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The Princess and the Wolf
Southern Germany, The Black Forest Region
A Royal Estate and Castle
"Maria, come quickly," Princess Sierra called to her English maid-in-waiting. "There is not a moment to be lost."
"Yes, Your Highness," said Maria, stepping into Princess Sierra's bedroom chamber.
"We must hurry."
"Yes, Your Highness. We?"
"Yes, we two. I will require you to pack as much clothing as you can into a very light traveling bag ... and with all due haste. No, not the chest," she instructed, "a simple satchel that even I could carry. That will do."
"Yes, Your Highness," said Maria, as she abandoned the chest and hurried toward the wardrobe. But no sooner had the maid thrown wide the wardrobe door than a knock came on the princess's chamber door.
Sierra straightened away from the desk where, though standing, she had been busily scribbling out a note. Head held high, shoulders back, she gazed at the door as though it might bear tidings of misfortune. Her countenance, usually clear and bright, was unnaturally pale and frozen; her eyes were wide.
"Please see who it is, Maria," said the princess in a whisper, "but do not let them enter. You must make some excuse. After all, 'tis a very late hour."
"Yes, Your Highness," replied Maria, quietly closing the wardrobe and treading toward the chamber's door.
"Wait," whispered Sierra. "Slowly, slowly," she instructed, as she herself rushed toward the bed on tiptoe and quickly threw back the bedcovers.
Mid-stride, Maria paused for a moment, glancing toward her mistress; Sierra looked back at her. Indeed, so strong was the connection between them that for a moment the maid started for the bed, as though to help the princess. But Sierra waved her away, putting a finger to her lips. "Sh-h-h."
Maria nodded, and turning away, stepped toward the chamber's door and opened it, but only a crack.
Maria spoke. However, from Sierra's position across the room, she could decipher nothing of what was being said, unhappily confined to hearing no more than muffled voices. Within moments, however, Maria closed the door and, spinning toward her mistress, approached the bed.
"Beg pardon, Princess," said Maria, "but there is a note for you from Prince Alathom."
Sierra visibly gulped, pausing. Then nodding, she placed her hand out for the letter. "I hope," she murmured softly, as though to herself, "that there is not more trouble than that which we already have."
Silence was all that met this declaration, while Maria remained quietly by the bed. Quickly, Sierra scanned the contents of the note, the loose curls of her dark ringlets easing forward against her temples, making her appear younger than she was. At sixteen, her countenance was usually transparent and impossibly carefree, but for the moment, her face was marred by a frown. At length, she folded the paper and absentmindedly placed it within the folds of her chemise.
"'Tis not bad tidings," said the princess, her gaze caught unseeingly on some object across the room, "but our plans have been changed, I fear. And though it seems not unsatisfactory, I do not like it."
The princess glanced up briefly at her maid. However, when Maria remained mute, Sierra went on to say, "Though I realize that in the past you have given me your vow of silence, Maria, I must beg it of you once more. For I fear I have need of someone to talk to."
"Yes, Your Highness, you have my word."
Sierra nodded, sighing. "We are to escape together, tonight, the three of us, Prince Alathom, High Wolf and myself. But this note tells me that Prince Alathom has decided that we must devise our own escapes, each separately. Otherwise he fears our scheme will be discovered.
"Both High Wolf and myself are to meet as planned, in our usual spot, but Prince Alathom himself has gone on to the ship to prepare the way for us. There he will wait for us. It seems simple enough ... Yet I don't like it."
Maria inclined her head, as though in agreement.
"The prince also begs me," continued the princess, "to send notice of the change in plans to High Wolf. Maria, you must do this for me, for I cannot leave the castle until I finish the note I have begun to Papa ... "
"Yes. Of course I will do this for you."
Sierra nodded absentmindedly. "You know the spot of which I speak. You are perhaps the only other person besides the three of us who is aware of our secret meeting place. High Wolf is to be there at the midnight hour, but he is expecting both myself and Prince Alathom. You must take a note to him so that he understands what is now to be. And then you must come back here in all due haste, for I fear that I will need your help in leaving this palace."
"Do you think you can do all these things I ask? You have little time to accomplish it."
"I do, Your Highness; I will. But may I ask where are the three of you destined to go?"
"To Scotland," said Sierra, standing up, away from the bed, her feet still encompassed in satin slippers. But no sooner had she found her footing upon the floor than she was hurrying toward the desk, her steps practically flying over the lush carpet of her bedchamber. " 'Tis in our minds to leave here quickly, and we plan to set sail tonight. High Wolf and I will be married there, and once that is done, we will return."
" 'Tis a bold thing the three of you plan."
"That it is, Maria. That it is. Yet it is what I must do, what the prince must do -- and High Wolf, too, for a marriage between myself and the prince would be a most unhappy affair. I do not understand why our parents have done as they have, for they have gone against our wishes this night. You must know that we were expecting quite another announcement at the ball... "The Princess and the Wolf. Copyright © by Karen Kay. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.