Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.
~ Albert Einstein
Shira woke up in Keira’s bed. Her sister was still sleeping and Shira was tempted to answer to the comforting call of rest; to ignore the responsibilities that faced them. But she couldn’t.
As silently and slowly as she could, Shira slipped out of the bed. She was dressed only in her thin chemise. The white fabric swished at her ankles but left her shoulders exposed. Needless to say, she was freezing.
Longingly, she looked back at Keira’s bed. She had always thought that her sister’s blankets were warmer and softer than her own … but wasn’t that how all siblings felt?
Keira’s room was just as much as a mess as Shira’s. Her sister’s curtains were drawn shut, so the only light was from the two candle stubs mounted by the door.
Shira tripped on at least five things before managing to make it to the door. A quick look over her shoulder showed that Keira was still fast asleep. Shira smiled and slipped out of the room.
Luckily, Keira’s sitting room was relatively tidy and there were candles lit all around. Shira didn’t so much as trip on one thing as she stepped around furniture and made it out into the hallway.
There weren’t many servants in this wing of the castle. There were a few guest rooms along with a sitting room or two, but it was mainly where Shira, Keira, and Aristotle resided, so Shira wasn’t too concerned about being in her undergarments as she padded her way back to her own room.
Shira’s maid was already at work in her room, cleaning up the remaining garbage that Shira had missed in her sleepiness the night prior.
“Good morning, Miss,” Matilda said.
“Morning.” Shira liked Matilda. She had been her personal maid for quite a large number of years, now. The lady was in her forties and was sort of a mother-like figure without the draw-back of being bossy and Shira actually having to listen to her.
Shira walked past her maid and to her wardrobe. She didn’t have to dress fancy until their dinner party that evening, so she was free to chose whatever she felt. She rummaged through a few until she finally decided on a peach colored day dress. Matilda helped her into her corset and then the dress. Once her hair was braided into a simple – but elegant – plait, Shira was free to go.
“Thank you, Matilda.” Then Shira left to find her parents. Every step she took, she let out a breath. She imagined that with each one, she was releasing every ugly feeling that she had.
Admittingly, she was quite embarrassed by her show of emotions the night before. She had been caught up in the moment, she guessed. Not that she wasn’t an emotional person, because she was. Sort of. But not.
She didn’t want to keep dwelling on the bad parts of the night, so she focused on the good, which was almost all of it.
The dances. That was what really stood out. That and time spent with Aristotle.
There was carpet beneath her shoes and the halls weren’t nearly as wide as the ballroom, but if she closed her eyes, she could almost relive the night before and all the dances that she had danced. If you were a dramatic sort, you could say that they were her last dances of innocence. The last dances of childhood.
Of course, Shira was dramatic.
She had to open her eyes so that she didn’t run into walls and people and the sorts, but her steps had a bounce to them.
Her parents were in their main meeting room. (She found that out from one of the man servants.) The door was cracked, so she allowed herself in.
Shira was relieved to see that she wasn’t interrupting anything too terribly important.
Father stood up, a smile on his face. “Ah, there’s one of my beautiful girls!” Shira crossed the room and stepped into her father’s embrace.
“Morning, Father.” She kissed his cheek and moved onto Mother, the hug more dainty than man-crushing. “Mother.”
“And where are your sisters?”
“Still sleeping.” Shira let herself melt into one of the chairs, propping her chin up on one of her fists. “And what are you two doing this morning?”
Mother was all business. She always was in this mode when there was an important decision to make or an event to plan – which was almost always. “Your father and I are just finishing up the details on tonight’s dinner. The Ceremony is already nearly planned out.”
Shira let her head tilt back, hitting the high back of the chair. “Oh. That.”
“Come now, Shira,” Father joked, “surely it isn’t that bad.”
“You try having your whole life changed in only a matter of minutes!”
Father gave a sly glance at her mother. “Oh, I think that I have an idea.”
“Gross! Back to planning! Back to planning!” But secretly, Shira liked these moments. When Mother relaxed from her constant go-go-go state and Father relaxed from his constant hyper-awareness. When they were just two people. Plus Shira.
“Yes, yes.” Mother sat down across from Shira. There were stacks of paper in front of them, mostly lists it looked like. “Mind checking over the guest list once more, Shira, dear? It’s already pretty final, but it wouldn’t hurt.”
