Ever After HighSuzanne Selfors
Table of Contents
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This book is dedicated to Kara Sargent, for being my compass and friend as we made our way through magical waters. Thank you.
A Magic Wind
The view from the ship’s bow was breathtaking. In the east and in the west, a calm turquoise sea stretched to the horizon, the perfect flatness interrupted only by diving seagulls and dancing porpoises. But to the south, which was the ship’s direction, the sea met an expanse of jagged white cliffs. Tall trees grew atop the cliffs, forming a dense forest. And rising above the forest, as if trying to touch the cloud-dappled sky, were the turreted towers of Ever After High.
For students who arrived by boat, this first glimpse of the school was a welcoming beacon. To know that the sea journey was about to end was a relief to many. And to know that a new year was about to begin, in the most famous and most prestigious school in all the fairytale lands, induced shivers of excitement. But on this particular day, the girl standing on the bow felt neither relief nor excitement.
Meeshell gripped the railing so tightly her knuckles turned white. She held her breath for so long, she nearly turned blue. There it was. Her school. Her future.
Like many before her, Meeshell had traveled from a faraway kingdom. But hers was a land that most had never seen and would never see. It was shrouded deeply in mystery. A place of fable. A place of unequaled beauty. A place nearly impossible to reach, unless one had the correct physical attributes.
She might as well have come from the moon, for that is how strange her world would seem to her fellow students.
She didn’t, however, come from the moon.
She exhaled, then shifted her weight. She’d been standing so stiffly, her knees had begun to ache. Knees, she thought. Such weird, knobby things. Will I ever get used to them? She reached down and gave them each a good rub, then returned her focus to the distant turrets.
“There is no better education than the one you’ll receive at Ever After High,” her father had assured.
“You’ll learn much more than we could ever teach you,” her mother had said.
“You’ll do great!”
“You’ll be fine!”
“You’ll fit right in.”
Ever After High was her father’s alma mater, so it made sense that he was super enthusiastic about his daughter attending the same school. And her mother wanted the very best for her children, so she was excited, too. But Meeshell’s heart ached from leaving family and friends behind. And doubts churned. What if she couldn’t figure out how to adapt to this new world? What if she didn’t understand their strange traditions? What if she stood out, like a crab in a bed of starfish?
As the ship slid gracefully through the water, Meeshell closed her eyes and held her face up to the cool breeze. She liked the way it felt as it tickled through her long, pink hair. The breeze was too gentle to fill the ship’s sails, but she’d remedied that little problem. Using her magic touch, she’d created a little wave and had aimed it at the boat’s stern. The wave never crested; rather, it continued to push them along. The ship’s captain had been grateful for her help. The narwhal he usually employed to pull the ship on calm, windless days was on vacation.
“Lass?” A man’s voice interrupted the silence. Meeshell’s eyes flew open. Captain Greenbeard stood beside her. “You want one of the crew to fetch your coat? You’ll be catching a chill out here.”
She shook her head. Cold air didn’t pierce her, as it did others. Besides, she didn’t own a coat. They didn’t have coats where she came from. It had been difficult enough finding a dress. Luckily, her mother had a vast collection of objects that had fallen from ships, or had been stolen off of beaches by rouge waves. Those objects included the plain yellow dress that fell to Meeshell’s ankles, the white ribbon tied around her waist, and the bag that now contained her few precious belongings.
“You’re certainly a quiet one.” The captain leaned his elbows on the railing and stared straight ahead, toward the white cliffs. He was a rugged-looking fellow, with deep lines around his eyes and mouth. He’d been kind to her during the voyage, as had the rest of the crew. “I’m finding it difficult to believe you’ve never been on a ship before. Never?”
She shook her head again.
“Well, you handled yesterday’s choppy weather like a true sailor. Didn’t turn green or get sick. Takes most landlubbers weeks to get their sea legs.”
Sea legs? She didn’t know what that meant. She’d gotten her legs three days ago and they were supposed to be for land use. Were there special legs for the sea?
The captain glanced at a purplish bruise that glowed on Meeshell’s forearm. “All that stumbling you’ve been doing, all that bumping into things, that’s to be expected. The ocean swells can be as unpredictable as Poseidon’s moods.”
The captain was right. She’d certainly been struggling to walk gracefully. Because she’d been stuck on a ship since getting her legs, she’d had little chance to learn how to use them, other than walking up and down the deck, or up and down ladders. The physical bruises would go away. But what about the bruises to her confidence? Only time would tell.
Though only three days had passed, the journey from her kingdom had felt like eons. Too shy to talk to the crew, and too distracted to focus on a good book, Meeshell had tried to make the hours pass faster by watching for sea creatures. But alas, no matter how many pods of dolphins or seals she spotted, time moved as slowly as a sea slug. Fortunately, her mother had packed her favorite foods. “It will take you a while to get used to what they eat on land,” she’d told Meeshell. So, while the rest of the crew munched on salty smoked herring and dry cornmeal biscuits, Meeshell ate seaweed-and-kelp-berry salads.
