Chapter 3: Sixteen Years Later...
"So, for 16 long years, the whereabouts of the princess remained a mystery," Momoko narrated. "While deep in the Forest of Hope, in a small cottage, the Mages of the Rose carried out their well-laid plan. Living like mortal women, they had raised the child as their very own, and called her Erika."
The cottage that Belle, Flonne, and Reminy took shelter in within the Forest of Hope was a fairly small one nestled by a river; a rather large tree had grown onto the roof of it, giving the cottage an almost natural feel to it.
One morning, a sweet, angelic voice was heard singing from the inside. And someone opened the wooden doors of the window; it was a beautiful young woman with long, blonde hair, and crystaline-blue eyes. She wore a lime green tanktop under a black vest, hip-hugging capri shorts with a loose brown belt that bore a crown-shaped buckle, black fingerless gloves, and black and white shoes. Yes, Jaqulin Strife (under the guise of Erika Fawkes) had grown into a fine, young woman, with the beauty that Belle had bestowed unto her, and the singing voice that Flonne had promised (which was rather ironic, seeing that she never really liked it when Flonne tried to sing her lullabies when she was still a baby).
Using a cloth, Erika cleaned the sill of the window as she sang her little tune. Then, when she was done, she drew her head back in and headed downstairs.
"On this, her 16th birthday," Momoko continued, her voice rising in excitement, "The Mages of the Rose had planned a party, with something extra special for a surprise."
Meanwhile, downstairs, the trio that had cared for Jaqulin for so many years was huddled around a table, looking over a book of some sort. Belle and Flonne hadn't changed all that much over the past 16 years, thanks in large part to slowed aging. Reminy, however, was different; gone was the adorable little five year old girl that held her Winnie the Pooh plush close, and in her place was a fine young woman with lightly-tanned skin, and long brown hair done in loose curls. She wore a black t-shirt that clung to her body, a green belt that wrapped around her tiny waist, gray jean pants, and baby blue heels. On her head was a fedora.
"Oooh, this one looks nice!" Flonne said, pointing to one of the dresses on the page.
"Here's the one I picked out for her," Belle pointed to another dress on the other page. "It reminds me so much of the one I wore at mine and Adam's wedding!"
"That looks so good, Mom!" Reminy smiled. "Jaq will love it, for sure!"
"Now, all we need to do is make a few small adjustments to it..." Belle said, eyeing the picture thoughtfully.
"Can we make it emerald green?" Reminy asked hopefully.
"No, sweetie, we're making it gold," Belle shook her head.
"Awww," Reminy pouted.
"All we need to do is find a way to get Jaqulin out of the house for an hour or two," Belle said, tapping her chin thoughtfully.
"Come to think of it, how are we going to do that?" Flonne asked.
"We'll come up with something," Belle shrugged. "Now, all we need to do is..."
"And what might you three be up to?"
Belle, Flonne and Reminy wheeled around and saw Jaqulin standing behind them, leaning on her broom and smiling slyly. Quickly, Flonne snapped the book shut.
"Us? Up to something?!" she said in a panicky voice. "N-n-no, o-of course not, Erika! Why would we be up to something? Because it certainly didn't look like we were thinking about what to do for---"
Reminy suddenly clapped Flonne's mouth shut. "We need you to go and pick some berries for us, dear," Belle said sweetly.
"Ugh, again?" Erika groaned. "But I went and picked berries yesterday, didn't I?"
"Well, yeah, but we need more," Reminy responded. "Flonne ate most of them yesterday!"
"Mmmph mmmph mmph!" Flonne snapped from beneath Reminy's hand, clearly trying to say, "I did not!"
"So, why don't you go on ahead and pick some more for us?" Belle asked, handing Erika a basket.
"Well...I suppose if you need more, I'll go and pick more," Erika shrugged.
"Thank you so much," Belle said as Erika took up a shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders. Belle hurried her out the door, saying, "Now, take your time in finding the best berries! And don't stray too far from the forest!"
"And don't speak to strangers!" Flonne called, freeing herself from Reminy's hold. "At least anyone that's not those nice children you tell us about!"
