Princess Soraia is bored to tears within the castle walls. For once, she is allowed to go on an adventure. In the valley, she falls in love. Then, totally unexpectedly, the fleet of King Netuno anchors. With privileges come obligations, but can they be circumvented? A touching Azorean legend, an enriching at-home experience; the perfect family read (aloud)!
Targeted Age Group:: 10-14
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
An Azorean legend and the four seasons inspired me to write this summer tale.
There once lived a king on a ship very far away from here. His name was Netuno. He ruled like a god over the Atlantic Sea and a group of islands called ‘The Azores’ that majestically rose from the sea.
The only thing King Netuno cared about was expanding his territory. He would gather his troops and fiercely go to war to conquer the tiniest country. Nothing else mattered, not even his own child.
On one of these islands, Soraia remained orphaned in the castle on the mountain range surrounding her father’s farmlands. Because her mother, their previous queen, had passed away far too early, an old lady-in-waiting took care of her. Dores, who once assisted the queen, became wearier every day.
“Princess!” Her voice cracked while coming to a panting halt for a moment and then she chased after her again. “Child of the sea; wait!”
She gasped for breath with every step, but Soraia would not listen.
Dores’ sigh echoed up the stairs in the tower. Her ageing sight followed the little shadow floating up ahead. The sea air, forcing its way through a window, was now closing in on the girl. Her silk dress fluttered around her frail body.
Soraia never really stood still nowadays, almost as if she had suddenly become part of the endless swell at sea. She constantly skipped up and down, and back up… and down.
The distance between the two of them increased. The pitter-patter of the shoes faded away. Dores shook her long, white hair. The little princess was full of life and had all the energy that she lacked.
She cast a long glance out of the tower window. No, she could not escape it: the years that surged by would never come around again.
Worrisome thoughts engulfed her as she sank deeper and deeper into the pond gilded by the setting sun. And, her soul would only be freed when the sound of the sea smashing against the castle walls drowned her thoughts.
At bedtime, the princess turned out to be as energetic as ever. “Oh, read more!” she insisted repeatedly. “Please?!” Her gaze turned blue and widened like the sea that surrounded father’s land. As that didn’t help, she tried to persuade Dores with pouting lips.
The lady-in-waiting yawned tiredly, but succumbed. “All right,” she lulled the tireless child, “one more story then but this is really the last one! Then you go to sleep!” She opened up the storybook that her king had brought back from one of his conquests.
But alas, she was sleeping like a rock on the chair next to the high canopy bed before she could finish the story. Running after a playful girl all day long had taken its toll.
Soraia pouted her lips in dismay. “No, Dores; don’t,” she moaned for she wanted to hear all about that exciting adventure of the brave captain and his tough crew until the end.
The girl crawled out from under the silk sheets and now sat on her knees on the edge of the bed. She stubbornly pulled on the shoulders of the elderly sleeping woman. “Hey, stay awake. I do not like this!”
Disappointment pierced her soul. Her head was spinning with unanswered questions. A story without end; it drove her crazy!
Dores’ pale skin looked rippled; like waves. Elated, Soraia tapped on one of the sunken cheeks but her fieriness quickly faded. The ladyin-waiting was already in dreamland.
Her face saddened as she slipped out of her large, high bed. With lightening-quick eyes she grabbed the opened storybook from Dores’ lap and shut it with a loud thud.
In an instant, disillusionment and anger welled up. Powerlessness swallowed Soraia like a giant wave. Her tears extinguished her fiery flame. She just had to know how the story ended!
With the book in her arms, she shuffled barefoot over the wall-towall carpet. The blue river of tears streaming from the pools of her eyes flooded its banks and trailed the floor as she snuck out of the room, into the hallway, and up the stairs.
Higher up the spiral staircase, the little princess stood on her toes to stare at the pond through the window. With its hidden power, the sun had gilded the waves by day. Now that the waves calmed down, the moon did not only silence the sea but also gilded it in silver.
The airflow wouldn’t give way. It energetically rose above the water and quickly reached a paneless window from which Soraia’s head protruded. The wind hit her face hard, confused her hair, and now playfully let itself be caught in a web of airy cloth that was fluttering loudly around her body.
