot. All he could do was bow with gratitude.
“If only my older children had even a fraction of your grace, they would be much more respectable royals,” she said, more to herself than anyone else. She made no attempt to conceal her distaste for her older children’s reckless behaviour, though the improperness of it made Malcolm more uncomfortable. The queen’s four ladies awkwardly shifted their weight. Obviously, they felt the same.
While all of the royal children had dark hair, fair skin and blue eyes, typical of noble Valedonian blood, the queen was so clearly Brisburian. Her round, close set eyes and hair were a sun-kissed brown, only a few shades darker than her skin, though she rarely spent much time outdoors. Such a familiar presence, he often attributed it to her charm.
“And how are you this morning, Genevieve?” the queen asked, turning to Vivie.
“I’m well, Mother. I was just working on script writing,” Vivie replied in her most proper voice, holding up her messy page.
“That’s wonderful, My Dear. Don’t forget to loop your capitals at the beginning. Proper penmanship is imperative.”
Vivie looked down at the parchment with a frown.
“Princess Genevieve is doing very well, Your Highness. She is ready to move up to the next levels when I return, and we are two months ahead of schedule,” Malcolm said, beaming.
“Oh that’s wonderful!” The queen clapped her gloved hands together in front of her face. She was a petite woman, quite small like Vivie and Sephine, which added to her illusion of youth. The first signs of aging, however, had started to creep in on the corners of her eyes. “You are doing so well with her, Malcolm, I don’t know how we ever survived before you.”
Malcolm blushed and looked at his boots.
“Well,” the queen continued, “King Reginald thought it might be a nice idea to have the family at Port Breslau when our guests arrive today. You will need to end your studies earlier than we had discussed so Genevieve will have time to get ready. I would have sent Angelique down to collect her shortly, but wanted to see what you were working on today.”
A hint of irritation was held in the queen’s voice at the mention of going to Port Breslau, though he was sure she’d tried to hide it behind the melodic tone. Breaking typical protocol was not uncommon for the king though, so Malcolm didn’t give it another thought and agreed they would finish up.
“Thank you, Malcolm… And if either of you happen to see Josephine, Edward or Gabriel, please let them know the carriages will be leaving in two hours. Their father expects them on time.” Her tone was more frustrated now. Vivie and Malcolm exchanged a glance.
“Of course, Your Highness, should we see them, we will be certain to let them know,” he replied. A graceful swoop and the queen, with all her layers, was on her feet and moving.
“Thank you. Now, if you will excuse me, I must find Mme. Hollaine to be sure the final preparations will be taken care of while we’re gone.” Malcolm nodded and bowed once more, a smile from her mispronunciation of the House Madame. From the top of his eyes, he watched the queen and her ladies breeze back across the garden and into the castle.
Typical of the queen to flit in and out like that.
Once the doors of the castle closed, Malcolm turned back to Vivie, who fidgeted with a loose thread on her dress. “I guess your sister and brothers didn’t make it home again last night.”
“I wonder what they were up to,” Vivie mused, turning back to gaze over the east wall. “Something amazing I would imagine.”
“You glamorize their antics, Vivie. In any other country, your siblings’ behaviour would not be tolerated. Your father does have unique values, and they are all so much like him in their own way, but other leaders don’t always see things the same way. Your mother knows this too. She has the best of intentions for all of you. She knows what is expected of royalty outside of Valedonia and she tries to make sure you and your siblings are prepared.” Malcolm brought the chair back to the table and sat down across from the princess.
“Sephine, Edward and Gabe travel all the time and they seem to get along just fine,” Vivie argued. “In fact, whatever these new trade negotiations with Brisbury are, it has been mostly Sephine’s doing. Father wasn’t even going to consider it if she hadn’t insisted. If she is so barbaric, as Mother likes to say she is, then how was she able to negotiate so well, and so soon after the exile has ended?”
“How do you know about Brisbury?” Malcolm asked.
