Transformations with The Little Mermaid

Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid in Denmark

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid in Denmark

 

Having a blog has taught me some interesting things about myself. Some things I already knew and the blog just solidified the fact (i.e. I thrive on deadlines because without them my default is lazy). Some were funny (like how ridiculously happy it makes me when someone leaves a comment). How guarded I am was a big surprise.

I like meeting people in person. I strike up random conversations on mass transit, waiting for my daughter to be dismissed from school, in elevators, etc. I’ll answer questions, give advice and even share my phone number if I think we’re going to be friends (I know this is totally against what Winnie the Pooh taught me when he sang “Be too smart for strangers.”). I really like to share because invariably it leads to others sharing with you. I’m not a blabbermouth, but I’m rather open.

Not so with the internet. It took me two years to put my real name on the blog. I still don’t have a Facebook account because I’m uncomfortable having people randomly find me (I know what you’re thinking—but you have a blog!) and I do as much as I can to avoid signing up for anything that requires personal information. It’s something I continually struggle with—transformation is tricky. It’s like my relationship with the Little Mermaid.

I have a real problem with The Little Mermaid. The Disney version tells the story of a 16 year old who falls in love with a man she’s only seen once and proceeds to defy her father, give up her legs and voice to a sea witch, and then find a way to make the prince fall in love with her. Being Disney, she is able to persevere and win his love after which her father gives her legs and she and Prince Eric sail off into the sunset happy and married. Her age is my biggest qualm because as the mother of a headstrong daughter I shudder at how easily King Triton gave into Ariel’s hissy-fit. It’s the same reason I really dislike Romeo and Juliet (two teens throwing the ultimate hissy and make good on the threat “If I don’t get my way, I’ll just die!”). Despite writing YA I’m against hyperbole.

But the original story has her trading her tail for legs, which makes her the most graceful person on land but she must experience the pain of walking on dozens of knife points with every step. What did I learn? Real transformation is painful—a constant battle. Even after all that pain the tragic Little Mermaid opted to let her true love be happy with another instead of taking his life to regain her tail. I’ve never been a fan of martyrdom, but it makes a point.

Now, I’m almost ashamed to say, I finally read the original work by Hans Christian Andersen. (Imagine someone with a blog about fairy tales not having read a fairy tale!) In the real story she does lose the prince (and a chance at an immortal soul), but because of her selfless act she’s asked to join the “daughters of the air” who after three hundred years of good service earn an immortal soul. Being air she can bring breezes and “carry the scent of flowers through the air, bringing freshness and healing balm wherever we go.”

What all versions have in common is sacrifice. To get what you want, you may have to give something up. For me it’s anonymity. That’s probably why I started this blog by rewriting fairy tales…it gave me a place to hide.

After two years of blogging, I think I’m finally ready for my land legs even with the risk of stabbing knives (Does that count as hyperbole?). I still have issues with The Little Mermaid, but I understand what it’s like to know where you want to be and pursuing it.

Welcome to the new Fairytale Feminista blog, answering life’s questions one fairy tale at a time. See my new About Me page!

Losing it

I’ve been thinking about loss and fairy tales lately. It’s the prologue to most stories, shaping the hero’s or heroine’s current misfortune. Be they motherless, fatherless, or orphans loss is the beginning of a story in fairy tales. Disney has made this fact into a cliché. It’s been joked that Frozen didn’t become a true Disney movie until (spoiler alert) the parents are lost at sea. I almost think it’s pointless to warn you of the spoiler because as I mentioned before, it’s Disney’s hallmark.

So what can fairy tales tell us about loss? Is it the impetus that makes ordinary people into heroes? Do princesses (or would be princesses) jump at the chance to marry royal strangers because of “daddy issues”? Are feelings of abandonment just the push a boy needs to take on giants and consider thievery as a way of life? Maybe yes, but maybe nothing so blatant.

