(Looking for Chapter 1? It’s here: Chapter 1. Purple Pumpkins.)
Chapter 3. Inaccurate Fairy Tales
I pointed in the direction of my suite. Frank walked across the courtyard with me, lending his support in more ways than one. He seemed a bit preoccupied, as well he might. Even so, he was more attentive than my usual companions.
While today’s plotters had intended to kill me out of hand, I realized that future plotters might someday see me as someone worth capturing. My betrothal and eventual marriage to a usurper might add some useful legitimacy. Not to the usurper, exactly, but to my children by him. Which would make people more willing to tolerate the usurper himself. He’d be the father of the more or less legitimate heir and husband to the real princess, you see.
Marrying me to Daddy’s murderer is a power play that a villain can understand. There’s a science to it. The trick is to keep the bride from killing herself or her husband until she’s heavily pregnant, at which point she inevitably gives up for her baby’s sake. Or so they claim.
Of course, I was only twelve years old, which was awfully young for that particular scheme. But I had it in my future if any future villains didn’t discard me in distaste for being a cripple.
And that, dear reader, is princessing in a nutshell. It’s no career for a young girl.
Of course, Daddy is very smart and will probably keep the upper hand in spite of all their efforts. Probably.
Once we were inside the palace again, Frank saw a bench in the corridor and said, “Can we rest for a minute? I’m terribly out of breath.” He wiped imaginary sweat from his brow. There was real sweat on mine.
I nodded and we sat. I was charmed by his alert kindness and the deliberate transparency of his little white lies.
After I’d recovered a little, I said, “Who are you, Frank?”
“My father is Sir Ralph Woodville. My mother is Shirley Barron. The way Dad tells it, when they first met, he was an aristocratic young ne’er-do-well who knew a good thing when he saw it. She was a tanned and perky California surfer girl—and devastatingly intelligent, of course. He didn’t stand a chance; not that he wanted to. The rest is history.”
“No, they’re married and everything. I can go by Frank Woodville if I want to. I just don’t.”
I did a mental calculation. “That puts you about eleventh in line for the throne, doesn’t it?”
“Yep. Once the succession crosses over to the Woodville line, I have two uncles, a father, and three cousins ahead of me. No crown for me, thank God.”
“Do you have any siblings?”
“Not a one. You?”
“No. But you knew that. What’s California like?”
“You’ve never been?”
“I like it. Especially the way I can walk around at night and not have every drop of blood sucked from my body. Let’s nip across the gateway as soon as we can. I’ll take you to the movies, bowling, ice cream, go-karts: the works. And shopping, I guess.”
I thought it must be nice, living on the other side of the gateway, perhaps going to a public school, making friends, and doing all the normal things I’d never done. And having two parents. What luxury!
Frank probably used his mother’s maiden name to help maintain his privacy. I’m told that, on the California side, the gateway is a secret, but a poorly kept one. The Woodville name would attract attention from those in the know.
As my boyfriend, Frank really might expect to take me on dates on his side of the gateway. I wasn’t sure, but the things he’d listed seemed appropriate for … middle-school children? Yes, that was right. But was he really my boyfriend? I decided to ask. “Frank?”
“I told Daddy you’re my boyfriend.”
“I was there. Anyway, I am your boyfriend. I kissed you and everything.”
I studied his face. He was smiling but he wasn’t joking.
“Are you sure?”
“You’re my very first girlfriend, but I think so. Let’s make it official. Flavia, I really like you and I haven’t kissed you nearly enough. Let’s go steady.”
“Okay.” I’d have preferred him to be more formal, but never mind. He could have let himself off the hook, but he wanted to be my boyfriend! The topic of kissing confused me; especially, again, the idea that he wanted to.
But there were rules. The first rule was that princesses don’t have boyfriends. Suitors, yes. Fiancés, yes. Husbands, yes. Never boyfriends.
On the other hand, I was crippled. Perhaps the rules didn’t apply to me? Perhaps I was so unimportant that my own happiness could actually matter?
Frank broke in on my thoughts. “Try to write me another letter tonight.”
My heart sank. “I don’t know if I can.”
“Neither do I. Let’s find out.”
“You seem awfully calm after all that’s happened.”
He held out a hand. It was trembling. “I’m doing all right. So are you.”
We stood and resumed our journey. When I told Frank that my rooms were on the third floor, he began muttering angrily to himself. He seemed to think that I was being mistreated. I had to ask him to stop.
