The Other Daughter : A Cliché Story
The Other Daughter : A Cliché Story
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents-except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (though our scene does not lie in London), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. Astrielle broke open the already broken door of the poor little house that she lived in. She ran towards the clothesline and violently pulled away the clothes she had hung on it, dropping a few clothespins, only to rush in and rush back out to pick them up.
"They're all soaking wet," said Gideon crinkling his wrinkled face. "Next time, be quick, will you?"
"Yes, Gideon," said Astrielle flapping the long bedsheet she spent hours washing earlier that day, and then laying it onto the floor to dry.
"Be done with that," said Gideon looking almost repulsive at the huge pile of drenched clothes. "And get to bed soon."
Astrielle smiled softly to herself as she saw Gideon walk away to his room, put the lights off and sit on his bed. Turning her head away from his room, she looked back at the task at hand. She quickly put out the clothes by the floor near the fireplace, but not too close. It was a lot of work, but it was no burden to her hands. She would finish this in no time and go to bed for as she needed all the rest a normal human being would need. Tomorrow, tomorrow was going to be a long day.
Sunday morning had come. The white sun shone brightly, the birds chirped singing their songs and the breeze greeted the aftermath. The only remnants of the storm from last night were the small puddles of rain along the muddy streets and the faint smell of petrichor that had seeped into the soil, not leaving yet. Not to forget the plucked-out poles of the clothesline and the broken fences. Gideon and Astrielle woke up earlier than usual to fix the clothesline and the fence and to push out any excess water that hadn't quite been absorbed by the soil of the yard. They had worked noisily for about two hours before just now when they heard a knock on the door of the fence.
"Morning Gideon! Morning Astrielle!" greeted the familiar voice of Albert. "Powerful storm that was, eh?"
Without needing or wanting permission, Albert, their sixteen-year-old neighbour pushed open the cracking door and walked in.
"Morning," grumbled Gideon as he picked up his tools. "Thick as thieves you two. Astrielle,"
"Yes, Gideon?" Astrielle replied.
"Put all the clothes out to dry and then you can leave," said Gideon sternly. "Oh and, please change. There's so much soil on your clothes."
With that he turned around and went back into the house to his workshop where he made the finest tools in all of Aglidale.
"'Yes, Gideon.'," mimicked Albert, picking up a wet pillow cover from the bucket and hanging it over the clothesline. "Is there anything else you know to tell him?"
Astrielle only chuckled softly and shook her head slightly at Albert. She pinned the bedsheet firmly and bent down to pick her dress, hung it and pinned it evasively looking at him.
"Honestly Astrielle," continued Albert. "No one would put up with that grumpy old man. Except of course, you."
"Honestly Albert," she said mimicking his tone. "No one would put up with you either. Except of course, me."
At this, Albert snorted and gave her a glare before picking up another wet pillow cover from the bucket and hanging it over the clothesline.
"Do you have it all ready?" she said hanging the last one of the clothes onto the clothesline. "We're mostly going to be late."
"When are we ever on time?" said Albert rhetorically. "And yes, all set up in the market. Dora is waiting for us there."
"Great," she said smiling back at the boy.
While Albert put away the buckets and extra clothespins and checked on Gideon in his Workshop, Astrielle was all dressed and ready for the market. Albert and Astrielle took the road that lead to the market in the shortest possible time.
"All set up Astrielle," said Albert for the umpteenth time when Astrielle kept asking him if everything was set right. "Trust me on this, it won't go wrong. And even if it does, there are plenty of fish in the sea. Next time's always there."
Astrielle only nodded because she was too busy fidgeting with her fingers thinking about the stall they had put up. This was their only chance and she for one knew that there wouldn't possibly be a second time. The Princess of Aglidale was coming home after 16 years and there was going to be pomp and splendour. The Palace, on the Princess' orders had allowed for the common people to display their various talents, alone or in groups. The best ones, judged by the King himself, were to be used on the day of the Princess' birthday. All kinds of items were allowed to be on display, jewellery, food, decorations for the palace, cakes and other sweets, swords and even animals. Albert swore he heard someone put up a store to display broken tools.
