Monday, September 5, 2022

Now On Tour The Enthronement by Charity Mae + Exclusive Excerpt #YAFantasyRomance #ExclusiveExcerpt

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The Enthronement
Book One
Charity Mae

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Romance
Publisher: Knighted Phoenix Publishing
Date of Publication: 6 September 2022
ISBN: 978-1-958797-01-3
Number of pages: 411
Word Count: 189,088
Cover Artist: Charity Mae

Book Description:  

You'd think winning a princess test is easy. It's a lot harder when you have to kill the prize.

Becoming princess was always expected of Kascia Thorapple Custod. It's her duty as a Custod, but all she wants is her own perfect partner she's found in her arranged engagement. But duty gets in the way when the only way to end the five-hundred-year war between the kingdom of Purerah and the three rebel factions is for Kascia to join the Enthronement, enabling her to assassinate the royal family. Everything is on the line in this political romance as love and duty battle in ways she never expected.

A war taking place two-thousand years after Cedrick Custod freed their world from the dark sorcerer Heklis, fans of The Custod Chronicles will find something familiar and excitingly new in this latest installment to the Custod world.

Exclusive Excerpt from The Enthronement:

The carriage ride takes about half an hour. The guard had drawn all the curtains once I’d sat back in the carriage. I guess it’s safer. We’re almost to the palace when I hear the loud chatter of voices, louder than it should be for just passing through the town. 

I take a peek. The empty stretch of land between the main city and the castle is filled with people. I frown as I watch, confused at exactly what is going on. Part of the crowd looks like they want to see us go by; a few hold up signs with the names of some of the girls who have been chosen. 

I looked over the list a few times but decide there are too many to try to memorize. I see “Dahlia” a few times as well as “Forsythia”, “Jonquil”, and... I pause. Is that my name? I see at least two signs with my name. I swallow hard. 

The other half of the crowd, closer to the road, are not behaving so well. They make the most noise and are trying to get to the carriages. There are a few ahead of me, likely other girls arriving. A line of guards keeps these people back from the road, forming a barricade. 

One of the crowd helps another jump over the guard and, to my horror, dives, and lands on an inner guard and starts beating him as hard as he could manage. Luckily, two other guards jump down and pull the person off and shove them back into the crowd.

I flinch as a rock strikes one of the guards in the head, making her stagger and fall back. The crowd converges on the spot, but more guards come and force them back. 

I pull away from the window as a shower of more rocks is thrown. I hear yells: the crowd further back with signs telling off the angry crowd. 

So it’s a group of rebels and non-rebels. Half just want to see the “show”, the other wants to stop it or at least harm us or the palace. I wonder if Dad planned this. I doubt it. All his hopes are hung on me, and Jake isn’t here. Not if I did see him by the trees. So this is either another Loyalist’s work or the Potentate rebellion.

I feel helpless and defenseless inside the carriage with no weapon. I hug my knees and jump as a rain of stones hits the side of the carriage. None get in, thankfully. Insults pelt the air. I doubt they know which carriage belongs to which girl. I don’t think they care. They just want to cause harm and damage to the royal family that hurt them.

I don’t blame them. Part of me would love to join them. But I can’t. I agree with them, but I have to pretend I don’t, to stop this royal family from causing more damage. I hug my knees and bury my face in my skirt, hiding my face against my knees to try to ignore and drown out the attack outside. 

It feels like a lifetime before the sounds start to fade. We’d made it through the castle gate. I dare take a look. There’s a second gate. A double wall? No wonder we’d never broken in. I had no idea the castle employed a double wall. There’s a line of dirt on the side against the outer wall and a moat along the inner side against the inner gate. 

We pause on the bridge above it as four guards inspect the carriage from top to bottom. A lady guard comes in, apologizes for having to bother me, and checks the whole inside for any hidden rebels before she bows to me and leaves. The all-clear is given, and we’re let into the main castle grounds. 

