Story Saturday: Ghost Princess

 "Ghost Princess"

Princess Starlight loved ghost stories. She spent most of her childhood collecting artifacts that belonged to the kings and queens who came before her, in the hopes that she could meet their ghosts. They came to her a few times in her dreams, but she was never certain whether it was real or just a dream. Her parents grew concerned about her strange behavior and worried that she might never find a prince to marry because of her obsession with death.

Meanwhile, in a faraway kingdom, Prince Edward was crowned king after his father passed away from an incurable disease. His older sister, Princess Leah, passed away shortly afterward due to the strange illness, even though she seemed to be in perfect health. Shortly after his coronation, Edward sent word far and wide that he was seeking a princess to marry and secure his place on the throne. Princess Starlight had little interest in marrying a prince, so she ignored her parents when they encouraged her to attend Edward's balls.

Everything changed, however, when the rumors began to spread. Every single princess that Edward chose to become his bride broke off her engagement before the wedding day and fled back to her kingdom claiming that his castle was haunted. Stories filled the land about strange noises, threatening messages that would appear in the middle of the night, and other odd occurrences until Edward had trouble finding any princesses to visit him at all. Starlight's parents decided that perhaps it was for the best that she refused to consider an engagement, but the gothic princess had a different idea. When word reached her about the haunted castle, Starlight set off on the next ship to Edward's kingdom, sending word that she would like to become his bride.

Haunted castle under the cover of a full moon

Princess Starlight was greeted with all the fanfare that a princess might expect, but she barely noticed the colorful banners or trump quarter as she walked the halls of the ancient castle, surrounded by demonic statues and creaking stairwells. The servants had prepared a luxurious room with a pink canopy bed and wide windows, but the princess insisted on staying in the room of the late Princess Leah. King Edward was noticeably uncomfortable with her decision, but it seemed like no other princess was willing to marry him, so he was forced to comply.

Princess Starlight barely slept that night. The silk sheets prepared for her were perfectly comfortable, but she couldn't stop fidgeting in the hopes that she might discover the ghost of the late king or princess. She searched every corner of the room for signs of the supernatural and found only the usual things you would expect in a princess's room--fine gowns, embroidery floss, and some boring books about royal policy. There some faint banging and creaking behind the walls, but she assumed it was just the servants preparing food and festivities for the next day. Eventually, she gave up and fell asleep on the soft bed.

In the morning, Starlight noticed an embroidery hoop tossed upside-down in the corner of the room that she was certain hadn't been there the night before. Excited, she raced over and flipped it around to see what sort of secret message had been left for her. An old piece of cotton was embroidered with dainty stitches that looked like they could have only been the handiwork of another princess. In the middle of a complicated floral design, the words "You don't belong here" were scrawled in delicate cursive.

Princess Starlight searched the room for any sort of hole in the wall that the hoop could have fit through. She knocked on the wall and noticed that it was hollow even though there was no other room next to hers. Finally, she found a narrow slot that was encased in shadows behind the bookcase. It was just the right size for the embroidery hoop. She peered inside but saw only darkness.

"Hello?" she called into the dark void.

"Sorry we were running behind this morning, Princess. It's been a while since we've had any guests. What are you doing back there?"

The disembodied voice frightened and excited Starlight at the same time until she realized it was coming from the doorway to her chamber. A maid had let herself into the room to prepare Starlight for her day with King Edward. Starlight sighed and prepared for a boring day of horseback riding, dining, and idle conversation with the repulsive young king. She went back to her room to retire as early as she could and got to work on solving the mystery of the castle ghost.

Using the embroidery floss she found in Princess Leah's room, Starlight tore off a piece of an old dress and placed it in the embroidery hoop. Her stitches were not as neat as the ones in the message, but she had to work quickly if she planned to finish before morning.

"Who are you? Why don't I belong here? Is there a way we can meet?" she stitched. She pushed the needlework through the slot behind the bookcase along with the rest of the old dress in case the ghost needed more fabric. Before she went to sleep, Starlight scrawled a note to the maid saying that she wished to sleep in the next day and did not want to be disturbed. Hopefully, that would give her enough time to find the source of the message without being interrupted again.