When Astrielle and Albert finally reached the marketplace (with five minutes of running at top speed), there was silence and the people watched nervously at the far-left end of the market for any signs of the members from the royal family. Astrielle and Albert ran on tiptoes to their stall, Astrielle tagging behind Albert, both of them purposefully ignoring the looks the other members of the stalls gave them for being late. Someone even mumbled 'lazy children' loud enough for them to hear but they both only controlled their laughter and finally reached their stall.
"About time," whispered Dorothy looking at both of them with a malicious glint in her eyes. "I thought I'd have to do it all alone."
"I wouldn't ever let that happen Dora," said Albert pulling out his gloves and smiling at her sweetly.
Dorothy simply hit his arm turning around to smile a little bit before she put on her stern face back again. She turned to look at Astrielle.
"I've arranged the flowers, the embroidered clothes and all the paintings," she said proudly. "You do the weapons. I'm terrible with those things."
At this, Albert turned pale.
"Albert?" Astrielle heard herself say. "The weapons?"
"They're at my place," he said looking petrified. "I thought I'd take them when I came to pick you up. I'll just go get them."
"You? No thanks Albert," said Dorothy firmly. If looks could kill, Albert would've been dead and buried three times over. "You or me?"
"I'll go, Dora," said Astrielle sighing. "I'll try to be as quick as I can."
With that she walked out of their stall and ran across the streets, once again ignoring the looks from all the elders that glared at her. She ran until she reached the end of the market and then slowed down to a walk. She was tired. She took in the air, forcing it into her lungs and pushing it out, feeling her body tense. Tired from all the running she had done, she walked as fast as she could, all the way to her house and then to Albert's. She was glad they were neighbours.
Quickly, she greeted Albert's mother and father, hurried into the backyard, to the cabinet and carried the bag. As she reached the door of the fence, she paused. She looked into the bag making sure the weapons were actually in the bag for as she couldn't risk coming back again. Content that the weapons were actually in the bag, she quickly closed it shut and ran, speed walked and finally tiptoed back to the stall. Once again, she ignored the elders glaring daggers at her and they seemed to be mumbling something but she couldn't care any less and wanted to reach the stall. Upon reaching the stall, she was greeted to Dorothy and Albert's wide and happy smiles.
"We made it!" Dorothy shouted earning the looks of the elder man who was now, wait, packing his things.
"They didn't even need to see the weapons. We're in!" filled in Albert.
"Oh," was all Astrielle could muster. Some part of her was happy, happy that they had made it. But the other louder part of her was sad that she couldn't see the King.
"Come on, Aster," said Albert giving her a grin and pulling the bag of weapons from her hands. "You'll be able to see the King sometime tomorrow."
"Yes," Dorothy agreed. "Besides, now that we're in, there's lots of work to do. We better get started."
Astrielle nodded. They were right. The flowers, the tiny pieces of cloth and the paintings had made it in. But she was sad that she wasn't able to showcase the weapons Gideon and Albert had spent hours making. If only they could show it to the King sometime to see if he liked it...
"They were quite sad after we said that, you know," said Albert.
"She's not listening to you," said Dorothy as-a-matter-of-factly and Astrielle was now flustered.
"I'm sorry Albert," she said apologetically. "I was thinking about the market. I really missed it."
"It'll be fine Astrielle," said Dorothy reassuringly and somehow that did make her feel better. She'd be able to visit the Palace grounds everyday until the birthday of the Princess.
"I was saying," continued Dorothy. "That the King and the Queen were really empathetic the second they heard from us that you lost your parents and that you live with Gideon."
"Mostly because you're living in with Gideon," said Albert carelessly playing with the bag of weapons in his hands.
"Shut up, Albert," said Dorothy. "They were so kind to us. Albert also made sure to mention that you had a heart of gold."
