A different view on a familiar story
Word Count: 1804
A pox on love! thought Harriet for the umpteenth time.
It had all sounded terribly romantic when the Princess had first clutched Harriet's arm and breathlessly confessed her love for George, the title-less (but so handsome and wealthy) son of the horse merchant. Harriet found herself slightly crimsoning up at the thought, even now, albeit for very different reasons.
"The king is never going to take you back as a lady-in-waiting now Harriet! You're quite done for. No other princesses around to wait on are there? You've done yourself out of a job proper, that's what you've done!" Harriet muttered, no longer caring as to who might overhear her.
It didn't make her feel any better. Harriet sighed, wondering for a moment if this was the "divine punishment" Brother Caleb went on each sermon about. Just as that thought formed, she felt another stone work its way into her slippers.
Well, not her slippers really, they were hers. Harriet stifled a scream and sat down on the dirt road, no longer caring if this was unlady-like or unprincess-like behaviour. She wiggled her feet gingerly out of the slippers. She stared at her blistering and swollen feet.
After four hours of walking, she felt sorry that she ever persuaded the Princess to wear items that were "elegant and delicate" rather than "outdoorsy and stout".
It was all that stupid lover-boy's fault. Harriet had all been for running away - she even helped the Princess pack, selecting all of the very best of the Princess's good coats and her most beloved jewelry. Harriet had packed along her belongings as well, quite certain that George (and his father) would see them amply provided for. Why, the King might even reconcile later on with his very handsome son-in-law and only child!
Harriet had liked that plan. What she hadn't realised was that the plan went further. It also involved Harriet riding (not side-saddle!) in the opposite direction from the Princess and her One True Love. It also, for some reason, involved her pretending to be the Princess. George had tried to explain that they needed to do so in order to distract or mislead the guardsmen.
Or something clever like that. Harriet thought he had also mentioned meeting up again, but she was beginning to doubt her own memory - it had all been a little bit hazy and shocking after he made her change into the Princess's spare good gown and swap shoes. Her ears had also been rather blocked from the tearful parting she and the Princess had. She certainly did not recall much of George's instructions after George and the Princess had left her, and she remembered even less after that one idiotic horse they had left her with had ambled off, while she was having a good cry.
Now the sky was rumbling.
And now it was pouring.
Harriet felt hot tears mixing with the cold fat raindrops. She was quite ready to give up, but there was nowhere or no one to give up to.
Feeling sorry for herself, she gazed off into the distance, wishing for it all to end. It took her a while, after another good cry, to realise that she was in fact looking straight at the tall wooden gates of some grand old home. It was farther away than she liked, but nearer than anything else.
When she arrived at the rather tall (but oldish) gate, she felt rather lost. They looked solidly wooden and probably all locked up. She tapped at it, then shrugged. These were desperate times. Harriet picked up a good-sized rock and...
The gates yawned open by an inch.
"Say, who are you then?" a rather large eye attached to a rather bushy brow asked.
"I'm Har- Harmony."
"Hungry? Yeah you look it."
"No! Well yes, but no!" Harriet stomped her foot in distress. "My name is Harriet, I mean, Harmony. I seek shelter."
The eye narrowed, "Can't. Queen back there ish 'aving herself a right old party. Only royalty see?" The gate was slowly closing.
"Wait! I am royalty! See! Just look at my gown, peasant! I am Princess Harmony the second of her name and my King, I mean of course, my father, is King Rollo the third of his name. Now let me in!"
There was silence. Harriet worried for a moment that she might have overdone it.
"Cor! Hear that polishness in her voice. She could be quality right there. It's in the rollin' of the Rs I say, that's the difference between that and a wailing cat."
A more distant voice said, "Yeah! Geeze, I mean her old Da's called Rollo? Three times too? And there are two Harmonys? She must be some royalty. 'Em royal ones like to repeat names and never go for the good solid names like Tom or Jane."
"But her dress? It don't look all posh like. And where's 'er carriage then?"
"Well tat ain't hard. She's enchanted or under some spell see? 'Em's royalty famous for 'em. Last guy was a frog or somethin'."
"Ho! Alright then. Better help 'er along!"
The eye disappeared and the gate opened a little further. "Come on in miss. We'll bring yer to the Queen."
Harriet took a step forward and then almost took a step back.