It was only when her arm hair, like father’s soldiers, stood rigidly upright and her teeth chattered as marching boots, that she hurriedly pulled her head in and then locked the hatch. That air’s whistling disappeared immediately.
Even though Princess Soraia shut the view to the pond and with it the window to the outside world, closing that hatch could obviously never tame this seafarer’s wildest dreams. Inside the girl, the urge for freedom stirred more restlessly than ever before.
Along the staircase, she sat down in a niche in the thick tower wall.
Here she could listen to the sea; they swapped stories about what was going on in their lives for what seemed like forever.
She tried to dispel the chill by rubbing her skin. The beautiful book full of hero stories lay beneath her dangling legs, untouched. She now kicked it bearishly. The paper captain was the only damn one who’d take her on a journey outside this castle! He travelled to an unknown place each time. If only she could read then she’d join him once again!
She could almost taste the adventure… Soraia’s head fell into her palms, in which all hope evaporated. She was disappointed in Dores, who slept longer every day, and in her book that refused to come to life but most of all, in her father!
Of all the heroes that crossed the seas and that Dores had ever told her about, and there were many, Soraia’s own father was her greatest hero.
But no matter which way the wind blew, coming or going, Netuno never took her out to sea… “Sailing is not for girls,” he had answered her the last time his fleet docked here. What? So, that was it?!
This child of the sea never felt as misunderstood as she did then.
She had adamantly insisted that she wouldn’t bid him farewell if she weren’t allowed to go out into the big wide world this time.
It was not for girls?! She locked herself in her chambers in an effort to get Netuno’s attention. Even if he had noticed that, he did not care because he had more important things on his mind: work!
Her respect for her dad reached beyond the seas but she had never before heard bigger nonsense within these castle walls; she wished to follow in his footsteps shortly. Like him she wanted to cleave through the shimmering waves; the thought alone gave her peace of mind.
The king’s daughter radiated joy for life during the daytime but at night her bottled-up sadness always kept surfacing. Her gaze became watery. She had to turn to her paper adventures out of sheer need but even that was impossible now. It was just so unfair!
The castle adorned the highest plain in the east, offering a view of blue waves where all kinds of dangers and stories were hidden. The garden you spotted at the front only looked safe, or rather, dull green.
Even though Soraia heard in passing that the people in the valley wanted to trade places with the royal household, these stretched-out walls imprisoned her like iron bars as if they’re friend and foe at the same time… It made her head spin. By all the seas of the world, what had she ever done wrong? Being locked up in the tower like a bird in a cage forever; was this the toll she had to pay for being a girl?
Her flawless nails pierced her skin as she clenched her fists. Angry at her father? Yes, and at the entire castle court! The more she thought about it, the more her guard looked like his sea force.
Soraia was startled. There were footsteps at the bottom of the spiral staircase. Hey, who was wandering around the castle at this time of night?! She wiped her tears with the tip of her nightgown. Her fingers combed the unruly straw-like bush on her head.
Her heart was pounding. Someone was approaching! One thing was sure; this was not the brisk pace of the guard. It actually sounded more like her own skipping-about. She held her breath. A child, here?
A tiny shadow appeared on the stairs beneath her. Two hops later, someone popped their head around the corner.
“You?!” they shouted in unison. They burst out laughing.
A middle-aged man, who was not so much taller than Soraia was, wearing an oversized hat and dressed in an exotic, colourful costume, looked at her as a strict father would. “Princess,” he mimicked King Netuno with a reprimanding finger, “staying up is not for little girls!”
Even though he certainly wasn’t the worst of them, she felt busted.
She jokingly stuck out her tongue. “And you, Aurelio,” Soraia said in a false enemy tone, “shouldn’t you be asleep yet, little man?”
The puzzled jester shook his head, but when he spotted the book of seafarers’ stories lying on the floor, he grinned from ear to ear. He kneeled and held it up in the air. “You and this pirate book are truly inseparable, aren’t you?”
The princess stared at her bare feet, her heart pounding wildly.
She felt the blood rushing to her head. Even though in dad’s opinion, a pirate was a boy, it would not discourage her. It was predestined, and only a matter of time. When she looked up at him, she had made her decision. When she grew up, she would venture out there!
