The Twelve Dancing Princesses (A Christmas Tale), Day Six: Holly’s White Gown with Gerbera Daisies and Pink Embroidery

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The altercation with the dwarf made Ced lose track of the princesses, and he started running again, passing the dwarves and chattering mermaids, out of the forest and right into a group of people and other creatures. There were fences on each side, helping to create a neat line that led to a boxy, multi-story building. Ced couldn’t see the princesses, but he doubted that they were anywhere but in this line with everyone else, so he shrugged and got in line himself. There was a giantess in front of him who was easily twice as tall as he was, and a thin fairy hovering behind. This ball must be amazing, thought Ced, picturing the two of them waltzing together.

“Are you here for the ball?” he asked the fairy behind him, a tall blue figure with unnerving eyes.
“Is that why everyone’s in line?” the fairy answered, tucking his knees under his chin and somersaulting in midair. “I don’t know what’s going on. One minute I’m wandering through the woods, bored as can be, I check out this strange blue flower, turns out there’s a hidden door in the tree next to it. I go through and…” He looked around and shrugged. “Did you find a flower too?”
“No, a book,” Ged answered.
The giantess in front of him turned and beamed at them. “You two must be new! What a delightful time you’re going to have.”
“Excuse me, but where are we? Is there a ball in that building?” Ced asked hopefully, tilting his head straight up to catch her eye.
“Oh, I’m not going to ruin the surprise,” she said, smiling and patting him on the shoulder. She probably felt she was patting him lightly and reassuringly — to Ced it felt like the time his master threw a pair of boots at him. He wondered if she meant that the surprise was good or bad, and if giants had quite the same notions of “good surprises” that humans did.

He couldn’t see anything over or around the giantess in front of him, and he despaired of seeing the princesses again, but as the way on all sides was blocked, there was nothing to do but shuffle along into the building along with everyone else and wait. Finally, the giantess moved along and Ced found himself at the head of the line, facing an elf with a pointy white beard and a business-like air. Ced smiled weakly.
“What do y’do?” the elf said, looking Ced up and down.
“Fine, and you?” said Ced automatically.
“Not how, what! What do you do?” repeated the elf.
“I, er…” ‘Spy’ was the first thing that came to Ced, but he didn’t want to say that. “I’m apprenticed to a cobbler. I make shoes.”
“Shoes?” the elf said, shuffling his papers and studying a checklist. “We’ve got a goodly supply of shoes this year already… Still, if you can work a needle and thread, we can find a place for you. Say! Aelinora,” he called, and a tall elf girl poked her head out from the door just behind him. “Need another pair of hands in there?”
“Yes, please!” She waved Ced over and guided him into the room she had come from, a well-lit room with a low ceiling and dozens of humans, fairies and so on. She gestured to a chair next to a huge pile of stuffed animals — teddy bears, cats, dogs, fishes, dragons, snakes, and quite a few animals Ced had never seen in his life. The elf girl took a threaded needle and a squirrel off of the pile and, kneeling besides the chair, stitched a black button eye on one side of its head. “They’re almost done, you see, they just need eyes. See how you do it?”
Ced saw quite easily how to do it, but why to do it was another question altogether. But he didn’t even have time to formulate the question before needle and squirrel were thrust into his hands and Aelinora was at the other end of the room. Shrugging, he attached the other eye and threw it into a nearby box marked “Finished Toys.”

He had hoped to see demons and ballrooms, but instead he found himself in a stuffed animal assembly line. The Minister of Sorcery, he suspected, would be nonplussed. A pair of dwarves next to him (not the same ones as before, thankfully) were stuffing the toys, and on down the line fantastic beings were cutting, stitching and putting together a whole fuzzy menagerie. He couldn’t see clearly all the way to the end of the room, but he was fairly sure that the orange slippers he saw at the end of the line were the ones he had just delivered to Princess Natalie. If at least one princess was here, that was a pretty good sign that they weren’t off waltzing with demons.

This dress belongs to twenty-one year old Holly, Pieris’ twin sister. While Pieris prefers the sword, Holly excels in hand-to-hand combat, and is more focused and intense than her happy-go-lucky, curious sister. She has more patience, too, and is often absorbed in books describing strategy and tactics used in great battles. Pieris gets along with the other princesses reasonably well, but Holly generally disdains most of them unless they have some use to her. Her favorite color is also white, but she loves daisies. She has the lowest tolerance for frills and puffs.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses (A Christmas Tale), Day 5: Pieris’ White Gown with Yellow Ribbon and Sunflowers

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Ced felt trapped, for at this rate the princesses would come back long before he figured out the book’s secret, and they would take him before the king, and he would have nothing, no proof… He glared at the book and the goofy-looking girl and dog walking across its cover. Then he realized that perhaps it wasn’t the book that held the magic, but the words. He read the whole first page aloud, and the whole last page, but neither had any effect. It was too long of a book just to read out loud all night, and the princesses had probably just read a passage of it, so that wasn’t the solution. Finally he hit upon the idea of simply opening the book and seeing how the pages fell; it should open, he reasoned, to the page with the heaviest usage. (Please do forgive him for not realizing this earlier, since Ced was not a great reader.) The book opened to a spot about two-thirds of the way through, and Ced started reading aloud from the top of the left side…

