The first week Felicie spent at the cottage was awkward as the siblings became acquainted with one another. Johannes, being the eldest, made it his personal responsibility to ensure Felicie’s comfort, while Franz, being closest to her in age, made it his job to try to keep the young Princess entertained. Whatever resentment the brothers may have had toward their sister was well hidden, or perhaps forgotten under the warm gaze of a sister who clearly adored her long-lost brothers.
Felicie did her best to take her part in the daily operations of their home. She helped check traps for game, pulled weeds in the kitchen garden, chopped vegetables for dinner, scrubbed the floors, and countless mended shirts and socks.
“How are you holding up so far little sister?” Johannes asked Felicie as they drew water from the well to wash the breakfast dishes one morning. “Life out here is very different from living in the castle. You are not used to doing such chores.”
“I don’t mind the work.” Felicie answered honestly. “I like being of use, and using my hands to earn my bread.” She looked down at her small, smooth hands that showed only the smallest hint of new callouses.Then looked at her brother’s rough, scarred hands.
“Do you hate me?” She whispered, afraid of the answer to a question that had weighed heavily on her mind since reading the mysterious letter on her birthday.
“Hate you? How could I hate my own kin?” Johannes asked as he poured water from the bucket into the dish tub.
“I’m the reason your lives were cursed! It’s my fault you live in a cottage instead of a castle. It’s my fault you couldn’t get married or start a family. It’s my fault you all have to work so hard!”
Johannes dropped the bucket and kneeled down beside his youngest sibling, handing her a handkerchief from his vest pocket. Hugging her while she cried out her fears and guilt, until she calmed down enough to hear his answer.
“Do you know how excited I was when I thought about having a little sister? Or how worried I was when the dark sorcerer cast his curse.”
Felicie shook her head against her brother’s chest, marveling at how similar it felt to being comforted by her father.
“I wasn’t afraid of the curse harming me; I was already an adult and a soldier before you were born, but I was afraid of how the curse would hurt the ones I love- including you.” Johannes patted her head the same way he stroked the heads of the younger boys when they had nightmares.
“You worried about me?”
“Every day. Every week when Mother and Father came to visit I asked about you.”
“Yes, we all did. You are our one and only little sister!”
“But, it’s my fault…”
“No, Little Goose. It’s not your fault.” Johannes hugged her tighter, trying to convey the brotherly affection of 13 years into a single embrace. “There were times we were angry, or scared, or frustrated, but never at you. You didn’t ask for this curse. You didn’t ask for us to be hidden away. You didn’t even ask to be born. Don’t blame yourself for circumstances out of your control. Do you understand?”
Felicie nodded weakly.
“Knowing my family is safe is all that has ever mattered to me.”
Johannes stood up and helped Felicie to her feet so they could finish the task at hand.
“Besides,” Johannes said in a lighter voice “I’m not so old that I can’t get married. I’ll make you an aunt yet!”