The story so far:
King Kyran, also known as Joseph, had gotten on Berta’s last nerve. Although he had chosen a new name, his ridicule of her family name had annoyed her to no end. So while Berta calmed herself down in her kitchen, KK (King Kyran) aka Joseph was waiting for her mercy outside in the scorching sun and wishing that he didn’t have such a big mouth.
“Berta, I’m sorry!!” he whined, loud enough for all of Old Marsh to hear. A few people on the road chuckled, amused by the middle-aged man begging to be let into the house. But KK didn’t know that all his begging was in vain, because when Berta was angry, she wouldn’t listen to even herself.
Berta fought with herself on whether she should let him in or not. He was making a scene, and with his size he was very hard to ignore. She decided that she would let him in, but let him suffer first.
Miranda, in the labyrinth that Lord Loret called her castle, was suffering from another kind of angst. She couldn’t find anything or anyone. Her bedroom was so big it was scary. The night seemed to pass by slowly and laboriously.
And the wonder of a new place had worn off and in its place only boredom and confusion were left. She was anxious for the moment when it would all be over and they could return home. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like they would be returning soon.
She walked out of her room and into the cold, empty, windy hallway. After a few steps towards the window she noticed the click of a door closing. She turned around, and breathed out a sigh after seeing it was only Ben.
“Couldn’t sleep,” she explained. “And I couldn’t stop thinking about our host.”
“I know, he was… bizarre.”
“To say the least. Did you see how skinny he was?”
“Very frail,” Ben commented.
Miranda started walking again, enjoying the coldness of the night, no longer uncomfortable in the chill. Ben followed her, ever the perfect guard, but she didn’t mind. Unlike some of the other guards in her group, Ben didn’t make a big deal out of what she did.
She could imagine the head guard if he saw her then. She was wearing her nightgown with a light woolen sweater over it. Her feet were bare, her sable hair was let loose. The head guard would’ve had a heart attack, but not before he chided her for her unladylike behavior.
Ben started to whistle and she turned around. He was quite good, and she recognized his song as one of the shanties sung by the sailors on the ship. She hummed along to the parts that she could remember.
Ben and Miranda didn’t know it before they started their music, but the halls of the Castle Loret carried sound very well and echoed. And in a nearby hall that Jordan was going for a midnight snack. It was a dreadful habit that she could not seem to snap out of, and it would be the undoing of her secret.
Jordan was dressed in a fashion similar to Miranda. When her heavy robes were off and she only wore a nightgown, it was quite plain that she was a girl. She heard the echoing whistles and couldn’t determine their source in her fear. Animal instinct took over, and she ran.
Ben and Miranda saw a white figure streak by, and as their training took over they both took off after the seeming stranger.
Unfortunately for Jordan, both Ben and Miranda ran much faster than she did. But Miranda was standing before Ben, and she tackled Jordan first. After pinning the poor girl down on her face, Miranda demanded to know who she was.
“Jordan,” Jordan croaked out. She felt like her ribs were broken, and unused to the pain she couldn’t even breathe.
“I think you should get off of him, your majesty,” Ben said. Miranda got up and dusted off her nightgown.
Jordan slowly stood up, her head still reeling from the adrenaline. She turned around to face her capturers.
“Oh my goodness,” Miranda breathed out. When her frail body wasn’t hidden beneath layers and layers of robes, she had a small petite feminine frame. Miranda looked over to Ben and saw that he was gaping at Jordan.
She punched him not so playfully in the arm. Ben snapped out of his shock and looked out the nearest window, pretending that he hadn’t seen anything. His thought was that he had come across a problem that was to be dealt with by girls, and so he left Miranda to her own defenses.
“So, you’re a girl?” Miranda asked. The question was stupid. It was obvious that Jordan was a girl.
“Yes,” Jordan answered, knowing that she couldn’t possibly deny it.
“That explains a lot,” Miranda remarked. “But it doesn’t explain why.”
“It’s a long story. I know a place where we can be alone.” Jordan said. She couldn’t risk anyone else knowing of her secret. Ben walked behind the two girls as Jordan led them into her room.
“Well, tell us why you’re pretending to be a man,” Miranda demanded. Jordan made sure that her suite was empty, looking into each of the doors. She took a seat on the couch and exhaled to calm herself.
“I’m pretending to be a man because it’s the only way that this island’s people will be happy. If it’s revealed that I’m a girl, I lose my power, I get married off to some schmuck with a castle and a superiority complex. When that happens, the Vanderwart family gains eligibility to the throne. People will have to sell their vital organs if they want to pay the taxes if that family rules.”
“Well that cleared up a lot for me,” Miranda said. She liked the lord then. There was no deep dark secret, and she was really a brave person. It was obvious that the girl who had grown up as a boy would like the girl that had pretended be a boy.
