Prompt: There is an island where all lost things end up. Today you wake up, cold and wet, on the beach of that island.
Sophia shifted slightly where she lay. Whatever it was she was lying on wasn’t very comfortable, it was cold, wet and scratchy. As reason began to return, she realised she was lying on wet sand and there were waves splashing with increasing frequency and strength up her legs.
She groaned her way up into a sitting position and looked around. She was on a deep but narrow piece of sandy beach, backed by cliffs and the bay it bordered showed piles of jagged rocks above and just below the waterline. A waterline that was rising as the tide came in.
She wasn’t sure how far or fast it rose, and decided to err on the side of caution. Staggering to her feet, she made her way towards the rocky walls at the back of the beach hoping to find a way out. Luck was on her side, briefly, there was a narrow, but clearly well-used path snaking up the cliff towards, well, who knew what. It was better than drowning though, so up she went, trying to work out how she’d come to be here on the way.
The trek up was a decent one, but she still had no clue as to where or why and was starting to realise she was a bit sketchy on who as well.
It wasn’t that she didn’t know her name, or who her parents were, or her home, she just couldn’t remember who she was meant to be.
Tucking the problem away to examine when there wasn’t a cliff to scramble up, she continued up the path.
Arriving at the top, Sophia found herself in a field of sorts, bordered by a wood, and a strange combination cottage/tower off to one side. Since her destination was now obvious, she took the time to look back across the bay she’d woken up in. Beyond the rocks, was spray and mist, and, very faintly behind that, she could see the hills, woods and city of her home, the royal palace standing proud atop the jumble of buildings leading to the port.
The gasp hurt, she was on the Lost Island, she had lost herself. Stories had been told of people disappearing, some never to return, while others came back, changed, not always for the better. They had all lost some part of who they were, and the magic of the island, on which all lost things ended up, pulled them there in the same way as a dropped coin, or wind-snagged scarf.
The ground met her backside with a thump, what part had she lost, she rummaged through her mind. Then it came back.
Sophia had been betrothed to the Crown Prince in her cradle. All her life she had been brought up with the sole purpose and focus on being the best possible future queen of the country, and the best possible wife to its future king. Everything in her life had revolved around this truth. She was educated in history, economics, international trade and alliances, she spoke five languages fluently and could be charmingly uncertain in two more. She could dance, sing, sew, negotiate, strategise, take out four attackers bare handed (her father didn’t like the idea of a defenceless queen – which is why he also taught her woodcraft, tracking and a few other, rather less than expected skills).
And now Crown Prince Stephen had gone off on an adventure, found a damsel in distress, fallen in love, and proposed. She couldn’t blame him (well, mostly not, in strong moments), they were good friends, having grown up together along with his younger brother, Michael, and their cousin Connor, but it meant their affection was more that of friends and siblings than lovers. Both sets of parents assured her this was a good thing, until yesterday.
Yesterday Connor had galloped up to the front door of her parents’ home, so much fury and pain radiating, Sophia thought someone had died. Instead, the core of her identity was torn out and thrown to the winds. Her future husband was now someone else’s future husband and Connor didn’t want Sophia to find out when Stephen brought his new love to visit, later that day. He’d always been her loyal champion, and his anger and misery on her behalf held her strong through that afternoon tea with the new future queen.
That memory got her off the ground and walking. It had been excruciating. The girl was a pretty little thing, rather like a kitten, and a kitten was not ever going to sit well on a throne. Sophia hoped that wasn’t sour grapes speaking, but she worried. Stephen wasn’t the strongest of people, he was so kind, without someone like her or Connor – who’d been raised to guard Stephen’s more extreme impulses – he was likely to give away the farm (often literally). A caring monarch was good, a doormat was a problem and she knew a large part of her upbringing had been structured especially to counter Stephen’s weaknesses, just he was to counter hers.
Her musings were interrupted by her arrival at the cottage/tower, she knocked.
The door was opened by a bright-eyed woman who may have been thirty, fifty, or anywhere in between. She called back into the house, “I was right, we have another waif”.
The lady smiled and gestured for Sophia to enter. Sophia figured she was already lost, if this was a dangerous move, it wasn’t likely to be any less dangerous than running into the woods, especially now evening was drawing in.
The interior of the cottage managed to combine light and airy, with cosy and welcoming – it could never be created by, or house, anyone with malicious intent.
A door on the far side of the room opened and a man came through from what Sophia presumed was the base of the tower.
“Aha! And in what way are you lost young lady? Have you lost your mind, your memory, your religion or your reason?”
