Monday, December 16, 2013

On Princesses: A Foible (Part I of III)

            Once upon a time in a land far away (as all such lands certainly are), there was born a Princess, and like all such royal children, her birth caused quite a stir in the Kingdom, for certainly this was a herald of troubles to come, for is it not so in all such tales?  Quite sensibly therefore, in anticipation of this unknown but very certain threat to his Crown and Kingdom, the King sent his only child away for her sake and for all other sakes in the Kingdom.  With a sigh of relief and a bit of grief, the loving but dutiful parents sent their child into another world where she might remain until the Appointed Time when the threat of all potential disasters would be long past and she could return safely to the realm.  The place where the wizards banished the poor dear was a weird and wild place, filled with all manner of strange and bizarre creatures, and this was the opinion of people who had seen unicorns and dragons and centaurs.  It was a place where no sane villain (and very few of the crazy ones) would think to look for such a personage, for what parent would dare send their beloved child There?  Besides for the inanity of sending a royal child to such a place (which was precisely the reason to do it), there was also the fact that it would be the perfect place for her to grow up and learn all the things children of noble birth must know: namely that oneself is the most important entity in the known universe.  For the citizens of this strange and distant land had long ago forgotten their past, cared little for their futures, and could really care less about anyone but themselves.  It was a whole civilization of folk who thought they were aristocrats or at least thought they should be.  It was perfect!  Or at least it should have been, for the one problem with raising a completely self-absorbed person is trying to get them to notice or do anything not immediately associated with themselves.

            “Gertrude!” shrieked a prissy female at the top of her lungs and voice range, “Gertrude!  I am in desperate need of your help!  Eeek!”  Gertrude dashed up the stairs at her sister’s frantic call for aide, which in itself was not disturbing for Clarisse must cry out in vexation at least a dozen times a day, but that she would ask for help from her sister was nearly unthinkable.  She either sought help from her indulgent parents, her elder but not wiser sister Missy, or from one of the equally flighty young women who always seemed to hang about her like the pox, but never would she deign to demand the assistance of her geeky twin sister.  It must be something truly desperate indeed to draw such a cry for help when Gertrude was the only person within auditory range capable of rendering aide.  Gertrude dashed into the bathroom where Clarisse was putting the finishing touches on her hours long morning ritual only to find the whole morning’s labor disfigured by a look of utter horror.  Now this look on anyone else might cause the observer a moment of pity but it occupied Clarisse’s face so often that those familiar with her seldom seemed to notice save in times of dire emergency such as this.  The panic filled eyes were focused on the bathroom mirror which had moments ago displayed only her gorgeous countenance but now her visage was obscured by a rather lengthy message scrawled out within the mirror itself for no amount of wiping or scratching would efface the writing.  Shrieked Clarisse as Gertrude ran into the little room, “what can it mean?  Oh, what can it mean?  How can hackers and telemarketers have gained access to my bathroom mirror?  I have already destroyed or deleted this message many times over, only to have it appear here!”
            Gertrude was quite intrigued and even on the tingling verge of that excitement every true geek knows when an adventure is before them.  She read the message again and again, and with each reading her smile deepened while Clarisse could only stare at her in growing mystification.  Finally she groused, “why are you smiling like an idiot?  This had better not be some trick of your nerdy friends!”  Gertrude faced her twin sister and said, “how could you have let this go for so long?  It says quite plainly that this is the five thousand one hundred and sixth time this message has been relayed!  How can you be so oblivious?  What other messages have you received?”  Clarisse smiled frivolously and said, “oh, they have tried to contact me by every means possible.  They even sent me a letter!  Who sends letters in this day and age?  I cannot get away from this harassment, even in my own bathroom!  Every means by which to communicate has been tried and has failed for I will not believe these hackers, whoever they are.  Are you sure this is not some weird trick from your even weirder friends?”  Gertrude laughed grimly, “my friends are too enlightened to try entangling you in such a plot.  They would never waste their time.”  She sighed deeply, “But alas, it is real and for some reason beyond comprehension this adventure has fallen to you.”
