“Dearest,” my mother said, with a seriousness that surprised me. Too often, she tried to be cheerful, even to the point of being silly. “This is an old friend of mine.”
Any thoughts of silliness disappeared, when I looked up at her friend. I almost squeaked. This was bad. Princesses weren’t supposed to squeak, even when they were startled. Still it was a bit scary, looking up into the strange lady’s face. It might have been my own face, my grown up face.
Blue eyes exactly like my own regarded me, as if they knew exactly what I was thinking. The flesh around them crinkled. They were amused crinkles, but they were also sad crinkles.
“It’s a pleasure to meet Your Highness,” the lady said, dropping into a curtsy with a grace I could only envy. I wondered, if when I grew up, my voice would sound like hers. I hoped so. It was a beautiful voice, almost creamy in its smoothness. I’d only heard one voice, which was more attractive. The deep, musical voice, which sometimes sang in my dreams. My own voice would never equal that one. This lady, with her golden hair, which was almost like mine, except for the silver streaks in it; she had a voice, which might be my own, someday. It could be mine, if I grew up good and wise. My heart skipped a beat, as I studied her. She wore a gown almost as fine as my mother, but less showy. It gave her a kind of quiet elegance I instantly admired.
“A pleasure to meet you as well, my lady,” I said politely, before I blurted out, “What’s your name?”
“Really, dear!” my mother said. A flush colored her cheeks. An answering heat gathered in mine, as I realized I’d embarrassed her. “You should let me finish doing the introduction, before you go asking questions like that!”
“It’s quite all right,” the lady said, with a casual wave of her hand. The grace in the gesture was enviable. I was sure I hadn’t seen this lady at court before, even if I was still learning all the names and faces of the people there. “Such directness is quite refreshing.”
Did she truly like my directness? Or was she simply trying to be polite to the princess? I decided to test her.
“You still haven’t revealed your name, my lady,” I said, as courteously as possible. “What should I call you?”
“Names have power, even assumed ones,” the lady responded, just as courteously, “Since you are my princess, please call me by whatever name you wish.”
“That’s unfair,” I said, with a childishness I’d be ashamed of later. “I’ve only just met you, so how will I know the right name to choose?”
My mother was trying to smile, but I could tell I’d embarrassed her with my bluntness, again. The lady, however, offered me a much more genuine smile. It warmed me, right down to my toes.
“A very fair question, Your Highness,” she said, with a little nod of approval. This warmed me, as well. “I’ve come to try and release you from your curse?”
“My curse?” I asked, but another voice whispered in my head. Soft, low, compelling. Promising I’d grow up with all the beauty of the dawn, but my sun would never rise. Pricking my finger on a spindle would send me into a cursed sleep for a hundred years.
“Darling, we’ve tried not to talk about it around you,” my mother said in the extra gentle voice she used for especially bad news. “However, something very bad happened to you, soon after you were born.”
“I was cursed,” I said. This was no surprise to me. It should terrify me. Instead, an image of blood red lips, smiling, ever so sweetly, appeared in my mind. They were close enough to kiss me. Instead, they murmured words. Promising me a hundred years of sleep.
“An evil witch cursed you,” the strange lady said, lifting a golden eyebrow at me. I got the impression she knew exactly what I was thinking. For the first time, there was a sterness in her regard. “I’m here to remove that curse, or fight it.”
“To do that you’d need to be a witch yourself,” I said, looking her straight in the eye. Her sterness made me a little bit angry, even if she had a right to be stern with a girl, who didn’t have the sense to be afraid of her curse. “Would that make you the good witch?”
A startled laugh escaped from ‘the good witch’. Some of the sterness melted away into laugh lines. I got the impression this was a lady, who loved to laugh, regardless of what sadness had been in her past.
“Your Highness is perceptive,” she said, smiling at me. The approval was back. I was glad to see it. “Yes, as far as you’re concerned, I am the good witch.”
“In which case, I’ll call you, ‘the good witch,” I said, with a boldness, which made my mother cringe, even though she hid it well. “Unless you have another name you’d rather I used?”
It was a final attempt to get her to reveal one of her names. I didn’t think she’d fall for it, even as the corner of her mouth quirked upward in amused recognition of my attempt.
“‘Good witch’ is just fine,” the ‘good witch’ said, with another one of her gracious, lady like nods. I really had to figure out how to nod like that. “I’ll also promise Your Highness to do my very best to live up to that name.”
A strange sadness touched her words, a sadness I wondered about. This sadness was something the good witch carried around with her. It was part of her mysterious charm, which she wore, as if it were a mantle of strength. The mantle was fragile, though. Given time and attention, it would completely unravel.