"So" said Nancy, "What are my responsibilities as a princess, apart from sitting around looking pretty?"
"Well, my love, you will not be a princess for long. Now that my stepmother is dead I will become King, and you Queen. But as queen you will have complete control of the kingdom. We will have to find you some aides and advisors, they take care of all the boring hard work, leaving you to make the pronouncements and count the tax money. My stepmother always liked that part best."
"Oh! I was rather attached to being a princess. But I think I can live with being a queen. Can we have a really big coronation ceremony?"
"As big as you like, darling one."
Princess Nancy walked the halls of her castle(!) with her husband(!) Prince Edward(!!), who was giving her the guided tour.
"And of course that is Queen Nerissa, and here she is with father and me. And here we are again with my mother, I am sad to say that she died not long after this was painted."
"Oh! You were such an adorable baby!"
"Thankyou dearest one. And here is Queen Griselda the Cruel, my father's stepmother. She died at the hands of some peasants shortly before my parents were married. She was such a character, my father used to tell the most amusing stories."
They walked hand in hand through the winding corridors, bathed in the golden glow of the stained glass windows.
"Darling" said Nancy "I cannot help but notice that every one of your female relatives was either murdered or died under mysterious circumstances, generally just after the birth of their first child."
"Surely not. What of my great grandmother Isadora? She lived well into her nineties and died in her bed."
"Hmm. But didn't you say that she and her husband were childless until they adopted a tiny pixie girl she found in her rose garden? Who years later died in a tragic accident with her maid's cat, said maid then going on to become Queen?"
"Doesn't it strike you as a bit..suspicious?"
"Suspicious? What are you suggesting?"
"Well...tell me if I have your political system mixed up, but whoever becomes Queen gains absolute power over all Andalasia, yes?"
"And there is no other way to gain power except by becoming Queen, apart from a few roles as advisor or vizier, and those are chosen personally by the Queen herself."
"Well, there have been some instances of grand viziers seizing power for themselves briefly before being deposed, but other than that, no."
"And once the current Queen is dead, any woman can become Queen by convincing the King to marry her."
"But only if she is his One True Love, my darling. We take that sort of thing very seriously here."
"Well, you thought Giselle was your One True Love until she ran off with Robert."
"Do not talk of it! I was a fool!"
"And anyway, this is for kings whose first wife, who we shall for the sake of argument assume was their One True Love, has already died. The men of your family don't seem to have very good luck in choosing second wives, given how many were later revealed to be psychopathic murderers. And from what I can see your male relatives tend to die off just as mysteriously as the female ones do, the moment they get remarried."
"Yes, I suppose they do, it certainly was very unfortunate what happened with my father and that apple."
"Well then. Don't you think this whole system is screwed up? Women who want power have no option but to charm their way onto the throne and kill off the royal family! What if some Hillary Clinton wannabe maid ends up poisoning my breakfast and gets you into her clutches?"
"That would never happen darling! You're the only woman for me!"
"No, no, that's not the point. Argh. I mean maybe there should be some other options for the peasants you know? So they have a way of affecting the way the country is run without resorting to regicide?"
"What? No! They're peasants. If they are not worthy to be the One True Love of a prince or princess then that is just their bad luck. Darling, enough of this talk of death. I will not hear one more word on the subject. Let us talk of life! And the future! "
Over the next few days Princess Nancy began to feel more and more paranoid. It wasn't that she suspected all of the women in the castle of trying to do her in. Some of the scullery maids, for example, seemed genuinely nice. But the way many of the others looked at her was..disturbing.
Take the cook, Victoria. She had "conveniently" arrived at the castle looking for work a week ago, just as the previous cook had been called away on urgent family business (if his hastily scrawled and oddly stained note was to be believed) She kept insisting on finding out exactly what Edward thought of her cooking and adapting it to suit, offering him extra tidbits and leaning over the table far more than was necessary. To Nancy she was coldly civil, her only sign of friendliness had been an offer to give a tour of the kitchens and her "special magical meat freezer", which Nancy had politely declined.
And her maid Cara. Every day she would tie Nancy's laces just a little too tight, sticking her head past the squirrel hairdressers to ask if Nancy and the Prince yet had any hopes for the pitter-patter of tiny feet. At first Nancy had thought it well intentioned if a little intrusive, but now she was sure she detected a hungry look in Cara's eyes when she asked, and what with the way she kept smiling to herself every time she tied a choker around Nancy's neck it all felt very creepy.
Still, Nancy did have other things to worry about. She and Edward had gone through Queen Nerissa's aides and advisors sorting out which of them showed no immediate signs of being Actively Evil, and with their help had begun preparations for the coronation. When Nancy asked Edward why these advisors were all male he had laughed indulgently and said "Everyone knows women have no aptitude for politics! Next you'll be saying they should be allowed to own property!"
