Orenda stared at the locked gate of the workhouse. She watched her supervisor, looking very smug, turn on her heel and follow the headmaster back inside. She had only had a few minutes to collect her things, which she had dumped onto her sheet and rolled up into a makeshift sack, which hung at her side; there wasn’t much inside it besides a change of clothes and a bar of soap. Thus, she turned her back on the only home she could ever remember, to take in the city around her.
It was a grim sight. The smoke from the workhouses permeated the air, and the soot it left in its wake clung to everything. Orenda rarely went outside, but she had seen everything she could see now from her window- everything was based around manufacturing, and she could feel the fires whirling around inside each of the buildings, and the hearts of those around her. They were gruff people, as covered in soot and ash as she was, and for the most part, they ignored her.
There was no use standing around gawking. Orenda was likely a good ten years old, she had been terminated from her last position, and she supposed that it was now time to make her way in the world. That was, after all, what long-lost princesses needed to do. And Orenda was almost certain that she was a long-lost princess.
She knew nothing of her parents, but she did hear legends about fire elves. She knew that they were a people who had existed before the earth elves arrived, even if it had been in a primitive state. Orenda liked to envision a wild and free kingdom, where the people were not confined to buildings and jobs. Perhaps they lived outside, in huts or tents or somesuch, and held grand ceremonies where they threw intruders like the earth elves into volcanos. Her parents, obviously, would have been royalty. Elves lived long lives, and when the kingdom fell, her parents would have gone into hiding. They had to have lost her somewhere along the way. She didn’t remember where she had been before the workhouse, but she knew she had come there, so she had to come from somewhere.
Her parents weren’t really dead, of course. They were hiding with a group of fire elven rebels plotting to take down the empress and restore their kingdom. Once their army was strong enough, they would come back for her- but she had been taken from the place they left her, wherever it had been, and put in the workhouse. Because she seldom went outside, they had no way of knowing that she was there. But, now her princess powers had awakened, and she was outside, so it would only be a matter of time before she was found.
She picked a direction, and began to walk.
The cobblestone street was not thickly tafficed during the workday and she was interested to see that the further she went, the less grey the buildings were. It was never exactly clean, and she could not see the sky, but the buildings became less black, and the people became less sooty. The way that they dressed changed too- fewer people wore rolled-up sleeves and filthy boots; Orenda was intrigued to see that women dressed like the empress on the posters, something she had once believed to have been reserved for royalty. They wore long skirts that only did not drag the ground because of their high heels. Their waists were cinched with corsets and their faces painted. She moved from the middle of the street to watch them, going to and fro about their business, moving into and out of buildings that she finally realized were shops.
They had children.
Orenda watched a well-dressed earth elf woman step down from a carriage with the help of a human footman, then watched a little girl who looked remarkably like her do the same. Orenda thought that the woman was probably the mother, and the child probably the daughter. The woman was not the queen, but the little girl looked like a princess.
Orenda crossed the street to watch them.
They entered a shop that proclaimed itself to be a grocer and Orenda stared through the window as the woman spoke to the man behind the counter. The little girl had taken a bag, and was filling it using a scoop from a barrel that contained small, hard balls colored red and white. Orenda wondered what they were and tilted her head when the child stuck one in her mouth. Orenda let her eyes refocus and looked at her reflection in the window.
Her first thought was how odd it was that she looked so much healthier than the girl in the shop. It was obvious that the girl could have as much food as she wanted; she wasn’t confined to communal meal-times with pre-set portions. Yet… she was so much smaller than Orenda. That made no sense to her, as she flexed her arm and looked at the muscle on her reflection. Why was she stronger and healthier than an earth elf, if earth elves were supposed to be the chosen people of Thesis? She and the girl had to be about the same age, and the girl had more than she did.
So why was Orenda better than her? Why would she undoubtedly win a fight, were the two of them to have one?
Orenda did not believe that earth elves were the chosen people of Thesis, any more than she believed that the empress was the chosen avatar of a god.
She shrugged, turned her back on the grocers, and began to walk in the direction she had been going. After she had walked for some time, she began to realize that she should have, perhaps, stayed where she had been. Dusk was settling in and she was beginning to get hungry. She was about to turn around and head back, to ask the grocer if she could have something to eat, under the mistaken impression that, like in all fairy tales, he would recognize her as the long-lost princess and be willing to help in any way he could, when she heard a voice.