“Please be our princess!”
Torqual knelt before Miri with a glittering silver tiara, surrounded by fantastical woodland creatures who watched her expectantly.
“I…” Miri bit her lip.
“Yes?” Torqual’s sapphire eyes pierced hers.
A sigh echoed around Miri as the elf lowered the crown. “Not ready yet?”
Miri shook her head. “No.” Why can’t I say yes? They’ve been begging for so long…
Torqual stood with a slight frown. “Fiador must have a princess soon.”
The nymphs and fairies swarmed Miri. “Please be our princess, dear Miri!”
Miri wrapped her arms around them as they clamored for attention. “I promise I’ll decide tomorrow.” She turned. “Sassafras! Will you take me home?”
A white unicorn pawed his way into the circle and Miri hoisted herself onto his back. She couldn’t look at the Fiadorians’ sad faces as the unicorn galloped off.
Sassafrass let Miri off at the usual place, and backed away as Miri withdrew a key and unlocked the magic portal. Immediately, the bright pink of the Fiadorian sky gave way to the pre-dawn gray of a Californian morning. Exhausted, Miri closed her cabinet door and slipped into bed. Tired as she was, Miri couldn’t fall asleep immediately.
Did she really want to be a princess? Tossing and turning, Miri finally fell into a troubled, dreamless sleep.
The next day at school, Miri found her usual place by the wall and took out her sketchbook. Lost in thought, Miri started drawing Sassafrass.
“Helloo—anyone here?” someone knocked on Miri’s head. Surprised, she looked up into the impish face of an older boy.
“Stop it, Charles!” She shoved him away.
Charles snickered. “Daydreaming, as usual.” He snatched her sketchbook. “What are you, a baby? Aren’t you too old for unicorns?”
“Give it back!”
“Get it yourself, baby!” Charles tossed the book in a trashcan. Miri started crying.
“You’re no fun.” Charles shoved his hands into his pockets. “Nobody wants a crybaby around.”
Miri wiped her tears as the bully walked away. She reached into her pocket and withdrew a golden key, remembering the first time she discovered Fiador. Miri never knew what the ancient, locked cabinet was doing in her room until the day she accidentally found a key that led her to the magical world. Who needs Charles? I have Fiador.
After school, Miri ran home. She’d barely cracked opened the door when a little boy hurled himself across the floor and latched onto her leg.
Miri looked down. Two large brown eyes stared up at her.
“Mo-om! Jackie’s bothering me!”
“Now, Miranda, ” Miri’s mother appeared in the doorway. “Be nice to your brother.”
“But…!” How was Miri supposed to think about Fiador with Jackie around? She scowled, then sighed. “Alright, Jackie, let’s go watch TV.”
After three bazillion cartoons, Jackie finally grew sleepy.
“Time for a nap, Jackie,” Miri said.
“Not tired.” Jackie yawned.
After tucking her brother in, Miri started her homework. But she couldn’t focus. The golden key pulsed in her pocket…
The house was quiet. Softly, Miri went to the cabinet and slipped the key in the lock.
Miri spun around. Jackie stood behind her.
“Go away, Jackie.”
Jackie hugged her leg.
He tightened his grip.
Miri rolled her eyes. Well, if he wouldn’t leave, she’d bring him with her. Fiador was waiting. Opening the door, Miri stepped into a green meadow.
Jackie gasped. “Birdies!”
Before Miri could shout, Jackie bounded off. “Jackie, wait!”
“Looking for someone?” Miri nearly ran over Torqual.
“My brother. Jackie…”
Two fairies emerged from the trees, with Jackie in tow.
“Lemme go!” Jackie kicked the fairies. They let him down and he grabbed Miri.
“Jackie! You shouldn’t run away like that.” Miri frowned at Jackie. Jackie frowned at the fairies.
“So, Miri, have you decided to become our princess?” Torqual asked.
Miri paused—she hadn’t had time to think about this.
“If I say yes?”
“You’ll live in Fiador with us.”
“Do I get to go home sometimes?”
Torqual looked puzzled. “Fiador will be your home. You’ll stay here forever.”
Miri thought hard. No more Charles. But her family?
“What about Jackie?”
Torqual frowned. “He must go, I guess. This is your world, Miri. You’re our princess. We need you to exist.”
Miri looked into the Fiadorians’ pleading eyes. Then she looked at Jackie.
“I wanna go back!” he whimpered.
Miri shook her head. “I have to take Jackie home. Sassafras!”
No one came. “Sassafras?”
“He won’t come.” Torqual’s tone was chilly.
“If you’re not our princess, you’re our prisoner. I told you; we can’t exist without you. Sassafras won’t take you back.”
Miri looked around her. Nobody moved. Jackie bawled. “Fine. I’ll walk.”
But Torqual and the other Fiadorians stood in her way. Their once friendly faces turned ugly.
Suddenly, Miri remembered her key. She took it out and aimed it at Torqual. The sun reflected off the key, disoriented the elf, and he tripped.
“Run!” Miri dragged Jackie through the crowd. The Fiadorians closed in behind her. Miri looked back once and saw only her pursuers’ gleaming eyes.
At last, Miri and Jackie stumbled against the portal.
“Stop!” Torqual shrieked. Miri released Jackie to unlock the door.
“Drop the key, Miri, and step away.” Torqual held out one hand. The other hand restrained Jackie.
“Jackie!” Miri cried.
“Key.” Torqual snarled.
“Then Jackie stays forever.” Jackie sobbed loudly.
Miri’s eyes teared up. Torqual sneered. “Are we going into the crybaby routine now? It won’t work with me.”
Miri had had enough. Her eyes stopped watering. Carefully, she placed the key on the ground.
“Thank you.” Torqual bent to pick it up.
Miri stomped on his hand. Before Torqual could yell, she grabbed Jackie, slammed through the door, and locked it. The last thing she saw was Torqual’s terrified blue eyes.
“I am not a crybaby.” Miri snarled at the cabinet. Then she collapsed in a heap of tears, hugging Jackie close.
The next morning, Miri found her mother making breakfast. “Mom, you know that unused cabinet in my room?”
“We should donate it. I need a new bookshelf, and it’s in the way.”
Miri’s mother smiled. “Sure, sweetie. That’s a great idea!”
“Good.” Miri dropped something in the trashcan.
“What’s that?” her mother asked.
“Oh, nothing. Just some scrap metal.” Miri replied. The golden key winked under the kitchen lights.