Astrielle chuckled at this and Albert looked quite pleased with himself.
"The King was glad to hear that Gideon had taken you in and also said that he'll be wanting to meet Gideon in the royal court tomorrow," said Dorothy.
"Poor old man," mused Albert. "They're probably going to give him some work. You know, make swords and stuff for the Royalty."
"Mostly," agreed Dorothy. "But for a second I thought I heard the soldiers say that Gideon had finally forgotten his harsh ways and softened. You know, taking care of you and everything."
"He saved me when I was little," said Astrielle more to herself than anyone else. "I think he's the kindest soul in all of Aglidale."
"I wouldn't agree," said Albert.
"And why is that?" asked Arielle.
"The old man brought you up teaching you that he wasn't your father," said Albert. "A good man would've been nice enough to be a father."
"But he's taken care of me like a father!" said Astrielle. "That's all that matters!"
Albert lifted his arms up in defeat although there was a careless flippancy etched onto his face. Dorothy chuckled slightly at the sight of them both arguing on about whether or not Gideon was a good old man. These arguments were very often and they always ended up with Albert sighing in defeat.
The next day morning, the three neighbours were greeted with the sight of the Royal Carriages parked in front of their homes. Gideon looked pleased with Astrielle and Albert didn't miss the chance to point that out and say, "Hmm, he may be nice." The Royal Carriages were so beautiful to even gaze at and Astrielle was so excited to be riding in them. She wore her best dress and combed her hair into a neat braid. Even Albert and Dorothy were in their best clothes. Somehow, their best clothes seemed to be less grand than the uniform of the men that came along with the carriages.
Gideon and Albert's father had helped them stack up the flowers, the small pieces of clothing, the paintings and the weapons safely into one carriage while the three friends sat into another.
"I'll be visiting the Palace in the evening," said Gideon particularly to Astrielle. "The three of you can come back home with me"
The three friends nodded their heads and bid their byes to their parents. Both Albert's and Dorothy's mothers had come closer to say bye. Dorothy's father however was away, part of the troop of soldiers that brought back the Princess in safety.
The ride to the Palace was a very memorable one. The seats of the Royal Carriage were plush and comfortable and Astrielle had never sat atop anything as soft as these. There was a window on the side of the carriage opposite to the door that let them in and these were guarded with velvety curtains that were made to fit the small size of the window. Through the small window of the Carriage, Astrielle could see the other people looking at the Carriages with awe and even made sure to wave at the little children by the Plum River. The three of them had not engaged in much conversation throughout for each of them were busy marvelling at either the interior of the carriage or the way it felt like they were almost gliding across the streets of Aglidale. Albert for one, had taken interest in the horses that rode the carriages and had fallen in conversation with the man that rode their carriage. They spoke all about horses and reins and those were the only two words Astrielle could make out from the conversation and had chosen to look back at the scene outside.
Upon reaching the Palace, the men in uniforms, who were very particular about not being called 'soldiers' had courted them into the main courtroom. The halls were wide and decorated with all sorts of jewels. The floor of the court was covered with a red and thick, silky cloth and had a golden border that ran across the entire length of it. It seemed to have been plated with real gold metal. The long carpet followed metres of length until it finally reached the marble platform upon which the King's golden throne sat. By its left and right were to other marble platforms that were placed slightly lower than the centre platform but not too low. On them were beautifully carved seats that were also made of gold but they didn't look as magnificent as the one in the centre to be called a throne. These seats however, by themselves, seemed ever so beautiful and royal. As though the gold throne, the gold seats and the gold borders on the carpets weren't enough, the walls, they all seemed to be made of gold, glass, mirror and studded jewels. The ceiling however, breaking the code was made of all glass. This was too much beauty for the mundane eye.
"Welcome," said a man dressed in silvery green robes. He stood by the marble platform but not on top of it. Somehow there was a shadow that fell on him that covered most of his face. "Welcome to the Palace of Aglidale little children. Are you all marvelling at the beauty of the Palace?"