As a historian, I’m aware that these stories were written in a time when disease, war or poverty would likely tear apart families. But fairy tales don’t care about the mundane. They focus on the fantastical, spinning tales that take us out of the everyday. Wouldn’t you want to escape a reality in which becoming orphaned probably only meant a life of impoverishment and servitude? In the real world, Cinderella would have grown old and haggard at the beck and call of those three spiteful cats. Or she would have run away to the city and been forced into prostitution to survive.

Am I the only one who sees a face?

Am I the only one who sees a face?

But I’m not just a historian. I’m a person with whimsy who sees imprisoned souls in strangely shaped trees. All it takes is a too bright moon and I immediately start to spin a tale about a community of nightwalkers affected by its phases, collecting magical Moonshine. Not all the ideas become a full-fledged story, but more than a fair share get filed in my ideas folder. And one of the most basic things everyone wonders about is death and loss, so why isn’t it a prominent feature in fairy tales? Sleeping Beauty side-steps it with a sleeping spell meant to keep her in suspended animation for a century waiting for her “true love.” Snow White is barely cold in her glass coffin before Prince Charming comes along and dislodges the chunk of apple the dwarves were clearly too short to Heimlich. Red Riding Hood and her grandmother are swallowed whole by the Wolf only to be cut out of his belly by the Woodsman. Even the newest old story, Frozen, gives us a heroine who sacrifices her life and is rewarded by it being returned to her.

In my search for loss in fairy tales, I came across a story from my childhood. It falls under folklore and legend more than fairy tale, and is a popular story in Puerto Rico. It’s called La Leyenda de la Piedra del Perro, or The Legend of Dog Rock. Not far from El Morro in Old San Juan there’s a small beach with a long natural rock wall. At its tip is a rock formation that when looked at from the right angle resembles a sitting dog.

The story goes that a soldier, Enrique, from back when Puerto Rico was part of Spain, was stationed there, far from home and lonely for companionship. One day he finds an injured and emaciated puppy whom he nurses back to health with food and love. In return the dog never leaves his side and becomes his best friend. As is inevitable with all soldiers, Enrique is called to a battle which requires him to leave the dog behind. They part tearfully and as the boat carrying his human companion sails away, the dog (called Amigo) swims to the rock wall and sits there from sun up to sundown awaiting his return. There’s a brutal battle in which all hands, including Enrique, are lost. The dog overhears the news and rushes out to the wall waiting without respite. He stays so long and so still he turns to stone and remains there to this day.

I’m not sure what that story teaches us. On the one hand loss is something that can’t be gotten over and you can remain stuck in a moment of despair without moving on. Or it could mean that loss forces out the very nature of a being. For the dog, it was loyalty. It could be said that for the characters of popular fairy tales, it was a desire to be more or escape their current situation. In both cases, it led to profound change. Fairy tales teach us that no matter how mundane today might seem and yesterday was, tomorrow could be extraordinary–either good or ill. They teach us that loss is not the end of the story.

Waiting as taught by Thumbelina

I hate waiting.

I rank it up there with pulling teeth and stupid people. It’s not that I can’t deal with having a tooth pulled or muddle through interactions with the intentionally daft, but I’d rather not–thank you very much!

But writing has taught me about waiting because books don’t spring forth perfect and complete when you snap your fingers. I’ve tried and barring the sudden arrival of Samantha or Tabitha, it won’t happen. (I would have used a more contemporary reference like Charmed, but they were always so worried about that personal gain thing).

Currently I’m in the longest waiting period, the time before school begins and my days become mine again. I now understand all those Staples commercials where parents push carts beatifically buying school supplies for disgruntled children–it is the most wonderful time of the year! As I’ve seen time and again, mothers (and fathers) who are also writers have had to reconcile their lack of productivity while their kids are home. We talk about it, write about it, commiserate and tell each other it’s okay. Use the time for other things, like reading or in my case note taking for book 4.

But all the sympathetic noises in the world can’t silence that small voice in your head saying you had a deadline, which has come and gone. That got me to thinking about Thumbelina.