            She brightened then and said, “of course I must come with you because you will be completely inept upon such a quest.”  Clarisse gaped, “you believe this nonsense?  You really think this is wise or safe or socially acceptable?”  Gertrude laughed as she grabbed her sister’s hand and drew her out of the bathroom and down the hall towards the bedrooms saying, “it is certainly none of those but you are not going to miss this if I can help it!”  Clarisse was too mystified to do anything but follow in confused astonishment.  The full text of the writing was as follows, “My Dearest Madam, please be informed that we have tried reaching you by various means, on several occasions (5,106 to be exact).  We were loathe to send this message in this manner as it is quite intolerable to separate one’s royal personage from one’s royal reflection but we are quite desperate.  Please proceed to the Park and enter the first horse drawn vehicle you encounter and all will be well.  If you fail in this endeavor many lives, including possibly your own, shall be grievously touched.  Ever Yours, The Royal Secretary of Lofrenier.”  Clarisse could not comprehend in the least what Gertrude knew almost before she read the message: it must be magical and therefore an adventure, but who was senseless enough to ask for help from such a person as Clarisse?  Regardless, this thing must be done and there was no way that Gertrude was going to miss it.
            They stopped in Clarisse’s room and Gertrude ransacked her as ’til now forbidden closet.  She finally drew forth a long dress that might be just the thing, or as close to the thing as she could convince Clarisse to wear in public.  Clarisse was aghast to see Gertrude digging in her closet but then even more mortified when she demanded that she wear last year’s prom dress out in the streets!  The poor old dress was so terribly out of fashion that Clarisse would be forced to remain out of social reach for at least a week if she were foolish enough to give in to her sister’s ravings.  Gertude solved this small problem by dashing from the room and presenting her sister with a veil.  At first Clarisse had no idea what the filmy material was and then it occurred to her that she could then appease her sister (also something she had never done) and also be out and about without causing a riot and being recognized as she had feared.  As she donned the clothing, still not understanding but so shocked with the morning’s events that she dared not defy her sister, Gertrude dashed from the room and returned almost instantly garbed in one of those weird ensembles she insisted on wearing to Medieval Fairs and Sci-Fi Conventions but this outfit was much more appropriate to the former than the latter.  “You look like Robin Hood,” laughed Clarisse as Gertrude tied up the back of her dress.  Gertrude grinned and said, “one of us had better.  Come my Lady!”  They donned a pair of cloaks (also quite unfashionable) and made their way out the door and towards the park.
            “I still can’t believe we are doing this,” said Clarisse as they entered the park.  Gertrude grinned and said, “I cannot believe you are doing this, but I can easily believe I am doing this.”  Clarisse nodded dully, remembering all the times her weird sister had dressed up to attend movie premiers, book signings, and conventions.  On their own street, had there been anyone to observe they might have been remarked, but in the park they were quite overlooked as the various denizens were even more aberrantly arrayed than themselves.  There were the punk kids with their tattered clothes, chains, tattoos, and interesting hair colors.  There was a wedding party posing for pictures.  There was a herd of young people wearing nothing but black, as was their hair and make-up.  There were clowns and street performers and old ladies with blue hair, and in the mix no one noticed the pair of oddly clad young ladies. They had circled the park halfway when finally a vehicle drawn by something of vaguely equine descent stood waiting as the Handsome Cabs of London had in bygone years.  Clarisse gave one desperate look to her sister who only laughed excitedly and drew her into the buggy.