"It's beautiful," Dorothy managed to say still glancing up at the glass ceiling.
"I know not for I have not seen this place," said tha man placing his feet forward enabling the light to reach his face. He had no eyes.
Astrielle heard herself give a slight gasp
"But do not fear," he said kindly. "Little children. For I know these halls and these grounds for as I built its layout before my eyes were brutally plucked off."
"How did that happen?" asked Albert clearly unable to restrain himself from being curious.
The old man stiffened.
"Long story, son," he said as he walked towards the three of them. "I'm sure you wouldn't want to know."
From the corner of her eye, Astrielle saw Dorothy pull back Albert before he could say something. Taking clue, Albert kept quiet, although he must have been having a tough time for as his face looked physically exhausted from trying to restrain whatever question or retort he had threatening to roll out of his tongue.
"Now," began the man looking back from his mid-day reverie. "The three of you have been assigned to decorate the banquet hall along with three other groups of people. To prevent any issues, we've demarcated the areas you shall be allowed to decorate. You may use all that you displayed at your stall to decorate the area."
"Sir," began Astrielle. "We were unable to display our weapons. We wanted to—"
"Ah, so I've heard," said the man dreamily. "You may use those weapons to decorate the hall or even gift them to the members of the Royal family."
"Thank you, Sir," said Astrielle, a smile plastering on her face and staying there.
"The three of you will be led to your spot soon," said the man as he turned to leave. "It is my pleasure having you here."
But before they could say their thanks, the man was away. One of the men in uniforms who had been quite particular about not being called 'soldiers' had arrived and gave them a curt nod before he gestured to them to follow him. The three of them quietly followed the man in uniform to the banquet hall that was large and resembled the main courtroom, except here, everything was in pure white marble and the only thing gold about the banquet hall were the curtains that made the sunlight passing through the windows seem more and more golden that it originally was.
"Hmmm, here we go," said Albert excitedly.
The three of them explained to the workers of the Palace on how to use what they had brought with them and in three hours they were done. The Royal Gardener arrived about ten minutes later to sprinkle something on the flowers that apparently allowed the flowers to stay fresh for about a week or so. In the afternoon, a few men had arrived that Astrielle recognised from South Street who put in several nails into the walls all across the hall. Astrielle and Dorothy quickly put up all the paintings they had made over the course of the last one month. There was still one nail that was empty with no more paintings to hang.
"I'll go tell the green man," said Albert getting up from the floor where he was sitting, admiring its beauty a few moments ago. "He'll have something to put."
With that he got up and skipped over to find the man dressed in green.
Astrielle and Dorothy looked at each other for a brief second before they burst into laughter. Albert really was a funny person. As if on cue, he returned with a few people tagging along behind him carrying a large painting in their hands that was covered with a red velvety cloth, similar to the curtains in the Royal Carriage. They carefully hung the covered painting over the nail meant for it.
"You may remove the cloth," said one of the men that brought the covered painting and then, he turned and was off.
Albert and Dorothy looked meaningfully at Astrielle as though it were an unwritten rule that she had to do the ceremony of opening up the cover of the painting. And so, she did. Little did Astrielle know that the painting was in fact a mirror. Or was it?
As Astrielle pulled open the red covers, looking back at her was an image of herself. Except, her hair was beautifully braided into a grand bun with a few stray strands falling loosely on her shoulders. She wore a dress so grand; she couldn't believe it was her image looking back at her. There was a tiara that rested on her head as though it were meant to be there. She wore pearl earrings and a beautiful necklace. Behind her, however, was not the banquet hall, and there was no Dorothy or Albert, only a plain dark green backdrop with a huge flower vase at the left end.
Astrielle turned to look back, and there they were, both Dorothy and Albert and the other members of the banquet hall all who stood transfixed looking from the huge image on the wall to Astrielle. Astrielle looked down at her clothes and she was, in her very own clothes. Not in a grand dress. There was a shuffling of feet and now the man in green robes was by her side who didn't look anywhere in particular but had his head facing her and Astrielle knew that if he had eyes, they'd be looking at her own.
