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art by Shane M. Gavin

Peas, Plots, and Peril

Melissa Mead lives in Upstate NY. You may have seen her stories in DSF before. She's a member of SFWA and Codex, and her Web page is here: carpelibris.wordpress.com.

The hardest part was spreading that silly rumor in the first place. I didn't use magic. A dairymaid's pay doesn't cover hiring sorcerers. No, I spent months discretely complimenting the ladies who came to the dairy on the delicacy of their complexions, working my way up to the nonsense about, "A true princess can feel a dried pea through a dozen mattresses." Soon the dressmakers doubled their orders for fine silk and satin, because any lady with pretensions to quality claimed that ordinary calico chafed her delicate skin.
People are foolish and vain, and our former Royal Family doubly so. Word spread to the Palace. The Prince broke off his engagement, claiming that his planned bride was "too coarse," and commandeered enough geese to make a dozen feather mattresses.
He was an idiot. But a good-looking idiot, with wealth and power enough to make up for his lack of wits. Besides, this only proved that he'd make a biddable husband.
I laughed when I heard the news. The dairy mistress beat me for my impertinence and sent me packing, which suited my plans just fine.
The dress I stole from the lady of the manor both looked elegant and hid the bruises. It was raining, too. Perfect. I arrived at the palace bedraggled and dripping. Their Majesties exclaimed over my state, and over my smooth, ladylike dairymaid's hands.
I begged to be allowed to rest from my ordeal. At once, servants led me to the room with the towering feather beds. I dismissed my escort, climbed the ladder to the top of the downy pile, and slept my first night in my new home.
The next morning, the Queen "accidentally" came in while I was dressing. I shrieked, clutching a robe to me in a way that implied maidenly modesty while still displaying the worst of my bruises. The elegant mirror I stood before showed enough black-and-blue flesh to satisfy anyone as to my royal fragility.
The Prince came running at my shriek, and stood staring at my figure, far better muscled and curved than any idle court lady's.
"Such bruises!" exclaimed the Queen. "How perfectly refined--I mean, how perfectly awful, you poor thing! You, chambermaid! Fetch the young lady my finest silk gown at once.
The girl bobbed and fled.
"I'm afraid this is my fault," said the Queen, managing to look both apologetic and delighted at once. "You see, we've had such a dreadful time finding a proper princess for poor Elroy here. But you've passed the test beautifully. Elroy, dear, what do you think?"
"Nice," said the Prince, with his eyes fixed on my bosom. "Very nice indeed."
"You will marry him, won't you, dear Miss... what was your name again?"
Of course I married him. The King and Queen gave me bales of the finest fabrics as a wedding gift, and that lovely mirror to admire them in. Alas, they didn't live past the wedding night. King Elroy will last much longer. A dairymaid can't afford to hire magicians, but a Queen can. The court sorcerer promised that Elroy will live forever inside my wedding mirror. And he'll never age, the lucky boy.
My new husband is older, less charmingly naive, but his titles and lands more than make up for that.
His daughter, though, is a problem. No child that young should be so beautiful. It's not natural. She even has dairymaid's hands. It isn't right.
Thank goodness I still have my wedding mirror. Elroy assures me that I'm as beautiful as ever. And he never lies.
He wouldn't dare. He's so fragile these days.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Author Comments

I've always loved rewriting fairy tales. Twisting two at once is even more fun.

- Melissa Mead
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