Estelle spent a second consecutive night awake with her twirling and tumbling thoughts while sleep was otherwise occupied elsewhere. After an hour of lying in her bed, staring at the black space between her and the ceiling, she decided to try writing her thoughts down in her diary, hoping that once they were down on paper they would be out of her head.
“I am obviously getting desperate,” she muttered as she rooted around in her desk drawers for the long abandoned book. “I haven’t even thought about writing in this silly thing in years!”
She eventually found it hiding beneath a cracked hand mirror and several sheets of notes she had taken during a lesson on proper etiquette when visiting with foreign royalty (which were then ignored as soundly as her diary had been). The diary’s hunter green leather cover was ripped in several places and the yellow sunflower in the bottom right corner was barely recognizable.
Placing the diary on her desk, she moved her candle closer and pulled open the cover with quill in hand, fully prepared to write. Several minutes later, however, she was still slowly flipping through the pages she had written as a young girl, a small smile playing at her lips.
“Oh my… I could not have ever thought that about Henry!” she whispered, a giggle threatening to escape between her fingers. “This is so embarrassing, I should just throw the whole thing into the fire.”
But she read on, her quill now forgotten on the desk. She would scan through an entry until a sentence or a word sparked a memory and then she would be swept up in the scents and sounds that accompanied it as she relived a conversation or an outing or a morning in the Great Hall.
Jerry’s name triggered many of those memories. In fact, she was startled to see just how many times the jester appeared in those pages. Even with all the time they spent together growing up, she had not expected to see his name so often.
“I wonder where he has been wandering off to these last few days?”
He had not been in his room when she dropped by on the way to the tea room and again nobody she asked knew where he might be. So she had tried again as soon as she was able to escape the boredom that was conversing with the ladies of the court, but that visit had proved equally unsuccessful. And frustrating, if she were to be honest with herself.
She very badly wanted to speak with him before the official pronouncement from her father was delivered the next morning. There was no one else that would understand her the way Gerald would, and he seemed to always find a way to make her laugh, no matter how bleak things appeared to be. And there was still the matter of how things between them would change once her husband arrived.
Before she could get any further, Estelle’s thoughts were completely derailed when her eyes fell on a one line entry. Glancing at the date, she found that it had been written during the summer of her eighth year. With a deep frown, she read it again.
Joanna can go rot in the sewers.
“Who in the world is Joanna?” she whispered, reading the line again. She couldn’t remember anyone by that name ever being her teacher and it certainly wasn’t a friend - she would never write something so spiteful about someone she liked, even if it was only a little bit.
The next day’s entry contained no mention of the mystery girl, nor the day after that. Turning the page, Estelle again found nothing about anyone name Joanna, nor a Joan, or even a Jo. But then she flipped to the next page and found an entry, about a week later, that was even worse than the first.
I hope Joanna chokes on her hat and dies. Or that at least she breaks a leg while she’s practicing her routine. Maybe she could mess up while she’s juggling something heavy and break her nose or something. That would do.
“How absolutely horrid,” Estelle said, shocked at her younger self’s behavior. Reluctantly she read it again, shaking her head in disgust, when she finally remembered.
She had been exchanging letters with Gerald while he was away training to become the next Royal Jester and by the time of those two entries he had been away nearly two years. He had come for short visits twice each year, but otherwise their only way of keeping in contact was through the mail. Up to that point his notes only spoke of his training and how much he missed the castle and his friends there. Until the letter in which he mentioned his new friend, a fellow trainee named Joanna.
Estelle had been furious, she recalled with darkening cheeks as she sat at her desk reading the two entries over and over. She had been forgotten and betrayed in favor of some commoner from a village that wasn’t even shown on any map she could find (and she had checked them all). She was so disconsolate after reading the first letter she hadn’t written a response. So Gerald had written again, concerned that she wasn’t well and asking if there was anything he could do. Estelle had been thrilled… until she reached the second page, which consisted entirely of a retelling of a grand adventure he had gone on with this Joanna girl.
“Well, that explains that one,” Estelle muttered as she read the second entry again, feeling utterly mortified. “I obviously needed more friends if I was guarding this one so… ridiculously. Jerry would laugh his head off if he ever read this.”
She tried to brush it off as that and little more, but her thoughts kept returning to the strength of her response to a new girl in Gerald’s life. It couldn’t have been anything more than simple worry about losing her best friend, she told herself firmly. She was only eight years old at the time, just a silly little princess who had a lot of growing up to do.
Flipping ahead absent-mindedly, Estelle moved through the next four years without finding anything to distract her. She was so absorbed in her thoughts about Joanna that she almost didn’t notice the appearance of a second name, five years later. Turning back several pages, she found what appeared to be the first entry that referenced it.
I do not care for the princess that appeared in the Great Hall this morning. Holly was her name, or something like that. Terribly plain, poorly spoken. I have no idea why Jerry thought so much of her.
“Oh, not again,” Estelle said, cringing as she began to read through the following days. “Oh, what is wrong with me?”
Jerry simply cannot stop talking about Holly. She must be a witch or something. All she did was smile at him!
Estelle covered her eyes for a moment, then slid her fingers apart just far enough to read the next entry.
Princess Horseface finally returned to her kingdom today. Jerry looked like he wanted to cry - absolutely unbelievable! He could do much better than that simpering donkey.
“How could I be so blind?” Estelle asked herself as she closed her diary and sat back in her chair. She stared at the offending book for several minutes before she put it away, this time making sure it was somewhere she wouldn’t be able to ignore it for years at a time. Like she had ignored her true feelings for Gerald.
Her face fell into her hands and a muffled moan escaped her. She knew immediately that she could not tell anyone, not even Grace, about this. It simply would not do, a princess falling for the jester in her father’s court. Nothing could ever come of it anyway - she would become the laughing stock of the entire kingdom. Her father’s reign would not be remembered for all the progress he had achieved or the battles he had won. It would be remembered for his dolt of a daughter.
Besides, she thought with a dejected sigh, it wasn’t like Gerald returned her feelings.
Estelle shook her head furiously but she couldn’t dislodge the doubt that had taken root the moment the question had entered her thoughts. She was unable to stop herself from running through their conversations over the years, looking for hints and signs that there was anything more than friendship in his eyes or words.
“Stop this, stop this, stop this!” she cried, slapping her hand down on her leg. But she couldn’t, and so it continued on. An hour later, she was in her bed, tears of frustration streaming down her face.