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The girl steps back as the king doubles over, halfway through taking a sip from the goblet she just served him. There is a faint thud as he hits the floor. Chaos breaks loose as the King’s associates all start crying out in suspicion, anger and fear.
“She has poisoned the king!”
“Exile, Exile I say!”
“Someone, fetch the wizard!”
“No, no!” cries the girl. “I am but a mere servant! Someone else has poisoned the ki-!” her cry is muffled by one of the guards. He hauls her up by the waist and flings her effortlessly over his shoulder. He brings her outside. A storm is brewing, clouds are forming and lighting brightens the sky.
“It wasn’t me!” she cries again fruitlessly. The townsfolk are chanting “Ex-ile! Ex-ile! The wizard is forming a black circle on the ground, mumbling spells under his breath. All of the king’s associates are with him, fire and rage in their eyes. The chanting gets even louder. EX-ILE! EX-ILE!
“But I didn’t do it!” she cries again and again. The guard pulls her up, and she sees that it is not a black circle the wizard is forming, but a deep and never-ending hole. The guard stands on the precipice, holding her with her feet dangling over the edge. Over the roar of the crowd and the crash of thunder, the servant girl hears the wizard say, “It is time.”
The guard lets go. Trying to stay on the surface, she grabs the wizard’s robe. Clutching the fabric in her hands, it starts to tear. Three pieces of parchment float down soundlessly into the black hole. A final thread breaks, and she tumbles into the black nothingness. All is quiet, the silence ringing in her ears. Then her scream breaks the stillness.
“Stupid social teacher,” I grumble under my breath. Making me do a project on medieval times. I mean, who wants to know about a time without indoor plumbing? I stroll down the aisle, browsing through the books. ‘Medieval through the Ages’, and ‘The Life and Times of King Henry I (1100-1135)’ pop out at me from the all the other titles.
“This looks interesting,” I say, rolling my eyes. I pull out ‘The Life and Times’ from the dusty bookshelf. No one must have come here for quite some time, I think. Flipping through the pages randomly, I pull out interesting facts and useless bits of information. Born in Selby, Yorkshire, September 1068, crowned in Westminster Abbey, 5 August 1100, Died of food poisoning. This book looks good, I think absentmindedly.
All of a sudden I hear a thud a few paces behind me. I spin around, catching my foot on a nearby table leg. Stumbling, all my books and papers hit the floor. As I bend to pick them up, I hear a voice that says, “Oh, let me help you with that.” I try to place the accent. Southern drawl? British? Australian? None of them fit. Her voice is perfectly articulated, but the vowels sound weird on her tongue.
I look up at the stranger’s face, and recoil in surprise. She has long, taupe coloured hair and it is plaited and plastered to her head in thick rolls of braids. Her dress is simple, but it looks like princess’. It is a faded pink, but the colour is uneven. Either it used to be red, or the result of a tie dye party gone wrong. There is a white band that goes across her waist, and it looks unbearably tight. There are many layers of fabric under the dress, and it reminds me of petticoats. On her feet there are bands of leather, kind of like gladiator sandals. I also notice a stench wafting up from her, probably a reflection of her dirty body. It’s horrible and smells like rotten eggs mixed with a baby’s diaper. One that hasn’t been changed in quite a while.
But among all these things, there is one thing that I notice above all. Her face is absolutely beautiful, but it looks like she isn’t wearing any makeup. She has fair skin, so clear it looks like cream. Enormous blue eyes are framed by thick eyelashes and she has big pink lips and a cute button nose.
“Hello?” she says, her strange accented voice rising in confusion.
I quickly gather my emotions into order. I hide the surprise on my face and replace it with a polite smile.
“Hello,” I answer back.
“Where am I?” she asks, looking around the room.
“The Public library,” I say, trying to figure out who she is. “Who are you?” I ask, giving in to my curiosity.
“Lady Adelaide, servant to King Henry the first, His Lordship.” She says, giving a little curtsy.
Whaaaaaaat? Did my ears really hear what she just said?
“I was exiled from my book because I served him poisoned wine and lampreys. I swear I didn’t know!” she cries, flinging herself into my arms. I stumble back, overwhelmed by the weight of the much taller girl.
“It’s going to be okay,” I say, stroking her hair awkwardly while trying to subtly maneuver out of her grip.