"Princess Isolt," he said numbly. "Princess Isolt, is that you?"
"I'm sorry Sir," Astrielle said unable to take things in just yet. "I'm just Astrielle. I'm no Princess."
Just then there was a loud sound from outside, the feet of several horses and the sound of the wooden wheels against the stone floors. Everyone, members of the courtroom, the other peasants, all rushed into the courtroom and out to the main hall. Astrielle stood dumbly still staring at the mirror, no, painting that was in front of her. There must have been a mistake. Albert and Dorothy walked over to her and pulled her along with them just behind the bustling crowd but both of them didn't dare to say a word to Astrielle because they knew, that now, she wasn't listening.
They reached the main entrance and there it was. The Royal Chariot. It was purple in colour and Astrielle couldn't help but notice the fact that it was ten times bigger than the Carriages they had arrived in and maybe twenty times grander. The man in green stepped away from the crowds of the people, pushing his way through and reached the Chariot first. Out from it, stepped a man dressed in grand purple and golden robes.
"The King," Dorothy whispered to Astrielle explanatorily.
Astrielle brought herself to nod.
The man in green robes whispered something to the King who listened intently. After listening for a few minutes, the King turned to look at the crowd and up above the staircase straight at Astrielle, Dorothy and Albert. The man in green robes seemed to be saying something but the King had not a care for as he ran. He ran towards the staircase and the huge crowd parted as if they had practiced the formation a hundred times over. He ran until he reached to just in front of Astrielle.
"Isolt," said the King bending down to look at Astrielle. "My dear daughter."
"Your Highness," said Astrielle, choosing her words carefully. "There seems to have been a mistake. I am, I am just a normal peasant girl."
"No," said a stern and familiar voice.
"Fifteen years ago, in the battle of Aglidale, the King lost his daughter. One of his daughters. You, Astrielle. You are Princess Isolt."
"But Gideon," Astrielle began.
"I didn't know until just now. It makes perfect sense," said Gideon the firmness in his voice not altering one bit.
The king looked over at Gideon and then at his daughter, Astrielle, or now, Isolt. Astrielle, not wanting to be called Isolt just yet, watched as the Queen and the Princess walked over to them. It was when they arrived close when Astrielle noticed. The Princess was a splitting image of herself.
Astrielle had heard the stories of the twin princesses of dale. It was the story Dorothy's mother kept telling her every time she had caught a fever. A million questions bombarded her head and she almost felt heavy from everything that she wanted to know.
"You didn't look for me," she said looking directly at the King, her Father.
"I did," said the King looking apologetically. "I looked for you all around the world. I looked for you all over the world, not a single place I left untouched, except our home for I was sure we lost you at the battle that night."
"You did," said Gideon walking up to the King. "You lost your daughter. I was a part of the troop, I'm not sure if you remember Your Majesty."
"That was the night you sent me away for being the cold-hearted man that I was," said Gideon. "I remember walking back home and on that stormy night I heard the sound, the crying of a baby. How much ever I tried to ignore the cries of the baby, I couldn't bring myself to do it. So, I took her in. I brought her up, careful not to feel too attached to the baby girl for as I knew this day would come, when her real parents found her. But I didn't know it was you, Your Highness."
It's been a week. The Royal Family is back together, finally put together. Gideon has been appointed the Royal Sword Craftsman and has his own chamber in the Palace. Isolt, our Astrielle has spent hours talking to her sister, her twin, Catherine and they realise how much they have in common. Dorothy and Albert live in homes, but not across South Street. They live in the main city, in bigger houses and have free permission to visit the palace as and when they please. The King and his Queen are happy, happier than ever for as both their daughters are home. The entire land is happy for their Princess has returned. Gideon has been given high ranks and Isolt now calls him 'Father'. And Gideon, and only Gideon, calls her Astrielle. They all lived happily ever after.