Sophia paused, trying to explain her particular loss – “I’ve lost my identity and purpose, I think, it’s all a bit confusing.”
“Well it would be, but at least you can still speak and know down from up, that’s a better starting point than some of the others who’ve been through here over the years.”
Sophia grimaced, that sounded deeply unpleasant.
“So, what now? How do I get home? Is there a boat or something? Or am I going to have to do some crazy quest to find myself? Please don’t let it include freezing showers in mountain waterfalls, I hate being cold.”
The couple laughed. The woman picked up the conversation, “You’re partially right, you do need to go on a quest of sorts, but it’s really just you looking for your way off the island – it’s different for everyone – and generally involves the finding of other things along the way.”
“But not right now, night’s falling and you’ve had a rather busy day, how about a bath and change of clothes, dinner and a good sleep in one of our spare rooms? We can look at your situation in the morning and make some more considered suggestions and decisions in the light of day.”
Sophia smiled and decided to go with her gut in trusting these people, a short time of peace in the haven of their home sounded perfect, and she was hoping to hear their story at some point as well.
The couple introduced themselves as Evan and Imelda and Imelda showed Sophia through to a warm, comfortable room, fully equipped with a comfortable bed, with slightly mismatched posts, and a dressing table sporting a full brush and mirror set.
“This will be yours while you stay, now come along to the clothing rooms and see what we can find in there for you.”
As they walked, Imelda explained, the various lost items were sorted by magic (Evan’s magic) into various ‘receiving areas’ so they could be more easily dealt with. “Otherwise we’d fast be drowning in odd socks and pot lids.”
Arriving at a room that was a mix of wardrobe and laundry pile, they started looking through for clean, newish things in Sophia’s size – there was a surprising amount.
“Oh yes, people are awfully careless with their washing – we always get a load in after a windy day.”
“How do you ‘deal’ with them and the other lost items?”
“Oh it’s quite easy really, we sort through what’s good enough to be re-homed, and what’s only good for rags, then send out packages to various charity homes, orphanages, hospitals and the suchlike. It saves them a great deal of trouble and makes sure whatever was lost is properly used and appreciated. Anything that’s not good for people works well for crafters making rag rugs, patchworks and other useful odds and ends.”
Sophia was now in possession of fresh, clean underwear, still wrapped in paper from the store, she thought it might be the set she had ordered a month or so before, that somehow never made it home – the embroidery looked very familiar – along with a dress that, while not as ornate as those her mother preferred to see her in, was well-made, sensible and a lovely shade of soft spring green (except for special state occasions where she must be seen, a future queen should opt for quiet good taste, soft colours and modest styles).
The next stop was the bathing room, a deep bathing pool gently steamed in tiled surrounds while piles of fresh towels stacked themselves up against the wall and a set of shelves displayed a bewildering array of soaps, lotions and interesting potions.
“Are ALL these lost items?”
“Yes, as I said, people do get awfully careless and it’s the richer who are the more careless, so the items we get do tend to be rather nice.”:
With that, Imelda left her to her bath and new wardrobe.
A short time later, clean, warm and freshly turned out, Sophia returned to the kitchen, led by her nose. It has been a long time since that awful afternoon tea.
She joined the older couple at the table and tucked in to her serve of a delicious stew with fresh bread.
Once the edge was off her hunger, her questions crowded in again.
Evan eyed her with amusement, “well you’d best be out and asking them, or your head will surely explode.”
Sophia flushed, “Am I really that obvious?” (A future queen should show interest and concern, but never vulgar curiosity)
“To those of use who’ve met many people under many circumstances on this island, yes. There are always things that are hard to understand and it quite often starts with the two of us.”
Imelda laughed, “Such an ego on the man, but sometimes knowing this island provides a comfortable and happy home to those that wish it, makes things easier for those who no longer know their place in the world.”
“So how did you both come to be here?”
Evan looked slightly guilty, “Well the island is really my fault.”
“Well, I’m a wizard and back when I was young and rather over-dramatic, I fell in love with a young lady who didn’t love me back. Now fair’s fair, you can’t compel love where it doesn’t wish to be, so I thought I could fix my sad situation by compelling my lost heart to return to me. Unfortunately my dramatics led to some imprecise wording in the spell and EVERYTHING that’s lost now comes to my home.”
“The lass I was making a fool of myself over couldn’t decide between hilarity and sympathy, but she helped me put some order to things and then went her own way, married a farmer just up the coast and used to occasionally accidentally on purpose lose my favourite apple pies. I figure I’ve done some silly things for love, but my heart has always had very good taste.”
