Before them expanded lush green grass and a grand drawbridge. Surrounding the palace was a sparkling blue mote with dolphins playing in the crystal clear water.
“We replaced the sharks when the invasions stopped,” Julia said as they crossed the mote.
“Awesome!” Janie replied, meaning it.
“Besides, Ephora’s the only one we really want to keep out and she loved the sharks. Come on.”
Julia led Janie into a enormous hall. The floors were covered in pink marble and the railings, up the grand staircase, was more golden than the gilding on the walls.
“It’s twenty-four caret,” Julia said. “Welcome to our home.”
“Wow,” was all Janie could say as they wound up the left side of the stairs.
Resting on columns, at the top and bottom of each side of the stairway, were apples of pure clear polished rubies that glistened in the natural light, casting the sun’s glow from the palace’s many windows and skylights and scattering it throughout the room.
Janie stopped when a figure appeared at the top of the striking staircase. It was a young girl, with flowing golden hair, slightly darker than the railing, clear blue eyes and the sweetest smile Janie had ever seen.
The other princess was dressed in an azure gown that matched her eyes. Janie thought to herself that if she was ever to imagine a princess, she would look just like Claire.
“That’s my sister,” Julia said, using her wings to flit up to the other girl. “Janie I would like you to meet Princess Claire.”
Claire extended her hand and Janie didn’t know whether to shake it or curtsey. So she did both.
“Hi,” Claire said. She looked at her sister. “You are not supposed to go out without telling me,” she scolded.
Julia ignored the reprimand and leaned in. “She is the one,” she whispered.
Claire’s eyes lit up. “For real?” she asked her sister.
“For real,” Julia answered.
“She came through the flower?” Claire asked.
“She came through the flower,” Julia confirmed. “And,” Julia continued, “the path opens up for her as well.”
“Like us?” Claire asked, astounded.
“Just like,” Julia said.
“You must be hungry,” Claire said to Janie, and for the first time, Janie realized she was indeed hungry, very hungry. “Take her to the kitchen and give her breakfast while I go change. We have a long journey ahead of us.”
Without a word Julia led Janie out the back and down a different, but equally grand, staircase to the kitchen.
A large stone fireplace lined an entire wall and a kettle bubbled and brewed over it. The whole place amazed Janie. It was a contradiction – a mixture of things that didn’t match or make sense.
Large television screens lined the parlor she’d just been in as well as the walls in the kitchen. Blaring into the somewhat medieval room was a show about a bunch of college kids sharing a house.
Reality TV for the cooks, Janie thought. Yet, she did not see a stove, just two large fireplaces and an old-fashioned trash burner. She knew what a trash burner was because her Zia had one.
“Hallo,” called a portly woman, without looking from the television.
“We are going to get breakfast,” Julia said.
“You sit right down,” another woman, with a large bun on the top of her head, said. “And I’ll bring it right to you.”
The woman with the bun dipped a large ladle into the pot over the fire and Janie was sure she saw something crawl into it. She raised her eyebrows as the cook put the bowl down in front of her. It was some sort of mush or gruel and it seemed alive, crawling with large jellyfish like objects.
“It’s moving,” Janie said, without realizing she was using her outside voice.
“Those are the dophrines. They are a delicacy,” Julia said as she slurped up her own.
“Perhaps just some toast,” the cook said placing dry toasted bread in front of Janie. “Butter?” she asked.
“Yes, please,” Janie answered politely.
The cook placed a dish in front of her and the butter seemed just as alive as the mush.
Janie ate her toast dry and was finishing up as Claire entered the room, this time dressed in shorts, boots and what looked to Janie to be a shirt right out of Robin Hood.
Janie wiped her mouth. “Do you two have a plan or are we just going to wander around until we find your folks and hope a key is dangling from where they are locked?” asked Janie.
“The plan is to go through the forest, over the snot, up the mountain and rescue my parents,” Claire said matter-of-factly.
“Oh, silly me,” Janie said somewhat sarcastically, “I was afraid you hadn’t thought it through.”
“You are the one,” Julia said confidently. She could just feel it was so.
“So, you say. Only I have no idea what that means or what I am supposed to do. Being the one and all,” Janie said.
“This is going to be a grand adventure!” Claire said. “And hopefully we will get our parents back.”
“Maybe Janie is right. Have you thought about how you are going to get through the forest and over the snot and up the mountain? And what about the parchment?”
“Parchment?” Janie parroted.
“I almost forgot,” Claire said.
“Miloph is keeping it,” Julia said. “He has the instructions…”
“…and the test,” Claire finished her sister’s sentence.
“Yes, the test,” Julia remembered.
“Test?” Janie asked. She didn’t like tests so very much.
“To make sure you really are the one,” Claire said.
“I thought you said you were sure I am the one,” Janie said growing more uneasy by the second.
“We should hurry,” was Claire’s answer as she led the girls out of the kitchen, down a long spectacular hallway and back to the front foyer.
“Before Miloph goes up to his perch for the day.” Julia opened the grand wooden doors to let the warm sunshine stream in.
“Wait!” Claire said suddenly and everyone stopped. “Janie’s in her pajamas.”
Janie totally forgot. She looked down. She was in pajamas, purple Scottie dog pajamas and a pair of floppy pink Uggs. The Fluberbian air was so warm she’d forgotten she didn’t have real clothes on.
Claire grabbed her hand and the two girls raced up the stairs and found clothes for Janie. They were back inside of ten minutes. They left the castle together with the two giants, Jim and Jack, trailing behind them. Janie noted how these two men seemed to follow the princesses everywhere they went.