Feeling it has to be safe now, I pull back the curtain to get my first look at the castle grounds. The drive we ride up is a beautiful sandstone path, making it look bright yellowish gold. It contrasts the lush grass nicely. The long drive is open, showing wide expanses of grass with decorative trees here and there. I think most are fruit trees, with decorative little fences around them, likely to prevent animals getting to them. Past this, stretching out towards the ocean side, are lush guardians of flower bushes, roses, island roses, and other plants I don’t know with tasteful trellises, gates, fences twisted with flowering ivies of names I don’t know, rivers and fountains, and more. It’s hard to see from here, but it looks like a stunning garden paradise. I imagine it buzzing with happy bees and butterflies. I hope I can get out at least once to see them. They look amazing. I can’t quite see the ocean for the beautiful plants and the way the land slowly sloped down to the private royal beaches. I wonder what’s on the other side. 

I slide over to the other side of the carriage and pull that curtain aside. Neatly organized orchards and vegetable gardens, a building that must be the royal stables, and a beautiful building with a steeple at the front with the phoenix, wings wide, at the top spread across my view. That must be the Royal Devotion Hall. I also think I see the road that would lead to the city’s sanctuary. The sound of the ocean gets louder as we get closer to the palace gates. 

I sit back in my seat as we turn right into a grand oval loop of the road that brings us up to the palace doors. I admire a stunning fountain in the center of the oval. The focal point is an island rose with water falling down its petals. A breaching dolphin is on one side, with water flowing out of its blowhole. The breaching shark is on the other side, the water running down from the top of its nose. It’s Purerah’s symbol.

I could spend an hour admiring it and hours sitting by it, enjoying the wonderful scent of island roses, clean greenery, and the sound of the water as I read. The palace did seem a perfect paradise, or at least the grounds did. 

I look out the other window at the palace doors. They are tall, but not towering. They are painted with Purerahian blue designs to offset the yellow, almost golden color of the walls. It all contrasts nicely with cream-colored accents and even more Purerahian blue. It is a stunning work of architecture.

The door on my right is finally opened, and a footman steps aside for me. I give him a weak smile as I stand and take my first step onto the castle grounds. 

Four happy women run up to me. One I recognize as Hydie beams at me. All four curtsy to me, all wearing the same Purerahian blue and cream uniforms. Hydie still has her pretty ponytail, but the others all have their hair pulled back into low, braided buns. The other thing that surprises me is one of the maids is a bit plump. I thought the king and queen — hoarders of gold that they are — wouldn’t pay their staff enough to get plump. 

All three of them are very pretty, pretty enough to be Chosen girls themselves. They beam at me in nervous excitement.

“Welcome Lady Kascia,” Hydie beams at me. “And welcome to your new home away from home — or new home.” She winks playfully. “Now.” She sounds more business-like. “Let me introduce you to your lady’s staff. This is Miss Vivian.” 

The tallest of the three bows her head and curtsies slightly. She has dark brown hair that is perfectly smoothed back into her bun, no makeup, pale skin, and bright brown eyes that study me as if sizing me up for what taking care of me will be like. 

The other two curtsy as well as their names are said. Flur is daintier than Ro. She has platinum blonde hair that shows a hit of a wave even pulled back into the bun and lovely gray eyes that are accented perfectly by her makeup. It highlights her fair tones well. At least the staff get to wear makeup.

Ro is the one who is slightly plump with black hair so straight, it sits flat on her head. With all three of them being fair, I wonder if they are related, though not much else about them matches. Vivian is taller than me (easy to do), but Ro is shorter, and Flur is average and willowy.

“I’ll leave you to their perfect care,” Hydie beams at us before she waves us on as the next carriage rolls up.

 My three maids lead me up the steps, smiling at me. Ro rushes over to get my bags. Maybe she’s a bit plump because she’s strong. She tosses my bags over each shoulder as if they weigh nothing.

Vivian frowns at them, “Is that all, miss?”

I nod, “I-I don’t need much.” But it’s all that’s left of me. Please be kind to it. I beg her in my mind but don’t dare speak. 