“Suzanna shifted, and resolved to find a properly embellished pillow to put on the throne tomorrow. It seemed like years since the Nonians had hailed her as their Queen, and while it had been fun at first, she could see quite clearly now why the real Queen had taken advantage of their queer similarity and escaped. Fawning attendants dogged her steps and agreed with whatever she said, she was shepherded to the most boring dinners and when she wasn’t making small talk with dukes and duchesses, she was back on this cold, hard throne with the crown slipping her forehead, all alone unless someone had a petition or a party for her. Even her little dog had a crown provided for him, but at least he had a nice warm pillow to curl up on by her side. It was true that she had wished for something to happen to her, but this wasn’t what she had wanted, not at all. ‘If only,’ she mused out loud, ‘I had never run away from my godfather’s house, none of this would have ever happened. I wish I was back in his workshop painting those toy trains!'”

And then he felt the book slide from his fingers, and he tried to catch it but he was grasping at nothing, standing on nothing and the library shelves were swaying to and fro. Being able to proceed with the investigation was such a huge relief that he wasn’t at all scared. It seemed wisest to close his eyes, however, and wait for whatever process he had started to take its course.

When he opened his eyes, he was sitting in what seemed like a dark room dusted with snow. Right in front of him, light peeped through a door. Brushing the snow off of himself, he stooped through the door, almost crawling, and found himself on his hands and knees in a snow-covered forest path. The door behind him had been deftly worked into a tree; the other trees, as far as he could see, had similar doors in their trunks. A sign on the door behind him read, in tiny script, “Castle Sjalfer.” As he was looking at it, a door on the same tree above Ced’s head opened and a tiny fairy tumbled out, barely acknowledging Ced before flying off. The path went both ways, but it was easy enough to track twelve pairs of footprints in the snow, so Ced got to his feet and started running down the path, following the fairy and the princesses.

The Minister of Sorcery had suggested that he might see fantastic vistas wrought from gold and diamonds, but there wasn’t much of anything besides trees and footprints. He had a faint sense that he was being joined on the path by others, but in his haste to catch up with the princesses, he ran past them without a second look. The blue shoes the cobbler had given him meant that the snow under his feet made only the slightest crunching sound, and he moved, cat-like, dodging the occasional figure in his way. After a while, he saw the brightly colored gowns of the princesses a ways in front of him; greatly relieved that he hadn’t lost them after all, he stopped and bent down, catching his breath. When he was ready to keep walking, he could still see the princesses far in the distance, almost near where the forest thinned out and revealed a huge, snow-covered boxy building. As long as I can see them, thought Ced, I’m doing OK. Now that he had the luxury of curiosity, he looked around, wondering what else was around besides snow and trees.

Ced hadn’t seen other figures on the path, but he was so focused on his task that he paid no attention to them. So it came as a shock to him that they weren’t what he had thought them to be. He wasn’t precisely a cosmopolitan fellow, so he gawked openly at the fairies, elves, halflings and who knows what else who kept walking by him without a second glance. Plenty of humans were joining the group, but so many of them seemed alien, with all their different skin colors and costumes. He even saw a group of pink and blue-haired girls in shimmery gowns walking unsteadily (mermaids on their first outing on human legs, although he had no way of knowing that). He leaned against a tree, stunned by all that he was seeing, and a door hit him in his back. Ced jumped away and started to apologize, but when he saw a trio of dwarves step out, he was tongue-tied. Dwarves in and of themselves would have been interesting enough, but one of them was a female with a lovely beard tied with a pink bow at the end. Ced never would have been so stupid as to pick a fight or cause offense back at the castle, but this was just too much for him, and his eyes boggled. The dwarf at which he was boggling stepped forwards, both hands on her hips.
“And what might YOU be lookin’ at?” she asked, her eyes narrowing.
“He’s obviously too ignorant to be offended by! Leave him, or we’ll be late,” one of the other dwarves called to her, as he was walking away. The third dwarf looked at her friends, then back to Ced.
“If we weren’t… where we are now, I’d certainly learn ye good for your insolence,” the dwarf threatened, and shaking her fist at Ced.
“Er… I’m sorry. Are you here to dance?”
The dwarf stepped back, looking at Ced incredulously. “Like I have the time t’be tutoring fools,” she grumbled. With one last glare, she jogged back to her group.

This dress belongs to Pieris, who is twenty-one. Although you might not know it from this dress, she and her twin sister Holly are tomboys who have done the most to test the King’s limits, bullying the Minister of Defense until he allowed them to take fencing and fighting lessons, sneaking out of the castle, and challenging would-be suitors to duels instead of chess. Far from being malicious, they’re quite good-natured; they’re just full of energy and frustrated with their sisters’ acceptance of quiet castle life. Pieris’ favorite color is white, and she loves sunflowers.