Summary: Naya waits in a local cafe for a niece she has not seen since her sudden disappearance long ago. When she is finally reunited with the beloved family member she views as a daughter, she learns about the nature of her disappearance which leads her to some shocking realizations of her own.
“On a cob web afternoon, In a room full of emptiness, By a freeway I confess, I was lost in the pages of a book full of death; Reading how we’ll die alone. And if we’re good we’ll lay to rest, Anywhere we want to go.”
-Like A Stone, Audioslave
Naya waited in a local cafe situated above one of the many subway stations that cut their way beneath downtown New York. It seemed like she had been waiting forever for her beloved niece Avery to arrive. It had been so long since she’d seen her niece that…no, she didn’t want to think about how lonely she had been without her. She didn’t want to remember the day that Avery had left her those many years ago.
Avery had come to live with Naya at the age of three when her own mother could no longer take care of her. Naya’s sister Helen had struggled with her alcohol addiction for years. Naya always had the feeling she’d end up raising her niece one day if Helen didn’t clean up her act and she was right. She claimed the custody of her niece when she was three years old, under the instruction of a city attorney. Somehow her niece had gone missing from her life after only two years of raising her as her own child. Little Avery was only five years old when she disappeared into the vast oceans of people and buildings that gave New York its reputation of swallowing faint hearted people alive. Naya’s sister never forgave her for losing sight of her.
New York is a big city. Many items have been lost to its streets, parks, and alleys never to be recovered. It was a city where things and people disappeared in a flash of a second and neither was easily found. Despite this fact, Naya always thought she would find Avery. She always hoped she would see her playing outside one of the downtown shops when she was running errands for the law firm she worked at. Avery would run up to her giggling and Naya would take her home to her apartment where she would make sure that she would never lose sight of her again. She always imagined that she could see her when she took long strolls in Central Park, engrossed in thoughts about the times they once shared together.
Now, Naya was so mixed up inside. She didn’t know whether she was happy or frightened to see the person she loved like a daughter again after four years of being apart. Little Avery would be nine years old now. One of the regulars of the café told her that she saw her niece hanging around the lobby a few days ago. Naya had posted her picture on the walls with her name and address in the hope that someone would find her. Avery looked older, but the man who found her niece said he would have recognized her facial features anywhere from the pictures she had posted.
Naya came to the cafe every night since the regular had told her the details of her niece’s whereabouts in the hope of finding her again. She would do anything to have her niece in her arms after spending so many years apart. She was tired of living her life alone. She was tired of the guilt that she had been lugging around for five years from losing her. Her sister’s inebriated curse words stuck out the most in her mind.
“I hate that you are my sister. I hate you more than anyone. Damn you. I hope you rot in hell.”
The drunken words Helen screamed at her the night her daughter went missing often played over and over like a broken record in Naya’s mind. They made her hate herself more and more the longer she was apart from her niece. They made her want to curl up somewhere and let herself waste away to nothing. She had felt worthless ever since she heard had them. She could not face her sister ever since the loss in both of their lives had taken place.
Tonight, the service was slow and when the waitress did speak to her, the young woman with red hair pulled into a ponytail told her that she would meet her niece soon. Naya had talked to the regular at the café who had originally seen her niece and said that she had also seen Avery playing by the subway a few times as well. The regular at the cafe insisted that she had seen Avery hanging around these parts since last August, but Naya had yet to see her walk through the glass doors of the small establishment. She had been waiting for her niece to show up for a while now and had somehow found the courage to pull herself out of her depressive haze, if only for a while, at the prospect of seeing Avery walk through the front entrance. Perhaps this evening would be the moment when she could finally own up to the fact that there were some things in this world that were out of her hands and could not be faced alone.
She couldn’t explain why she was waiting here; she felt completely disoriented. One minute she was driving home and the next moment…she wasn’t sure what happened. Naya assumed that she had stopped at this place because she knew Avery would be here. Maybe she possessed some kind of ESP. Naya remembered that her sister told her once that all aunts have psychic abilities that tell them when their family needs them most. That was one of the many things that make aunts special.
Helen had told her that gem of wisdom before Avery had gone missing from their lives. Naya knew that her sister would say that all family is worthless if they had the same conversation these days. Helen lost her last reason to retain some sort of sanity in her life when her daughter went missing. She started knocking back eight beers a night. The last time Naya heard anything about her, she was serving time in the State penitentiary for being caught drunk behind the wheel for the third time.
Naya kept drawing a complete blank. She knew that she couldn’t be dreaming. She felt the warm air of a heater on a nearby table blowing in her face. This had to be real. She couldn’t remember when she had showed up to the cafe. There were other people sitting next to her table. Some were sitting by themselves, looking out the window facing out onto Twelfth Avenue deep in thought. Others are laughing with old acquaintances.
It made Naya wish that her niece was sitting at the table with her. After she pictured Avery’s brown curly hair and blue eyes in her mind she saw her walk through the door of the café like a vision come to life. All Naya could feel was a combination of relief and excitement. Avery began to talk to her but she did not hear the words. An overwhelming feeling of happiness overtook her body. Naya finally worked up the courage to give her niece one of her famous “Aunty Naya” hugs, ignoring what she had just told her. She smiled and took Naya’s hand.
“Don’t worry Aunt Naya; I’ll never leave you again,” She heard Avery say as Naya took her hand and lead her out of the café to the entrance of the nearby subway station.
After receiving a pair of tickets, the two hoped onto one of the subway trains together, holding each other’s hands. The subway seemed to travel down the set of old steel tracks for ages as it speed out of the city and cut through the rolling hills of a green valley. Small towns popped up every once in a while between each stretch of landscape Naya and Avery passed on the way to their final destination. On their way home to start a new life, Naya asked Avery where she had been all of those years.
“With dad,” Avery had replied.
“Dad took me back and made me live with him. I was so afraid to leave. But daddy said I would be all right. He took me to the place we are going. He told me you would probably be at the café if I met you at the right time. I wanted to be the first person to find you no matter what.”
Naya all at once felt very weak in the knees. Avery’s father had died a few months before she was born. Her niece had to be mistaken. Perhaps some man like her father had been taking care of her but…no that didn’t seem right. Naya stared down at her niece who was smiling up at her. A headache stared to form at the back of her head but everything was staring to become clearer now. It was the fact she had assumed that she’d stopped at the café on her way home from work that got her to thinking. Naya never remembered reaching the café in her car. It was as if she had just shown up there and started waiting for her niece to arrive.
It made little sense that they were taking the subway since Naya had supposedly showed up at the café in her car. And the two had no reason to be heading out of the city. Naya lived in an apartment not far from where the Café was situated. She just had to jump in her car and take the freeway to the downtown area and…the freeway. Another wave a pain shot through her head as she started to recall all of the moments leading up to sitting in the café.
She remembered that she was driving on the freeway, headed to meet with a café regular about a possible sighting of her niece. That is when a truck had started to tailgate her from behind. Frustrated, she had tried to go faster but the truck caught up with her again. This speeding game continued for a while until the truck became impatient and attempted to pass her on the side. But he didn’t have enough room and he ended up sliding into the side of her car.
The last thing she remembered was a tall, lanky man banging on her car window. He was yelling through the window, asking over and over if she was okay. She looked around her and saw that the car was turned upside-down. For some reason she couldn’t move any of her limbs. She could only hear the man saying that he had called for an ambulance and to hold on as everything had faded into darkness. And then she had ended up in that café, waiting for her niece like nothing had happened.
Naya felt her emotions wash over her like a wave. She put her arms around Avery and held her for what seemed like an eternity. Naya held her niece for so long that Avery had fallen sleep in her arms. Naya laid her niece gently on her lap to allow her to continue resting. She took her cellphone out of her purse after a while and scrolled through the list of names in her contact list to her sister’s cell phone number. She knew she couldn’t reach Helen by the number in her cellphone. Helen was locked up behind bars on account of her latest drinking incident and there was no way she could personally visit the State Prison to get any message about her daughter’s whereabouts to her now that she had passed on. Holding the cellphone in her hand, Naya left a single text message on her sister’s cellphone knowing she would probably never receive it.
