Our challenge from Chuck Wendig this week was to rewrite a fairy tale in a genre drawn at random. I got 6 – Satire – and I also wanted to make it part of my Norfolk week. I’ve always wanted to rewrite the Princess and the Pea which has been mentioned on both occasions we’ve heard about Willoughby the Narrator so far (in Book 5 The Talent Seekers and also Fred’s Yuletide Escape). So although I’m over the wordcount at 1360, and I don’t think I’ve done satire, here is…
Willoughby the Narrator does The Princess and the Pea
The hubbub in the upper courtyard at the Castle in the Marsh died away as Willoughby the Narrator took up his stance on his fiddlesticks. A few of the older folk coughed or cleared their throats in the silence as Willoughby looked around at the expectant faces. Even the visitors at Jupiter’s Bar had come up to listen. This was the greatest artist ever to visit this backwater, and everyone wanted to see him. King Fred, Queen Kira and the children sat on a dais at the edge of the courtyard so they could see over the heads of the others but many ordinary folk squashed in behind them to see and hear the performance.
Willoughby struck a pose, looking up to the sky, one front foot raised inquiringly.
Can you hear it? he asked.
The silence was even keener; everyone was straining to hear… whatever they should hear.
I shall tell you of a strange story, an occurrence even stranger than most weird and wonderful things you marshfolk can hear in the wilds of these whispering reeds and rivers. There once was a prince of Castle Marsh, not Prince Fred, nor Prince Vladimir, nor Prince Ludo, nor even Prince Cole, but one of his forebears. He had all the hallmarks of a good prince of Marsh. Intelligent, wise and thoughtful, considerate of his neighbours and future subjects, and concerned for the wellbeing of the castle and its community.
A few people might have nudged each other and said something along the lines of ‘just like our king,’ but Willoughby had already woven his spell.
In the normal manner of princes, he was encouraged to find a wife, a princess to be his future queen. And in the normal manner of the realms, all the princesses were paraded before his envoys. “Choose mine” the chancellor of this castle would say, or “my daughter is the best” a king of the north might enthuse.
The crowd laughed as Willoughby’s accent changed, since his voice sounded so like well known, and somewhat disliked, courtiers from other castles.
Eventually five princesses were selected to visit Castle Marsh. Each would spend five days here, being entertained in turn, to seek to find which would be the most suitable match.
Would it have been you? Willoughby asked some young girls in the front row. Or you? To some older girls a few rows back, who giggled and huddled in a group. Had it been you, ma’am, he said, catching Queen Kira’s eye, there would surely have been no contest. Willoughby’s grin and bow made it impossible to take offence. Fred and Kira looked at each other and laughed, and Fred put his arm around her.
The first princess was a beautiful girl, with soft dark eyes and a sweet temperament. She could sing, dance and play the flute.
Willoughby whistled and mimed playing the flute, dancing gracefully on his platform.
The prince paid her every attention, and the courtiers muttered how well they were matched. The queen disapproved of her looks and whispered to one courtier to ensure she became less agreeable as the week progressed. The courtier wondered what he should do, so he talked to the cook.
“You should make the princess’s sleep disturbed”, she said. “Just leave it to me.”
So he did.
Willoughby looked around mysteriously at everybody.
After four days the princess was looking ragged.
“Is there anything wrong, my dear?” asked the queen.
“Why no, your majesty – except I cannot sleep.”
“Is there something wrong?”
“I find the bed uncomfortable, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, but it’s the best we have.”
Willoughby’s eyes glinted.
The queen turned away and looked pleased with herself.
The time came for the princess’s final audience with the prince. The king and queen stood by, until the last few minutes.
“And have you enjoyed your stay?” asked the king grandly.
“Except for the small matter of not being comfortable in our beds,” interrupted the queen.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said the prince. “I’m sure we can find a solution if you come again.”
“Yes, maybe,” replied the princess, but of course everyone knew she would not be coming again.
The story was much the same with the next princess to visit, who was small and brown and looked much like me, really. The king couldn’t understand why such a plain-looking person could even be considered. But she also slept badly, and asked to be excused so she could leave early. The prince was sad about this, since he rather liked her company, but he had no time to think about it because the next princess arrived.
She was a big strong girl, and rather scared the prince, and the king as well, come to think of it. Once again, she started off being forward and talkative, but as the week went on she got more and more agitated, until she too asked to go home one day early.
“But why?” asked the prince in dismay.
“I’m afraid the comforts of Castle Marsh do not compare with the comforts of home,” she replied haughtily.
The fourth princess was very beautiful, well, that’s what she thought of herself. Personally I would have said that you were her equal, my dear, Willoughby said to one of the teenage girls, who blushed and then giggled with her friends. But unlike you, she gave herself airs and graces. The prince could find nothing to talk to her about, since although she had breeding, she had no talents or conversation. She talked a lot, but always about herself and the things she did at her own castle. The prince was glad when she went, and wondered about the first princess, and why she had found it uncomfortable. She had been rather nice, really.
Finally the fifth princess arrived, neat and tidy and the sort of girl everybody likes. She was cheerful, knew some interesting stories and was happy to play with the children as well as sit with the adults.
The cook liked her too. “Do you think I should leave her bed alone,” she asked the courtier.
“Well, to be fair she should be tested the same as the rest,” he replied.
So the cook did her part, and the days wore on, but the princess appeared each morning, well rested and ready for more adventures. The prince took her out visiting the marsh, and she gained many friends.
“Why isn’t she having the same trouble as the others?” asked the queen angrily.
“She is, ma’am,” responded the courtier. “She just seems to rise above it.”
The final morning arrived, and the prince wanted to ask her to stay.
“You can’t do that,” said the king. “Although you could ask her back.”
“I’d like that,” said the prince. So he did.
The princess smiled at him. “I’d be delighted to return,” she said. “But please would you ask your staff to save their dried peas for the winter. They don’t bother me in the least, but I’m sure there will be better uses for them.”
And the prince told the king and the king told the queen and she told the courtier and the courtier told the cook, and eventually the truth came out, and everybody had a good laugh. The princess had found the peas in her bed, but instead of making a fuss or just tossing and turning, she’d simply removed them, or moved herself to a different part of the bed. And the prince knew that someone as wise and resourceful as this, who was polite enough to make no fuss but solve the problem her own way, must be the one for him. And so she was.
Willoughby gave a final flourish of his flute and bowed low to King Fred and Queen Kira. Everyone knew it was the sort of thing Kira would do, and they all turned and applauded them, then whooped as Willoughby threw small sweet things in the air. The crowd scrabbled for them, then disappeared off to wherever they wanted to spend the rest of the evening, talking about everything and nothing, but especially about Willoughby the Narrator, and the Princess and the Pea.
(c) J M Pett 2014