not the lost princess
because somebody said “write it” when i said this.
“I’m not the princess,” Liza told the first man who informed her, shocked, how she had the green eyes of the royal family and hair as dark as the late queen’s. She had been joking, of course, pretending to take him seriously as she counted out his change. No one had accused her of being the princess in the first place. Princess Aliara, the last of the royal line of Adamar, had drowned in the Silver Sea ten summers ago. Everyone knew that.
“I’m not the princess,” Liza told the old woman, the princess’s childhood nurse, who clutched her hands to her chest the moment she fell off her horse in the castle courtyard. She didn’t want any more confusion than there already was.
There were silver streaks in the woman’s hair and tears in her eyes. “It’s you,” she repeated, as if she hadn’t heard.
“No,” Liza explained, already impatient. “It’s not me. I’m not her.” It was what she had told the royal minister who had been fetched by the man in the shop last week at least seven times by now, but he’d insisted that the other royal ministers had to see her, had to see if she was real, and wouldn’t leave the shop.
“I’m real,” she’d said. “Really annoyed.”
The man’s eyes had filled with tears. That seemed to be happening a lot around her recently. “You sounds just like you did when you were little.”
Liza threw up her hands and told anyone who would listen that this man hadn’t known her when she was a little girl growing up in a costal town far away, but finding out she had lived in some proximity to the Silver Sea only sent everyone into more of a frenzy. In the end she agreed to come, if only because the royal minster would take care of the cost, and the capital city had a real library to visit.
“I’m not the princess, though,” she reminded all the minister’s servants when they bobbed curtsies to her. “Just to be clear.”
“I’m not the princess,” Liza told Kara, the girl who had claimed the right to interrogate her first. She was the lost princess’s best friend, or something, and she’d said she was the only one who could possibly tell if this so-called princess was an impostor.
Kara scoffed, hands on her hips and her eyes mistrustful. “Of course you’re not, kid. No one who claims to be Liara is. She’s dead.” But her voice sounded a little more uncertain with each word as she looked Liza over. “So what’s your excuse? What’s your made up story for how you’ve suddenly regained your lost memory and remembered you’re a princess, or whatever?”
Liza glanced around at all the court watching her, still bewildered as to how she was being interrogated as a possible impostor when she’d never claimed to be anyone in the first place, and finally repeated what she’d been saying all day. “My name is Liza. I’m a baker. My parents were bakers before they died. They were not the king and queen. I am not the princess. Can I go to the library now?”
The room filled with deliberating murmurs rather than answers, and Liza leaned back in her seat with a groan.
“I’ll give you credit,” Kara said, sounding as if she’d rather do anything else, “you really do look like her.”
“I’m not her,” Liza said, as if repeating it for the hundredth time would make Kara finally believe she wasn’t trying to pretend she was. As if saying it a thousand more times would make half the royal ministers stop thinking she really was.
She wasn’t allowed to go home, not until they’d come to a consensus on her princess-related status. “I’m a prisoner,” she yelled at Alder, the most annoying of the ministers.
“You’re home,” he’d responded fondly, and she’d screamed in a very un-princesslike manner and gone to find Kara, who at least wouldn’t keep asking her if she remember so-and-so-’s name, or how she had tripped on that step and sprained her ankle when she was six.
“When I was six I was frolicking happily on a beach somewhere on the southern coast,” she told Kara crankily. “Not cooped up in this castle.”
Kara laughed derisively. “Oh, honey. Liara’s ship sank near the eastern coast. You don’t even have your story straight.”
But despite Kara’s firm belief that Liza was a liar and a pretender, Liza sensed that her laughter was becoming warmer, and she directed more snide comments at the ministers than she did at Liza. Perhaps, Liza even dared to think, Kara was starting to like her.
Kara noticed that she was being stared at, and half-smiled back. “Don’t be offended. You’re almost as bad of a liar as she was, too. That’s actually a point in your favor.”
Liza rolled her eyes and tugged at Kara’s sleeve to pull her closer. “Show me the way to the library again. I get lost in the halls every time I try to go without you.”
“They say true royalty isn’t capable of being lost in the royal palace.”
“Tell that to the ministers.”
“I’m not the princess,” she said automatically, before she’d processed the boy standing in front of her. He was supposed to be the princess’s illegitimately-born cousin, or something. One way or another, he was one of those next in line for the throne if the princess did not magically turn up sometime soon (which she wouldn’t, because she was dead).
“He’d do a rotten job,” Kara had said, curling her lip, when they’d seen him march through the front hall from their little alcove in the balcony. “He can’t be king.”
“Why do you care?” Liza asked, trying to sneak a peak at Kara’s cards.
She pulled her cards away and whacked Liza’s arm lightly with them. “I’m engaged to the throne, silly. The real princess would know that.” But that last sentence was an afterthought. She’d almost entirely stopped accusing Liza of pretending, recently. “And I won’t marry Henry. He makes fun of anyone once their back is turned, and he spreads rumors about whatever he likes, and once he kicked Liara’s puppy because it was in his way.”
