The Twelve Dancing Princesses (A Christmas Tale), Day 2: Camellia’s Gold Gown with Calla Lilies and Green Ribbons

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“Those are mine, Father,” the youngest daughter Joy said quickly. “I sent them to the cobbler yesterday because they were so worn. Is something wrong?”

The king’s face softened, and he started to smile. It was quite impossible to be angry at Joy, who had arrived an orphaned baby at the castle in such a miserable little basket during the worst ice storm anyone could remember. “I am just curious as to why your new slippers are so worn. Surely you are not leaving the castle?” Joy turned quickly to Perdita, the eldest, who had come over to them.

“No indeed, how could we leave? There is nothing for miles, and the attendants know that we aren’t allowed the horses and carriages without your permission. Besides, the weather is so very treacherous this month that I for one wouldn’t want to leave, don’t you think Camellia?”

Camellia was one year younger than Perdita and was well known for her wisdom. “Of course! Dear father, the shoes are only worn because we have been so busy preparing for Christmas. We’ve run all over the castle all this week. Juliette even decorated the South Tower yesterday, and you know how many stairs that one has.” When quizzed, each princess could provide a plausible reason for her shoes being worn out — decorating, games of hide-and-seek, aimless walking. However, although they spoke earnestly and without any nervousness, the King felt that all was not right. The explanations were so weak, for one thing, and they moved languidly, as if they were tired. A couple of them seemed to have dark circles under their eyes, Natalie was rubbing her feet when she thought no one was watching, and Daphne was still sleeping. He left the room perplexed, not willing to admit that his honest and good daughters had lied to him, but feeling like something was going on beyond his knowledge.

First he summoned the Minister of Defense and found that the castle guards had neither seen nor heard anyone leaving the Princesses’ quarters or the castle. Next came the Minister of Architecture, who after being briefed by the Chancellor dispatched his subordinates to go over every inch of the Princesses’ quarters and check for secret passages or hidden doors. None were found, and the King resorted to calling the Minister of Sorcery, a mysterious man who the King didn’t really like to bother.

“I quite understand the situation,” the Minister of Sorcery said imperiously after the King had explained all. “Unexplained movement, no possible means of escape, the girls’ excuses have the ring of truth and yet their behavior seems odd… Of course, it can only be an enchantment. Did they seem enchanted to you?”
“Not at all,” said the king uncertainly.
“Well, never mind that, that’s part of the enchantment. Yes, there was a similar case I read about, very curious indeed, where the victims accessed a sort of portal and, led on by demons through halls of crystal and gold, they danced all night with enchanted princes.”
The King’s face had been turning paler with each detail. “Demons? Dancing? Not my poor girls!”
“Your only hope,” continued the Minster, “is to ascertain the details of the enchantment and confront them with the truth. But it must be done secretly, such that the princesses are unaware that something is amiss.”
“You mean to spy on them?”
“Well, yes, you could say as such. I believe I know just the person we need, as well. I have long remarked that the cobbler’s assistant would be better suited to stealthier work, and indeed have even thought of making him my…”
“The cobbler’s assistant?” interrupted the king. “Should it not be a prince of some persuasion?”
The king’s chancellor coughed. “Most of those of noble birth who have visited the castle as of late left almost in tears after being bested in chess. I doubt they would wish to revisit the scene to do us a favor.”
“Princes be hanged, then,” the King replied irritably. “Find this assistant and set him on the case.”