Aurelio had the blackest eyes, but his soul was pure. She despised Netuno for presenting a man the size of a child as a gift. The last time her father refused to take her along, she stubbornly locked herself in her room. The jester had spent hours talking to the pouting princess with a locked door between them. In the end, she had realised that, as long as she could dream at will, she held the key to her happiness.
The short man nodded approvingly and again succeeded in undoing her frown. His eyes sparkled as he broke the silence with a whisper, “I didn’t know that you could read, Princess.”
“But I cannotread at all yet, Aurelio,” Soraia sighed, and suddenly her face brightened, “Hey, how about you read to me?”
The man was fair-minded but even more than that, exhausted. His lips parted as he was about to yawn. “What if Dores finds out, Princess? I really can’t risk it!”
“I want to know how it ends,” she protested, “and right now!”
Aurelio’s coal-black eyes kept disappearing behind their shutters. “Princess, let’s leave this story for tomorrow.”
He took her by the arm, but the child of the sea was far too quick for him. She dug in her feet, plucked her arm free, and tried to grab the book. “It’s not fair,” she wept when she failed.
“What if I teach you that reading stuff?” he yawningly suggested.
“Then, you can finish reading those stories yourself.”
Soraia’s eyes widened. “Are you serious, Aurelio?”
“Oh, I surely am,” he replied, “but on one condition: you go to bed right now so that you are fresh for your first class tomorrow.”
The princess longingly looked at the closed book in Aurelio’s arms which were as long as hers yet with bigger muscles. “Tomorrow?”
Soraia stood on her toes and planted a kiss on his bronzed cheek. It made the many bells on his exotic hat ring.
“Shush!” Aurelio commanded. He rolled his eyes alarmingly. This fortified castle and its residents were in a deep sleep, and he wanted to keep it that way. “Come on, off to bed you go!”
The shadow of her fluttering robe disappeared into a long winding corridor. The jester waited until, moments later, he heard a door clicking in its lock. Then he sneaked down the stairs, and continued his nightly journey with his head now buried halfway in the big book.
Soraia’s fingers bravely glided through all her blonde locks. Knots, her wind-blown bush of hair was full of knots, but the lady-in-waiting was snoring like the watchman in the hallway. Brushing or braiding was not going to happen.
The girl sneaked past Dores, still sitting in the reading chair, to the abandoned bed. Filled with fire, she quickly crawled under the lukewarm sheets. Be able to read, if only it were tomorrow!
Soraia’s soul rocked between waking and sleeping. Another world beckoned to her. All of her paper sea-heroes were already waiting for her at the docks. She knew she could only discover new things on the other side, so soon she drifted off.
“Oh dear, sit still child,” Dores uttered. The knots in Soraia’s golden hair were pigheaded but this old woman was soon humming joyfully again. She had clearly had a good night and a long one too.
The princess yawned from a lack of sleep, but after Dores helped her into a beautiful dress, the jester kept his promise for he knew that it would boost her energy.
“Morning, Princess!” Aurelio laid the book, that he still clasped in the crook of his left arm, on the table. After a quick bow he took a seat opposite Soraia, who was now no longer interested in her breakfast.
While she was trying to figure out how he could fool the early shift guards at the door and disturb her while she was eating, the man had already started to teach her.
“Learning to read is also learning to write,” Aurelio explained. He magically produced a quill pen, ink jar and a paper scroll out of his short, red jacket. Blushing, for he had never gotten anyone’s attention this way before, he now dipped the tip of the quill into the jar. When it was fully soaked with the black liquid, he firmly placed it onto the yellowish paper.
Being a night owl, this princess could never get used to having so much zeal so early in the day, but today was different. She had a purpose for a change: she was learning to read!
Soraia rushed around the table, and sat down next to the teacher. There was nothing in her scary world that she wished for more than this in the here and now and she would not miss a single moment!
Her blue eyes widened when the short stout man with an uncanny elegance wrote the letter of the alphabet like it was nothing. Mesmerised, she followed the flowing line that curved and concluded with a short crossline.
Laughing, Aurelio took another sheet from the scroll and placed it next to the first. He again pressed the tip into the ink and then pushed everything sideways across the table. “Go ahead,” he insisted.