Shira knew exactly what her mother meant. One, she wished that Shira had more friends or some gentleman, as Aristotle put it. This was making a point that she could always invite all of her friends and acquaintances that she had stowed away in the linen closets or something. Two, Mother wanted her to feel useful but there wasn’t actually anything for Shira to do.
Still, she excepted the task.
The guest list was pretty typical. It was a pre-ceremony dinner, so it was just family and close friends and the people of consequence in the kingdom.
“Actually, Mother? Do you mind if I take a few moments to relax and eat some breakfast? Maybe read? I’ll be back before you know it.”
Mother gave her a grateful look. “Sure, honey. Take as much time as you need. See you back in a little bit.”
“Enjoy your book, Shira.” Father picked up a stack of papers. It was painfully obvious that reading for enjoyment was what he would much rather be doing. “Perhaps wake your sisters up soon?”
Shira nodded her head, gave them each a curtsy, and left to go back to her room. She wasn’t necessarily in the mood for reading, but she would rather be doing that than being a thorn in her parent’s sides. Plus, she thought that she recalled a book among her pile of gifts…
On her way to her room, Shira peeped her head into Keira’s room. She was still asleep, but her maid was busily cleaning up the mess from the night before. Keira was normally one of the first awake, but she must have been very tired. Shira told the maid to wake up Keira in a half hour or so, and then she moved on to Aristotle.
Aristotle’s room was … an interesting place. It had all of the markings of a teenage girl: mess and mayhem with trinkets here and there. Outfits – none of them exorbitantly fancy – hung on candle sconces and curtain rods. But it had a sort of orderliness to it. It gave one a headache to think about.
Shira didn’t see Aristotle’s nurse, so she found her sister herself.
The girl was asleep atop of her blankets. Shira didn’t know how her sister could sleep like that. It was always cold, and yet she never used blankets. It was unfathomable.
Shaking Aristotle didn’t work, so Shira resorted to the method of smacking her sister repeatedly with a pillow. Tragically, she could think of no other way. It wasn’t her fault.
Smirking, Shira backed off as Aristotle roused with a very annoyed face.
“Father said to wake up,” Shira said primly, and then flounced off.
Aristotle yelled something after her, but Shira ignored it. Aristotle woke quickly, so her sour mood wouldn’t last long.
With her sisterly duties over with, Shira entered her chambers and looked through her gifts. They were still organized from the night before – and Matilda had straightened them up, as well – and sure enough, there were four books among the presents. They all looked vaguely interesting, so Shira picked one at random. Some sort of fantasy.
Book tucked under one arm, a knit wrap under the other, Shira made her way through the castle and out into the courtyard. Servants were busy at work, buzzing from one place to another. She also ran into a guest in the castle – Father’s great aunt, she thought – that she took part in a small conversation.
Then she was able to settle down on a wooden bench. She looked up at the ocean above her, the blue a lovely shade.
A lamppost was lit nearby, so Shira moved closer so that she could better see the words of the book. Aristotle was more of the reader, but if it was a good book then Shira could definitely enjoy it. Hopefully this book proved itself fruitful.
Shira was barely two chapters in before she got interrupted by Keira poking her forehead. She looked up, giving her sister her best what now look.
Keira plopped herself down on the bench, shoving Shira’s propped-up leg against the back. “Surprised to see you up this early.”
Slightly disgruntled, Shira extracted her legs from behind her sister’s back. “Yeah, well, I found sleeping difficult.”
“True. Whatcha reading?”
“Not exactly sure. It’s a fantasy – set in some other world or another.”
“Cool. Sounds like one of Aristotle’s books.”
They lapsed into silence. Shira considered picking the book back up, but she wasn’t feeling as motivated. And yet, she couldn’t exactly think of anything to say, so she didn’t. Shira took Keira’s hand.
It was a little time before Shira spoke. “Do you ever wonder if there’s anything out there? Like, beyond the ocean?”
“No, not really.”
Shira tracked some fish in the ocean with her eyes before she slowly turned back to her sister. “Surely the world’s bigger than just this. Then just our kingdom.” She searched Keira’s face urgently; she needed an answer. With the embarrassment that faced her, she wasn’t sure if there would be anywhere in the kingdom that she could escape to.
