Below you can read the first chapter of Ivy's Ever After. Watch the book trailer for a reading of Chapter 1 by Judith Horstman.
Click here to read the first three chapters of Ivy and the Meanstalk but be forewarned that there are major spoilers for the first book!
Chapter 1: Ivy
Ivy might have been a proper princess if her mother had lived, or her fairy godmother had seen to her upbringing instead of vanishing without a trace one winter's night, or her father hadn't lost his mind. But as it happened, her mother did die, her fairy godmother did vanish, and her father did lose his mind, so Ivy never really had much of a chance one way or the other.
Her real name was Princess Ivory Isadora Imperia Irene, but she hated it and insisted that everyone simply call her "Ivy." This was the first impropriety. Many others followed. For instance, the princess spent an unnatural amount of time in the castle's musty old library. She was often to be found curled up most unladylike in a frayed armchair by the window, engrossed in some unsavory story about pirates or goblins or children who didn't do as they were told. And rather than play with the dolls in her tower bedchamber, Ivy made friends with the children of the kitchen staff, even the filthy stable boy, and joined in their loud games of Capture the Flag in the courtyard or jacks under the stairs in the entry hall. Worst of all, she sometimes spent entire days out of doors without a veil or parasol, flitting about under the sun until her face became as brown as bread crust and as freckled as a swallow's egg.
Ivy's nursemaid, Tildy, had a very good sense of what was proper, having raised Ivy's mother to be the perfect princess. But these days Ivy's father was very careless about things, as anyone could see from the rather tumbledown state of the castle. He was inclined to let his darling Ivy do whatever she pleased, and who was old Tildy to argue with the king? Not that she didn't try to persuade him, mind you, but their conversations always went something like this:
Tildy: "Your Majesty, I think it high time that Princess Ivory take up music. The harp is quite a lovely instrument, most suitable for a young lady of her station. It will teach her poise and discipline."
The king: "Ivy insists the harp is of no practical value whatsoever. She believes her time would be better spent learning a more sensible skill, like archery."
Tildy: "Archery? Are you sure that's an appropriate pastime for a princess?"
The king: "Archery is quite a worthwhile pursuit for any person. Why, many a grave battle owes its victory to archers, and archery has its everyday uses as well. Arrows are excellent for peeling parsnips, provided one remembers to use the pointy end. Indeed, I have discussed the matter with Frederick, and we agree that harp lessons are entirely unnecessary." (The king was very fond of his horse Frederick and never made any important decision without consulting him.)
Tildy: "Yes, of course, Your Majesty." (This was usually said with a slight droop of Tildy's shoulders and a well-hidden sigh.)
So Ivy escaped most of the lessons one would expect a princess to have: embroidery ("Stitches should be small, neat, and evenly spaced"), elocution ("Three-gray-geese-in-the-green-grass-gra-zing"), and etiquette ("A princess must never put the entire soup spoon in her mouth, rather she must sip daintily from the side of the spoon, taking care to make as little noise as possible"). After a while, even the king's counselors gave up trying to convince him that the royal princess should be taught to behave more—well, royally. After all, things weren't as they were before, back when the queen was alive, when the king still had the sense to care about what was proper. Why, the king hadn't thrown a single ball or hosted a foreign dignitary since his wife had died that sad night Ivy was born, so it wasn't as if anyone important ever saw the princess, anyway. And as for attracting a suitable husband, well, that was taken care of.
The king ruled a small kingdom called Ardendale, a patchwork valley of fragrant meadows, rich farmland, and wandering streams so full of silver-brown trout that even the worst fishermen went home with a heavy basket. For all its beauty, Ardendale was an isolated place, difficult to reach from even the closest neighboring kingdoms. South of the valley, past long stretches of pebbled beach, were the white-capped waters of the Speckled Sea. To the east were the Craggies, a collection of towering mountains, frozen in winter, barren in other seasons, and full of trolls no matter what the time of year. The highlands to the north were blanketed by the Fringed Forest, named for the hanging moss that had taken over the once-beautiful trees. It grew everywhere, draped from each branch like tangled gray-green hair, making the entire forest look ancient and weighed down. It was a favorite joke among travelers that if you stood still long enough, moss would grow on you, too.