“That sounds like an exaggeration.”
Kara shook her head, looking almost grim. This clearly wasn’t one of her jokes. “No. Liara was so angry she threw her shoe at him. Hit him in the head, hard. He was bleeding. It was a big scandal that she would hurt her own cousin, everyone rushed to cover it up with a story about how he fell and hit his head.”
“I take it they didn’t get along?” Now she was worried. If Henry wanted to be king, what would he do to Liara? What would he do to her, if he believed she was the princess? “Is he dangerous?”
“Don’t worry, Liza. I’ll protect you.” She was kidding, her brown eyes soft, but Liza felt a little safer anyway.
“I know you’re not,” Henry sneered, and walked past her.
Kara gripped her hand, which was all that kept Liza from running after him to yell about just how many people were pretty sure she was, and how he was a rude, terrible person who would never marry Kara because she wouldn’t allow it, and how someone who kicked puppies was not fit to look at the throne, let alone sit in it, and how, also, he smelled.
He didn’t, but it would have been nice to tell him that. She almost didn’t let Kara pull her away.
“I’m not the princess,” Liza said when Alder asked yet again for another retelling of how she’d come to be a baker in a small town far from the castle. She was too tired to go through it again, too frustrated with all these dithering people too scared of having to work out the convoluted succession of a throne that had no obvious heir to accept that their princess wasn’t there to solve the problem.
She was not, however, too tired to notice Henry’s small victorious smile as he sat in the back of the room and listened. Everyone knew that the one year in which the royal throne could remain empty in the wake of the king and queen’s deaths was drawing to a close. An heir would have to be announced soon.
If it wasn’t Aliara— wasn’t Liza— it was almost certainly Henry.
After the horrible, boring meeting was over, she found Kara in the library and bunched up next to her in the window seat too small for two people. “Tell me about the princess,” she said, and Kara complied, because they were both coming to wish, like the ministers, that she was there.
One year after the queen of Adamar had passed away with her daughter’s name on her lips, the royal ministers met in the throne room. Liza had denied being the princess to the very last. There was nothing else for it but to declare the heir to the kingdom.
Henry hadn’t stopped smirking since he’d received the message asking him to attend that morning. Kara watched him with a blank face but a sick stomach, thinking how she would never sit on a throne next to his— thinking about running away, grabbing Liza’s hand and running with her back to the beach far from where the princess had died.
It wasn’t fantasy. It was a concrete plan. She had the horses waiting. She felt herself calming as Alder called everyone to attention, knowing that even if they could do nothing for Adamar once Henry was king, at least they could do this.
And then Aliara walked into the room.
No, she glided into the room. She swept in so like a ghost that half the company spooked or flinched, but she was very, very real. She had the green eyes of the royal lineage. She had dark hair braided over her shoulder the exact way the queen used to wear it. She had a smile that was almost, almost smug.
“Please,” Liza said, sweeping a curtsey and lifting her eyes to the sunlight falling through the high glass windows as if she could look any more perfectly innocent. “I must beg your forgiveness. I have been a coward to insist for so long that I could not remember my childhood here, when I have never forgotten my true self. I thought I could bear the shame of never coming forward. I even convinced myself it would be better for Adamar to have my dear cousin as king.” She pressed a hand over her heart. “I’m sorry, Henry, for pretending not to know you, and almost letting this burden fall on your shoulders. But I have seen the light in time. I am here, Alder. I am the princess.”
Henry went pale with fury, meeting her halfway across the wide floor of the throne room and catching her arm so she could not approach the throne.
“Don’t you dare,” he snarled. “We both know you’re a liar. Everyone else will soon realize to. Don’t bother trying to pull it off.”
She yanked her arm back so hard that he was almost unbalanced and fixed him with a glare that had no princess in it and all of the fire she used to pump in her huge ovens at the bakery. “Don’t cross me, cousin. Or do you need me to throw another shoe at your head?”
He faltered just long enough for her to walk past, head held high, and up to the dais. “Come here with the crown, Alder. Careful on the steps. I tripped on them when I was six, you know.”
“Y-yes, princess,” Alder said, hastily coming forward.
She raised an eyebrow, indicating with one hand that there was no one else on the dais with her. “I’m not the princess. I’m the queen.”
“I’m sorry,” she told Kara, late that night. It had been a very long day, and her head ached from the weight of the crown, and she only wanted to go to sleep, and she didn’t know if Kara was angry, and didn’t want her to be.
“I’m the one who needs to apologize,” Kara said, stepping closer, reaching out for her hands.
“For my false accusations over the past year, of course,” she said with a straight face. “I don’t know how I didn’t recognize you from the beginning.”
“The princess,” the new queen said, unable to figure out full sentences as Kara pulled them closer together, gently pushing strands of her hair back.
“Yes,” the baker-princess-queen sighed. “That.”