It read, “I found Avery. You don’t have to worry anymore. I’m going to make sure that she is happy from now on.”
“If Helen is ever sober enough to get her cellphone privileges back, there is a chance she might finally know that I have reunited with her daughter. Maybe then she will be comforted knowing that I intend to care for Avery until it is her turn to return home,” Naya thought to herself as she slipped the cellphone into her purse and watched Avery sleep on her lap as the subway train pressed on far outside the boundaries of New York city limits.
After traveling for a few hours, the two of them finally reached their old home in the suburbs where the two of them had once lived before Naya moved to the city. She had rented a small apartment to have easier access to the café people had reported to see her niece hanging around. It was also within walking distance of her job. She thought about who would take care of her apartment now that she was gone. She wondered what would happen to all of her possessions. It was a strange feeling pondering everything that would happen after she was dead.
The subway reached the suburban area where Naya’s house had once been located. She assumed that it was her place to get off. She gently woke Avery and the two stepped off the subway onto the platform. The walked up to the street above and made their way to the house the two of them had once lived in.
As Naya stood at the iron large gates of the Victorian style house her niece and she lived in eight long years ago, she felt a tear slide down her cheek. It had taken many years, but Naya was finally reunited with the young girl she had always viewed as her own daughter. Her niece continued to hold her hand as the two of them walked through the large iron gates of the property to the house’s front yard. Naya smiled when she realized that from this day forward the two of them could live the rest of their lives out together in the place made of the landscape of their dreams.
It was a year before Helen was released from the state prison but she had heard about her sister’s death while she was still serving her time. The news had devastated her. She had once been angry at her sister for losing sight of Avery but now she couldn’t bring herself to be angry at her anymore. For the first time in her life she was able to accept some of the blame. If she had just been a better mother to Avery she would never been taken away to live with Naya. She could have prevented the disappearance of her daughter and the death of her sister. They had told her that Naya had been driving to follow up on a sighting someone had had of her niece at a downtown café. That was when the truck hit her car and she wasn’t able to hold onto to life before the medical team of paramedics arrived.
Helen had gone through an AA program when she was at the state prison and was now sober. Today was the first real time she had had to visit her sister’s grave. She was still locked up when the family had held the funeral. Although she could not make it, her mother had visited and brought photos and news of the event. Her mother had told her to think about how her actions led to everything that happened and begged her to start turning herself around before she was met with more tragedies in her life. Helen took her mother’s words to heart and had been working hard to stay sober and employed. Shortly after being released, she started working at a small flower shop near the café her sister used to frequent. She liked working there because flowers reminded her of her sister. Naya had had her own garden when she was still alive.
She rented the same apartment her sister lived in as it had fallen unoccupied after her death. She visited the café every day in hopes that she would find some news about her daughter.
It was an early Saturday afternoon when she took a taxi out to one of the inner-city gravesites to visit her sister’s final place of rest. She was carrying a bouquet of flowers from the shop she worked in. She had made it special for this occasion, with all of her sister’s favorite candies and even a stuffed bear she knew her sister would like if she was still alive.
When she reached the cemetery, she walked along the path until she saw the row her sister’s memorial was located in. She walked along the path of headstones until she saw her sister’s name carved on a stone that read, “In memory of Naya Stevens. A loving daughter, sister, aunt, and friend.”
She placed the bouquet of flowers at the base of the grave and had a moment of silence in honor of Naya. As she stood praying over her sister’s gravestone, she heard her cell phone’s ringtone blare from her back jean pocket.
“In your house I long to be; Room by room patiently, I’ll wait for you there like a stone. I’ll wait for you there alone.”
The familiar sound of the ringtone she had set for her text message notifications cut through the silence.
She considering taking her cellphone out and silencing it but something told her not to. The ringtone continued to play into the empty spaces around her.
“And on I read until the day was gone; And I sat in regret of all the things I’ve done; For all that I’ve blessed, and all that I’ve wronged. In dreams until my death, I will wander on.”
The ringtone finished its final pass. Then a sharp buzz sounded, letting her know that a text message had just been sent and was waiting for her to view it. Helen couldn’t explain why she felt so compelled to look at her cellphone. Even though she ignored most text messages when she was doing something important she felt as though she should read whatever text message was sent her way. She pulled the cell phone out of her pocket and read the text message that had set off her cell phone’s ringtone.
The message read, “I found Avery. You don’t have to worry anymore. I’m going to make sure that she is happy from now on.”
Helen put a hand to her mouth in shock. It was a message from her sister. It was dated the exact day and hour that she had died in the accident with the truck. At that moment something clicked inside of her, a deep rooted instinct of knowing that all of her deepest fears had come to pass. She somehow understood the meaning of her sister’s last words. She wasn’t going to see Avery again; not in this plain of living. Not until she crossed over into wherever death had taken two of the most cherished people in her life.
The realization that Naya and her daughter were together gave her a mixed sense of peace and sadness. She was at peace because she knew her sister would take care of her daughter in the afterlife but she was also sad that she would never see her daughter alive in this realm of existence again.
Helen sunk to the base of her sister’s grave grasping the cell phone in her hands. She held the cell phone close to her face with her sister’s last message displayed on the screen and wept at the base of her grave for what seemed like forever.
Summary: Prince Ackeyun is forced to marry the princesses of the neighboring kingdoms to keep treaties between the kingdoms alive. But one day he comes up with a plan to free himself from his unfortunate fate.
Prince Ackeyun of the kingdom of Dagwan had forty wives. He had so many wives that he didn’t know what to do with all of them. Every time another wife was offered to him as a symbol of peace from one of the neighboring countries, he could not refuse their father’s marriage invitations. All of the kingdoms of the world of Iregeya wanted peace with his kingdom because he had resources they each craved.
Marrying into the resources was the best way for the other kingdoms to have access to them without being forced to sign a proper treaty. Thus, poor Prince Ackeyun was stuck with forty wives from the most known kingdoms of the world. The only thing he could think to do with his wives was give them a good place to stay.
He placed each of the women in the Grand Halls that rested at the back of his palace. The Grand Halls had been built by one of his ancestors long ago to accommodate the imperial harem. The multiple chambers had great columns made of black stone that rose for what seemed like miles into the sky. At the top and base of the columns were the carved images of griffins.
Each of the griffins had painted red eyes which stood in contrast to their otherwise black, carved, stone forms. The roof was made of black wood and laid in a crisscross pattern over the columns. On the roof of the grand halls were the painted images of the God Ravin Mon, with his eagle wings outstretched and his feet grasping at the threads of the universe with his hooked talons.
The walls were decorated with complicated hieroglyphics that the ancient kings had once written in. Sitting next to the upraised hieroglyphics was a writing script that the kingdom still used. The hieroglyphics were a window into the past. The only way they could be deciphered was by the modern script that was written on the gold walls in red ink. The ancient language had long been forgotten and the Grand Halls was one of the only places in the kingdom that they could still be found.
There were multiple natural hot springs that were built into the layout of the Grand Hall. Each of the hot springs was circled by a dark ring of stones and had black, steep steps built down into them. The stairs stopped at the bottom of each spring, where they met a natural rock floor. The hall lead out into many gardens that were watered with an ancient pipe system that ran underneath the city.
Multiple pipes drew water out of a river that snaked into the mountains far to the east of the kingdom. The water in the pipes was partitioned throughout the palace and other areas of the kingdom. It was used for everything from fountains and sprinkler systems to bathtub water and even running water for toilets.
