| Princess Victoria stood looking out
the window of her bedroom high in the castle. Her eyes reflected
the green of the deep forest upon which she gazed. A gentle rain
began to fall.
“Oh, I hope this rain doesn’t interfere with whatever
plans my darling has made for us, today,” she said to Malinda,
“I’m sure Prince Brendan will think of an alternative
if that is the case,” replied Malinda, as she continued to brush
Victoria’s long hair, which shone the golden-brown of a
gryphon’s wing. “Perhaps you could suggest some activity?”
Victoria wrinkled her nose. “Brendan doesn’t seem to
like any of my ideas lately. So I just let him take the lead.
You know how men are.” She shrugged and gave a little sigh.
“Still, I wish he wouldn’t spend so much time outdoors. It’s
always horse racing or hawking, fighting with one of a
half-dozen weapons or wrestling in the courtyard with his
companions. It’s never a dance or a tea or something we can do
together.” She sighed again, this time with more longing.
“You have no idea how tedious it is to watch the same
events over and over. It’s not like the grand displays of
pageantry at a tourney—the colorful banners, the knights in
burnished armor, the mighty warhorses, the crowd cheering,
Brendan with the best prowess on the battlefield ceremonially
handing me the favor he has just won at a joust.”
Her mind cast back to the days before her acceptance of
Brendan’s proposal, before he had even come to live at the
castle to press suit for her hand, before she had abandoned the
simple as well as ornate pleasures of her life to become a mute
spectator of all Brendan’s glorified but grubby daily pursuits.
She remembered the first time she had seen Brendan in
action. His armor gleamed in the sun—which had given its
golden-tone to his skin as she would soon discover. The red
plume crested his helm. His robust and fiery mount pawed the
ground in anticipation of the first charge, while his tabard and
trappings all gallantly presented his royal coat-of-arms. She
noted his superior strength during the first few rounds of the
joust. But her heart had not yet fluttered. For, he had not yet
taken off his helmet, letting loose his flowing hair—the same
golden-brown as her own—revealing the broad forehead and strong
jaw line she had come to know so well. He had not yet turned his
autumn-hued hazel glance in her direction. Nor had he smiled in
that fetching manner to see her in all her finery, with her skin
glowing like moonlight on silver maple trees and her calm face
sparkling with delight upon seeing his countenance.
Ah, but then . . . He had turned his high-stepping
warhorse in her direction. Lowering his lance—tipped with the
laurels won from the joust—to the level of her royal seat among
the spectators, he offered Victoria his winnings with which to
wreathe herself. All this before he had even discovered her
name. He would later tell her that her smile had captivated him,
drawing him to her, out of all the beautiful maidens and noble
ladies at the tournament.
“You were a pearl among the lovely seashells,” he had
told her with his off-handed but gallant flair. “And though
shells upon the beach may be charming, the rare gem is far more
alluring with it subtle sheen than even the most lively colored
casings that house no pearls.”
Victoria reined in her thoughts to the present. How
long had it been since he had given her such a winning
compliment? The days seemed to grind by slowly without her usual
pastimes of embroidery, weaving, teatime with friends, playing
the psaltery, giggling with her ladies over feminine pleasures,
or the rarer amusements of grand feasts and fabulous dances.
These leisurely pursuits had all ceased in the wake of Prince
Brendan. Not at first, of course. Rather, they had slowly
evaporated from Victoria’s life as she invested more and more of
her time and energy in her lover.
Victoria was startled out of her reverie by Malinda’s
voice. “I understand you must get bored of the daily activities
of men, but your love for Prince Brendan is so touching. Only
true love could engender such devotion on your part. I know I
could not endure watching the man I love rolling with his fellow
knights on the greensward getting dusty and sweaty each day. I
have to retreat to my feminine diversions, but not you. You and
the prince are practically inseparable. Everyone in the castle
thinks you two are the perfect couple and we can’t wait for
The princess heard Malinda’s words. They confirmed for
her that what she gave up to be near Brendan was not only worth
her boredom, but also was the proper way to reverence her future
husband and lord. She thought of how he had kissed her the day
she had accepted his proposal. Not the exhilarating kiss they
shared only moments after she had said yes, but the one later
that evening at the celebration. The long tables were laden with
roasted meats, tangy cheeses, and succulent fruits. The heady
wine flowed copiously from pitchers to goblets to the mouths of
the numerous guests assembled for her father’s official
After the king had spoken, Brendan had offered a toast
to his future bride. He took Victoria’s hand and she rose with
him. He raised his goblet with the carelessness of a man well on
his way to inebriation. A mouthful of dark red wine swished over
the rim and splashed against the lace neckline of her pale beige
evening dress. Victoria turned more towards Brendan to hide the
spreading stain, though no one seemed to notice as the entire
hall cheered the couple.
