Come closer, dear, and I’ll tell you a tale. Once upon a time, in a faraway land, on a dark and stormy night, there lived a little girl. Her name was Rose, and she was a princess. In fact, she was a very disgruntled princess. You see, it had been raining quite steadily all day. Normally Rose would not mind the weather–the castle was full of interesting nooks and crannies to explore–but not today. Today she’d been given a perfectly lovely new pony by her perfectly lovely new stepmother, and she wanted to go down to the stables to pet him.
Unfortunately for Rose, the castle nanny would not let her go outside.
“It’s raining cats and dogs!” The nanny cried in her sensible, I-know-best voice. “You’d catch your death of cold, and what’s more, it’s far past your bedtime already!”
What a preposterous thing to say, thought Rose, who had a very well-developed vocabulary for a six-year-old. I don’t see any cats or dogs! As far as she could tell, the rain was composed of ordinary, boring hydrogen dioxide.
“But I want to pet my pony,” whined Rose petulantly. By now she knew she would not see her pony that night, but was determined to take out her disappointment on her well-intentioned nanny.
“I’m sorry, Sweetie Pie,” said the nanny, not looking sorry at all. “Now why don’t you come take your medicine?” She waggled a bottle of syrupy liquid in what Rose supposed was meant to be an enticing manner.
“I don’t want my medicine!” the little princess yelled. To be honest, she didn’t mind the medicine at all (it tasted like sugar). She did, however, mind being called Sweetie Pie.
“Well, when it rains, it pours,” muttered her nanny.
That’s not true at all, thought Rose, who’d been outside the day before in what could barely be called a drizzle and was definitely nowhere near a pour. Nevertheless, she gave in and took the medicine as her nanny began droning out her nightly fairy tale.
Now, we really mustn’t blame Rose for what happened next. After all, she really was a very little girl, and little girls often make rash decisions. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us (it certainly isn’t to me) that Rose, upset and annoyed and determined to be a complete and utter nuisance, rushed into a snap judgement that will play no small part in this tale. For as her nanny rambled into the evening’s second fairy tale (this one was about a stupid girl who’d gotten herself trapped in a fairy’s garden), Rose couldn’t help but think that the fairy tale was the only thing standing between her and her pony. And so she became determined to dislike them
When her nanny finally tucked her into bed, she said, “You know, Sweetie Pie, you’re almost a fairy tale yourself. Being a princess is halfway there; all that’s left is growing into it. Sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite!” She smiled and waddled out the door, thinking she had at last shared a bit of wizened insight with the young princess.
Oh my gosh, thought Rose. Halfway there? I don’t want to be some stick-in-the-mud fairy tale! All those damsels in distress and highly improbable princes. I’ll never be that dumb. I’ll never be a cliche fairy tale! And with that thought she fell asleep, completely unaware that she’d changed her life forever.
Rose kept her word over the next ten years. In her efforts to steer clear of any possible cliches, she became, quite possibly, the perfect child. She always obeyed her elders, especially her stepmother. She ate all of her vegetables. She never brought woodland creatures into the castle, or even wandered in the woods by herself. She never talked to strangers, and she especially never accepted any fruit from them.
With all of these good habits came many not-so-great ones. After hearing a fairy tale about a princess who befriended a village of dwarves, she refused to talk to anyone under four feet tall. She wouldn’t attend any of the royal balls. She stopped visiting her godmother for fear that she might secretly be a fairy. She kept her hair cropped painfully short. She attempted to get her father to outlaw the term “stepmother” (she preferred the phrase “alternative parent”) so that she and her stepmother could have a more “maternal” and “loving” relationship. And to the Royal Political Advisor’s great dismay, she rejected any and all proposals from princes of neighboring kingdoms.
But the very worst part of Rose’s fear of cliches was that she refused to acknowledge the fact that her stepmother was trying to kill her.
Between the ages of six and sixteen, she overlooked at least a dozen failed attempts at murder in her determination to get along with her alternative parent.