The Grand Hall had many rooms that were each decorated according to the taste of the princess that lived in them. Some of the rooms had lavish sofas with many pillows of silk and cotton atop them that the princesses used as cushions for their beds. Some of the rooms had four posted beds with canopies that held rose petals above them as they slept. Some rooms had grand carpets made of thread that only traveling merchants from faraway lands had access to before being brought to the palace.
Never in one place had anyone in those days and days since seen so many rooms with so many different adornments. The princesses had many servants that attended to their needs and lived with them in their imperial chambers. The rooms were large enough to accommodate as many assistants as the princesses needed.
The prince took very good care of his wives. Whatever they asked, he would do everything in his power to provide for them, no matter what the distance away the item was that they desired, or how much it would cost. Some would say that Prince Ackeyun was very lucky to have as many wives as he did that he could call upon any time he felt lonely.
However, the truth of the matter was that it was very hard work trying to please all of his wives. He often found himself with a quite a big headache at the end of the day. As if dealing with the matters of the kingdom was not hard enough, he also had to worry about his forty wives.
His father and mother were still alive, so some of the country’s burden was lifted from his shoulders. Even so, Prince Ackeyun was aware that this ideal situation would not last forever. He could only imagine how things would be when he had the full rights to the throne. If the countries of Iregeya kept marrying him off to their daughters, he wouldn’t have any time to himself at all. This troubled him greatly and often made him feel overwhelmed.
Prince Ackeyun was trying to think of a solution to his problem on one such occasion when he noticed one of the princesses walking unescorted in his palace’s main garden. He immediately sat up from the grassy knoll where he was sitting and walked over to greet her.
He bowed slightly forward and said in a courtly manner, “My lady, you should not be walking outside the boundaries of the imperial harem without an attendant to guide you. There are many countries jealous of my wealth. You could very well be captured by one of my enemies if you wander around the palace gardens unescorted.”
The lady sat down in the grass, pulling her many skirts around her frame. She smiled up at the prince.
“Your highness, you do not have to worry about me. I come from a warrior nation to the northeast of Dagwan. I have been well trained in the art of war. I was going to be a general in my army until my father sent me here.”
When she saw the prince’s look of shock at her sudden forwardness she quickly added, “Oh dear, I didn’t mean for it to sound as though I didn’t want to come here. I was just trying to let you know that you don’t have to worry about me.”
The prince sighed and sat beside her.
“I wish that the really were the case. It would be nice if I didn’t have to worry about you all of the time. However, the laws of this land dictate that I give you the greatest of care. I am responsible for your well-being. I must make sure that you are well housed or I shall be thought of as an irresponsible member of the royal house when it comes time for me to rule this land. ”
The princess looked ashamed for wandering around by herself, after hearing what the prince had told her.
She said, “It was not my intention to cause you worry or to be a burden to you. I just thought you should know that I am more than capable of taking care of myself. No one would look down upon you if they knew how capable I was of being my own master.”
The prince didn’t know quite what to say to the princess’s revelation. However, the longer he gazed into the princess’s eyes the more her words stirred something inside of him. His thoughts turned to his current situation.
He thought to himself, “Why couldn’t that be true? Why couldn’t I just let my wives worry about themselves? They were all formally trained before they arrived at the palace. This princess might really be onto something here.”
It occurred to the prince that what he was thinking was just crazy enough of an idea to work. He really did wish that the princesses could be free and happy outside of his care. His plan was one way of accomplishing this lofty task. Prince Ackeyun realized that he had been quiet for a long time and smiled tenderly at the princess.
“My lady, if I made you a general in my army, would that please you? You couldn’t be my wife, but I would pay you for your services. You could make an honest living doing something that you love. Would this make you happy?”
The princess’s eyes lit up in wonder.
“I could be a general in your army, and do whatever I wished and married whoever I wanted to?”
The prince nodded.
“That is correct. Anything you wanted, you could do as a free member of my royal house. What do you say?”
The princess hugged the prince.
“Oh, I would like that very much! Can I be a general now? I want to enlist in your army as soon as possible!”
The prince stood from the grass.
“Indeed you can. I shall proclaim you as a new head general straight away! Come with me to the Chamber of Warlords at the southern end of my palace. We shall fit you with armor and a sword this very day!”
The princess hopped up from her place on the grass and followed the prince to the royal Chamber of Warriors. When the prince explained the situation to the head general of the Royal Army, the men that had overheard the conversation thought he had completely lost his mind.
Nonetheless, the general followed the prince’s orders and the men in the prince’s army accepted the lady as their superior. The princesses was fitted with armor, given a horse, given a proper weapon, and was enlisted as a general in the royal army. In time, she became a legend in the palace tournaments. People came from all over the kingdom to watch her joust and display her warrior skills in other fighting tournaments. Everyone in the kingdom was impressed by her skill.
When the other princesses learned of Princess Moryana’s fate, they too wanted a position in the palace. One by one the prince gave the princesses titles in the palace. Some became advisers. Some became admirals in the kingdom’s navy fleet. Some became council members. Some became royal seamstresses. Others became royal chefs. Pretty soon the whole palace was filled with an equal number of men and women carrying out every level of task imaginable. Some of the princesses left the castle and worked as governors in neighboring towns. Others worked in neighboring cities as Council members, or soldiers in other parts of the kingdom.
Prince Ackeyun had finally rid himself of the responsibility of looking after so many wives. Now he could focus on choosing on wife that he really loved, rather than looking after an entire imperial harem. Some of the royal family members of the other kingdoms of Iregeya discovered what prince Ackeyun had done and were not pleased.
The ruler of the elementals, King Leighton of Joziah kingdom, could not believe that his daughter Moryana was working as a general in the king’s army. The Satyr King Ignacio of Valentia Kingdom could hardly believe that his eldest daughter Rhea had become an imperial baker. This was very troubling to many of the kings of the various nations. No one had ever heard of such a thing in their entire lives of living on the world. It was totally unprecedented.
It came to pass that there was a council between the kings of the countries that had married their daughters to Prince Ackeyun. It took a month for all of them to meet at the designated place, but when they all got together they were more furious than ever. The kings had decided to hold their meeting in the kingdom of Gaige since it was a neutral kingdom. The fairy king Bael was the ruler of Gaige and was chosen by all of the other kings to be the head of the council. After everyone had settled into their chairs in the great council room, the kings began to address their grievances one by one.
The Troll King Davon of Blaise Kingdom growled between clenched teeth, “Do you know what my daughter Yanet is doing? She is working as a palace administrator. She is doing a job below her station. This is an outrage!”
The Dwarf King Maxton of Shudra Kingdom waved his hand dismissively.
“That’s nothing. My daughter Honora is working as a royal carriage driver. Can you believe it? She wrote me and told me that she is going to marry a dwarf man that tends the royal stables. What does that Prince Ackeyun think he is doing?”
The pale-skinned Fairy King Bael raised his staff to silence the muttering that was being exchanged between all of the members of the council. He gestured for the gnome king to speak his piece when the chattering had settled down.
The Gnome King Framend of Arlo Kingdom stood up in his chair and bellowed at the top of his lungs so everyone could hear, “The lot of you do not even know what suffering means. My daughter Teegan has become a head member of the royal sewing committee. Her greatest power is commanding the other woman of the sewing committee to make carpets for the palace, bed sheets, or clothes! I tell you, this young prince is an upstart. If it weren’t for his resources, I would have never sent my daughter to live in his kingdom in the first place!”
The council room echoed with the voices of the other angry fathers as they tried to speak about their grievances all at once. The Fairy King Bael raised his staff above his head and held it until the council was in order.
He proceeded to say, “It seems to me, that the prince thinks that his marriage to our daughters was some kind of joke. I say that we attack his kingdom, reclaim our daughters, and take his resources for ourselves.”
The council members all shouted words of approval and that is how the whole world turned against poor Prince Ackeyun, quite literally. Princess Moryana heard rumors of the impending war and told the prince about it straight away. The prince was shocked at the news. After talking with the other members of his council (many of them the princesses of the other kingdoms who intended to attack his land) he decided that he had no choice but to go to war.