“Never seen that kind of food before,” the cook had commented with a shrug. He was a troll, with huge ears and a nose to match. “You should try my fish chowder.” He shoved a bowl right up to Meeshell’s nose. She grimaced at the sight of the fish tails and fins floating in the creamy stew.
“No, thank you,” she politely told him. Her voice came out quieter than she’d intended.
“What’s that you say?” he asked.
She cleared her throat. “No, thank you.” It was very difficult to get the words out, not just because of her shyness, but because something was different about her voice. No matter how hard she pushed the words, they still came out quiet. Hopefully it was just a temporary ailment, and her voice would be back to normal before classes began.
“She said no, thank you,” one of the crew told the cook.
“No fish chowder? But my chowder is famous.”
“Famous for its aftereffects,” another crew member said with a snicker.
The cook dismissed Meeshell with a wave. “Suit yerself.” Then he scratched his rump with his wooden spoon.
Meeshell had eaten the last of her salad that very morning, and she’d been worried that she’d have to eat some of the cook’s food. But now, with Ever After High in sight, there’d be no reason to risk an upset stomach. Fish was not on her menu. Never!
The white cliffs and stone towers loomed closer. “Land ho!” Captain Greenbeard hollered. Commotion arose on d
eck. Crewmen and women streamed out of the galley, wiping crumbs from their beards, braids, and shirts. Captain Greenbeard took his place next to the ship’s wheel. As the ship sailed around an outcropping, a quaint harbor came into view. A few smaller boats were moored at a dock that jutted out from a white beach. The sand sparkled, as if made from glitter.
“Drop the main!” the captain ordered. A large rope was untied and the billowy sail, with its narwhal emblem, collapsed onto the deck. Without any wind, it must have been some kind of magic that had held the sail aloft. The magic wave that Meeshell had summoned was no longer needed, so she waved it away.
Captain Greenbeard gripped the wheel as the ship glided toward the dock. “Man the lines! Rudder hard over!”
Meeshell stepped aside as a crewman grabbed the bowline. As the ship neared the dock, three crewmen jumped onto the rough planks, ropes in hand, then guided the ship to a standstill.
A sign stood at the end of the dock:
WELCOME TO STORYBOOK HARBOR THIS WAY TO MIRROR BEACH
THIS WAY TO EVER AFTER HIGH
Meeshell took a long, steadying breath. She’d arrived.
One journey had ended, but another was about to begin.
The gangplank was lowered. Captain Greenbeard picked up Meeshell’s bag, then, with a flourish of his hand, said, “After you, lass.”
The crew stood at attention, waiting for their only passenger to disembark. All eyes were on Meeshell. Did they suspect her true identity? If so, were they waiting to see if she could navigate that narrow piece of wood, or if she’d stumble and fall into the water? That would be quite a scene, and one she wanted to avoid!
“Thank you for the ride,” she said to the crew, trying to be heard above the shrieking of a pair of seagulls, who’d swooped onto the deck to pilfer whatever crumbs they could find. Meeshell took a few steps forward. Then, ever so slowly, she made her way down the plank, telling herself to place one foot in front of the other. She didn’t take her eyes off her new feet. The captain walked behind her.
“You’re unsteady because you’ve been at sea,” he told her. “You’ll get used to land again in no time.” She was glad to know that he still didn’t suspect the true reason why she was unsteady, and she certainly hoped she’d quickly get used to land.
Upon reaching the dock, she sighed with relief. The dock was solid and steady, no movement from the waves. She pressed her toes against the wood and found her balance. Then the captain hollered, “Hello!”
A gentleman was walking down the dock. He appeared to be a dapper fellow, wearing a crisp black suit, a striped waistcoat, and a tie. His thick gray hair and mustache were embellished with white streaks. A heavy key ring hung from his belt. Upon reaching her, he extended his arm. “You must be Ms.… Ms.…” He hesitated. “Ms. Meeshell.” She nodded and shook his hand. “I am Headmaster Grimm. Welcome to Ever After High. I hope your journey was uneventful.”
Uneventful? She wouldn’t have chosen that word to describe what she’d been through over the past three days. Having never left home before, having never traveled alone, the journey had been the biggest event of her life! The headmaster must have noticed her confusion at his comment for he added, “No major events. Storms. Shipwreck. Giant squid attacks, that sort of thing. In other words, you appear to have made it in one piece.”
She nodded again.
“We did get a touch of bad weather, but the wee lass fared well,” Captain Greenbeard said.
“That does not surprise me.” The headmaster gave Meeshell a knowing look. Then he glanced around. “Do you have luggage?” He glanced down at her feet. Her bare toes peeked out from under the dress’s hem. “A pair of shoes, perhaps?”
“She travels light. Just herself and this bag.” The captain handed it to the headmaster. “She’s a quiet one. Only a sentence here or there, during the whole trip.”
Headmaster Grimm took a small velvet pouch from his waistcoat pocket and handed it to the captain. “Thank you for your service,” he said.
“Yes, thank you,” Meeshell said, smiling shyly.
“You’re very welcome.” He took off his blue knit cap and bowed like a gentleman.
