The Goose Girl
While en route to Princess Ava's royal wedding, Ava's maid blackmails her into trading places by revealing a terrible family secret. Shocked and confused, the newly-demoted Ava tends the palace geese alongside Konrad, a cheerful, ambitious young man who is most at home in the outdoors. And as Ava learns more about the prince she was supposed to marry, she starts to think she might be better off with the geese.
“But Mother, I don’t want to get married!”
“Now, Ava!” The queen folded yet another chemise and placed it in her daughter’s trunk. “It’s a good match. He’s first in line for the throne, so you’ll be queen someday, and it will mean indefinite peace along our borders.”
Ava sat on her bed, feeling utterly helpless. She hadn’t seen her husband-to-be since they were children. She had no idea if she would even like him, much less like him enough to cope with what was required for consummating the marriage. Because she would have to. That went without saying, and she wasn’t looking forward to it. “Can’t Truda go?” Her sister Truda was only a year younger, and was already naming her future children.
“Your father’s negotiating a match for her already,” the queen said. “Listen, Ava, marriage is very much what you make of it. Of course it’s not all a bed of rose petals, but it’s not all bad, either. As long as you remember your place, you can make the best of it.” She smiled. “And however difficult it is to bring children into this world, once you do, they’re a joy and a delight. I haven’t regretted any of you, not for a single moment.”
She hadn’t mentioned not regretting the marriage itself, Ava noted sourly, but her parents had kept separate suites for as long as she could remember. Maybe it wasn’t so bad, but the king was an even-tempered man, at least as long as he got his way, and the Queen seemed willing to let him have it.
Her place. Letting him have his way was her place.
Ava sighed. She’d heard that many little girls dreamed of being princesses, but that was only because they had no idea what being a princess entailed. They thought of it as having all the money in the world and the freedom to do with it as one wished. They weren’t thinking of the impeccable manners, the endless tutors, the state visits, the social schedule so full that going for a ride was a treasured treat.
Or the arranged marriages. For that matter, every single one of Ava’s friends had been chosen for her by her mother, as was the amount of preference she was allowed to show for each. Much of a princess’s social life revolved around the court, who was in favor, who was not, who outranked whom, and whose house was allied with whose.
A farmer’s daughter might at least be able to meet her intended, and might even have a say in who she married. Ava had never had the option to choose her husband, which was part of why she’d deliberately not given it much thought.
“I barely know him,” Ava said.
“You’ll have plenty of time to get to know him,” her mother assured her. “Don’t worry, dear. It’s always a little nerve-wracking at first. Just give it some time, and you’ll settle right in.”
But what was he like? Ava wondered. Was he kind? Considerate? Or was he cruel, autocratic? As far as she was concerned, she was going into this blind.
Whatever he was like, she was going to be stuck with it, and she would be far from the companionship of her mother, her sisters and her friends. There would be visits, but that wasn’t the same as being able to knock on her mother’s door and pour her heart out when she needed to.
A quick knock announced the appearance her chambermaid.
“Ah, Otilla!” the queen said. “Are you packed?”
“Very nearly, Your Majesty,” the chambermaid said.
“See to it that you’re ready by morning,” the queen said.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Otilla said, then she turned to Ava. “Shall I help you undress, Your Highness?”
“Thank you, Otilla.” Ava stood, turning toward the window so Otilla could unbutton her gown and loosen her stays. There had been a farewell party earlier that night. This would be Ava’s last night in her own bed.
At least Otilla was going with her. There would be one familiar face in her new home.
By the time Ava closed the draperies of her bed and curled up under the eiderdown, the trunks were packed full with everything but her riding clothes, which were hung on the front of the wardrobe. Tomorrow, she would no longer be her father’s daughter. She would be another man’s intended, and in two weeks, she’d be his bride.
Bride. Ava had heard other girls titter and blush at the thought of their wedding night, but Ava didn’t understand. She didn’t dislike men, but she didn’t feel what the other girls felt. There was no thrill in looking at them, and she hardly thought about them at all. There was nothing special about them, and the physical mechanics of the marriage bed made her want to laugh, then retch. She wasn’t even curious. All she wanted was to be left alone.
She wanted to be brave, but in the end, she cried herself to sleep. She couldn’t seem to fall asleep any other way.