Soraia bit her lower lip but her will to be able to do this was much stronger than the fear of failing at it. She cleared her throat and took the quill from the ink.
The quill floated above the wooden dining table for just a moment before touching the fragile paper. The tip of Princess Soraia’s tongue was sticking out of her otherwise closed mouth. Never before had she listened to instructions so carefully. Holding her breath, she tried to copy the entire line. She stared at it, frowning. Writing had seemed so easy for the master, but she was struggling with it.
Her vision blurred; her efforts beaded in sweat on her forehead. Aurelio observed how the pupil’s letter nearly toppled over, and the princess herself was not at all satisfied with the result either.
The court jester used all his strength not to burst out laughing. Of course, he should have known: listening, looking and copying at the same time was hard for every child on the first day of class.
“Come on, girl,” he interrupted her worrying before it became too painful. “I’ll help you. Give me that quill!”
Her pout almost flattened the ugly letter, but he tried to soften the blow. “You know, Princess, all new beginnings are difficult,” he said reassuringly. “You will see; eventually, practice makes perfect!”
With extreme precision, the man then drew long, narrow vertical and horizontal lines on a third paper. He handed back a soaked quill.
Giving up was not part of Soraia’s nature, and already on a second attempt, her eyes gleamed with joy. That quill gladly leaned against the helplines. Everything went smoother… The result was also pleasing: proud as a peacock, she admired her own work.
The eager child did not want to stop now. As the quill swallowed all the ink in the pot and filled page after page, her mouth repeated the same letter sound over and over: “A!”
The scroll shrank gradually. The master sat next to her, observing. He taught Soraia to recognise the first letter in the book even before the golden sun had climbed to its peak.
The girl soon understood that letters formed words and words became sentences, and sentences also created stories. She held her chin and carefully compared the copied letter to the ones in the storybook.
“Found it!” she shouted excitedly.
Her pale skin glowed when she noticed that the letter was part of short words. Her look betrayed her question before she even asked it. “Teach me this letter as well,” she ordered, and when she saw her teacher’s hesitation, she cunningly continued, “so I can read a word.” Her fingertip hit the target. “LOOK, Aurelio; this word only has a few letters, and I already know this one. Teach me the other ones!”
Someone knocked on the door, waited for a “Yes!”, something the little princess never said, and then came into the room. It was Dores, closely followed by a tall, thin footman. He walked as straight as an arrow, a tray balancing on his flat palm.
Food, again?! Her eyes were like lightning bolts attempting to veer them from her study desk. Nevertheless, that servant with the curly greyish-white wig on top of his emotionless head continued making his way across the dining room undisturbed.
Soraia saw how her lady-in-waiting looked at Aurelio; a look that clearly was not intended for her: Finish up, NOW!
Dining and napping before resuming a long working day like this one was what an average servant at court had to do in the afternoons to continue their job for years and years, as did this helpful jester.
After Dores collected and rolled up the scroll sheets one by one in an attempt to make space on the table, the footman placed the tray in front of the girl. He humbly bowed his head, and elegantly lifted the domed cover. “Enjoy, Princess!”
The view from the open window finally drew Soraia outside once again. The sun’s globe travelled freely through the endless sky, however, she remained caged for the time being and lost her appetite.
“Mmmmmmm,” Aurelio interrupted her daydream. “Aren’t you going to eat that?” He was sniffing around like father’s dog now, actually waiting until she sent him away.
The little princess laughed abundantly but her gaze did not waver. Whether she liked it or not, a strong gust of exotic smells blew in. Her mind’s eye already saw all the matching colours passing by, and now she could also taste the flavours on her tongue.
She noticed the quill being lifted from the ink jar. Her impatience was clearly visible. She wanted to know all the letters of the alphabet so she could read all the words in the book!
Aurelio teasingly gave her a shove, but she looked at him utterly displeased. “Let that busy little mind of yours rest,” he expressed caringly, “tomorrow is another day; then I’ll teach you two letters.”
Tomorrow? She poutingly looked at the silver domed cover that, because of its shape, seemed to rise up out of the table, just like the moon. Oh, how I wish it were night already! she thought. Her favourite food or not, she surely would not enjoy it this time.
