Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir

Manufactured in the United States of America

What had happened was that the witch put Princess Floralinda in a tower forty flights high, but said it wasn’t personal. She told her to cheer up. “Princes will be flocking from near and far to rescue you,” she said. “I’ve covered all my bases. There’s a golden sword at the gates for a prize, if the prince doesn’t care overmuch for princesses, and once he battles his way up thirty-nine flights you’re free to go. I don’t really mind what happens from this point in.”

“I do think you might ask for a ransom from my mother and father instead,” said Floralinda, still dabbing at her eyes. “That’s quite normal these days,” (for she did not want to be rude and suggest the tower was déclassé).

The witch shrieked with laughter.

“You! No!” she said. “You have butter-coloured curls and eyes as blue as sapphires. The moment I saw you, I knew a tower was crucial. Witches are all slaves to instinct. This is a really commonplace cruelty for a thing like me,” she finished, modestly.

“But I think a tower so restrictive,” poor Floralinda persisted. “Why don’t you trade me to foreign kings, or sell me to a sorcerer?”

The witch accused her of having a low mind. “I am doing this for the art of the thing,” she said. “I’m certainly making nothing off this endeavour. Nothing about it is economical. The bottom flight is guarded by a dragon with diamond-encrusted scales. They say it’s a bad idea to put the most expensive one at the bottom, but I like to let princes know I mean business.”

“It sounds very difficult for the prince,” said Floralinda.

“Oh, horribly; I never skimp where monsters are concerned. There’s a different kind on each floor and I have picked them specially for abhorrence. I had difficulties with my princes-per-month rate the last time; I’ll be interested to see if I’ve corrected it. Now, Princess, no more questions—you wait patiently, and lock the door and don’t go down the stairs, because the flight below this one is filled with goblins (a sort of digestif, you understand) and they’ll tear you to pieces. I have left you a flask of water, a flask of milk, a wheaten loaf and a white, and an orange; and there’s a knife to peel the orange and cut the bread. That’s more than enough to be going on with. Be a good girl, and I imagine a prince will be along presently.”

With that the witch exited from the window, in the common way, and Princess Floralinda was left by herself.

At first, it was quite a nice experience; like going away for a seaside holiday, with strange rooms and unusual things to eat. The tower room was very clean and comfortable, with a wash-stand and chair and table and so on, and the bed had silver hangings and feather pillows, the latter of which Floralinda did not really like. There was a dear enamel hearth that was there for ornamental purposes, with a grate filled up with painted pine-cones, and a set of the sorts of things you might poke a fire with, only you wouldn’t want to get such a lovely little hearth dirty. There were a great many books that had most likely been picked to be on subjects princesses might like, such as Monarchic Positions on Economic Models and Feudal Estatehood, and a hoop you could embroider upon with a pattern and needle-and-thread and the tiniest pair of silver sewing-scissors. The pattern was of calla lilies and buttercups, and the buttercups had been embroidered already. Floralinda could look out the window and see the forest spread like a nice dark green cloak upon the land: forest as far as the eye could see, unrelieved by chimneys, or houses, or canals.

The water in the flask was always cold, and the milk in the flask never curdled and always had nice fresh yellow cream on the top, the sort that one only gets as a treat when convalescing. The wheaten loaf and white were always warm, and the orange perfectly sweet, with not too much pith. The witch had really been very careful. The flasks and the loaves and the orange would renew themselves obligingly once eaten or drank. Floralinda thought it humorous to see the orange-peel zipping itself back up when the last segment was gone, and bulging out again with fruit, like a balloon-skin being breathed into.

By sunset, no prince had come to fight the diamond-encrusted dragon and take her home. Floralinda was obliged to spend the night, then the next night, then the night after that. She had investigated her quarters thoroughly by then, and had begun to find peculiar things.

The furniture, for instance, while pretty on first glance, showed that it had all been put in damask covers with stained ones beneath; the wooden furnishings were old and dented beneath their fresh coats of paint and varnish. It was long past the time when your mother and father looked at it and said, This ought to go into the nursery; and even past the time when the nursery-maid looked at it and said, This ought to go on the scrap-heap. The thriftiest housewife alive would not bother to freshen up such rag-tag objects. There being no bath, Floralinda had to sponge her face and her hands with water from the cold-water flask, which was indeed extraordinarily cold and made Floralinda’s face come out in red patches, and did not show her very well in the old mirror with the silver-gilt peeling off behind.

Nearly a sennight had she stayed in these peculiar quarters, when suddenly—princes!

They came one by one, at first. The moment Floralinda heard horses’ hoofs she sat very shyly inside and did not peek out the window. She sat down on the bed and busied herself with Monarchic Positions on Economic Models and finishing a calla lily on the hoop, being a patient girl, and very well-brought-up. It would not be quite nice, either for the prince or oneself, if the prince made it all the way up the tower simply because he liked the look of one’s face.