“Oh good,” Vivian smiles as if in relief before returning to proper business manners. “Will you need anything particular that you were unable to bring, Miss?” 

“Um... just the dance gear I mentioned to Hydie,” I state.

“Oh.” All three of my maids' eyes light up. 

“You’re the dancer,” Ro says excitedly. I nod nervously. “Sweet,” Ro beams.

Vivian clears her throat pointedly, correcting Ro’s improper wording. She then makes a note in a little book she’d been holding. She tucks it into one of the pockets of her apron before she addresses me again. “That is good to know. Thank you, miss. They are all prepared for you. I will have them placed in your closet in your room. Your assigned number is twelve. Don’t forget that because it won’t change as the Enthronement goes on, and it will help you know where to go and be at all times. Do you require anything else, miss? Anything unique for your bedding?”

“Uh... no,” I say. “Other than I struggle with a sleep disorder, but I’m sure whatever you have is fine.”

“Excellent, my lady,” She curtsies to me with a bow of her head. “We will bring your bags to your room and unpack them as needed.”

“Please be careful.” I manage to keep the rest in and out of my voice, but the compassion in Vivian’s and Flur’s eyes makes it obvious they understand. Ro nods as well but doesn’t seem to read my mood as well as the other two.

“Of course, miss,” Vivian says. “We serve you and will not do anything to make you uncomfortable. We will show you to your room later. They are having you start with the makeovers before lunch. Flur and I will show you while Ro takes your things to your room.” 

I swallow and nod. We step into the entrance hall. It’s stunning. 

The first thing I notice is the beautiful cream-colored chandelier hanging from the ceiling that makes me think of an elegant seashell. The walls are that sandy golden yellow with cream and Purerahian blue accents. Each door is lined with blue, rounded with a slight point at the top. There are many of them on our left and right. In the center of the right wall is one that is larger than the others with double doors. I wonder where it leads.

Past this main hallway is a larger room with a high domed ceiling I think goes up all the floors of the castle, which is about four or five stories. It has windows that face the front of the castle, letting natural light highlight the room. In front of us is a large, rounded cylinder with large golden doors and beautiful staircases wrapping around it on either side.

There are two grand staircases, one on either side of the room. The cylinder is the center of the large rectangular room, but it also makes up the back of it. The whole design is beautiful, light, and airy, reflecting the beautiful beaches we have. 

My maids guide me to the staircase on our left. It leads to a basic hallway, with sconces that are cream and made to look like seashells, lighting the corridors when the windows along the walls failed to do so.

There are doors lining the whole wall on our left and right. The windows are spaced between these doors on our left with wide spaces between them. The pattern of yellow walls, cream, and blue decorations, and a stunning ocean theme remains. I see many ocean paintings as well as paintings of ocean life: dolphins, whales, fish, and even sharks. The palace embraces its ocean setting perfectly. I like it. 

We turn right along more doors until we reach a room about midway down the long hall. Flur opens one of the double doors for me, curtsying. Vivian pauses as Ro goes on to my room.

I bow my head to them and step inside. On the right side of the room are floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, filled with books. The far wall is lined with windows that look out over the ocean stretching out as far as the eye can see. The left wall has several paintings and tables along with it as well as flanking the entrance. The room is filled with armchairs, sofas, little tables, and cushions. There’s even a grand piano in the corner by the bookshelves. 

A lot of girls were already here. A few are sitting in the little circles formed by the sofas and armchairs, chatting like old friends. Others are sitting at the smaller tables and glaring at the other girls. Two are standing side by side, whispering to each other as they glare at the other girls. 

“You’ll wait here until one of the makeover stations is ready,” Vivian says to me. “You can start to get to know your fellow Chosen as you wait or pick out a book. We’ll go make sure your room is ready for you.” She curtsies to me. 

I force a smile, “Thank you, Vivian, Flur.” It takes me a moment to remember Flur’s name before I bow my head to her. 

