“I cannot undo the curse.” Odine looked at her daughter with eyes full of tears.
“I wish I could, for you- and the boys, the baby. But Raol, his magic is too strong.”
“So there’s nothing you can do? Nothing we can do?” Queen Maya shrunk into her armchair, clutching her belly.
“Do not despair, my daughter! I cannot undo Raol’s spell, but we can still protect the children. All of the children.” The older woman began to pace the room as she conveyed her plan.
“Do you remember the cottage where I used to midwife?”
“Yes, the cottage in the forest.”
“It is protected by magic, my magic, my mother’s magic, and her mother before her. Such old enchantments are strengthened by time and blood.”
“Even he could not breach the protective barriers. Only the blood of my blood can enter the grounds.”
The Queen and her mother talked late into the night, discussing every detail of their plan to delay the dreadful curse. When the Queen finally left her mother’s hearth, she found her husband was still bent over his desk, attempting to smooth over the political upheaval caused by the botched crowning ceremony.
“Darling, come to bed.” Maya entreated her husband.
“I can’t, my dear. There’s still so much to do. So many dignitaries to respond to, so many nobels concerned about the future of the Kingdom with this curse.” Barnim rubbed his chin, where stubble was already beginning to grow.
“And I still need to find a way to protect myself. I don’t mind if I am cursed, but how could this happen to our children?” His voice broke, and his shoulders shook. “How could I fail them like this? How can I call myself a father?”
Maya crossed the room to her husband, and gently pulled his hands away from his face and cradled his head to her chest. After a moment, Barnim pulled his wife into his lap so they could comfort one another.
“Darling,” Maya said when her husband’s broken sobs subsided. “Mother and I have been talking, and we’ve come up with a plan.”
There was still a few months left before the Princess was due to arrive. That meant a few months to prepare. Odine and Maya went to the old cottage almost daily. They brought no servants, and left the castle guards at the edge of the forest. As Maya outfitted the old cottage for her sons, Odine strengthened the protective spells around the clearing.
“These 12 Violet lilies house a protective spell for each of our boys.” Odine explained as she cast her final enchantments. “As long as they bloom by the cottage door, the curseshould be held at bay.”
In time, the older boys were brought along to test the magic barriers and make the final preparations.
“How long will have to live here?” Johannes asked as he unpacked jars of preserves into the well-stocked pantry. “We have enough food here to last us for years!”
“We don’t know.” Odine answered honestly. “At least until the curse is broken, or has run its course.”
“So, it could be years before we can come home? Before we can meet our sister?” Johannes stopped stocking the heavy shelves, and turned to look at his mother who was sorting herbs into large baskets.
“I am so sorry, Johannas.” She replied in a small voice. “This is all my fault.”
“Mother, Mama- we will be okay.”
The weeks passed by quickly. As Autumn approached, the Princes packed their bags in preparation for their sister’s birth.
“On the day the baby arrives, we will hang a white flag from the window if the baby is a boy and a red flag if the baby is a girl.” There was still hope that this child could be another son, thus circumventing the curse, but no one truly believed it possible with both the Queen’s Mother and the dark sorcerer Raol’s predictions.
The day the Queen went into labor, the King and Queen hugged each of their sons in turn. The Queen was led to the birthing chamber with her mother, and the King escorted his son’s to the edge of the cottage’s protective barrier, that even he could not cross.
“Bärchen, watch for the flag and take care of your brothers.” The King’s voice was thick and heavy. “We will find a way, my boys. We will not give up until we find a way.”
Little Franz, being the youngest and the lightest, climbed high into the the tallest pine tree at the edge of the protective circle. Nestled high in the branches he could just make our the tower window that would bear the mark of their fate. Despite all his brother’s efforts to bring him down, Franz kept his vigil until the sun began to set. Just as the last light stole his view, he saw the red flag fly.