At that moment Princess Primrose sat up in bed. Lady Beatrice was sitting close by, smiling.
“Did you have a bad dream my dear?” she asked.
The princess was dazed. “A dream? It was just a dream? I imagined it all?” she reached for her blue book.
“Well,” said the old lady, “yes, and no.”
“It’s hard to take in, I know, but as you can see from your book, this is your first morning in charge of the kingdom. None of what you dreamt about has happened yet.”
The princess was bewildered. She looked at her last blue book entry and realised that her mother’s friend’s explanation was the only one possible. Relief began to wash over her. Then she tensed.
“Yet?” she asked nervously.
Lady Beatrice explained. “The queen was very concerned about leaving you in charge, given your inexperience and eagerness to please. So I simulated, in your dream, what would happen if you proceeded as she expected. But the monks’ memory rhyme, the fire-damaged arrest record, and Gertrude’s book, all really do exist in the archives. Venustus is horribly real. He just hasn’t come here yet.”
The princess was confused. “But how did you simulate my dream? How did you know what would happen?”
Lady Beatrice hesitated before answering. “Your mother is the only other person who knows this. I hope I can trust your discretion.” The princess nodded and she went on, “I am a fairy, the last of my kind here because the others were long ago poisoned by an evil wizard.”
“Fairies can take any size. When I was a young girl, one thousand years ago, I was as small as a dragonfly. We helped with pollination and feasted on flowers and fruit. It was a beautiful, enchanting, wild life. Then I fell in love with a sailor, assumed human size and travelled the world with him. Being human, he aged much faster than I, and when he passed away I returned home.”
“My exquisite ancestral home had become a contaminated wasteland. Hardly anyone was living there any more so it was difficult to find out what had happened but eventually an old owl, who had been watching me for some time, took pity on me. He described a situation very similar to that depicted in Gertrude’s book, which led to the death of all the pollinating insects and fairies, and the exodus of many other species.”
“Possessed of the knowledge of all of his ancestors, the owl was able to give me some hope. He said that when such a wizard was vanquished, all their evil was undone. But, he said, there was only one way to do it: the wizard must be tricked into tasting his own potion and, while he is doing so, his name must be repeated to him, three times, backwards. Then the world would be as if he had never been born.”
“But the owl didn’t know his name. Or how to find him. I searched for many years without luck and eventually settled here. And if your mother hadn’t asked me to protect you from yourself; if I hadn’t psychically perused this kingdom’s archives; I may never have discovered his name. Now we not only know that, we also know where he’ll be if you re-enact the beginning of the dream.”
The princess was excited at the prospect of defeating the wizard. “But how will we get him to eat his magic potion?” she asked.
Lady B was excited too. “We know that Venustus takes advantage of the naïve and vulnerable. Now, two months ago King Arnot died, leaving his unworldly son, Albro, in charge. I wouldn’t be surprised if that kingdom is already in receipt of potion-doused produce.”
There was no time to lose. The princess was well known so she dressed in disguise. Then, while she rode to young King Albro’s territory, Lady Beatrice informed the duke of their plan – he would need to be in on it.
Once over the border, Princess Primrose searched for the market place. She needed to make sure that they were indeed selling ‘magic’ produce.
Before long she found the market. Some stalls were piled high with colourful, irregular-shaped, delicious-smelling produce. Others displayed equally enticing goods but they were all uniform in shape, colour and size. And the smell … there was no smell. The unnatural food was cheap and selling fast.
Princess Primrose smiled at the stall holder. “This is just what I need,” she said.
In an effort to reproduce the events of the dream as faithfully as possible, the princess had notice of a public meeting announced as soon as she got home. Then, as in the dream, she asked the people what she could do for them. When they asked for cheaper food and cotton she wrote it all down in her blue book and told them she would do her best. She then returned to the castle and summoned the duke.
However, unlike the dream, when the Duke of Aequitas arrived he brought with him a basket of fruit.
“Your Majesty,” he said, bowing, “please accept this gift from the people of Calidum Terram, with their compliments and best wishes for your twelve month reign.”
The princess smiled and indicated that should place the basket on the table.
“Thank you,” she smiled, “let’s talk trade.”
The princess argued with the duke, just as she’d dreamt, and Aequitas impressively stood his ground. He showed her the king’s decree and she dismissed him. Lady Beatrice, meanwhile, having resumed her miniature stature, was observing to ensure everything went to plan. The wizard could be anywhere, watching, waiting for an opportunity. He wasn’t stupid. He was not stupid.
Suddenly the old fairy was struck by that frightening realisation – “He is not stupid. He’ll know that that fruit is not natural – it doesn’t smell! He’s not going to fall for it!”
By now the princess was slumped over the table complaining about her inability to give the people what they want. And Venustus was climbing in through the window.
Lady Beatrice had to do something!
There was only one thing she could do. She closed her eyes and spoke so quietly that even the mouse couldn’t hear:
“Power of the elements, I call on thee,
From air, earth and water, come forth, help me.
On fruits in the basket, I beg you bestow,
The scents they would have when in nature they grow.”
At the same time the princess was listening to Venustus’s claim that he could get her a better deal.
“I don’t know,” she said, reaching for an apple, “my people are used to top quality produce. I want it cheaper but not if it’s substandard.” She took a bite and smiled at him. “Seriously,” she added, “your stuff can’t be as good as this. Go ahead – try some, then you’ll know what I mean.”
Venustus returned her smile and, with the sweet, mouthwatering smell of fresh fruit in his nostrils, carelessly took a cherry. As soon as it touched his tongue the princess spat out her apple and spoke swiftly:
“sutsunev sutsunev sutsunev”
The wizard’s eyes widened; his sharp intake of breath made him start choking on the cherry; then came a crash of thunder; and he was gone.
“We did it!” The princess was jubilant.
“You were brilliant,” Lady Beatrice told her as the duke returned to the room, “but remember, no one else can know about this. As far as the rest of the world knows – Venustus was never here. There’ll be no public recognition.”
“That’s ok,” the princess smiled, “it’s enough just to know we set things right. Thank you, both of you, … now, I’m going to celebrate!”
The following morning, Princess Primrose told her people that she wouldn’t be able to get them cheaper food and fabrics after all.
“I have discovered,” she explained, “that we are already paying a fair price for those goods. The only way for us to get them cheaper would be to cheat the growers out of their hard-earned money; to reduce their quality of life in order to improve ours. And that’s just not right.”
There were some nods of agreement and some grumbles of discontent.
“I thought you would put your own people first,” someone shouted.
“As one young lady said yesterday, my people already have everything they need. They work hard for it, and they don’t have much left over, but they are not short of any essential. Do not the people who grow your food deserve this much? Fair is only fair if it’s fair for everyone.”
The crowd began to disperse and the princess smiled as she noticed Grandfather, still alive, talking cheerfully to one of his neighbours. There were a few disgruntled faces but the princess, understanding her father’s advice now, was not disheartened. As she walked away she overheard a snippet of conversation:
“What is she wearing?! I don’t like her hair.”
“That’s okay,” she said to herself, “I like it.”
And they all lived happily ever after 🙂
The Princess Who Liked To Be Popular is available in paperback
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The Princess Who Liked To Be Popular belongs to Violet’s Vegan Comics © 2014