Today’s extract is from Kim Cook’s short story The Palace and the Tower…
LINA GREW UP IN a palace made of glass. In a glass nursery, she listened to stories about princesses falling in love with princes. She learnt the arts of governance in a glass study. And, when she was older and her father, the king, lay dying, she greeted the arriving suitors in a glass hall and winced at the thud of their boots against the glass floor.
The suitors treated her with small courtesy, for she was the sole heir. They were princes all, well-attired and groomed. Lina supposed they were handsome—the serving women they took to bed seemed to think so and her father, the king, spoke of their bravery and wisdom—but she sat in a wooden chair at the foot of her father’s glass dais and pondered why she had a gaggle of suitors on her doorstep when there were princesses trapped in towers waiting for a heroic prince.
She wondered why her father had trained her to govern if she needed to have a prince. When she sat at her father’s bedside that evening, reading to him from his favourite book, holding his cup to his lips, she asked him so.
Her father coughed, spluttering over the bed-linens. ‘Daughter,’ he said and for a moment fell so silent Lina feared he had stopped breathing, ‘you must marry.’
‘Can I not rule, Father?’
‘Would our neighbouring kingdoms let a woman rule alone? Or would they send their armies to take you and wed you and claim your throne?’
She thought about her history books and the kingdoms that had fallen after the death of a childless king and shook her head. ‘No, they would not.’
‘Choose one,’ he said, reaching to clasp her hand in his shrivelled fingers. ‘Whichever is the most pleasing to you, but if you love me, choose one.’
She could not agree, so said nothing. Perhaps if she got to know the princes better, she might be able to choose an acceptable consort. After days of pondering, Lina declared a ball would be held.
The suitors muttered amongst themselves, complaining about her indecision, the expense and even that she dared summon them to a ball, but they came.
Lina’s women dressed her in a silver gown and soft slippers, and she danced with each prince in turn. Some were intelligent and some were possessive; some were clumsy, or stupid; some were kind and considerate; some were grasping; some were flattering.
She danced the night and the two that followed in the arms of one prince or another, but could not make a decision. She knew she would wed for duty, not love, but hoped she would look at one or two of them and feel a fluttering in her heart like the palace women did. She hoped to find a prince who was least abhorrent and most malleable. One who, when she thought of him sliding a ring on her finger, joining her in her chamber, wasn’t quite so objectionable.
The following day she returned to her father’s bedside.
‘Daughter,’ he said between coughing fits, ‘have you chosen a prince?’
‘No, Father.’ She looked away from his grey and sunken face. ‘I cannot.’
‘Oh, Daughter,’ he whispered, his voice a rough crackle. Bright blood spotted a cloth the nurse dabbed at his lips. ‘Do you deny my death?’
Lina bit down on her lower lip and turned her head to better hide her tears. ‘Of course not.’
‘Choose one,’ he said, gasping for breath between the laboured words. ‘Whichever is the most pleasing to you, but if you love me, choose one.’
About the Author
I'm Kim Cook, and I'm genderqueer with a side dish of fabulous. People stare at me in public because they can't figure out my gender and because I have the fashion sensibility of a child rummaging through a box of crayons. I like chocolate and rainbows and writing fantasy novels in second person. I hate boxes and non-accepting people and having to conform to anything save correct Australian English. I'm a Professional Writing and Editing student based in Melbourne, Australia and am currently working on a novel, a novella, various short stories and a play script involving characters who are some flavour of queer. My preference is to write about the lives and experiences of lesbian, transgender and non-binary characters, but also about abuse, mental illness and living with disabilities. My first anthology, Crooked Words, will be available as an e-book in February 2013.
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Tomorrow I’ll be posting an extract of Antonio Iannella’s biographical short story about surviving Stroke, Saigon Siren, which was commended in the 2012 Melton Short Story Competition.