Storybook Fairy Tale
Princess Katherina sunk into the silk-draped sofa in her lounge, sighing as she pushed back up the heavy bracelets that had wriggled into her palm. Beside her stood a formidable stack of books that nearly reached her shoulders, but she seemed distinctly segregated from the volumes. It was not because of a distate for books, but rather because she had already read them all - twice. She knew what each book contained, and not a single one had been satisfactory. She loathed reshelving the books in the library, but the servants were always entertaining her parents and her extravagant elder brother, so she had to tend to the chore herself.
Deciding to leave the stack as it was for the time being, she lifted her long satin dress to avoid stepping on its lace-trimmed hem as she stood up. She noted that the jade-green of her dress seemed to have lost its luster and sheen, and she wondered if perhaps it was a good reason to pester the tailor to produce a new dress of a more fashionable hue, something she had wanted for the past few weeks. No one wore green dresses anymore these days, Katherina remarked when she imagined the last parlor party she had attended, and besides, she was far too young to be beheld in the same dress time and time again.
On the way down the Green Corridor, which led from the central foyer to the library and museum wings of the Royal Palace, she bumped into Benjamin, the scribe. Everyone in the royal family was quite literate, but for trivial matters such as writing invitations, taking down official minutes, and the like, Benjamin was the man to look for. But that was not Katherina’s intention this time around; she hardly had a care for business of any sort. Instead, she was one of very few people who knew of Benjamin’s secret hobby, which was story-writing. He was quite an expert, and Katherina had taken a liking to his novels and short stories, which unfortunately had not come out for a long time.
“Benjamin,” called Katherina, waving her silk-gloved hand at the stout man who wore a mustache that was slightly asymmetrical.
Highness, how delightful to meet you.
Just at the library, I presume?”
Katherina laughed daintily, placing her fingertips over her mouth. “You know me quite well! Benjamin, I was wondering if perhaps I could have a new story? I have read everything in the library twice over, and it is all becoming quite boring to me, if you would pardon my honesty.”
Benjamin nodded and shook his head simultaneously. “I’m afraid I haven’t had much time lately, Your Highness, because your mother Her Royal Majesty has requested a thousand personalized invitations in the Carolignia calligraphic hand. She wishes to have a grand party for the opening of the new Butterfly Atrium at the end of the Blue Corridor Annex.”
“Mother and her ostentatious whims!” whined Katherina. “Couldn’t you spare a moment for me, too?”
“Please be patient, Your Highness. I know how much Your Highness appreciates literature and how eager She is to feast her eyes on fresh print, but She must wait just a few weeks.”
The princess seemed visibly frustrated and left Benjamin without so much as a grunt. When she had disappeared around the bend, Benjamin kicked the wall, making the nearby wall-torch shudder for a moment.
A few days later, the Princess lay on her plush bed, her hands running up and down her freshly made dress. It had pleased her so greatly that she had danced in front of the tailor, to his delight. It fit just right, flattering all her newfound curves, and it was just that right shade of iridescent pale pink with just the right pattern of lush velvet ribbons that decorated the shoulders and bodice and waist.
Unfortunately, wearing the gorgeous dress did not abate her immense boredom. To her surprise, however, she heard the door knock three times.
“It’s some staff,” the Princess thought, since every class within the castle had a particular knock sequence.
“Yes, you may enter,” she announced, not bothering to leave her comforters.
The door opened, and in stepped Benjamin, whose eyes seemed bloodshot. When, the Princess noticed this, she sat up in surprise.
“Oh, dear! What happened to you?”
Benjamin handed her a few leaves of paper.
Katherina held them, reading over the words scribbled carelessly onto them in no particular lettering style at all. It was a love story about a shepherd who fell in love with a village girl who had taken care of a sheep that had run away from his pasture, returning it when it had grown large and fluffy. It was a happy tale, but it left no lasting impression on Katherina. Perhaps it was partially Benjamin’s fault for having written such a generic story, but it was equally partially the Princess’s fault for not having any experiences in her life that would have trained her to understand such emotions. She knew only fashion and studies, neither of which afforded much emotional vocabulary, even if she was regarded as the intellectual superior among her siblings.
“You really should rest,” Katherina said, handing back the pages. “You look very tired.”
“Does it not suit Your Highness’s tastes?” asked Benjamin.
Katherina seemed to stare far into the distance, considering what to say before actually speaking. During these moments, Benjamin felt a flit in his heart, a long-buried hope of finding someone who could comprehend the world as deeply as he. But it was only during these moments; the Princess rarely said anything that revealed hidden profundity in her character.
