As promised, O readers, Fiction Friday right on time! Well, maybe a little later than usual, but there were steamed dumplings and dogs to pet out in the main room, and after one incredibly frustrating week at work, I needed the relaxation. Now I shall share relaxation with you, and I hope that you will share your happiness with me!
Today's Fiction Friday is yet another in my semi-endless fairy tale retellings, and harks back to some of the lesser-known plot twists of the original Snow White. We all know the Disney version, in which the princess is awakened by true love's kiss, but in the original it was something a little more, shall we say, prosaic which brought her out of her apple-induced coma. Not to mention, her stepmother's fate is downright gruesome.
Playing off this, I came up with this week's little story, and hope you enjoy it. Let me know, and it is possible that the next time I blog, I will have some VERY interesting news... wait and see!
Bianca Atrica, princess of the kingdom of Nix, looked up from the gems she would wear on her wedding day at the diffident tap on her door. "Just a moment," she said to her maid Felicia as the girl started towards the door, and carefully tidied the jewels away, feeling her usual mix of eagerness and reluctance as she locked the case. She enjoyed pretty things as much as the next girl, but a familiar feeling crept over her every time she saw or touched the jewelry bestowed upon her by her intended, Prince Vinnulo. She'd felt it last when she'd split an apple with an old peddler woman, and before that when she'd tried out a new set of stay-laces and a new comb for her hair.
That part of my life is over, she tried to remind herself, as she so often did. Vinnie will never let any harm come to me again—just think of what he's said he'll do if my stepmother dares come to our wedding...
She swallowed hard. On second thought, maybe I don't want to think of that.
Hoping to distract herself, she looked up as her maid opened the door, and smiled with real welcome for the tall, lanky person on the other side. "Master Luke. How lovely to see you. Have you come to refresh the flowers?"
"Yes, Your Highness, but—" The young undergardener took one step into the room and broke off with a yelp as his toe caught against an uneven place in the floorboards. Bianca had been braced for some such happening, and was up in a flash, catching the young man's arm before he could fall. "Thank you, Your Highness," he gasped gratefully, his fair complexion turning deep red. "I'm so sorry—"
"Oh, hush." Bianca steadied him until he had his balance back, then returned to her seat. "I could catch you hundreds of times before I began to repay my debt to you. Why, if you hadn't stumbled out in the woods that day, I would still be lying in a glass coffin at this very moment! Instead of which, I'm preparing to marry my prince."
"Er." Luke flushed even more darkly red, glancing back at the door (Felicia had shut it and returned to her sewing, though Bianca was certain her ears were wide open). "About that, Your Highness. I don't suppose—I mean, it's not my place—but then I didn't feel right—"
"Sit down," Bianca ordered, catching Felicia's eye and beckoning her over with one of the stools kept against the opposite wall for visitors. "Take a deep breath, get your words lined up, and then let them come out in their own time. There's no need to hurry."
"Yes, Your Highness." Luke sat as ordered, clasped his hands on his knees, and stared at them. "Do you love him?" he said after a few seconds, so quietly that Bianca could barely hear his words. "Prince Vinnulo, I mean."
"Love him?" Surprised, Bianca laughed. "What a question! I'm going to marry him!"
"I know that." Luke kept his eyes fixed on his hands. "But do you love him?"
"I don't know," Bianca said slowly. "That wasn't the sort of question I was raised to ask about the man I would marry. Is his bloodline acceptable, what are his prospects, but love?" She shrugged, feeling an odd relief at admitting it out loud. "No. I don't love him."
"Then will you be happy being his princess?" Luke seemed almost shocked at his words, but produced them defiantly nonetheless. "Or were you happier back in that little cottage with your friends the dwarves, making sure everything was tidy and there was a meal waiting at the end of the day?" He looked up as Bianca glanced worriedly at Felicia. "Don't worry about her," he said with a dismissive finger-flick in Felicia's direction. "She's known I'm crazy for years."
"I was there when Mother dropped you on your head, you mean," Felicia retorted, and Bianca covered a smile, seeing the resemblance between the two for the first time. "But it's a fair question, ma'am," she added to Bianca. "You don't seem happy when you're out with the Prince, or when I'm dressing you for another soiree or formal dinner. Only when you can steal a few minutes to slip off to the kitchens, or the sewing rooms." She raised an eyebrow at her brother. "Or the gardens."
"How do you two already know me better than I know myself?" Bianca asked whimsically. "You're quite right, the both of you. I did love living in that cottage, having that one bit of the world under my own control, and seeing the happiness on those faces because I was making their home warm and happy. Being a princess could make a difference for a great many people, I'm sure, but it feels cold and lonely. And when Vinnie talks about what he wants to do to my stepmother—" She shuddered. "I would feel safer if she were dead, yes, but red-hot shoes? What kind of twisted mind comes up with that?"
"The kind belonging to a man you shouldn't marry?" Luke suggested quietly, standing up. "Your Highness, if you wish to return to your friends' home, I will escort you there tonight, and no one will ever learn where you have gone from me. Though I may well have to find refuge in another kingdom thereafter—"
"Don't be silly, of course you'll stay with us," Bianca overrode him, putting on her firmest princess manner to hide her giddy relief. "You'll more than earn your keep if you put in a vegetable garden behind the cottage. And will you come as well?" she asked Felicia. "I could use another pair of hands. Dwarves are hard on their socks."
"I think perhaps I will." Felicia set aside her sewing. "If only to make sure someone in the house knows how to handle pushy door-to-door saleswomen!"