AN: This is my novelization of the Grimms' "King Thrushbeard." I've never put something like this on FF net, but I'm hoping it'll result in some good feedback. Any review is welcome and helpful!
I am beautiful.
This is not an opinion. This is a fact. Moreover, it is a fact so basic and indisputable that it feels somewhat ridiculous to say it, like it would to insist that grass grows, or that "up" is in the direction of the sky. And yet, now that I've indeed said it, I feel I must explain, or risk leaving you with the wrong impression. When I say "beautiful," you may call to mind some particular lovely you once saw waving from a window or smiling demurely from a portrait. Well, unless this lovely happens to actually be myself, Princess Desmonda of Asynnia, put it out of your head. No, when I say "beautiful" I mean heart-stoppingly, breath-stealingly dazzling. I am speaking of a splendor that has spread its reputation over dozens of kingdoms and which redefines beauty for everyone who sets eyes on me. At least, I guess that's what they say.
Only a bit less widespread is the reputation for the sharpness of my wit, and already I'll bet you think you know where this is going. I'll bet you have a picture all painted in your mind and you're sure you know the whole story. "Long, wavy, honey-golden hair," you're thinking, "large, deep, aqua-green eyes" (because you know better than to believe perfect beauty would settle with a cliché like blue). "Peaches-and-cream complexion, exquisitely sculpted face and form, graceful as a young doe. And if she's as brilliantly clever as she is beautiful—which is surely the case—she's certainly the youngest daughter of some powerful king and has some handsome prince and happy ending already picked out."
But in this last, you would be wrong. I am no youngest. I am an only. No brothers. No sisters. Just me. This means that not only do I get the beauty, not only do I get the intellect, but I get the kingdom. This country hasn't had a reigning queen for a hundred and twenty years. Does that sound like something I would hand over just for a dashing young man with a plume in his circlet?
My father spent most of my life worrying that I wasn't "interested in boys," and my mother spent it assuring him that "these things come in time." When my thirteenth birthday arrived and I made my social debut, it looked like she was right. After my birthday ball and banquet, she came to my room and sent my handmaid away so she could put me to bed herself. It was what she always did when she wanted to talk.
"You were marvelous, darling," she said languidly as she unlaced my girdle, as though it were something that didn't really need to be said. And of course, it didn't. I had been marvelous. I had been marvelous with my guests, and I had been marvelous with the banquet, and I had been marvelous dancing all through the night. I was exhausted, but marvelous. The next words out of her mouth were not so simple and obvious.
"Did you have a good time?" There was nothing languid about her tone now. She wanted an answer. I sighed.
"Do you mean 'did I meet any boys?'" I replied. My evasion had very little to do with sparing her disappointment, and a great deal to do with the conversation I knew she'd be having with my father later.
"I mean," she persisted stubbornly, "did you have a good time?"
I sighed again. "No."
"Oh." She was disappointed, as I thought she'd be. As anyone would expect her to be. She'd planned the whole thing for months. She made a swift recovery, though—you'll never see anyone hide that they're hurt as quickly as a mother can—with the prompt for which she now knew I'd have an answer.
"Well, did you meet any boys?"
"You did?" She sounded suddenly pleased again in spite of her efforts to remain causal. I was merciless.
"Ohhh, yes," I went on. "Plenty of boys. I met tall boys, and short boys, and fat boys, and skinny boys, and boys who couldn't hold a conversation if they used both lily-white hands, and boys who couldn't dance an allemande to save their own becrowned heads. I met," I concluded with a sneer of disgust and a smirk of satisfaction, "plenty of boys, and I frankly don't see what the fuss is over the species." (I was a very articulate thirteen-year-old.)
Bless Mother, she was patient. She was quiet as she finished unlacing me then fetching me a nightgown. It was only after she had unpinned my hair and begun to brush it out that she spoke.
"Boys are usually not worth one's time," she agreed, in her quiet way. It deflated me somehow. All the bombast I had at the ready was lost. It was a trick only she could do; my father never learned it. I was a docile audience for the duration of at least a few maxims.
"But you know, Dessie," she continued gently, "boys, sooner or later, become men. And a good man is always worth one's time." She put down the brush, turned me around, and hugged me. The she held me by the shoulders and smiled a motherly smile at me. "Give them time," she said.
It was good advice, advice worthy of being taken, and I took it. This is fairly impressive, because I am not very good at taking advice. In this, unfortunately, as in most things, I am like my father. Whether my mother gave a variant of the same advice to him, I do not know, but if she did he ignored it. I was given no time. Within a fortnight the castle was bustling in preparation for another ball; a month and a half later, it took place, and twice as many eligible youths attended. I knew it was not my mother who invited them.
But I survived, and I gave them their time. For three years, I gave them their cursed time. I must have met thousands of boys in those three years. Some of them, I suppose, were nice enough. But oh, if they were nice then they were clumsy, or if they were graceful they were half-witted, or if they were intelligent they were ugly. But I was always very polite, always the gracious hostess.
The most awful I would ridicule in my mind as I smiled and nodded, and the next day at tea I would regale my mother with all the clever comebacks and nicknames I had concocted. She would giggle scandalously with me between halfhearted scoldings for being unkind.
"A princess always needs to be kind," she would admonish me, and then, after a failed attempt to stifle her laughter, say, "You know, I thought that same thing when I saw him—but not quite that eloquently!" Her appreciation always made me feel that I was very witty; sometimes I even looked forward to the balls for the chance to meet new teatime victims. I don't think my father ever guessed, in those days, the depth of my contempt for his suitors!
Oh, Father didn't intend me to get married so young as all that. But he was always the proactive sort, and I suppose he reasoned that he'd never find a husband good enough for his little girl if he didn't start early. I knew that he didn't expect me to start choosing seriously until I turned seventeen. My mother knew it, too. That was why I resented her timing.
I was sixteen when she died.