"I will never marry if I don't have to," said Sighild, and she saw her sisters nod. They were locked up in their bedroom, their mutual bedroom, because her father was a stern man who didn't understand joy or the need of his daughters for said joy.
"It is how things are," said Ingrid, the most timid of the bunch. "Perhaps...."
"I will take responsibility," Ida said. Sighild knew what she was talking about. After all, it was Ida who had dismissed Metta's worries about the one trailing them. Sighild understood, and she was sure the others did, for who would have thought that the old soldier had not drunk the sleeping drought? And who would have thought that he would pretend to be asleep, staying truly awake in order to trap them?
Who would have thought that he had drunk their wine, danced with them, spied on them, all invisible? It should have been impossible; they should have been able to dance as long as they could, until husbands came to take all of them away.
It was a dreadful marriage for Ida, Sighild was sure. The old soldier had been wild in his own way, but it would still be a joyless marriage, only happening so that their father could have a male heir. After all, who married for love? Certainly not princesses in general and definitely not them.
"I guess that we should have done better at hiding where we went," Ingrid added. "I miss my prince. He was so handsome! And the wine so wonderful... I wish we could have danced forever."
"Who would have guessed?" Ylva asked, glaring at Ingrid and then Ida. "Truly, sisters, I say we do not blame ourselves for something we could not have foreseen and do something about it now."
"But our princes... can we find a way to be with them once more?" Stena asked. She had always been the dreaming, distracted one of the bunch, the one who had found the trap door because she saw things that nobody else could see. She had found the way, and the princes, because that was how she was. "Surely we can find them again."
"I say we worry about that later," Sighild told her. "We get rid of this... man... and then we find a way back. Do any of us know poisons?"
"There are poisons for the rats," Ylva told her. "I've seen them, when I snuck to the pantry sometimes. They are powders, I think." She was nearly the youngest, except for Metta. "I can sneak again, though maybe not now."
"The cooks favor me," Metta said, speaking up. "I am kind to them. Even if we are not permitted to go to the kitchen, I can surely complain quietly to them of rats. I am sure we will not be allowed outside this room any time soon."
It made sense. Ida was nodding as well, approving the plan to get rid of her would-be husband, the destroyer of their dreams. She would surely have to remain in the room as well, at least until she was to be married off. Sighild and the others could surely comfort her, be there for her, be her sword and shield while they could.
"We must be subtle," Ylva said. "Our father must not even suspect us when he dies."
That also made sense. Sighild had no desire to die if she didn't have to, even if her father would choose an equally stern husband for her. But those who would take over would have little better tastes in husbands for her and her twelve sisters.
She wished her mother was still alive, but that great, kind woman had died giving birth to Metta. Otherwise, Sighild was sure, she would have said a word to their father. But their mother was gone, and they would have to fend for themselves.
"Is it possible to take small doses and to build up a resistance?" Metta asked. "I have heard of such a thing." She was the one who was always reading when she had a chance. Perhaps she had read a tale that featured such.
"I will try. It's better than the life I would have." Ida gazed around, looking at each of them. "We should all take a little, though I will take the most."
One by one, the sisters nodded. It was indeed the best choice they could make. None of them could be happy in this grim fate and this grim life. None of them wanted to lose their handsome princes in the golden forest.
"But we would have to take very small doses, all of us." Ylva spoke up again. "And for a long time."
"We may not have the time," Ingrid argued, leaning forward. "What if we fail?" It was not her nature to take risks, and Sighild tried not to glare at her. Her timid nature would not serve them well.
"Then we fail." Ida sipped at her drink. At least their father had sent them to their room with something to eat, even if he was cruel otherwise. It was their princes who had given them their finery and their shoes, not their father. He would have given them nothing. "I would rather die in agony than have a wedding night with that man and knowing that I could have stopped it had I thought."
"It is not your fault," Metta assured her with a smile. "I was warmed by your concern, and wish I had been wrong."
"We wish you had been wrong too," Sighild said, adding to the reassurance. "But Ylva is right. There is nothing to be done but to go forward. We must stop planning and start working."
It was the only thing to do, or at least the only right thing to do. Maybe they would fail, but Sighild knew that they would succeed. It was the only way, for Ida, for Metta, for her, for Ylva, for Stena, for all of them.
Maybe they would see their princes again someday, and dance with them, and there would be no father nor husband to stop them.