Try on a little magic with this lighthearted fantasy adventure! For fans of the Land of Stories and the Descendants series.
“A charming new fairy tale! Readers won’t want this adventure to end!” —Jessica Day George, New York Times bestselling author of Tuesdays at the Castle
Inside an enchanted castle, there’s a closet—a closet with one hundred dresses that nobody ever wears. Dresses like those need a good trying-on, and Darling Dimple is just the girl to do it. When she tries on Dress Number Eleven, something unbelievable happens. She transforms into the castle’s Head Scrubber! It turns out that each dress can disguise her as someone else. And Darling is about to have an adventure that calls for a disguise or two . . . or a hundred.
About the Author
Susan Maupin Schmid writes in a little blue office in Iowa. She has a particular weakness for good coffee, good books, and beautiful dresses. Her closet doesn’t contain a hundred dresses—yet—but someday it will. To find out more, visit SusanMaupinSchmid.com and follow her on Twitter at @maupinschmid.
Read an Excerpt
I wasn’t born in a tower or in a golden chamber. I wasn’t born a princess or even a lady. But I was born in a castle built by dragons. Not that you would think so to look at it. Perched on the side of a mountain, the castle blazed like a diamond in the sun—majestic, but ordinary as castles go. You wouldn’t suspect that it had anything to do with dragons. Or magic. But it did.
My mother was an Under-chopper, working beside the Under-slicer in the castle kitchens, when she had me. My father was a sailor who’d been lost at sea. My grief-stricken mother spent her days chopping vegetables and sobbing. The day I was born, she kissed me good-bye, curled up her toes, and died. The Under-slicer, Jane, plucked me from my departed mother’s side. She squinted nearsightedly at my wrinkled red face.
“What a Darling Dimple!” she exclaimed.
I’m told I screamed at this pronouncement, but it did me no good. The name stuck. Everyone from the Head Steward down to the Stable Boys called me Darling Dimple. Never mind that I didn’t have a dimple. Nor was I particularly darling. My hair flew around like the white fluff of a dandelion. My skin was pasty, my nose stubby. My eyes were the color of water, which is to say they had no color whatsoever. Some folks said they were gray, some blue, some green. Roger, the Second Stable Boy, said they were yellow. But he didn’t know anything.
For all her nearsightedness, Jane taught me to read, write, count, and wield a whetstone. She had a soft spot for me the size of a plum pie. When I was small, I followed her around the kitchens. I’d hold a corner of her apron in one fist and a wooden spoon in the other. Just in case one of the cooks had a sudden need for a taster. As I grew older, I helped her: fetching vegetables from the bins, keeping count (if the Soup Chef said twelve onions, he meant twelve), and sanding the chopping block. At the end of the day, when every knife was sharpened, Jane took me upstairs to sit at the paws of one of the great bronze lions guarding the lower gardens. We gazed at the stars with the other Under-servants, dreaming of far away until it was time for bed. We slept in a room tucked under the kitchens where the air carried a hint of cinnamon and spice. But all that changed.
When I was ten and Jane’s eyesight had dwindled to the near end of her nose, she accidentally cut off the tip of her finger. The Head Cook retired Jane from his service. The Head Steward gave her a new position with the Pickers, who gathered flowers from the gardens and arranged them in great bouquets for the Princess’s tables. Jane was happy in the flower-scented sunshine. But I was too old to follow Jane around the gardens.
The Head Steward called me to his office. I stood quaking before his broad, polished desk. He sat ramrod-straight, drumming his desk with a pencil, his crimson uniform dripping with cords and tassels.
“Well, well,” he rumbled, “what shall we do with you?” Dark eyes studied me from under bushy eyebrows.
I gulped. I couldn’t very well say that I wanted to do something big, something important. Something grand. A grand job would be exciting, an adventure. Ten-year-olds weren’t offered grand jobs.
“Yes? Speak up.” His pencil beat the polished wood.
I caught my reflection in the surface. Some poor Under-duster spent hours slaving away with a rag and lemon oil to produce that sheen. I rubbed my elbow in sympathetic pain. I did not want to be an Under-duster—or an Upper-duster, for that matter. Dust was dust wherever it might be.
The Head Steward rustled through a stack of papers, then pulled one out, clearing his throat.
“I could do Jane’s job,” I blurted out. I imagined myself surrounded by the savory smells of roasting meat, simmering spices, and baking bread, happily slicing carrots for the casserole. It wasn’t exactly grand, but it wasn’t dusting either.
“Under-slicer, sir,” I added, in case he needed reminding.
He blew his great bushy mustache out with a snort. “Under-slicer! Under-slicer, indeed.” He wagged his pencil at my nose. “You’re too young for such a lofty position as Under-slicer.”
“I—I was a b-big help to J-Jane,” I protested, my vision of bubbling stews evaporating.
“You—girl—have to work your way up from the bottom just like everybody else.”
I repressed a groan—by bottom he meant the under-cellar. It was dark in the under-cellar. The Head Steward scribbled a note on a piece of paper. “Take this to the Head Scrubber,” he ordered.
I bobbed a hasty curtsy and trudged off, holding my note like a soiled rag. The Head Scrubber, or the Supreme Scrubstress, as those in the under-cellar called her, was famous for her lack of imagination, and she was my new boss. Scrubbing was the lowest job in the castle—and the least exciting.