People are starting to stare. Being as shy as I am, there is one thing I hate the most. Unwanted attention. I grab her hand and pull her to the front desk, check out my books and pull her outside, meanwhile texting my friends telling them to meet me by the big oak in the park. I don’t believe this Adelaide person in serious, she must just have amnesia or gotten lost from a traveling circus.
We make our way to the park, and I sit her down on the old wooden bench. She is looking all around, as if she had never seen a car or a sidewalk before. Then again, if her story was true, then that would be the case. But her story can’t be true, I think to myself, so that wouldn’t be the case.
I wait for my friends to get there, and I grow increasingly impatient. I want to know the mystery of lady Adelaide.
“Hey Jacey!” I turn to the sound of my name. Samantha, Rosanne, Gabriella and Riley are finally here! I explain the situation. I know them so well; they react just as I would expect them to.
Rose and Gabriella both want to believe that Adelaide is from a book. Samantha and Riley both think that Adelaide is confused, delirious and possibly dangerous.
“What were you thinking?” Sam screams at me, as if Adelaide wasn’t even there. “She could have hurt you!”
“I think she’s beautiful,” Whispers Gabriella, with Rose nodding her head furiously in agreement. Both of them are whimsical as ever. I smile; sure that all that Gabriella has noticed this whole time is the intricate braiding of Adelaide’s hair and the ruffled design of her dress.
Riley says nothing. She is the shyest, and most timid, of the four of us, but the words that do come out of her mouth are wise beyond her years.
We continue to bicker, with no sign of a compromise. Adelaide doesn’t look worried; she is content to people-watch from the comfort of the wooden park bench.
Riley looks at me and starts to speak. We all quiet down, because her voice is so soft.
“I think,” she says very slowly. Sometimes I like to think that Riley tastes each word on her tongue before she says them, to make sure they all sound good together. To make sure the flavours compliment each other. “I think,” she says again, “that we should ask Adelaide.”
Adelaide begins her story. Sam, Rose, Riley, Gabriella and I are all crowded around her like children waiting for a bedtime story.
“I was born in 1120, 20 years after the King was crowned. I was the daughter of a servant to the King. During one of my many visits to the castle, I happened upon his Lordship.” A look of devotion crosses her face, and I wonder why she was so attached to the King. “He took a liking to my face you see, but he already had a mistress.”
I suddenly understood the strange face she had made only seconds before: She loved him!
“He decided to make me his personal maid. I served him his food, made his bed washed his clothes, amid other things.” Adelaide paused, and I felt my mind begin to wander.
Imagining the unimaginable. A pretty girl, a servant to the King, a horrible accident. I shake my head. I was actually starting to believe her!
“And one day, I was just serving him his midday goblet of wine, when he fell to the ground!” Her eyes glazed over, obviously not seeing what was before her. Thoughts swirled around in my head, painting dark pictures of death, doom and exile. Adelaide collected herself, and continued with her story, but I wasn’t listening. I was pondering. Musing. Deliberating. Brooding. And I was beginning to think that Lady Adelaide, servant to King Henry the first, was actually telling the truth.
We realize it is beginning to get dark, and we decide to take Adelaide to Gabriella’s house, and pretend she is related to either me or Riley.
“So they sent you forward in time? You time travelled????” asks Gabriella. She is sprawled out on the floor of her bedroom with her favourite pillow and fuzzy p.j.’s. We are pretending that Adelaide is Riley’s second cousin come to stay for the week. Gabriella has the biggest room, and it’s normal for us to have frequent sleepovers in the summer.
“No, of course not,” says Adelaide, nonchalantly. “They just exiled me from my book.”
My mouth drops open. My friends and I had just accepted that Adelaide was from medieval times. Now we had to accept that she was from a book too?
“Huh???” says Sam. “How are you exiled from a book? That’s impossible.”
“Shush, Samantha. Time traveling is impossible as well, but you didn’t say anything to Gabriella. Let Adelaide finish,” counters Riley. Sam reddens.
“Yes, I was exiled from a book,” says Adelaide. “What is so hard to believe?”
“You are a character from a book?” asks Sam, disbelievingly.
“Have you not heard the saying ‘a chapter in your life’?” says Adelaide, indifferent to our incredulous expressions.
