Click for larger version; click for the list of dolls.
Ced felt trapped, for at this rate the princesses would come back long before he figured out the book’s secret, and they would take him before the king, and he would have nothing, no proof… He glared at the book and the goofy-looking girl and dog walking across its cover. Then he realized that perhaps it wasn’t the book that held the magic, but the words. He read the whole first page aloud, and the whole last page, but neither had any effect. It was too long of a book just to read out loud all night, and the princesses had probably just read a passage of it, so that wasn’t the solution. Finally he hit upon the idea of simply opening the book and seeing how the pages fell; it should open, he reasoned, to the page with the heaviest usage. (Please do forgive him for not realizing this earlier, since Ced was not a great reader.) The book opened to a spot about two-thirds of the way through, and Ced started reading aloud from the top of the left side…
“Suzanna shifted, and resolved to find a properly embellished pillow to put on the throne tomorrow. It seemed like years since the Nonians had hailed her as their Queen, and while it had been fun at first, she could see quite clearly now why the real Queen had taken advantage of their queer similarity and escaped. Fawning attendants dogged her steps and agreed with whatever she said, she was shepherded to the most boring dinners and when she wasn’t making small talk with dukes and duchesses, she was back on this cold, hard throne with the crown slipping her forehead, all alone unless someone had a petition or a party for her. Even her little dog had a crown provided for him, but at least he had a nice warm pillow to curl up on by her side. It was true that she had wished for something to happen to her, but this wasn’t what she had wanted, not at all. ‘If only,’ she mused out loud, ‘I had never run away from my godfather’s house, none of this would have ever happened. I wish I was back in his workshop painting those toy trains!'”
And then he felt the book slide from his fingers, and he tried to catch it but he was grasping at nothing, standing on nothing and the library shelves were swaying to and fro. Being able to proceed with the investigation was such a huge relief that he wasn’t at all scared. It seemed wisest to close his eyes, however, and wait for whatever process he had started to take its course.
When he opened his eyes, he was sitting in what seemed like a dark room dusted with snow. Right in front of him, light peeped through a door. Brushing the snow off of himself, he stooped through the door, almost crawling, and found himself on his hands and knees in a snow-covered forest path. The door behind him had been deftly worked into a tree; the other trees, as far as he could see, had similar doors in their trunks. A sign on the door behind him read, in tiny script, “Castle Sjalfer.” As he was looking at it, a door on the same tree above Ced’s head opened and a tiny fairy tumbled out, barely acknowledging Ced before flying off. The path went both ways, but it was easy enough to track twelve pairs of footprints in the snow, so Ced got to his feet and started running down the path, following the fairy and the princesses.
The Minister of Sorcery had suggested that he might see fantastic vistas wrought from gold and diamonds, but there wasn’t much of anything besides trees and footprints. He had a faint sense that he was being joined on the path by others, but in his haste to catch up with the princesses, he ran past them without a second look. The blue shoes the cobbler had given him meant that the snow under his feet made only the slightest crunching sound, and he moved, cat-like, dodging the occasional figure in his way. After a while, he saw the brightly colored gowns of the princesses a ways in front of him; greatly relieved that he hadn’t lost them after all, he stopped and bent down, catching his breath. When he was ready to keep walking, he could still see the princesses far in the distance, almost near where the forest thinned out and revealed a huge, snow-covered boxy building. As long as I can see them, thought Ced, I’m doing OK. Now that he had the luxury of curiosity, he looked around, wondering what else was around besides snow and trees.
Ced hadn’t seen other figures on the path, but he was so focused on his task that he paid no attention to them. So it came as a shock to him that they weren’t what he had thought them to be. He wasn’t precisely a cosmopolitan fellow, so he gawked openly at the fairies, elves, halflings and who knows what else who kept walking by him without a second glance. Plenty of humans were joining the group, but so many of them seemed alien, with all their different skin colors and costumes. He even saw a group of pink and blue-haired girls in shimmery gowns walking unsteadily (mermaids on their first outing on human legs, although he had no way of knowing that). He leaned against a tree, stunned by all that he was seeing, and a door hit him in his back. Ced jumped away and started to apologize, but when he saw a trio of dwarves step out, he was tongue-tied. Dwarves in and of themselves would have been interesting enough, but one of them was a female with a lovely beard tied with a pink bow at the end. Ced never would have been so stupid as to pick a fight or cause offense back at the castle, but this was just too much for him, and his eyes boggled. The dwarf at which he was boggling stepped forwards, both hands on her hips.
“And what might YOU be lookin’ at?” she asked, her eyes narrowing.
“He’s obviously too ignorant to be offended by! Leave him, or we’ll be late,” one of the other dwarves called to her, as he was walking away. The third dwarf looked at her friends, then back to Ced.
“If we weren’t… where we are now, I’d certainly learn ye good for your insolence,” the dwarf threatened, and shaking her fist at Ced.
“Er… I’m sorry. Are you here to dance?”
The dwarf stepped back, looking at Ced incredulously. “Like I have the time t’be tutoring fools,” she grumbled. With one last glare, she jogged back to her group.
This dress belongs to Pieris, who is twenty-one. Although you might not know it from this dress, she and her twin sister Holly are tomboys who have done the most to test the King’s limits, bullying the Minister of Defense until he allowed them to take fencing and fighting lessons, sneaking out of the castle, and challenging would-be suitors to duels instead of chess. Far from being malicious, they’re quite good-natured; they’re just full of energy and frustrated with their sisters’ acceptance of quiet castle life. Pieris’ favorite color is white, and she loves sunflowers.