Chap 3, The Polite Princess

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Princess Talia Plays her harp from Waking Beauty illustrated by Ciara Civati for Storynory

'The Polite Princess' is none other than Princess Talia of our Waking Beauty series set in a college at Oxford University. Her friend Sally is a big supporter of Liverpool Football Club and Talia is drawn into watching a match on TV with other students.

Story by Bertie.

Read by Elizabeth.

Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.

Illustrated by Chiara Civati.

I have mentioned before that Princess Talia did not often eat in the college dining hall. She did not think highly of the college’s catering, and she preferred to eat her own food in her room.                             One evening, for some reason, perhaps she had run out of smoked salmon or quails eggs, or perhaps she just wanted some company, she decided to visit the hall. She wore a black evening dress, a string of pearls, and her long scholar’s gown, and this combination made her look her most dark and mysterious. She almost seemed like a beautiful shadow.

She sat down at the oak table just opposite Sally. As Sally’s academic gown was open at the front you could see that underneath it, she was wearing her bright red Liverpool Football Club t-shirt. Princess Talia peered at the Football Club’s badge, which depicted a proud griffin with a leaf in its beak. It was the symbol known as the Liverbird.

“Sally, is that your family’s coat of arms?” she asked.

The student sitting next to Sally laughed, and for a moment Sally wondered if Talia was joking, but then she remembered that the princess often said the strangest things, and rarely in jest.

“Well sort of,” said Sally. “Actually it’s not my family’s coat of arms. It’s my football team’s. But I suppose you could say that we supporters of Liverpool are like a big family and this is our coat of arms.”

“Oh,” said Talia, somewhat puzzled. “Why would you want to support Liverpool?”

“Because I’m from Liverpool, and they’re my team. But you can see for yourself. There’s a big match this evening, and we’re going to watch it in the TV room. Come along. Have a laugh. You could lighten up a bit.”

“Could I? Oh. In that case I’d better come with you and 'have a laugh', as you say.”

The TV room was crowded with mostly male students. You wouldn’t really have taken them for the elite of Britain’s young minds. They bayed, growled, and squawked at the television in a variety of accents ranging from public school posh to rural regional.

The players from Liverpool and AC Milan were running around a large flat panelled screen on the wall. Talia was clearly intrigued by the sight. She remarked to Sally:

“I have seen a moving picture like this once before.”

“Have you?” replied Sally, who was used to going along with Talia’s odd trains of thought.

“Yes, but only once. The Wizard Merlin himself demonstrated it to me in his cave.”

“That was nice of him,” said Sally, hoping nobody else was listening to the strange conversation.

“And I have seen village boys playing this game with a pig’s bladder.”

“Good for you.”

When the referee showed a yellow card to a Liverpool player, the scholarly supporters in the room were shaking their fists and gesturing at him. Sally screeched at the screen:

“Aww come off it ref. He tripped over a daisy!”

And Talia exclaimed:

“No Sally, the yokel in a red shirt kicked him in the shin.”

Sally’s eyes blazed with fury and she turned to Talia and blurted out:

“That yokel is Steve Gerrard and he did no such thing!”

Talia was quite taken aback. “Well if you say so, Sally, but I saw it differently.”

Later when Gerrard powered the ball into the back of the net, the ref. disallowed the goal as offside. The students were apoplectic.

Talia said: “I don’t see what all the fuss is about? It’s only a game.”

Jonathan Miles, the English scholar, flew into a rage. “What do you mean it’s only a game? It’s football. It’s more beautiful than poetry, music and love!”

“Well I dispute that,” said Talia. “Poetry, music and love tend to elevate the human condition. This sport seems to bring out the animal spirits.”

The student of English was lost for words. Sally said: “Talia, he was just joking.. sort of.”

And Talia replied: “I knew that. My fairy godmother gave me the gift of laughter. Ha ha! Yes, that’s a very funny remark.”

And somebody said: “She’s quite cuckoo isn’t she?” And somebody else said: “Perhaps she should see the doctor.”

At the end the match, AC Milan went through to the final on goal difference. When it was all over the students did not seem to mind too much that their team hadn’t done well enough, proving perhaps that Talia was right when she had said it was 'only a game'. As Talia and Sally walked back to staircase 14, where their rooms were located, the princess remarked:

“I don’t know about you, but I find that manners in this college are not quite what they could be.”

And Sally laughed because it was true of course, but then again, how did she expect students to behave? Talia went on: “You know Sally, you could help me by using my correct title. I believe that if you called me 'Princess',  it might set a good example and instil a bit of respect in the others.”

Sally didn’t like this idea. “But we’re friends aren’t we? Don’t friends call each other by first names?”

“Certainly you may use my first name, but titles are also useful as part of a correct form of address. You may call me 'Princess Talia' out of respect for our friendship.”