“I suppose I was just hoping for something more … involving. Something more dramatic, if you know what I mean. I know that this story has some drama, but it seems just like everything else, so plain. If only I could read something that could, as they say, move my heart … .”
“Oh, but if only I could! But I shall think upon it, Your Highness. I bid you farewell,” said Benjamin, bowing. It was unclear whether the gesture had any sincerity in it, but Katherina was too busy staring out the window to notice.
“Yes,” she murmured as Benjamin left the room, drawing the door closed with the grace of a ballerina.
Katherina was forced to attend the Butterfly Atrium party, despite her protests against participation in any event where “the old fogies outnumber the handsome princes in the same ratio as stars outnumber the moon.” Clearly, she decided, the poetry of her hyperbole fell upon art-deaf ears. Her mother had simply replied, “Then shoot for the moon, my dearest daughter.” Katherina fumed, remembering that if she missed, she would land among the stars.
In all honesty, it was not the large amount of outmoded had-beens that disturbed the teenage princess, but rather the fact that a number of said had-beens were in fact rich, snotty princes and dukes who hoped to pick up a bride before they died from their excess of riches and snot. Nevertheless, Katherina decided to obey for one reason or another; it is not a matter of great importance.
By the time she arrived, a good five dozen guests had already arrived, although they remained disorganized, not yet coagulated into distinct cliques. The background music provided by the quartet was simplistic and pleasant, but certainly not suitable for dancing. Katherina sighed, poking her golden-brown locks of hair with her fingertips to make sure that they were holding their positions.
The Blue Corridor Annex’s Ballroom, known affectionately as “Le Château de l’Eau,” doubled as a connecting room between the main corridor and the Butterfly Atrium. Princess Katherina could see, on the far side of the room, the two grand doorways draped with silk curtains that surely led to the atrium. She was frankly more interested in the butterflies than in the guests at the party, but there was little chance of her sneaking past everyone and slipping through the virgin doors, especially now that several people had noticed her presence.
She gritted her teeth as she observed a small mob of old ladies and gentlemen approaching her. “Smile, Katherina!” she reminded herself.
“Good day!” she greeted, curtseying gracefully without any excessive depth that would have jeopardized the perception of her royal superiority.
“What a pleasure to see Your Highness present at this celebration!” cried the Countess Laurel of Midowsdowne, bowing with the fluidity of a puddle of yogurt.
Not to be outdone, the Baroness Petalston complimented, “An exquisite dress, Your Highness; I envy your exquisite taste.”
Yet Katherina’s senses had already migrated elsewhere, for out of the corner of her eye, she had spotted an old man who, for lack of a better term, was busily checking her out. She frowned, remarking that he quickly turned his head aside when she stared him down, yet continued to gaze at her when she pretended to look the other way.
“Please pardon my rudeness, Ladies Laurel and Ophelia, let us please move over a bit so that we are not so much in the way of the other guests trying to acquire some refreshments.”
“Oh, yes, how thoughtful of Your Highness,” said Laurel quickly, shifting in an awkward way so that her billowy lavender dress wobbled from side-to-side like a tolling bell.
The three shifted positions, along with a perimeter of four or five shy guests who seemed to orbit but never spoke a word. Unfortunately, this did not deter the old man, and Princess Katherina began to grow desperate.
“Oh for crying out loud!” she finally interjected, exasperated, interrupting the other women in mid-sentence.
“Princess Katherina!” shouted the Baroness Petalston, outraged at the girl’s behavior, yet too fearful to directly redress the impulsive youth. The Baroness seemed to have a brief internal conflict as to how to best resume the conversation, but by the time she decided to ask the Princess what was the matter, Katherina was long gone.
The pink-clad princess daintily skipped across the ballroom tiles to a particularly crowded corner of the room, where the extensive family of the Lesser Prince of Eastumsberry was busily discussing what to do (to no avail, because the twelve members could never reach a consensus). Katherina circled around the crowd and slipped behind them near the corner, hoping to find a safe refuge, all the while keeping an owl’s vigilance out for the old man. Not looking where she was going, she felt herself squish against something firm but fleshy.
“A-ah?” she squeaked, looking forward for once.
A blinding smile cascaded down upon her, knocking her clear off balance.
“Oh, my deepest apologies!”
“Nonsense,” said the boy suavely, catching the princess on the back. “Call me Victor.”
“Then please call me Katherina,” invited the princess, staring into the beautiful face of the impossibly youthful, impossibly attractive figure that stood before her.
