CHAPTER 1 - Lila
Lila Everidge sat on one of the twelve docks on Vanilla Island, swinging her legs back and forth in the calm water. It was at this moment - with the sun setting and clouds pink - that a light blue bird dropped a yellowed letter on her lap.
Lila picked up the letter, flipping it over in her hands. The envelope was sealed with a Rosemallow Palace stamp in bright red wax. The back side only wrote “Lila Everidge, Vanilla Island” in a swirly, cursive font.
Lila never got any mail, much less mail from the Rosemallow Palace! She wondered if she was invited to a royal ball, or maybe granted money for helping around the island so much.
The sky was still streaked with pink, but Lila couldn’t see the messenger bird anywhere.
Lila turned over the envelope and carefully peeled the red wax stamp off. A page of long cursive writing fell out into her lap, along with a beaded bracelet and a boat ticket.
The letter read:
Hello dear! It is your Aunt Clarabelle! I hope you are doing well. You may have noticed this is a letter from Rosemallow Palace; indeed, it is! I now work at the postal office at Rosemallow Palace - I deliver so much mail to and fro. And it’s so much better than my last job when I was waitressing. I’m surprised the palace let me work here! They must have been desperate! Ha, ha. Because I work here, I am free to use the magic post service as I wish. One of the benefits of this job.
Anyway, dear, I am writing to you to let you know that I would love for you to come visit me here in the city. I know your mother is quite the worrywart but I’ve moved since you last visited and my new home is much nicer and in a much safer neighborhood. And less magic folk coming to my door every day!
Let your mother know that I have purchased a boat ticket for you. It should be in here. There are more instructions on the back of this page. See you soon!
PS I know this is sudden, but you know me! I love sudden. And I know your school lessons have just ended, so you’re on break now. Also, I do hope you like this bracelet. This lovely Elven girl was selling them at the market, and they were too pretty not to buy. Last time I saw you, pink was your favorite color.
It certainly wasn’t an invitation to a royal ball, or money, but it was an invitation to her Aunt Clarabelle’s house in Ellwhistle City, and she was beyond excited. On the back of the letter, there were complete, in depth instructions - from catching the boat to finding her home.
The bracelet was a chain of gorgeous pink beads. Pink wasn’t exactly Lila’s favorite color anymore - it had been, years ago - but she liked it nonetheless.
Lila pulled her feet out of the water and slipped into her sandals. She gathered up her things - the letter and her sweater - and then walked home.
“Mother?” Lila called as she stepped into their rickety door.
“In the kitchen!”
Lila could barely control her excitement. She had read the details of the instructions three times over and she was supposed to get on the ship in two days. “Aunt Clarabelle invited me to Ellwhistle City.” She turned the corner into the kitchen, where her mom was chopping vegetables.
“She invited me.”
“My gods, are you serious?”
Lila set down the letter and ticket by the cutting board so her mother could see. “I leave Saturday.”
“What do you mean, leave Saturday? You are most definitely not going.” Lila’s mother started chopping the vegetables a little more aggressively. She didn’t even give a glance at the paper, just shook her head a little so her bunched up hair swung from side to side.
“What? Mother, she’s already purchased the ticket.” Lila pressed her lips together, annoyed at her desperateness, and only hoped her mother wouldn’t get mad. But this was just the thing she wanted. “She even sent it with a magic bird,” Lila added, forcing her tone to be calmer.
Lila’s mother sighed, set down the knife, and picked up the letter. She scanned it with squinted eyes and set it down with a huff when she was finished. “I don’t like this.”
Lila peered over at her mother, waiting for her to say something else.
“I suppose Clarabelle will be expecting you, though.” Chop, chop, chop.
“I haven’t got anything to do the entire break. And I did great in my studies this year,” Lila added, hoping she could get her mother in a good mood. She washed her hands in the sink and started to help out with the vegetables. She washed while her mother cut.
“Let me think about it, okay? How about you tend to the chickens while I finish up dinner. And then we can talk about it.”
Lila set down the scallion she was about to rinse and wiped her wet hands on her pants. She didn’t say anything as she headed out the back door, just bit her lip and wished to herself that her mother would say yes.
The sun was nearly set, but the lamplight in their yard provided enough light for Lila to enter the coop and feed and water the chickens. The wind picked up, and the familiar rush of wind that was so distinctive of Vanilla Island sent bumps along her arms. She knew her mother would say no. She would pay to get a message to Clarabelle in time letting her know Lila couldn’t go, that she had work to do over her study break, or some other excuse to keep her trapped on this stupid island with the same people she knew.
Lila stepped around the chickens, nibbling at scraps, to reach for the eggs from their wooden nesting box, which was starting to crack and swell from too much moisture. She gathered them and set them in her shirt to carry back inside. Her mother hated the city, which was why they never visited. But Lila had read so many stories of Ellwhistle City, with the horse-drawn carriages and elven magic and handsome lads with city wear.
The back door was half open, and Lila returned inside to carefully store the eggs in their egg basket on the counter. Spices tickled her nose, the onions pricked her eyes. Her mother was dropping vegetables into the pot of soup, where steam was wafting up to curl at the ceiling.
Lila watched her mother cook, and wondered how they were so different. They looked so similar - the thick dark brown hair, the pointy nose and chin, and the softness of their voice. But her mother was in tune with the rhythm of her daily work while Lila always yearned for something new.
“Do you really want to go?” she asked, as Lila sat down at one of the wooden chairs against the dining table.
“Oh, Mother, I do! You know I do.” Lila touched the pink beaded bracelet that she had fastened on her wrist, careful to keep it out of her mother’s view. Her voice quieted, afraid of what her mother would say. “I am so bored here. I just want to see something new.”
Her mother turned to her, the wrinkles at her eyes creased over. “I’ll let you go, Lila. I just want you to be safe.” Her fingers twisted together where they rested at her apron, but then she hid them behind her back.
Lila’s mother was silent for a moment. She spooned a heapful of the steaming hot vegetable soup into each of their bowls. “Yes, really.”
Lila looked up at her mother through the steam of her soup. She didn’t know what to say. In all truthfulness, she wanted to ask why. She wanted to know why her mother would let loose her shackle just a little. But she was scared to ask in fear of being shut down.
“However,” said her mother. “I want you to write me letters. I want you to stay good, and listen to Clarabelle, and you shall not talk to strangers unless necessary.”
“Mother, Ellwhistle City is perfectly safe. It’s not like Aunt Clarabelle is living in the middle of a bandit thicket or by an elven gang. Miss Mira has told us about all the new actions the palace is taking to improve Rosemallow.” Lila said this last part with confidence and the twinge of a smile. The last lessons of the year were all about the money the palace was funding into making Rosemallow a better place.
“I know. Just… well, Clarabelle isn’t…”
“Isn’t what?” Lila asked. She only had glimpses of memories of her aunt, all of them silly and fun.
“She sometimes doesn’t think things through. I know you’re a responsible girl. So I trust you.” Lila’s mother sent her a tightlipped smile, her dark eyes absent of the shine Lila used to see years ago when she danced with her broom in one hand and her father’s hand in the other.
“Thank you, Mother,” Lila said, sending a smile back. She was going to do everything to prove her mother right. She was a reasonable and responsible girl who always thought things through.