Once upon a time a lovely princess lay tucked under a warm duvet and dreamed of sugar plums and leaping lords and pipers piping and drummers drumming and candy canes and holiday toasts and good cheer all around.
Then the alarm buzzed and the princess awoke with a start. Guinevere turned to her left and saw that the prince was already up and at breakfast. He never got up before her. He had been acting a little strange lately but it could be the holidays, or his father, or the state of the realm.
She stretched then put her legs over the edge of the four-poster and jumped down. Why so high off the floor? Why not a normal bed? But the prince deemed it to be his royal prerogative to decide how elevated his bed must be. He thought of himself as high and mighty, the heir apparent, so the bed was high and mighty.
The morning sun streamed through the leaded windows leaving diamond beams reflected off the polished oak floor. When she looked out she saw that over a foot of snow had fallen during the night and that the elves were busy clearing the driveway. Lights twinkled in the powder-laden branches of the fir trees.
The big party was tonight and the chief elf took pride in creating the perfect setting for the annual Christmas celebration. Had he ordered the snow she wondered? Anything was possible with The Chief.
Princess Guinevere pulled on a pair of sweatpants and shrugged into an oversized sweatshirt. Her hair stood out like a briar patch which she quickly tamed with a few brush strokes then dabbed on some lipstick. Okay. Lots to do before the party but first coffee and breakfast.
Prince Jordan sat at the head of the royal table engrossed in the morning paper. He looked up and nodded when Guinevere appeared. She sat down next to him rather than at her end of the banquet sized table.
The kitchen elf appeared with her coffee and eggs and toast. He smiled his sly smile of greeting knowing that she had yet to figure out how he knew exactly when she would arrive at the breakfast table. She thanked him and he bowed back at her.
“Did you notice that it snowed last night?” she asked Jordan.
“Do you think it will make it difficult for people to come to our party tonight?”
“No,” he replied and went back to his paper.
“Well, I’m going to call around and make sure the roads are cleared.”
“Already did. They are. Would you like the style section of the paper?”
“No. Can you pass me the business section if you’re finished with it?”
He passed it to her and when she saw that all of her recent stock acquisitions had increased in value she laughed out loud. The prince looked up, raised his eyebrows, and wondered what the princess could find so amusing in the dull business section.
She hadn’t told him that the chief elf was a financial savant. If the Chief said buy, she bought. If he said sell, she sold. Her small initial investment had doubled, and doubled, and doubled.
The prince got up, kissed her on the cheek, and left to visit his father in the counting house. The king loved counting his money every morning. He was shrewd but not overly trusting.
The chief elf had tried to advise him from time to time but the king ignored his advice. After all, what could an elf know about financial matters? If he had listened to the advice he would have been twice as wealthy but of course he would never know that.
The queen no longer resided in the castle. She had been banished to the tower. Her father heard of her plight and bribed the guards. The queen stole away one night in the company of those same guards and returned to her home country and her father’s protection.
The king sued for divorce on the grounds of abandonment. To his dismay her father demanded the return of her dowry. This he did without grace. Now he was a free and slightly poorer man. The younger three sons allied with their mother and went to live with their grandfather. The prince as heir to the throne dared not incur his father’s wrath and jeopardize his position. He stayed.
The poison of his father’s betrayal seeped into the prince’s personality and ate away at his benign temperament. Father and son grew more and more alike. Perhaps this was what gnawed at the princess’s sense of wellbeing.
Something was amiss in the kingdom but she didn’t know what it was or why she felt this way. But there it sat in the back of her head, a tiny pin prick of suspicion. Unlike her mother-in-law, the princess was an orphan so she had no parents to escape to.
After the prince left, Howard the kitchen elf came back with a pot of coffee and a mug with his name on it. He topped off Guinevere’s cup, filled his own mug, and settled into the prince’s chair.
They needed to talk about the party. His ears pricked and he quickly slid under the table. The princess, sensing a royal lurking nearby, grabbed his coffee mug, handed it to him, then nonchalantly picked up her own cup and sipped the hot brew.
“I heard you talking to someone,” said the prince as he re-entered the dining hall.
“Talking to myself.”
“But I heard two voices.”
“Oh, I often do that so that I have someone to talk to.”
“I forgot to tell you that I invited the Mugwatts and their four children to the party tonight.”
“Their children? This is a no-children party.”
“They couldn’t find a babysitter.”
After he left she took out her cell phone and rang up the Mugwatts and told them that the Santa Claus they were having for this year’s party was actually a male stripper so no children were allowed at the party. Mrs. Mugwatt was duly shocked and told her that they wouldn’t be coming either.
That little detail taken care of, Guinevere gave Howard the all-clear signal. He quickly crawled out from under the table and climbed back onto the prince’s chair. Mimicking the prince, he sat ramrod straight, jutted his chin out, and in his most regal manner proceeded to update the princess on the plans for the gala.
He told her that young people from the village would help with the serving. They would all wear white shirts and black slacks and sport red bow ties. The elves had prepared mincemeat pies and a grand Christmas cake. There would be a carving table with beef, pork, and lamb. At another table would be all the foods for the diet-restricted and Vegans.
When he finished briefing the princess, Howard the kitchen elf grabbed his mug, bowed, and went back to the cookery. Guinevere picked up her plate and cup and followed him to the kitchen where there was much bustling about.
The elves hummed Christmas carols in three part harmony as they prepared the evening’s feast. With a nod of appreciation, she left them to their work. It was up to Guinevere and the elves to make this a festive and memorable party.
