- Chapter 8
~ The Feral Princess And Her Friends
The queen went into the solarium where Solara and the others were having a lesson with the Headmistress of the Orphanage, Elsbeth Hildegard. Solara was slowly reading a book out loud, with Elsbeth gently correcting her on the more difficult words. They were all facing the cheery fire that burned in the central fireplace.
The Little Braid Girls were finishing up Solara's braid for the day. They had such fun creating a new style every day. Today had an intricate pattern that reminded the queen of the tail of a fish and her daughter looked like a mermaid as they draped it behind her and spread the hair a little to form a tail.
The girls gave themselves applause since it looked so beautiful. Solara turned to see it, smiled and said, "Thank."
"Ah, ah, dear. Use a complete sentence, please." Rebecca said as she approached. They were trying to encourage the princess to speak and use more words then just grunts and gestures. They had to be quite careful in how they corrected the princess. Any harshness in a voice would send the princess into a corner, hiding in her hair, and whimpering in fear.
"Mama!" Solara bounced up, rushed to her mother, threw her arms around her and burrowed her head into her mama's shoulder. Rebecca held her daughter close in a good hug. Rebecca felt herself relax as her miracle baby held her. The hugs her daughter shared were so unlike hugs she had ever gotten from anyone else. You felt sweet, innocent love flow into you when she did. They had been emotionally challenging at first. Well, they still were, but Rebecca was beginning to get used to it now. She didn't break down in sobs every time, now she could mostly keep the tears in her eyes.
"Don't forget to thank them properly," Rebecca reminded her daughter, through her thick voice.
"Yes, Mama." The princess looked down, sorry that she had forgotten, but she went over and hugged them all and then said, "Thank you very much, for braiding my hair so beautifully. Aubrey, Bethany, Celeste, and Deidree."
"You're welcome, Princess," answered Aubrey, the eldest, for them all.
"Well done," complimented Rebecca. The princess had basically hijacked the children to be her friends; not that their parents minded them taking lessons with the princess.
"Okay girls, I know it's early, but it is Christmas Eve and the princess has some duties to get ready for. Headmistress Hildegard needs to prepare the orphanage and your mother needs some help I am sure. Stop by the kitchens for a surprise. Merry Christmas," said the queen smiling. There were a couple of baskets filled with fresh bread, jams, fruitcake, stollen, cookies and other things for that beloved family.
"Merry Christmas," the girls and the princess said. The girls curtsied and then left walking reservedly, but with some big smiles.
"Elsbeth, thank you for all you are doing for us. There are presents and food being sent to the orphanage so it will be easier for you," said Rebecca, smiling.
Elsbeth gave the queen a 'you shouldn't have' smile, but there was no point denying the queen her gifts. They had worked together for years, as the queen oversaw the orphanage and the schools, now they were so much closer. Elsbeth had become friends with the queen over the last few months, since the princess returned.
The princess needed an enormous amount of love and teaching so she had a chance to become normal. They had to be careful and gentle with her all the time. At the moment it did not look as though she would ever be able to handle the rigors of reigning. The focus for now would be to teach her so she could take care of herself and become a mother so the kingdom might have an heir. It wasn't an ideal solution, but it was a solution to fulfill what the kingdom needed.
Princess Solara was a good and gentle girl, so loving and kind. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair to Solara, or her family or her kingdom. So many miracles had been needed to get this far, but it didn't seem to have been enough.
Elsbeth had had to deal with a number of broken children like Solara, and she was making very good progress, but it would take years to make up what was lost, if they ever could. The kidnapper had broken the princess, and it was hard on everyone to know that. Elsbeth had found the queen's punishment of the kidnapper to be enough for her.
She and her husband cared for and protected the lost children of the kingdom as if they were her own. They were going to start looking for replacements in the new year. Her husband was getting too old for the rigors of so many children; she was feeling better than ever since the princess came home.
Elsbeth loved the children she had to care for, even if she was barren, or at least had been. Now, by some miracle, she was pregnant. She was finally pregnant! She and her husband were happy in ways that were hard to express. She couldn't trade her miracle for a miracle for the royal family, but she wished she could.
The princess had magic in her and it looked like it had made her younger at the expense of the princess getting older. At least, that was the theory. That is what they had seen happen. The princess was steadily learning words. Hopefully soon, she would be able to express herself and understand enough so they could find out what the magic did.
"Thank you. Rebecca. You are too kind," replied Elsbeth as the queen helped her up.