Sophia turned her head to Imelda, “My story doesn’t hit Evan’s level of whimsy I’m afraid. I’m the one who arrived unable to speak.”
She smiled sadly at Sophia’s horror.
“I lost my memory, and my voice after my husband tried to choke me for not having his preferred beer in the cellar. I arrived completely disoriented and unable to speak and utterly terrified of Evan, without knowing why. His patience and care are the only reasons I’m alive.” Evan reached for Imelda’s hand.
“Once I was healthy enough, I undertook my quest, found the deity of Lost Island who returned my memories, and I knew I was never going back. Evan showed me what a true partnership is and how real love can be, and I’d be cursed as beyond a fool to ever give that up.”
Evan leaned forward, “And if you’re wondering about that scum-sucker of an ex-husband, well, let’s just say he rather sadly lost his human form, but seems to have become quite comfortable as a toad.”
Imelda smiled, and the atmosphere at the table lightened again. “Now I think that’s enough for tonight, you can ask more tomorrow.”
Sophia’s head was still spinning, trying to make sense of too much information and too many emotional pitfalls, she agreed and retired for the night, falling asleep immediately, despite her crazy situation.”
The next morning, her head was still overflowing, but one element from the previous night’s conversation begged further explanation.
As she helped Evan prepare breakfast (a future queen should always know how her household runs and be able to pitch in at any time) she asked about the reference Imelda had made to a god the night before.
“Oh, not a god, a deity. God implies a masculine gender and the deity decided to do away with such mundane things as gender, and in fact a corporeal body for much of the time, when they were lost to their worshippers.”
“Your island attracted a lost GOD? Sorry, deity?”
“Yes, and I wouldn’t say that’s the strangest thing here. We have quite a collection of creatures who survived on human belief that was somehow lost over time. Everything from unicorns to dragons to brownies to fae. And the more we get, the wider the island’s reach seems to become. We used to just fetch up lost items from the city. Now, well we had a mass inundation of genie lamps last week, we’re trying to work out how to free them without turning any over-powered psychopaths into the world”
“I feel like I’ve wandered into a fairy story.”
“In some ways you have, and you need to follow the rules of a fairy story to come out the other end. The trick is to make sure you’re following the path as a hero, not a villain.”
“And how do I do that?”
“Good question, the villains have always believed themselves to be heroes of some sort.”
With that he called through the door to Imelda to join them for breakfast.
Imelda brought a child with her, sleepy and a little scared of a new person but not enough to sacrifice breakfast.
Sophia looked to Imelda in question, she shook her head a little sadly, “Too many children are lost and only the lucky ones make it here.”
“Do they stay here with you?”
“Generally no, that old flame of Evan’s started an orphanage on her husband’s farm when it became obvious what was happening. It’s healthier for them to be in the normal world. It’s one of the main recipients of the clothing bundles, along with the lost coins, rings and other assorted trinkets that can pay for a comfortable childhood.”
Sophia nodded and smiled at the child, “What’s your name?”
The child looked down and mumbled, “n’t know”
“Well do you have a name for yourself in your mind that you’d like to use?”
Evan looked across approvingly.
The child looked up, caught by the idea, “I could choose?”
The little face lit up, “Can I be Princess Sunshine?”
Imelda quietly said, “Since you’re a boy, most people would expect you to prefer Prince Sunshine, but if you’d rather be Princess, then that’s who you are.”
The child thought deeply, then huffed, “That’s too silly and hard, I’ll just be Sunshine then.”
Evan smiled, “You can always work out if you want to be Princess, Prince, Warrior, Artisan or Jester later on.”
Sunshine, serious again, nodded, storing the titles away for future review.
The room was silent for a while as everyone tucked in.
Once she had eaten her fill, Sophia sat back and started reviewing what she knew so far, and what her next steps might be.
The rest of the group finished in their own time, allowing her the space to think.
She looked between them, “So what will you be doing today, anything I can help with?”
Evan looked at her, “You don’t want to get straight into your quest?”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. I feel like I need a couple of days to just collect myself and understand what I might need to do in order to find who I am again. That will give me a better outline of what the quest should be, at least to start with, than me running out the door unplanned and unprepared.”
She felt a quiet approval roll across the table towards her and relaxed a little. These people were already important to her and knowing she was approaching things in a way they felt suitable was comforting.
Breakfast over, she helped with the cleaning up, then was turned loose in the maze of rooms below the cottage that were set aside for the collection of various types of lost items.