Here’s chapter 20 of the serial story. There’s just the epilogue to go. If you want to start from the beginning, you can find it here. The previous chapter is here. Or you can easily read it straight through by buying the e-book.
Dawn watched a surprisingly regal-looking Lucy be escorted to the front of the throne room by the tall young man who was apparently the Sinclair boy the city guards had been looking for and tried to catch up mentally with everything that had happened to her. The last thing she remembered was being in the tower with the witch and Spink and touching the spinning wheel. Then she woke up to find Jeremy, Lucy, and the Sinclair boy there. And now Lucy was a princess?
Dawn grabbed Jeremy’s arm to steady herself as the realization hit her. If they thought Lucy was a princess, and Lucy had been taken because they thought Lucy was Dawn, that meant that Dawn was a princess, didn’t it? She turned to Mariel. “Who am I?” she demanded. “Am I really the princess from this place? Is that the secret you’ve been keeping from me my whole life?”
“Not now, Dawn,” Mariel said.
“Why not now? Tell me, and I want the truth, not more lies.”
“It’s probably best for now if Lucy continues in the role,” Matilda said gently with a hand on Dawn’s shoulder that Dawn shrugged off.
“I don’t care who gets to play princess. I don’t even want to be a princess. I want to know who I am. I want to know what you’ve been hiding from me.” Tears stung her eyes, and she blinked them away. This wasn’t the time to cry, not when she wanted to be strong and defiant. And angry, oh so angry. None of this would have happened if her aunts had been honest with her from the start, or at least from the time Lucy had been taken. “You were protecting me from the witch, weren’t you? That’s what it was all about, us living in that other world?”
“Yes, dear,” Matilda said, moving as though to touch Dawn again, but thinking better of it and pulling her hand back. “But this is truly not the time or the place to talk about it.”
Dawn looked up and saw that Huw and the troupe had seen her. His face lit up with relief, and she grinned and waved in response. At least he’d been honest with her. In just a few days he’d become like a father–at least, what she assumed a father must be like, since she’d never known her own. That was one more thing she needed to ask the aunts about. Make that the enchantresses, since she had a strong feeling they weren’t really her aunts. She released her clutch on Jeremy’s arm and moved through the crowd toward Huw. Jeremy, Matilda, and Mariel followed her.
She lost sight of Huw when she turned to look for Lucy. The throne room was too chaotic to get a good sense of what was going on, but Dawn thought she saw the top of the Sinclair boy’s head. The witch must have noticed them, though, because a terrible sneer came over her face as she raised her arms over her head. Fire shot from her fingertips with a loud crackling sound.
The crowd quit fighting for the exits and turned in near silence to see what was happening. In that silence, the witch said, “So, you have a princess to present?”
“Yes, we do! We have the rightful princess!” a voice called out, but it wasn’t the duke who’d been confronting the witch earlier. It was Huw. He reached Dawn in the crowd, caught her hand and raised their joined hands over his head. “The rightful princess is here! She has returned to us, and she is just as the legends said, gifted with beauty and song!”
Behind Dawn, Mariel groaned. Dawn shook her head. Every eye in the throne room was now turned toward her. “No, there’s been a mistake,” she said. Feeling terrible for lying to Huw, she said, “I’m not who you think I am.” When his forehead creased in disbelief, she whispered, “Please.”
The witch started momentarily, as if she was surprised to see Dawn up and around. But then she laughed, long and hard. “How many princesses are there? There’s the one his grace the Duke of Grantley is putting forth, and now there’s another one just appearing here. Are there any more princesses with us today?”
Dawn knew the witch was being sarcastic, but part of her hoped that hands would go up all over the throne room. She’d be happy to let any of them take over for her. She’d never get to star on Broadway if she had to be a princess in another world, and she doubted they’d let her perform with Huw’s troupe if she had to stay here.
Unfortunately, no one raised a hand. “Just the two, then?” the witch said with a smirk. “The question is, which is the princess and which is the pretender?”
“There would be one way to tell,” Mariel said. “You created it yourself.”
Melantha arched one thin eyebrow, and her mouth went crooked as she thought. Dawn was sure Mariel was up to something, and the witch likely suspected that, as well, and was trying to figure out the angle. Then she smiled. “Why don’t we? Come up here, your highness.”
Mariel took Dawn’s arm, whispering as she did so, “Trust me, you will be fine.” The crowd parted as Mariel led Dawn up to the dais. There, the witch gestured toward a spinning wheel, very much like the one that had been in the tower.