She flushes in pleasure, but she doesn’t speak as she and Vivian leave me alone with the other girls.

I take a deep breath to make sure my mask is fully in place. Now the game begins. It’s hard to tell what each girl is like from appearance as we all wear the same uniform. But I can tell we are all very different.

Not just in appearances but in personalities. I can see quite a few dark-skinned girls, like the royals themselves, but many others range between fair and dark-skinned. It looks like the standard varying shade of the populace of Purerah. And how each girl carries herself conveys even more volume. How they sit or stand says far more.

The lightest girl I can see is also the smallest. She looks too young to even be here. She’s sitting by the window, looking out over the sea, sitting with her legs tucked beside her, I presume because she’s too small to have her legs reach the floor. Her black hair is pulled into a ponytail.

Well, if I have to start pretending to be excited, helping the smallest and youngest of us seems like a good place to start. 

I walk over to introduce myself. “Hello,” I say, hoping I don’t frighten her. The way she's curled into herself reminds me of a cat who might jump and spring away at the wrong sound.

She looks up and smiles a dainty smile, her angled eyes narrowing a little as she smiles. 

I return the smile, finding it cute. Jake and my father’s eyes do the same, so does the king’s. I seem to like that trait in people. 

“I’m Kascia. What’s your name?”

“I’m Lilly,” she says, twisting to see me better. Her feet do not reach the floor. “I’m from Risago. Where are you from?”

“Roselpla,” I admit. “I’m from here.”

“Oh, how lovely to be close to home,” Lilly beams. “You must love the sea then.” She turns to look at it. “I’ve never seen it. My family runs a rice field.”

I frown, “Is that doing okay?”

“They are for now, but we have had struggles in the past,” she says. “I’m just excited to be here at all.”

I can see why she made it so far though. She is like a dainty princess. The kind who is sensitive. She makes me smile. 

“I can imagine. You would live more inland to run a rice farm, right?” I ask.

She nods, “We live along the great river. I’m used to the water, but seeing the ocean is amazing. I hope to see more of it soon. Most of all, if I don’t win.”

“Do you think you will?” I ask.

“Maybe. I’m the littlest.” She looks around. “I’m eighteen, but I don’t look it, I know.”

Wow, I know royals marry young and age gaps aren’t a big deal to them, but the prince is in his late twenties I think. She looks like she’s fourteen.

“Do you think sharks get close to the shore?” Lilly frowns suddenly. “I wouldn’t know what to do with a shark. I’d love to be in the sea, but don’t know how to stay safe. You’d know, being local right?”

“Well, sharks like early morning or late night. Stay away from areas where seals like to go. They mostly want to eat seals if they are big enough to eat people. Otherwise, just be careful. If they know you see them, they are less likely to attack you. And if they try, you can push their noses away, but that takes guts.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I could do that.” She frowns. 

“Don’t worry. I’ll keep you safe from sharks,” I promise with a slight smile.

“Oh good. Be nice to have a friend. No one is making friends, you notice?” She looks around the room. “Apart from those two.” She points to the corner. “They are already ‘celebrities’ so they feel better than us.” She scowls at them disapprovingly. Though plenty of girls are talking, I suppose they don’t look like friends.

I glance over at the two in question. One has hickory skin and eyes with her coiled hair in a bun on top of her head. She has a strong-looking body, especially her legs. She has sharp eyebrows and a resting smirk face. 

The other is pale-skinned, like Lilly. She has the same angled eyes, but something about the shape of her nose and eyebrows give her a snarky look. Like she’s always looking down at you. The other girl is taller, but this girl is short, even shorter than me. Her darkly painted lips don’t help the snotty air of superiority. Her black hair is also in a ponytail but is longer than Lilly’s and straighter. 

“Celebrities?” I don’t know who they are.

“Yes. Don’t you know them? The tall one is Dahlia Phiable, the Sparkleball player. The other is Forsythia Ghoda, the star horse jumper of the last two years. They are going to be hard to beat. Just look at them. They are beautiful.” Lilly frowns.