Photo Credit: kissabug via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kissabug via Compfight cc

You remember the story? Woman can’t have children (I think because she’s alone and sperm banks weren’t exactly the rage in Early Modern Europe), so the village witch gives her a seed to plant from which a girl “no bigger than my thumb” is born. Good thing is wasn’t me–I’ve killed cacti.

Anyway, after the idyllic stage, Thumbelina is kidnapped, lost, stolen, and myriad other things which take her from her mother. And just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, she wants to go home. At some point, winter comes (just as it always does–thank you GoT) and she knows she can’t make the trek in that kind of weather. She hibernates with a field mouse and an injured bird until the spring thaw. And then she is reunited with her mother. But during this time away she made friends, met other people her own size, and even fell in love with a fairy prince (I object to that part, but it rounds out the story).

Photo Credit: katinthecupboard via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: katinthecupboard via Compfight cc

Now I can’t claim that I’ve gone on life-changing adventures, but I’ve spent time with my family, written notes and learned new things about my story I wouldn’t have noticed if I was furiously writing. The same thing happened when I was looking for work. While I was keeping my head in interviews, resumes, and searches, I didn’t stop to ask why I was doing it. When I finally took a breath, I realized I was happiest writing. I don’t know if I would have made that leap if I were still keeping my head down.

So, the next time I start to get down on myself for not finishing book 4 by the end of summer I’ll think of Thumbelina. The journey is worth just as much as the destination…but I still hate waiting.

The Hidden Minority Part II

I’ve been looking for a topic for some time now. After spending a week at Disney World, something occurred to me. Something I haven’t shared with you.

I have a confession to make.

Like Frieda from Peanuts I have naturally curly hair. We even have the same “birthday” although mine is many years removed. According to my internet research (and we all know how reliable that is!) she made her debut on March 6th, 1961. Twenty years later, this curly girl blogger was born. I always liked Frieda because she, unlike me, was proud of her naturally curly hair and mentioned it at every opportunity. I, on the other had, tend to do everything in my power to make my hair straight, or at least no more than wavy. I know I’m not alone, but this year I decided to take a bold step. I’ve gone curly.

Curly Frieda

Picture of Frieda from Peanuts, courtesy Rankopedia.com

To you straight-haired girls, this is hardly worth mentioning, but to those in the know it’s a revelation. But the revelation also comes with a catch. No curly-haired role models, or very few on hand. The field gets even thinner when you look at the representations of classic fairy tale characters. Our only lighthouse in the sea of hair is Merida from Disney Pixar’s Brave, whose hair was quickly smoothed out when she made her debut as a Disney princess. Even proud Frieda, with her bouncy locks, began to fade into obscurity in favor of helmet-haired Lucy and lanky-haired Marcie and Peppermint Patty.

When did we decided that our fairy-tale heroes and heroines couldn’t have naturally curly hair? After Snow White, it was quite a while before Disney even had a non-blonde princess, let alone a curly one. I watched the parades, princess meet & greets, and noticed a distinct lack of curls. Is it a silly thing to ask for corkscrews and fractals with a penchant for absorbing ambient moisture? I am officially adding curly girls to my hidden minority.

I suppose there are more important issues to soapbox about like honest equality, world peace, an myriad other pressing concerns.

I want world peace, and I think a great way to start is for me to make peace with my hair.

Me as a curly girl

Me trying to make peace with my curly hair

“Jack” and the Beanstalk

I think we can all agree that, on the whole, fairy tales try to teach us something about life. Usually there are warnings about the dangers of taking a dark path, talking to strangers, and not minding your elders. Others show how goodness can reap its own rewards and sometimes a castle and a title for your troubles. What about stories that do neither? I’m talking about Jack and the Beanstalk.