"But yet women are the ones who get to rule the kingdom."
"Yes, of course! But that's totally different! A normal woman is an entirely different creature to a Queen."
The other main worry was trying to learn everything there was to learn about the running of Andalasia before she took power. It turned out that Andalasia was at war, in a fairly understated sort of way, with the neighbouring country of Dyme. When she asked her husband about it he just shrugged and said "I don't know, my stepmother took care of all that. Isn't there some general or something in charge of it?"
"There was, I checked" replied Nancy "It was Lord De'ath. You know, the one we had to banish when it turned out he was stealing babies to raise into his own private army."
Nancy had never been very good at politics. Or economics. Or, as it turned out, battle plans.
One morning she turned to Cara and said. "So, you clearly have an interest in running this place yourself. I'd like to ask your advice."
"What? Your majesty, no! I wouldn't dream..who told you that?."
"Oh it's alright" said Nancy "I don't take it personally. Anyway, I wanted to ask your opinion. The advisors Queen Nerissa left are a bunch of scary weirdos who I strongly suspect are involved in some conspiracy to bring her back from the dead, and after asking around you don't seem to have actually killed anyone to get to your position (not yet, anyway) which makes you a step up from pretty much anyone else I might talk to."
"...Oh. Well then. Ask away, your Highness."
"You peasants have your own villages and towns, right? Who runs them? How do they get chosen?"
"Well, there's a mayor, and sometimes a ruling council. They get voted in at town meetings. Oh and there's the town priest, they get some say in things."
"Can women run for those positions?"
"No" replied Cara darkly, giving a violent tug on Nancy's bodice.
"Hey, watch it!" said Nancy "No killing me until I produce an heir, remember?"
"Oh, of course, sorry" said Cara.
Eventually the day of the coronation arrived. There was much pomp and ceremony, and Nancy had a very pretty dress, and all in all it went off without a hitch. It seemed like the entire kingdom had congregated to watch this most solemn occasion, and a happy gasp filled the room as the priest said "And by the power vested in me I now officially declare you Queen Nancy of Andalusia, supreme ruler and all-powerful monarch for the rest of your life, however long that may be."
Nancy stood. She'd been preparing this speech for weeks. She'd even ducked back home to check out some history books from the local library. She was probably going to end up with some killer late fees but what were they going to do, send a bill through the wormhole?
"People of Andalasia! Thankyou for welcoming me as your Queen! I will do everything in my power to rule you well."
A loud cheer filled the room.
"Now I know some of you are looking at me and thinking you could do a better job. Some of you are even planning on trying to take this job away from me by force."
A confused muttering susserussed through the crowd.
"But I am here to tell you that won't be necessary! Starting today you will ALL have the chance to run this country."
"Oh no" said King Edward "You're not going to try that "Everyone gets to be Queen for a Day" thing are you? That's been done before and it never ends well."
"No" said Queen Nancy "And hush, this is my speech."
"Starting today I am going to set up an advisory council, made up of one member of each of the towns of this kingdom, voted in at town meetings. I will take the recommendations of this council very seriously, and any unanimous vote from the council will become law whether I like it or not."
The crowd gasped.
"Also" she continued "The members of this council can be men or women, and I would strongly encourage you as your Queen to consider voting in women for some of these positions. My maid Cara, for example, would I'm sure be very interested in being voted in as the representative of her home town of Scamp."
Nancy looked out at the sea of faces, showing a mix of anger, shock, joy, and confusion. They did not seem to know exactly what to think, and stood in silent anticipation of whatever further surprises might be in store from their new monarch. She hoped that her brief time spent here had given her enough insight into the Andalasian mindset to win them over to her cause.
"Finally" she concluded "To celebrate our coronation King Edward and I have set up a feast in the courtyard, starting the moment I finish this speech, and you are all invited. After that there will be fireworks and lots of cake."
The crowd cheered and waved, and then gleefully spilled out into the gardens.
Alone at last with her king Nancy sat down wearily onto her throne.
"What on earth was that?" asked King Edward. "A Queen willingly giving up power? It's never been done before!"
"Yes, well, I'd rather give up power than end up some tragic painting for our kid to sigh over. Aren't you glad I found a way to avoid being murdered?"
"Yes, I suppose so." he replied uneasily.
"Anyway" said Nancy leaning in and arching her eyebrow "Now this gives us time to try creating an heir without worrying so much about the consequences."
"Really? Oh how fantastic!" he replied "I must go contact the storks at once!"