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Authors: Patrice Kindl

Goose Chase

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Goose Chase
Patrice Kindl

H
OUGHTON
M
IFFLIN
C
OMPANY
B
OSTON

Copyright © 2001 by Patrice Kindl

All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections
from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com

The text of this book is set in 11.8-point Berkeley Book.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kindl, Patrice.
Goose chase : a novel / Patrice Kindl.
p. cm.

Summary: Rather than marry a cruel king or a seemingly dim-witted prince,
an enchanted goose girl endures imprisonment, capture by several ogresses,
and other dangers before learning exactly who she is.
ISBN 0-618-03377-7
[1. Fairy tales. 2. Orphans—Fiction. 3. Geese—Fiction.
4. Kings, queens, rulers, etc.—Fiction.) i. Title.
PZ8.K575Go 2001
[Fic]—dc21 99-35595
CIP

Manufactured in the United States of America
QUM 10 9 8 7 6

T
O
A
LEX
R
OEDIGER
I
HOPE YOU LIKE YOUR NAMESAKE

A
ND THANKS TO
Kit

Contents

O
NE
 The Tower 1

T
WO
 The Tale of My Life to the Present Date 11

T
HREE
 Escape from the Tower 23

F
OUR
 In Flight 33

F
IVE
 The Cottage in the Wood 41

S
IX
 In Which I Become a
Servant to the Ogresses 53

S
EVEN
 The Misfortunate Knight 62

E
IGHT
 In Which I Remain Tied by the Hair 72

N
INE
 On the Run 83

T
EN
 Little Echo 97

E
LEVEN
 In Which We Are Arrested 110

T
WELVE
 The Bad Baroness of Breakabeen 120

T
HIRTEEN
 Down in the Dungeon 132

F
OURTEEN
 And Out Again 145

F
IFTEEN
 On the River 157

S
IXTEEN
 In Which We Travel to the King's Court 166

S
EVENTEEN
 The Castle of the King 175

E
IGHTEEN
 Marriage Threatens 185

N
INETEEN
 In Which Fowl Is Now Fair 196

T
WENTY
 Happily Ever After, More or Less 205

CHAPTER ONE
The Tower

A
HARD BEGINNING
MAKETH A GOOD ENDING.

—J
OHN
H
EYWOOD,
P
ROVERBS

The King killed my canary today.

Now, I know full well that the customary way to begin such a tale as mine is: "Once upon a time, when wishes still came true, there lived a poor orphan Goose Girl," or some such fiddle-faddle. But what do I care for custom? Tis my own story I am telling and I will tell it as I please. And as I find myself plunged into it right up to the neck, I see no reason why you should not be also.

I resume.

The King killed my canary today.

He slew him with his great big hunting bow. The arrow was buried several handbreadths deep into a tree trunk and all that was left of poor Chipper was a few fluffy yellow feathers sticking out around the shaft.

"Why did you do that?" I cried, leaning down from the tower window.

The King strolled over to view his handiwork.

"That was my canary!"

"A thousand pardons, my lady," he said, bowing. The scar running down his left cheek gave him a sinister one-sided smile. "Methought 'twas a plump pigeon I might offer for your supper." He bared his teeth at me.

I stared down at him coldly. I ought never to have allowed the unfortunate bird out of his cage while the King was here. The King was bored with all this waiting about, that is why he did it. That, and because Chipper was a gift from the Prince, his rival. But in truth, the real reason he did it is because the King has got a heart like a lump of coal: black and stony. 'Tis not for nothing he is known as King Claudio the Cruel.

Much as I longed to wipe that smirk off of his face with a few well-chosen words, I kept my tongue behind my teeth until I had mastered my wrath. The King frightens me witless, even though he is out there and I am in here, with a grille of iron bars and several hundred tons of stonework between us. Though being locked up in this tower was certainly none of my choosing, I will own that I am glad to know the King does not possess a key to my prison.

"Do your subjects not miss you?" I asked, with restraint. "Sire," I added, grinding my teeth.

