"It was only two years ago," the former queen of the world answered mildly. Her fingers betrayed her somewhat, however, adjusting and re-adjusting the fine tea cup she held upon a saucer.
The sound Dorothy made was the sound it always was: a ladylike and socially acceptable laugh, yet somehow less airy than it ought to have been, and far less light. "It was a century ago, my dear! Now is the time to modernize. Out with the old, in with the new! Especially now that you're getting married. I expect that you will be doing a lot of entertaining. We simply cannot allow anyone to think that their princess is clinging to the past."
Relena sighed despite her efforts at keeping the melancholy out. It would look bad if the happy bride were to do anything counter to her image. Dorothy was a trustworthy friend, but there were always others watching her, innocuous though it may have been. On the other side of the parlor, a maid hovered, cleaning and polishing and ready to serve them as necessary. Others hovered around the estate, setting things in order for the upcoming changes. "I feel like I've nothing left to cling to, Dorothy, let alone the past. Perhaps that is the price we must pay if we are to uproot ourselves from our sorry histories and fling ourselves forward into the future."
"Small, delicate steps, Miss Relena," she was corrected meticulously. "Did you never have a teacher of etiquette? Ladies such as you and I take small, delicate steps."
"You are in no way delicate, Dorothy," she murmured. No, the tall blonde was far more likely to stalk the hallways with a purposeful glide. Even her soon-to-be husband tended to scurry out of the path of her best friend, and truthfully, she enjoyed that a little more than she should have. "And I, perhaps... am frail."
Her Grace of Catalonia took a sip of her tea, her little finger held ever so slightly out. "Is something the matter, Miss Relena?"
She shook her head slightly, gazing into the depths of her cup. Despite her hopes that something might be found there, if only a weak metaphor or tired saying, there was nothing. She turned instead to look through one of the large picture windows in the parlor. It was a scene out across the gardens behind her home that she had adored for years. Now it was spoiled with a faint drop of bittersweetness; soon she would be moving into the house of her husband. No, it was more of a loft, really. The only son of the Jurgensens had opted to purchase a flat in one of the new condos going up near the heart of the city. Instead of gardens, she would have a cement jungle. "I've just been thinking lately. That's all."
"Ladies such as you and I ought not to think, Miss Relena," Dorothy advised softly. "It's for our own good."
At last, she looked over to spare her friend a glance, meeting a pair of ice blue eyes. She was quite accustomed to Dorothy's barbs and irony, but this smacked more of advice. And good advice to follow, perhaps, given Dorothy's relative freedom. She had escaped the scrutiny to which the others had been subjected. Of all of them, perhaps she knew best how to play the game. "Call it 'reflection', then. Revisiting the past in order to better understand and appreciate the future which I am about to enter."
Dorothy's head tilted ever so slightly in approval. "An important occupation at this stage of life."
"I 'reflect' upon the... 'respectable' life I shall be expected to lead... and the dreams and indiscretions of my youth."
"Still dreaming of a white knight?"
Casting a wary glance at the maid buffing an old oaken table, she hesitated slightly before deciding to speak, if obliquely, of what was weighing on her mind. "Who needs a dream when I have one in reality now?" Relena answered with a wry smile, the thumb of her left hand rubbing against the white gold band encircling her slender finger. The engagement ring was a Jurgensen family heirloom, and the re-sizing had left it comfortably non-constrictive. It was no accident that she fiddled with it enough to turn the diamonds to the inside of her hand.
Dorothy's eyes sparkled with intrigue. A sharp mind burned still within her cool exterior, and she had teased her friend on the subject of white knights before. "Is it different from the stereotype?"
"Very." Relena's confirmation was firm and even a little exasperated. The knight of her reality had turned out to be nothing like she had ever dreamed. "But thank goodness for that. A little rough around the edges, perhaps, but not without its own unique charm."
"I see. I wonder what takes these knights so long to come and sweep us off our feet."