            The door closed behind them, the driver whipped up the beast, and off they rattled.  It was completely dark in the little carriage for the windows were covered and the doors were shut.  Clarisse wondered if perhaps she had wandered into a bad dream.  Gertrude was so happy she hoped she would not wake up and spoil it; her only disappointment was that her sister seemed to be the heroine of this tale and not herself.  They rattled on for what seemed hours but was perhaps only five minutes when the driver stopped the creature pulling the vehicle, descended from his perch, and opened the door while bowing deeply to its occupants.  They stood before an enormous castle that blushed crimson with the rising sun.  A middle aged man and woman, both handsome and wearing crowns, stood upon the great steps and stared in wonder at Clarisse; they had yet to notice Gertrude in their excitement.  Finally the woman spoke, “welcome home Princess!”  Gertrude gaped, “you are a princess?  Well I should have known!  That explains everything!”  “And who is this?” asked the man in some amusement.  Clarisse stuttered, quite overcome, “my sister.”  The Royal pair exchanged an amused smile and the Queen said gently, “but child, you have no siblings.  Perhaps she is your adopted sister but certainly she is not of Royal Blood.”  Clarisse’s eyes widened with shock and she said joyfully, “we are not related?  That is wonderful!  I knew she was too strange to be a blood relative!  I at first suspected aliens, but I suppose this is a reasonable alternative.  What did you say about me being a Princess?”
            Quickly the whole tale was told about how the girl’s birth was certainly a proclamation of doom and how she had been sent to another world for everybody’s sake and how her mother in that strange land had only had one baby but somehow everyone thought she had had two quite unidentical twins.  And now, the time had come for Clarisse to marry and live happily ever after.  Clarisse gaped, “but how can I marry someone I do not even know?  Maybe if he is a Prince and terribly handsome…”  Said the King, “certainly he is a Prince and Princes by definition must be handsome.  You must marry him or Dread Things might result.”  Wailed Clarisse, “none of my friends can see me arrayed for a Royal Wedding?!  This guy had better be handsome, rich, and a member of a popular boy band or at least European.”  The King and Queen exchanged a flummoxed look, not understanding the last part but the King replied soothingly, “worry not my dear, for the entire Kingdom shall see you so beautifully attired!  Your fickle friends in that other world could never compare to those you shall certainly make in your true home.”  The thought of being the most beautiful and popular woman in the Kingdom suddenly quieted the raging Clarisse who then said upon further thought, “what if I do not like this Prince?”  Said the King grimly, “as I said, Dread Things will likely result.  Know you not your history?”  Clarisse gaped, “how am I to know the history of a land I have never visited or even dreamed of.  I hardly know anything about American history, or at least American history prior to the advent of the internet, which was when reality really began.”
            Gertrude could stand it no more, “Clarisse are you an absolute imbecile?  They are not speaking of a specific history but of the history of Fairy Land in general.  Have you never read a fairy tale?”  Clarisse shrugged, “does watching that cartoon with the singing mice count?“  The King was astonished at such disrespect for his daughter and at the weird name she apparently bore in The Other World.  He said in a somewhat miffed tone, “my dear young lady!  You must hereafter address your former sister as Her Royal Majesty the Princess Flufflebun.”  Clarisse turned red with shame or anger, perhaps both; she liked the sound of everything except the last part.  Gertrude asked pleasantly, though desperately concealing a laugh, “I beg your pardon Majesty, but I knew not your customs and old habits shall certainly die hard.  May I beg to call Her Majesty ‘Fluffy’ or something less onerous in less than formal settings?”  The Queen smiled demurely and said, “that sounds a grand idea child, and we shall grant this strange request because you are sisters, at least in another world.  It seems you know something of our history?”
            Gertrude made a very proper courtesy to the Queen and said, “of your land in particular I know not even the name Majesty, but I am something of a scholar in Fairy Lore as it were, and know well the inevitability of the disaster of which you speak if certain things are not accomplished.”  Clarisse snorted in derision, thinking her sister too imbecilic to know anything of use or import.  The Queen nodded gravely and said, “and will your sister abide by our Royal Decree or shall we face the Consequences?”  Gertrude said quietly, “the decision must be hers Majesty but I pray her better nature wins out.”  Clarisse grimaced, “I shall do as I think best…mother.  Perhaps you should introduce me to Prince Charming before I make up my mind.”  The King clapped his hands and servants rushed upon the small gathering like crows upon carrion as he said, “that is a wonderful idea, my dear.  His name is Prince Slofelling III, darling; Prince Charming XXVII, his younger brother, recently married some third-rate Princess of Glopenstein.   He will be at the ball tonight, which celebrates your return to Lofrenier.”  Then the servants swept them off to prepare for the ball.  The King said quietly to the Queen once the horde had vanished, “what think you my dear?”  The Queen sighed, “I am afraid we sent her to the wrong world.  She is a bit too arrogant but perhaps it is only the strangeness of the situation?”  The King could only shake his head in commiseration.
