Anna pushed again and again but the gate didn’t budge. With hands on her hips, she stepped back and surveyed the massive iron monstrosity.
Inviting sounds and smells were still wafting plentifully through the barrier. So she stepped forward and began digging through the thick vines in an effort to see inside. But when she moved one vine, another blocked her view. The heavy tangle won it’s victory when it drew blood.
Standing back once more in frustration, she covered her wound and stared at the stubborn contraption. It wasn’t fair after taking such risk, that she would be kept from the final goal simply by not being able to open the gate.
She looked over her shoulder through the mountain peaks and thought of returning to the village. But the thought of explaining how she was thwarted by the gate, made her cringe. And then made her mad.
“NO! This isn’t going to end like this!” she shouted at the gate. Then she grasped the hand-hold once more and bore-down with every ounce of strength in her body. She HAD to get through. There was no other choice. It HAD to move. Her face turned rosy with the effort and her feet began to slip.
Suddenly, the vines broke free and the gate swung easily open, almost too easily, making her lunge forward and scramble not to fall.
Catching her balance, she looked up at a man with his hand grasping the other side of the gate.
“There you go!” He beamed at her.
“Were you holding it shut?” she gasped breathless and wide-eyed.
“Ha! Of course not! I’m eager for you to come in! But you have to want it bad enough. Paziere isn’t available to the lazy or the cowardly.” He laughed heartily as the small circle of gold on his head glinted in the sun.
Anna stared at him and then around him. A man was cooking meat over a huge pit, some small distance down the path to the right. That must have been the source of the delicious smells. The castle loomed straight ahead, but a large crepe-myrtle tree in front, blocked most of it from view. A short rock wall at the edge of the path was just the size for a sit-down under the tree.
To the left and down a click, were three people playing a flute, a lyre and a bongo. They also wore a small gold circle on their heads.
Then to Anna’s left, two boys petted a short fluffy dog. She glanced at them quickly and then back at the man.
“Is it what you expected?” he inquired, pleasantly smiling.
“I didn’t know what to expect. We were only told to stay home and not be curious.” Anna answered flatly.
The man stuck his hand out. “I’m Lucius, the King.” he smiled. “And I’m so happy you’ve arrived. You are quite amazingly beautiful!” he said as he looked her over, and scanned her attire.
Anna flinched at the admiration and suddenly wished she could hide behind the vines because of her shabby clothes. Compared to his fine robe, she was embarrassed.
“I’m Anna” she said as she lowered her eyes and reached out to return his hand-shake.
“Welcome, Anna.” he grinned even wider. “Please don’t demur to me when you are every bit as grand as anyone here.”
“I’m … what?” she trembled.
“Absolutely as grand as anyone!” he repeated and smiled again at her clothing.
Anna looked down in shame at her shabbiness and discovered she was wearing a silk brocade gown in light blue. She gasped and covered her mouth.
Gingerly she touched the silk and fingered the delicately embroidered petals scattering the soft folds. Her hands were manicured, and unscathed, and on her left hand, she wore a grand ring of diamonds and amethyst.
Hardly able to catch her breath, she again looked at Lucius in trembling wonder. His bright eyes seemed to sparkle.
“Yes, it’s all true.” he assured her. “You stepped into your true identity when you stepped through the gate.”
“But I’m nobody! I’m a simple village girl!” she gasped, confused and wondering what sorcery had produced such things.
(to be continued)