“I hear things. Gabe doesn’t always find me to be a useless little pest. Occasionally he talks to me, and I pay attention.”
“Well, Vivie, you are a very smart young lady.” He gathered the parchments together into a pile. There was no way they were going to get script writing finished today now. “But I am sure the upbringing your mother has tried very hard to provide has played a large role in the success of the negotiations. Leaders wouldn’t speak with anyone that lacked etiquette. Our country has been isolated from the rest of the continent for a long time, they wouldn’t take kindly to ignorance. As much as your sister and brothers would like to deny it, I think they know it deep down.” At least he hoped they did. They had no idea what life was like beyond Valedonian borders. Not really. Valedonia had been banned from doing trade with just about everyone, by their powerful neighbor to the south after the Continental War, and years before any of the children were born. They grew up sheltered and safe. The ban had only been lifted when King Gorge died a couple of years ago. They were all clueless to the harsh realities of the world.
“Hmph.” Arms crossed over Vivie’s chest, bottom lip protruded out.
The sounds of thundering hooves below them, however, had her peering over the wall again. Back and forth between Malcolm and the lower platform, she didn’t seem to know where to focus. The excitement in her eyes and huge smile across her face was contagious.
Mosley was up on his hind feet. He could barely see over the wall, but his black fluffy tail wagged. It hit Malcolm’s leg with a hard thump on each swipe as the older siblings raced into the stable yard looking dirty, sweaty and tattered.
Flips and flutters danced through Malcolm’s stomach watching Sephine hand her horse off to the stable boy. The three siblings bounded up the zigzag steps to the south garden platform and flew past their younger sister at the table. Sephine’s red ruffled skirt floated behind her, clipped to the back of her bodice.
“Hi, Vivie,” said Edward as he hurried into the castle.
“Hey, Viv,” Gabe said with a pat on Vivie’s head. Mosley, who had met him with the stick in his mouth, nearly tripped him. Gabe grabbed the stick and played tug with it as he walked.
“Hello, Vivie,” came the softer voice of Sephine. As she too, passed and rushed through the garden doors, Malcolm couldn’t help but stare. The way she walked, her confident stride, her voice as she greeted Vivie… he took everything in. When the guards closed the doors of the castle, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Dirt, sweat, and a hint of Aberfoyle’s best ale; but he could still find her jasmine and lily scent.
He knew he must have had, what Vivie referred to as, his ‘dreamy look’, because he was interrupted by a fit of giggles.
“You are soooo in love with Sephine, Malcolm. Why don’t you just talk to her?” she said between laughs.
“I don’t know what you are talking about, Princess,” he retorted. “Besides, your sister doesn’t even know I exist.”
“Sure she does. You’re The Tutor!” The giggles were now clearly out of her control.
Sephine had never spoken directly to Malcolm, nor ever even seemed to acknowledge his existence. As an employee of the castle it was generally expected, but he still wished just once, she would notice him. She conversed with other palace workers after all… and he’d been noticing her for years.
“Oh, never mind. Let’s call it a day shall we? It’s time for you to get ready. Come on Mosley. You’ll need to get ready too.” Mosley gnawed on the stick Gabe had thrown before entering the castle, but looked at Malcolm enthusiastically. He jumped to his feet, leaving the stick in the grass under the tree.
Malcolm escorted Vivie and Mosley back into the castle. Met with a cool, dry breeze as they entered, he stopped momentarily at the door to bathe in the comfort.
“Another of Gabe’s amazing inventions,” Vivie beamed as they started down the corridor.
On almost a daily basis, Vivie would marvel to Malcolm at the things Gabe had invented. This one in particular, the cool, circulated air, was mentioned every time they stepped inside.
“There are vents you know, deep in the ground,” she said.
The ingenious system Gabe had devised to keep a steady temperature inside the castle was discussed many times, but he let the little princess tell him anyway. He had to admit, Gabe was quite brilliant. The air gave the entire castle much needed relief from the heat. It made the summer a little more bearable. In the winter, he would use the same vents to heat the castle. Each room still needed a fireplace, but the vents took the edge off.
