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Princess Power #4: The Mysterious, Mournful Maiden
Early in the evening, just as the sun was setting, Princess Elena went for a walk along the shore. She loved the feel of her bare toes on the warm sand, and the cries of the seagulls made for pleasant company.
A castle by the seaside was a lovely place to live, only sometimes it was also lonely— especially when her father was busy with the affairs of their tiny island. If Elena's mother were still alive, she would have helped to run the kingdom, and King Philip wouldn't have had to work so hard. But, unfortunately, Queen Helen had died eight long years ago, when Elena was only three.
Before long, she passed a group of fishermen reeling in a heavy net. They nodded at her, but whether they recognized her as the king's daughter, she couldn't tell. Shy by nature, she dressed simply so as not to draw attention to herself. Often people were surprised to discover she was King Philip's daughter. She tried not to let that bother her, but sometimes it made her feel invisible.
Glancing toward the horizon, Elena admired the glowing purple sunset. Her friend Princess Fatima had a pair of filmy pantaloons the exact same shade. Fatima was beautiful with her dark skin, long black hair, and almond-shaped eyes. Elena felt mousy by comparison, especially with her frizzy brown hair. No matter how much Elena brushed it, her hair wouldn't lie flat.
If only she had inherited her mother's smooth, silky hair, or had blond waves like her friend Princess Lysandra. That would have been nice too. Sometimes Elena even thought of cutting her hair short,like Princess Tansy, the youngest of her three friends. But cutting her hair would probably only make it bush out all the more. Then she'd wind up looking like a dandelion puff!
Elena wished her friends didn't live so far away. She would love to see them more often. After all, it had been a month since they'd last visited one another at Princess Tansy's castle. Yet sometimes Elena wondered why the other three princesses even included her in their group. They were so much more outgoing and courageous than she.
A flash of brilliant color caught Elena's eye. The sun glinted off an object lying near the water. Elena hurried over to find a comb that was half buried in the sand. She picked it up. No ordinary comb, this one shimmered with all the colors of the rainbow. Elena had never seen anything like it.
Looking closely, she noticed a few long emerald strands of hair caught in its teeth. What an odd color, she thought. Still, whomever the comb belonged to would surely be sorry to have lost such a beautiful treasure. Slipping the comb into her pocket, Elena turned around, then started back up the beach toward home.
That night, after she'd changed for bed, Elena carefully washed and dried the gorgeous comb. Unable to resist, she ran it through her frizzy hair. Instead of becoming caught in her tangles, the way other combs did, this one glided effortlessly, like a knife slicing through butter.
Elena ran the comb through her hair several more times, then glanced in the mirror. She was amazed to see that her frizzy locks appeared much softer and looser than usual. They also had a glossy sheen to them, which looked almost golden.
Smiling at her reflection, Elena patted her hair. The girl in the mirror looked . . . well, pretty. Elena kissed the comb and laid it carefully on top of her dresser. Then she walked down the hall to say good night to her father.
"Come in," King Philip said when she knocked. Elena pushed open the heavy wooden door and stepped into his room. Her father sat at his desk, official papers spread out before him. Though his eyes looked tired, he managed a smile. "I'm sorry I've been so busy lately," he apologized. "I wanted to eat dinner with you tonight, but I had to settle a dispute between two shop owners, and then . . ."
"It's okay, Father," said Elena, stooping to hug him. "I understand. I only wish there was some way I could help."
King Philip hugged her back. "Let's not think about work right now. Tell me what you've been up to."
Elena described her day. Then she stepped away from her father. "Notice anything different?" she asked, tossing her hair.
Scratching his bald head, King Philip asked, "Is that a new nightgown you're wearing?"
"No," said Elena, glancing down at her peach-colored nightie. Her father had given it to her last Christmas, but that wasn't the kind of detail he'd remember. "It's my hair!" she exclaimed. "Doesn't it look different to you?"
"I'm not sure. Did you cut it?"
Elena shook her head no. Then she described the beautiful rainbow-colored comb she'd found on the beach. "I used it tonight," she said. "Don't you think my hair looks smoother than usual? Prettier, maybe?"
"You always look pretty to me," said her father.
Elena smiled. She supposed he'd say that no matter how her hair looked. "Can you have breakfast with me tomorrow?" she asked.
"I can, and I will," he said. "And that's a promise."
"Good," said Elena. Whenever her father made a promise, he kept it, no matter how busy he was. She kissed him good night, then returned to her room.
That night Elena had a very strange dream. She saw the face of a lovely maiden with flowing emerald hair swimming in a dark, starless sky. "Please," the young woman begged. "Won't you give me back my comb?" The maiden's dark eyes were so full of sorrow, Elena thought her own heart would break. She awoke with a start. Just who was this mysterious, mournful maiden?Princess Power #4: The Mysterious, Mournful Maiden. Copyright © by Suzanne Williams. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.