“You are too, just in a different way,” I assure her. 

She flushes. “Thank you, Kascia. But still. They are already being rude. But not as bad as the mayor’s daughter.” Lilly nods at a blonde girl fussing with a fan in her hands. 

Her mouth seems set in a frown at all times. Her eyebrows are close together as if always displeased. She is certainly displeased now, hitting her fan to try to get it to open properly. A section of it was stuck. I’ve had that happen many times. Maybe she isn’t always so rude.

I give it a try by walking over to her.  Lilly gasps in shock behind me as I go up to this girl. “Having trouble with your fan?” I ask.

Her light blue eyes narrow at me. “What would a common girl know?” she snaps at me. 

“A lot.” I gently take the fan, giving her a look for being rude. “Sometimes the blades get stuck.” I could see where it was and carefully put my finger between where they were stuck to get them properly aligned before I folded it up. “Happens when they are overused or cheap.” I snap the fan open properly and flutter it a bit to be sure. “There, right as rain.” I offer it back to her.

She snatches it from me. “Servant?” she guesses. 

“Dancer,” I shoot back.  “I do dances with fans all the time. They like to get caught when I have to snap them open and closed fast or if they are old or cheap. I just wanted to help. And by the way, the freckles are cute. Don’t hide them. The prince might like them. They make you unique.” And with that, I pivot away from her and walk back over to an aghast Lilly. 

“Why would you help her?” Lilly asks, “That’s Lady Ericka. She’s the mayor’s daughter. She thinks she’s already a princess. Why did you give her advice?” 

“Just because she’s a jerk, doesn’t mean I have to be,” I say. “But I also don’t have to be her buddy to bark at.” I glance back at her, fanning herself and looking grumpily out the window. Besides, being nice to the people who can’t stand you is easily the best way to annoy them back. “You could have tried to stop me.”

 “I didn’t think you’d really do it,” Lilly says.

“I don’t know any of these girls. I’ll treat them well unless I have to otherwise.”

Another girl comes into the room. She has olive skin, dark eyes and brows, and beautiful thick hair in a tight braid. She smiles around at all of us. 

She sees Lilly and gasps, “Do I know you? You’re from the south like me,” She races over.

“Yes. I saw your carriage.” Lilly beams.

“I’m Isla,” she says. “I was an acrobat.”

“Really?” A fellow performer. 

Isla nods, “Yes, you?”

“I’m Kascia. I was a dancer and singer for the theatre.”

Isla gasps in pure delight. “I know you! Well of you; you’re a legend.” I flush. “You can stretch with me.” Isla jokes. 

I laugh, “I’m sure you're more flexible than me. You’re an acrobat.”

“Maybe. I do mostly tight rope and trapeze,” she says. “I saw you in Phantom. You were amazing. I can’t believe you’re here. I thought you’d get snatched up by the capitol or something.” 

Right, the great Armuary Theater would bother with an actress from the ghetto like me. 

“Oh, you’ll be stunning at the balls,” Isla giggles and pretends to fan herself like I did in the second act of The Phantom. We all laugh. 

“Only if the prince can dance well,” I point out. 

“True. I wonder what he likes,” Isla says then her eyes widen. “I’m sorry. What was your name?” she asks Lilly.

Lilly laughs, “I’m Lilly. What part of the south are you from?” 

“Oh, well, officially I’m from Sadeh, which isn’t really the south,” Isla says. “But I grew up in Risago before I traveled with the troupe, which officially is from Sadeh. That’s where I put in my application and have lived the last eight years.”

“I’m from Risago,” Lilly beams. 

I smile, glad I won’t be the only one who helps Lilly feel comfortable. 

“Did you work the farms?” Isla asks.

“My father owns one,” says Lilly. “I liked to work on them sometimes, but it’s hard work.”

“I used to dream about working the farms. Silly, I know, but it sounded romantic to me when I travel so much,” Isla says. “I’d not mind the chance to stay in one place and raise land.”

