An alternative fairytale in bite-sized portions
Suitable for family reading
Aureila’s wedding was everything a royal wedding should be: birds twittered, crowds cheered, and cameras flashed. Gift shops ran out of souvenir mugs and tourists mingled with the citizens of Regalia thronging the streets.
At the reception, Prince Alfred sat at the top table, where his sister’s smile reflected back at him from every polished silver goblet. Aureila had inherited the natural elegance of their father, the King, and the terrier-like determination of their mother.
Alfred, on the other hand, had all the gentleness of their father and the stature of their mother.
Beside him at the top table sat the bridegroom’s sister. ‘Your turn next, Your Highness,’ she said, and elbowed him in the ribs. Eyes turned towards them. Mothers nudged their daughters and a warm flush crept up from his neck.
‘I’m in n-no hurry,’ he said.
He was fed up with people telling him it was his turn next. His mother thought it should have been his turn first. But there weren’t many princesses around these days, and his mother found objections to any girlfriend he brought home. Not that there had been many of those. Every unmarried girl in the kingdom dreamed of being future queen but, in truth, the daughters of the nobility looked down on him. They were all taller than he was.
Bride and groom left for their honeymoon in a flurry of confetti and rose petals.
The petals came from the bride’s bouquet that Aureila threw into the crowd; tradition held that whoever caught it would be the next to marry.
An ungainly young woman elbowed her way through twelve bridesmaids, followed by a plumper lass – Alfred thought their ancestors might have modelled for the gargoyles on the palace roof.
He took advantage of the distraction to slip away. Snatches of conversation passed over him as he edged through the crowd.
‘Young people today!’
‘…them Uglie sisters, Tabitha and Abigail and… what’s the other one called?’
Near the side gate, he glanced back through a gap in the crowd, and saw an older woman shove another girl into the brawl.
‘I blame it on the TV – all that violence.’
‘I blame the parents.’
‘That there’s their ma in’t it? That widow wot married the late Baron.’
‘It’s gonna take more than catching a bunch of flowers to marry off them lovelies.’
‘…no sign of little Alfred finding ’imself a girl, bless ’im.’
Little Alfred entered a code on the gate’s keypad and slipped through, quiet as a mouse. He pulled it shut behind him until he heard the lock click.
Free for the moment, Prince Alfred went to visit the peacocks in the palace gardens.
It was peaceful there. Fountains played, birds sang from the shrubbery and the street clamour was no more than a background murmur, muffled by the thick walls of the palace buildings.
This was one of his favourite places. If no gardeners were about, he would talk to the peacocks. He admired their stately dignity. When younger, he had tried to imitate them, but strutting about with his neck stretched had made him feel silly, rather than stately.
When the peacocks fanned their tails their markings looked like eyes. He felt as if someone was taking notice of him.
Today, there was a stranger in the garden.
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