This is an unpublished Prologue for Princess Academy: Palace of Stone I wrote just for fun. It does not appear in the book. This scene takes place a few months after the end of Princess Academy and before the beginning of Palace of Stone.|
In summer on Mount Eskel, the sky was a hot blue and seemed to come down lower, hanging there, just a breath away. Sunlight poured through the open window and the cracks of the rock walls. It pooled on the tabletop and in the palms of Miri's hands. She held the sunlight. She breathed in the warmth. In summer, she could not remember what it felt like to be cold.
Loneliness, too, felt as far away as winter. Miri remembered being lonely, but the sensation no longer pinched her. It was just a garment she had outgrown and cast off.
She opened the door and smiled up at Mount Eskel's snowcapped head.
"Good morning," she whispered as she did every morning.
She kept calling out greetings all the way to the village chapel.
"Esa, are you coming to the school this afternoon? We're doing arithmetic. Jans, if your pa lets you out of quarry work, it's your day for lessons. Almond, you too. Marda, I'll be home before supper. Hello, Frid! Peder, don't dawdle or I'll do an impressive impersonation of a grumpy lowlander tutor."
A dozen village boys and a few young girls followed after her, some dragging their feet more than others. The older girls of Mount Eskel had attended the princess academy the past year, learning Reading, Arithmetic, History, and such. It had been the first school in the history of Mount Eskel. Prince Steffan had come up from the capital, chosen his future bride from the girls at the academy, and left again. The lowlander tutor followed, and the academy was no more.
"If we're going to have a school," Miri had said, "we'll have to make it ourselves."
And so she did, teaching the boys and any who cared to learn each day in the village chapel.
Or on a sunny summer day, in the shadow of the chapel under the hot blue sky.
An hour into lessons, Jans was entranced by a tiny black beetle crawling up his sock, Lars was stacking rubble rock into a pyramid, and Almond was gazing intently at the road.
"I want to thank you," said Miri, putting down the book on Commerce. "The way you all stick to my every word is so flattering. Clearly you're smitten with me."
Peder was carving a piece of linder into a small person. He looked at her from under his brows, smiling. He could carve all day and she would not mind. He'd already learned to read proficiently. Besides, she knew he listened to her.
A smile stuck on her lips, and she tried to press it away or she'd start giggling in front of everyone. That would be a disaster. She tried her best to look as stern and impressive as the academy's lowlander tutor.
"Ahem... Jans, did you hear a word I read you about Commerce? And, Almond, what are you staring at?"
"There's something coming up the road," Almond said, squinting. "I think..."
Everyone looked. There was a space of silence before a sound reached their ears. Wagon wheels crunching rubble rock.
The school children shouted, "The traders have come!" A moment later, the quarry emptied of workers, everyone gathering in the village center. The Commerce lesson was pushed aside by an actual exercise in the subject.
Miri bartered with Enrik the trader, selling her family's cut linder stone for coins and then purchasing foodstuff and other goods. Her pa was almost done hauling their purchases from Enrik's wagon into their little stone house when the trader called Miri back.
"I almost forgot." Enrik held up two folded pieces of parchment. "I have letters for you."
Letters? What did he mean? Had he written the alphabet down on paper? What a silly gift. But lowlanders were odd.
"Thanks," she said. Maybe they were odd, but no reason to be rude about it.
She sat on a stone, opened the papers, and the actual meaning of "letters" dawned on her.
"Letters," Miri repeated, her fingertips skimming the paper. She held them to her nose and smelled fresh ink.
One was from Katar, a Mount Eskel girl of seventeen who'd left for the capital in the spring. The other was from Britta, betrothed of Prince Steffan. The news they relayed both thrilled her and stilled her. Miri did not know if she should jump up and down or hide somewhere with a blanket over her head.
She read the letters again. And again.
Peder sat beside her, still carving his linder shard while he spoke.
"I've never seen so much grain," he said. "And oats! Remember when we were little and the traders brought oats by mistake? I've dreamed about them for years. Wait, what are those?"
He picked up one of the letters.
"It's news," said Miri. "The king is sending wagons for the academy girls. To take us to Asland for the wedding."
"I know, I know. But I'd rather not think about it till spring."
"Not in spring. Sooner. Much sooner than we thought. And Peder..." The news was too big to fit in her sitting body. She stood up. "Peder, you're going too."
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