"No doubt. But if I left you, then
you
might miss me, and that would be infinitely worse."

"O, but will they not get up to all sorts of mischief while you are away?" I asked hopefully. "Insurrections and mutiny,
sire, and other deeds of villainy I cannot think of at the moment?"

"They would not dare," he said indifferently. This seemed so likely to be true that I could think of naught else to say.

"Mayhap I should be going in," I said after a silence during which I watched him sharpening a little silver dagger on a stone.

"But why? If you go you will take the sunshine with you." He straightened up and secreted the fresh-sharpened dagger somewhere on his person. "Come, one so lovely as you could never be so cruel." I noticed that his teeth were pointed, like a dog's. Or a wolf's.

"Yes, well, I must make haste to, ah..." I searched my mind for some urgent reason to withdraw. Wash my hair? Embroider a tapestry? My sewing kit was right on my lap as I sat next to the window where he could see it quite well, so that had no merit as an excuse.

"'Tis the Prince," I said unwisely. "I believe that I see him coming."

He whirled on his axis like a dancer. He might be old enough to be my father but I must say he was flexible in the joints.

"You do?"

The little silver dagger flashed out of hiding again.

"Where?"

"O," I said, gesturing vaguely into the forest, "over thereabouts."

"I will go and meet him," the King decided, obviously
pleased to have something to do which would not require him to behave well. "We have much to ... discuss." And he stepped out of the clearing and melted into the shadows of the trees.

I sighed with relief and then sighed again, this time with resignation. Without meaning to, I had spoken the truth. Prince Edmund of Dorloo was in fact emerging from the forest, leading his horse. The horse was so decorated with braids and bows and tassels that it took all one's ingenuity to guess what 'twas that moved under the mound of finery. The Prince himself was clad in white satin and an elaborate damascened metal breastplate. He looked hot, though not of course so hot as the horse. He doffed his feathered hat and swept a deep bow in my direction.

"Hail, lady."

"'Tis not," I said crossly. I could see the King skulking behind the trees, creeping ever closer to the Prince.

"Not?" the Prince said, assuming his usual expression of someone who has missed a step in the dark.

"'Tis not hailing," I snapped. I simply was not in the mood for the Prince right now, and
he
did not affright me in the slightest.

"The King is right behind you," I added.

"I beg your pardon?"

"TURN AROUND."

"O, well met," said the Prince with a great happy smile, catching sight of the King. Disappointed, the King straightened up and resheathed his dagger.

"Your Royal Highness," he said smoothly, bowing.

The King and the Prince, I must tell you, are both courting me. They each swear to be sick with love-longing for me, and so they may be for aught I know. I am of the opinion, however, that the sacks of diamonds and gold dust under my bed are as bewitching as my more personal attractions. They are not father and son; they come from neighboring kingdoms. I am to choose between them, which is why I am shut up in this desolate tower.

I have been considering my fate, and the way it appears to me is this: if I agree to marry the Prince, who is young and handsome and somewhat less intelligent than a clod of dirt, he may perchance let me out of this tower before the wedding takes place. 'Twould not occur to him that I might run away when once I had given my word. Which I would do, I assure you, in the winking of an eye.

On the other hand, if I do agree to marry the Prince, the King will simply have the Prince quietly assassinated, and I will end up marrying the King anyway.
He
would never risk losing anything he wanted through foolish trust in a woman's word. No indeed; I shall be treated like the wife of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, who kept his poor lady in a pumpkin shell, and most uncomfortable
that
must have been. I daresay I'll be walled up in some tower or other until the day I die, which could turn out to be a great deal sooner than I might otherwise have expected.

If I agree to marry the King from the first, why then, the Prince is less likely to find a knife between his ribs, which I
recognize is a much happier outcome for the Prince. Yet look at what I am left with: the old sinner with the concealed weapons and a smile that makes you wonder how, precisely, his first two wives died.

