It's been a very bad November here in the Seaforth Finch household. A member of the extended family became and remains gravely ill, the washing machine inflow pipe has developed a leak, we've found more woodworm in the floorboards, and we're still trying to paint the house.
I've written 10,000 words of NaNoWriMo, but there was just no getting more out of me this year. I've been out of spoons, and I've not been able to shut myself away and write - my need for connectedness has been too great. But still, I've been writing, and reading, and there will be other years.
I'm a great fan of the "On This Day" function on FB, and recently a post from 2009 came up in which I mentioned a piece of writing I'd done for an assignment that had creeped me out. After an extensive search of my hard drive and my emails I managed to track it down. I no longer found it that creepy, but amongst the collection of short stories, poems and journal entries that formed the assignment there was the cute little piece below. I have no memory of writing it, and suspect this is because it was done after midnight!
Apparently I was already thinking up ways to use this fairytale long before The Twelfth Princess Dances leapt into being in my head...
Alternate voice from the Brothers Grimm fairytale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”.
It’s not easy being the prince of a hidden underground kingdom.
I mean, think about it. There’s no sunlight. The fuel bills are astronomical. And if that’s not enough, some ancient treaty insists that we hold a ball every night to dance with anyone who stumbles down into our world. Every night. Never a decent night’s sleep, never dark or quiet . . . of course, the dancing is fun and the girls are pretty, but sometimes a bit of shut-eye would be nice, you know?
I remember this time a while back, when these twelve sisters used to come down every single night. The secret doorway to their world was on the other side of the lake, but did they bring a boat? Of course not! They were a pretty lot, but not the brightest. So every night we had to row across the lake, as if the dancing wasn’t already enough to wear us out.
Now, these twelve sisters . . . we used to ask ourselves, how did the king end up with twelve daughters old enough to go dancing, and none of them married yet? The youngest one, she was barely more than a child, and a silly giggling thing too . . . but the eldest must have been almost thirty. Wouldn’t any self-respecting king have offloaded a few of them by now? They were pretty enough, after all.
Anyway, these sisters used to come down every night to dance with us. The twelve princes, they called us. We weren’t all princes, of course, but how were they to know? They believed us! Every night they would come, and dance until they put holes in their shoes, and then back across the lake again to deliver them home. Beats me why they didn’t just wear stronger shoes and stay all night.
From time to time these girls, laughing and flirting, would tell us about the knights who were trying to win their hands. The king knew about the girls’ dancing of course, because the daft biddies didn’t have the sense to hide their worn-out shoes. The king wanted them stopped – I guess it’s hard to marry off your daughters when you can’t account for their whereabouts. So these men would volunteer to find out where the girls had been. Fools, said the princesses, drugged into sleep! And off with their heads in the morning when they couldn’t explain why they had slept through the excitement.
Heartless witches, really, these princesses. Seems a bit harsh. Surely they could’ve given those guys a fighting chance. I mean, I’m not the marrying type myself, but it can’t be all bad and it’s better than letting some poor sucker lose his head, right?
Well, as it happens, one day those princesses didn’t come. We waited in the boats, having a laugh, making jokes and so on. Hours late, the door opened, but only one princess slipped through, and she wasn’t wearing dancing shoes. I think she was the ninth, or maybe the tenth – can’t keep them straight in my head, these days – soft young face, red hair, nice … well anyway.
With a pathetic look, the chit told us that they’d been found out after all. The night before the latest knight had managed to follow them, and had dobbed them all in to the king. Darned if we could figure out how he’d done it, but that was that. The knight was marrying that eldest, and the king was moving the princesses to another part of the castle and bricking up the secret doorway first thing tomorrow. Silly fool should’ve done that in the first place. Didn’t bother us any – we had other doors of course.
We never saw the princess again after that. We heard about the grand ball they had, when the knight married the eldest. Grand affair apparently … not that we’d know, not having been there. You’d think after all the time they spent drinking our wine, eating our food and wearing away our ballroom floor that they could’ve sent us an invite!
But I guess if you’re running away from your father’s house to dance the night away with an underground prince, it’s the adventure that matters, not the man. We have other doors, and other princesses. We’ll dance on.