Home > The Secret Princess: A Retelling of The Goose Girl (Return to the Four Kingdoms #01)

The Secret Princess: A Retelling of The Goose Girl (Return to the Four Kingdoms #01)
Author: Melanie Cellier

Part I

 

 

The Geese

 

 

Prologue

 

 

A wave, larger than the ones preceding it, slapped against the hull of the ship. The deck beneath my feet lurched, sending me staggering against the rail. I managed to get a firm grip before it swung back the other way, the tilt sharper than it had been before. Several sailors called to each other, but a breathless voice shouting my name distracted me from their words.

“Giselle! Giselle!” Daisy, a thirteen-year-old wearing an elegant gown which she had hitched up to give her freer movement, scrambled up the steps from below decks. “There’s something wrong with Arvin. He’s screaming and neighing, and it sounds like he’s going to smash his way out of his stall.”

“Arvin?” I let go of the rail and dashed across to meet her at the top of the stairs.

When the ship pitched again, I nearly lost my footing and sent us both tumbling into the depths of the ship. I managed to stop myself just in time, Daisy steadying me on one side.

“Is he injured?” I asked.

“Not that I could see. But he was kicking up such a fuss, I couldn’t get a good look at him. I didn’t know what else to do but come and get you.”

Like everyone else on board, Daisy had noticed the connection between me and my horse—the only mount brought along for the voyage. What she didn’t know was that he was a recent gift from my godmother.

I half-climbed, half-slid down the steps, racing toward the horse’s stall as quickly as I could given the increased tilt of the ship. I didn’t have to make it all the way, however, before I could hear him.

Giselle! Get those useless sailors down here. There’s a leak. Starboard. Aft. Where is that useless girl? GISELLE!!

I pulled myself to a stop. At first I had been surprised to learn no one else could hear his equine sounds as words, but I had given up attempting to get any answers out of Arvin. The godmother had given him to me, and I alone could understand him. His manner and behavior made me fairly sure it was an enchantment on him rather than me though.

I reversed direction, Daisy slipping and sliding a few steps behind me. The ship tipped again, and a thin stream of water rushed over our feet.

“There’s a leak,” I said, hoping she couldn’t hear the fear in my voice. “We have to get the sailors—”

Bodies tumbled down the stairs, their voices filling the space below decks as they crowded after each other. I grabbed the closest one.

“There’s a hole—or something. Starboard. Aft.” I pointed in the right direction.

He hesitated for only a second, before calling to the others to follow him. Daisy and I flattened ourselves against the wooden walls, trying to get out of their way as they rushed past. As soon as they reached Arvin, the horse instantly calmed, and I could no longer hear his shouts.

The yells of the sailors soon replaced them, however, the location of the leak evidently discovered. Daisy looked like she wanted to go after them, curiosity all over her face, so I herded her back toward the deck.

“Giselle! Daisy! There you are. Do you know what’s going on?” My older brother Oliver, crown prince of Eldon, appeared from the door of the great cabin. “Everyone else is in here.”

“There’s a leak,” Daisy announced, a little too much relish in her voice.

The ship tilted steeply to the side, and Oliver caught me before I stumbled into the door. His grip didn’t loosen, but he glanced back over his shoulder into the cabin, concern on his face.

Someone barreled into him from behind, pushing us both away from the door.

“Sorry!” Celine gasped as she flew past us and up the steps to the deck.

Oliver abandoned us to dash after his wife, both of them disappearing up the steps. I peered through the still open doorway at two more girls. Daria’s concerned eyes flitted from me to Daisy.

“What should we do, Giselle?” she asked.

“I think we should all head up on deck,” I said, conscious of the continuing shouts of the sailors from the depths of the ship and the increasing tilt at each wave.

“I second that,” said Cassandra, hurrying forward to join me. “I don’t fancy being caught below decks if the ship’s going down.”

Daria’s worried eyes flashed back to Daisy, the youngest of us. “I’m sure it won’t come to that.”

“Imagine if it did!” Daisy’s eyes were shining. “I’ve never been shipwrecked before. We could all cling to pieces of wreckage and kick our way to shore.”

“Perhaps we could try the longboats before we’re reduced to scrounging for flotsam,” I said, ushering the others ahead of me toward the steps.

But privately I admitted to some relief that we had been sailing north along the Arcadian shoreline since sunrise. We had been traveling through open ocean for some time now, and I wouldn’t have liked to go down days from any land. I had grown up with the closely clustered continents and island of my home lands, where no sea voyage took you far from shore. So this voyage to the distant Four Kingdoms was my first true experience of that vast, open ocean.

For most of my life, any ships that sailed east from our lands encountered a solid wall of impassable storms. Legends held they had been placed there by the High King to protect our people when they fled from their original kingdoms to the uninhabited lands that we would build into kingdoms of our own. But that was countless generations in the past, and few believed or even remembered the legends—until five years ago when the storms stilled.

Daisy, Daria, Cassandra, and I came from the lands of my childhood, but my sister-in-law Celine had grown up in Lanover, one of the original Four Kingdoms. She had come with the first delegation sent by the Old Kingdoms and had stayed to rescue my kingdom of Eldon from a vast enchantment, gaining fire powers and falling in love with my brother in the process.

They had been married for nearly four years now, and she had been promising to take Oliver and me to see her kingdom for at least three of those years. A leak in the boat before we even reached the Arcadian capital didn’t seem an auspicious start to the long-awaited journey.

I climbed the steps last, gripping tightly with both hands to keep from losing my footing. When I emerged back into the sunshine, I staggered my way over to the railing to join the others.

Celine, looking pale, managed a smile in greeting. Apparently she had finished being sick over the edge. I gave her a sympathetic wince in return.

“Does it feel like the ship is steadying a little?” Cassie asked, gazing across the deck.

Oliver frowned. “Perhaps a little.”

“My men have plugged the hole with their hammocks.” The captain appeared beside us, looking grim. “And now they’re hard at work at the pumps. But a lot of water got in, and it’s only a temporary solution.”

Oliver and Celine, the official heads of our delegation, exchanged looks.

“Will we make it to the port at Arcadie?” Oliver asked, naming the Arcadian capital.

The captain’s frown deepened, and he rubbed his chin, eyeing the six of us. Daisy was the youngest princess from Trione which meant we consisted of four royals, as well as Cassie, the niece of a minor noble from my kingdom of Eldon, and Daria, a close friend of the queen of Eliam. I could understand why our presence on his damaged ship was making him uneasy.

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