King Leighton of Joziah set a time and place for the battle to end all battles. Prince Ackeyun accepted the invitation reluctantly under the guidance of his council and headed out to rage war with the other kingdoms. Many of the princesses the rode into battle at his side were commanders, admirals, and generals in his army. When he arrived on the battlefield, a curious thing happened. The gathered armies recognized the princesses by the country flags waving from the back of their chariots and refused to advance.
The Elemental King turned to the other kings commanding their vast armies and said, “We cannot fight a battle against our own daughters. We must think of another solution to this problem.”
The other kings agreed and had their generals waved the red flag of peace. One by one the red flags rose in the air. Never had there been such a display of red banners all in one place before! So it came to pass that the war that had taken over a year for each side to correlate and train for was disbanded in less than a day. Finally, King Leighton of Joziah and the kings of the other nations had a council meeting in the kingdom of Prince Ackeyun. Each of them expressed their grievances and the prince listened to the complaints of each one. When everyone was done talking the prince had this to say.
He stood from his throne and said, “Every one of you kings married your daughters to me in order to have access to my resources. Each of you has had free access to my resources without a formal trade agreement for many years. I have provided each and every one of your daughters a promising role in my kingdom. I would like to add that each of them is compensated for their services. All I can say is that if you are so angry with the way I am treating your daughters, you should be angrier at yourselves for handing them over to me for your own selfish purposes in the first place. May shame be upon any man who wishes to deprive his daughter of the good fortune they have found in my lands for no other reason than to save their own pride.”
The kings were shocked at what the prince had brought to light. They all muttered amongst themselves and finally came to the mutual agreement that the prince was right and that his solution had been the most just of anyone there. That very day, the prince drew up a peace treaty with all of the nations present. He also signed a free trade agreement, so there wouldn’t be any more daughters forced upon him to marry. That is how prince Ackeyun freed himself from being tied down to forty wives.
It is said that other kingdoms followed his example. Women became powerful members in government and were free to choose their husbands across the world of Iregeya. After having so many wives, prince Ackeyun never thought he would settle down and marry. However, when his mother and father died, he was obligated to find a wife after taking the throne. His thoughts returned to the princess that had given him the advice in the first place that fateful day in the palace garden.
He married the lady Moryana and he made sure that she still held the title of general in his army. The only thing that changed was that this time around, she was the royal general. They say that never in the world of Iregeya was there a fiercer a warrior than she. She had many children with prince Ackeyun who also became warriors.
From that moment on, it became a tradition for all the princes and princes of the house of Dagwan to become warriors for their kingdom. None of them had to keep an imperial harem so the old space was turned into a lavish guest hall for travelers to say in when they were far from the borders of their own kingdoms. Dagwan became known as the kingdom that had the best hospitality and most secure resources because of the decision to disband the imperial harem by Prince Ackeyun and his children that followed after.
Summary: Applena has been managing an orchard left to her with the passing of her parents for many years. One day she gets a visit from a stranger who helps her with various things although she is not sure why. It is a bit rough around the edges. Helpful critiques are welcomed and appreciated. Thank you in advance.
In the land of Fenn there lived a maiden with long, curly red hair and deep green eyes that owned and apple orchard that stretched for miles outside the boundaries of the capital city. The apple orchard had been passed down to her by her late father along with his business. For generations, her family had tended the apple trees, picked the apples when they became ripe, and sold them in the nearby capital city of Argeon.
The maiden’s family was well known and respected for their apples which people came from all over to purchase for they were said to be the best in all the land. The maiden had lost her mother, Sheria, to a plague that struck the country when she was a small girl. The same plague had come through the valley a few years ago and taken the life of her father Gareth. She was the only member of her house left.
The young maiden, who was named Applena for the fruit her family sold for many generations, missed both of her parents terribly but did not let their death get her down. Every spring when the apples were at their ripest, she would pack a wagon full of the red, yellow, and green fruits and make her journey into Argeon to sell them in the local market.
On one such trip, the maiden set up a modest stand and began calling out to the travelers who passed by.
“My dear people, I implore you to buy my famous apples! One taste is enough to prove their worth! I offer free samples for everyone! If you are satisfied with the taste, I humbly ask for you to part with your gold and buy a few.”
Applena took out a tray with the three different types of apples cut into wedges placed delicately upon it and set it atop her merchant’s booth. About that time a mysterious traveler in a long black cloak walked toward the maiden’s booth. The traveler’s face was hidden behind a dark hood as was the traveler’s garb. The only thing visible was the traveler’s brown boots which stuck out from underneath the cloak.
The traveler spotted the maiden selling her apples and stopped by the booth. The mysterious wanderer picked up one of the samples with one of its gloved hands (it was brown) and placed the morsel in its mouth (which was hidden by the cloak). The taste was so extraordinary that it made the traveler clap its gloved hands together, exposing part of the shirt behind the cloak, which was a deep blue.
“Bravo, my dear merchant. Your apples are a little piece of heaven to the senses.”
The traveler said this in a merry voice. The voice was that of a man, but the tone was too obscure to be able to guess at any age. Applena smiled.
“Thank you my dear traveler. Though, you have only tried the valley green variety. Please, do try the yellow and the red. If they are the best apples you have ever tasted, I ask you humbly to purchases a few for your family or friends!”
The man tasted the other two apples and was highly impressed by their flavor.
“My dear woman, your apples are indeed the finest I have ever tasted. I will buy your whole stock of them! You see, I am the royal cook and I was sent to the market to buy ingredients for one hundred pies I am to make for a banquet being thrown for the king. These apples will be splendid in the pies I intend to bake. Just name me a price and it is yours!”
Applena clapped her hands together in joy and took out an abacus from behind the booth. She moved the wooden beads around three times until the figure seemed right.
She turned to the traveler and said, “My dear cook, the abacus says that the price should be one thousand Rungels, but because I have a deep loyalty for the king, queen, and their prince Murseilles II (long may he reign) I will sell them to you for a mere eight hundred. Have we a deal, dear cook?”
The man took out a pouch of gold Rungles and placed it on Applena’s merchant booth.
“I will give you two thousand for offering his majesty such a good deal, my lady. However, with this gold you must heed my advice. If you promise to take the humble instruction of a lowly palace cook you may keep every pound of this handsome payment.”
Applena stared at the sac of gold in wonder and then nodded her head in agreement.
“I accept your offer, dear sir, if it does not put a burden on your purse strings.”
The traveler laughed heartily and turned to an assistant that Applena had not noticed before.
“Yem, I want you to fetch a wagon from the palace kitchen and bring it to this booth as fast as you can manage. I have many pies to bake and little time to do it in. Hurry now, before the apples turn!”
The assistant bowed graciously and mounted a horse. He rode to the palace as fast as the horse could carry him to complete his task. While the assistant was away, the traveler leaned in close to Applena and gave her some words of advice.
“My dear maiden, I implore you to listen to this business plan I have been cooking up (do excuse the pun) in my head for some time now to sell my own baked goods. With the two thousand I have given you, I feel you should buy a larger booth in the city. The permits for such booths are five hundred Rungles, which would leave you with one thousand five hundred left. With the next five hundred you should hire yourself a helper maiden to pick the apples from your trees for one year, and the next five hundred to hire a helper maiden to tend your trees for one year. The last five hundred shall be used to buy a storage shelter for the apples you do not sell so you may sell them year round. Since I gather that you have many other apples yet to sell in your orchard, you will still make a profit from those in the months to come. With the money from those sells, you should store it up for your own personal needs. Next year, around this time, when the contract of your assistants is almost terminated, I shall return and buy more apples for the festival that always takes place this time of year. I will give you more advice when we meet again.”