After she finished, they walked through the castle in silence. The marble hallway clicked with each of Vivie’s dainty steps.
“Malcolm! We forgot to tell them about the carriages!”
“You are absolutely right, Princess. We will swing by their wing and tell them right now. That was excellent of you to remember.” Malcolm smiled at Vivie, though he was nervous at the prospect of another encounter with Sephine.
The two detoured around to the older siblings’ wing of the castle. Luckily, Vivie had preference to stop at Gabe’s room first. His knuckles rasped the solid door. They stood for a moment looking at each other. Malcolm shrugged his shoulders and was about to knock again when the door flung open. There stood Gabe, his trousers on but not done up, shirt in hand, and his black, wet hair still strewn across his head.
“Oh! Vivie. Sorry, come on in. Hey, Malcolm.” Gabe nodded at the tutor and fumbled with the button on his pants as he walked back into his room. “I was just going to have a quick nap before the King of Fandora arrives.”
How embarrassing, standing there in the hallway with Gabe in such state. Vivie had obviously seen him in disarray before; she didn’t seem fazed by his unfinished appearance.
“What’s new, little sis’?”
“Mother was looking for you earlier,” she said as she stepped inside his room. Malcolm remained in the doorway.
“She was? Oh. So I guess she knows we were out again last night then. What did you tell her?”
“Nothing. She just said that if I saw you, or Sephine and Edward, I should tell you that Father has decided we are all going to go into Port Breslau today to meet the ships.” Vivie folded her arms in a matter-of-fact manner, looking smug. Even from the doorway, Malcolm could tell she was proud to have information that Gabe didn’t.
“All of us?” Gabe looked at his sister with a furrowed brow before slipping a dark blue shirt over his head. “Why? That’s ridiculous.”
“I don’t know. That’s all she said. I don’t think she liked the idea, but she didn’t come out and say so,” Vivie replied. “So, where were you last night anyway? On a grand adventure? Exploring? Hunting fantastic creatures?”
“Sorry to disappoint you, Viv. Nothing exciting last night. We just lost track of time playing Tas in Aberfoyle,” Gabe said. On the end of his bed, he looked around mindlessly, then grabbed one of his boots and attempted to polish it.
“You know, we have people for that, Gabe,” Vivie said.
A proper princess in training. Malcolm smiled.
“I got it. I can’t stand people waiting on me,” Gabe replied, barely looking up. “I’ll tell Sephine and Edward about Port Breslau. You should probably go and get ready yourself. I have no exciting stories for you today, Viv, sorry. What time are the carriages leaving?”
“Two hours. A little less now,” Vivie said, arms dropped to her sides, her enthusiasm gone.
“Ohhhhh, that’s going to cut my nap pretty short.” Gabe groaned and looked at the ceiling.
Vivie turned and shuffled back to Malcolm just outside the door. His sympathetic hand met her shoulder and he gave it a comforting squeeze. One last hopeful turn to her brother, Gabe sent a half-hearted smile and picked up his other shoe. Malcolm closed the door and the two of them walked back down the corridor.
Once Vivie was in the hands of Angelique, her spunky little maid, Malcolm wished her a good holiday and excused himself. On his way out of the castle, he passed the hall leading back to the older children’s wing of the castle. He paused for a moment, catching the jasmine and lily aroma. A churning in his stomach twisted into knots. It was probably because he was hungry. Yes, that had to be it. He was going to stop by the greenhouse for a grapefruit. Perhaps it was the anticipation of his own adventure. His ship wasn’t leaving until much later, but with unexpected time on his hands now, it meant more time to fret.
“Stop being such a worry-wart,” he muttered under his breath. “That’s what they always tell you.”
With a shake of his head, he left the scent of jasmine and lily and started towards the stairs.
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Copyright ©2017 Anya Rousselle All Rights Reserved.