"I think he's been... busy." Her mood darkened, but she attempted to continue with the light tone of voice. "I think it's been difficult getting away from the evil witches and fearsome dragons and corrupt kings. They don't like it when the knights are free to save princesses as they will."
"Of course. Whomever else would the dragons keep?"
That sent a tiny shiver down her spine. She smiled through it. "I suppose a princess must be glad that the dragon simply keeps her, and doesn't gobble her up right away. Just another piece of his dragon hoard."
"Now why do I see you using that time trying to reason with the dragon?"
She had tried. And every once in a while, she feared she was fool enough to believe she had even made some progress. "Because I am nothing more than a silly princess, perhaps. In fighting against a dragon, what else does the princess have left to her?'
"Her feminine wiles," Dorothy began. "Her long, lustrous ladder of hair. Her batting eyelashes. Her daddy's ransom. Her winsome smile. And her champion, of course, her precious white knight."
"Her pride and her dignity," Relena added contemplatively. She appended a rueful laugh. "I think my knight would call me ten times a fool for trying to bat my lashes and smile at a dragon. And then I might slap him for saying such a cruel thing to me. Hm, are ladies such as you and I allowed to slap our knights?"
Dorothy laughed with delight at the image of it, making it sound hearty, yet light. "For such uncouth behavior? Surely. He is allowed only to save you, woo you, and chastise you for being caught alone with another man."
"Oh, he would definitely do that..." He already had, in his own way. "Concerned as he is for my honor, of course."
"Of course," Dorothy sighed drolly. "Knights with well-worn armor spare little thought for a lady's delicate feelings."
Was it merely his duty to protect her? Could he never offer a sympathetic shoulder? Even one clad with an uninviting epaulet? "Doesn't he understand just how scary that dragon is?" Relena huffed, suddenly indignant and cross. "A princess can't simply walk up to one with a full suit of armor and poke it in its conveniently vulnerable underside. She has skirts that get in her way -- very flammable skirts, might I add -- and maybe a sewing needle if she's lucky. Just what does he expect her to do? Dragons are dragons, after all. Far larger than she is. Unslain by many a valiant knight. Can't hear anything over the rumbling of the fire in its own belly. Has had years to find itself an impregnable lair. And has probably kept many a maiden before her. What can she possibly do against such a beast?"
"Perhaps he expects her to at least attempt an escape."
"Well, it's not so simple as all that! If she flees, the dragon will just find some other princess to kidnap. Or maybe she's the sacrifice that's the only thing keeping that dragon from ravaging the countryside."
There was a dry tilt to Dorothy's lips. "Then perhaps he expects that she might never have let things decline to the point that a sacrifice would be necessary. She has the power for such things, does she not?"
"Well, it's a little late for that now, isn't it? A princess has her pride and her dignity. She doesn't flee her lot in life. Whether she's married off to the handsome knight or the drooling dotard the next kingdom over, or even the frightening dragon, that's her duty to bear."
"Relena, my dear, that's not just last century, that's at least last millennium. Times have changed. Princesses have changed. They can become queens and rule the land in their own right. They have the power to bitch slap her knight these days, or stab that dragon with her stiletto heels. Even whip out her cell phone and call for aerial pickup. If the dragon can't keep a hold of her, that's hardly the fault of the rural peasantry. This sacrificial contract that you've conjured in your imagination ought still to hold."
Her fit of pique had not yet fled. "But dragons fly," she pouted. "They could chase down a helicopter in no time."
"Not the old, fat and lazy ones," Dorothy countered indulgently. "It's not until you steal their hoard that they get really angry."
"Darling, please. I thought you weren't clinging to the past. Do you want to live with the dragon or don't you? Let go of these foolish notions and make yourself a worthy princess for your knight. He's expecting you to stand up and fight for what you believe in. Don't disappoint him."
last modified : 1/7/2006 20:16:21 PST