There’s some debate as to how old the story of Jack and the Beanstalk is, but the story pretty much stays the same. Jack and his mother are poor and their last asset, a milking cow, is no longer viable. Jack has to take the cow to market, but is met by a man along the way who offers him magic beans in exchange for his cow. Jack, for some reason, jumps at the chance and upon showing his prize to his mother is rebuked. She tosses them out the window in a huff, but by morning they have grown clear to the clouds. Jack climbs, finds a home and a sympathetic woman who feeds him and warns that her husband will come back hungry for the “blood of an Englishman”. Jack, who is either clever or proof that God takes care of fools and babies, eludes the giant three times and steals his gold, his golden egg laying goose, and a self-playing harp. He then chops down the beanstalk killing the giant and lives with his mother happily ever after and rich.

It’s a great story, action-packed and complete with a happy ending, but what’s the moral? If you’re stupid enough to sell your cow for some magic beans you may luck into a fortune if you’re willing to kill a giant? I’ve read and seen a few versions of this story. My favorite was the one with Matthew Modine called Jim Henson’s Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story aired on NBC when it did mini-series before succumbing to the black hole that is cheap reality TV. It gave a plausible account as to why Jack did what he did and the repercussions of his actions. Of course I saw the Warner Bros. big screen adaptation, Jack the Giant Slayer, which was a slight disappointment. At the end when (spoiler alert!) the magical crown that controlled the evil giants was finally taken by the princess, she handed it over to Jack instead of using its power herself. This after an entire movie of her trying to prove that she could take care of herself. But it got me thinking, what if Jack had been female? Would it have turned out the same way? Is it true that women prefer diplomacy to violent confrontations? I would submit that there are few who actually like physical confrontations, but it seems more acceptable for women to take that path.

 

Once there was a poor farmer who lived with his daughter. Her name was Jacqueline, but everyone knew her as Jack. Jack and her father only had one milking cow and very little else, but the day came when the cow no longer gave milk. Jack’s father decided the best thing to do would be to sell the cow at market to a butcher and in that way have some food to eat for the winter. Jack loved the little cow, but her father was unmoved by her pleas. So with a heavy heart and a small snack for the road, Jack offered to take the cow herself so she might have a chance to bid the creature a proper goodbye.

Along the way, she met with a man who looked even hungrier than her. Already feeling down about having to butcher the cow, she offered her meager lunch to the man. He gratefully sat down to eat and asked that she sit beside him. At length he finished the meal and then asked Jack why she looked so sad. Jack told the man the story of her cow and what had to be done to keep food on the table. The man considered a moment and said, “What if you didn’t have to kill your cow and could still put food on your table?”

I would say it’s a miracle,” replied Jack.

Not a miracle. Magic. Magic beans to be more precise,” corrected the man. He fished into his tattered pocket and pulled out four iridescent beans no bigger than a fingernail. He placed them in Jack’s hand. “Now, although I am thankful you shared your meal with me, I cannot give these to you without payment. Magic unpaid costs more in the end.”

But I have nothing to give you. I’ve told you I’m poor,” reasoned Jack.

“Ah, but you have that nice cow. I promise she will not be killed or eaten, but to keep her alive and your stomach full you must give her to me in exchange for the beans,” he replied. Jack was skeptical, but was heartsick over the thought of having to eat her friend, so she handed the lead over to the man. Looking down at the handful of beans, sparkling in the sunlight, Jack had only one question.

“How do they work?” But the man and the cow had disappeared. Jack saw that as proof of the man’s magical claims and ran home, the beans clutched tightly in her hand…

Magic and Mayhem VII

“Are you sure this is the only way?” asked her companion.

“Bronwen seems to think so and Uriel is getting suspicious. Why else would he go through this farce of trying to marry me off to someone who can learn what we do at night,” replied Mariana.

“We know nothing of military tactics and have no magic. How will we take the kingdom from Father?”

“It still surprises me that you can call him that, Mariano, considering what he’s done to you and our brothers,” she said with bitterness.