Just when Victoria was about to sit down again and try
to discreetly soak up the stain with a napkin, Brendan had
grabbed her around her waist and pulled her to him for a
full-mouthed, if besotted, kiss. There in the great hall, in
front of her parents and her sisters, his knights and their
squires, as well as an array of guests, Brendan kissed her
unabashedly. Her surprised resistance faded along with the
new-sprung blush on her cheeks. She found herself forgetting the
dress and the spilled wine as her heart palpitated with the
greatness of her love for him. She thought, “Well, a stained
gown is only a small thing, even one as fine as this. I have
plenty of dresses but only one true love. Besides, he didn’t
spill wine on me intentionally. He was just caught up in the
moment, in the thought of us, in his love for me.”
Ever since that day, Victoria had rationalized away
each part of herself that she gave up for Brendan’s sake in the
same manner she had done with the stained dress. It was for him,
for love, even if it was no longer for her too.
Victoria remembered one clear morning in late spring.
At breakfast, she had voiced a grand idea. “I am planning a
banquet. Do you think we should serve rose pudding or Lombard
slices for desert? I’ve put a lot of thought into possible
decorations but I waited for your opinion.”
Brendan stifled a yawn. “I am not the expert on
banquets, which I find to be a frivolous sort of amusement.
However, if you want to have a banquet, make the arrangements
and I will attend.”
Victoria lowered her head and sighed. Brendan didn’t
seem to notice her disappointment. Instead, he bowed and took
his leave. She did not even have to ask; he was headed for the
lists. Victoria sat alone in their private breakfast alcove next
to the window overlooking the gardens, gazing at the flowers
blooming in rows of variegated gay colors. “Then why,”
she wondered, “despite this picturesque view, does my heart
feel so withered?”
Back to Journey
|The midwife handed the newborn to her mother, whispering to
the exhausted woman, “It’s a girl.” The new mother glowed as she
held her little girl for the first time.
The moment was serene, for the child had stopped sobbing and had
begun to snuggle into the warmth she instinctively knew was
Not long after, “Father” was called in to see his newborn. He
wiped his wife’s moist brow with a cool washcloth, and then
kissed her on the forehead. She smiled up at him from where she
lay and held out the small bundle for him to hold. He gently
took the baby into his arms, beginning to rock her in a soothing
motion. He cooed to her and kissed her.
After a few minutes, the midwife said, “That’s enough for now,
my lord. Both child and mother need some rest.”
Reluctantly, the new father handed his first born child back to
her mother. He lingered for a moment by his wife’s side and was
promptly shooed out by the midwife.
As he passed through the bedroom door, the midwife followed him.
She shut the door behind her.
“Master,” she said. “There is something you need to be told.
Your baby’s back isn’t formed properly. I may be mistaken.
However, she seems to be curled too tightly and there is a large
lump on her back. I’m not a doctor, but you will want to consult
a physician soon. I didn’t want to say anything in front of the
mistress that might worry her. She needs to rest. Still, I am
concerned about the baby.” The midwife wrung her hands and began
to wipe at her eyes with her kerchief.
“Don’t fret,” Father said, though his voice quavered. “I will
send tomorrow for the best doctor I can find. I must be sure my
little one is healthy.”
The next day, a specialist in childhood ailments was brought in.
He inspected the baby with thorough care. After the examination,
he turned to the new parents. His face betrayed his concerned.
“She has not formed properly,” he said in a dull tone. “Her back
will never be straight. There is nothing I can do. She will grow
up to be a hunchback. And there may be other problems
internally. Although her heart and lungs sound fine, it is
difficult to tell if any other parts of her are malformed and
could cause problems later.”
“What complications will arise from her back problems?” Father
“Well, she may be in pain most of the time, but perhaps not. The
more she tries to sit or stand straight when she is older, the
more painful it will be for her. However, with her back bent,
her weight will be thrown forward. This imbalance may cause
difficulties in learning to walk and, after that, in walking
normally. She will probably shuffle when she walks.”
Father sighed and Mother began to weep as they thought of the
future obstacles their child would face.
The doctor added some consolation. “Then again, she will have
dealt with this burden from birth so she may compensate
naturally, without knowing any other way to be. As I said, her
heart and lungs are strong. She may not have any other
complications than this.”
“Don’t you think this is enough?” asked Father, near to tears.
“How do you think this will affect her socially? Children can be
cruel. Then, when she is a young woman . . . Friends, suitors, a
future with children of her own? Are these all beyond her
sphere? Is she fated to be denied a normal life from the moment
she is born?”
“I cannot foresee her life’s course. You have mentioned
significant concerns. The best you can do is to love her and try
to shelter her from the callousness of the world. I’m sorry. I
wish I could do more, but this is a birth defect. It cannot be
altered by medicine.”
After the doctor left, Father held his grieving wife in an
attempt to console her.
Together, they worried about complications in their daughter’s
health, discussing the hindrances she must overcome and the
future struggles she would have to endure.
Finally, Mother said, “I’ve thought about it; I think we should
name her Veronica because it means true image. I hope people
will be able to see past her physical form to the true image of
her beautiful spirit.”
“That’s perfect,” Father replied. He hugged his wife and kissed
Silence filled the room, but it was not a comfortable feeling.