Melantha gestured toward the windows. “You see that the sun has not set on the day of the princess’s sixteenth birthday. And you know what will happen to the princess if she pricks her finger on a spindle.”
“The fact that I am willing to allow this girl to touch the spindle should tell you that I don’t believe her to be the princess,” Mariel said. “You know that I, unlike you, would not allow harm to come to an innocent.”
“As you said, that is unlike me,” Melantha agreed as she whipped her arm over to Dawn, grabbed her wrist, and brought her finger down onto the spindle.
“Ouch!” Dawn cried out, jerking her wrist out of the witch’s grasp.
“Is that good enough for you?” Mariel asked. Without waiting for Melantha’s answer, she led Dawn off the dais and over to join Huw, Jeremy, and Matilda, who had come forward.
The witch didn’t seem too terribly upset. She turned toward the duke and said, “Your grace, perhaps you would like to put your candidate to the same test.”
The duke stood in front of Lucy and said, “You won’t touch her!”
Lucy exchanged glances with Mariel, then stepped around the duke. “I’m willing to take the test,” she said. The duke moved to stop her, but his brother and Miriam held him back. Miriam took Lucy by the hand, led her onto the dais and over to the spinning wheel, and forced her to touch her finger to the spindle. Lucy slumped silently to the floor.
The crowd gasped out loud, and Dawn buried her face against Jeremy’s shoulder. She didn’t think Miriam would have allowed Lucy to do anything dangerous, but then it wasn’t too long ago that she’d feared her aunts had willingly sent Lucy into danger. Dawn didn’t know what to believe anymore.
Lucy had to work very hard to keep her breathing shallow and not show any expression. She thought she knew where Miriam was going with her proposed test, and since she was apparently the only one around who’d read “Sleeping Beauty,” she’d known just what to do. Now she hoped Miriam had planned a way out of this.
From somewhere just above Lucy, Miriam’s voice said, “Was that what you expected to happen, Melantha?” There was no answer. Miriam spoke again. “But never fear, my good people. The princess is unharmed. My sisters and I found a way to counter that fateful curse. Instead of dying, the princess sleeps, and it is simple enough to revive her. All it requires is the kiss of her true love.”
“Very well,” Harald said, and Lucy felt the dais shake as he stepped onto it and walked over to her. She had to fight not to groan, grimace, or otherwise show a reaction. If he kissed her, she’d pretend to stay unconscious, just to prove he wasn’t her true love.
“No! I don’t think that will work,” Matilda’s voice said, moving closer toward the dais. “Betrothal is not a condition, and I sense no love in you.” Yay, Matilda! Lucy thought as she forced herself not to react. There was a long silence before Matilda said, “You, young man. You were with her earlier, and I saw the way you looked at her. I also saw the way you fought for her. It must be you.”
There were more footsteps, then Lucy felt someone leaning over her. She had to fight really, really hard not to grin in anticipation as she waited for a pair of familiar lips to touch hers. It wasn’t a first kiss, but since she wasn’t a princess and she wasn’t in a magical coma, she didn’t think that mattered all that much. She let him kiss her pretty thoroughly before she opened her eyes. “Hi!” she whispered to Sebastian.
“Hello, my Lucy,” he whispered with a smile. No one but Lucy could have possibly heard it, as everyone in the room—except maybe the witch—cheered, screamed, clapped, and whistled.
Sebastian helped Lucy sit up, then helped her to her feet. He kept his hand clasped around hers as they smiled down at the crowd.
“Oh, dear me,” Matilda said with a mischievous smile. “We must rethink that betrothal. It tempts the fates to interfere with the course of true love.”
The witch let out a scream of pure rage and raised her arms. Jagged lightning bolts flew from her hands—not toward Lucy but toward Dawn. Lucy realized that Dawn was unprotected, since she was still wearing Dawn’s necklace that seemed to protect against magic. Lucy dropped Sebastian’s hand and moved to stand between Melantha and Dawn, blocking the bolts with her body. The necklace grew hot, hotter than it had ever felt before, but she stood her ground. Melantha tried shooting the bolts over Lucy’s shoulders, but Lucy raised her hands to block each one. It was like playing a game with Jeremy’s Wii, but with much more at stake.
While the witch attacked her, the aunts and the other enchantresses made their move. They came at the witch with their own arms raised. A circle of light surrounded her, stopping the flow of lightning. Lucy staggered, and Sebastian steadied her with an arm around her waist. She suspected she’d have at least second-degree burns from the necklace getting so hot against her skin, but it was probably better than what would have happened to her without the necklace—or what would have happened to Dawn.
