An alternative fairytale in bite-sized portions
Suitable for family reading
Peacocks and Bullfinches
Ordinary birds nested in the palace gardens too, and Alfred could identify most of them. Today an unfamiliar visitor pecked among the peacocks. A busy, sparrow-sized bird, it had a black cap and pinkish-red breast, not as bright as a robin’s. As he studied it, the bird turned its grey back on him and flew, chirping, to perch in a briar rose.
Alfred beckoned to the Head Gardener.
‘What kind of b-bird is that in the b-briar – the one with the pink b-breast?’
‘Ah, that be a bullfinch, Highness. And there’ll be his missus, come to his call.’
Alfred doubted that. The beige-breasted female was ignoring the antics of the male bird hopping around her. Alfred knew how he felt.
Instead, she flew to the branch nearest Alfred. She dipped her head, as if saluting him, before flying off.
The palace staff were returning from the wedding. He slipped through them and up to his room where he logged into a website for birdwatchers. He posted his sighting.
Alfie: I saw a pair of bullfinches in my garden this afternoon. First time I’ve seen any in Regalia.
He scrolled down to read the latest comments. When he scrolled back up, a new post had appeared. He didn’t recognise the username.
Cindy: A bullfinch sang to me from my basement railings today. Perhaps it was one of yours
He posted a reply.
Alfie: Are you in Regalia too? You’re new to the forum, aren’t you?
A moment later a new message appeared.
Cindy: I discovered it today; I haven’t had my computer long.
Alfie: I can tell you about some other good websites, but this isn’t the best place to chat. Can you Skype or FaceTime?
Cindy: My webcam doesn’t work. Neither does the microphone, but we can send messages if you don’t mind typing.
He didn’t mind typing. His keyboard didn’t stammer.
They exchanged usernames and used Skype for their messages. She told him how the laptop had opened her eyes to the rest of the world.
Cindy: I know so little about anywhere outside Regalia. My godmother writes a blog about her travels; she’s been everywhere. I’d love to travel the world. I don’t even get to leave the house much.
Alfie: Why not?
But she’d logged out.
Next evening, when Prince Alfred logged on to his computer, an alert sounded for a Skype call. It was from Cindy.
He hesitated before accepting it. Could he pretend his microphone wasn’t working?
He told himself not to be a wimp and began with confidence.
‘Hello? Cindy? Can you hear m-me?’ (Drat!)
‘Hello, Alfie. Harriet got the microphone working for me – she reinstalled it.’
‘M-magic! Did she get the webcam working too?’
‘She tried, but she couldn’t fix it.’
‘Try it now, just to make sure.’
But it was hopeless. ‘I can see you, Alfie. Can you see me?’
‘N-not at all,’ he said. ‘Just that icon in the m-middle of the screen.’ He heard her giggle.
‘Never mind,’ she said. ‘If it started working, Tabitha might want it back. She’s already dented her new one.’
She had a clear, musical voice, and she didn’t try to finish his sentences for him when he stuttered. Their conversation ended when someone called down to demand tea and toast.
He heard the woman braying, ‘Cin-ders?’ rising at the end.
Why couldn’t he sound imperious like that?