“Was something the matter, Katherina?” asked Victor. “I was watching your beautiful pilgrimage from over yonder to my fort.”
Katherina giggled, imagining the corner of the room protected only by a table and the Eastumsberries as a fortified stronghold.
“Well, you have to try to keep quiet about this, promise?” whispered Katherina, leaning forward ever so slightly, which might have been interpreted as a coquettish gesture.
“Your Highness has my strictest confidence,” said Victor.
“Shh, it’s Katherina here. We’re under cover, understood?” she corrected. Victor nodded, waiting for her to continue. “Okay, so do you see that old man over there? He’s been staring at me for the past fifteen minutes, and it’s making me really uncomfortable. What an old lecher!”
Katherina pouted, laying her fingertips on her chin. A ripple passed through the lowest tier of her dress while the velvet ribbons swayed around in anticipation. She imagined that she must have looked remarkably cute at that moment, an image that filled her with delight. If only Victor would notice her beauty, attending the party would have been worth all the trouble it caused.
Victor interrupted her reverie with a sharp whisper into her ear that no one around could hear. At first, she protested, but he held her hands in such a gentle yet willful caress that her qualms were rapidly subdued. She felt a shiver course through her body as she gasped from the sensual warmth that was now teasing her tender palms.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, or else,” the princess said, but her voice carried no hint of disapproval whatsoever.
The two parted ways, exiting the corner of the ballroom on opposite sides of the still-bickering Eastumsberries. With feminine charm, Katherina waltzed over to the quartet, which continued to play, although the members took turns looking up at her and blushing.
“Excuse me, good sirs, I was wondering if perhaps it would not inconvenience you too greatly to commence a minuet? Many of these fine ladies in attendance today must be aching to take to the floor, and I think it would be much more pleasant than having everyone huddled up in the corners,” she entreated with a sweet voice.
“After this piece finishes, Your Highness,” said the first violinist quickly, trying not to lose his place on the page.
Katherina smiled, looking over a few heads to see Victor, tall and handsome as ever, making his way towards a shy, awkward looking young lady wearing a dismal gray gown. The princess waited patiently for the heartthrob to give her the signal – a wink that she immediately returned.
Gliding again, this time more conservatively, she walked up to the old man, whose friends quickly parted, leaving him alone in the center. The Princess looked down at the ground demurely, tugging lightly on her dress.
“Your Excellency, I was wondering if you’d acquiesce to a dance with a girl like me,” she said, trailing off towards the end.
The old man gave a grunt of approval, inciting an expression of disgust from the girl which fortunately was out of his line of sight. On cue, the music switched over, Princess Katherina and her elated partner sweeping onto the floor to everyone’s surprise. There were numerous murmurs regarding her taste in men, but most of the gossip quickly turned to Victor and the gray girl, who were in such a hurry to dance that they did not even put down their wine glasses.
Hastily, the old man bowed and Katherina curtsied, and the two began to dance, but it only took two or three steps for Katherina to realize that she had what amounted to a drunken dandelion seed for a partner. “It’s a minuet, you fool!” she thought angrily. “You’re supposed to take small, patient glides, not pounces befitting a mountain puma!” But her outrage eroded when she realized that the unexpected circumstances were all for the better.
By this time, at least half of the crowd had joined in the dance, as it was still dear to the hearts of the older generation, although it had long since fallen out of favor with the youngsters who craved more lively dances. “Argh, the crowd’s gotten thick,” the princess mentally observed, trying to search the floor for Victor’s trap.
“Perchance Your Elegant Lovely Beauteous Highness dropped something?” asked the old man.
“I-I don’t think so. Just making sure – it never hurts to be cautious,” said the princess, internally smirking at the dramatic irony of the situation. There, just a few feet away, was the glistening puddle of carelessly dribbled wine from Victor and the gray girl’s typhoon of a dance. Princess Katherina decided to console the poor handsome lad afterwards for having sacrificed his dignity for the sake of her revenge, which needed her utmost concentration. Closer … and closer … just a few more measures … and now to let this dandelion seed have his way all of a sudden!
Alas, poor Victor could only hear the joys of conquest through his ears, which perceived first the squeak, then the bang, then the shrieks and laughter, and then, of course, the syrupy, pitying voice of the beautiful princess, leaning over her fallen partner.
“You are really too cruel,” said Victor with a laugh when the two of them had finally obtained some private peace in the Butterfly Atrium after the extravagant gala debut that is of no relevance to this story.
“Me, cruel?” said Katherina cutely. “My, my, what a sharp tongue this one has, especially since Your Excellency came up with the entire plan.”
