Our Waking Beauty series has reached its eleventh chapter. More and more people at Westerly College Oxford now believe that Princess Talia is more than merely eccentric, but is probably insane. She has run out of a drinks party held by the Rector (the head of the college) and now she is in trouble for making a strange accusation against his wife.
And for those who have been waiting patiently for a romantic moment ... don't miss this episode!
Story by Bertie.
Read by Elizabeth.
Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.
Illustrated by Chiara Civati.
"Was it something I said?” asked the Rector with a forlorn look on his florid face that was usually so self-congratulatory. The glamorous young woman that he had spent the last ten minutes talking to had turned and fled from his drinks party, just as he was telling her an anecdote about the time he was Government Minister. The two graduate students who were standing next to him were as taken aback as he was.
“I don’t normally have that effect on the opposite sex,” he said recovering his poise and a couple of his guests laughed politely.
“Er, thanks for the lovely party,” said another student, as he hastily departed a moment or two later.
Sally, who had until that moment been talking to Basil, was left standing on her own in the corner of the room. She had been feeling somewhat disenchanted with both him and Princess Talia ever since Saturday morning’s shopping trip where Talia had attacked a fellow shopper and got herself arrested. She was also starting to be irritated with Basil who was clearly infatuated with Talia, and had seemed to accept without question that she wasn’t merely strange, but truly had mystical powers.
She wandered over to a couple of second year Classics students and said in a low voice:
“Insanity must be infectious. Basil has caught it off Talia and the way he’s going, he’ll soon be as cuckoo as she is.” And she started to tell them about the incident in the shop, and how Basil rode to the princess’s rescue on his bicycle as her knight in a shining tracksuit.
While she was grumbling about him, Basil was running across the quad in the direction of the staircase which led up to Talia’s rooms.
He hurried up the stairs and caught up with the princess just as she was turning the key in her door.
“Oh Basil,” she said. “You must be starting to think that I’m frightfully odd.”
“Well I did notice that you are a bit out of the ordinary, or rather, utterly extraordinary. Maybe that’s why... that’s why I can’t think about anyone else, or anything else, other than you.”
“Is that really true?”
“My prince,” said Talia, as he took her in his arms. And this time, his kiss was no joke.
The following day, rumours were flying around college, though not yet about Basil and Talia. For now, the gossipy tongues were wagging just about Talia - how she had been arrested for attacking an innocent Saturday morning shopper, how she claimed to have mystical visions and to be on personal terms with famous people of the past, and how she had run out of the Rector’s drinks party screaming. She hadn’t actually made any sound, let alone screamed, but that was how the rumour improved in the retelling. The fact that she was a princess made the tale all the more enjoyable and sensational, but nobody knew for sure what it was that the Rector had said that had made her run away so abruptly.
Sheena Simon, who was studying History, was always suspicious of anyone who had a posh accent. She thought they spoke that way to make her feel inferior. And she couldn't help herself, but she felt a particularly strong desire to sink her claws into somebody who went about calling herself a princess. And of course, that somebody was Talia. She just had to know why Talia had taken such exception to the Rector. She suspected that she had misunderstood some innocent remark, and taken it totally the wrong way. She was sure it would make a hilarious story if she could get hold of it. And so when she met Talia on the narrow path that led through the Fellow’s Garden to the library, she decided to stop and sympathise with her.
“Oh hello, Talia,” she said. “I just wanted to say how I totally understand why you ran off from that smarmy-faced Rector. I wanted to do exactly the same thing when he was boring me to death at one of those dreadful drinks parties.”
“Oh that’s kind of you,” said Talia, “but it wasn’t the Rector I ran away from. In fact, I was rather interested in his conversation.”
“Then if you don’t mind me asking,” said Sheena, “why did you leave?”
“It was his wife,” said Talia. And then she whispered: “I know her from the past, the distant past. You see, she’s a witch. And my advice to everyone is to stay away from her because, as I have found to my cost, her magic is as evil as it is powerful.”
Soon after that brief conversation, the wheels of the college rumour mill were in full motion. There was hardly anyone who did not know that Talia had accused the Rector’s new wife of being an evil witch. The idea that Talia was rather strange, if not completely insane, took a deeper hold than ever. Even the tutors started to hear the rumours, and one or two agreed in private that the princess might have a point about the Rector’s wife, even if her words weren’t literally true.
