Once upon a time, the Princess circulated a rumour. It began on her island at the top of her tower, in her round room, at her bedside. She slipped a message to her chambermaid, whispering in the lady’s left ear. The chambermaid turned (tucking it away), and told someone carrying a covered chamber pot, who dumped the news on a sentry man, who passed it along on his rounds to the butcher, who watched the cleaver slip just a bit as he shared more than he ought with the tapestry weaver’s daughter as he gave the child some bones for her cat. This girl went in search of her cousin, who was just then on his way to the harbour to deliver a letter to the brave fisherman, who took a moment — and then took up his tackle, unrolled his sail, and reached the mainland by nightfall. He told a crowd at the tavern that night: the princess was looking for love.
The red sun rose. The white city blushed, they traded places, and the sea swallowed it up.
“Tiens!” the city gossiped. “Who does she think she can choose?” The pickings, they said, were slimmer than carrots that year.
But the Princess circulated a rumour.
She was looking for love, the whole tavern jeered. “Eh bien, on y va?” And off they went, packing valises, pulling bootstraps, and combing down cowlicks. The brave fisherman was seen shaking hands with the barman, who didn’t notice a scroll of paper fall into a bottle; it was taken out with the trash, and fell from the pile in the middle of the night, back into the washing waves.
The red sun rose. The white city blushed, they traded places, and the sea swallowed it up. On the island men began to arrive. Poor men, measly men, men without ambition, men who already had many wives.
The Princess lay in bed. Her chambermaids had been gone for some time, called away to prepare the guest rooms. Under the sheets she touched her own round belly.
The Princess circulated theories in her head. Below her chamber the King walked in tight circles, and his advisors watched him with roving eyes. And down in the city the people were heard to murmur, louder than the tipping sea, that more ships were coming. Against the horizon: tiny, triangular wings.
More men arrived. Rich men, mump-free men, men who could afford vaccines, men wearing capes and crowns. The Princess, they’d heard, was looking for love. But were the rumours true? Did she really have:
a laugh as low as the sea?
In the water a bottle bobbed. The Princess pulled the sheets from her bed. Draped like this, she looked like a Queen. She touched her leg. She touched one breast.
In a distant port, the brave fisherman rapped the counter. “Encore,” he said, another round.
Once upon a time, the Princess planted a ruse. She scribbled farewell and slipped the message to her chambermaid, who balled up the parchment and tossed it to the King’s page on her way to the stinking chamber pot. The page ran downhill, cutting his knee on cobblestone, and stopped the blood with a strip from the tapestry weaver, who traded his yarn for the note, and dispatched his nephew to hurry down and deliver it at the dock. The brave fisherman took a moment — smoothed out the crinkles, read between the lines of ink — and then took up his tackle, unrolled his sail and reached the mainland by nightfall.
He drank until he could not see her note, but forget her he could not. He rapped the counter, he mumbled about safe delivery.
The red sun was not yet up. The barmaid blushed. In the water his bottle bobbed. He would swallow the sea if he must.
Kaylen Baker is a Guest Writer for Panorama. This is her first piece of published fiction.
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