The Dog Princess — Chapter III

In which we meet Philomena the Dog

When Philomena was born, her mother thought she would soon turn into a pretty baby. She did not. When she was a toddler, the whole family believed she would eventually grow out of her awkwardness and develop some of the traits she seemed to have inherited from her parents. She never did, and the fat toddler turned into a podgy child, an acne-ridden adolescent and the plainest young woman in the land.

The acne had cleared, but she remained in possession of all the most undesirable physical traits in a woman. Short and stubby, with unremarkable brownish hair and a hooked nose, she had suffered through a lifetime of family gatherings, diplomatic visits, weddings and funerals where the boys made fun of her and the girls pitied her.
She remembered Hartwell. He was the prettiest boy of a pack of five who were especially cruel to her. The first time she laid eyes on him, Philomena thought her heart would burst with longing. She lurked in the shadows at the annual Kingdoms’ Ball, watching him, unseen, until his older brother — Hounslow? Hudson? She always got them mixed up: they were all so alike — spotted her. They never left her alone after that.

Five years had passed, and now her Master of Pleasantries wanted her to marry the pretty boy who had woofed in her face after pretending to ask her to dance. 
“No” she said. “Find somebody else.”
“We have tried, my lady.”
“I know you have. Try harder. Not Hartwell. Anyone but Hartwell.”
“I’m afraid there is no other choice.”
“Then I’ll remain single. There is no law against ruling as a single woman.”
“What about your progeny, my lady?”
“I’ll sort it out. Perhaps I can adopt?”
The Master of Pleasantries, the king and queen recoiled in horror.
“I have cousins” said Philomena, feebly. “Let them have the kingdom after I’m gone.”
“Don’t be unreasonable, Mena. You need a consort. Ruling a kingdom is hard work, and you want to have someone you can talk to when the going gets rough” implored the queen.
“And that someone should be… Hartwell?” Philomena scoffed. “I’d rather suffer alone than rely on him for support. Not that I think he’d be able to provide much. And by the way, how does he feel about marrying Philomena the Dog?”
“I’m sure he’s happy to have a bride who is as accomplished and bright as you” offered the king.
“Thank you for not even trying to spare my feelings, father” replied Philomena, bitterly. “All right. I’ll think about it.”
“You will?”
“It doesn’t look like I have much choice, does it? At least Hartwell is pretty. A pretty idiot.”
“He’ll have grown out of that since you met.”
“I’m sure.”

That night, alone in her bedroom, Philomena thought about all the times Hartwell and his brothers had been brought up in conversation in the last few months. It became apparent to her that her Master of Pleasantries and her parents had been working on this engagement for quite some time. 
She was a smart girl. How could she have missed it?
She had been an active member of the Queen’s Ten for two years now, learning from her mother and father, contributing whenever needed. The subject of her marriage had hardly ever been mentioned before, if not in passing. It was understood that she would be given the time to understand the inner workings of government before she was expected to marry and prepare herself to take over from her parents.
What was going on?
Best not to think about it, she told herself, taking a book out of the pile that she kept on her nightstand. 
Her maid came in. “Does m’lady need anything else?”
“I’m fine, Piper. You may go to bed, now.”
“Thank you, m’lady. Have a good night.”
“And you, Piper.”
Piper was getting married, too, to one of the stable boys. She was already two months pregnant and very happy. They would be moving into a larger room in the servants’ quarters and live the same life they’d always lived. Piper did not want more, did not ask for more. That life was her life.
Philomena tried to concentrate on the book a while longer, but she found she had been re-reading the same three lines for the last five minutes. She blew out the candle, and slept.

When she awoke, Hartwell was at court.

Continue to Chapter IV

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