What I ended up with is a story about the crown princess of Stjara - Ella - whose mother dies when she's young and whose father consequently sends her away to live in the foreign court of Atlaia, where she remains for most of the next eight years.
This snippet comes from the very beginning of the novel, when Ella is young (about ten) and her mother is pregnant again - with what Ella's father hopes will be a son.
14 December 1802
Agneholm Palace, Stjara
14 December 1802
Agneholm Palace, Stjara
Queen Roselle stood at her bedroom window and gazed down at her snow-covered garden, one hand resting on her round stomach. Another storm had blown through overnight, adding a soft layer of white over the ice that had formed the previous week. The snowy garden looked peaceful, but the ice-encased branches of the tree directly outside creaked beneath their own weight, and the Queen bit her lip. Though she had been assured that the storms and the ice were nothing out of the ordinary, the winters here, in her adopted country, were much more severe than in her native Etoin, and the creaking branches made her anxious.
She was about to turn away from the window and busy herself with something more pleasant - music, perhaps - when a flash of black caught her eye. Curious, she returned her attention to the garden. A dark-winged bird stood below, pecking at something in the path; when she peered down at it, the bird cocked its head and hopped forward, leaving something crimson behind in the path, bright against the snow.
Queen Roselle shivered. "Marta," she called.
A maid appeared and curtsied. "Yes, your Majesty?"
"Right away, your Majesty." The maid curtsied again and vanished.
The Queen stared down at the bird, absently stroking her stomach, until she heard a door open and close behind her.
"You asked for me, Majesty?" a woman's voice said in Etoinaise.
Queen Roselle had never been more relieved to hear her native tongue. After nearly ten years of marriage, she spoke Stjaran fluently, but it was always a comfort to slip back into Etoinaise.
Without turning from the window, she spoke. "What sort of bird would you say that is, Marie?"
Marie Ahlstad, Roselle's lady's maid, joined her queen at the window and appraised the bird. "I would suppose it is a rook," she said after a moment, and pushed her spectacles more firmly into place. "Though I am hardly an expert when it comes to winged creatures."
"That was my thought, as well," the Queen said. She looked down at her stomach, then smiled sadly. "A harbinger of death, I fear."
Ahlstad raised her eyebrows. "I do not recall that you have ever been superstitious, Roselle."
"No," Roselle said. "And you have known me since I was a child. But - " She hesitated. "But I have known for some time that there is something wrong with my child." She glanced out the window at the bird. "He has not moved in weeks."
The rook flapped its wings and lifted off from the path. The Queen flinched as it swooped near the window, her fingers tightening over her stomach. Ahlstad gently touched her arm.
"I expect you are overly concerned," she murmured. "It is only a bird. I would not worry."
Roselle looked once more out the window, then turned away. "No," she said brightly, turning on her famous smile. It lit up her face, brushing away the tiredness of pregnancy and reminding Ahlstad why the Queen was called the most beautiful woman in Stjara. "You are correct, of course. I am - emotional. You know this."
Ahlstad inclined her head. "It is not unexpected, given your condition." She smiled. "You were the same with Eleonora. But if you wish, Roselle, I will call for your physician."
Roselle made a sharp gesture with her hand. "My physician believes I am perfectly well." She frowned. "I would like to see my daughter. Will you find Ella and send her to see me, please?"
"As you wish, your Majesty," Ahlstad said, and turned to leave.
"Marie - "
Ahlstad paused. "Yes?"
Roselle hesitated. "You will always watch over her, will you not? My daughter. Should anything happen to me?"
"You are overly anxious," Ahlstad replied. "But you need not fear. I will always care for her. You need not fear."
Stay tuned for more snippets from Ella. :)