“It’s Victor,” warned the boy.
“Oh, it’s alright. We’re not undercover any longer. And you do have some title, do you not?”
“I’m merely a Baron hailing from Ludston, in the South,” said Victor. “Your Royal Highness mustn’t be seen too long in public with a man of my lowly station. Surely Your Highness wishes to be married soon?”
“Married?!” exclaimed Katherina. “Hardly! What use have I for becoming a wife? I already have the crown – what else would I stand to gain?”
“Call me old-fashioned, but perhaps love? A life-long companion?” offered the young Baron.
at party, Katherina notices a man staring at her frequently; she also meets the handsome young Baron Victor
later, she is notified that she is to marry the man, but she steadfastedly refuses. Initially, the parents accept her decision, but as the intent of the country to have a hand in the local politics one way or another surfaces, they push her to marry, prompting a falling out during which she flees to Victor. Fearing open warfare, the royal family meanwhile becomes a puppet of the other country, prompting unrest among the citizens. Benjamin runs off to find Katherina, who he finds working as a waitress. After her shift, they settle down in her back room, which has turned into a library of sorts. He hands her his new book, which begins …
“You have quite an impressive collection, Your Highness,” remarked Benjamin, looking around at the makeshift shelves that covered nearly the entire perimeter of the small room. The books were clearly acquired on a budget, as they seemed as grimey and withering as the wooden supports that feebly held up the roof.
“My name is Katherina,” the former princess responded evenly. “You can call me Katie for short.”
stared into Katherina’s round blue eyes, trying to find traces of the royal
pride that once coursed through those aquamarine orbs. But no dignity remained – she was as broken
as her dismal tenement. Having hoped
that her retort was a sign of her fiery will, instead he found that she simply
ceased to care. Her breathing sounded
shallow, and she had a brief coughing fit before continuing.
“So why are you really here, Ben? I thought they treat you well back at the castle,” she said.
“To see you,” Benjamin answered. “Is there something wrong with that?”
“No. But you’ve seen me now,” Katherina said, removing her outer dress, revealing an off-white blouse and frayed trousers. She made as if she would sit down on her cot, but she apparently decided against it, instead simply standing there, crossing her feet at the ankles. “Satisfied?”
“Then say what you want. I don’t have all day, you know … it’s getting late already.”
“Do remember that day, so long ago, when you were lying on your plush bed in that gorgeous pink dress, and you demanded a story that would wrench your heart?”
Katherina remained mute, uncrossing her legs and walking over to an old wardrobe on which hung a cracked mirror. Although the cracks were old enough to be lined with dust and mold, the way they stabbed through the glass seemed to preserve for all time the moment of orgasmic self-loathing in which the flesh first strikes life, leaving fragments whose edges yet still line up.
The right door swung open, and its upper hinge dislocated, causing the wooden panel to jerk downwards as it moved. The girl withdrew a folded heap, bringing it with her back to the cot, where she finally sat down, her left hand stroking the soft fabric.
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, my dear sir,” said Katherina apologetically. “I was not the one who asked for such a favor. It was the girl who once owned this dress. Alas, she has gone missing from the royal palace!”
“And she used to live there, I gather?” ventured Benjamin.
“Oh yes, she did, she did. And so you are the writer, but I think that, as she is nowhere to be found, and seeing as there is not a single search party dispatched for the task of finding her, your obligation to her is nullified. You can stop."
Benjamin dissented, asking, “Why stop when I am nearly complete?” He was scribbling out a few lines at the bottom of the last page in the binding. “And I think that she would be most pleased that I had finally honored her wishes.”
“May I look, then? Strictly as a book aficionado, of course,” said Katherina.
Benjamin gave a sad smile, looking once more at the beautiful girl who sat before him, broken like the mirror behind her. Then, he dropped the pages onto a shelf, turning around and leaving the restaurant.
The girl hesitated for a minute, instead tracing the receding figure until the outline collapsed into nothingness. And then, perhaps, she picked up the pages, which would have begun:
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess named Katherina who had a penchant for good literature. On one particularly overcast day in the month of April, something seemed to be amiss in the royal castle lounge, where Princess Katherina sank into her silk-draped sofa, sighing as she pushed back up the heavy bracelets that had wriggled into her palm. Beside her stood a formidable stack of books that nearly reached her shoulders, but she seemed distinctly segregated from the volumes. It was not because of a distate for books, but rather because she had already read them all - twice. She knew what each book contained, and not a single one had been satisfactory … .