“What book were you exiled from?” inquires Sam in a joking manner, as if she really believes that Adelaide had come from a book. I’m still deciding. I think that Adelaide did come from somewhere, someplace other than here. But I don’t think I’m ready to believe that she has come from a story. Although, it would be cool if every story ever written were real. As soon as pen touched paper or fingers touched keys, a new character would be born. Every tree, every flower, every rock mentioned in every story would be true. But would it all happen on earth? Where would the stories happen? Are we living someone’s story right now? My mind is racing a thousand miles a minute. But then it comes to an abrupt halt. We can’t make stories come to life. Dragons aren’t real. Fairies aren’t real. Vampires aren’t real. Imaginary things can never, ever, be real.
I am brought back to the present by Adelaide’s voice. It is so strange and different, I have still not gotten used to it.
“You never know the title of the book you are living. You have to live each page, one at a time, no skipping ahead,” says Adelaide.
“Just like in real life,” mumbles Riley. “But if what Adelaide proposes is true,” she pauses. “ Then there is no such thing as ‘real life’ anymore. We are living a story.”
Sam, Riley, Gabriella, Rosanne and I are circled in a huddle. We have decided on two things.
That we need to find Adelaide some clothes, so she doesn’t stand out as much.
We need to figure out how to get Adelaide back to wherever she came from.
After Adelaide borrows some of Gabriella’s clothes as she is closest to her size, and we already have access to her closet, we ask Adelaide how she can get back.
“Well,” she says, pausing, “I don’t really know.” She hangs her head sheepishly. “I did manage to get some papers from the wizard.” She goes to her old clothes, piled on the floor in a stinking heap. She pulls out three pieces of paper and hands them to Riley.
Riley looks at her questioningly, and Adelaide admits, “I don’t know how to read.” Riley understands, and then begins to recite.
I don’t catch all of it; it is hard to understand. Most of the stuff on the first page is about predictions for the future: A drought, the blacksmith’s daughter getting married. The wizard also predicted that the King would die in the year 1135. King Henry the First, I remember from when Adelaide first came in the library, and explained that she was a servant girl to King Henry I.
“Oh!” I shout. Everyone looks at me, but I don’t care. I fly downstairs, being careful not to trip. I grab my book bag, and pull out “The Life and Times of King Henry the First.” I run back upstairs and fling myself on the bed, squeezing in between Sam and Rosanne. The book falls open to the last page.
“There!” I say triumphantly, pointing to a sentence that I had read only a few hours earlier. I read aloud: “King Henry died of food poisoning. After his death, many were suspicious of the people working in the castle. Many were exiled to different kingdoms.”
We all gape at the book. Could this be the book that Adelaide was exiled from?
I hear Riley’s voice from across the room, “Listen to the second page.”
As Riley reads the second page, I try to understand the foreign English. Some of the words are different and it is very old fashioned. The second page is the spell the wizard used to send Adelaide away! It’s very long and it doesn’t make much sense.
Riley doesn’t bother to read aloud anymore. She quickly scans the rest of the second and third pages.
“Oh my,” she says softly.
“What, WHAT??” we all scream.
“This parchment paper tells us how to get Adelaide back to her story. Although it’s in a different language, I can only understand parts of it.” Riley looks up at Adelaide, a bright smile warming her face. “Adelaide,” she says, “we are getting closer and closer to getting you back to your book.”
With the help of Google Translate, we manage to understand the wizard’s documents. It is something along the lines of:
Someone needs to write Adelaide back into her story, and there is a spell we need to recite.
Once we figure all of this out, Sam, Rose, Riley and Gabriella all look at me expectantly, and I have no idea why.
“Why are you looking at me?” I ask, shying away from their penetrating gaze.
“You can write.” explains Sam bluntly.
Since the second grade, I have known that I have a gift for writing. While the rest of the class was dealing with putting ‘dots’ at the end of sentences, and making sure each one started with a capital; I was dreaming up whimsical concoctions I liked to call stories. Once pen touched paper I was off, and no one could stop me. I would write a thousand miles a minute, the words flowing effortlessly out of the tip of my pen. My stories would seem to write themselves, not the other way around. The plots lines and characters already lived in my head, and writing was the only way I could seem to get them out. I don’t consider myself good at it, just easy. Because I can whip out 20 pages no problem of ‘quality writing’ as my English teacher calls it, they assume I’m a genius word wizard or something.
