An alternative fairytale in bite-sized portions
Suitable for family reading
A heaviness settled over Euphemia as she read Lucinda’s email, breaking the news that Bertie had died.
The words blurred as she emailed back, asking the lass to give her a video call. Cindy replied that her laptop’s webcam didn’t work and neither did the microphone. The computer was a cast-off, salvaged from a stepsister’s waste bin.
Euphemia’s intuition prickled.
Next afternoon she was again online when a call alert sounded.
‘Hello, Aunt Phemie. Can you hear me?’
‘I can hear ye fine, lass. It’s grand to hear your voice. You got your microphone working then?’
‘Harriet fixed it for me. She’s reinstalled it, but we can’t get the webcam to work.’
She remembered Harriet was the youngest stepsister. Maybe her fears were unjustified.
She could sense someone was with Cindy. ‘I’m pleased to meet you, Harriet,’ she said to the invisible listener, ‘and I thank you. You’re a good lass.’
Through the laptop came the hollow sound of feet scurrying up wooden stairs.
‘You’ve embarrassed her, Aunt Phee. She’s not used to praise. Her sisters are mean to her.’
‘They’re still living at Fincham House, are they?’
‘It belongs to stepmother now. Buttons and I have the basement.’
Of course they did; that’s where the kitchen was located. Bertie’s old dog was still alive, then.
‘Do you spend much time with them?’
‘Well… stepmother’s allergic to dogs. And I prefer Buttons’ company.’
Allergic? She didn’t recall any sneezing at the wedding when Buttons had followed the bridesmaids wearing a bow tie.
‘Well my webcam works fine,’ she said, ‘and if you click on that little picture of a movie camera you should be able to see me.’
‘It works! You haven’t changed a bit, Aunt Phemie.’
There were tears in Lucinda’s voice. Buttons barked in the background.
‘Your picture keeps freezing on the screen, Aunt Phee – can you still hear me?’
‘Dinnae fret, hen. I’m coming home. Give my love to Buttons.’
At Regalia’s Whittington Airport, passengers were held on board after the plane touched down. A stowaway had been discovered in the baggage hold.
From her window seat, Euphemia watched security guards escort a squat figure from the plane. The poor man was shivering in spite of a blanket from which his head protruded through a hole in the centre. His wide straw hat quivered as two tall officers hauled him across the tarmac, followed by a guard carrying two large knives, a gun, and a long ammunition belt that threatened to trip him.
Eventually, the passengers disembarked, and Euphemia made her way through the busy airport. She was entering a revolving door to exit the terminal when a commotion erupted behind a door marked ‘Security’.
As she stepped into the nearest taxi, relieved to have avoided another delay, she hardly registered the sirens wailing towards the airport as the taxi drove away.
Thank you, dear friend, for your excellent advice. The Royal Physician has confirmed that my father was poisoned – but you suspected that, did you not?
I have asked him to keep this information to ourselves for a time.
Yu’qub’s doctor friend – he who certificated our father’s death – has lately purchased a yacht and a new Mercedes car.
Those who opposed my father’s reforms now court Yu’qub’s favour. I do not wish to believe that my half-brother is plotting to supplant me, but I cannot ignore the possibility.
Princess Mona of Carmalay agrees with me that it would be insensitive to marry next month, so soon after my father’s death. We have postponed our wedding until a more auspicious time.
One of the reforms my father proposed was to include his daughters in the line of succession. My first act as Emir will be to implement this. Should I then die without an heir, my sister will succeed me as Emira, since she is older than Yu’qub.
If he intends to depose me, this may force him to act quickly and I will be ready. I cannot detain him without proof; it would send my people the wrong message.
I would that you were here to advise me, as you advised my father.
You are wise to consider the effect on your people, but be careful, my young friend. Poison is not the only threat.
I cannot yet travel to Djalladin, but I am sure you will judge for yourself when to walk boldly and when to tread carefully.
My good wishes go with you. Euphemia.