To the west was a place not even the bravest of the King's Guard would dare to venture, the Smoke Sand Hills. Low and rocky, these sandstone rises were the color of rust and every morning turned a brilliant red in the rising sun. More often than not, curling tendrils of smoke could be seen drifting up from the hills, the steamy breath of dragons slumbering in the warm spaces beneath. Every once in a while, in one of the villages or farms closest to the Smoke Sands, some housewife walking home from the market or a shepherd grazing his sheep would spot a dragon itself, flying low over the hills, its wings spread the length of four wagons, blowing bursts of flames or clutching a wild goat in its enormous claws. It was a sight both majestic and terrifying, one that made many a staunch soul very grateful that the dragons never flew down into the valley kingdom itself.
Ivy grew up knowing there were dragons in the Smoke Sands, although she had never seen one herself. Since having dragons so close didn't seem to concern anyone else, Ivy had never worried about it either. That is, until she was ten and learned, purely by accident, that she was going to have a lot to do with dragons—at least with one dragon in particular. It was a fine morning in early spring, and cottony clouds floated lazily in the sky. Ivy was gathering daffodils outside the castle gate with her friends Rose and Clarinda, the daughters of kitchen maids.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could pick flowers every day for the rest of our lives?" Rose asked as she gazed happily at the profusion of blossoms, their sunny heads bobbing in the breeze like pecking hens. The lovely spring weather was making Rose, a fanciful girl to begin with, even more giddy than usual. "Maybe some kindly fairy will whisk us away to a magical forest where it's always spring, or turn us into flower maidens, or enchant the castle garden so the blooms never, ever fade."
"I don't think that's likely to happen," said Clarinda, who was soft-spoken and very practical. "One day we'll be grown, and I expect we'll have to work like everyone else. There won't be much time for gathering flowers."
"Yes, I suppose you're right," Rose said with a sigh. "I'll probably become just like my mother. She never seems to have time for fun. She's always in the castle kitchen, peeling potatoes or scrubbing pots or yelling at us to get out of her way.
"You're so lucky," she said to Ivy, twisting a curl the color of marsh marigolds around one finger. "You'll never have to scrub pots, and everything will always be puddings and pies. Well, except for maybe that tower business with the dragon. But once that's over, you'll have a husband who will be king and not a single care for the rest of your life."
"The what business with the dragon?" Ivy had been busy tugging a caterpillar off one of her daffodils and thought maybe she hadn't heard right.
"You know, the tower, the dragon slaying." Clarinda's voice was even softer than usual. She was as quiet as Rose was bubbly, as delicate and dark as Rose was bright and golden. At the moment, her doe eyes were growing wide with alarm. "You do know about that, don't you? On your fourteenth birthday?"
"Of course she does, silly," Rose scolded. "She's the princess, after all."
"Of course," Ivy was quick to agree, but only because she was too embarrassed to admit she hadn't an inkling what her friends were talking about.
When they returned to the castle, Rose and Clarinda scampered off to the servants' wing, and Ivy headed straight for the library, where she usually found the answers to her questions. What could she possibly have to do with a dragon slaying, of all things? The thought filled her with unease.
But finding the answer proved more difficult than she expected. She was the only one who used the royal library these days, and it was something of a mess. It had been years since the castle had kept a proper librarian, and books were scattered untidily across the wooden tables that ran the length of the room and piled knee-high in crooked stacks on the floor. There were more books off the shelves than on, leaving the tall bookcases so full of gaps they reminded Ivy of the uneven smile of Boggs the gatekeeper, who was missing many teeth.
It took Ivy a while to comb through the piles, looking for anything she could find on dragons or towers or slayings. Finally, in a far corner of the library's history section, under a thin layer of cobwebs, Ivy located a crumbling old volume called An Annotated History of Ardendale. She flipped to the index, hoping to find something under princesses, fourteenth birthdays, or maybe dragons, the slaying of. Although she didn't have any luck with these, dragons, agreements with led her to a chapter called "The Dragon Treaty." When she finally found what she was looking for, it was far worse than anything she could have imagined. For there, within the book's worn bindings, as plain as the nose on her face, it decreed that she was to be locked away on her fourteenth birthday, imprisoned in a tower of white stone, guarded by none other than a dragon.
Text Copyright© 2010 by Dawn Lairamore. All Rights Reserved.