The Forgotten Sisters (Princess Academy #3)

by Shannon Hale

Chapter One

The god of creation broke me from stone

The mountain’s the only ma I’ve known

My pa is the blue sky sheltering me

So stone I am and sky I’ll be

Miri woke to the rustle of a feather-stuffed quilt. She stretched, her muscles humming. Warm yellow light poured through the glass windows, filling the chamber with morning. For a moment she was not sure why her breath felt ticklish in her chest, as if she were at chapel and trying to hold in a laugh. Then she remembered. She was going home.

“Today,” said Miri, her voice creaky with sleep.

Her roommates were awake too. A year ago, six Mount Eskel girls had come to Asland, Danland’s capital city, for their friend Britta’s marriage to Prince Steffan. Now four remained at the palace.

Esa dressed slowly, expertly using her right hand to pull her dress over her lame arm. Frid tore off her night things and stuffed her broad shoulders into a travel dress. Gerti, the youngest, just sat on the edge of her bed, her feet dangling.

“Today,” said Gerti, and the word was both mournful and glad.

Their bags were already packed and fat with presents for their families. With her allowance as a lady of the princess, Miri had purchased a set of chapel clothes, paper and ink, and chocolates for her sister, Marda. For Pa she had boots, honeyed nuts, and a new mallet. For the village school, an entire box of precious books.

Palace servants offered to carry their bags, leaving the four girls free to hold hands as they walked through the grand corridors, perhaps for the last time.

“It’s kind of like home now,” Gerti said. A servant was carrying her lute, and Miri thought Gerti looked small and vulnerable without the instrument strapped in its usual place over her chest. “It’s strange, isn’t it? How we’re leaving home to go home?”

“The boys at the forge tried to make me swear I’d come back.” Frid laughed. “Asland is all right for a visit, but I’m a Mount Eskel girl.”

“I think I’ll visit again, one day,” said Esa. As they passed the infirmary, she waved to the palace physicians who had spent the past months training her in their science.

Miri did not admit to the girls that she was already planning to return next spring. After all, even her pa and her sister did not know yet. But she and Peder had agreed that there was too much to do and learn in Asland to say farewell forever.

Miri took in a deep breath, memorizing the smells of the palace—sunlight warming the oil and lemon polish, the lavender soap used on the linens, and the hard scent she associated with metal. Miri smiled. But at the moment, she yearned for linder dust, warm goats, the wind against the autumn grasses. All the welcome smells of home.

“First thing when we get to Mount Eskel,” Frid said, “I’m going to throw a rock into the Great Crevasse.”

“A big rock, no doubt,” said Esa.

“As big a rock as I can lift. Ha! I can’t wait.”

Frid marched first out the doors and into the palace courtyard. Miri was last but hesitated only a moment before passing into the sunlight.

The traders’ wagons were loaded with food and other supplies to sell to the families on Mount Eskel. One empty wagon waited for the girls. Peder was sharing the bench with the driver.

Beyond the palace gates, beyond the sea of green park, the colorful buildings of Asland rose like a range of mountains. Autumn had softened the heat of summer, but the buildings were painted bright—red, yellow, blue, white, rust, green—as if in the capital spring was endless, always blooming, never cold.

The princess Britta, Miri’s best friend, was waiting to see them off, standing beside her new husband, Prince Steffan. Britta lifted a hand to wave at Miri but wiped a tear instead. Her cheeks were bright red as always, that merry feature contrasting with her wet brown eyes.

Though they had spent every day of the past week together and already said good-bye in a hundred ways, Miri hugged Britta again. Britta’s back shuddered with a small sob.

“Remember, Britta—” Miri started, trying to think of something funny to dull the sadness, but a man’s voice interrupted.

“Miri Larendaughter?”

Miri turned. A royal guard in a shiny silver breastplate and tall fur hat was striding across the courtyard.

“I’m Miri.”

“The king requests your presence,” he said.

Miri laughed nervously. “Right now? We’re just leaving.”

“The king requests your presence,” the royal guard said again.

“What is this about?” asked Steffan. He stiffened to his full height, and his manner reminded Miri that a boy who grows up in a palace probably never truly relaxes.

The guard bowed, noticing the prince for the first time. “I don’t know, Your Highness, but the king has also sent for you.”

Britta hooked Miri’s arm. “Fine, we’ll see what’s going on and be back in a few minutes.”

“You’ll wait for me?” Miri asked Enrik, their wagon driver.

He lifted his thin nose and sniffed, as if he could tell the time of day by smell. “If we want to reach the first camp before night, we have to go now.”

Miri’s middle felt yanked.

“On horse back you can easily catch up to a caravan of wagons,” said Britta.

“That’s right,” said Steffan. “Even if my father delays you for a couple of hours, I could get you to the camp by tonight.”

Peder jumped down from the wagon. “Then I’ll stay with you.”

The sun behind him, Peder’s curly hair looked pale gold. This past year’s apprenticeship with a stone carver had broadened his shoulders. His face and arms were brown from the summer, and to Miri, he looked as handsome as morning.

“But what if …” Miri cleared her throat. “What if I’m delayed longer?”

“All the more reason I should stay.”

“You promised your pa you’d be home after a year. If you aren’t on the first wagon, he’ll be—”

“Grumpier than a hungry billy goat,” finished Esa, Peder’s sister.

“I don’t want him mad at us, not now,” said Miri. As soon as she and Peder got home to Mount Eskel, they were going to ask their parents to approve their betrothal.

Peder scowled, but he did not disagree.

“I’ll find out what’s happening,” said Miri, “and then I’ll catch up on a fast horse, like Britta said.”