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Today's Story by Jason Vanhee

“You remember that, sweet, to keep the ticket as I’ve got, so another girl can come see this next time.”


“Hurry up, child, they’ll be starting soon, and if we’re late, we will miss it.”  The old woman pulled at the hand of the little girl, almost dragging her along the marble hallway of the museum.  “It’s not everyone who can see such as we’re about to.”

The girl ran again for a bit, but she was tired from the long trip down the river and the carriage ride into the heart of the city.  It was late, and she felt very sleepy.  And the museum was a little scary, with the old tapestries on the walls, and the suits of armor, and only a few lamps here and there giving off a faint smoky light.

And then they were in the great chamber, the centerpiece of the museum.  Along the upper balcony, actually, but the room was so large, it scarcely seemed that they were above the floor at all.  There were a few score others around the balcony, glittering nobles, politicians dressed in suits, a great opera singer and her escort who hung back a little as if uncertain of his place.

The old woman, as common as could be, pushed past a plump burgher’s wife without so much as an excuse me, and came right to the iron railing, with her granddaughter clinging to her, and then to the bars.  They both turned their eyes below.

It was a huge chamber, with a dozen candelabras giving light onto the highly polished gray marble of the floor.  There was only one exhibit visible, a bower in the center of the chamber, padded in satin that seemed a bit worse for wear, the color something like pink, though a trifle faded.  And on the bed was a young woman, no more than twenty-five, pale and blond and still, her chest scarcely moving with her breath.  She was dressed in pink satin as well, but of better quality, and with golden ornaments.

“The gold is false,” the old woman said, and was hushed by the burgher’s wife.  She glared at the plump woman and then turned back to her granddaughter.  “Wouldn’t do to have the real jewels stolen, now would it, dearie?  But the princess is lovely, all the same.”

And the little girl nodded, for it was true, the princess was lovely.  Her face was fine-boned, the nose slim and not too long, the lips pale but full, with a proud little chin.  Her delicate hands were crossed over her slim waist, and her feet, visible in slippers that matched her dress, were small.

A whisper went up though the crowd, as four men entered the great chamber from a door on the ground floor.  They crossed the great expanse that was normally filled with the curious from all about the country, and then they stopped at the foot of the bower.

“Look at them, sweetling.  That’s the mayor of the city, and the governor of the province, who holds it for the duke, and the third one is the Bishop, him in the white.  They’re all very important men.”

The burgher’s wife harrumphed the whole speech, and the old woman turned to her and asked, “Whatever is the problem, goodwife?”

The wife paused, and then answered slowly.  “How on earth did such a creature as you and this little urchin gain admittance to this occasion?”

“We had a ticket of my grandmother’s grandmother, who saw it when last it happened.  There’s not many as can keep the tickets, but they’re good for every time, so they say.  And so we’re here, and there’s naught you can do about it, old bag, so just get you back to your husband, and if we’ve missed anything from your spite, you’ll feel the hard end of my hand.”  And the old woman, who was often a washer, held up a fist, and chuckled as the burgher’s wife hurried away to her husband.  “You remember that, sweet, to keep the ticket as I’ve got, so another girl can come see this next time.”
The little girl nodded, but didn’t say anything, only turned back and looked on.  The mayor, governor and Bishop were moving about the little bed, looking at the woman who rested on it, and then finally they all came back to the fourth man.

“Who’s that?” the girl asked.

“Why, he must be the Prince, to do the kissing, since none of the others are.  Now they’ve looked her over, it must be just about time for him to do his bit.”

The youth in question was rather plain, with a lumpish sort of face that was surmounted by hair already thinning.  He was at least tall, and fair of limb, but he seemed nervous and uncertain in the suit he wore, with its ribbons and medals from all the honors he had gotten simply by being a Prince.  After a few hushed comments from the Bishop and the governor, he took a step forward, then another, and then a third, to stand just beside the princess on her bower.

“Just get on with it,” the governor hissed, loud enough to be heard in the gallery, and with only a moment’s hesitation the young man leaned over and kissed the woman full on the lips, then sprang back as if he had been burned.

The woman stirred, ever so slightly, then blinked her eyes open, and rubbed them with her delicate little hands and then sat up.  She looked about a moment, inhaled deeply, and screamed.  The Prince stepped back a few paces, while the governor and the Bishop moved in to the princess, and the mayor stepped aside to head off the Prince, who looked about to run.  The princess kept screaming, but now she screamed words, almost comprehensible but not quite, and kept screaming.  In the galleries, some of the spectators were applauding, and some were leaving, the best and most important parts having already passed.

“She can’t even speak properly,” the little girl said.

“My dearest, she’s been this way for hundreds of years, ever since the curse first took effect.  She’s speaking the way she was taught, long ago.  The Bishop, I wager, can make it out, see, there, he’s speaking to her, and she’s calming down.”

“What will happen now, Grandmother?”

“What always happens, my dear.  She’ll marry the Prince, whether they want to or not, and she’ll likely have a child, and then, sooner or later in a year or two, she’ll prick her finger on a pin, or a tack, or something, and she’ll be back here again for a hundred years.”

“So she’s the real princess?”

“Yes, sweets, she is.”

“I thought it was just a fairy tale,” the girl protested.

The old woman looked down on the skittish Prince being pushed forward, on the woman still babbling to the Bishop who looked rather uncertain, at the great empty chamber that was normally the haunt of the curious throng, and she whispered, “Not for her.”


Jason Vanhee is a writer living in Seattle.  He is the author of the young adult novel Engines of the Broken World, and he blogs about writing and other similar nonsense at thousandstoriesandonestory.blogspot.com


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