Instead, troubled ghosts of thought furrowed the brows of the
couple. Fears, both named and unforeseen, rustled about in their
heads. Time hovered, heavy with foreboding.
“I don’t want to have another baby after Veronica,” Mother
finally spoke. Her lips were drawn and her eyes misted with
pain. “I’m afraid. What if the next child has similar problems?”
She swallowed, “Or, worse yet, doesn’t survive because he or she
hasn’t formed completely. I couldn’t bear that. My heart is
already breaking for Veronica’s condition. But to lose a baby .
. .” Mother covered her face with her hand. She began sobbing
“I understand,” said Father in a pinched voice. “Our future will
be hard enough. I support your decision. Don’t worry, my dear.
We’ll provide Veronica with a safe and loving home. She will
have special needs that we’ll have more time to attend to if we
don’t have other children to care for.” The tones of
justification were in his voice.
The couple had originally planned on having several children but
life has a way of interfering with dreams.
|Back to Beauty
|First Blood/Breaking the
The girls in the village used to call me Chucha Krásniy, or
Little Red as a joke because I always wore the same burgundy
“It’s red like blood,” they said. “Did you bleed on it?” Then
they’d all laughed, though I didn’t know why.
“No,” I told them. “My mother made the dye for me because red is
the color I like best.”
True, my cloak was old and had dark stains which wouldn’t wash
out because I had worn it so often. It was my only cloak, which
showed how poor Mama and I were. Ever since Papa went out to
hunt last winter and never came home, we had not had enough to
eat. So there was no money for a new cloak.
My face felt hot. I thought the other children found it funny
that I couldn’t afford new clothes. They must have thought
because I was poor I was dirty, too. So I said, “I have never
bled on any of my clothes.”
“Never bled, never bled,” they chanted.
And sometimes one of the older girls would snicker. “Well, you
Then they all scattered like a flock of geese as I charged into
them, my hands in fists, saying, “I’ll make you bleed first. You
see if I don’t.”
When this first happened, I went home to my mother and told her
what the other girls had said. I asked her why they were so
cruel to me. “Don’t the poor deserve kindness like everyone
Mama’s face scrunched up like it does when I come home covered
in pine needles and mud stains. I thought she was going to yell
at me, but she continued to stir the soup without saying
anything for many moments.
Then she told me, “The children are not laughing because your
clothes are old.” Her voice was serious and a little sad. She
did not go on.
So I asked, “Then why do they ask if I bleed on my clothes?”
“Because women bleed,” she said, her voice hard and sharp like
the edge of a knife. She looked into the steam as if she saw
something far away there.
I asked her what she meant.
“Galina,” she said, her voice soft as wool now. “When you become
a woman, you will understand. But you are only ten now and can
still afford to be a child. Don’t listen to what the older girls
say. There is more than one way a person can bleed. Go play now.
You will find out what kind of blood they mean in time.”
As I left the cottage, I knew she was thinking about Papa,
because I was. Our hearts bled; he was gone forever. After I had
closed the door, I could hear my mama crying inside. I went into
the woods to sit alone and think about what she had said.
That happened three years ago. Now I knew what kind of blood the
other girls meant. But I still had not bled the woman’s blood.
Mother said it was getting to be past time for me to have it.
Yet I could not bring it on, any more than I could stop the
bleeding in my heart for my father’s loss and for my mother’s
sorrow. I still had the red cloak, which the children teased me
about. My body was small for my age so the cloak fit, even
though it was too short to look proper. It had become very
stained by then, and worn through in places. We couldn’t afford
extra fabric to make patches to cover the holes. Nor did we have
old clothes we could spare to cut into patches.
So I wore my old cloak to spread seeds for the geese and gather
their eggs. When I slopped our hog, the muck of it sloshed onto
my now brownish-red cloak, which was covered in bits of fur from
tending our goats. Dirt stains came from sitting on the ground,
weeding our little garden. And, as always, little threads got
pulled and balled up from blackberry thorns and pine bark as I
gathered the fruits and nuts among them.
For almost a month, I had been visiting my babushka, who lived
in the woods a half day’s travel from the village. She had been
sick with some mysterious illness. My mother charged me with her
care. So I took her herbs, eggs, goat cheese, and milk. I
couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong with her, and she would not
say. But she felt warm to the touch and she acted different. She
asked me each time I visited to bring her meat, even though she
knew Mama couldn’t afford any. Babushka told me to slaughter the
sow; but she was to give birth soon. It wasn’t yet autumn—the
time to butcher the suckling pigs and cure their meat for the
winter. Babushka had eaten her own geese already, as well as her
goat. I wondered how she would have any eggs or milk besides
what I brought her. She was almost too old, and certainly too
sick, to go out in the woods and hunt for wild carrots, leeks,
pine nuts, and other plants to eat. I worried for her.
She also talked of Papa.
“Viktor,” she said, “he hunts deer, rabbit, squirrel, sometimes
even bear. But it is no good, not enough. I need more meat,
sweet Galina, to keep up my strength.”
|Back to First
Blood/Breaking the Glass Slipper