10 January 2013

Princess Discipline (Free Preview)

ARGUMENT: The following story contains scenes which may be unsuitable for those of sensitive dispositions or ideologies (though frankly, Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew is racier). Despite the subject matter, it is at least a conceit, and should at most be taken as a fable wherein the sexes and genders of the characters therein are ultimately irrelevant.

I. I'd better knock, I suppose. 
The ride was rough, hardly to her ladyship's liking. Then again, anything that wasn't a flying carpet, which the royal scholars continually insisted to her highness were impossible, was not to her ladyship's liking. The worst part of the trek was that the coach driver only left her outside the gatehouse of the marquis' manor without so much as announcing her presence. In fact, she'd hardly had a chance to step down properly from the coach before he took off, causing her to trip. After collecting herself, straightening her hood, and dusting off her blue dress, she looked around to see if anything had fallen. Luckily, the only thing dropped was a brown envelope her father gave her before sending her off. 
She turned the letter of introduction over and over again in her hands, the wax seal embossed with her father's signet ring staring back at her. She could tell he'd practically punched a hole in his desk sealing it, as if knowing his anger and disappointment would embed itself in the wax and scream all that he wanted to say to her on his behalf. She considered breaking the seal to see exactly what the letter said. She had an idea of what it might have said, and certainly knew why she was being sent to the Marquis, even if she didn't see the issue with importuning daily the royal scholars on the practicality of flying carpets, among other things. 
Thinking better of prying, confident that her father would not dare speak ill of her behind her back, she tucked the letter into the inner pocket of her hooded cape, and approached the gatehouse's wrought iron bars. There was no light emanating from inside the gatehouse, and some of the windows were cracked. In all, the entire facade seemed laughable, not just for the disrepair and clear abandonment, but also for the bars of the gate being spaced quite far apart. It was still something of a squeeze for her to get through, though that was mostly because of her dress, which she stopped to adjust again on the other side. She stood staring at the manor house, which sat atop a small hill surrounded by broken grave markers. Even in the late afternoon's light, it was hardly cozy or inviting in appearance. The princess wasn't going to let that get to her, so she cast aside her fear and unease, straightened up, and nobly strut toward the main entrance, holding her head high and confidently. She only broke pace to lift up her dress and navigate the rather awkwardly-assembled stairs put into the hillside. At the top, instead of simply a short and straight path to the door, there was a sort of lip made of discarded masonry running across the path in front of the main door. When she approached it, she could see that between the stones and the door was a rather ornate red carpet that seemed most out of place. She leaned over and studied the weaving. It was immaculate, without a hint of having been left to the elements. She wondered if they'd simply thrown it out, leaving it for a servant to take away somewhere, but that wouldn't explain the row of stones. Speaking of which, the princess' dress made it rather hard for her to step over the stones. Unfortunately, a quick glance around revealed the entire perimeter of the house to be surrounded by a tall fence, bars far too narrow to squeeze through, making this the only practical path inside. The princess huffed at the inconvenience, and took the obstacle as a challenge. 
She stepped back, knelt slightly, braced herself, and leaped over the stones in a triumphant sprint. She would have landed quite softly on the ornate red carpet in front of her if it hadn't given way beneath her feet, coming up all around her as she fell into the hole it had been covering, almost muffling her surprised scream.
Another version of her entry goes thusly:
The doors were very tall and seemed far too heavy to be opened by one person. It seemed almost pointless to knock. She remembered leaving her room once without telling anyone, then coming back just in time to catch one of her handmaids tapping gently on her door with one finger and counting that as making an effort to deliver the princess a message she really didn't want to deliver. Now, the lady found herself in the exact same position, racking her brain for an excuse not to enter, trying to think of how to make it look like she'd tried to make her presence known. She almost regretted having that handmaid thrown in the dungeon for a month. She looked around, thinking in vain that she'd spot someone trying to catch her in the act as she had the other day. Finally, she took a deep breath, raised her hand, and brought down a fist on the door. She did this twice more and waited. She pressed an ear up against the door to try and listen for the footsteps of a servant, hearing none. The moment she stepped back, there was a sudden creaking as the door opened very slowly, stopping when it was just ajar enough that whoever opened it could peer out and greet a guest. Nothing of the sort happened, and the princess stared at the crack angrily, resenting that she'd have to squeeze through it as she'd done with the gate. She let out a groan and stomped toward the door, stopping suddenly to lean forward and peer inside. It was almost totally dark, except for a circle of light a short distance into the foyer, a patch of red carpet lit overhead by a chandelier surrounded by a cowl of iron plates to focus the light downward. As peculiar as it was, it was the most inviting part of her ordeal thus far, and she took it as a cue to step inside. She didn't bother trying to close the door behind her and walked toward the light, her heels making muffled footfalls on the red carpet. 
As she got closer, she saw that the spotlight was on a high, narrow table, curiously surrounded by a haphazard assortment of silken pillows on the floor. The princess lifted her skirt and carefully stepped over them as she made her way to the table. She stopped in front of it, and took stock of the items on it. There was a glass goblet, a silver tray with a piece of parchment on it, and a green bottle containing what she guessed was wine. She looked around, finding no one, then turned her attention back to the bottle as a mischievous grin spread across her face. Suddenly, she felt this trip just got interesting. Her father had expressly forbid her so much as a sip of champagne on the first day of the new year, and now she was being presented with a full bottle of wine. She tossed the letter of introduction on the tray and reached for the bottle. She started to pull out the cork to take a sniff when she noticed the piece of parchment on the tray, peering out from under the letter. It wasn't in an envelope, and it most certainly didn't have a seal carrying parental dismay, all of which was more than enough reason for her to pull it out from under the letter and see what it had to say. 
The note only said two words, "Drink Up." She felt she should have been offended at the commanding tone, but decided to take it for the invitation that it was. Tossing the note aside, she uncorked the flask, poured herself a glass, pinched the stem with her thumb and forefinger whilst firmly extending her pinky, took a dainty little sniff, and finally gulped the entire goblet's worth of wine. She put the bottle and glass down, then folded her arms and thought a moment, attempting to reconcile the sweet bouquet she'd sniffed and the dry bitterness she swallowed, only for her thoughts to suddenly get very muddled. She put a hand to her temple and shut her eyes, trying to think straight. She knew she'd get a bit woozy from the drink, but not so quickly, certainly not so severely. She tried to open her eyes, but found it difficult, as though they were weighed down. It was all she could do to squint, just barely making out the table in front of her, which suddenly rocked back and forth in front of her. She reached out a hand to grasp the table and stop its aberrant behavior, her thoughts too slow to realize she was losing her balance. 
She was out cold before her head hit the pillows.
There is yet another version detailing her entry. It involves the dropping of a net, but it's hardly worth exploring.

II. You're a Feisty Little One...
The princess awoke to a nightmarish image of her own body floating sideways before her in a void, head and arms missing. The entire blurry spectacle was framed by curious gray bars flecked in reddish-brown spots. She even saw what she thought were her own legs walking back and forth behind her favorite blue dress, as if searching for their fellow missing limbs. She tried calling out, but words failed her, and even the thought of her own second-guessing of talking to a pair of disembodied legs made her temples pulse with pain. The dizziness became unbearable. She tried to make herself calm, but thinking the very word made her feel anything but. The legs walked in front of the dress, revealing a dark shape, almost cloud-like, hovering over them, blotting out the dismembered body behind it. The blur got worse and there was an overwhelming sensation of falling over. The princess closed her eyes, feeling nothingness envelop her, casting aside all sensations.END OF PREVIEW

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