The Princess of Mendacia

[Starting a few pages into the first chapter.  Upon being informed that the local lord, Peter, had come to visit, Elise has hurriedly put on her best clothes to see him.]

Elise followed her mother to the closed parlour door.  Behind it, a man, presumably Lord Peter, was saying, ‘So the other six should be safe for the present, not that they’ll hear anything about it.’  Her father’s voice murmured an answer, and Lord Peter said, ‘I don’t know any more than you do.  Less, maybe.’

‘Mother,’ Elise whispered, ‘what does Lord Peter want with me?’

‘I’m sorry, Elise.’  She drew Elise into her arms.  ‘I wanted to tell you, but we couldn’t.  I’m sorry.’

‘Tell me what?’ asked Elise, but her mother opened the door.

In the parlour, two guards, as stiff as their sabres, stood behind the chair where a large, grey-haired man with lace cuffs and collars sat comfortably waiting.  He smiled at Elise.

‘How do you do?’ said Elise; she and her mother courtesied.

‘Elisabeth, I presume?’ Lord Peter said warmly.  ‘I am Lord Peter of Piria, privy councillor to her Majesty Queen Lucy the Queen Mother of Mendacia.  I have been entrusted with a message from the Queen Mother for you.’

Elise wanted to say, Not for Father?  For me?  But she kept her mouth shut and waited.

‘So, William, how much have you told her of the matter?’

‘Not much,’ said Elise’s father.

‘We said she was Will’s brother’s orphan,’ Elise’s mother added.  ‘Because she could have been.’  She answered Elise’s puzzled look with an anxious smile.

‘I see I’ll have to give a little history lesson.  Oh, sit down,’ he added.

Elise caught herself from dropping onto the chair and instead seated herself as delicately as she could; her father and mother hovered behind her.  The sun on Lord Peter’s gold buttons flashed into her eyes, so she looked down at his pointed shoes.

‘Elisabeth, you have no doubt heard that fifteen years ago, shortly after the birth of her first and only child, our Queen Theodosia unexpectedly and unfortunately died.  At this time, King Thomas was about to leave for Constantinople to help the Emperor in his wars against the Turks.  Wanting to keep his daughter safe, he found six orphaned infants of the same age and entrusted the seven girls to seven families throughout the kingdom.’

Elise nodded; everyone knew the story of the hidden Princess Theodosia.

‘After several years in the East, King Thomas returned to Mendacia and found his kingdom beset by its own wars and dangers.  He therefore left the girls with the families to whom they had been entrusted, intending to send for the princess as soon as it seemed safe to do so, but before then, it became necessary for him to go to Constantinople again.  Now at last, King Thomas is about to return to Mendacia, and in preparation, the Queen Mother has given orders that the seven girls appear at once in the palace in Caelia.’  He paused.  ‘As you may have guessed, Elisabeth, you are one of these girls.’

‘Oh!’ Elise cried.  ‘Must I go?’  Then she blushed and fidgeted and said, ‘I’m very sorry, sir; I didn’t mean to speak, only I was startled.  Please go on.’

Lord Peter smiled.  ‘I’m afraid so, my dear.  Caelia is a few hours away, so if we leave this afternoon, we’ll be there in time for dinner.  The Queen Mother will have suitable clothes made for you when you arrive, so you needn’t worry about that.  A trunk will be provided for whatever else you may wish to bring: mind you, one trunk and what fits in it, and no more.  Have you any questions?’

‘Safe from what, sir?’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Why did the King want to keep us safe?  Is there some danger?’

‘I am not at liberty to say more than that Princess Theodosia is his only child and heir and as such must be protected for the continued welfare of Mendacia.’

‘But surely I’m not the princess, am I?’

