When the Cranes Return Again in Spring

Chapter One:

The Time of Great Change

“Princess!”  Talia made her way through the halls of Lorevele castle in the direction of the armory, scurrying as fast as she could to begin lighting sconces in preparation for the onset of darkness.  A rotund middle-aged woman, a tattered green shawl was draped about her jiggling red bodice as she walked briskly among the castle halls, racing the lengthening shadows that seemed to proclaim the coming of night.  Retrieving an oiled torch, and lighting it from an urn filled with burning tar, Talia proceeded on her rounds, calling out for Princess Anise, who she had not seen for the better part of the day.  “Princess Anise?” Talia cried out again, pausing to touch the lit end of the torch to the oil-drenched sconces protruding every now and then from the walls.  “Princess?  Talia walked briskly now, touching sconces to her right and her left with the torch, deftly lighting each sconce as she passed by it.
Oh, for heaven’s sake, where’s that child got to? ” Talia touched the torch to sconce after sconce, a mutter issuing deep from the back of her throat.  “Every time, she’s always galavantin’ about, never where she’s supposed to be, when she’s supposed to be there.”  Talia paused to tip the torch against another sconce, peering around a corner, looking up a blind flight of stairs to shout out “princess” again.

“There’s gonna be the devil to pay, you can be certain of that,” she complained to herself, lighting sconces along a narrow corridor as she continued to press forward.  “Princess…” she spied a slight shadow, darting into an anteroom at the far end of the hall as she proceeded again to finish a line of sconces.  “Princess Anisse, please…” the woman begged.  “An old woman like me hasn’t the energy ta be chasin’ ya all over creation and back.”  The woman entered an anteroom, continuing on her brisk errand, spying the shadow once again retreating to another hall as she continued to light sconces on either side of the walls.  “Princess?”

The shadow ahead of Talia picked up speed, as if trying to avoid her.  Talia turned right to flank her, proceeding straight down a short hallway, touching the torch to sconces secured against the walls, her curiosity now piqued.  “Can’t be Anisse, she wouldn’t do this ‘ta me,” she whispered, touching the torch to sconce after sconce.  Turning left, and taking a short right passage, Talia quickened her pace again, touching the torch to a few more sconces on her way, surprisingly agile for her girth and age.  Lunging forward, around a blind bend, and to her right once more, the woman touched the torch to three more sconces, to stand solidly in front of the figure she had seen just moments before.  “Princess Anisse,” she chided, placing her hand on the shoulder of the hooded figure, “Why didn’t you answer…?”  The figure whirled around to disclose not the face of the princess, but the round face of Anna, a simple scullery maid.  “For heaven’s sake child,” the older woman shrieked, touching the torch to a nearby sconce.  “Where did the princess go, and what are you doing in her clothes?”

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