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What a Princess Wants

Katina French is an advertising copywriter and writer of speculative fiction, including The Clockwork Republics, a series of steampunk retellings of classic fairy tales. She lives with her family in a grey cottage in southern Indiana, under the protection of a ferocious Siamese cat. This is her second story at Daily Science Fiction. You can follow her on Twitter @KatFrench or visit her website: katinafrench.com.

AszI brushes the endless knots out of my daughter's hair. She giggles and says, "It's like Rapunzel's, right?"
I snort and kiss the top of her head. I do not say what first springs to mind, which is that Rapunzel's real name was Persinette, and calling a girl "Rapunzel" is basically like calling a modern girl "spinach salad."
It's not her fault. Dawn's only experience with fairy tales is from children's movies with all their rough edges erased. They shimmer like stained glass, and if you have a special set of glasses, the illusion of depth.
My experience with fairy tales is more personal.
I look out her window, and spot a flash of iridescence. For a moment, I spy sharply pointed ears under a headdress of antlers and leafy twigs. Then the picture shifts into suburban shrubbery, bluebirds nestled in its depths.
I nod politely, in case my eyes aren't playing tricks on me. I know better than to risk offending my godmother.
Dawn squirms as I twist her blond tresses into the braid she requested for the Christmas program. It's her last year at Briar Ridge Elementary. She wants to look like a princess. I want to preserve her illusion that being a princess is a good thing.
Soon, her princess fantasies will pass beyond sparkly dresses and braids. They will wrap themselves around the idea of a man. It makes me fear for her. I know from experience, the path to a happy ending often leads through nightmare territory.
By the time I was Dawn's age, my father was entertaining marriage offers from local nobles. I still remember Mother parading me down the Great Hall during the Yule feast. There may have been a few princes, but "charming" was a polite way to avoid mentioning missing teeth and battle scars.
By night's end, father had traded me to a baron for a few acres. If I died before presenting an heir, the land would revert, so the wedding was postponed until my sixteenth year. Younger girls died in childbirth, often taking their babies with them. I was packed off to the country manor, like a cask of wine sent away to mature.
Well, they certainly got a longer wait than they bargained for, didn't they?
"Be patient! I'm almost done." I tug Dawn's braid, as I tie the ribboned elastic around the end.
Greg's voice calls in from the kitchen. "Girls! Scrambled or over medium?"
"Over medium!" I yell back. Boisterous. Unladylike.
"Scrambled!" Dawn shouts, laughing.
She leaps off the bed, and runs to the kitchen barefoot. At her age, I couldn't have done any of those things. I walked in long sweeping steps to clear my skirts, after years of practice and sharp slaps when I tried to grab them. A lady did not touch her skirts. The kitchen was for servants, and the floor was littered with things you wouldn't want to encounter with bare feet.
The manor house was smaller and warmer than the keep. It stood surrounded by gardens; roses to perfume the rooms and blackberries for brandy. I was hiding among the blackberry brambles--as I did whenever horses approached--when she found me.
"Why do you cower? Don't you want to be a great lady, like your mother? Isn't that the fate for which you were born?"
A shimmer passed over her, and her spine straightened. Even in the dusky light I could see the sharp points of her ears, the iridescent flash of her eyes.
"Hmm. I suppose you are not much like her, after all."
"You know my mother?"
"Oh, aye. When she was small, she danced with me in the starlight. I thought her quite wild and lovely, for your kind. But then she grew tame and common. She banned me from your christening. As if she had power over anything!"
"What do you want?" I asked, trembling.
She smiled a terrible smile. "No, my dear. What do you want? I've waited years to give you a gift."
She reached beneath her cloak. I don't know what I expected; a wand or a knife, a bottle of poison or a magic potion. Instead, she pulled out a drop spindle.
"Shall we spin you a better fate?"
"Talia? You all right?" A frown scrunches Greg's expression.
I smile at him over my plate. The toast is a compromise. I tried to learn to like the spongy white foam and the greasy yellow goo from the supermarket. Eventually, we started going to a farmers' market for real bread and butter. Many things have improved in a millennium; buttered toast is not among them.
"I'm okay. It's just... she's growing up so fast."
Greg thinks I was raised in a "neo-medieval doomsday cult." It's the best explanation they could come up with after I crawled out of the manor catacombs, babbling in Latin and Old English.
He comes over to me, leans down and wraps his arms around me, planting a kiss on my cheek. He smells like aftershave and bacon and a thousand years of things slowly getting better. I lean back into his warmth.
"She's still a little girl. It's not like when you were a kid. You know that, right?"
"I know." I hope.
I turn and look up at him. He is smart, kind and handsome. Despite the two-day scruff of beard, Greg is too soft around the edges for modern tastes, but perfectly suited to mine.
Modern women seem to want a mishmash of Greek god and highwayman, judging by the books a few aisles down from the squishy bread and the "I absolutely believe it's not butter."
And in my time? What a woman wanted didn't matter. Father would have locked me in a tower before he'd have let me marry a tradesman like Greg. Or put me in the grave, first.
I guess we both got our way, in the end.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Author Comments

The first few lines of this story really happened. I was brushing my daughter's hair and she laughed and mentioned Rapunzel. It made me think how modern suburban moms have all these medieval princess fantasies. But I suspect if they'd known the level of privilege we enjoy, medieval princesses would've had suburban mom fantasies. I've always loved Sleeping Beauty, but in this version I tried to give her a little more agency. The sleeping curse is her choice. It's a brave, hopeful one considering she had no idea what kind of world she might find when she woke up.

- Katina L. French
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