And not for the first or last time, Sally was not entirely sure if her friend was joking or not. She hoped that this was just a passing whim of Talia’s and would soon be forgotten. Over the next few days she continued to call her 'Talia' just as before. The princess’s face did not show any sign of annoyance, but then she wore very few expressions apart from her perfectly composed, beautiful, but inscrutable look. However, Sally soon learned that Talia had not forgotten her desire to be addressed as 'Princess'.

At the next meeting of the Junior Common Room - which was a sort of student union for undergraduates at the college - Talia tabled a motion that “The JCR supports the use of titles as the correct form of personal address at all times within the college.” When Sally read the motion on the agenda for the meeting she immediately went to see Talia in her room and begged her to withdraw it.

“Don’t you realise, they’ll just laugh at you?” pleaded Sally. “Those meetings can be pretty rough. You’ll make yourself look like a stuck-up toff. They’ll rip you apart.”

But Princess Talia insisted that she would stand up for what she believed in, and she didn’t care what the rabble said about her.

“Oh dear friend,” said Sally. “You badly need a sense of humour. You just can’t see when you are making yourself ridiculous, can you?”

“Thank you once again Sally for your commentary on the defects of my personality,” said Talia. “But as my friend you might show a little more support for a matter that is close to my heart.”

And Sally went back to her room wondering whether her friendship with Talia would last the evening.

The Junior Common Room met later on. Jay Beckham, the chair person of the JCR, called on Talia to propose her motion.

Some wag called out: “Shouldn’t that be Princess Talia?” and there was general laughter.

“Indeed it should,” said the princess as she stood up. And Sally was impressed by the way her friend used her voice to cut through the noise of the rabble without any apparent effort on her part. She also noticed that both male and female students were all looking fairly interestedly at her. Her beauty undoubtedly commanded attention.

“Please forgive me if I appear somewhat nervous,” she said. “I am unused to speaking at meetings.” And although she looked anything but nervous, this plea won her just a slightly more sympathetic hearing than you might have expected.

“Madam Chairperson. Honourable members of the Junior Common Room. Some might say that titles are old fashioned, that they are, perhaps, a touch formal for our age. And indeed they are formal. But you will also notice that they are in use every day all the time. We might call our tutor 'Doctor'. We might call the person who cleans our rooms 'Mrs'. We might call the college porter 'Mr'. But we address each other as 'Mic' or 'Jim' or 'Jen'. Why should I not respect my fellow students enough to use 'Good Sir' or 'Mr' or 'Miss' or even 'Ms', although that title is strange to my ears. I suggest that this innovation would have a civilising effect on the college society and would pay dividends overnight. I foresee that if we respect ourselves and each other in speech we shall dress better, behave better, study better, and yes, enjoy ourselves better too.”

After Talia sat down, three students spoke one after the other saying that Talia’s proposal was outrageously snobbish, undemocratic, and elitist. But then Dave Heathcott spoke in favour saying that a return to the age of courtesy and chivalry would indeed make the college a better place to live and study in. Dave was a popular figure, known for his wit and independent thought. He swayed a lot of people to Talia’s side. In fact, when it came to a show of hands, the JCR voted two thirds in favour of the motion, though Sally wasn’t quite sure how many people supported the motion as a joke or in full seriousness.

The news that the undergraduates of Westerly College had voted in favour of using titles soon spread around the university.

A photographer from the student newspaper came to photograph Princess Talia in her room and her picture appeared on the front page of  'The Cherwell' with the caption: 'The Polite Princess'.

It was an impressive photograph, showing Princess Talia sitting at her golden harp looking like a classical muse.

The newspaper reported the debate in detail and quoted from students who were for and against the motion. For a few days afterwards some people did call each other 'Miss' or 'Mr' or indeed 'Princess', but only with an ironic smile on their lips. A week later the motion was all but forgotten.

But the newspaper story had certainly put Princess Talia on the social map of the university. It wasn’t long before she started to receive callers. Chaps in blazers and girls in pearls came to her door to introduce themselves. Invitations start to stack up on her mantelpiece. She started to go out at night to parties. Sally realised that Talia had joined the posh set where she probably best fitted in. She no longer felt comfortable going to knock on her neighbour’s door. She felt uneasy when she saw her former friend, and walked by on the other side of the quad to avoid her.

“Oh well,” she thought. “My mother told me that I probably wouldn’t keep the friends I made in my first term. And I think that’s proving right already.”

And that was the third part of our 'Awaking Beauty' series. If you would like to know if Talia and Sally become friends again, then look out for the next episode. In the meantime you can find loads more classic and original stories on Storynory.com. And if you feel like supporting Storynory, you can find a donate button on our site, or you can buy our iPhone app from the Apple store. For now, from me Elizabeth, goodbye.