“Be that as it may, we need help to accomplish this,” Mariano said. “It was daunting enough figuring out that we could only meet at night in the nether realms if we danced together. We’ve never tried leaving before.”

“Yes, but mother was convinced that we had to wait until we were all of age and together. Anora and Lenoro are now thirteen so we need only figure out how to defeat Uriel,” she said. Both of them knew full well that getting to the surface with their brothers would be for naught if Uriel could just banish them again. “I’ll think of something, but be ready soon.”

The soldier continued to listen to the pair hatch plans and then reject them as too far-fetched or requiring too much time. His training saw the flaws in each idea and began to improve upon them instinctively resolving the matters they couldn’t grasp. Soon he was intrigued by the idea of helping them, but they were leaving for the surface. With farewells and promises to return the following night, the princesses climbed the spiral staircase back to their room before dawn.

On the second night, much the same happened and the soldier spent most of his time admiring the sharp mind and tenacity of the eldest princess. He wanted to reveal himself, but didn’t want to startle her and her siblings. The following night at dinner he overheard a conversation between the king and his sorcerer.

“This soldier will fail as the others have, but I think I have a better idea. Perhaps I should try to figure out what the princesses are up to at night. If I do, I would gladly marry Mariana,” he said with great humility. The soldier could see the sorcerer wore humility as he wore his cloak of invisibility—as a tool. Finally he made up his mind.

That night, when the Princess Mariana brought the soldier his cup of wine before bed, he stopped her.

“Princess I know where you go at night, but your bigger concern should be if I fail. The king has agreed to let Uriel follow you after I’m banished and marry you when he reports your whereabouts. It’s time to execute your plan,” he said holding her hand. She was visibly startled by his revelation, but was dismayed that her time was up.

“Our plans aren’t ready. We don’t even know how to overcome Uriel’s magic,” she said.

“Leave that to me,” he replied and quickly donned his cloak.

To the others they said nothing until they reached the enchanted palace by the lake. The soldier explained what he would do and explained each of their roles in the coming ruse. When the princesses left at dawn, the soldier stayed behind with the princes.

The next night the princesses came down as always, but there was some hesitancy in the youngest. She knew they were being followed and couldn’t play the part of ignorant as well as her elder sisters. However, Uriel barely noticed her agitation as he walked at a discreet distance from the party. Marveling at the surroundings he didn’t feel anything amiss until he was toppled by the darkness.

The eldest prince and princess helped to drag him to the water’s edge. With the aid of the swans, Uriel was lifted then dropped in the center of the lake and the swans fluttered and squawked on the surface keeping him under. Soon the thrashing ceased and one swan plunged down into the depths and came up with the sorcerer in his beak. Lifeless, the soldier checked for signs of life and found none. Wasting no time, the princes, princesses, and the soldier hurried to the portal and up the stairs.

Being rid of the sorcerer gave the siblings courage to confront their father. The king was lost without his adviser and gave up his kingdom without a fight. Prince Mariano, now king showed his gratitude to the soldier by giving him titles, honors and a generous tract of land to govern, which he did with the help of Princess Mariana. At their wedding, the soldier was introduced to the princess’s confidante, Bronwen and they shared a secret smile.

“What is so funny?” asked Mariana.

“It’s a rather interesting story,” said Bronwen and the three continued to enjoy the celebration.

The End

Magic and Mayhem Part V

A week later in the council, Uriel brought up a delicate matter before those present. He waited until he had a full audience to make sure none would miss the opportunity to hear his words.

“You Highness, an alarming report has come to my attention. I believe the princesses have been sneaking out of the castle at night. Of course my concern is only for their welfare and the reputation of the kingdom, but we should ask Princess Mariana what she knows of this,” he said with his head bowed. He took a quick glance of the princess from the corner of his vision, hoping to catch a glimpse of her reaction.

“Mariana is this true? Do you and your sisters leave the castle unescorted at night?” asked the king with a frown. His daughter, with a curtsey, moved towards the dais.

