The barred windows and private security ranks, made the old-fashioned castle feel like a prision. Standing inside Grandmama's mansion, I felt lower than the servant that escorted me to her private quarters. I was happy in the twenty-first century, visiting felt like a time warp.
My parents never spoke of her, except to mention that Mum is not welcome there. Daddy's prompting and the hundred-dollar bill enclosed with my gilt-edged birthday card is my only reason for being here.
The escorting maid spoke through the intercom by the door. “Granddaughter Amanda, to see you, milady, send her in?”
The reply crackled through as I was nudged through newly opened doors. Shadows claimed every wall and the tiniest sliver of light trickled through a crooked curtain. I took two steps and tripped.
“Are you all right?” Hints of panic accented the new voice as light viciously sliced through the room.
I was blinded twice.
The sunlight paled in comparison to Grandmama. For an elderly woman living in a medieval hovel, she was positively modern. Dark blue jeans, soft beige blouse and knee high black boots. Elegant pearl drop earrings finished off her look with a delicate golden necklace.
I stared into murky olive eyes, accepting her perfectly manicured hand. “G-grandmama Thalia?”
“Just Grandmama.” She rang a tiny bell on the nearby desk. “Ally!” The maid escort entered. “Straighten up, we'll be in the west wing.” She started for the door, pausing mid-step. “Amanda...that includes you.”
My feet obeyed, trailing after her. Silence reigned until we reached a locked door, from an invisible pocket, Grandmama withdrew a slender key. She turned the locked, holding the door open.
Ducking under her arm, I found myself standing in a colorful sanctuary of light. Rainbow streams filtered through stained glass, illuminating a pedestal in the middle of the round room.
“I'm glad you came. I wasn't sure if your mother would agree.”
“Why wouldn't she?” My chin upped a few notches. “She's the nicest Mum in the whole world!”
“I know.” Grandmama opened the ivory jewelry box on the pedestal. “I wouldn't have let your father marry her if she wasn't.”
“What?” I stared at her.
“My husband had a problem, not I. He never knew you were in the picture, or he might have changed his mind before he died. I didn't invite you here to talk about family though. Your father tells me you want to travel the world.”
“When did he tell you that?” I fiddled with a fraying belt loop.
“Come-” She beckoned, a golden charm bracelet in hand. “-you're old enough to have this. I wanted to give it you before I leave.”
“Me?” I took the bracelet, wonderingly. “Where are you going?”
“According to duty and your grandfather's wishes. I must visit the estates once every eight years and have dinner with the diplomats in each country. It's time again. I would like to invite you to join me.”
“What?” The words came woodenly from my mouth. “I barely even know you! And I know even less about-”
“I know there are gaps between us. But I am trying, Amanda. It wouldn't hurt to try a little yourself.” She caught my hand. “This is a memory bracelet. It holds pieces of me, I couldn't share with you.” She fingered a red gemstone. “This is your birthstone. You were born healthy and happy, with a passion like this red.”
The second smile touched her face. “On your first birthday, you tasted your first piece of cake. That's why there's a tiny cake here. On your second birthday...”
Her voice continued with a familiar rhythm, she had a charm for every birthday and a memory to accompany each of them. For a grandmother I knew nothing about, she knew me.
“...and lastly, a crown, as you cross the threshold of womanhood, you are a...princess.”
“Princess?” My brain melted to oatmeal mush. “What?”
Her lips twitched. “I'll explain later. I must leave today. Visiting diplomats is hard work, especially maintaining the balance between two powers. Your father thought it was time you knew more about the family. You're a bright girl with a lovely future ahead of you, however you decide. But there's a world out there, Amanda, dear, and many things to learn.”
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