Before Applena could question the man, his assistant arrived with two horses hitched to a grand wagon. The cook and his assistant loaded the barrels of apples that Applena had lugged to the market in their wagon and covered it with a brown tarp. With the apples neatly tucked away, the assistant mounted one of the horses, and the palace cook mounted the other.
He turned back to Applena and said, “Next year I will meet you at the same place and time. Do what I have advised you to do until then!”
He and his assistant drove off leaving Applena with an empty booth except the single pouch of gold coins atop it. Applena took the pouch in her hands. She had never been paid that much money in her entire life. The amount of gold was enough to buy one thousand dresses or any number of useless furniture items to place around her modest dwelling.
She was so caught up in the excitement of owning so much gold that she almost forgot the traveler’s advice. Fortunately for Applena, the excitement soon passed and she decided to do what the palace cook had advised her to do. That very day she bought a permit for the largest booth in the marketplace and hired herself two assistants to help her with her work.
She journeyed to the builder’s guild and commissioned a team of seven laborers to build her a storage house (with an enchanted cooling system) to keep her unsold apples fresh throughout the year. The next few months were spent training her two helpers, waiting patiently for her storage house to be constructed, and selling her apples at the local market. When her storage house was completed, it was about the time of year when her apple trees slept for the fall and winter. Her first assistant, Millie, picked all the apples she could from the trees and then helped the second assistant, Gale, put the over-stock in the newly built store house.
Applena had made a great deal of money from the previous months so she did not try to sell her overstock during the winter. Instead, perhaps inspired by the royal cook who had helped her find so much fortune, she decided to use the apples to make baked goods. With the help of her two assistants, Applena made everything from apple jam and apple butter to apple bread and apple pie. She sold her baked goods during the winter month, which drew even more customers than before. The winter month passed and spring was upon the land of Fenn once more.
Applena’s trees were bearing fruit which she picked to sell at the local market, this time accompanied by Millie and Gale. Applena had found so much favor that she had nearly forgotten about the palace chef that gave her the advice. Her memory returned to her when the mysterious man in his trademark black cloak came marching toward her booth with his assistant Yem at his side. He outstretched his arms and gave a merry laugh.
“My dear maiden, I see you have taken my advice. Bravo! You seem to be doing very well for yourself. I, of course, by order of the king (long may he reign) have come to buy your stock of apples to bake pies for the spring festival. The pies last year were so good that the king feels that two thousand Rungles was not enough payment for them. Thus, this time I shall pay you (and your lovely assistants) four thousand Rungles. However, you must heed my advice or I will not give you the gold dear lady. Have we a deal?”
Applena’s eyes widened at the amount of gold the king was willing to offer her for her goods. Eventually she snapped out of her state of wonder. She nodded, quite shaken at the proposal. Applena could see a faint outline of a smile from the other side of the hood.
The man’s merry voice rung out from underneath it, “Ah, all is well then. First, I shall fulfill my end of the bargain. Here is the four thousand.”
The man took out a pouch even larger than the one Applena had seen before and placed it on her merchant’s booth. He set his assistant Yem to work, placing the apples in a cart he had brought with him to the market (he was prepared this time) and leaned in close to Applena while his assistant loaded the wagon.
“Now my dear maiden, I will give you my advice. With the first five hundred, you shall renew the contract of your first helper, who tends the apple trees in your orchard. With the next five hundred you will of course renew the contract of your second helper who picks the apples and helps you sell them at the market. This will leave you with three thousand Rungles. Now! With the first one thousand, you are to set up a bakery in the city. I heard from one of my assistants in the palace kitchen that over the winter you sold baked goods that were a delight to all who tasted them. This talent should not go to waste! One thousand will be enough to buy you a small building to set up a bakery in. The next one thousand should be used to buy materials for your bakery. The final thousand should be used to decorate and remodel the building you will move your enterprises into. You will sell the booth you own presently to a man named Garm. Garm is an eccentric man who will pay you double what you paid for it. With the one thousand Rungles you earn from Garm, you must buy two assistant cooks from the royal kitchen to help bake your goods in your store. Each will work for five hundred Rungles a year like your two assistants. You yourself will be the patron of the store and your two assistants (beauties they are) will continue to tend the trees and deliver the apples to your bakery to be cooked by your hired baking assistants. If you take my advice, surely your business will triple in its sells!”
When the traveler had finished giving Applena advice, Yem had finished packing the apples in the wagon and signaled for him to mount one of the horses drawing the wagon. Before Applena could thank the palace cook for his kindness he mounted his horse and paused momentarily for his assistant to mount the other.
Before the two men pulled away from Applena’s merchant booth, the chef called back, “I will return the same time next year. I of course, expect you to have a bakery by then. I will ask my assistants in the kitchen where you have set up shop and will journey there when the spring festival is upon us once more.”
Applena waved goodbye to the two men as they disappeared into the hustle and bustle of the city. She turned to her brown-haired assistant Gale as she drew five hundred Rungles from the large pouch that had been placed on her merchant booth.
She placed the five hundred in her first assistant’s hand and said, “My dear Gale, here are your year’s wages in advance. Please take the day off to sort out your finances.”
Gale gave Applena a big smile and graciously accepted the gold coins. She waved goodbye to her friends before setting off to the bank to store her year’s profit away in her savings account. Applena then drew the next five hundred out of the bag and placed it in the hands of her black-haired assistant Millie.
“My dear friend, please accept your half of the wages. I implore you to take the rest of the day off as well so you may invest those gold coins wisely.”
Millie placed her wages on the booth and gave Applena a big hug.
“Thank you so much, Ma’am. Good luck with your business plans!”
Millie gave Applena a curtsy and scooped the gold coins up in her hands. She placed them in a brown pouch hanging at her side that she usually used to store extra apples in. She then ran through the city to her home, where she stored all of her savings in a large safe she kept in the basement of her modest dwelling. Applena was left alone at the booth with her thoughts. She considered herself very fortunate to have met the palace cook and his assistant in the first place and took a moment to thank the heavens for their blessings upon her.
Afterwards, she set out to find the man named Garm that the palace cook had mentioned. Surprisingly, it was not too hard to find him. She asked a few of the neighboring merchants that set up shop next to her booth where she might him and they pointed her in the direction of a large building north of her apple stand. She took the large pouch in her hands and said goodbye to her stand. It was the last time she would see the apple booth that she had made so many memories with her customers and friends over the past year in which made her feel a bit sentimental toward it. She took a deep breath and walked toward the old building at the north end of town. She stepped in the door and was immediately greeted by a man with grey hair and a long grey beard to match.
“Welcome, welcome, young lady,” said the man in an old, creaky voice.
“What can an old man like me do for you?”
“Kind sir, would you tell me where to find the man named Garm? I want to sell my merchant booth to him, if he has the time to talk to a humble merchant like me.”
The old man gave a hearty laugh.
“My dear child, I am the man you seek. I will gladly purchase you merchant booth for any price you offer.”
Applena took the palace cook’s advice and asked for five hundred Rungles.
She was surprised when the old man said, “That is such a low price! No, no, no, I’m afraid that this will not do. I refuse to buy your booth for less than one thousand Rungles. My heavens dear, please do not make me pay any less than that or I shall feel that I have cheated you from your hard-earned money.”
Applena nodded her head enthusiastically and withdrew the deed to her store from a satchel that was slung over her back.
“I accept your offer. I thank you, my dear sir, for your gracious contribution!”
Garm chuckled merrily and took the deed from Applena’s hand. In its place he gave Applena the amount he had offered her.
“There you are, young lady. Now don’t spend all that money in one place. Be smart about your investments!”
Applena promised Garm that she would and rushed out of the old building. As she headed to the south area of the town to purchase a space for her bakery, she realized that she had 4,000 Rungles once more, the same amount that the palace chef had given her earlier that day. Even after paying her two assistants, she was still ahead. This made her smile as she reached the town’s legal department and walked inside. She walked up to the counter where a woman in a long, green dress was storing scrolls in their proper locations in a large library behind her. When the woman saw Applena come through the door, she stopped what she was doing and walked to the front counter. She smiled down at Applena as she walked up to the counter.