“Father, I know not to what Uriel is referring. We don’t leave the grounds and if we do it’s never unattended or after dark. Perhaps he is mistaken,” she replied with a straight back, but she wiped her hands discretely on the sides of her gown.

“You Highness, I wouldn’t want to accuse your daughters of telling falsehoods, but perhaps a disinterested third party would be a better judge. I propose that we ask someone from outside of the kingdom to discover the lies in this dangerous slander,” Uriel said and paused with a small smile as though an idea was forming.

“Allow others into my kingdom? I do not like the idea of others thinking they can better manage the goings-on of my own daughters,” said the king looking sharply at his eldest.

“Perhaps we can make it a contest of sorts. Suitable men will be given three days to discover the truth or lies to this tale and for a reward they can have the hand of one of your daughters. However, if they should fail they will be locked away so they cannot report this to anyone. To the other kingdoms it will merely look as though you are finding candidates for your daughters to wed,” he replied slowly. The king stood up still looking at his daughter. Something he saw in her face made him pause.

“Agreed. Let there be a royal proclamation that my eldest daughter is of marriageable age,” he said to Mariana. She bowed her head and swept out of the room, but caught the smile on Uriel face.

Magic and Mayhem Part IV

Magic and Mayhem Part I

Magic and Mayhem Part II

Magic and Mayhem Part III

The next morning, Princess Amara left with her father on a week’s progress. All in attendance thought that she looked every inch a princess with a new gown, satin slippers, and a regal bearing. If any noted that she also looked exhausted they ignored her sluggish steps. The circles under her eyes could only be seen by the king, who shared her coach.

Uriel was left to look over state affairs and one of his first acts was to hire girl from the village who could help Bronwen with onerous chores. She was also charged with letting Uriel know if there was anything amiss. Thankful to have employment and smitten with Uriel, she was only too eager to oblige. What she discovered was puzzling.

“Sir, I think the princesses leave the castle at night,” she reported. “Wherever they go it must be a wilderness for their slippers as well as their tempers are frayed the next morning. Do you suppose they go to the village through the old woods?” Uriel did not answer her questions and dismissed her curtly to attend his thoughts.

After the maid left, Uriel looked over his books on portents and prophesies. While many knew the king’s fate to lose his kingdom while still living, none but two knew the first part.

Twins will come to a kingdom, one to wed and another to rule

The male will use the king as his tool

But when a son is born to the pair with a daughter

His realm will he lose to the former, not the latter

 

The rhyme reminded him of the faithful day that he and his sister had come to the palace. His twin sister had been a blushing bride and perfect queen until she began to bear twins to the king. Uriel was able to instill fear in the king with the last couplet and convinced him to banish his sons to the nether realms. His sister remembered the rhyme and became a fierce adversary until Uriel had to banish her, too. He was lucky that magic was not one of her gifts and he assumed her children were just as powerless.

But now he began to wonder where the girls went at night and to what purpose. Mariana had always been a contrary creature, seeking out matters that were none of her concern. Perhaps the girls were trying to find their mother. It was of little consequence none but he knew where she had been sent, but perhaps it was time to get the eldest princess out of the way.

Magic and Mayhem Part III

Magic and Mayhem Part I

Magic and Mayhem Part II

The council was well under way when Mariana ambled in following Uriel. Nothing of note was to be discussed today, so she wondered why her father had insisted she attend. It was her custom to hold court at his side, but she had other matters today. Her preparations for Amara’s birthday surprise weren’t yet finished and Uriel had rudely interrupted her plans.

“Mariana, we thank you for your presence. I wanted your opinion regarding Amara’s present,” he said when she approached the dais. Her curtsey was correct to the point of rudeness. Of late she had been distant and deflective. He hoped seeking her out would warm her to him, but her feelings had yet to thaw. Since her mother’s departure he felt her feelings towards him change and not for the better.