The next morning their party set off again, to find the nest of the dragon they were seeking. Miranda kept thinking about whether or not they would ever see the girl again. They would see her again, but they wouldn’t be happy when they reconnected.
The ride to the mountain was a relatively short one, but everyone felt fatigued just imagining their hike up to the summit. Ben and Miranda led the pack of sorry soldiers up the steep stony side of the mountain.
“Jordan was a surprise, wasn’t she?” Miranda asked Ben.
“Yes, he, uh, she was.” Ben answering, shaking his head, he was still in a little bit of disbelief. Miranda laughed at his confused state. He was uncomfortable with the whole concept of secrets and cross-dressing for a person’s entire life. He shuddered unnoticeably, imagining himself in a dress. Ew.
The sun was still low in the sky, and the head guard stopped to look at his map. It was old, hand-drawn, but precise to the yard. To get to the summit of the mountain where she would find her betrothed’s corpse, they either had to circle around a forest, or walk through it. Walking through would save them a week of travel. Miranda was all for it.
“But your highness, wild beasts are known to prowl through that forest. It’s dangerous,” he warned.
“We’re dangerous as well,” she shot back. She wanted to be home, or at least in the company of Lord Loret. The head guard shook in head, admitting defeat and realizing that he would never win a quarrel with a homesick royal.
They had to leave their horses and two of their party behind. The forest was too dense for horses. Roots crawled out of the soil, looking as they were ready to grab the travelers’ feet at any moment. Ben treaded carefully, but Miranda couldn’t care less.
She heard a squawking sound, one that she knew only parrots to make. But the sound wasn’t completely animal, it had the slight trace of a human voice laced in. She swiveled her head around, trying to find the source.
The source found her, and a giant macaw landed on her shoulder. It bit her ear lightly and squawked again, flapping its wings noisily and getting the attention of the entire party. The head guard stared at Miranda with disbelief, wondering what in the world she had gotten them into now.
The bird coughed. It wasn’t a muffled squawk, but an actual human cough, the voice of an old man slightly recognizable.
“Princess Miranda?” the bird asked, tilting it’s head a full ninety-degrees.
“Yes,” she replied. The bird took off immediately and landed on a nearby branch.
“Your highness, I have been sent here to give you a warning. This search of yours, will succeed. But once it succeeds, you’ll find that you will have to engage in a rescue for the one that you truly love. And that rescue, might go awry.”
Miranda furrowed her eyebrows. She protested, “But I’m not in love with anyone.”
“But you will be!” The bird yelled before uttering one final squawk, the bird equivalent of the last word she guessed. And he flew off.
Everyone looked at her in disbelief, and Ben said, “I keep thinking this journey can’t get any more bizarre, and then I get surprised.”
“He said that this search would be successful,” Miranda stated. “That means that Kyran survived.”
The group all were rattled by the sudden talking bird and its sudden departure. Not knowing how to react, they decided that the best course was to pretend that it had never happened and continue on their journey that was doomed to fail in their opinion.
KK/Joseph was sitting besides Berta and trying to embroider in vain. His fingers weren’t nimble like hers, instead they were clumsy, soft and pricked much too easily. She had finished two dresses in the time that it had taken him to thread the needle. But he tried, trying to be of some use to her.
KK/Joseph had discovered that lounging around all day wasn’t enjoyable. It was a feeling that had eluded him in his thirty years as a royal, but his inability to do work, to do anything to help Berta, brought upon him an immense feeling of guilt, of shame.
He tried and tried, and finally he finished a dress that looked decent. Berta smiled as she saw his beaming face, she knew the happiness of achievement. They delivered the dress together.
Walking back, he asked Berta a question. “Why do you live alone?”
She didn’t want to answer. She didn’t like to speak of how she was the only orphan in the town, the only girl in the town who didn’t have any means or any chance of getting married. She preferred to forget all thoughts of the future and dwell in the present. She glared at him, and he looked away.
But she understood his curiosity. He was like a child, she told herself. And it would be good for her to talk about it. So many people had asked her to tell them, that it would be better. It seemed to her that he was the right person to listen.
“Ten years ago, my father was hunting in the forest. The dragon had just arrived on this island then. It flew over the town, blocking out the sun. I knew I had to warn him, and I ran to the forest as fast as I could. But it was too late. He was already at the top of the mountain, taken by the dragon.”
The story brought back his memory to some extent, and he remembered his descent down the mountain. He too, had been taken by the dragon, but he had survived. He turned to Berta.
“I remember something, Berta,” he said. “I was taken too. But I fell out of the nest, and rolled down the side of the mountain and…”
A thought struck Berta. The dragon had taken away her father, her only family. Perhaps it was fate that she had taken someone from the dragon. A newfound feeling of family engulfed her, and it was there that she stopped pitying him and understanding his situation. It was at that moment… that she started to love him.