The princess was full of energy after all that sitting still in Aurelio’s class this morning. “Here we go again,” Dores sighed. She walked up and down the stairs in an endless chase. Sad to say, she would only be saved from this game once the golden sun had made its way back down, into the sea.
Having no appetite at all, the girl started eating her supper. It remained almost untouched, which worried Dores. Soraia, on the other hand, could not let go of the unfinished story.
Suddenly, she realised something. Her blue eyes began to sparkle like the sea under a blazing sun. After sleep, there was a writing class!
She promptly left the great hall, leaving the servants and the minstrel, who was poetically recounting King Netuno’s far-away sea voyages, unsettled.
The footmen, whose presence had always been as constant as the furniture, exchanged dramatic glances with Dores. She shrugged her shoulders, then shook her head while in pursuit.
Soraia’s giggles echoed through the endless corridors that, with its countless stairs, connected all the floors in her tower. Her shiny slippers tapped purposefully on the stone floor. Onwards to the sleeping chambers!
The shadow of a waltzing dress floated ahead. Every time Dores tried to grab hold of it, it disappeared from her sight, around the corner of the pivoting stairwell. The royal child seemed tireless. She now skipped past the guard into her chambers, with her lady-in-waiting trailing far behind.
Dores tried to remove the knots from Soraia’s hair as painlessly as possible as she sat in front of the mirror. The princess’ hair was thin and fragile, like that of an angel. Its colour was as golden as the king’s crown. The comb cleaved through the waves like father’s fleet at sea.
Their mouths opened and closed at the same time. They lacked the words, but you could see it on their faces: they were both very tired.
That elderly woman braided the curly waves in silence and tied a white ribbon around it. She helped the girl put on a crisp, clean nightgown, and encouraged her towards the bed.
Soraia immediately noticed the empty reading chair… She always took her great book of heroes with her everywhere. While she slept, it lay safely on the velvet seat of a chair. Now, the jester kept her book to prepare the morning lessons; you bet she was not pleased about it!
Dores tucked the girl in tightly, even though she wanted nothing more than to stay up till dawn. She breathed a sigh before she began her quest for her book-heroes. Everything would be better tomorrow!
As always, daybreak was announced by the golden sun. Soraia came to class every day. Each time teacher Aurelio patiently taught her to write and read two new letters after repeating all the previous ones.
She did not expect the pronunciation of a word to differ from the sounds of the individual letters of which it was composed. Although the child was expanding her vocabulary, this complicated her learning process for a while.
Soraia’s curiosity was unprecedented; she had an enormous appetite for knowledge. That drive grew even more when she realised that the royal jester was not only teaching her to read; he was also slowly but surely teaching her to count.
After long months of hard work, the big day arrived. The wonderful world of language had few secrets left for the pupil. Within those castle walls, nothing remained unread or unwritten. As her vocabulary expanded, Soraia wrote longer and longer sentences.
Her eyes filled with tears as blue as the sea’s waves. Once the girl could discover for herself the outcome of the story she had waited for for so long, words fell short. The little princess is growing up, Aurelio realised, and the castle is becoming too small for her.
Soraia closed her storybook after the last seafarer’s word; she was content. Her master struggled to find the right words yet once he had found them, he uttered, touched and with pride, “In all the wonders of the world, you above all and everyone, are in fact naturally gifted!”
His compliment made her blush anew. Admittedly, she learned as fast as a hare but only because the stakes were so high. Now she could go on an adventure whenever she wanted. WON-DER-FUL!
When the afternoon had finally passed at a snail’s pace, bedtime began. Soraia almost could not bear her happiness. The collection of sea adventures was no longer a textbook that Aurelio borrowed from her. It belonged to her once again, and he was no longer her teacher!
In the afternoon, the minstrel made every effort in performing nice songs, but failed to lure Netuno’s daughter to their bountiful garden with its exotic flower beauty. That hot sun floating high in the blue sky enchanted her even less.
Princess Soraia had sought out the cool indoors to play hide-and-seek. That was how she spent the rest of the day; moving between the castle walls, racing upstairs and back down again. Her sudden movements through the corridors sent the air whizzing through her clothes and all. It was then no surprise that her hair was all tangled up again.