Melantha fought to escape, but the globe of light around her was like a cage. Geoffrey came to Lucy’s side and said, “Your highness, would you like the witch taken into custody by the enchantresses? They will be better equipped to deal with her.”
“Yes, please,” Lucy said. “And if they need to torture her or punish her a little, that’s okay with me, too.”
He bellowed, “My ladies, the witch is yours to do with as you will.”
Their leader bowed to him, then turned back to the others. “Sisters!” she called out. “Onward!” They all turned to walk out, still surrounding the witch, who was forced to walk along with them, the globe of light moving with her. The aunts stayed behind on the dais, and Lucy was glad because she had a feeling she’d need their help later to sort out the issue of who really was the princess. Plus, she hoped they’d be able to send all of them home.
The crowd in the throne room watched Melantha’s exit in silence, as though they couldn’t believe it was really happening. Into that silence, Geoffrey cried out, “My lords and ladies of the court, and citizens of all the land, I present to you, her royal highness, Princess Aurora!”
The crowd went wild in a big way, and Lucy started to see what Dawn liked about performing if this was the way it felt to get applause like that. She caught Dawn’s eye and winked. Dawn beamed at her as she cheered. Poor Jeremy just looked horribly confused. Lucy had a feeling they were all going to have to have a long talk when this was over.
“And now,” Geoffrey continued when the cheers had died down somewhat, “we came here today for a coronation, and that we will have, now that our princess—our rightful queen—is returned to us.”
Lucy whirled to him in shock. This was moving way too fast. She was just supposed to give the people a sense that their real rulers were still around while they got rid of the witch. She wasn’t supposed to be crowned. She couldn’t be crowned. She wasn’t the rightful princess, and she had to go home.
“No!” she said, surprising even herself with how forcefully she said it. “There won’t be a coronation today. We don’t know where the king and queen are, and I won’t take the crown until we know for certain they are dead.” A glance at Mariel told her this was the right thing to say. The enchantress nodded, with a slight smile on her usually stern lips. “And we will find the king and queen,” Lucy continued. “That will be our first priority.”
The crowd cheered again, and the soldiers all shouted, “Go! Fight! Win!” Jeremy did a double take at that, and Lucy just shrugged and grinned.
Mariel joined them on the dais and said, “I believe the Duke of Grantley is the designated regent. Your grace, you will manage the kingdom until the king and queen have been found.”
He bowed deeply to her. “It is my honor.”
Lucy faced the crowd again. “I’m sorry you all came here for a coronation and didn’t get to see one, but thank you for coming.” She hoped they took that as the dismissal it was, and she figured they shouldn’t be too disappointed about missing the coronation, since they got to see two potential princesses and a magical battle. The spell Melantha put on the doors had broken when she was taken away, so the people were able to leave, without a riot this time.
“Now, get me out of here,” Lucy muttered.
Misunderstanding her, Geoffrey escorted her off the dais and to a room behind it. Sebastian, Harald, and the aunts joined them. Lucy turned to Sebastian and said, “Could you please go find my friends?” He nodded and took off, returning with Dawn, Jeremy, and the dogs. Geoffrey and Harald looked confused, so Lucy explained, “They’re my friends from my world.”
Lucy glanced over at Sebastian, hoping he could read the question in her eyes, and he nodded. “Geoffrey, there’s something we need to tell you,” he began.
Geoffrey groaned. “I’m not blind. I could see it for myself. I’m certainly not opposed to the match, but we will have to examine the treaties.”
“Whoa!” Lucy said. “That’s not what we needed to tell you, though do feel free to check those treaties. The thing is, I’m not really the princess. There was a big case of mistaken identity when the witch sent her people to my world looking for the princess. I felt like I needed to play the role because, until a little while ago, I didn’t know where the real princess was and I wanted to keep her safe, and it would have ruined all your plans if you’d had to admit you had no idea where the princess was.”
“But where is the real princess?”
She pointed to Dawn. “There she is.”
“But she failed the test.”
“She’d already succumbed to the curse,” Mariel explained. “It was broken entirely by then.”
“And I knew what to do to sell it when it was my turn,” Lucy added.
“So, she’s the real Princess Aurora?” Harald asked. He didn’t look like he believed it. It must have been the Emperor’s New Clothes effect. Lucy was dressed in a fancy gown and had a tiara on, so she was a princess. Dawn was dressed in something from Stevie Nicks’s garage sale, so she couldn’t possibly be a princess.