‘I don’t know and couldn’t guess.  The King’s not here, and the Queen Mother and the Archbishop won’t say a word about it; and if anyone else knows, I haven’t been told.  Of course, even if you are not the princess, the King will settle a generous dowry on you and, if you wish, arrange a marriage into one of the most noble families of the kingdom, so you needn’t worry about your future.  Your estate will not be conferred officially until the princess is revealed, but until then, you are to be known provisionally as Lady Elisabeth.’  He slapped his wide hands onto his knees and leaned forward to get up.  ‘Well, Lady Elisabeth, if that is all—’  The chair creaked as he stood.  ‘William, Edith, thank you for your service yet again.  Don’t worry a moment about her; the Queen Mother and Lady Agatha will look after her, and when King Thomas has returned, we’ll provide a royal escort for you and your family to visit her in the palace, if you like.’

‘Thanks,’ said Elise’s father.

Elise opened the inner door of the parlour and found clustered around it Agnes, all six of her brothers, the cook, and even a few neighbours.  Agnes nearly fell into the room, likely because she had been pressing her ear to the door.  The neighbours, looking sheepish, started on down the passage with remarks on the warm weather, trying to look as if they had just been strolling by.

‘We couldn’t help hearing—’ her eldest brother began, but Agnes clung to Elise’s legs and cried, ‘They’re taking you away, they’re taking you away!’

‘Now, now, Agnes.’  Their mother peeled Agnes off Elise.  ‘Let the poor girl have a moment to think.  Off with you now, boys.  Agnes, go find out whether Cook’s bread is risen yet.  Yes, Jacksy, here’s mama again!  Mama was just in the parlour.  She didn’t leave her baby, no, she didn’t.’

The others dispersed, and Elise ran back to her room in great confusion and excitement.  She was going away to the palace.  She was a lady; she might be a princess.  She was someone else’s child.  She hardly knew what to think.

11 thoughts on “The Princess of Mendacia

  1. Lady of Lore says:

    Interesting idea! The voice seems to slag a little bit but the scene moved along well and kept me interested. I liked the bit about the shiny buttons blinding her and she focused on his pointy shoes instead. Maybe just a little more character or life in the narration.

    • Ella says:

      Thank you! I did have some trouble hitting the right narrative tone in my early drafts; could you explain a little more what you mean about the voice ‘slagging’, or were there specific lines where it could be improved?

  2. Philipp says:

    A bit of an ‘as-you-know-Bob’ in the middle of the scene. Now, that’s not a fatal problem, and I suspect that it might fly more smoothly in a middle-grade story, especially one with something of a fairy-tale air, but perhaps it could be improved. To me, the problem resides less in the fact that Lord Peter is reporting the information than that he knows Elise knows the story and yet tells it anyway, which is really your way of signaling (I take it) that you know you are engaging in somewhat bland exposition. Might it be better to be less coy about it, or else to reframe the exposition? Perhaps, instead of the (frankly rather uninteresting) statement that he will be presenting a “history lesson,” Lord Peter should start with the interesting part—the hidden princess, and the seven anonymous girls (e.g. “You see, Elisabeth, that you have been performing a vital duty for the kingdom of Mendacia these fifteen years: helping to safeguard King Thomas’ sole child and heir from the assassins who murdered her mother, Queen Theodosia, and tried to break the alliance between Mendacia and the Emperor in Constantinople.”) That might be a bit too dramatic, or too clunky, but I think it would be more exciting—and excitement is what this early scene needs.

    • Ella says:

      I think you’re right, both that the scene needs more excitement, and that the ‘as you know, Bob’ is not exciting. It would take a little rewriting to make the ‘interesting parts’ more prominent, but is likely to be worth the work. Thanks for the advice!

  3. Dhara says:

    One suggestion I have is the transition between these two lines:

    He paused. ‘As you may have guessed, Elisabeth, you are one of these girls.’
    ‘Oh!’ Elise cried. ‘Must I go?’ Then she blushed and fidgeted and said, ‘I’m very sorry, sir; I didn’t mean to speak, only I was startled. Please go on.’

    It seems like that’s a big moment of truth for Elise when Lord Peter tells her she’s one of those girls, and I’m guessing that’s a pivotal part of your story. Hence, I’d expect more of a reaction out of her when he reveals this. Maybe something like:

    ‘Elisabeth,’ he said, his voice growing quiet, ‘you are one of these girls.’