And then I'll be married. Married! At fourteen, in the very flower of mine age! O, I know that many women my age are already married and mothers to boot, but it simply won't do for me.

I am, you see, no pampered Princess, but only a simple Goose Girl with a business to tend and no need of a husband to poke his nose into my affairs. Imagine having to account for your whereabouts to a husband every time you stepped out of the house to relieve yourself behind the gooseberry bush!

Even if I married the Prince and he survived the King's murderous schemes, I don't think I could bear to listen to him going on and
on
about his horse and his armor and his prowess on the field of battle for the rest of my life. Not to mention having to tend his wounds and darn his hose and embroider his coat of arms on every scrap of fabric that we own.

I tried on several occasions to tell my suitors I was too young to marry, but I succeeded only in baffling them both.

"Too young, you say? I am but fifteen summers myself," said the Prince, wrestling with this idea. "Would you have me marry an old woman?" This struck him as being witty. He guffawed and slapped his knee.

"You could not possibly be too young for my liking," said the King, licking his lips unpleasantly. "Young, yes. And tender too, I'll warrant."

I am quite,
quite
certain that I do not wish to marry the King.

I have tried to persuade them to release me by offering them my wealth, but to no avail. The Prince, when I suggested it, fell to one knee, thumped himself mightily on the chest, which, oddly enough, resulted in a muffled twanging sound. He paused to peer inside the breast of his satin tunic and produced a mandolin, which he regarded dubiously for a moment.

"Goose Girl—er, lady," he cried, "you smite me to the soul! I seek your heart and your hand, not your riches."

He struck a bold, discordant note on the mandolin. Several strings flopped loose and a peg flew off over his shoulder.

"Allow me to sing a love song of my own composition in your honor," he said, flinging the crippled mandolin aside and fixing me with the determined eye of a novice performer who sees his audience retreating.

"I thank you, Your Highness, but I must away," I said, and ducked my head back inside.

I knew, of course, how the King would treat my offer even before I made it. He readily promised to allow me to return to my little cottage unmolested, in return for my sacks of treasure. Then, as soon as the servants had loaded
them on his horse, he simply rode off, the poor horse staggering under the weight. The next morning he was back again, pretending I had dreamt the whole incident.

"Gold? What gold?" queried His Highness. "Diamonds? What diamonds?"

O, I know very well what you are thinking: "The poor maid must be bedaffled in the brain to entrust all her fortune to a man like that!" But it made no odds to me. There was always more where that came from and I certainly did not want to have to carry those heavy bags with me when I left.

My wealth was a perfect nuisance anyway. All of my gifts were, but the gold dust was the worst. It got into everything: my clothes, my bed, my food. Every morning after the maidservant finished combing and dressing my hair, she had to sweep up piles of glitter off the floor and then shake out my bed linens. Back in the old days when I was a Goose Girl, I used on occasion to find something nasty crawling around on my scalp, but let me assure you that head lice are a rapture and a delight compared with perpetual twenty-four-carat-gold dandruff.

I did not mind the diamonds so much. As they were formed of my own crystallized tears, they only appeared when I wept, and however much my current predicament annoys and distresses me, I never did believe that wailing and puling like an infant does much practical good in the world. It occurs to me, however, that should I be forced to marry the King, he will doubtless see to it that I have good
and sufficient cause to fill his treasure rooms up to the very brimful top with the tokens of my grief.

Yet another reason, if aught were needed, to remain a single woman, and I promise you that I shall.

Somehow.

Thus far the best I had managed was to arrange a postponement. I swore by all that was holy that I would choose my husband as soon as I finished sewing my wedding garments. 1 planned, you see, to be married in a solid gold gown.

"But why?" protested the Prince.

"The gown you are wearing is perfectly adequate," snarled the King, much wroth.

I pointed out that as I was a Goose Girl marrying a royal personage it might be wise for me to be presented to my new subjects as a desirable acquisition, rather than as a liability. The King merely growled irritably but the Prince nodded thoughtfully.

BOOK: Goose Chase
10.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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