The first of these attempts was, in fact, the gift of that perfectly lovely new pony, which turned out to be not so lovely. For no sooner had the rain ceased than Rose went to the royal stables to have her horse saddled and readied to ride. The groomsmen looked at her concernedly, but knew better than to contradict the little princess when she was in one of her moods. The pony struggled and kicked and bit, looking less like a horse than one of the crazed monsters that roamed the wild forests to the north. Sure enough, right as Rose was about to mount the horse, it chomped three fingers off of the nearest stablehand. Rose was escorted away from the pony, and only later learned that it had died quite soon after, and the stablehand’s bite had been infected with some strange disease that required the amputation of his entire arm. The royal palace shrugged its shoulders, unsure of this strange turn of events, but surely the new queen could not have known!
Indeed, the entire event could be construed as an honest mistake if not for the failed assassination attempts that followed. Rose, suspecting nothing, spent as much time bonding with her stepmother as possible. As she grew and her anti-cliche attitude developed, so did her conviction that she and her stepmother were going to be Best Friends Forever.
After all, they did everything together!
When they went on flower-picking expeditions deep into the heart of the wild forests, Rose always returned with daring stories of near-death experiences. (Alas, not near enough for her stepmother.) And where a more clear-headed young princess may have wondered why her stepmother so often sent her within feet of the lairs of dangerous beasts with no guards at all, Rose merely appreciated her stepmother’s willingness to let her get a little adrenaline rush.
When they baked pies together, Rose never questioned why her stepmother repeatedly encouraged her to eat that entire apple pie. So happy was she to have this mother-daughter bonding time that she carelessly reminded her stepmother that she avoided apples as a matter of principle. It never crossed her mind to wonder why several members of the kitchen staff fell tragically ill the following day, or why one of the palace dogs was found dead near the remains of the apple pie.
When they went boating together on the nearby lake, Rose didn’t think twice about her tumble into the water’s depths. She didn’t notice the grit in her stepmother’s voice as she said, “Oh, Rose, I didn’t know you could swim.” Mistaking the disappointment for concern, Rose laughed and said, “How clumsy of me! I must have tripped!” (And this despite the fact that Rose had uncommonly good balance.)
And so the pattern continued. By the time that Rose had reached the ripe, marriageable age of sixteen, her stepmother was desperate to have her dead. (At this point, it was simply a matter of principle. The annoying girl simply refused to be murdered!) Rose still suspected nothing. And if her naivete was bordering on stupidity, at least we can say that it was a good-natured sort of stupidity that showed some serious abandonment issues and corresponding hungering for a mother’s love.
In one final attempt, Rose’s stepmother decided she needed to get Rose alone. She suggested a trip to the country-side where they could get away from all the men of the castle and “really get to know each other.” “It’ll be just a like a girls’ night out!” Rose said. She was thrilled and packed in seconds. The king, though reluctant to send his two favorite women into the world with no protection, eventually caved–after all, he was a bit of a pushover.
Days later, Rose and her stepmother were riding across a plain. To the best of Rose’s knowledge, they had no real itinerary, were free, traveling and stopping and making camp however their gut led them. For her stepmother, though, it was another story. Soon they came upon a tower, rickety and abandoned, hours away from any town.
“Oh!” cried the Queen. “What a marvelous tower! We simply must go up!”
“I don’t know,” said Rose, “After all, you know how I feel about towers.”
“Are you still doing that cliche thing? Oh darling, you know you have to grow out of that. Won’t you please give the tower a try? It looks so perfectly lovely, after all, and it would mean the world to me.”
Rose, hating to disappoint her best friend, reluctantly agreed.
Of course, her stepmother insisted that Rose go up the rotting wooden stairs first. Rose complied, so excited by the adventure that she failed to notice when she walked past a set of iron bars as she reached the top. She ran to the tower window to look out, about to exclaim about the view, when she heard a loud CLANG! behind her.
Her stepmother had slammed the door closed, leaving Rose locked on the inside of the tower.
Rose stood in shock.
