An alternative fairytale in bite-sized portions
Suitable for family reading
Euphemia smiled at the three young volunteers approaching from the dormitories.
‘Good evening, Euphemia. Hunter tells us the new Warden arrives tomorrow.’ The slender girl arched her dark eyebrows. ‘It is very soon – almost as if they expected a vacancy.’
The shorter blonde girl said, ‘Surely not, Naomi. No-one could have expected poachers would shoot Warden Aiken.’ She looked to Euphemia for support. ‘It was a blessing they didn’t harm any children.’
‘Indeed it was, lass.’ She tucked a stray white hair into her straggly bun.
‘And that the poachers’ truck would not start,’ said the tall young man called Hunter, ‘or they would have got away before the police arrived.’
‘Indeed, they would.’
So much for her tip-off.
‘The prisoners say the killer shot at a dragon,’ said Naomi. ‘It is unlikely to serve them well as a defence.’
‘But the children say a great bird flew down before the poacher shot Warden Aiken.’ Hunter had questioned the rescued children more thoroughly than the police had.
‘The poachers claim the one who escaped killed the Warden,’ said Hunter. ‘He wore a big straw hat, so the children didn’t see his face, and the poachers won’t say who he is.’
Euphemia picked up the gilt-edged invitation.
The gang were not poachers but slavers. She had known of Aiken’s collusion in arranging the field trip, but the identity of the escaped assassin was a mystery to her too. She listened to the volunteers’ theories, fanning herself with the card.
‘That looks posh,’ said the fair-haired girl, ‘like a royal invitation.’
‘Right first time, Alice.’ She stopped fanning and opened the card, angling it for them to read in the light of the porch’s single bulb.
‘This is an invitation to the wedding of Princess Aureila of Regalia. I used to be nanny to Princess Aureila and her brother, Prince Alfred. ’
She’d expected the Queen to have Alfie married off before his younger sister. Was Alfie the trouble that needed her attention at home? She considered Regalia her home, although she wasn’t born there, and had hardly been back since retiring from the palace.
Almost ten years had passed since then. Should she ignore the invitation and return to Djalladin and the Emir?
‘Will you come back after the wedding?’ asked Naomi.
‘Likely not,’ she replied. ‘I’ve family matters to see to while I’m in Regalia.’
So, it was a family matter, was it? Not Alfie then. Prince Alfred wasn’t family; although it had felt like it sometimes.
‘We’ll miss you, Phemie. When are you going?’
She calculated. ‘Early next week, I think. But you’ll be leaving soon yourself.’
‘Who will look after the new volunteers?’
‘Ach, there’ll be someone, lass.’ She slipped the invitation into its envelope and stood. ‘I’d best go and make my travel arrangements.’
‘Good luck with that,’ said Alice, ‘I couldn’t get online at all this afternoon.’
‘Ay, well… last time I was here there wasnae any internet.’ She picked up the camera. ‘I’ll leave you three to fight over the comfy chair.’
Sprightlier than she looked, Euphemia hurried through the low wooden building. The people she passed didn’t detain her. They didn’t seem to notice her.
Her tiny room, tucked behind offices, was conveniently close to the satellite wireless hub which always worked when Euphemia needed it. She flicked the light switch as she closed the door behind her. The dim bulb glowed yellow, illuminating the centre of the bed beneath it and little else.
The light seemed to brighten as she logged in to her laptop and checked her emails, deleting two Facebook notifications and a request for money before opening a message from the private email address of Prince Djarmin of Djalladin.
I regret to inform you that the Emir, our father, died last night.
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