The younger the mind, the easier it can be used for the will of others.
Those poor silly souls.
Eleanor looked at her reflection in the mirror. The round almond eyes were perfectly framed by long curled brown hair. Her plump red lips parted as she pulled in a steady breath, raising the intricate blue and silver necklace across her chest. A small button nose finished off her face, lightly decorated by freckles across her cheeks. All her life Eleanor had been told she was gifted by the god of beauty, a rare gift, a chiseled masterpiece.
A heavy burning grew in her chest as her eyes traced over all of her perfect features she had been cursed with. Voices of others snaked into her mind, taunting her frustration.
“If only I could have eyes like yours.”
Her jaw clenched and her hands balled into little delicate fists.
“Such a beautiful girl, your mother must be so proud.”
A burning of rage and shame flowed through her as her eyes welled up against her will. The voices in her head raged in her ears.
“Look at that curly silky hair!”
“You are so lucky, any man will want you.”
“What I wouldn’t give for those lips!”
“You are such a lucky lady.”
Tears started forming at the edges of her eyes. Her mothers voice floated to the forefront.
“Sweetie, royals don’t show emotions.”
Fury raged through her, flickering flames devouring. Quick as a flash she thrust the tiny fist forward. The crash echoed around the large dressing room followed by the soft melody of tinkling shards of glass showering down on the vanity and onto the floor. Reflections of her eyes in the few remaining shards had a stubborn glare in them.
Yara entered the room running, her apron flying with her steps.
“My lady! Are you ok? Whatever has happened? Your mirror!” Yara asked with wide eyes as she scanned the scene.
Eleanor continued to face the mirror. In a steady voice she replied, “I would like all the mirrors in my quarters removed. I need no further reminders.”
“Reminders of what, miss?”
“My curse of being a woman in this damn world!” Despite herself, her voice was elevating, embers of fury easily flamed. “This damn world that only cares for beauty from women! I am to be paraded as some object! Wed to whoever it suits, expected to produce babies, and sit quietly as they make whatever idiotic worldly decision they please!”
Her voice broke as the flood of emotions cut her off.
“It is a life with its challenges, my lady - especially for one as bold as you. But you have comfortable livings and many around to help you.”
Eleanor looked over at Yara. She had never had a handmaid she considered a friend until Yara. “I must know all my options. I know your mother was a magic wielder and that you have been reading her old notebooks. Is there any way at all that I could not be traced?”
Yara’s eyes widened at the implication of the question. “I am not a trained magic wielder, my lady. I have been studying her old books but know little, miss.”
Eleanor locked eyes with the wrinkled woman and asked, “Can I get out without being traced?”
“The only way I know of is to become a different person, miss. You change bodies and then they can not trace you as you are not you. But miss, you would not be able to return to the palace, they would not know you! Sharing insider information would only be seen as treasonous and suspicious and you would be sent to the dungeons if you tried. Miss, it is much better to try and stay here. We must prepare you for the meeting of the prince of Durnham. Perhaps you will like him and wish to stay!”
Eleanor sat in her chair and let Yara bring out her outfit for the evening to begin the dressing process, her mind spinning faster than the wool spinners in the lower level of the castle.
The darkness of night had spread across the land. Yara was back in the dressing chambers, loosening the outer layers of Eleanor’s lavender gown. Eleanor could barely lift her arms to assist, the last of her dignity had been sapped out of her from an evening of sitting silently in perfect posture, listening to others discuss her future as easily as they were discussing trading cattle.
“Would you like a warm bath, my lady?” Yara asked quietly.
“I need to get out of the castle. If I am to be bound here by marriage, I need one last free adventure.”
“My lady, it is late and you are tired. Wherever would you go outside of the castle anyway?”
Yara pulled off the outer gown and Eleanor felt as though she was floating.
“I could visit you. Your house is full of wonders from generations past and I promise to be an excellent guest - I am highly trained in it after all.”
“My lady, I’m sure a rest here would likely suit you much more.”
“Please Yara. You have been with me for several years now. Please don’t tell me what I want as everyone else does. I know what I want and am asking for it.”
Yara eyed up the slim girl in front of her, barely a woman and yet old enough for marriage. “I suppose we ought to dress you for common evening wear then if you are so determined.”
Walking into Yara’s home Eleanor found herself wrapped up in silky warmth. The stone chimney was built of round rocks and rose up to the ceiling. In the fireplace, red hot coals nestled together. She wondered briefly how Yara kept her fire going. She must have someone stop by the house.