    ‘What?’ Elise whispered, her eyes widening. ‘I…am?’ and you could describe more of her reaction to that before she asks if she really has to go.

    • Ella says:

      Yes, I think you’re right that her reaction to that revelation will go a long way towards establishing her character. I’ll have to consider that. If I rearrange according to Philipp’s suggestions, that moment might get swallowed in other stuff, but there should still be a place for a stronger reaction.

  4. English Tim says:

    Very nice idea and a charming story, but I felt you really need to spell out why the orphans were chosen instead of just hiding the Princess away. Perhaps a good place would be the conversation behind the door, which made no sense to me.

    Maybe her mother could fuss with her dress while the reader eavesdrops and hears the nobleman talk more about them. Then he could tell Elise a little less, which is more true to life and reduces the “as you know”. It might also highlight your contrast of her innocent eavesdropping and the nosey crowd at the door.

    Your submission is a few pages from the opening. Are you confident that we know Elise well enough? The King’s Orphans riddle is original and engaging, so perhaps you could consider a hint of that earlier, earning time to delay this scene a little, show more of her character and give a glimpse of the world she will leave behind.

    I felt the setting could use more detail and the spartan descriptions were a little strange. For example, the guards standing stiff as their sabers. Most sabers are rounded, so I pictured them bent over like old men with bad backs. That’s quite interesting, though, that he would take a couple of crumbling footmen with him.

    Names and titles are repeated a lot, which interrupted the flow for me. Lord Peter could be referred to as “My Lord”, “Your Grace” and “Sir”, while you can use phrases like “the aristocrat”, “the nobleman”, “the noble gentleman”, “His Lordship” or just “he”, depending on what you want to convey.

    You asked another critic about your dialogue. If you would like my view, everyone sounds as if they are reading from scripts. You are speaking through them when they each need to speak for themselves, according to character.

    I like your title, but doesn’t it create the foregone conclusion that Elise is the Princess? This is not a problem if she is revealed early, before the main conflict. But if you plan to reveal this at the end you may need to deliberately create the option that Elise is one of the orphans or I will presume she is royalty.

    Be careful to keep all suggestions in context because you are creating is the magic here, unique to your pen, and nothing should interrupt that. Best wishes for your novel.

    • English Tim says:

      Correction: It’s just Lord Peter who sounds like he’s reading from a script, and of course he probably is. I would too, if I was on seven identical errands from the King. Sorry, I missed that. Too intrigued by the story!

    • Ella says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting! Yes, the whole conversation needs some rearranging to make it flow more naturally; I’ll have to think about how that will work. (I don’t think there’s any substitute, though, for a straightforward explanation of the King’s plan — it’s a fairly simple premise once told, but can’t really be shown except by a prologue or flashback scenes, neither of which I like to use.)

      There are some straight sabres (heavy cavalry sabres, for instance), and many only slightly curved — but if the image is misleading, perhaps I should change it. (For what it’s worth, ‘your Grace’ is, I believe, reserved for dukes and archbishops.)

      The title is just something I tacked on for submission; we start meeting the other girls immediately after this scene, so that (I hope) spreads out the options a bit.

  5. Bjorn Schievers says:

    The title seems to give everything away, hopefully this is intentional and Elisabeth is not our princess. I’m bordering a little bit on finding this either cliched or very good.

    It starts off as another Cinderella story, but it’s well written. It has a good hook and flows very well, I like the voice. I’m just afraid Elisabeth would be the princess and this being a story I’ve read and watched too many times. If not, you definitely got me intrigued.

    I think your story needs several surprises along the way to keep it interesting. I feel strongly that Elisabeth should NOT be the princess, but should start playing some active role after the princess is found, maybe even come to replace the princess.

    I’ll come back to your story later to see if I can make more comments. 🙂

    • Ella says:

      I don’t want to spoil it for you, do I? *smile* Let’s just say it’s not a straightforward Cinderella story. The title will change as soon as I find a better one.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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