Every undergraduate at Westerly College was assigned a moral tutor, who was supposed to look after his or her welfare and to provide friendly guidance on personal matters during their time at the college. Talia’s moral tutor was Dr Mills, who taught Anglo-Saxon English. One morning, Talia found a polite note in her pigeon hole at the Porter’s Lodge. Dr Mills asked her to drop by at his room for a quiet chat about how things were going.
“Why is he taking an interest in me all of sudden?” she asked Basil. And Basil shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps he tries to see each of his moral pupils once in a while,” he said.
Talia arrived for the appointment exactly on time, and found that Dr Mills was late. She waited outside his door for five minutes, and then started to leave. She met him on the stairs.
“Ah Princess!” he said. “Thank you for dropping by.” And Talia said somewhat icily:
“I was waiting for you,” but she did not receive the apology that she thought she deserved.
“I only have ten minutes,” she said, as she sat down in a chair in his room.
“Well in that case, I’ll come to the point,” said Dr Mills. “It has reached my ear that you do not see eye to eye with the Rector’s wife.”
“We are old enemies,” said Talia.
“Well that’s unfortunate under the circumstances.”
“One can’t like everyone.”
“May I ask the source of the animosity?”
“You may ask but I am afraid I cannot tell you. It’s an old story, and you probably would find it hard to understand.”
“Well you could try me and see?”
“I’d rather not thank you.”
“Well I must ask you,” said Dr Mills, “to keep whatever feelings you have about the good lady to yourself. If the college authorities hear of you spreading any malicious slanders about her, they will be forced to take action.”
“You have my word that I will not slander her,” said Talia.
“That is wise,” said the tutor.
“After all,” said Talia, “if you slander someone, what you say has to be untrue and I never speak a lie. Now if you will forgive me, I must leave. We began this appointment late and now my schedule is behind time.”
Neither the tutor nor the princess found the outcome of this interview to be entirely satisfactory, but Dr Mills felt the problem would soon be resolved one way or the other. Either Talia would keep quiet, or if she continued to spread rumours about the Rector’s wife, she would be sent down, princess or no princess. He himself was rather inclined to think that this most peculiar young person was actually no princess - but that she was suffering from delusions - and he was surprised that some of his colleagues, including the college’s Law don, appeared to have fallen for her fantasies.
If you had seen Talia walking across the quad, you would no doubt have noticed how tense and preoccupied she seemed. She arrived at the foot of her staircase, and then suddenly turned around and went to visit Basil. She interrupted his studies, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“May I just sit here while you work?” she asked, and he agreed, but of course he could not concentrate.
Eventually he held her elegant hand and asked if there was anything wrong. She told him about Dr Mills and his threat to have her sent down from college if she ever mentioned the Rector’s wife in public.
“I wish you could tell me what it is about her that is spooking you?” he said.
“Oh Basil, I can’t tell you, because if I did you would think that I’m crazy like everybody else seems to think now.”
“No I wouldn’t,” he protested, but he saw that she was too afraid to tell him the whole story just yet.
When Basil returned to his desk, he opened his laptop and he saw that he had an email from the college office. The message said that there had been an outbreak of Avian Flu, and the Ministry of Health was warning that young people in their late teens and early twenties were particularly vulnerable to this nasty, and potentially lethal, virus. For that reason, the college had arranged for every student under 25 to be inoculated.
“Did you get one of these emails?” asked Basil to Talia.
“No,” she said, “but perhaps that is because I don’t know how to use a computer.”
“You must let me show you some time,” he said.
“It’s something I’d rather not know,” she replied.
And so Talia did not go to see the visiting nurse for a flu jab. It was probably a good thing that Talia did not read the email, because the nurse set up her surgery in a room at the top of Fletcher’s Tower, where she refused to set foot. The tower seemed to bring out another of her strange fears. As Basil climbed the dark winding staircase, he thought how eerie it really was.
When he reached the nurse’s room, she invited him to sit down on the chair and roll up his sleeve. As he began to undo his cuff, he felt a strange chilliness come over him. He wondered if it was the effect of the tower.
“Just relax,” said the nurse. “I’ll be with you in a moment.” Basil turned his head to look at her as she took out a disposable syringe from a drawer. But before she had finished unwrapping it, he had got up and left the room without saying a word.
And that was the eleventh instalment in our Waking Beauty series. If you would like to find out why Basil was so afraid of a little injection, then come back to Storynory.com to listen to the next instalment.