“I never thought of it that way,” Lilly says. “You do make it sound nice.”

Isla beams, “Have you met any of the others yet? Jonquil and I just met in the hall. But she’s seeing to her nut allergy with her maids. She’s nice. She studies bugs you know.”

Wow, someone who does some non-pretty work got in. I’m impressed. Not only that, but hers was also one of the names on the signs from the crowd that came to see us. The girl in question comes in a bit later. She’s a beautiful almond-skinned girl with thick brown hair and a shy expression. That is until she sees Isla and rushes over. Isla quickly introduces us to Jonquil. 

“Oh, it’s so romantic,” Jonquil says. “Us all together to try for the prince’s hand. We’re his only chance. It’s such fun and to be friends in it all too. I hope to be friends with all of you.”

“Just not them,” Lilly points out the three grumps. 

“Oh, or Lantana,” Jonquil says. “She’s out to get the prince in bed and keep him there.”

“What?” I frown. 

“You’ll see,” Jonquil says. “She’s from my district, so we came to the interviews together. It was not fun. She thinks because she’s as pretty as a living Snow White, people will love her. She’s paler than even Lilly with dark hair, and she wears dark lipstick. She is sure the prince will take her when he sees her beauty and cancel the whole thing. They took her into her treatment early to shut her up.” 

Another girl walks up to us. “Who said she’s so pretty she’ll just win?” she demands of Jonquil.

“Lantana,” Jonquil says. 

“What’s your name?” I try to be friendly. 

“I’m Kamala.” She puts her hands on her hips, her mane of coiled hair bobbing as she did. She reminds me of the strong island fisherman who trades in the market, strong and beautiful. “And she won’t win like that. This is a test. We have to push through it. I hope she’s out fast, so we can see who is in it for the long hall. We are looking for the future queen, not a beauty contestant.”

“Yes,” Isla’s eyes light up. “That’s exactly it. I hope to be a good queen, but the test will tell all of us.”

“And I’ll win. I know how to win. I have what it takes. I hope you all do too,” Kamala says. “Pick me or not, I want to prove I am worthy of it at least.”

“You don’t have to prove anything to anyone,” I say. They’ll all be dead before it’s over anyway. 

“Shows what you know,” she shoots at me. “But I’m going to meet the others.” She gives us a wave and leaves.

“Oh boy. Do you think they’re all like that?” Lilly looks worried.

“No, just some will,” I reply with a glare after Kamala.

“Like that girl Violet with the red hair. She’s mad for the prince. Had a thing for him forever, they say,” Isla says. “She is so excited. Sweet girl.” 

Oh no, was I the only one who wasn’t either crazy for the prince or just in it to win and prove myself? Was that good or bad? I worry about that as the girls talk for a moment.

I learn about some other girls too. Marigold, who is loud and brash about her passion winning out. Hebe, who is just a loud talker all around. Candela, who apparently spends her whole time waiting with her nose in a book. Azalea, who treats all the girls like she is their mother, annoying the stubborn ones, and Bella, who had tried to make friends with Forsythia, but Forsythia didn’t give her the time of day. 

I listen without really taking it in when my turn is called. I leave with a flurry of whispers behind me. 

They take me to a large room with a bubbling, circular water spa in one corner, a changing area in another. 

Six other girls are finishing up their session, dressed in the same uniform I am, but instead of flowers in their hair, they are putting on tiaras. These must be the born princesses. They are all stunning. They start on their way out as I’m directed to sit in one of the chairs along one wall. 

Most of the princesses ignore me as they pass, all but one. One with blonde hair and bottle green eyes stops and looks at me with a gentle but warm smile.  

“Congratulations on getting this far.” She waves at me and the other girls getting their makeovers. “I hope to meet you all later.”

“Princess Zelda, come on.” A darker princess with stunning coils and beautiful red lips rolls her eyes. Princess Zelda rolls her eyes back, smiles at us, and leaves with the other princesses. 