The Supreme Scrubstress gave me a cot in a corner with a hook for my apron and a small wooden crate stamped artichokes, where I could keep my treasures. Had I any. Which I didn’t. So began my life in the under-cellar. The cellar was packed with barrels, stacked with crates, lined with racks of wine bottles, and stuffed with sacks of potatoes. There was enough to feed everyone who lived in the castle, both the court upstairs and the servants below. Under all that, down a rickety wooden stair, was the under-cellar, a place of oil lamps, cobwebs, fires burning in great hearths, and vats of steaming water for scrubbing. Pots and pans went to one side and laundry went to the other.
I worked on the pots side in a steamy, soap-bubbly nook. Lye, soot, and ash stung my nose, like notes in a strong perfume. Warmth from the steaming water colored my cheeks a rosy hue and curled my wispy hair. My fingers wrinkled like prunes. Even though I wore my apron and rolled up my sleeves, I was wet most of the time. Droplets condensed out of the steam onto my hair. Splashes from my vigorous scrubbing dotted my skirt. It had to be vigorous—the scrubbing—because the Supreme Scrubstress was apt to patter up behind one on tiptoe, brandish her monstrous wooden-handled sponge, and swat an unsuspecting Scrubber on the behind to emphasize the sort of vigor she required. Her swats packed a wallop.
“Dar-LING!” she called in her shrill voice. Hair from her unraveling bun writhed around her face like tiny snakes. Her second chin wagged with her outrage; the rolls around her middle jiggled with her displeasure. “Stop daydreaming and put some muscle into it!”
I’d bob my head and say, “Yes, ma’am. I’ll scrub harder, ma’am.” There was no point in arguing with her. Simply put, nothing less than well-applied elbow grease would dent the baked-on residue in the pots and pans. The sooner I worked my way through my share of pots, the sooner I could escape to the cool of the night air and indulge in a daydream or two.
I was lucky that I got to scrub pots—the cooks sent the pots down as soon as the food was ladled into the serving bowls and platters. I was skip-happy free once I’d hung up my apron. The poor dishwashers had to stay up until everyone had eaten and then wash their way through towering stacks of dishes, bowls, cups, and platters.
The first blaze of green spread over the gardens and, wham, a wave of feasts followed. Feast days were the worst; they lasted for hours. Every suitor for miles around came to the kingdom of Eliora by the White Sea to woo Princess Mariposa. Well, why not? Princess Mariposa had hair as dark as midnight, eyes as changeable as the sea, skin as white as snow, and lips as red as cherries. Or that’s what the poets wrote. She was very pretty. And she had the whole kingdom all to herself. That’s the sort of princess that even the laziest suitor will pursue. But every new suitor meant a boatload of work for the servants, from boot-polishing to dusting to laundry to . . . you guessed it, pots!
The trail of pots down the rickety wood stairs was never ending. My fingers wrinkled to the bone, the steam peeled the tip of my nose, and my elbows creaked with the effort. Soap bubbles rose in the steamy air, shimmering in the lamplight. I’d lift my sponge and touch one, lightly, just enough to set it rolling in the steam, careful not to break it. Then I would picture myself in the soap bubble, Darling the Mighty Sailor.
I held fast to the rigging of my schooner, a spyglass in my free hand. A distant island beckoned her misty green fingers across the roaring sea. A fair jewel ahead! I’d set a course for her and pry her treasures loose from those fingers. Ahoy! But the sea had other plans. Towering waves rolled the ship, pitching her from side to side. On the deck, my crew cried out to me to turn back.
“Sail on!” I crowed back at them. The wind tore at my hair. The sea spit foam. A clutch of black rocks leered at me from between the waves, gnashing their sharp teeth, anxious to tear into the tender planking of my schooner’s side. I signaled to the wheelman. To starboard! To starboard! Gritting his teeth, he hung on the wheel, spinning her with all his might. The timbers creaked. The masts moaned. The sails whistled.
The prow of my schooner slicked past the rocks—by an inch.
The sea screamed in rage, but calm waters rode ahead. And the island held her breath, awaiting my arrival.
It was a very pretty daydream indeed. All shimmery and glistening while the bubble lasted. And while it wasn’t a real adventure, for a moment in the sooty dimness of the cellar, it made me feel that my life was as grand as Princess Mariposa’s.
Well, almost. While I scrubbed pots by lamplight, the Princess spent hours scouting the countryside for rare butterflies. Her collection filled an entire room, but still she prowled the woods, clutching a net, scrambling through bushes and over briars, a trail of servants behind her. All the while, the possibility of another rare butterfly fluttered just beyond her reach. The servants might grumble as they picked burs out of their stockings, but they’d say that if the Princess wanted a Polyommatus bellargus, well then, she should have one.
Princess Mariposa wore a crown that twinkled with diamonds, ate off golden plates, drank from crystal goblets, and rode in a golden carriage. She had a castle full of servants, a kingdom full of subjects, and an army of soldiers—all to please and serve and protect her. She had everything a princess could need or desire and more.
Because deep under her castle-built-by-dragons, in the under-cellar, she had a secret weapon: me, Darling Dimple.
But she didn’t know it. And up until then, neither did I. She was about to need a secret weapon and I was about to have the kind of adventure I’d dreamed of. Long afterward, she herself told me how on a feast day while I was scrubbing pots in the under-cellar she was wrinkling her pretty nose at the state of her petticoats. And that’s how my adventure started, with Princess Mariposa’s pretty wrinkled nose.