“Well, let’s see,” Lucy said. “Aurora means Dawn. Do I need to draw you a picture?”
Dawn smiled. “But you make a better princess than I would.”
All three aunts turned to look at Lucy, and their stares made her uncomfortable. “You’re right, she does,” Mariel said after a while.
Dawn’s eyes lit up. Lucy had seen that look before, and it usually meant they got in trouble. “I don’t like being in charge or making decisions,” she said, pressing the point. “I don’t even want to be a princess. I want to be an actress. Since everyone already thinks Lucy is the princess, why do we have to tell anyone? Why can’t she just keep being the princess while you’re looking for my parents?”
“Maybe because I’m not really from here?” Lucy said. “I can’t stay here. What would my mom do?”
“We would only need the princess for ceremonial occasions while the duke manages the work of state,” Mariel mused out loud. “Unless the king and queen aren’t found, of course.”
Lucy shook her head. “You really want me to keep playing princess? Is it even possible to go back and forth between worlds like that?”
“We could have done it at any time,” Mariel said. “We only didn’t because we didn’t want to draw attention to where we were hiding. Now, your grace, do you think this arrangement would work?”
“It would certainly help stabilize the situation. Without the king and queen, I’m afraid that presenting an entirely different princess at this point would create an opportunity for another usurper to step in. If Miss . . .”
“Lucy. Lucy Jordan.”
“If Miss Lucy Jordan is willing.”
“Okay, I guess.” Lucy felt more like she’d fallen through a rabbit hole than at any other time in this whole adventure, but she told herself that it wouldn’t be a full-time gig. “But I don’t even know what this place is. I feel like I fell into a storybook.”
“You did, in a sense,” Miriam explained. “You don’t think people just made up all those tales, did you? There are many connections between our world and yours, and through those, the stories came. They’re history to us—or will be—but to you they’re stories.”
“So now ‘Sleeping Beauty’ will have a different ending?”
“I suppose it depends on which book you read and how the person who hears the story tells it. There are always multiple versions of each tale.”
“You can get us home, can’t you?” Jeremy said to the aunts. “I mean, if you’re talking about Lucy going back and forth, then that would imply you can send us home. I’m sure by now my mom will have completely freaked about me being missing.”
Lucy felt a pang for her own mom and what she must be going through. “Yes, we do need to get home, as soon as possible,” she said.
Miriam looked rather pleased with herself. “We can not only take you back, but we can return to not long after you left. It will still have to be after Lucy went missing, because it’s essential to the timeline for Jeremy and Dawn to have a reason to come here looking for Lucy, but we can eliminate the worry to Jeremy’s parents.”
“And I won’t have missed any play rehearsals!” Dawn said excitedly. “I’ll still get to be Guinevere. That is, if I got the part.”
“Of course you got the part,” Lucy said. “You’re a real princess. They have to cast you as a princess who marries a king.”
“We’ll need to go back to the boat to get our things and tell them we’re leaving,” Jeremy said.
“And say good-bye,” Dawn added, looking a little sad. “I think I also owe Huw an explanation.”
“Then you two go, as quickly as possible,” Mariel said, “and we will prepare the portal. Oh, and tell your friend Rhian that she has a place waiting for her at the abbey, if she wants it. She was most helpful, even though you managed to circumvent our best efforts at keeping you safe.”
The atmosphere outside the castle was very different when Dawn and Jeremy made their way to the river than it had been on the journey to the castle. People danced and sang in the streets, and it was a sign of just how overwhelmed Dawn was that she had no urge to join them. Instead, she held tightly to Jeremy’s arm to steady herself as he led the way.
Usually, when her emotions were too strong or tumultuous to express in words, she wanted to sing, but she couldn’t think of a song suitable for the occasion. As far as she knew, there wasn’t a Broadway number about finding out you were a long-lost princess kept safe in another world. There certainly wasn’t a song about being put into a coma by touching a spindle.
Thinking about the spindle made her dizzy again. Based on what Lucy and the aunts had faked in the great hall to discredit the witch, the way to wake the princess from the magical coma was a kiss from her true love. But who’d awakened Dawn? Surely not Sebastian, since he was clearly crazy about Lucy. That left . . .