The next morning, Princess Starlight discovered a much longer message sewn in stitches that were so tiny that she had to squint to read them.

"You were the first one to find my hiding place. Clever," it said. "If you haven't been frightened away like the others, you might find me if you dare to study the history of the castle."

Starlight was pleased with herself. She had passed the ghost's first test. What could it have meant by the history of the castle? Should she ask Edward? No, that was too risky. If she revealed that she was awake, she would be whisked off to another day of mindless activities and lose time in her investigation. She took another look at the late princess's bookshelf. Royal Etiquette, Foreign Policy, Palace Architecture. Bingo. She removed the last book and noticed a tiny latch hidden behind it. When she pulled the latch, she heard a clicking sound. Part of the wall opened with such a narrow crack that she could only see it if she stood directly in front of it. She had checked for secret passages the first night, but this door blended perfectly with the rest of the room. Hiding the latch behind a book about the castle's architecture was a cheeky ploy. She pulled open the secret door. On the other side was a dark passageway.

"Hello?" she called.

She was met with a faint groan that came from the bottom of a staircase. Starlight felt her way down the stairs until she saw a figure lit by a tiny speck of sunlight that spilled in through a loose brick in the wall. "Are you a ghost?" she whispered.

"I might as well be," rasped a weak voice. "I've been trapped here for so long. Everyone thinks I'm dead."

As Starlight's eyes adjusted to the light, the shape of a beautiful maiden with golden hair in a baggy silver gown grew clearer. Actually, the gown looked like it was a regular size for a petite maiden, but the woman in it was so drained of color and mass that she barely had an ounce of life left within her.

"You're the one who's been scaring away the other princesses, aren't you?" Starlight gasped.

"They can't be queen. It was supposed to be me. It isn't fair," the maiden's parched voice cracked.

"Are you Princess Leah?"

She nodded sadly.

"Why haven't you told anyone?"

"My father's dying words were that I would succeed him because I was the eldest. Edward locked me down here and said that if I ever tried to escape, he would have me killed on sight."

"That's terrible! Come back with me. You need to eat something."

"No. I can't let anyone see me."

"Don't worry," Starlight said, wrapping Leah's arm around her shoulders. "I have a plan."

Starlight returned Princess Leah to her own bed and quietly emerged from the room. She found the handmaiden from the previous day and told her that she had decided to marry Prince Edward the following evening. However, there were a few conditions. She insisted that she must not see him before the wedding because it would be bad luck and that all of her food must be left outside her door while she prepared herself for the big day. The maid thought this was an odd request, but Starlight could very well be the last chance Edward had for finding a bride, so she agreed. Ample food and drink were left at the door soon after, and Starlight brought it inside and gave all of it to Leah. Life returned to the ghost princess's cheeks. The two princesses spent the rest of the day planning their scheme for the wedding.

King Edward gathered as many guests as he could on such short notice. The castle was decorated with all of the garlands, streamers, and tapestries that had been prepared for his earlier engagements. Princess Starlight walked down the aisle in a glittering ebony gown that matched her hair. A priest stood before her and read her vows.

"Do you take King Edward to be your lawful husband to have and to hold till death do you part?"

"Death has not parted the kingdom from its true ruler," said the princess.

Several people gasped. She nodded toward the grand door in the back of the room. Princess Leah entered, her face as pale as her flowing white dress. One lady in the crowd fainted.

"Ghost!" someone shouted.

"What is the meaning of this?" demanded King Edward.

"I know everything," said Starlight. "You were willing to make me your queen instead of the one who truly deserves it."

And with that, she snatched the crown off Edward's head and placed it upon Princess Leah's.

"God save the queen!" shouted Starlight, raising Leah's arm into the air. Everyone cheered.

"My brother has committed an unforgivable crime," said Princess Leah. "He will be granted the same mercy that he gave to me."

After that day, King Edward was never seen again, and Queen Leah ruled with dignity and grace. Princess Starlight returned home ready to begin a new chapter in her life. She had enough with death and was ready to begin living.

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