“What is it that I can be doing for you today, young lass?”
Applena counted out 1,000 Rungles and placed them in a smaller sack, one of many that she had in the satchel that hung at her side. She placed the smaller pouch with the Rungles on the counter and pointed to the wall of scrolls behind the woman.
“I would like to purchase a commercial building for a Bakery. Please give me the finest building you have. I also want to make sure the building is in a key tourist location. The money I gave you should be enough for the deed and one year’s rent in advance, in compliance with the city codes.”
The woman in the green dress picked the pouch of the counter and counted each of the Rungles within. When she was sure the right amount was presented to her, she pulled a scroll out of one of the cubby holes in a large section located under a sign that read, “Commercial Licenses.” She placed the scroll on the counter and unraveled it. On the scroll were the floor plans for a building with detailed lists of its contents written below it in the country’s language. At the very bottom of the scroll was a line that had a previous owners name crossed out to show that he no longer owned the property. The woman in the green dress pointed toward the line.
“You must sign here to become the official owner. A copy of the document will be drawn up by a scribe and given to you, after you have signed the contract.”
The woman gathered an ink well and feathered pen from the other side of the counter. She placed them in front of Applena who took the feathered pen out of its well and signed her name on the contract above the previous one. Below her name there was another line that asked for her merchant’s seal. She took a brass seal out of her satchel and a stick of red wax. The woman behind the counter provided her with the light of a lantern to burn the wax. Applena melted the red wax onto the line, over the seal of the previous owner. She placed her seal on top; one that had an apple tree, the signature seal of her family. With the contract filled out, the woman rolled up the piece of parchment and had a scribe make Applena a copy of the document.
The scribe set to work laying the scroll over a lighted area and tracing every detail onto a new scroll with his own ink well and feathered pen. When the document was drawn up, it was given to the woman in the green dress who signed her name at the bottom. The scribe handed her the original scroll and she signed her name in the same place. She handed the scroll to the scribe, who returned it to its place in the library. Applena was given the deed by the woman in the green dress.
The woman smiled at her and said, “You are now the owner of your very own bakery. The title you hold in your hands has a map to your bakery’s location. Good luck with your business, ma’am!”
Applena thanked the woman and set out to find her new bakery’s location. She finally found it at the east side of the town. It was located near one of the major entrances of the city. She knew that it was sure to draw in a lot of business and this made her very happy. It was starting to get late. Applena decided to complete the rest of her tasks the next day. She walked to her empty booth, now owned by the merchant Garm, which still had the cart and two horses she had used to haul the apples to the city in sitting beside it. She mounted the first horse and drove it forward, pulling at the reins of the second horse as she went. In this way she traveled to her orchard outside the city, where her two assistants had already returned for the evening. They lived with her at the orchard for most of the year and had two rooms set aside for them, bedside the main resting chamber of Applena. When Applena came home, the two women greeted her merrily. The women exchanged stories of their day and then went to sleep.
In the morning, Applena set out to the city early to buy equipment for her bakery. She traveled to many of the supply stores and purchased inventory for her new bakery located on the east side of the town. She gave each of the supply stores detailed directions to her bakery, where she had her supplies delivered. After getting all of the necessary equipment, Applena realized that it had cost her exactly 1,000 gold Rungles, just like the palace cook had said. It took many weeks for all of the supplies for the bakery to be built and delivered. When they arrived, Applena set to work contracting workers to help remodel the inside of the store and to help her set up all of the supplies. This took two months to complete in total.
When the bakery was completely set up, Applena realized with wonder that the remolding process had cost her exactly 1,000 gold Rungles. The mysterious palace cook had been right again. The only thing left to do was to hire the bakers. Applena had heard of two brothers with great baking skills that lived in the palace. She traveled there with her two assistants on her cart. This time, the three women sat at the head of the cart, and Applena drove it from the driver’s seat above. When they arrived at the front gate of the palace, the guards halted them. The taller guard walked up to the cart and eyed the women suspiciously.
“What business do you woman have at the palace? Speak quickly or you shall be turned away.”
Applena fished her baker’s title out of her satchel and unraveled it before the eyes of the guard.
“My good, sir, I am here to contract two royals bakers to work in my shop. I have heard from certain sources that there are two brothers who are some of the best bakers in the land. I have the money to pay for their services, should I be allowed to talk to them, and should they be able to work for me. I wish to speak to them for this purpose.”
The guard let out a hearty laugh as Applena put the scroll back in her satchel.
“My lady, the two cooks you refer to are prized by the King. Surely they will not work at a merchant’s bakery, when they are being paid handsomely by the king. However, as is custom in this land, you may seek audience with the king and make your request to him. Proceed through these gates and continue to the main throne room. The king is listening to grievances there as we speak.”
Applena thanked the guard and he shouted up at the tower for the other royal guards to open the gates. The massive gates were pulled from each side and revealed a grand stone path that led to the main gates of the palace. Applena drove her cart forward and headed toward the main entrance as Millie and Gale looked at the magnificent statues of past royalty that loomed over the stone path on each side. When Applena reached the main gates of the palace, she was stopped by two other royal guards. This time the shorter guard approached her cart. He was a young man with dark orange eyes. He didn’t look more than sixteen years old. The guard took the reins from Applena’s hands and pointed to an area behind the castle.
“You must leave your horse and cart here. They will be placed in the royal stables until you have finished your meeting with the king of our land (long may he reign). From here, the three of you must continue on foot.”
Applena nodded and the three women climbed down from the cart. The taller guard climbed onto the main sitting area of the cart and drove it to the royal stables. The younger royal guard signaled to two guards standing above the front door of the palace to open the main gates. They pulled the massive doors open revealing a grand hall. The three women were led to the main audience hall by the young royal guard. He left them in the care of an old palace advisor and returned to his duty guarding the front entrance. The old advisor took the three women to the throne room of the king. The king was listening to the grievances of a group of farmers, who apparently had some dispute over land ownership in another area of his kingdom. Applena and her assistant patiently waited for their meeting with the king to end.
There were two other cases presented before the king before it was Applena’s turn. A few hours had passed but the three women hadn’t noticed. They had been keeping themselves entertained with stories about their work in the countryside. The old advisor interrupted their conversation and led Applena and the two women toward the king. He told the women to stand a good ways away from the throne and to kneel before him as they spoke. The three women kneeled at the appropriate distance from the throne.
Applena faced the king with determination and said, “Most magnanimous King Superliminous, I have heard that you have two royal chefs that in the entire kingdom are the most skilled at their work and highly valued. I am willing to offer everything I have for their services in my bakery. They could still work at the royal palace, but I seek their services when they are not attending to your needs at the palace. This may seem very bold of me to ask such a thing, but I thought that maybe his majesty would give me some favor, as I am the woman that has supplied you with the apples for the festivals these past two years. With this bakery, I can continue to offer my services to your kingdom and will have more revenue to invest in giving you more apples for your festival. I see it as a good partnership for us both. If your majesty would be so kind, I would like these royal bakers to be part of my shop so I can continue to serve the kingdom.”
The king looked down at the three women before him with a stern look in his eyes.
The stern eyes met Applena’s when he said, “So I am to understand that you want me to lend my best bakers to you, a merchant, so that you may increase your own wealth? How very bold of a request you make, my lady. Never in all of my years have I seen someone with such determination to succeed at business that she would even contract the service of the king’s royal bakers! I have to admit that this is unprecedented, this request you make of me.”