Wow, one of them was nice to me. I feel sick to my stomach. She’s the one who should win. 

They give me a full spa makeover. They put me into a robe and polish every inch of skin on me, then they have me wash off. They ask me if I want to make any changes to my look, any haircut I’d like, change my hair color, anything like that. I have no ideas.

“Whatever you think is best,” I mutter.

“Do you want to look different?” The lady in charge gives me an understanding smile.


“Then we’ll just make touch-ups,” she says.

They then wash and then cut my hair, more like trimming it, taking off only an inch or two at the ends, but then they cut layers into it. When they finish, they rinse my hair and put some creams and maybe even oils into it. For my curls they said. The head lady keeps looking at a book she has open, likely with notes about what they learned about me when my beauty team came.

Once my hair is done, they clip it to the top of my head and wash and polish my face, put a peel mask on then a different kind of mask, and after that put several different creams on my face, one for my eyes alone, then a few for my face.

They give me a full manicure, but don’t paint my nails more than putting a protective coating on them and then do the same for my feet. It feels amazing, but I imagine some of my dancer’s feet problems grosses them out. 

They then put a gentle layer of makeup on, let my hair down and style it back the way I had it before. I’m impressed the braid looks so clean. I thought layers would ruin the braids.

When they show me a mirror, I don’t look that different, just more polished, as they said. The layers they cut into my hair give it more shape and volume even in this braid. It also shows off the strawberry blonde streaks more easily. I like it. The makeup is simple like I would have done myself.

A few other girls come in and out, some take longer than others, but once I’m dismissed, they take me back to the room where the other Chosen are waiting.

I also notice another girl I’d seen before and frown. Or had I? Something is different. After a moment, I realize her hair is darker now. It had been blonde before, but now it’s jet black. It had been straight but now it’s wavy and full of volume, as if they’d tried to give her tight curls that weren’t holding well. I wish I knew her name.

A few I’d heard about are there, Hebe among them. I can hear her voice above the others. “They even got all the dirt out of my nails,” she’s saying. “Not an easy feat.”

I ignore her. Her booming voice hurts my head already, and I’m used to standing near orchestras. I walk over to try to meet some of the others I don't know. I leave the reading girl alone, guessing she’s Candela. 

The other two girls smile as I walk over. “Hi. I’m Azalea. You?” 

"Kascia." I nod to her.

“Nice to meet you, Kascia. Glad to know I’m not the only pale brunette here." Azalea smiles as does the other girl.

I laugh. “I guess not.” I look around. She’s right. There aren't many of us. I touch my hair uneasily. Would that be a problem?

“But you pull it off well. And you are tanner than me,” Azalea says. 

“I’m still paler.” The other girl smiles. “I’m Bella.” She’s right; she has pale skin, deep black hair, and a sweet, intelligent smile. Her hair is done up into a bun with strands pulled into it, making beautiful loops.

“Yes, you are the palest.” Azalea smiles. “You’re also from the south. Where is your family from, Kascia?” 

“Oh.” I can’t tell her the whole truth. “Well, my father’s nationality looks Eilimohlian or Alalusian, I'm not sure, but my mother is from here.” 

“Pretty.” Azalea smiles.

Finally, all fifty of us are done with our makeovers just before lunch, and we get a good look at one another. I look out for the girls I’d been warned about. 

I spot Lantana by her smoky makeup and confident, seductive smile. She looks so much like one of the born princesses, they could have been sisters. But I don’t know if that will help her much. The flower betrays she’s not — born-princess wear tiaras; common girls wear flowers.

The born princess she looks like makes me think of a dragon or an alligator. She has red hair... sort of. The top of it is dark red then lightens to a literal fiery orange at the tips, matching the makeup on her heavy-lidded eyes, contrasting her fair skin. 

Hydie has us all sit in a large circle in our number order. I am between Lilly and Azalea. Hydie makes us introduce ourselves with our names, where we are from, something “fun” about us, and our favorite color. The born princesses go first as they are in the top six. 