She suddenly became intensely conscious of how tightly she was holding on to Jeremy. She eased her grip and moved a few inches away from him. He hadn’t said anything about it, but it had been pretty chaotic. She made the mistake of glancing at him and immediately felt her face grow warm. Had he kissed her? And did the fact that it worked to wake her up mean anything? She wasn’t sure what she thought about that, but she did know it was unfair that she’d been unconscious during her first kiss.
They reached the boat, where they were greeted with cheers and a few good-natured jeers. “Why, if it isn’t her royal highness!” Will called out with a grin. “Just think, I was so close to having performed with royalty!”
Nearby, Huw chuckled and winked. “I believe you have a story to tell us.”
“Yes, and it’s one I don’t have time to tell, not now,” Dawn said.
“I wasn’t wrong, was I?” Huw asked.
She could give him that much. “Not entirely,” she whispered in his ear before kissing him on the cheek.
“You’re leaving us, then?”
Dawn had to blink away tears. “I’m afraid we are. We need to get back home, and I have a show to do there. But maybe I can come back from time to time.” If Lucy could, then certainly she could.
Spink flew over and perched on Dawn’s shoulder. “I want to stay!” the bird chirped.
“And you’re welcome to,” Huw said. “We may be losing one performer, but we’ll still be the only troupe with a performing bird.”
Dawn and Jeremy exchanged a look. Should they let Huw know the bird had betrayed them? Jeremy surprised Dawn by shaking his head ever so slightly and saying, “Best of luck to you, Spink.”
“Thank you,” the bird said, more to Jeremy than to Huw, then it tugged at Dawn’s hair a few times before flying off, singing the soprano descant to one of the troupe’s folk songs.
“Thank you for helping us,” Dawn said to Huw. “I’m sure the princess will honor your troupe with royal patronage in thanks.”
“And tell Rhian thanks for trying to get the enchantresses to help. They said there’s a place for her at the abbey,” Jeremy added. “She’ll know what I mean.”
It was with decidedly mixed feelings that Dawn left the show boat. That had been her first real taste of the professional performing life, and she hated to leave it behind, but she reminded herself that Broadway was in the other world.
A servant brought Lucy’s backpack from the stables, where it had been in her horse’s saddlebag, and she went to a side room to change back into her old clothes. It felt strange to wear jeans again, and she even felt a bit of a pang when she took the tiara off. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail, then picked up her backpack and headed out to the main room.
Sebastian grinned when he saw her. “That’s the way you looked when we met,” he said.
“And now we’re saying good-bye.”
“Yes, for now.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I can’t believe I agreed to this crazy scheme. But I think I’m glad I did. It means we don’t have to say good-bye forever.”
“And I am very glad that Melantha’s minions got the wrong girl.”
“You know, so am I.” A flare of light on the other end of the room told her the portal was ready, so she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. When Dawn and Jeremy returned, she had to tell herself she’d see him again, soon enough, before she could tear herself away. This was even worse than having a boyfriend who went to another school. She couldn’t look at him as she went through the portal that led back to her world.
It was still fairly early in the morning when Lucy, Dawn, Jeremy, and the aunts stepped into the garden shed in Dawn’s back yard. “Now I need a really good excuse for being out all night,” Lucy said before heading home. “It’s too bad they checked with you, so I can’t claim I spent the night and forgot to tell Mom I was going to. Or did the shop guys report my kidnapping?”
“Shop guys?” Jeremy asked.
“I was kidnapped right in front of the metal shop, and at least one of those guys watched. You mean they didn’t tell anyone?”
“Those guys probably thought they hallucinated the whole thing. Or else they forgot five minutes later.”
Jeremy hurried off to school, so Lucy had to face going home alone. She wasn’t sure what her mother would think about her rumpled clothes and her carefully curled hair. As she walked, she ran her fingers through her ponytail to frizz it up a little.
As soon as she came through the door, her mother screamed, ran to hug her, then said, “Where have you been?”
Lucy hugged her mother back, more glad to see her than she’d expected. “I guess I got lost,” she said, and it wasn’t a total lie. “I thought I saw something in the woods, went to check it out, and got totally turned around, and then it got dark and I was really lost, then I found my way back this morning. I’m so sorry if you were worried, but hey, if I’d had new cell phone with a battery that lasts more than five minutes it might have been different.”
She got grounded for wandering off, but she didn’t really want to do much other than be indoors, warm, safe, and comfortable for a while, so it wasn’t much of a punishment. It gave her plenty of time to read fairy tales so she’d be ready for any other crises to strike her new kingdom.
Concluded in the epilogue.