art by Richard Gagnon
Said the Princess
by Dani Atkinson
Once upon a time in a far off land, in a tiny room, in a tall tower, at the centre of a vast and impenetrable maze, the princess Adrienna cocked her head and frowned.
"Who said that?" said the princess.
She looked around the tower room, but saw no one.
"This isn't funny. Who's there?" said the princess.
She crouched by the bed. Underneath it she found the chamber pot and a nervous brown spider. The princess shuddered. Straightening up quickly and dusting off her rosy skirts, she paced the circumference of the room, searching every inch. There were not many inches to search, as after all it was a prison, and not elaborately furnished or overburdened with good hiding places.
"Where is that coming from? Who are you?" said the princess, stopping by the barred window.
"No, really, who are you? And quit saying 'said the princess' after everything I say!" said the prin.... Oh.
The princess... probably wasn't supposed to hear that.
"Why wouldn't I be able to hear you?" said the pri...
Sorry. Ah, it just seemed like the princess... shouldn't have been able to. Hear that. Somehow. It seemed quite against the rules.
The princess flicked her yellow hair back over her shoulder and scowled uncertainly at the stone ceiling, lacking any better direction in which to look.
"What rules? Yours?"
... I... I? Was I an I? The word did not seem to fit. The... voice... did not know whose rules they were. It was simply the way things were expected to be.
"Is it another rule that you always have to talk in the past tense?"
...Yes. Yes, the voice believed it was.
The princess slumped down the wall until she was sitting on the cold stones. She rested her forehead in her hands. "And I suppose it's another rule that you have to describe everything I do, as I do it?" she muttered through a curtain of yellow ringlets.
"Stop saying sorry! Stop saying anything! It's really getting on my nerves!"
The princess pinched the bridge of her nose as if she had a headache. She closed her eyes and stayed absolutely still for a moment. Then another. For a long while the princess did nothing but breathe. Then she tried holding her breath for a while, which just seemed silly and possibly unhealthy. Her breath whooshed out of her in a gush, disturbing the spider, which had gone exploring beyond the world of the bed and was now crawling on her knee.
The princess leapt up and batted furiously at the terrified spider until it tumbled off her skirts to the floor. She glared once more at the ceiling, then sighed.
"Oh, never mind. I suppose you can't help it. I can't imagine choosing to follow a shut-in around remarking on everything she does."
The voice agreed. The voice couldn't really imagine choosing anything else either, mind. It seemed to be out of the voice's hands.
"You have hands?"
Figure of speech.
The princess leaned against the iron window bars and looked out over the vast maze of topiary and stone. "I'm crazy, aren't I? I've been trapped here so long that I've gone insane."
The princess did not seem insane. Only tired, perhaps, and frustrated.
"Said the disembodied voice."
The princess had only been here a month. Surely that was not enough time in which to go insane.
The princess's eyes narrowed and darted about suspiciously. "How do you know how long I've been here? Have you been watching me this whole time?"
No... No, the voice did not think so. It was... confused... it was not sure how long it had been here, or where it had been before it came here. It did not think it had been watching long, however. The voice knew what had passed before because, well, it... just did, somehow.
"Really? What else do you know?"
The Princess Adrienna had been born in the kingdom of Ith on a wet and gloomy fall morning. The midwife had been willing to swear on her last tooth that the princess was the single ugliest baby she had ever...
"Stop, stop! I was sick of that story when I was six!"
The princess did ask.
"I did. Okay, you can go back quite a ways. At least when it comes to me. Do you know about anyone else?"
The princess's father was King Gervail. The princess's mother was Queen Luvette. The princess's sweetheart was Lord Albron. The princess's fencing master was named Hoopo. The princess's favorite horse was named Fledge. The...
"I'm starting to get the picture. What about the witch who brought the princess... er, me here?"
The Vile Sorceress Villaine was...
"Villaine? That's her name? Really?"
The Vile Sorceress Villaine was once a renowned beauty, beloved of a handsome young lordling. Though she was lovely, she was hot tempered, and fascinated by the dark arts. The combination meant she was frequently turning people who annoyed her into interesting things. It made her lover nervous, and finally he tried to break things off as gently as possible.
"What did she turn him into?"
A bottle of brandy. She kept him aging in the cellar for a hundred years. He was delicious when he was finally served.
The princess winced in sympathy.
Since then, Villaine had rather gone off romance. She was violently jealous of happy couples. When she saw the princess and her sweetheart walking arm in arm near the edge of the forest, she became enraged.
The princess froze. "The princess and... me and Albron. I thought I'd done something, that she was angry at me for some reason. Has she taken Albron too?"
Villaine stole the princess from the palace grounds later that evening, riding astride a winged broomstick.
"I already know what happened to me! Why does a broomstick need wings anyway? I thought witch's brooms could fly without them!"
Villaine had always been of the opinion that there is nothing that could not be improved with the addition of bat wings.
"Does that include sweet, stupid, redheaded young noblemen? What happened to Albron?"
Villaine stole the princess away to a tall tower in the centre of a vast maze, to await rescue by any who would dare.
"Does that mean she expects Albron to rescue me?"
The maze, in addition to being fiendishly difficult with its myriad twists and dead ends, was packed near to brimming with fearsome beasts and insidious traps.
The only way to reach the center without passing through the maze was to fly over it, as Villaine did on her broomstick every few days bearing food for the prisoner.
"Albron can't fight fearsome beasts! He's nearsighted as a mole! He has to press those cursed courtly romances he likes so much right against his eyeballs!"
Even if one reached the tower, there was no door or stairs, and the bars over the window were enchanted and unbreakable. They could only be bent aside by whispering to them the magic words, Part, Part, by my Broken Heart, a secret known only to the witch. Thus the princess languished in captivity, out of reach of all who loved her.
"He's probably at the bottom of one of those insidious traps right now! He... Wait, what did you just say?"
Thus the princess languished?...
"No, I got the languishing, the other bit... hang on."
The princess walked to the window. Touching an iron bar, she whispered uncertainly, "Part, Part, by my Broken Heart."
The bars kinked, twisted, and with a hideous groan writhed outwards to create an opening large enough to crawl through.
"Yes, yes, YES!" The princess leapt up and down in delight. She stuck her head out the window, and her smile faltered. It was a very long way down.