“No I can’t,” I counter.
Sam rolls her eyes. “Sure. Uh-huh.” She pulls a piece of paper from her bag on the floor, and a pencil. She hands them wordlessly to me, a silent plead in her eyes. I think another reason I don’t write for other people is a lack of self confidence on my part. I don’t want people to read my private journal where all my stories are. It would be horrible! Everyone would tease me or say awful things about my stories, like how terrible they are.
“Please!” she begs, `”You know I can’t spell. If I write it, I’ll send Adelaide to the wrong city or something.”
I look at Gabriella. “Don’t look at me!” she responds. “You know how messy my writing is. I’d probably send the wrong person to the wrong city!”
Riley and Rose both have excuses too. I sit on the bed, with my chin in my hands. I finger Gabriella’s pink blanket and stroke her fluffy pillow. I’m deliberating, weighing the pros and cons. If I don’t write Adelaide into her story, then no one will. Unless she leaves us and finds someone else to write her back in. Then again, if I do write her back into the story, It would save Adelaide a lot of time and trouble. If she is telling the truth.
“I don’t know...” I say.
“Can I say something?” says the same strange articulated voice I heard in the library. We all look at Adelaide. “Jacey.” she says, very slow, testing out the syllables of my name. “I want you to write me back to my story.”
“But-,” I begin.
“No.” she commands. “From what your friends think of you and your writing, I’d prefer to get it done by someone who knows what they are doing.” She takes the paper and pencil from Sam and hands it to me. I know without thinking that I am the one that has to do it. There was a reason that Adelaide came to me in the library. That was no coincidence. It has to be me. And with these thought in my head, I begin to write.
During the next couple of days, I try to find out as much about Adelaide as I can. I am constantly asking her questions. About her house, about the King, what she normally eats for breakfast… I ask her so many questions because I need to understand her as one of my ‘characters’ in my story, as well as a person. I form quite a bond with her as I do my interview, and I realize that we share quite a few similar interests. Well, as many as we can, I being from the 21st century, and Adelaide being from the 12th century. I stroke the antique wood of my desk, and continue typing on my computer. I am so close to being finished I can taste it. Adelaide is growing impatient, and I can’t afford to waste any more time.
The next morning I print off my work, and am quite proud of it. I cycle to Gabriella’s house, take a deep breath and ring the door bell.
“Ding-Dong!” standing on the porch steps, I feel my mind begin to wander. I’m anxious. Not for Adelaide getting back to wherever she came from, or even if my writing will work. No one has ever read a complete story from me! Besides my English teacher, of course.
The door opens.
“Why hello, Jacey!”
“Hello, Mrs. Michaels,” I say to Gabriella’s mom.
“They’re upstairs,” she says, giving me a knowing wink. Something’s up, but she’s not quite sure what.
I bound up the stairs, two at a time. I only start to slow down in front of the bedroom door so I don’t go careening into the other room. I hesitate, then knock twice very quickly, then one more very softly.
“Come in,” says a melodic voice. It’s Gabriella’s.
I walk in, all eyes on me. Everyone is there, even at 8 o’clock in the morning during summer vacation. For all I know, they could even have had slept over. I haven’t noticed anything, I’ve been so engrossed in my story.
“Hey guys,” I say cheerfully.
They greet me with an anticipating silence. They can’t wait to hear one of my, and I quote, ‘fabulous fables’.
“Let’s get this over with,” jokes Rosanne, with a mocking smile on her lips.
“Fine,” I say, pretending to pout, “but, before we say the spell and all that, I want to know what you guys think of the story.” I hand the typed pieces of paper over to my best friends. It seems like forever before Riley looks up from my story. Her eyes twinkle, and I can tell she loves it.
“Wow,” gushes Sam.
“Double Wow,” raves Rose.
Gabriella is a little less reserved with her emotions.
“Jace, I love you!” she screams, throwing her arms around me in a tremendous bear hug.