“Good-bye!” the crew called. Meeshell waved. Captain Greenbeard strode back onto his ship and ordered his crew to get underway. The gangplank was raised. Meeshell wondered if she should use her magic touch again, and give them a friendly push, but a gray head and long twisted horn poked out of the water, next to the boat. The captain’s narwhal had returned.
“Follow me,” the headmaster said.
As the narwhal pulled the ship from the harbor, Meeshell followed the headmaster up the dock. The boards were not evenly spaced, and some were thicker than others. She winced as a sharp pain pierced the big toe on her new left foot. “Ow.”
The headmaster took her arm and led her to a log. She sat. She held out her foot. Her toe throbbed with pain. “A sliver,” he informed her with a shake of his head. “Tending to students’ medical needs is not my usual duty.” He took a small device from his waistcoat pocket. Even though they didn’t use such devices in her kingdom, she knew all about phones. He tapped the screen. “I have summoned a nurse fairy.” Then he frowned in disapproval. “Why are you not wearing the correct apparel for your feet?”
Meeshell gulped. There’d been no time to get shoes before she left. The decision to send her to school had happened so quickly. Her mother had placed clothing orders, but they hadn’t arrived before her departure, so the packages were supposed to be delivered to her at school. She held her foot. “I…” How was she to know that feet were so delicate? She’d never worn them before.
In a burst of blue light, a tiny winged creature appeared before her. It zipped around her head, then perched on her foot. Oh barnacles, did that ever tickle! Meeshell gritted her teeth and held as still as possible. The fairy peered over her big toe. Then it touched a wand to the sliver and, voilà, the pain was gone. In another burst of light, the fairy disappeared before Meeshell had the chance to say thank you.
“Better?” the headmaster asked.
Meeshell nodded. The pain was gone and there wasn’t even a red mark where the sliver had been.
“Our nurse fairies do a very good job,” he told her. “Let us hope you won’t have to call upon them again.” Then he resumed their walk.
She followed the headmaster across the beach and up a sandy trail. He walked with long strides, and didn’t stumble or wobble the way she did. “Do you think there’s something wrong with my legs?” Meeshell asked.
He peered down his long nose at her. “I beg your pardon but I’m having trouble hearing you.” The gulls were no longer screeching, and the waves lapped gently in the distance, so there wasn’t much to compete with Meeshell’s voice.
“I’m sorry.” She put her hand to her throat. “I can’t seem to speak very loudly. It’s… odd.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Indeed.”
She cleared her throat and tried again. “Do you think there’s something wrong with my legs?”
“They feel so unsteady. Maybe I didn’t get the right kind.”
“I’m sure the Sea Witch gave you perfectly adequate legs. She has no reason to do otherwise. She wants you to be successful here.”
The headmaster possessed a commanding voice that was reassuring in its confidence, but also a bit frightening in its authority. This was the man who’d summoned Meeshell to Ever After High. He’d sent a letter to her parents insisting that she attend. And he’d convinced the Sea Witch to help by giving her a pair of legs.
She looked down at those legs, hidden beneath the long, yellow dress. There was no reason to suspect they were faulty or badly formed. It was, as the headmaster pointed out, in the Sea Witch’s best interest that Meeshell and her new legs succeed at Ever After High.
For Meeshell had something the Sea Witch wanted.
The events that led up to Meeshell’s journey happened as quickly as a riptide. First, Headmaster Grimm’s message arrived in a bottle, carried by United Manta Ray. Her parents read the message, then they summoned her. “Meeshell,” her mother said. “We have news. You are going on a trip tomorrow morning.”
“Tomorrow morning?” Meeshell asked, both surprised and confused. “But I’ve got school.”
The family had gathered in the castle’s main room. Meeshell’s mother and father were the queen and king of the Merpeople, which made Meeshell a princess. But their palace was not a sprawling fortress. Unlike land-dwellers, the Merpeople did not build immense structures. Rather, they lived in harmony with their surroundings, down deep where fishermen’s nets and lines did not go. This castle was an elegant cave, lighted by magical jewels that were embedded in the walls. Hermit crabs made little trails in the sandy floor, and butterfly fish swam gracefully near the entrance. Storms did not rage that deep, and sharks did not prowl. It was a lovely, peaceful place, with no dangers to speak of.
Well, except for the Sea Witch.
But she lived in her own cave, on the other side of the kelp forest. And she’d made a pact with the king and queen. She would not bother them as long as they stuck to the story and gave her their firstborn daughter’s voice. Meeshell’s voice.
Meeshell’s mother was the famous Little Mermaid. As a young woman, she’d agreed to give her beautiful voice to the Sea Witch in exchange for legs and the chance to live on land. And so the deal was made, and the Little Mermaid went to live among the land-dwellers, leaving behind the most beautiful singing voice in all the Merworld. But as is true in many fairytales, there is often a way to elude a witch’s dark magic: true love. In the Little Mermaid’s case, when she found the true love of a prince and he agreed to live beneath the sea with her, the curse was broken. Her voice returned to her.