The Dog Princess — Chapter XXI

In which Hartwell takes charge

Hartwell would have screamed all the way back to the castle, but screaming made it harder to carry Philomena, or the girl who used to be Philomena and was now a pretty blonde who looked nothing like his wife. He ran as fast as he could, Philomena limp in his arms, not thinking.

The king and queen did not believe him at first. “This girl is most definitely not our daughter” said the queen. “What happened to Philomena? Where is she?”
“I’m telling you. This is Philomena.”
The queen eyed Hartwell with suspicion.
“She’s still wearing Philomena’s dress!” He cried, tears in his eyes.
Mistress Peona hurried into the room. “Who is this?” She asked, looking at the pale girl laid out on a sofa in the queen’s sitting room.
“Philomena” said Hartwell.
“We don’t know” corrected the queen.
Mistress Peona undid the button on the girl’s tunic and loosened the belt around her waist. “She’s breathing” she said. “Very little, like someone who’s asleep.” She listened for a heartbeat. “She’s alive.”
“Hartwell” said the queen impatiently.
Hartwell knelt by the sofa, stroking the hair off the girl’s face. “Mena” he whispered. “What have I done?”

“A curse? A curse?” The queen was beside herself with fury. “You thought my daughter was cursed?”
Hartwell kept his eyes down.
“I knew you were an idiot, but I had no idea you were this monumentally stupid. A curse? Is this what you’re taught in your kingdom? That girls who look different are cursed?”
“Patricia” said the king, mildly.
The queen ignored him. “What you call a curse we call Philomena’s Great-Aunt Priscilla. Go to the portrait room. She’s framed right next to Great-Grandmother Helen. She founded the House of the Sick and Healing and was the first Mistress of Health of the kingdom. Philomena looks almost exactly like her. Or should I say looked, thanks to you?”
“I had no idea.”
“Of course you didn’t. Isn’t having no idea the definition of idiocy?” She threw up her hands in frustration. “I should you have you cast out this minute.”
“I can fix this” he said, quietly.
“Excuse me?”
“I can fix this. I can find Alphabella and ask her to lift the spell.”
“Of course” the queen scoffed.
“Patricia” said the king. “Let the boy speak.”
“Clem. Our girl.”
“Pat. Let him speak.”
The queen turned her eyes from her husband to her son-in-law. “Speak” she said.
“Alphabella said that she could not lift a curse put on a person by someone else, which means that she can probably lift her own spell. She wasn’t very clear about what would happen to Mena if she turned, so she owes me. I will find her and ask her to reverse the process.”
The queen was silent for a moment.
“Very well” she said. “But you cannot fail. If you do, I’ll have you banished from the kingdom forever and I will make sure no one else will have you, ever.”
“I will not fail” Hartwell said, drawing himself up to his full height.

“Where will you go?” Asked a worried Hartley, as he watched Hartwell saddle Phyllis. The mare nuzzled him and Hartwell gave her an apple he had taken from the kitchen. 
“Hopefully Alphabella is still where I last saw her” he said. “If not, I will go looking for her.”
“I’ll come with you” Hartley offered. “I can’t let you go alone.”
“I have to do this on my own.”
“Are you sure?”
“Be careful.”
“I will be.”
The sun was rising in the east and the sky was turning grey. Hartwell mounted Phyllis, nearly fell off the other side, kept his balance. He gave the mare a satisfied pat.
“See you soon, Hartley” he said, and galloped off.

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