Adelaide is in the far corner of the room. During the last couple of days, while writing my story, I have made a very strong friendship with her. We share quite a bit of likes and dislikes. Well, as much as someone from the 12th century and someone from the 21st century can share. Adelaide has shown me as to how fortunate we are. She grew up as a servant, and she has seen some really poor people, and she has been very poor as well. I’m kind of spoiled. We have so many material possessions, that we hardly ever use. She really opened my eyes.
I wait for Adelaide to say something, then realize again, she can’t read.
“You’ll hear it soon enough,” I say to Adelaide, giving her a reassuring smile. She gives me a lopsided grin, she understands.
Riley stands up, and starts to speak in a very quiet voice. “I think we should get on with it.”
“Yes,” agrees Adelaide. “I am getting homesick in this strange and unfamiliar place.”
Riley pulls out the third piece of parchment paper and begins to read:
« Inviamo questa ragazza
torna alla sua storia
così lei può vivere,
non in esilio,
ma è riunita con la sua famiglia
e gli amici
E vivere felicemente mai dop »
I pull out my story and begin to read. The words flow off my tongue, tantalizing and delicious. The trials and tribulations of Lady Adelaide, servant to King Henry the First, Duke of Normandy, take shape. Her life is a story, written by me. This is her biography, ready to be seen by the world! Once the nervousness fades away, I feel aweome! My friends are the audience, and they ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at all the right times. Being in front of them, reading something I alone created is thrilling! The best feeling in the world! All too soon, I am finished. There is a sudden whirling sound, and a black circle is starting to form on the ground.
“AHHH!” we all scream. All except for Adelaide. I realize something with a jolt: Adelaide had been telling the truth the whole time.
“Well, I guess this is good-bye,” whispers Adelaide, taking a step toward the back hole.
“No, wait!” I say, running in her direction. Adelaide is my friend, she connects to me in a way Rose, Samantha, Riley and Gabriella never could. All I think is: NO!!!!
“I’ll miss you too,” she says, “but I have to go back. Can’t you see? I love my time, and even if people don’t accept me at first or still think I killed the King, then that’s their problem. I know I didn’t, and that’s enough for me. I miss my family.” She gives me a desperate look, as if she can’t make me comprehend how much her family means to her. “You know all about my sister, because you wrote about her in your story.”
Riley interrupts us. “I don’t know how long this portal is supposed to last…”
“Jacey, I need to go.” She is about to take the last step into the darkness, when I say:
“You have to visit. Promise. All you have to do is write a story about coming to find us, and visiting.”
“Swear and Promise,” says Adelaide, crossing her arms over her chest, adding, “As soon as I learn how to write.” I manage a feeble laugh.
“I’ll miss you,” I mumble.
“Me too!” shouts everyone else.
“I’ll miss you all,” declares Adelaide, and gives me a big bear hug. I can’t see anything anymore; big fat tears are forming in my eyes and are clouding my vision.
“Bye,” I sniffle.
“Don’t cry,” says Adelaide, wiping the tears from my eyes with her thumb. “You’ll always be in my heart.”
And with those parting words, she disappears into the blackness.
As soon as Adelaide leaves, the black hole gets smaller and smaller, until it all but fades away. I crumple to the ground.
“Well,” says Riley. We all turn to look at her. She sweeps her long dark hair out of her eyes and crouches by my side.
“Jacey.” She whispers. “Without darkness, there is no sunshine. Without a storm, there is no calm.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, wiping my nose with my sleeve.
“Things are never as bad as they make themselves seem to be. Without happiness, no one would know what sadness is. There would be nothing to compare it to. If you were always happy, that would seem normal. But if all of a sudden you weren’t happy anymore, and you felt nothing, that would seem like the most excruciating pain in the world. Don’t you see?” she strokes the hair out of my eyes. “There has to be a balance. You can always call Adelaide, by writing a story and bringing her back. The glass is always half full, right?” She gives me a little nudge. “Being on the winning end of things, and the losing end are blessings, you just need to know how to look at them.” Riley’s words make sense in a strange way. Without one, there is never the other. If there is no right, there is no wrong. If there is no dark, there is no light. If you never lose, than it’s natural to not know what winning feels like, and vice versa. I need to be happy for Adelaide as well, she is back with her family. Although everyone may think she poisoned the king, I know she will be able to convince them otherwise. Adelaide has had her share of unhappiness in life. It’s time she felt some joy, where she belongs,
In England. In the year 1135.