            Finally Clarisse’s dream had come true: she had minions and lackeys galore, they would make her as beautiful as possible without her having to lift a finger!  Thus giving her plenty of time to interrogate her annoying ex-sister who was not quite so pleased to be going through such a dressing ritual.  Clarisse demanded of Gertrude as the servants fussed about their hair, “what exactly is going on?  Why is everyone convinced that the end of the world is going to happen if I don’t marry prince what’s his name?”  Gertrude shook her head grimly, annoying the servants by disarraying the carefully coiled strands, “do you know nothing?  In every single myth, legend, and fairy tale, something dreadful always happens when the Princess is about to marry.  It may not be the end of the world but it will be Dreadful!  You must marry this Prince and soon, or we all might be doomed.”  Clarisse whined, “but I am too young to get married.  Besides who gets married anymore, anyway?  What if I do not like this guy?”  Gertrude said bluntly, “then you doom us all.”  Clarisse sighed, “then I had better try at least.  Marriage cannot be worse than death I suppose.”  The servants spent the better part of the day fussing over the ladies and finally they finished just ten minutes before the ball was to begin.  Clarisse laughed for joy, she had never felt so regal.  Even Gertrude, usually a bit of a tomboy, was pleased with the results. 
            A harried looking servant waited anxiously for the ladies to emerge from their toilette and after making the appropriate courtesies, said hastily, “your Majesty must hasten to follow me, else she shall be late for her grand entrance.”  Clarisse er… Princess Flufflebun gasped and said, “how dreadful.  Lead on young man!”  The servant bowed and scurried off as quickly as seemed proper for a royal heiress to proceed.  Upon nearing the ballroom, he advised her Highness that once she heard the flourish of the trumpets, she must make her entrance through the curtains yonder.  Her attendant could then inconspicuously follow after.  Whether Clarisse or Gertrude were more incensed at the idea of the latter waiting upon the former, none will ever know, but at that moment the trumpets cried aloud, saving the poor servant from anything worse than two feminine glares.  Catching their meaning, he wisely chose to absent himself immediately from their presence.  Clarisse then made her first official appearance as Princess Flufflebun and the courtiers and guests gathered in the ballroom went mad with delight.  Gertrude allowed the uproar to die down and followed quietly after.
            Gertude wandered about the heavily laden food tables, sampling the strange provender while her sister was gaily introduced to all and sundry by her overjoyed parents.  After the extensive introductions and other formalities had been accomplished, it was time to dance, and dance they did.  All night did they dance and did not retire until it was truly the dawning of the following day.  Of course all the young gallants wished a chance to grace the floor with the stunning and long awaited Princess, but that honor fell almost exclusively to her affianced Prince.  He was a splendid dancer and spent most of the night whirling her about to the envy and joy of all there present, thus Clarisse had very little idea of his personality but he was handsome even in his strange clothes, which sufficed for the present.  Gertrude was not overly impressed with the Prince despite his good looks, for he did not deign to dance with nor even acknowledge the late sister of her Highness.  But then no one paid her much heed, for she was wont to lurk in the shadows and watch all that went on, she had no title or riches, and who could pay attention to such an insignificant creature when the true Princess had returned?  Mostly Gertrude was content to remain unnoticed, but somewhere deep within she felt a pang of sadness at the apparent apathy or even outright rejection of the court.  She might say she needed no one’s affirmation but like all mortal men, her soul quailed to think herself unloved of all men.

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