The one with the darkest skin is Princess Rose from Emilimoh, the original kingdom. Then there’s Princess Amapola who is from Spearim and she looks it: fair skin, black hair, and dark, haunting eyes.

 Princess Neeraja from Sedeyu. I can’t quite recall how close it is. I know it’s a kingdom with coasts as well, but not as many as we have or as beautiful. She bows her head a bit shyly. Her soft brown skin offsets her dark black hair that is thick and shining. 

The one that looked like she could be Latana’s sister is Princess Zinna of Dragia, a nation to the south known for their vicious ways. They aspire to be like the wild dragons. I made a note to avoid her if possible.

Princess Laurina is from Barug, also nicknamed the dragonlands, where the people and dragons live as one kingdom. I wonder if she has her own dragon. She bows to us. Her hair is bright red, and she looks ready to challenge us to a duel but then invite us for drinks after. 

The last is Princess Zelda of Hyvil. Hyvil is across the great ocean over a month’s sailing away. I’m impressed that she came to play in this game. She’s the only one who gives us a real smile as she bows her head. She’s the one who said hello to me. Her blonde hair is stunning gold like sunlight. Her green eyes are full of power. I like her. Something about her feels familiar, like home.

Then we got to the non-princesses. Ahead of me is Emmalina from Risago. A lot of girls seem to be from there. Bella is also from Risago. Dahlia, the sparkleball player is from Rosepla. Of course, if she plays for the national team she’d have to be. Then it is Jonquil, Lilly, me, Azalea, who is from Asteria. Lady Ericka is from Rosepla — which means she is the daughter of my local mayor. Forsythia is next to her and also from the capital. I suppose most celebrities would have to live in the capital with the most money to be made in entertainment there. 

It’s so hard to keep track of so many girls and where they’re all from. The ones I’d already spoken to were a bit easier, but I had no hope of remembering all of them by the end of the day or even by the end of the month if I didn’t spend time with them. 

Hydie told us to play “I am Musical Chairs”. One girl started in the middle and said something about herself in an “I am or I have” statement, and anyone else who had the same "I am'' had to get up and change seats. 

A girl named Bellatrix went first. She said she was an only child which made me and twelve others get up and swap places, leaving a girl named Aquila in the middle. 

She said she liked to read, making me and about half a dozen others swap places. That left a girl named Larkin in the middle who said she was from Shasta. She ended up trading with a girl named Nichol who said she was blonde, making Princess Zelda, Ericka, and six others get up. It left Princess Zelda in the middle.

She grins, seemingly happy to be in the middle. “I was born a princess,” she declares. 

I hold in my laugh unlike others at her mean little trick. The other princesses glared at her as they all have to swap seats. Poor Princess Rose is stuck in the middle. She went with “I have royal coils”. That got a lot of people up, Emmalina, Dahlia, Kamala, Hanna, Rhosan, and three more girls whose names I can’t remember. Dahlia somehow got stuck in the middle. But she grins mischievously. “I have kissed a boy.” 

Every girl in the room gets up except for poor Lilly and Isla who sit in their seats, brick red. Hydie looked nervous at that one. That wasn’t exactly a friendly question. Dahlia is fishing out the competition. 

Princess Laurina gets stuck in the middle and picks on a girl named Violet when she says she has red hair. Only Princess Laurina and Violet are redheads out of the fifty of us. 

We go through a few more rounds until Forsythia is in the middle. “I am willing to do whatever it takes to win.” She smiles.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Hydie calls before anyone tries to move. “I believe lunch is ready.


About the Author:

Charity Mae lives near Mt. Shasta in Northing California and loves the nature there (though she’d like some more snow and rain). She wrote her first 700+ book when she was eleven-year-old and published her first book when she was twenty-one. 

When she’s not reading and writing, she enjoys making and watching YouTube videos, gaming, hiking, swimming, and sitting outside while working on projects.

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