The Ugly Duckling
Hand in hand we come
Christopher Robin and I
To lay this book in your lap.
Say you're surprised?
Say you like it?
Say it's just what you wanted?
Because it's yours-
because we love you.
~ A. A. Milne
"The simple fact is, our daughter is not pretty," the King paused, then reworded his sentence, "Our daughter is ugly and there is no way to make her beautiful – even the court painter gave up after the third try."
He stopped and let the words sink in. The Queen was certainly digesting them, he could see from the way she twiddled her crown on a finger. The Lord Chancellor was preferring to take the blank-faced approach to the King's statement.
"Her beauty is certainly elusive, Your Majesty," the Lord Chancellor admitted when he saw both the King and the Queen staring him down, daring him to say something to add to the conversation.
"Yes, it has eluded you, it has eluded me, it has eluded everyone who has met her." The King agreed, tapping the arm of his throne.
"She has a beautiful inside," the Queen pointed out at last.
"No one is worried about her inside," The King exclaimed, "if people only looked at insides, she would have been married years ago, but the simple fact remains that she is quite, remarkably...unremarkable on the outside. It's simple enough to imagine that someone might have a beautiful inside tucked away behind a beautiful face, but not so simple to imagine that there is a beautiful face tucked away inside a beautiful inside...what am I saying this for anyway?"
"I don't know, dear, you're the one who wanted this conference," the Queen slipped off her throne and thoughtfully rolled her crown across the floor. The gems set in the gold flashed sunlight.
"What I mean to say is, my dear, let's marry her off," the King proclaimed.
"To whom, dear?" the Queen wondered, "the sons of the Duke of the Lone Islands declared that they had prior engagements when they met her last year and we still seem to be on the waiting list to see the Kings of Narnia and you know how the Tournament for the Lords from the Seven Isles went."
"We still haven't tried the Princes of Archenland," the King said.
"I heard one of them is married to a foreign girl," the Queen said, "A Tarkheena from Calormen."
"But that doesn't mean that the other one is married," the King said. "In fact, I happen to know that he is twenty-five and quite unattached."
"Does he have a liking for plain princesses?" the Queen wondered.
Gwendolyn turned away from the keyhole and stood with her back to the door. She caught an image of herself in a mirror across the hall and suddenly grinned. When she was little, she hadn't known that she was ugly; in fact, she had thought that she was quite pretty. She was twelve, probably, when she'd first realized that everyone else was far more beautiful than she was. She had been devastated, completely devastated and had remained so for several years. But the day she turned sixteen, she'd had another revelation, she was ugly, but there was nothing she could do about it. For that matter, there was nothing that a beautiful person could do about how they looked either.
Now, the way she looked simply didn't bother her, she was never stared at, never oogled up to by ambitious young men. She was a princess, so no one made fun of her, but no one praised her either and though her mother tried every lotion and silk cloth to make her beautiful, Gwendolyn almost liked her position.
She winked at herself in the mirror and could almost imagine that she had blue eyes, but she soon grew tired of that and closed the other eye and opened the first, now she had brown eyes. Well, she had an eye from her beautiful, golden haired mother and an eye from her thoughtful, dark haired father. The light shafts from the tall windows painted rectangles on the floor and lit Gwendolyn's golden hair. If she squinted at herself in just the right way she could almost imagine that she wasn't half bad looking at all. Then she shrugged, it didn't matter anyway, years ago she had decided that it didn't matter.
She almost laughed out loud when she thought of the Tournament for the Lords of the Seven Isles. It still made her chuckle at odd times, even though she was hopelessly an old maid. She'd had a cold and her nose was red and swollen and her usual unattractiveness was almost beautiful compared to what she was that day. The Lords competing at the tournament took one look at her and grew pale then grew all the paler when it was announced that the winner would have the hand of Gwendolyn the Fair in marriage.
She'd remembered watching in rising humor as the lords bumbled around the battlefield, each desperately trying to lose. The last two left on the field both fell down at the same time and wouldn't get up until the judges put their heads together and realized with shock that in the first time in Terebinthian history, a tournament didn't have a winner at all.
Gwendolyn spun around; the door of the throne room was creaking open.
"It needs oil," she commented as her mother poked her head into the hallway.
"Ah, there you are Gwen, Father and I want to talk to you," the Queen said. Gwendolyn half smiled and the Queen looked at her sadly. "You were such a pretty baby."
"It's such a pity it didn't last," Gwendolyn said lightly as she came through the door and dropped cross-legged on the floor while her mother took up residence on her throne again.
"Gwen," the King said with great gravity, "We are planning to marry you off."
"You've been at it since I was sixteen," Gwendolyn said pleasantly, "Have you discovered a plain prince?"
"We are going to marry you off," the King continued, "and we're not going to waste our time trying to catch the single hair on Lady Fate's head."
"At least I have a sight more hair than Fate," Gwendolyn said.
"We have decided to marry you off," the King said for the third time.
"Who's the victim?" Gwendolyn asked, laughing.
"Do stop calling your prospective husbands 'victims' it lends the wrong image," the Queen said quietly.
"Prince Corin of Archenland," the King said and let his words sink in.
"I thought he married a Princess of Calormen," Gwendolyn said, puzzled. "She's supposed to be absolutely ravishing."
"That was his brother, Prince Cor," the King said, tapping the arm of his throne.
"They're so imaginative with names over there," Gwendolyn said, smiling. "Now I'm curious, how are you going to rig it so that he'll want to marry me?"
"You are going to be beautiful," the King declared. He liked to declare and he had the perfect voice for it.
"Um…" Gwendolyn laughed.
"You have a lady-in-waiting," the King continued, "a lovely creature with long golden hair and eyes as blue as the sky…"
"That would be Gianna," Gwendolyn said.
"Lady Gianna, then," the King said, "Will impersonate you. She will capture the heart of the young prince, then on your wedding day we will switch you and voila! You will be married!"
"Sounds intriguing," Gwendolyn said cocking her head, a half smile on her face, "A little hard on the prince, wouldn't you say?"
"Well…yes dear, but what else is there to do?" the Queen asked, uncomfortably, "You are so tanned; I do wish you would try to save your complexion."
"No use, no use at all, Mama dear," Gwendolyn, leaping up to kiss her mother on the cheek, "that's the loveliness of the whole affair; I haven't a complexion to begin with."
Author's Note:This story is based on two plays; The Ugly Duckling by A. A. Milne (not to be confused with the tale of the same name by Hans Christian Anderson) and the Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. It ought to be further noted that we are not necessarily putting forward the moral or political beliefs of either of these authors.
This tale is, in truth, a comedy of errors like Much Ado About Nothing,though it may have some elements of the Tempest and like The Midsummer Night's Dreamand Twelfth Night it does have a happy ending.
~Rose and Psyche
Disclaimer: This tale is not based in whole or in part on any stories found on Fanfiction, furthermore, any similarities between characters depicted herein and any persons living or dead is unintentional.
Further Note: This story is the proud winner of the 2012 Dawn Treader Award, which is the award for best romance (*squees*) on WriterWilf's wonderful forum Narnia Still Lives. (If you haven't checked that forum out, go check it out.)