The Queen was practically giddy with glee.
“At last!” she crowed. “Do you know how long I’ve been trying to trap you?”
“Erm, is this a game?” asked Rose, hesitantly.
The Queen’s gaze darkened.
“Of course it’s not a game, you silly, spoiled little princess. I’ve been trying to kill you for years, but you always seem to evade me. But now I’ve got you! I’ve been getting nowhere trying to actively off you; instead, I think I’ll murder you by neglect. No one will notice you locked in this tower, and you’ll die of thirst in a couple days, I suspect.”
Rose tried to process this information, failed, and simply stared.
“Well, I’ll be going now,” said the Queen. “I’ve got to practice the tragic story I’ll tell your dear father, after all.”
And with that she abandoned Rose to the tower, cackling evilly as she went. Rose, running her fingers through her cropped hair, could only think, Of course. Betrayed by a cliche, again. As much as I avoid them, they always hunt me down.
Luckily for Rose, it rained that evening, so she didn’t die of thirst as quickly as her stepmother had hoped. Instead, she trapped some of the drips in her traveling sack, thankful that she’d brought the sturdy leather one she’d got in a bargain at Ye Old Royale Thrift Shoppe, and set about trying to get herself rescued.
To her dismay, the first person who traveled past her tower looked decidedly like a prince. (She could tell by his perfectly coiffed hair.) She almost considered not calling out, such was her aversion to the whole lot of them. But she realized that she might not get another chance at rescue, so she yelled down. The prince (for he did turn out to be a prince) was only too happy to oblige. He raced up the tower stairs, calling out random phrases like “Have at thee!” and “Never fear!” and “I shall rescue you!”
Rose had never gritted her teeth so hard in her entire life.
But she let him break her out of her prison and carry her down the stairs, despite the damsel-in-distress nature of the whole operation.
I feel like I’m starring in some low-budget romantic comedy, thought Rose to herself.
As she soon found out on the long journey back to his castle, the prince was unbearably handsome, polite, chivalrous, and about to inherit an entire kingdom. So naturally, Rose fell in love with his brother Beauregard.
Rose’s father, relieved that his daughter was alive, decided that the Queen must have suffered from dementia on the journey. He had her interred in the kingdom’s most reliable mental health facility, telling all the Royal Tabloids he was sure she was just “going through a phase right now.” And since Rose was finally agreeing to marry a suitable fellow, he immediately approved of the match. Who cared if he wasn’t the inheriting prince?
Beauregard, however, was entirely conflicted about this. On the one hand, he loved Rose back–she is, after all, the protagonist here, so how could he help but love her? But on the other hand, he felt incredibly guilty.
“I’m the second son,” he told her.
“I’m well aware of that,” she said.
“It means I’m doomed for failure.”
“Even better,” responded Rose.
“But really, I’m cur–”
But Rose cut him off.
“I get it!” Rose said, and tried her best to look wisely concerned, despite the fact that she was thrilled that her life might not turn out so cliched after all. A second son doomed to failure! How perfect! Why had she not thought of this matrimonial option before?
Finally, their wedding day arrived. Rose marched up the aisle in combat boots, determined to have as un-cliche of a fairy tale wedding as possible. And as she closed her eyes and leaned in to kiss her true love, her lips briefly brushed his, and then…nothing.
Rose opened her eyes and found herself staring at empty space. She looked around the crowded cathedral in surprise, seeing no traces of Beauregard anywhere…until she heard it.
A big, loud, croaky ribbit.
She looked down at her feet, and sure enough, there was a frog. Well, a frog prince, she supposed. She sighed, sat on the steps, and picked up her amphibial spouse. And they all lived happily ever after, she thought.
Jenny is a lover of grammar, reading, and fairy tales. She graduated from The King’s College with a degree in Media, Culture, and the Arts and spends most of her time adding Oxford commas to other people’s writing—both professionally and for fun. When she’s not helping Clare run Ampersand, Jenny can be found knitting or working on her slowly developing novel.