"No, not really. Everyone is so kind to us. Can we do any less?"
"I know you well enough to know that you can't. Especially this time of year. Merry Christmas." Elsbeth said with a smile, giving the queen a hug. Solara loved hugs and it was becoming contagious.
Solara was bouncing on the balls of her feet waiting her turn for a hug.
"Merry Christmas, Headmistress." Solara said. Elsbeth smiled and gave the princess a hug. Solara nestled into the matronly woman and held on tight for a long moment, letting go when she felt the woman's breathing begin to get unsteady and her eyes shone with tears.
"Merry Christmas, princess." Elsbeth said, before she waddled off.
Rebecca and her daughter sat down on a comfortable sofa in front of the warm fire. They folded their legs underneath them to keep their feet warm. Rebecca had a light streak in her hair, something she had since she was a teenager, and Solara now had a dark brown streak from the sample of hair Mortimer had cut to test the princess.
"Solara, the people want to present you with a Christmas present tonight at the Christmas market. Papa will be speaking and so will a representative of the people." Rebecca began.
"Yes, Mama." Solara said brightly.
"There will be many things to see at the market. There will be food and clothes and toys for everyone to buy. It will be a lot like your gift storerooms. If it becomes too much, tell me and we'll bring you home."
"Yes, Mama," said Solara subdued.
Solara remembered their visit to the gift storerooms.
* * *
"Over the years people have sent us gifts for you, hoping that you would come home." Papa had said as they entered a large storeroom.
"Gifts?" asked Solara.
"Presents," said Mama.
"Nice things," said Eugene, trying to be helpful.
Solara wondered about that. Hazelnut soup was a nice. She would get hazelnut soup if she took a punishment really well. She tried so hard to be a good girl. Home was so different from the dark place.
Mama picked up a snow globe and gave it a spin.
"Ooh, pretty," said Solara, gazing at the spinning liquid. Mama put the snow globe down and they looked at the other items. So much of it was pretty, but she didn't know what most of it was. She could recognize some of it as clothes and bowls, but she knew that it was more complicated than that. There was a silver baby rattle that felt soothing.
"Mama, why?" asked Solara. She needed to connect all this to something that made sense.
"People want you to have good things, because they love you." Mama said as they were looking at a rack of clothes.
Solara was trying to understand that. The bad woman told her so many times she was a bad girl. She only got good things if she took her punishment good. There had been no punishments. She shouldn't have good things.
Mama, Papa and Eugene loved her. They hugged her. They touched her. They made her happy. She would do anything to keep them happy. She loved them, but they didn't let her sing, which made her feel so good.
Solara was beginning to shake. It wasn't making sense. Why didn't things make sense anymore? The dark place was simple. Home was complicated.
"Bad girl! Bad girl!" she shouted in tears. Her undeveloped mind could not handle all the good things she was being given. She didn't feel she deserved good things, because for her whole life she only knew bad things.
Solara threw down some of the clothes meant for her.
"Solara, what are you doing?" asked her mama. They had learned the hard way to be very gentle with her, but this was different.
Solara couldn't control herself anymore. There were too many contradictions in her mind. All she could do was act out by throwing things and screaming, "Bad, good!"
Mama, Papa and Eugene gathered her up into a big family hug, holding her tight to keep her from hurting herself, as she shook and flailed. Trying to ride out whatever was happening to their beloved daughter.
"We love you. We love you." Mama said over and over again, trying to sooth her child.
Eugene and the king were both saying, "Good girl, good girl."
It took several long minutes before Solara exhausted herself and fell asleep in their arms.
* * *
"Yes, Mama." said Solara, knowing her parents would protect her.
"Good girl," Rebecca smiled. "Once you receive the gift you can hug the girl giving it to you. Then turn to the audience and tell them all, 'Thank you, everyone, and Merry Christmas.' Can you do that?"
"Give the girl a hug. Turn and say, 'Thank you, everyone, and Merry Christmas.' I can do that." said Solara, enthusiastically.
"I know you can. Then we will go see the market, try food and meet people. It should be fun."
"Okay. I like to meet people. New things are fun too," said Solara. That was true, even if there were some limits. Solara could be overwhelmed when too many new things were happening around her. The two of them and Eugene would be keeping a careful watch on her, and there would be guards around them, not that the whole kingdom wouldn't defend her to the last. But they might have to leave before seeing the whole thing. She would try to help Solara choose gifts for Eugene and Leonard.
"We first need to visit with the cobbler, to see if your boots are ready."