“Father, I’m sure your choice is best,” she replied looking at him yet through him. Lately she’d been oddly deferential. Uriel had pointed it out and he had to agree. With Amara turning thirteen, he realized he had little time left. This was the birthday when they all his girls turned on him. At first he wondered if it was the change from child to woman that made them aloof from their father, but now he wasn’t so sure. At the heart of it, he feared his eldest was to blame and he meant to correct it before it was too late for Amara.

“Well, I’ve decided to take Amara away on a progress of the kingdom. She has such an adventurous spirit I feel the trip will be a welcome delight. What say you to that?” asked the king. Searching her face he found no reaction, but her cool manner reminded him of her mother, the queen. He awaited the argument that would ensue.

“I wonder that you never offered any of my sisters the same opportunity, but I would ask that you waited until tomorrow so I might give her my gift before you leave. She might have use of it on her journey,” she said with the same cool restraint. Only a momentary widening of the eyes alerted Uriel to her displeasure. The king, on the other hand, was grateful for her quiet submissiveness.

Magic and Mayhem Part II

Magic and Mayhem Part I

Thirteen Years Later…

Bronwen searched through an old trunk looking for a discarded dress of one of the older princesses. The garment still had usable fabric perfect for cannibalizing. If memory served, and little escaped her recollection, Princess Anora’s castoff gown matched Princess Amara’s perfectly. It was amazing that the youngest was now to celebrate her thirteenth year. Where had the time gone? With all the activity going on, Bronwen took it upon herself to make sure Amara’s dress was the loveliest at the ball. Her eyes began to mist thinking that this task should have been the queen’s, but she shook her head. She refused to let sadness to take root in any part of this day.

Rummaging through the trunk, she found more discards. Other dresses, faded and dried flowers, and a multitude of old dancing slippers padded the bottom. She clicked her tongue, fishing out the sought after dress and then closed the lid gently. What would she do with those girls?

“I really should tell them to be more careful. If anyone knew where they went…”

“And where do they go, Bronwen?” asked smooth and silky voice. Bronwen started and instinctively sat down on the top of the trunk. She could feel the heat from a banked fire warm her backside. Clutching the fabric to her chest, she regarded the intruder.

“Who said anyone goes anywhere? What do mean by sneaking up on old woman about their own business?” she asked with a sneer. The intruder merely raised an eyebrow and walked further into the room.  His eyes swept languidly across the scene in front of him.

“All that goes on in this kingdom is my business, or have you forgotten that I have the ear of the king?” he asked willing a confrontation.

“More like the soul of our king. And I would find that more impressive if I didn’t have the ear of the queen,” she replied looking towards the ground. The tears that had threatened earlier were coming to the surface, but she wouldn’t let them fall in front of this odious man.

“And where is she now? My sister has been gone these 10 years and most likely dead. At least I think of her as such,” he said. Her head snapped up at that remark as he knew it would. Goading her was just a perk, but her evasiveness made him curious. “What are doing?”

“None of your concern, Uriel. I’m merely making sure the Princess has her gown ready for the birthday festivities. Shouldn’t you be in council?”

“Yes I should, but I was sent to find Princess Mariana. Do you know where she’s gotten to?” asked Uriel watching Bronwen’s face very carefully. He knew the old woman was hiding something, but her face betrayed nothing. Her hands however were worrying the fabric.

“Try the rose gardens or the sword room. My lady has a penchant for all things sharp,” she replied noting his attention. Abruptly she put the fabric down, but did not rise.

“Of course. And by the way, perhaps we’ve overtaxed you with duties. You shouldn’t have to mend dresses when those lower than you could. I’ll take it upon myself to find you a useful girl to help with menial tasks,” he said over his shoulder as he went in search of the king’s eldest. Bronwen had a keen mind and knew that anyone Uriel gave her would be more spy than helper. Rising slowly from the chest, she emptied it of all the tattered and torn dancing shoes. Stoking the fire, she threw them all in and hoped Uriel hadn’t seen them.