But Keira’s face gave her no hope. She tapped Shira’s skull. “I think that that book’s getting into your skull.” She gave a patronizing smile before standing up. “Mother and Father are ready for us, so we’d better go.”
“Okay … just give me a moment?”
Keira nodded and then left the courtyard, heading back inside.
Shira pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders, wrapped her arms further around her stomach. Surely there was something else. Something more.
You reach too far; you dream too big.
That’s what Shira had always been told. She had never really seen herself as a dreamer – that was way more typical of Aristotle. But then again … was Shira one?
She gave up on her book, laying it carefully down on the bench next to her then pulled her knees up to her chest. She focused on arranging her skirts so as she was still decent. Just clearing her mind all except for that little task was nice. Her brain was always a cluttered rush.
Her hands were shaking. Shira hadn’t noticed that before. Had they been doing that all morning? She wasn’t sure.
The bench was stark cold against her exposed skin along her forearms and feet, giving her a good bite. Shira closed her eyes and leaned her head against the back of the bench.
She stayed like that for a little bit. Just breathing the cold air: in and out, in and out.
When Shira felt that she had overextended her relaxation break, she slowly straightened out her stiff, cold limbs and stood up, barely remembering to grab her book before she left the courtyard.
Shira found her sister and parents in the dining room, looking over some last minute details. Aristotle, apparently, had yet to be dragged completely out of bed.
Shira pulled her shawl tighter around herself. It was definitely warmer inside – nearly every room had a glowing hearth – but she still felt a residual chill.
Mother came over and kissed the top of Shira’s head. “Did you figure out all the secrets of the universe?” she asked in a rare moment of attention.
“You’ll get there, sweetie. Now,” Mother said, getting back to business, “you girls need to go and get ready for the day.”
“What? Why?” Shira asked. “Everything isn’t until this evening.”
“Guests will be arriving within a couple hours and there’s a wave coming, so we need to go and have your Ceremony early. Just after a luncheon.”
Shira’s heart completely stopped before immediately jumping back to action at an impossibly fast rate. She looked over at her sister, and Keira’s face was completely pale.
Mother saw their stricken looks and rushed to comfort her daughters. “Don’t worry, darlings. It will all be over sooner, right?” She knew how anxious the girls were for the event.
After rubbing their backs for just a moment, Mother rushed out of the room saying that she had preparations to make.
Shira was still trying to wrap her minds around it. The Ceremony was now only mere hours away instead of nearly twelve. Keira reached out her hand and Shira took it, rubbing her thumb over her sister’s soft skin.
“You’ll both be just fine.”
Shira jumped at the voice. She had forgotten that Father was still in the room. He was like that a lot.
Father walked over and kissed them both on the cheeks and then left after his wife.
When she turned away from her father’s retreating form and back at her sister, she saw that Keira had tears forming in her eyes. Just seeing her sister cry made her want to, as well.
“Oh, Shira. I can’t do this. I can’t!”
She wrapped her arms around Keira and pulled her close. Her sister was always the calm one. Emotional, but steady. To see her cry so suddenly off-balanced Shira.
“It’ll be fine, Keira. It’s fine. Father said so, so it must be true.”
Shira took her sister by the shoulders and pushed her back, looking her in the eyes. “Keira. I promise you, it will be fine.” After a moment of looking deep into her sister, imploring, Keira gave her a nod. “Good. Because it will.” Shira wiped away a few of Keira’s tears with her thumb.
“God, I’m a mess.” Keira wiped away her remaining tears. “Let’s go get cleaned up, yeah?”
“Yeah.” Shira linked her arm through Keira’s and they traversed through the palace, towards their rooms. “Now, tell me how your night went – I never got a chance to hear.”
Keira perked up a bit. “Well, you were there when the night began. It was a total bore.” Shira had to disagree, but she let her sister continue. “And the food was great. I met quite a few nice people. I even danced with a few gentlemen!”
Shira squealed. “Really? What were they like?”
“Oh, the usual kind. Stiff-backed and sweaty from nerves.” They both laughed. It was entirely – and sadly – too true. “I really don’t understand your love for dancing, though! It’s so exhausting!”
Whereas Shira enjoyed the sciences and, oddly enough, dancing, Keira enjoyed the more artistic arts such as painting and embroidery. They often joked that their parents had children each from a different grouping: an artist, a scientist, and a dreamer.