The lady-in-waiting drenched Soraia’s hair in a desperate attempt to untangle it. Meanwhile, the girl was shuffling around impatiently in her chair in front of the dressing table. She didn’t let the book lying in her lap out of her sight. Why would she ask the old woman to stay up and read to her when she could already read?
“Dores?” The princess waited for Dores’ questioning reflection in the mirror. “Perhaps I could…” She wasn’t sure how to say it yet tried, “I mean…” she asked carefully. “How would you feel about teaching me to do my own hair? And,” she continued before she lost her nerve, “you don’t have to read to me anymore either.” She gazed at the floor.
The woman, who had done everything for this girl during her entire life, could merely utter somewhat disoriented, “But, dear child.”
“Dores, you are the sweetest lady here, but you know… I am not a little child anymore,” she blurted out.
Dores tried to hide her disappointment, but she was even worse in playing hide than in playing seek. You could see pain in her face as if she’d just been retired from her duties. First the queen, now the princess; pretty soon she’d have no one to look after. Then, she would no longer be a lady-in-waiting! “You’re like a mother to me,” the girl added with a remorseful tone, “I still need you, but one day…”
Dores’ face relaxed. Princess Soraia was the daughter she always longed for and had almost become such due to circumstances.
Her mind understood that this little bird eventually had to learn to stand on its own two feet so that she could spread her wings freely later on. Her heart had a harder time and bled out of sheer fear that she’d lose her too. She gave Soraia a resigned nod; she was indeed no longer a small child, and she was proud of her courage and initiative!
An elated Soraia placed her book on the dresser and took the handle of the round brush that Dores gave her. Soraia brushed the coarse animal hair through her own unruly locks until they were as smooth as silk and as shiny as the golden sun.
Each time distinguished visitors came by, Dores was always in the habit of letting the girl choose from all imaginable hairstyles; using a life-sized doll’s head as inspiration.
With a big smile, she removed the obviously female head from the cupboard it was stowed in. Soraia instantly squirmed. She was really horrified by a pain in her skull, which she remembered vividly. The lady-in-waiting had often pulled that bush on her head into strange twists and turns. Ow ow ow!
Dores did not want the first lesson to be too difficult for Soraia and winked at her. “We shall start with a simple braid: brush all the hair, and divide it into three equal strands,” she explained while showing her on the doll. “We tie a ribbon to secure the end of the braid.”
“Your turn, Princess!” Dores then loosened the bow, and combed through the thick braid with her fingers. “Go on,” she encouraged the girl as she turned her attention to Soraia’s braid in the meantime.
Although braiding the doll’s locks of hair took longer than that of the princess’ hair, when the blue gaze met these two grey onlookers, they were glowing with pride. Soraia now got up to practise on the lady-in-waiting’s fragile white hair, who could never say, “No!”
Later, while the young princess was changing clothes, she felt like she needed another set of eyes to follow the old woman’s fast actions in the mirror. Her undergarment had more buttons and hooks than her dress, and it was unlikely that it was made for the owner to undo by herself. She sighed because, besides being short a pair of eyes, she now also needed an extra pair of hands.
Soraia walked ahead of her lady-in-waiting to her modest chambers. She stopped at the door and smiled. “You’ve done so much for me,” she exclaimed, “now it’s my turn to take care of you.”
Somewhat perplexed, the woman got into her bed. In her mind’s eye, she saw the untouched reading book on the table. However, she was too tired to protest and willingly let herself be tucked in.
The sleeper’s long locks of hair reflected the silver light that Soraia noticed through the open window. Well, she suddenly looks old, she thought, as she dragged the rocking chair towards the narrow bed.
The princess went to get her storybook and plopped down in the chair, which Dores mainly used for the purpose of napping. Paging through the vast collection of stories was exhausting, and she seemed unable to choose.
Finally, she found an exciting adventure and ended her quest. The only sigh that still escaped her mouth was one of enlightenment and, whether Dores wanted her to or not, she would recite it from A to Z!
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Leen Lefebre grew up in West Flanders where she works at the Local Heritage Service. As a kid, she threw herself upon each book that was available. Later, she turned around and settled on the worldwide web. She then emerged as a true explorer of literature, music, and sports. Leen is a dreamer and a doer – and this is how her stories rose up as charming and lively fairy tales for adventurers of all ages.