Eleanor turned to Yara, her jaw set. “I won’t go back Yara. Either you try this changing spell on me or I will run and be caught and at least might avoid a marriage for a bit longer.”
“My lady, truly, think of what you are suggesting. Magic has a cost to it.”
“Yara! I have done nothing but think! I have spent weeks, months, really years dreading my life and dreaming of escaping. I will not be used as a pawn! I will choose what to do in my life and this is my choice. Either you will help me get out or I will try anyways.”
The younger princess held eye contact with the older woman as the silence stretched out. Slowly Yara nodded her head, “If you are so determined, I can try to help you - if it is truly what you desire.”
Yara stepped away into a different room and Eleanor slumped into a chair next to the fireplace. A yearning to call this place home pulled at her heartstrings. One would need to care for themselves more but the decisions they could make for their lives!
Yara came back in holding a wooden box, smoothed surfaces from age and use. The older woman gestured to a back room and said, “Back here, my lady. My mother had a room for these occasions.”
Eleanor stood and followed Yara, heart beating louder. They stepped down a narrow hall and into a dark room. Yara placed the box on a round wooden table and lit several gas lanterns. Shadows flickered along the walls as Eleanor’s eyes traced the room. The table in the center was the same dark wood as the box - large and sturdy. Yara felt her stomach plummet as her eyes found shackles attached to the table.
“Is this process painful?” Eleanor asked in a high voice.
“Parts of it are but it is very quick,” said Yara as she read a book from the box. “Please sit in the other chair. I assume you would like to remain female?”
“Um… Yes please.”
“I see it requires one of your fingernails. There is one here from a girl about your age so that should work,” said Yara.
Yara looked up from her reading at the dangerously pale young girl across the table. “Unless you’d rather not. I will put all this away if you have changed your mind.”
Eleanor closed her eyes and said, “I will do it. I won’t go back and I need to not be tracked by the other magic welders.”
Yara pulled out several items from the box - several cups, a bowl, dried leaves, thin hairs in a vial, and a few bottles. Oddly ordinary items for such a large transformation. Yara quickly went to work pulling out the proper items and reviewing the book in front of her. As she worked she said, “You should go South in the city. Not many people take in stays, which you will be, but the farms down there can typically use some extra hands and are a bit less suspicious of new folk.”
Eleanor realized how little she had thought this all through. It’s now or never. You will figure things out once you’re free. “Thanks Yara, I will.”
The bowl on the table was full of clear liquid. Yara stirred it and looked up. “Still wish to proceed?”
Eleanor nodded, not trusting her voice to function.
Yara said, “Then bring your chair over to the shackles. The nail removal is the only painful part but the physical transformation can cause some to shake a bit so these stop you from falling.”
Sweaty palms pushed her chair over a few feet. The resultant high squeak screamed in her ears. Sitting in place, she lifted shaky hands, heart pounding she could barely hear Yara.
“Last chance dear - are you sure about this?”
“Yes,” came a squeak from the trembling girl.
Yara guided her hands into the shackles and closed them. She pulled out a curved knife from the box, made eye contact with the princess, gripped her finger strongly, and carved out the nail.
A scream pierced the night as Eleanor fought to pull in a breath. Adrenaline shot through her body, bringing uncontrollable shakes. Her vision blurred from tears and panic. Across the table Yara was moving but she could not see how. A cold cup was pressed to her lips and Yara’s calm voice said, “Drink girl, and you will have your freedom. You have been very brave.” Eleanor drank several gulps and felt fire race down into her belly as spiders and ants crawled up her arms and legs. The light prickles grew to pin pricks covering her skin. She felt her heart stop and hear awareness dipped as her head hit the table.
Slowly coming to, Eleanor recognized she was breathing. Opening her eyes showed her that she was in the dimly lit room. The nose she could barely see from her eyes was wrong. She lifted her head but it swayed more than it should have. Stabilizing herself on the chair her vision came into focus to see Yara.
Yara was smiling. “Good girl! I am one to follow my word. I hope you find freedom and don’t find yourself trapped by hunger and need for shelter as I once was. Thank you kindly for this nail of yours though, I am interested in seeing how well I could play a princess.”
Eleanor blinked several times, her mind clouded in fog.
Yara looked at the still young girl and said, “My brother will be around shortly to look in on the house as it is his. If you are nice he may show you to the farms to the south although he will likely request a price. A girl with no money or possessions unfortunately has very few options for making payments.
“I do wish you luck girl, it can be a surprisingly harsh world out there to non royals, women especially.”
Yara grinned widely, and walked out holding tightly to her new prize. One step closer.