“I don’t know, Keira. I just do. It was so romantic, though! Wasn’t it?”
Keira laughed lightly, most of her traces of tears all but gone. “It was, I’ll give you that.”
When the two girls passed by Aristotle’s chambers, they heard screeching. Shira poked her head in just long enough to find what she had anticipated: though thirteen now, Aristotle was throwing a hissy fit about having to dress “fancy.” It had happened the night prior, as well.
Shira told Keira, and they both chuckled a little bit, but stopped when Shira got to her door. She slipped her hand into her sister’s for just a moment before smiling and then heading into her room.
As soon as the door slid shut, Shira let out a large breath. She wasn’t used to being in the supportive role. She was the girl who was spontaneous and, at times, overcome with emotion. But there were these few moments where Keira let her carefully created facade slip and Shira realized once again just how vulnerable she really was. Shira may have been younger by only a few minutes, but she had to step up sometimes and be the older one.
After all, weren’t they not suppose to know who was older?
Matilda was waiting for Shira in her room, informing her that while she had been outside, Mother had sent up her dress for the day. She had said that Shira and Keira would be wearing the dress as some sort of symbolism or whatever. She didn’t really pay attention.
In all the seventeen years that Shira had had with Keira, they had never dressed the same. Not once. Typically, Mother had dressed them in opposite colors and in different fashions, but not so today.
Matilda was adding last minute touches to the dress – cleaning up the hemline, stitching some threads back in to place, smoothing the fabrics out. Shira absently placed the book she was holding on her desk and draped her shawl over the chair, making her way over towards the maid, or more specifically, the dress.
It was a beautiful gown. Floor length and a light blue, its skirts were gathered into an empire waist before poofing out into a tamed sort of ball gown. Delicate shapes were stitched all along the stretchy bodice and out into the skirt, which was covered by a tulle fabric. The sleeves were made of lace, the same shade of blue, and would reach nearly to her fingertips.
“Oh, it’s beautiful!” Shira whispered, running her hand along the skirt. Matilda stepped back, head bowed, so that Shira could get a better look. “Here, help me get it on.”
The maid helped Shira slip out of her current dress, but before going onto the next, she sat Shira down at the vanity in her dressing room to have her hair and makeup done, so as to not accidentally ruin the dress.
Blue lip paint was put on, along with kohl around her eyes, ending in little upticks. And though Shira found it unnecessary – her cheeks were prone to naturally flushing – Matilda powdered pink dust onto her cheeks. Her hair, having still been braided from the night prior, was let loose from its constrictions and was carefully combed and woven with teeny pearls, a net tying half of her hair back as the finishing touch.
With all of that done, Shira’s corset was tightened to accommodate the tighter-fitting dress. Finally, she was aided in slipping into the dress. Though snug, it was comfortable. Matilda gave it a once over, finding a few flaws.
Shira was told to stand still while the maid did a few nips and tucks at the waist and netting. Shira tried not to sigh too much as she held her breath and froze as if a statue. The whole affair had already taken over an hour and she was getting impatient.
“Just another moment, Miss. I’m hurrying as fast as I can.” Matilda was, indeed, going as fast as she could.
Shira felt as small stab of guilt. “Sorry, Matilda. I’m just not in a good head place this morning.”
“Of course you aren’t, Miss.”
Shira had prided herself in always allowing her maids freedom of speech – within reason, of course – but what was that suppose to mean?
“I beg your pardon?”
“This is a big deal for you and Heiress Keira, I wouldn’t have expected anything different. You’re only children.”
Shira didn’t deign to respond to that, but she quietly mulled it over in her head, helping in distracting her from the required stillness.
Here Shira had been feeling guilty for these feelings of nervousness and, well, jealousy that she’d been feeling … but was Matilda right? The lady was certainly old enough to have gained some wisdom over her years. Perchance she had been wasting time dwelling on these feelings that she had thought so wrong, but may actually not have been?
It made both her head and her heart ache just thinking about it.
“There you go, Miss. You’re ready for the lot of them.”
“Thank you, Matilda. You may have your afternoon off.” The woman smiled, if a little reserved, at Shira before packing up her needles and threads and pearls.
As Shira was leaving – heeled boots in hand – she heard Matilda mutter, “God, they’re so young.”