An alternative fairytale in bite-sized portions
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Suitable for family reading
After the wedding, in celebratory sunshine Euphemia had watched from the crowd as the Uglie sisters fought over the bridal bouquet. She remembered them as bridesmaids at Bertie’s wedding, where they had ordered around the younger bridesmaids and exchanged furtive sniggers during the service.
As their screeches drew all eyes to the fray, her skin prickled; someone was watching her. Across the crowd, a stocky man wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat looked away as she met his eye.
The man stood as wide as he was tall. In spite of the warm day he wore a wrap that covered his short body almost to his boots. His long moustache was streaked with grey. Its mournful droop contrasted with the fierce glitter she glimpsed in his eye before a woman with towering hair pushed in front of him and shoved a lanky girl out into the scrum.
The girl stumbled and almost fell. Her eyes were wide and terrified. If this was Harriet, the youngest sister, then that must be their mother, Malegra. The vulture-like woman bore little resemblance to Bertie’s simpering bride, yet there was something…
Euphemia recalled the hooded eyes that had avoided hers at the wedding.
As the bouquet disintegrated, bridesmaids and guests backed away from flying thorns. Behind the squabble, the moustached man had gone.
As she searched the crowd for him she spotted Prince Alfred, slipping through the onlookers unnoticed, like a mouse through long grass. People were too engrossed in the brawl to notice who was passing under their noses.
He reached a side gate to the palace gardens, entered a key code and was gone.
She didn’t need to search the crowd to know Lucinda wasn’t there. The old instincts were sharper since her return. Her vision was clearing.
Euphemia visited her friends at the palace in the week after the wedding. As she’d hoped, the Queen was too busy to spare her much time.
Nobody challenged her as she afterwards sought out staff who had been there when she supervised the royal nursery. That didn’t take long either; few still worked at the palace.
Then she was free to seek out Prince Alfred in the palace gardens.
‘N-nanny Ffinch – it’s so g-good to see you. I still keep all the p-postcards you send from your travels, you know.’
She did know. He kept every birthday card as well. With the eagerness of a small child finding someone who will listen, he told her about a new friend – someone he had met online.
‘We both posted on a b-birdwatching website when we spotted a b-bullfinch – they’re rare in Regalia, you know – and since then we’ve been chatting on Skype m-most evenings.’
‘And is she bonnie?’
‘I d-don’t actually know what she looks like. Her webcam doesn’t work. We just t-talk.’
For a rare moment, Euphemia could find no words.