The king and prince, always the perfect hosts, would show up at the designated time resplendent in their uniforms and medals and sashes and receive the compliments of the attendees with much graciousness. They basked in the adulation and dismissed the raves of appreciation as if putting on such a grand affair was an effortless endeavor, and for them it was.
Guinevere went in search of the Chief. They worked all morning and afternoon arranging and rearranging dishes, flowers, tables, glasses, urns, candelabra, and silverware. Finally, they stood back and admired their work. Satisfied that the preparations were well in order, she retired to her sitting room and took a nap on the sofa.
Then it was time to dress. A bevy of tittering lady elves scampered into her dressing room. They brushed and flat ironed her unruly hair into a stylish coif, painted her fingernails, and helped her into her sleek red sheath. She chose an elaborately knotted silk scarf rather than a diamond necklace as her accessory. The lovely elves-in-waiting told her how beautiful she looked.
When she entered the bedroom she found the prince preening in front of the full length mirror. He had taken special care with his appearance. There must be someone he hopes to impress but who could it be? He straightened his sash and left to greet the guests. He made no notice of her appearance. She felt a small ping in the back of her neck.
The sense of foreboding returned then was dismissed as pre-party nerves. Time to face the crowds and to summon up her princess mistress-of-small-talk persona.
Guinevere stood near the edge of the ballroom and surveyed the crowd. The witches, or rather the bewitchers, clung to their prize noblemen ever wary that someone more nubile would catch his eye as they once had.
The hall was full of waiters passing canapés and glasses of champagne. The princess dared not eat or drink. Champagne made her loquacious and the nice tidbits had a habit of sticking in her teeth. A bit of garnish stuck between her right cuspid and bicuspid would diminish her regal and radiant demeanor.
Her role was that of genial and gracious hostess. She had rehearsed it often and had mastered the part.
Bejeweled guests swam to and fro across the vast ballroom. Guinevere took a deep breath then waded in knowing that a shoal of hungry piranhas laid in wait ready to nip at her ankles. But if she stayed calm and didn’t splash around too much perhaps they would ignore her.
Across the room came the dreadnaught, Lady Plum, headed straight for Guinevere. The princess arranged her face into a delighted look of anticipation. No way to avoid this encounter so she might as well be pleasant.
A whoosh of chatter emerged from the lady’s lips. Nonsense mostly about her children, her grandchildren, her aches and pains, anything that cavorted across her consciousness.
Guinevere nodded and smiled. Soon she was rescued by the chief elf who convinced Lady Plum that the gentleman in the corner was desperate for her company and off she sailed.
The ballroom was festooned with Christmas trees and red and pink poinsettias. Tiny white lights framed the windows. The princess felt elegant in her red wool sheath and silver slippers and then felt dowdy when the newest witch appeared.
The newest, youngest witch had on a short clinging red leather skirt with a matching leather jacket that plunged to her navel, revealing ample cleavage. Her red stiletto heels showed off her comely legs.
Men of every ilk abandoned their companions and swarmed around her. Her white teeth sparkled a happy greeting to them. Only months ago, she was a lowly worker and now she was the intended of the king.
Out of the corner of her eye the princess saw a gold sequined dress slither towards the prince. A danger alert buzzed in the princess’s brain. Someone was set on replacing her. Did she care?
Of course, she cared. It was a matter of principle. She saw the prince’s face light up and beam at the gold serpent. His back straightened that wee bit as it always did when he was trying to look imposing. Well now she thought, he is totally beguiled. So, what are you going to do about it Missy Princess? Rush to him and grab him away or leave him to his fate?
While she stared and considered her options, an elf happened by and noticed that she was looking at the prince and the serpent. He stopped and came back to her side.
“What shall we do? Trip her, spill her drink all over her shiny dress, or make a big pimple appear on the tip of her nose?” he asked.
“A big ugly pimple would be nice.”
The prince’s expression changed. He looked mystified and then shocked. Not only did a great big oozy pimple appear on the golden one’s nose, a huge piece of spinach blackened her front tooth. Her dazzling smile didn’t dazzle.
“So good to see you. Thank you for coming. I must go and see how the princess is doing.”
With no further ado, the prince turned on his heel and headed toward a crowd of nobles discussing business enterprises.
Guinevere’s nascent migraine disappeared as she watched the golden serpent slink off to the powder room. She turned to the elf. A grin lit up his face, his ears wiggled, his eyes twinkled, and then he and Guinevere shared a fist bump.
Now she knew what had been causing her unease. She had the serpent in her sights as did her elf friend. That pimple would not go away until the vamp found another quarry to pursue. The elf escorted her to the refreshment table and requested two cups of punch.
He handed one to the princess and then went in search of the prince who he knew could use a little something to cheer him up. And it did.
Need more holiday fiction? Enjoy these offerings from the MockingOwl Roost family.
- Fireplace for Your Home – Holiday Nonfiction
- Hole in the Stockings – Holiday Poetry
- A Simple Gift – Holiday Nonfiction
- Sip and Be Merry – a Holiday Tea Review
- Man in the Shadows – Holiday Fiction
- My Favorite Things: Gingerbreading
- Gingerbread House for a Mouse – Holiday Poetry
Mary Janicke is a gardener and writer living in Houston, Texas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, Blue Lake Review, Still Life, Honeyguide, Open Door, and elsewhere.