Standing before her expectantly were two of the shortest men she had ever seen. Their beards took up almost all of their face, such that she couldn't make out their expressions easily. Both of them were stout and wearing the most incredibly tall and pointed hats she had ever seen. One hat was obviously taller than its owner could cope with - it flopped sadly to one side. Harriet wondered whether they realised that overcompensation was so last fall fashion. Nonetheless, they were quite dry, and had promised to take her to some one actually in charge. Not hesitating any further, she strode in, more confidently than she felt.
The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur. She was shoved into a room full of people, with more people than room. The noise of a hundred conversations and smells overwhelmed her.
Someone handed her a giant goblet. It was very hard to see the bottom. The liquid inside looked dark and angry. The tasty was vile at first, but warmed her insides. Suddenly she cared for very little. It didn't matter that she was dripping wet, or that the dress was ruin, that a pool of water was gathering beneath her or that she had lost both of the thrice-cursed slippers.
However, before Harriet could take in everything (or finish her goblet), she found herself standing in front of some old crone, decked out in silk and almost suffocated by a very heavy gold tiara decked out in sapphires. She was using a rather stiff young man for support. He had an equally ridiculous-looking crown with rubies littered all over it. Harriet found his gaze disconcerting.
They said a few words. Harriet couldn't really catch them, but nodded anyway, no longer really caring. The crone clapped her hands and there was a hush.
Moments later, Harriet found herself being hustled along a rather nice corridor. She entered a room. Excess, she thought. Everything was... excessive. The walls glittered like gold and everything else in the room dazzled. More strangely, Harriet didn't see a bed-
Well that just took the cake. "Am I suppose to get up there?"
Someone must have mistaken her question as an order. A ladder appeared (thankfully not gold encrusted). She felt herself propelled forward by firm hands behind her back. She resisted, but found herself falling. Before floating.
She floated upwards, faintly aware that she was somehow now being carried. She noted that it was a strong masculine presence - rather thick arms were holding her up. This was rather pleasant. It came to a stop.
She was suddenly enveloped in sheets of silky softness. Clawing desperately, she found herself sinking further, nails unable to find any sort of purchase on what were otherwise very cool and soft silk sheets. This went on for what felt like eternity. At some point, her body must have given up, as Harriet found herself waking slowly to the most unpleasant sensation. Everything aches. The feeling perplexed her and she had to stifled a cry. She was also bent into the most unnatural and uncomfortable shape. Obviously ergonomics wasn't a concept that had reached these backwaters.
She moaned a little. This was apparently some sort of signal. Many painful moments later, Harriet found herself standing (still in yesterday's gown!) before the same crone and young man.
"How did you sleep dear?"
Harriet suppose she had to be generous. "Oh my. I slept really well-" she saw an almost imperceptible shake of the old crone's head, tiara waggling ever so slightly.
"It's a blessing to be truthful dear. Now do tell us."
Fine. "OH very badly! I could scarcely close my eyes all night. I am sure that I am black and blue all over my body. I feel horrible!"
Scarcely did the words come out of her mouth, than the old crone swivel to face the young man, a wide grin on her face. The crone snapped her fingers and something was presented to her. Something rather tiny.
"A bet is a bet!" The old crone crowed. "This is a pea and that's your woman! A real princess! Now give me an heir you silly grandson!"
Harriet gaped at her in shock, not understanding any of it.
"Dear God, has the woman gone completely mad?" she gasped. Harriet didn't quite expect to be answered.
"Mad with wanting probably." A silky voice replied. "Still, this is quite the coup. I suppose I shall now have to compose something in honour of this occasion. It'll be hard to rhyme anything with pea..."
Harriet turned to face the speaker. "What? And who?" She meant to say "and who are you?", but she choked back that question when she saw his garb. He was a bard obviously. She felt the blood leaving her face. King Rollo would definitely hear of this now - he loved his stories. This was getting messy.
"Well can you... can you not?"
"Not sing? Me?" This was accompanied by a look of pure shock and disdain.
"Um. Well... can you leave my name out of it?"
The bard looked slightly less ruffled. "That I can do. Nothing goes well with Harmony anyway, begging your pardon. Well except maybe money. but that's not a word to use here. It'll be much easier working with the princess and the pea as key thematic words!"
Harriet inched away slightly from him in alarm. This was a very silly place indeed. She was determined to leave here as soon as possible, shoes or no shoes.