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Once upon a palace

Once upon a palace

Lana lives in a country manor with her family until she is invited, along with other girls of nobility, to the palace. It is a chance to compete against other girls and vie for the prince's heart. But Lana and the other girls soon discover that the prince is a snob and that maybe becoming a princess may not be as great as it sounds.

4

Action / Adventure


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L. M. Gregson (United States)


My mother always told me that idle hands make a person itch. I suppose she meant this metaphorically, as she often did. She was full of cryptic sayings and old wive’s tales. Maybe idleness was supposed to make you itch for hard work or for a purpose in life. Presently, I was itching all over, but I seriously doubted that it was from a guilty conscience. I had been lying in the tall grass for several hours, my already tan skin taking a beating from the intense sun overhead. The initial comfort and allurement of the sun-baked ground had long since worn off and the grass was scratchy and coarse beneath my thin dress. I could feel insects crawling in the soil beneath me, and I had to repeatedly flick a persistent beetle off of my arm. Time seemed meaningless in this field, and I could only guess how long it had been since I had slipped away from the manor and come to my hiding place. I made a mental note to choose a more comfortable spot next time. I was slowly running out of places to hide; as a little girl I could fit in an empty cupboard or squeeze behind a shelf in the library but I had since outgrown these. Nanny Florence had laughed herself silly last week when I had gotten stuck under a bed in a guest room and called all the serving maids to come and see Lady Lana, as they called me, wedged between the bed and the floor with dust in my hair. My father, Lord Allan, had laughed when I told him and had reminded me that there were better ways of dusting the floor.

The manor was a bustling place, with countless maids, field hands, and kitchen workers. Everyone had a place to be and a time to be there and schedules were mostly assigned by my mother. She loved order and timeliness and I had gotten into the habit of hiding as a child in defiance of this. My disappearances would never have been tolerated, except that I always made sure that my chores were finished before I left.

The first indication of the time came when an ox cart clattered up the pebbled road heading for the manor. I could feel the plodding steps of the ox in the ground beneath me. The cart was piled with field hands, boisterous as usual. The road curved close to where I was in the tall grass and I laid still, hoping that they would not see me. The men were harmless mostly, but I didn’t want to have to explain myself and be subject to their teasing. It must be close to supper time and Nanny Florence would no doubt have noticed my absence. After I was sure that the cart had passed I sat up slowly and reached up to tentatively touch my face. My cheeks were hot to the touch. I groaned as I thought of what Nanny would say, probably something about me being a lazy tomato.

The field wasn’t far from the manor, but I decided that I should waste no time in getting back. I set off down the road at a run and as I ran my feet slapped the pebbled road and my hair trailed wildly behind me. I would be picking grass out of my tangled hair for hours to come. When I reached the yard, I made sure to plow through the midst of the hens. scattering them this way and that. They squawked in protest and I laughed at their indignant feather fluffing. They were easily ruffled. It was my job to gather the eggs and their miserly dispositions and sharp beaks hardly endeared them to me. I missed no opportunity to heckle them. Spotting Nanny beating rugs at the edge of the yard, I skipped towards her with nonchalance. It did nothing to block her barrage.

“Gone! For three hours. I didn’t know what to tell your mother.” She harumphed and gave me a withering look. I held her gaze, knowing that she could not keep her facade for long. After a few seconds of her glaring, she cracked and her face betrayed a suppressed laugh. I must have been a sight with grass in my hair, dirty, bare toes, and a red face.

“Oh Lana,” she sighed, “what are we going to do with you?” Handing me the beating bat she directed me to beat the rugs and limped away, plopping down on the stone stairs that led up to the manor. I beat the rug with fervor, pretending that the worn fabric was the snooty Lady Bard of Killington. She could use a little beating. She was a friend of my mother’s and her monthly visits always came too often. Lady Bard always gave everyone unnecessary advice and attempted to run the manor while she was a visitor. My father gives her a courteous smile when she arrives, and then finds some urgent business to attend to until she leaves. My younger sisters, Karin and Marza, are too young to wait on company. I, however, am not so fortunate in an escape route. I have always wondered how an intelligent woman as my mother could put up with such an inferior friend, but I keep my opinions to myself in this matter.

My mother, Lady Allan, came from a peasant family who worked an independent farm near the manor. The first time my father saw my mother she was working in the gardens next to their small stone cottage. It probably would have been very romantic: my father on his noble steed riding up to inquire after her name. It would have been romantic if my mother had not spent the rest of their meeting scolding him for trampling her squash plants with his horse. My father loved to tell that story, how taken aback he was by her. Her background made her very frugal and very practical, and the manor and its farms have never flourished more than they do now under her watchful eyes. I saw the evidence of this as I looked at the stable yard. The plow horses were great in numbers and fit as can be; the grooms were plentiful and I saw many new faces. I have always enjoyed being around the grooms with their tall tales and gossip.

After Nanny was satisfied with the cleanliness of the rug and after I had once again apologized, I skipped off before she could find something else to punish me with. There was a seemingly endless supply of chores around the manor. I found my little sisters, Karin and Marza, in the kitchen helping Cook scrub the dishes from lunch. Karin was tall for a thirteen year old and towered over Cook and eleven year old Marza. Cook was a funny little red- headed man who always had a joke to tell me. Karin loved to cook and spent a lot of time in the kitchen, learning from all of the kitchen staff. I was surprised to not see more of them there.

“Father was looking for you,” Karin said when she saw me. “He’s in the library.”

“Thanks,” I said, hoping that he wasn’t looking for me to lecture me about my disappearance. He rarely lectured, but when he did he meant business. “I’ll just leave you little slaves at work.”

Marza stuck out her tongue and flicked water at me with her fingers. She didn’t enjoy the kitchen as much as Karin did, and preferred to spend her time in the stables or with the hounds. I left them to their chore and headed for the library in search of my father. The manor was strangely quiet and as I approached the library, I could hear my father speaking to someone from behind the closed door. I felt strange knocking on the door in my own home, but something about Father’s voice compelled me to.

Hurried footsteps approached and seconds later my father pulled open the door.

“Ah, Lana. Come in.”

He looked tired, as if he had been thinking too hard about something. The first thing I noticed when I entered the room was a man whom I had never seen before, leaning against the mantle of the fireplace. He had an important air about him and his rounded cheeks reminded me of a baby. Taking my arm, my father lead me to him. “Lana, meet Lord Barrow, our honored guest. He came to see you, Lana.”

I curtsied clumsily. Lord Barrow smiled politely but I could tell that I was not what he had expected. My feet were still bare and dirty from the field and I had dried grass in my tangled hair.“Its an honor, Lady Lana,” he said, bowing. “I am a personal ambassador to the king sent here to extend to you an invitation to the palace.”


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Read Reviews

Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Your story makes compelling reading.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
This is professional and competent. Despite being a genre I wouldn't usually enage with I really wanted to read more. Well done.

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • The protagonist didn’t always respond believably against the backdrop of the story. Ask yourself if people would really answer to a situation in that way. Think about whether the characters’ voices could be more convincing for their age, background, gender, time period, genre, gender and ethnicity. Dialogue should be natural and consistent throughout the story.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a difficult balancing act. Are you sure all the material is relevant to the plot, setting and atmosphere? Make sure each sentence makes sense to the reader, and each paragraph moves their experience forward.

Review 3:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Your story makes compelling reading.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 3:
The best story I reviewed. It hooked me right in, and I got lost in the story. I love the way you write, and wish I could read more. It was heading toward a great story. Keep up the good work!