The king studied the young woman before him. She didn’t look any different than any of the other woman in his kingdom. She wore the same modest clothing, the same hairstyle. She even wore the same jewelry. She was the very model of a Fennian woman. However, there was something special about her, even though he couldn’t quite place his finger on it. She exuded the aura of someone that was wise beyond her years. He also was quite pleased with the apples that had been used in the years past festivals. He didn’t want Applena to know this, however. He continued to look at her with a stern glare that would make any ordinary man shake in his boots. He wanted to see just what this young woman was made of. Applena stood her ground with the bravery of the toughest of the king’s generals.
She calmly replied, “My good King Superliminous, I have heard that you are a magnanimous man, willing to help all of those in your kingdom that are in need of your royal aid. Surly, such a grand leader as yourself, can offer but a humble merchant the service of your greatest bakers at least when they are not in the service of you. It is for this kingdom’s benefit that I ask this. With their skills, I can provide the pies for your banquet myself, which will save your royal kitchen staff a lot of trouble during the festival season. This is my reason for asking their services. As a merchant, I of course seek to prosper from the sales of other baked goods I sell in my shop, but this will not detour me from performing this most glorious service for the king every year, should he allow me the honor of performing this task.”
The king could not hold in his joy any longer. His stern frown was replaced with a look of great happiness. He smiled down at the ambitious woman below.
“My lady, your determination pleases me. I was putting your character to the test, and you have passed. This is what I hereby proclaim; you will have permanent ownership of the two finest bakers of our kingdom. I will accept whatever Rungles you have for their contracted service to you. Even though they are now legally your employees, I shall compensate them with payment from the palace every year, so they do not feel they have been offered the shorter end of the stick. Everything else, I fear, you must pay for with your own merit. But you see, I am responsible for the wellbeing of these bakers wherever they end up, so they shall continue to be supported by me, even though they are under the ownership now of you. A legal contract will be drawn up to validate your ownership of their services and to ensure that they are paid annually by the government funds of the royal treasury.”
Applena was overjoyed. She hugged her two assistants and then bowed graciously before the king.
She rose up and said, “My good king Superliminous, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will make sure to treat your bakers with care. They shall be given residence at my orchard and treated with the every respect a royal baker should receive.”
The king nodded.
“I have no doubt, my lady, that you will give them the greatest of care. I now proclaim that the royal bakers be fetched so that they may be presented to the lady before me.”
At this he turned to his royal advisor and said, “Advisor Karden, bring forth the royal bakers, Yergis and Shorsin at once. Tell them of their future services to this lady on their route here. This is my command.”
Advisor Karden bowed graciously before the king.
“I will bring them forth at once, my lord.”
Advisor Karden hurried out of the throne room and rushed down one of the grand hallways that lead to the palace kitchen. While Advisor Karden was away the king looked down at the young woman with red hair and green eyes sitting before him.
He said, “My lady, it has occurred to me that I do not know your name. Please enlighten me with this most anticipated piece of information.”
Applena, never one to speak solely of herself pointed to her two assistants Millie and Gale.
“My lord, before you learn of me, you must know of my hardworking assistants. The first one with the brown hair and gold eyes is named Gale. My dear Gale tends the apple trees in my orchard outside the city. The second assistant with the black hair and blue eyes is named Millie. She picks the apples in my orchard and helps me sell them at the market. My dear Gale helps me sell the apples at the market as well. They are both very hard working young woman. They even helped me bake goods to sell at my stand before contracting the services of your fine bakers. They deserve much of the praise. As for me, I am known as Applena. I am the daughter of the late Sheria and Gareth, famous for their apple orchards throughout all of Fenn. It is my hope that my business enterprises will honor them from beyond the grave.”
The king smiled down at the young women before him.
“How marvelous a tale you spin! Am I to understand that only three women have been tending to the orchards, and selling these goods in the market place? These young women are hard workers indeed. I have heard of Sheria and Gareth. People would always tell legends of the taste of their apples. I never believed them until I tasted their flavor in the pies at the festival the last two years. I must admit that when I tasted those apples, I thought them to have been grown by a goddess, and here I learn that they were grown by three. Three women is such a small number to tend to such a large orchard. By my word, an important staple of the kingdom should not be tended by so little a staff. From this day forth, my Lady Applena will be given a staff of royal workers, paid to tend the orchards by me. Royal contractors shall build them living arrangements on your land. Money will be provided for them by the royal treasury annually. I appoint the Lady Gale as the supervisor of the workers that will tend the orchard. She shall be compensated by me annually for her services. I appoint the Lady Millie as supervisor of the workers that will pick the apples from the orchard. She will also be compensated annually for her services. You Lady Applena, will be given these two bakers as my gratitude for the services you have provided me these last two years, and of course shall retain your title as the head lady of your staff. These are my gifts to you for your service to the kingdom. Please use them well.”
When the king had finished his proclamation, the royal advisor returned with the two chefs that were led to Applena. The kneeled beside her and her two assistants and faced the king.
The king raised his scepter above their heads and said, “From this moment forward, you are under contract of the lady Applena. I will compensate you for your services annually. You shall live with her and the rest of her staff at her orchards, which are henceforth under royal care. This is the proclamation of King Superliminous!”
The men bowed humbly before the king and then bowed to their new mistress. Applena gestured for them to raise their heads. She wasn’t used to such formality. She faced the king and smiled at him.
“My lord, words cannot express my gratitude for your actions. It is true that you are the most magnanimous of all kings. My you reign for many years to come!”
The king let out a hearty laugh.
“I hope that I reign for many years as well, should the gods have that in their plan for me. Now off with the lot of you. There is much to be done before the festival at the end of the year. I will send my contractors to your orchard within the week. They will build homes for your staff. I shall also send guards that will be compensated for their services. May you continue to serve our kingdom into your old age!”
With that, the group left the palace, guided to the front gate by the old royal advisor that had led them in. The royal guards at the front entrance fetched Applena’s cart. This time, the two woman and two men sat in the back of the cart and Applena drove it from the front. She headed back to her orchards with the group of young men and woman chatting amongst themselves behind her. When everyone reached the orchard, Applena showed the two bakers rooms where they could stay. The men thanked her and set to work decorating their rooms with a few possessions they had gathered from their rooms before being led into the main audience chamber of the king.
Over the next few months, the king sent contractors to build homes where her staff would live. When the project was complete, a domestic staff was sent to the orchard along with guards, since it was now under royal protection. Applena started running her bakery in the city with the royal bakers, Yergis and Shorsin. With the money from the pies she was able to buy more supplies to make all sorts of wonderful desserts with. People came from all over the kingdom to try her legendary apple concoctions. By the time the festival came around, Applena , Yergis, and Shorsin made enough pies to feed the entire royal court (with help of Gale, Millie, and some other members of her domestic staff). The king was very pleased and did not once regret his decision to put Applena’s apple orchard under the care of the royal house.
This same pattern followed for three years. Applena would harvest apples which were made into fine dishes in her bakery and sold to many people, throughout the land. Every year she would bake pies for the festival and be compensated for her services. During the three years, Millie grew to love the baker Shorsin. She loved his carefree attitude, his dark brown hair, and his indigo eyes. Shorsin loved Millie’s cheerful personality, her black hair, and her blue eyes. They teased each other all of the time and were the best of friends. The two married one year after they met.
In time, Gale grew to love the spunky, hot headed personality of Yergis. She loved his silky blonde hair and mint green eyes. Yergis loved the practical nature of Gale. He loved her long honey brown hair and golden eyes. It took them a little longer to confess their feelings for one another. With the help of Applena, Yergis worked up the courage to ask Gale to marry him, two years after they met. Gale happily agreed and the two married a few months after.
Applena was very happy for them, but there was a part of her that felt very sad. All of the celebrating made her think of the mysterious traveler that had brought her all of her fortune. She wanted to repay him for his kindness, wherever he was. She had asked the king multiple times about him, but the king had insisted that Yem was the head chef and he didn’t know what she was talking about. This made Applena wonder about the mysterious traveler even more. Had he been a fairy that had taken a liking to her? Was he wandering wizard that had placed an enchantment on Yem to make him follow his commands? Applena didn’t know the answer. She just counted herself as being very lucky for meeting the man, whoever he was.
