The rescue of the dancing maidens, part 2

His lovely daughters in their dresses made of tissue silk and spider webs, all glanced upwards demurely at their father and murmured, “But Papa, Our King, we know nothing of dancing slippers. We sleep fully every night after our days of study and walks in the gardens.” But the king fancied he saw more in the eyes of his daughters, a glint of mischief, a hint of sly, and although he dismissed them from his chambers with sweet words, he began to plan.

The next day, a call went out across the land to one & all: the King wished for any able-bodied sort who could solve the mystery of the tattered dancing slippers and so the march began. Many men lined up at the castle gate to demand their chance to solve the mystery, for the prize was very great: choose a princess as a bride.

The princesses were incensed. ‘He will give us up the highest bidder?’ fumed Princess Heliotrope, the youngest, to which replied Princess Olivia, the oldest, ‘Not exactly. The one who breaks the secret,’ and each princess looked at the other, Cerulia to Lily, Solidago to Indigo, Jessamine to Scarlet, Clematis to Evergreen, Geranium to Rosa. Now the princesses may have been spoiled but they were not stupid. In fact they were quite intelligent, their mother having been a scholar of great repute, as evidenced by their names (their mother being pleased by botany and the physics of light waves). They enjoyed their studies and their walks while they discussed issues of the day. But this was not the sum total of their lives.

The princesses had a secret and it was not a secret they wished to give up.

The first man to be presented to the King (he was not the first man in line—the King’s Royal Guard looked over each man and determined whether he was fit to even enter the presence of the King and princesses, which probably wasn’t the best way to choose a champion but the Royal Guard did not know any better) was large and comely. He held himself well, as if he knew already that he would be marrying a princess.

The King eyed the man suspiciously and demanded his name. “Jordana Berlini,” he said, dropping to his knee & bowing his large head. “Well, Jordana Berlini,” said the King, “you will stand guard over my daughters this night and you shall discover this mystery of the tattered dancing slippers. It can’t be that hard for a man such as you.”

Berlini rose, saluted his King and was led to the door of the princess’ chamber. A chair had been provided for him but he firmly stood in front of the door and took the spear offered him by the Royal Guard. And the night began.

Berlini stood and then he sat. The sun set and the light in the corridor lessened. Servants came by to light lamps so that a warm glow filled the space. Berlini walked a little way to stare out a window overlooking a lovely garden of roses and lavender, herbs of many types & beautiful fruit trees. He didn’t know what he was observing for Berlini was not a gardener, but he thought the small garden rather charming. But what is this? The princesses were entering the garden from their rooms dressed in colors that reflected their names: dark satin green, pale yellow of silk, deep fluttering blue and so on. Berlini was struck by their beauty, never haven’t seen them, only having heard stories.

Berlini suddenly remembered his task and hurried down the stairs to find a door to the garden. The servants pointed the way and he came through the door into the gently fragranced garden just as the last princess stepped through a clematis arch and disappeared. He stumbled through the garden in the dimming light breaking a branch from an apple tree and followed the princesses through the arch.

He was suddenly in a much larger walled garden and the princesses were flitting across a lawn of fine grass with tall birches and daffodils scattered amongst the trees. They seemed not to notice him so he stepped boldly into the field of daffodils.

“And who are you?” asked a gentle voice behind him. He whirled to see a princess behind him cupping a goblet in her hands. Overcome by her sweet demeanor and delicate ways, he stammered, “B-B-Berlini.”

“Well, B-Berlini,” she teased, ”please have this drink with our compliments. You have been guarding for a long time, surely you are thirsty.”

And because it was twilight and he thought her sweet and innocent, he took the goblet and drank deeply.

“You may escort me around the garden,” the princess said. So Berlini held his arm out stiffly and the princess laid a tiny hand on his burly arm. “May I know your name?” he croaked.

She smiled up at him around her silken hair and was silent. Berlini wasn’t sure he could say another word so he couldn’t repeat the question.

They walked among the trees, the princess guiding him through the daffodils, and Berlini drank deeply of the sweet drink given him. He stumbled slightly and realized that the drink was a mead. Cursing to himself, he didn’t drink again, but the damage was done. He looked at the darkening sky breathing deeply trying to gather his wits, not noticing that they had come to a halt.

The princess was looking at him quizzically. ‘Do you need to sit down?’ she asked gently. He looked at her, although her face was now blurry. “Yes,” he said and sat on a patch of daffodils and then slowly lay back because he was so tired and where had the other princesses gone. No, he needed to rest and then he find them…

Berlini opened his eyes. The sunlight was streaming brightly through the birches. He closed his eyes quickly as the sun pierced through his eye and into his aching head. A small voice interrupted his suffering. “I’ve brought you some drink and bread.” Berlini squinted with one eye. A small house servant stood in front of him with a cup and buns in a basket.