This dress belongs to Camellia, who is twenty-four. Where Perdita is clever she is wise, and when there are differences among the princesses she’s often called on to resolve them; her father also goes frequently to her for advice, for she’s quite as learned as any of his advisors and has even written books about their country’s laws and history. She is a little more assertive and direct than Perdita, but she respects the king and thinks him fair, if a little overprotective, although she would secretly love to travel. (It’s my opinion that if the stronger, more independent Holly and Pieris had been born first, none of this would have happened.) She loves champagne colors and calla lilies.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses (A Christmas Tale), Day 1: Perdita’s Red Gown with Rose Embroidery and Gold Trim

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Once upon a time, a king and twelve princesses lived in a distant land far in the north. Some of the princesses were his own daughters, some were adopted, some were cousins of varying distances, but they were all kind, merry and if not all wise, at least exceedingly smart. The king, whatever his other faults, loved them all dearly and considered all of them his own, but this affection, no longer tempered by the wisdom of the queen who had passed on in their childhood, led to over-protecting his precious girls. For he had read the story of the man who became Buddha, but managed to glean the wrong lesson entirely from it. “Such a wise man the Buddha’s father was, such sound ideas of child-rearing,” he thought, and therefore the princesses were brought up with the utmost care. They never knew even a mild cold, much less contact with bitter poverty or death; even balls were forbidden. “You would get chilled to the bone just leaving the castle,” insisted the King, “you would have to travel for hours, and goodness knows what kinds of people you might meet at one of those sordid affairs.” Instead, when a suitor came to call, he would be forced into a game of chess with the desired princess, the King standing behind her, smiling gleefully as his daughter beat the stuffing out of the flabbergasted suitor.

For the princesses were all very good at chess, having played each other for hours on end. As a matter of fact, they were accomplished at all one might learn or do without leaving the castle, for they were smart women and hated being bored. Perdita, the eldest, was the cleverest and the best at chess, but they all had their specialties. For example, Camellia was the wisest, with the personality of a judge and a few books about the laws of her country and child rearing under her belt, while Juliette had perfect pitch and a knack for playing about any instrument she touched.

Winter in this kingdom was much like any other season there, but the princesses felt even more restless than usual around this time of year. They had no Christmas parties to look forwards to, no way to help the less fortunate, no one to carol to except the castle residents who had heard all their songs before. They would do things like read Christmas stories to each other and decorate the castle to within an inch of its life, of course, but it wasn’t really what they hoped for. They pleaded for a change of some sort, as they had every year, and their father was getting quite tired of all their petitions and complaints. Then, one day near the beginning of December, the petitions suddenly stopped.  The King — not, frankly, a very introspective man — thought they had finally learned that whining got them nowhere.

He was very angry, then, to learn that the silence didn’t stem from obedience, but from subterfuge. For after luxuriating in the silence for a week, he learned from the royal cobbler one morning that the princesses had all requested new slippers recently. This seemed a trivial fact to him, and he was prepared to scold the cobbler for bothering him with nonsense, until the cobbler patiently spelled it out for him.

“Your Majesty, it seemed strange to me merely because the slippers are so new, I made them just two months ago, but now they return to me so very worn. Usually the princesses’ slippers last for a good deal of time — well, except for the twins’ shoes.” The king frowned, obviously preparing to scold, and the cobbler went on quickly. “So you see, these shoes have seen a great deal of use as of late…”

“Use? What do you mean?”

“I mean,” stammered the cobbler, who was a wise old man who was a little embarrassed about having to explain something so obvious, “that they are walking more, perhaps, or dancing, or leaving the castle. Nothing else can account for how worn the slippers look in such a short time.”

“What?!” roared the king, jumping up from his throne. “Dancing? Leaving the castle? I knew it! I knew they were being too quiet,” he said triumphantly, although he had known nothing of the kind. He snatched the worn pair of shoes from the cobbler and stormed down the hallway to the princesses’ chambers. Throwing open the door, he boomed, “Whose shoes are these?”
(To be continued…)

This dress belongs to Perdita, the oldest at twenty-five. She’s the cleverest of all the princesses and the best at chess. She’s very close to Camellia, the next eldest of the princesses, but all of the girls look up to her and respect her. A placid woman, she usually accepts her father’s ideas and orders, and enjoys her life in the castle, where she can practice chess and write stories (in secret) to her heart’s content. But she’s only placid as long as she’s content, and if she feels put-upon and frustrated she can be hard to deal with. She loves the color red and roses of every color.