[Eleanor]: 668.Margaret - Grethe.I
This is not my story, but without me, it could not have come to be, and so it became my story, or at least mine to tell.
In the beginning I was a child, innocent, wide eyed, oblivious to anything but what I felt and knew; much like other children regardless of their circumstances of birth and stations in life. My father was the king and I a princess, but I knew nothing of this. Until we both started school, my days were spent running through the castle with my older brother, begging titbits from the cook in the huge palace kitchen or visiting the horses in the stables. I’m sure we were quite the nuisance for the domestic staff, but we were never chastised as less privileged children would have been. When my brother started his lessons, I was lonely for a companion and befriended Grethe, the girl who lived among the pots and pans and great ovens.
Grethe was mute and simple. While I look back on those days and think of myself as oblivious, she truly was. Her parents had been killed in an accident in the village when she was just a baby, their cart overturned when a wheel caught in a rut and the horse stumbled. Crushed beneath the weight of the wagon, their infant daughter was thrown clear, rolling down into the dry ditch, only to hit her small soft head against a rock. Relatives took her in for a time, but were discouraged that she never spoke and took no interest in the world around her. Otherwise she was growing normally with a healthy appetite, and the family realized they could not support her. They were not bad people, just poor, and one mouth that did not contribute toward the household was one mouth too many. They asked around and Grethe was taken in by Mistress Rose who ran my father’s kitchens.
We were nothing alike, Grethe and I, but there were few children my own age to play with once my brother abandoned me for his studies. Her advantage over him was that I could boss her around, make her be whatever I wanted in our little games, and she complied silently. It occurs to me now that we were both privileged in our own ways. I was royalty and my word, even if I was an ignorant child, was obeyed; while she was protected by the cooks and scullery maids from the cruelties that the world would otherwise have inflicted upon her. She could be engaged in undemanding activities: playing the games I devised as long as they weren’t too complicated, or helping in the kitchen; otherwise she sat in front of one of the big fireplaces and stared at the flames for hours until Mistress Rose roused her.
As I said, we were very dissimilar. I had inherited my mother’s red hair and father’s curls so that I had a mass of tangles my nurse was forever trying to tame with combs and ribbons. In the sun my skin was soon covered with freckles, one reason my nurse always clucked her tongue when it was evident I had been playing outside without a hat or long sleeves. Grethe was as blonde as sunlight itself. Her hair was fine yellow silk and my childish attempts to arrange it as my nurse did mine resulted in any combs or ribbons merely sliding out, unable to find purchase. Her skin was like alabaster and her eyes were as blue as corn flowers. Sometimes I would dress her up in my own velvets and brocades like a doll and we would present ourselves to my royal mother who laughed and said she now had two princesses, hugging both of us at once. I heard that phrase then as an expression of affection; but now that I am recalling those instances, I sense a certain prophetic irony behind her words.
Eventually I, too, was forced into the schoolroom and had to leave Grethe behind in the kitchen. I saw her less often after that. Sometimes I would seek her out to show her my books or try to teach her to read as I was learning to do, but she could not grasp the concepts of letters and words. As we both grew up, it was evident that she was the great beauty and I often thought that she should have been born the princess and I the mute scullery girl, but I said none of this for by that time I was being schooled in tact and diplomacy. It is only now that I can forget those lessons and say what I truly mean.
The first instance of my unusual abilities was displayed on my 12th birthday when I relit the candles on my cake after having blown them out. Soon it was apparent that I had the gift of sorcery and my royal parents gave me the choice of staying at home to be tutored in the arcane arts, or to go to the academy on the fringe of the kingdom. While remaining in the comfort of my known surroundings was a temptation, the prospect of exploring the world and meeting others like myself was an even greater one, so shortly after my 16th birthday I packed my bag and soon found myself separated from the only people I had known and loved, but immersed in studies which exhilarated me.
I bade Grethe goodbye, but I don’t know if she even remembered me anymore, since I saw her so rarely now. She returned my hug almost as a reflex, smiled sweetly, and then turned back to the plate she was washing as though I hadn’t interrupted her work. It was harder taking leave of my parents and brother, and especially my nurse who had been with me since I was born. But that good woman was ready for a deserved retirement and would not accompany me on my journey. For the first time ever, I was truly on my own.
After an initial period of strangeness which I’m sure affected all the new students, I settled into my studies. There was no mention of my being a princess or that my father was the sovereign of the realm. For the first time I was just an ordinary person learning extraordinary things, at least among my fellows. To the world outside the academy, I was regarded quite in awe, as we all were; but inside, no one was treated any differently because of his background or financial standing. My visits to my family were limited to major holidays and I saw them rarely. Grethe was all but forgotten. It wasn’t until I returned home after my graduation four years later that I was able to participate in the story once more.