He groaned as he sat up and took the food. The servant looked at him anxiously. “Are you able to walk?” she asked. “Why?” groused Berlini. “Well, this is the princess’ special garden and no one is allowed here & you are here but you shouldn’t and I wouldn’t you to lose your life because you fell asleep and the Royal Guard caught you…” and she continued on in the same vein. Berlini stopped listening for he was filled with horror. Morning and if there were tattered slippers, what would happen to him?

He interrupted the servant. “What is your name, girl?”

“Gabriella, sir,” she said and bobbed a curtsey, then blushed. Berlini was charmed. “Well, Gabriella, I should like to keep my head and the rest of my body parts, so where is a secret exit or garden door or am I to climb the wall?”

“Oh sir, I will be in trouble if I take you to such an exit.” And surely Gabriella looked so troubled that he immediately rose and started for the wall to climb.

“No sir, not that way, the Royal Guard is that way,” she babbled as she tug his sleeve in the opposite direction.

She guided him to a mass of ivy, pulled it back, exposing a mossy door. Reaching in her pocket she pulled out a large key & unlocked the door smoothly. Berlini opened the door, then hesitated and turned to Gabriella. “I will come back for you,” he said rather sternly, at Gabriella’s startled face and then he swept her into arms and kissed her thoroughly. He left swiftly, leaving a rather pink and bemused girl who was already beginning to dream of a different life.

When the castle awakened, there was an uproar. Berlini was gone. How? Why? The princesses stood the Royal Chamber, heads bowed, uttering soft ‘No” to all questions and then asked to be excused to go to their lessons. And the King fancied saw a half smile on Princess Heliotrope’s face and he wondered.

The Royal Guard brought in the next man.

The princesses were incensed.

“I am behind in history and reading my Aristotle,” said Princess Scarlet. “And I haven’t played my flute in 3 days,” said Princess Clematis. “Well, we could tell Father the secret,” wheedled Princess Heliotrope. The other princesses stared at her with withering glances and she noticeably withered. “Well, I suppose not,” she said under her breathe. Olivia sat next to her.

“You understand why we do not share the secret,” she began, but before Heliotrope could answer, Olivia went on. “ We have decided as a group to be more than princesses. Princesses do not enjoy their lives, princesses are not allowed to continue studies,” and at this Heliotrope started to make frustrated noises. Olivia changed her tact. “Yes, Mother was an exception, but even she couldn’t travel and SEE what she was studying and what do we want?”

The princesses in union said, “To be free, to travel, to learn, to be free.”

Heliotrope said grumpily, because she did not like the lectures from Olivia, “Why is it that we repeat ‘to be free’?” The princesses rolled the eyes and began to gather books and papers in order to move to the tutorial room. Olivia, with a hint of frustration, said quite deliberately, “Because it is a spell and repetition is strong.”

“You don’t really believe in the magic, do you, Olivia?” asked Evergreen, she lay halfway under the ottoman reaching for a book. Olivia looked at her fiercely. “Why do you think we can do what we do? Did you truly think that is all real?”

Evergreen lay on the floor with her book balanced on her stomach. “I can’t get my chemistry to mesh with the magic plus physics just obliterates the whole possibility.”

Olivia rose from her chair. “There is more to the world than science and I say no more.” And she left the room, Evergreen & Heliotrope staring at each other, rather frustrated. Then they rose and went to the tutorial room also.

Time raced by that spring. Man after man came through the garden gate, had a glass of mead and slept in the grass of the birch only to awaken at daybreak to a little food carried by a servant, who warned him of the Royal Guard and led him through the secret door.

The Royal Guard brought in the next candidate. The Guard was fidgeting. He was not at all pleased with this choice but somehow the candidate had convinced him and now here he was, having possibly made the biggest mistake of his life.

The King was slumped in his throne. The dancing slippers issue was getting out of hand. It wasn’t a matter of money, although new dancing slippers for all 12 princesses did add up quickly if they were purchased every day. The King now had a new shoe maker dedicated to dancing slippers. Rather it was the principal of the thing. Surely there was one man in his kingdom who could solve this mystery.

A cloaked and hooded figure stood at the door when the King next glanced up. “Come forward,’ he said grumpily, “I can’t see you from there.” The figure moved swiftly and gracefully forward and knelt in front of the King. The King waved his hand impatiently for him to stand. “Tell me why you can succeed where so many others have failed.” He had a small twinge of something nasty as he wondered where the men had gone. He sincerely hoped that the Royal Guard hadn’t taken it upon himself to do away with them.

The figure stood swiftly and pulled back the hood. “Because I am what they are not,” she said. The King stood and thundered, “Royal Guard!” “No!” yelled the woman just as loudly. The King was dumbstruck. No one yelled at him before this moment. He abruptly sat down and looked at her face.

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