How the Devil Those Shoes Got Holes in Them Every Night
Now that I am thirteen and a lady grown, I have decided that I must record the story of how my father, once a common soldier, became a prince, and how I acquired a mother after many years of wishing for one. Of course, my age does not have as much to do with the recording as much as my new status, for a year ago, when I was an apprentice herbalist, I didn’t have the time to take up a pen and form my letters carefully for matters of diary-keeping. Also, I find writing my memoirs is a pleasant alternative to needlework, and no one bothers me with questions about silk embroideries if I scratch diligently at my vellums.
The first thing you must know is that I did not lay eyes on my father once before I turned nine years old, when he came to retrieve me from the convent where my mother had sent me just before she died. With no memory of my mama, I had no parent to compare my new-met Papa to–though I liked him quickly, for he beat me less than the abbess did.
I was content to follow Papa about as he moved from grand house to grand house, working as a gardener, and grew even more content when he settled at Prince Vasile’s palace, where he managed the shrubberies and was in charge of the digging a defensive ditch. Papa even apprenticed me to Brother Cosmin, the Prince’s herbalist, who was willing to overlook the disadvantage of my sex because I’d had training in the cultivation of medicinal plants at the convent. And my sex even became an advantage–for Brother Cosmin, not me–as I was then appointed to manage the herbs for the princesses’ baths.
Nobody among the servants wanted anything to do with the princesses because of The Curse, and it was always the most junior members of the household who had to deal with them. The apprentice cobblers appeared every morning to measure twenty-four dainty feet for twenty-four dainty new slippers, while the master cobblers stayed abed with their warm wives; and the apprentice cooks brought nourishing breakfasts to the sleepy princesses while the master cooks stayed in the kitchen and prepared meals for Prince Vasile and Princess Lucretia; and the apprentice herbalist readied the green herbs for the hot baths brought by the apprentice chambermaids, while the master herbalist seduced the master chambermaids. It was all very tidy, if you were a master, and not an apprentice.
Me, though, I didn’t mind, because while I believed in The Curse–the proof was there, every morning, in the piles of worn-through slippers outside the tower door, for anyone to see!–I didn’t see how it would ever really affect me. In fact, I thought the whole thing was rather stupid.
I don’t know how it started, exactly. It had something to do with the fact that Prince Vasile never had a son, and if he didn’t produce a male heir from his line before he died, the principality would revert to the rule of some king or other that nobody really liked. The prince had gone through four or six wives, or maybe it was only three, and had never managed to have a son. But he had managed to have a couple of daughters with his wives, and they were the princesses Maricara and Mihaela, and technically, they were the only real princesses in the palace besides Prince Vasile’s wife.
But Prince Vasile had managed to have ten other daughters by ten other women in his principality, outside of consecrated wedlock, which was very shocking to me when I first learned of it, because I thought that God would not bless women with babies who had not received the sacrament of marriage, but Brother Cosmin said, No, what did those nuns teach you?–and at some point many years ago, Prince Vasile made all his daughters come to live with him in the palace so that he could marry them all off in hopes that one of them would have a boy baby to keep the principality safe. He even ennobled his illegitimate daughters, no matter how common their mothers, including the now-princesses Ruxandra and Reveka, who were born to a tavern-wench, and Otilia, who’d grown up in a mill.
But shortly after the princesses all started living together in the palace, The Curse came on. And nobody seemed to want to marry women, even princesses, who were under the effects of a curse.
As far as curses went, it seemed a bit trivial to me–every morning, the princesses were very tired, as though they hadn’t slept at all, and their shoes were worn, as though they had danced them through. I didn’t see why this would stop anyone from marrying the girls, but apparently, it scared off all the nobles and aristocrats and royals and knights and squires–in short, everyone of gentle birth who would even be a tiny bit worthy of marrying a princess. And the whole thing had vexed Prince Vasile so much that he’d sworn that the first man who could figure out How the Devil Those Shoes Got Holes in Them Every Night would be allowed to marry the princess of his choice, no matter what his birth, age or rank.
This, grumbled the servants, was a terrible precedent. First, Prince Vasile had ennobled all his bastard peasant daughters, and now he was willing to marry even his truly royal and legitimate daughters to any hapless sheepherder who could figure out The Curse?
“It’s not a very curse-like curse,” I grumbled to
All of this started about sixteen years ago, which made it even worse.
But that didn’t happen, because shortly after the girls were brought in to
Like how rough-drafty it is that it trails off into half-sentences there at the end?
You’ll be… happy?… to know that by the next draft, which has a create date of 2/21/2008, Reveka was Reveka.