"So long!" Erika called back as she took off into the woods.
Belle deftly shut the door behind her. "Phew...that was a close one," she said. "Honestly, Flonne, must you get so jittery?"
"I'm sorry, Belle, but she took me by surprise!" Flonne pleaded.
"N-nevermind that," Belle shook her head. "Let's get going on Jaqulin's birthday party!"
"I'll bake the cake!" Flonne piped up.
"And I'll do her dress," Belle said, dipping into the sewing basket.
"Sweet, I'll get our wands," Reminy smiled as she made off for the bedroom.
"Ah, ah, ah, hold it right there, young lady," Belle snapped, stopping Reminy cold in her tracks.
"Oh, come on, Mom," Reminy whined, "It's BEEN sixteen years! And I'm afraid my magic's grown rusty over the years!"
"Reminy, I'm sorry," Belle shook her head, "But we can't take any risks. We'll need to do this as humans do."
"But you've never really sewn by hand," Reminy argued. "And Flonne doesn't know how to cook! Well...at least not well."
"Hey! I can try, can't I?" Flonne snapped.
"In the meantime, Reminy, you can be my dummy," Belle stood Reminy on top of a stool.
"Awww..." Reminy whined. "I still think we should use our magic..." Reminy muttered the last part as Belle draped a long, yellowish piece of fabric over her head and snipped a hole through it.
"Let's see...three cups of flour," Flonne read from the cookbook. Noticing three cups at her side, she took them and scooped flour into each one, pouring them into the mixing bowl.
Reminy watched as Belle cut a hole in the sheet. "Uh, mom?" Reminy asked. "That sheet is a pale yellow,"
"Yes, what about it?" Belle asked.
"I wanted Jaq's dress to be a shade of green," Reminy insisted.
"Well, I chose gold," Belle said. "It's the perfect wedding color. Just ask your father."
Reminy groaned as Belle continued to heap more fabric onto Reminy.
Meanwhile, Flonne look over the cookbook again. "Let's see...seperate two eggs, and fold gently," she read. Flonne picked up two eggs, one in each hand, and spaced them apart. Despite her initial confusion, Flonne shrugged and put the eggs in the batter, and folded over part of the dough onto the eggs...with a hearty crack. "Uh, oh, that didn't sound good," Flonne gulped.
Belle continued to work on the dress...or rather, it would've looked like a dress instead of a big patchwork ball. You could tell that, despite some of her best qualities, Belle wasn't exactly the greatest seamstress around.
Then, Reminy poked her head out. "Darnit, Mom, I can't breathe!" she gasped. "Gah, I never knew being a dummy was so hard..."
"Um...what's a tsp?" Flonne asked.
"That's short for teaspoon, Flonne," Belle said as she worked.
"Oh! Thank you!" Flonne chirped as she took a scoop of sugar and pressed on with her cooking.
Belle seemed to stop her work and sigh deeply. "It's hard to believe it's been sixteen years, hasn't it?" she asked.
"I know," Flonne said. "It only feels like we brought her here a chapter ago...when really, it WAS sixteen years canonically."
"Yeah," Reminy said, though to be truthful, she didn't quite get what Flonne said. "Just a little baby girl...my baby sister, almost..." Reminy's eyes welled up with tears.
"Reminy? Hunny, you're crying," Belle said, standing up and drying her tears away.
"After this, Jaqulin will be a princess," Reminy said, holding back tears. "And we won't have Erika anymore..."
"Oh...you're right," Flonne said. "I'm going to miss her..."
"We all are," Belle said. "But we all knew this day was coming. It's just...none of us thought it would come so soon. Sixteen years..."
"Sixteen wonderful years," Reminy sobbed. The trio looked downtrodden for a few moments, reminiscing about the time they shared with their daughter. But Belle was the first one to snap herself back to reality.
"Let's no waste any more time moping," she said quickly. "Come on, it's only a matter of time before Jaqulin comes home again!"
"Aye-aye!" Flonne saluted, and the three Mages of the Rose got right back to work.
End of Chapter 3