And so, to pick up where we left off, three years later, at the beginning of the fall season, the same mysterious traveler came to Applena’s bakery where she was hard at work making some items to place in her shop. Applena was very happy to see him. She immediately stopped what she was doing and greeted him at the front counter.
“My good sir, my heart is overjoyed to see you here again. You have offered me much advice. I can never begin to repay you for your services. Offer anything you want from me and I will do my best to provide it.”
Applena could see a faint smile from the other side of the hood. The man pulled back his cloak and Applena gasped at the face she saw. It was king Superliminous eldest son, Prince Murseilles II. She would recognize his long black hair and red eyes anywhere. Prince Murseilles II was the first in line to the throne. He had two brothers, Prince Alarktrious the middle prince who was the general of the kingdom’s army, and the youngest Prince Paleyentus, who was the governor of the town of Gardaere. All princes had the trademark long black hair and red eyes of the Fennian royalty. Even king Superliminous bore this trait. Applena immediately fell to the floor in reverence, as did her two baker assistants. Prince Murseilles II let out a hearty laugh and gestured for the three to stand up.
As they cautiously rose from their positions on the floor Prince Murseilles said, “Now, now, there is no need to show me such formalities. I am not the king yet. As it stands, I am a head Advisor at the palace, which while I admit is an important role, is not as important as my father, the head of the country’s affairs, or my dear mother Elstrica, the head of the royal council. I am but a noble official, and nothing more. There is no need to show this kind of respect to my station.”
Applena was surprised at the kindness the prince showed her. It was clear that he had the same generosity as his father. Applena looked at her two baker assistants for a moment and then returned her gaze to the prince.
“My lord, I am most honored that you have helped me as much as you have, but I must wonder why you have shown so much favor to me. I am just a common woman, with land rights to be sure, but still as common as any of the other merchants in this marketplace. I must tell you that I am distressed that there is nothing that I could possibly offer you to repay the services you have offered to me. It was my hope that I could give the person who bestowed so much wealth on me something of greater or equal value, but what can one give a prince that he does not already own? This brings me much sadness, as the only thing I can offer you is my continued allegiance to your father’s court and my eternal gratitude for everything you have done.”
The prince leaned against the counter until he was only a few inches away from Applena’s head.
“I think there is something else you can do for me, my Lady. If you are so in debt to me for what I have done, than perhaps you can repay me this way. You must come to the castle and be my wife. I will not force you to make this decision, but it is my hope that you will accept my proposal.”
The prince kissed Applena’s forehead and she began to cry.
Through a strained voice she said, “But my lord, I am just a common girl. I know nothing about governing a country. I know nothing about the royal house. I want to repay you but…I don’t know if I can repay you in this way. Besides, I have the orchard and my bakery to worry about. I can’t just leave them to go off and become part of the royal house. There are many people that depend on me.”
The prince gazed lovingly into Applena’s eyes and dried her tears with his hand.
“My lady, do not cry. It brings me no joy to see you in such a state. You must know that I have thought of these things myself and I have found a solution. The orchard will be legally handed over to Millie, Yergis, Shorsin, and Gale. They shall co-run the orchard and will be promoted to royal caretakers of the bakery and apple orchards. Their children will inherit that role, as will their children. You will be free to visit the orchards and bakery any time you wish. You will come to the palace and be trained as an advisor. When it comes time to take the throne, you will be trained in the traditional role of the queen, the head of the council. You have the spirit and motivation to be these things. I have faith that you will make a just ruler. For you see, no matter what wealth I gave you, you thought of others. You thought of the girls you contracted. You thought of the wellbeing of the royal bakers. Even now you worry about their future. Compassion is the greatest attribute of a ruler, and you have trait tenfold. I can only surmise that based on this, there is no other person suited for the role of queen, than yourself.”
Applena felt a thousand emotions whirling around inside of her at once. She was excited that the prince wanted her to be his wife, but at the same time she was scared she wouldn’t live up to his expectations. She was happy that she finally knew who the masked man was but a bit angry that he hadn’t told her of his true identity before. Many thoughts rand through her head at once. She did not know what to say.
The only think she could think to mutter was, “But why me? Why do you want me?”
The Prince smiled tenderly down at her.
“Because when I was a young boy, I went to the market place. I went with a palace assistant, against my father’s instructions, because I wanted to see the city. You were outside the cart with your parents, calling people over to taste your family’s goods. As I watched your family, I wandered away from the advisor I had come to the market with and I became lost. I was terribly upset. The only thing I could think to do was to wait at your parent’s stand. Your parents recognized me immediately. They gave me shelter and offered me their apples to eat. Your father set off to find the advisor that I had wandered away from. As I sat in the shade of the open bed of your cart you came over. You gave me three gold coins and told me to buy a snack from the nearest vendor with it. Don’t be sad, you said, go get something to make yourself feel better. Despite your modest position, you offered me, the prince who has more gold than anyone in this land, everything you had to make me feel better. Back at the palace, people were always kind to me because I was the prince. They never treated me with kindness because they wanted to. It was their duty. But in the entire time I was left at your parent’s cart, you took care of me and even tried to be my friend. You taught me that game, remember? The one where you put the sticks in a row and have to guess which one has the blessing. You were the only true friend I ever had. When the advisor came back I was sad to leave. I wanted to be your friend. Through the ages when I visited the market, I was kept under better supervision. I would watch you sell the apples to the people of the kingdom with your parents. I couldn’t approach your stand, because I was followed by such a large train of advisors and guards. I watched you grow and grow. When I learned that your parents had died I felt a great sadness for you. I wished that I could have done something to help. So, in repayment I offered my services to you four years ago. I had to come in disguise and in secret so I would not be followed by the palace guards. I made Yem swear on his life that he would tell no one of my plans. The more I cooked up the scheme the more I realize why I was doing it. I wanted to repay you for the kindness you showed me those many years ago. I knew that I had always loved you. And here I am today in your bakery, and I want you to accept my proposal. No one will refuse my proposal. It is the custom of this land for the prince to marry anyone he chooses in his kingdom. I want the woman who loves me for who I am, and not my title. So I humbly wait for your most cherished answer.”
Applena all of the sudden remembered the meeting she had had with the prince all of those years ago. She was surprised that he remembered such a small action of hers so well. Looking into his eyes, Applena knew that the prince’s feelings for her were genuine, so after thinking it over for a moment longer she accepted his proposal. Two months later, the two were married. The shop and orchard were handed over to Mille, Yergis, Shorsin, and Gale to run as the new royal owners. Applena became the second head advisor and was well known for her kindness throughout the land.
When the king passed away many years later, Murseilles II took the throne and Applena became his queen. She bore him two sons with the trademark Black hair and red eyes, but also Two daughters with red hair and eyes such a dark color of green that they were almost black. From that day forward, all of the women in the royal house of Fenn had characteristic red hair and black eyes, while the sons kept their black hair and red eyes. The royal house was known for this odd characteristic many generations after Applena and Murseilles II’s rein.
It is said that Yergis, Shorsin, Gale, and Millie ran the royal orchards and bakery well. They too had many sons and daughters that carried on their parent’s work long after they died. And this is how the kingdom of Fenn became legendary throughout the world of Iregeya for the generosity of their royal house, and the apples that were grown in its royal orchards. If ever a traveler visited the kingdom, they would stop by the bakery and taste one of the legendary baked goods. And every one of them without fail would say, “Whomever owns the apple orchards that bear the fruit that these goods are made from, surely is blessed by the gods.”
Applena would often help out in the bakery or the orchards when time permitted her to, which made her very loved and popular among her people. She would often hear travelers praising her family’s orchard. On the third year of her rein, she decreed the orchards be called “The Orchards of the Gods” after the many rumors that were carried from one end of Iregeya to the other.