My legs and back were aching and stiff. It took us a long time to climb to the third floor, but we made it to my suite eventually: bedroom, sitting room, bathroom, and walk-in closet. My maid, Miss Parmalee, had a room across the hall. I banged on her door as I passed, but there was no answer. She wasn’t in my rooms, either. Daddy’s bodyguard, who had continued to follow us, checked my suite, announced it was empty, and departed to rejoin Daddy.
Frank helped me to the sofa and said, “What next?”
“I don’t think you’re allowed to be here unchaperoned.”
“The king ordered me to stick to you like a second skin until he relieves me personally.” He’d left the door wide open, as etiquette demanded. He walked over to it and stood, considering. “Your servants are missing. I’ve been taught that, on a day like today, anything unexpected is bad. It proves we still don’t know what’s going on.”
“No, I’m not!” He pointed at himself. “I’m always right here.”
His silly argument was comforting. I almost smiled. “You know what I mean.”
“Let’s figure that the King knew what he was doing, keeping us together. And so did you when you sent me the letter. Thank you, Flavia. Really. It was an amazing compliment. I wouldn’t have missed today for the world.” He gave me the most wonderful smile before turning his attention back to the door.
I could tell when he made his decision. His posture straightened and he seemed to grow larger. “Right. We’re bolting the door. Screw chaperonage. Unless…” He turned and looked at me. “What kinds of weapons do you have?”
“Just a wand. But I don’t think I’m up to hurting people.”
“Me, neither. Punching someone out, sure. I’ve done that plenty of times, boxing. But grown men are way above my weight class. Messing them up with magic? I don’t know. It seems different, somehow. Wrong. And I’m not sure it would work.” He nodded sharply. “Bolted it is.” He closed and locked the door, then threw all three bolts. The top and bottom bolts gave him trouble, since they hadn’t been used in years. Next, he closed and locked the heavy iron gate to the balcony, the one that protected the room from importunate vampires. Unlike the windows in the library, which faced the courtyard, my windows were on the outside of the palace, facing north. Then he closed and locked the French windows and drew the curtains.
“Why draw the curtains?” I asked.
He quoted his unknown teacher, “Never give the enemy the gift of information.” He turned on a couple of lights and repeated the process in my bedroom.
While he attended to these tasks, I began to cry. I couldn’t help it. I was too exhausted to bear up any longer. It wasn’t just the tiredness and emotional strain. My legs and back ached terribly. It was humiliating to be reduced to tears while Frank was so active, but I couldn’t stop.
I had endless practice with silent tears, but Frank noticed right away. Miss Parmalee would have taken a lot longer, or pretended to. He took a step towards me. I must have flinched, because he stopped abruptly. His air of confidence vanished and he looked bewildered and sad. He said, “What should I do?”
I realized that he was willing, even eager to hold me as I cried, but the idea was just too strange. Between silent sobs, I said, “Could you read to me? It would distract me and I like your voice.”
He found a book of fairy tales and started reading Snow White aloud. But he was on edge and prowled the room like a tiger as he read. That was too much for my jangled nerves. I asked him to be still.
Frank admitted that he really wanted to hold me or at least sit beside me, but I wouldn’t let him. Not while I was crying.
He flung himself discontentedly into an armchair and resumed reading aloud. He used different voices for each character, often inappropriate ones, such as giving the Evil Queen the deepest voice as he could manage. This cheered him up. He managed quite a pleasant voice for Snow White and changed her name to Flavia.
He interrupted himself and told me he didn’t mean anything by it and hoped I didn’t mind. I urged him to continue. It helped, though I was still crying.
I wondered why Frank was so attentive and biddable. Everyone else I knew was preoccupied. They paid little attention to me and none at all to my wishes. Frank was different. Why?
Oh. The letter. I’d steered him true and now he trusted me. I’d signed the letter with love, and he trusted that, too. Frank had thrown himself joyously, heart and soul into a situation that gave him a heroic role to play and a princess, of sorts, to fall in love with. But perhaps his mood could only last a little while?
As if in answer to my thoughts, he changed Prince Charming’s name to Frank. Flavia and Frank found true love and lived happily ever after. He did the same thing with Sleeping Beauty. We found true love and lived happily ever after half a dozen times in a row.
Eventually he began bestowing his name more randomly. He was cheerfully mangling the story of Rapunzel (“’Flavia, Flavia, let down your long hair, that I may climb the golden stair,’ called Frank the witch”), when I drifted off to sleep.
And that, dear reader, is how I met Frank.
Continued in Chapter 4, “Penetrable Disguise.”