She was always jealous of my evening adventures. “But you get to dance with Princes,” she said, giving no thought to the price I paid with my own poor feet, not to mention the effort it took to get through the day with next to no sleep at all.
“And those jewels,” she continued. Call me blasé, but I was a little sick of sharp-edged shiny things weighing my hair down and pulling at my clothes. Oh yes, the clothes. Keeping up with current fashion trends was wearing on me as well. Clearly I would get no sympathy from the baker’s daughter, though. I doubted that my sisters would understand either; they seemed quite content to continue with the nightly games.
I was secretly pleased when our routine was revealed. I saw my father smile for the first time in years and I thought that maybe things would finally change. The young man who figured out our late night scheme is now married to our youngest sister, Corrine, and they are blissfully happy in the home of their making. But the rest of us? Well, eventually we went back to doing the same thing all over again, sneaking off to dance the night away under the watchful eyes of the Princes, who applauded our appearance and sweetly held our hands while we swayed in prescribed circles and wore out yet another pair of shoes.
One night, on the way across the river to the revels, I watched as the rowing prince shifted uncomfortably in his starched jacket. His eyes were focused somewhere in the distance and I wondered what kind of dreams he hid behind them. When a tree limb snagged my sleeve and briefly jarred the boat, he blinked several times, sculpted his lips into an attentive smile and raised an enquiring brow my way. “Just a stray branch,” I told him, as I brushed the offending golden leaf and several shimmering others into my palm, “Of course I’m fine.” When we reached the shore, he took my elbow with polite concern and steered me towards the music.
Upon our return home that morning, I stood aside as my sisters fell exhausted into their beds. My fingers closed around the precious leaves I had gathered and I made my way toward the door. What difference did a few extra dozen steps make at this point?
I ran off to the baker’s daughter’s house and hung my glittering gown on the clothesline there, with a note of introduction to my family and the sparkly leaf-trinkets tucked inside the pocket for her. I left my shoes on her porch and then snuck into her house, where several trays of still-warm muffins were cooling on the table. I took as many as my hands could hold and slid away from our village in my simple tunic, dancing with welcome abandon across morning fields in my bare feet as the sweet taste of fresh pastries and freedom filled my mouth.