This, the fourth part of our Awaking Beauty series, sees Princess Talia in rather a different and unexpected light. Princess Talia is now moving in her own high circles, and Sally, her first friend at Westerly College Oxford, is rather regretting that she does not see so much of her anymore. But then Sally receives some bad news …
Story by Bertie.
Read by Elizabeth.
Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.
Illustrated by Ciara Civati.
It was Saturday night. Sally sat in her room trying to decipher a sentence of Ancient Greek written by the historian Thucydides. It went on and on and on, clause after clause, for an entire page. Just this one sentence was ten times worse than the most horrible homework assignment she had ever had to to do at school.
“This is mental torture,” protested Sally to herself. “It’s against my human rights. Only a sadist could write a sentence like that.”
Music added to her torment. She could hear it playing from at least three different rooms around the quad. Saturday night parties going on. Parties to which she was not invited.
At 9pm she heard a knock on the door. But it was her neighbour’s door. There were exclamations of “Princess!” and “You look simply sumptuous darling!” Talia’s new friends had come to collect her for an evening of socialising. Sally thought:
“Not long ago, I felt sorry for her because she didn’t have any friends. Now it’s me who is Miss Lonely-locks.”
Sally went to bed, and she dozed fitfully. She heard Princess Talia slip back into her room at some unearthly hour like five in the morning. But even then her neighbour did not sleep. She sat at her harp playing music. The gentle, almost magical notes helped Sally to finally drift off.
In the past, Sally and Talia had enjoyed meeting for cups of tea. Or to be more precise, Sally drank tea from a mug while Talia sipped water. But it had been at least three weeks since they had exchanged more than a passing 'hello' and three weeks was almost half the time they had known each other. Talia was the strangest person that Sally had ever met, and yet for some reason she felt that she had known her all her life and now there was a hole in her life. She missed her odd remarks and strange views. But she thought it was perhaps for the best. After all, Princess Talia was entirely wrapped up in her own selfish concerns, and had little thought for others. It was hardly a solid basis for a friendship.
It was a piece of misfortune that drew them back together. Their tutor, P. J. Partridge, called a meeting of all six Classics undergraduates. While he was discussing their reading list, Sally’s phone rang. She blushed bright red and fumbled to turn it off. Their tutor, who did not even own a mobile phone, gave her his sternest glance of disapproval. After the meeting, Sally stood in the quad listening to her message. When she had played it, Talia came up to her and said:
“Sally, you look so upset. Have you received bad news?” Sally was surprised that the princess had even noticed her, let alone seen how she was feeling. And yes, it was true. She had received bad news. Her mother had rung to say that her father had been rushed to hospital in an ambulance. In fact Sally was in a state of shock. It was the first time it had occurred to her that her dad might not live for ever.
Talia said: “Sally, my car is at your disposal. The driver will take you to the hospital where your father is.”
“But he’s miles away, in Liverpool,” replied Sally.
“Never mind. Take it for as long as you need. I will inform Dr Partridge about what has happened.”
And while she was speaking, she removed a silver chain from around her neck. Its setting clasped a blue-green stone. Talia told Sally that her father must wear the necklace. The stone would change colour to blood red because he was ill. As his condition improved, it would turn first to pink, then gradually back to its former colour. “And what’s more, it will protect him from harm and speed his recovery,” added Talia. “Trust me Sally. No harm can come to the one who wears this stone. It was given to me by my godmother on the day of my christening, and has protected me from great evil.”
Sally was in such a state that she did not question her friend about the stone. She hugged her with thanks, and ran up to her room to pack her bag. Quarter of an hour later she sank into the leather back seat of Talia’s black limousine.
Sally spent most of her first twenty four hours at hospital sitting in the chair by her father’s bed. He made light of all the wires and tubes that were fastened to his body. She began to think that perhaps it was all just a scare after all. While he dozed, she read Thucydides with surprising clarity. Towards evening, the doctor spoke to Sally and her mother out in the corridor. He was clearly concerned. The x-rays had shown a worrying shadow. Her mother cried and Sally had to be strong to comfort her. It was only the next day that she recalled the necklace that Talia had given her. She fished it out of her bag and looked into the mysterious stone. The blue colour seemed to grow lighter as she held it in her hand.
“That’s because I’m feeling stressed and tired and my mouth is dry,” she thought. And then: “Oh come off it! I’m not going to start believing this superstitious stuff am I?” And finally: “Well it can’t do him any harm, can it?”
And while her father dozed, she gently lifted his head and fastened the necklace around his neck. She tucked the stone under the collar of his hospital pyjamas, seeing as she did so that it was already turning quite red. There were so many strange things attached to her dad, that when he awoke, he didn’t even notice that he was wearing one more ‘accessory'.
After a week, Sally was back in college, looking far more cheerful. Her father had dumbfounded the doctors. All his vital signs had bounced back into full health, and the worrying shadow had faded away.
When Sally returned the necklace to her friend she said: “I don’t know if it’s my state of mind, but at this rate I’ll start believing in magic.”
And Talia replied: “Why Sally! Of course you must believe in magic. Otherwise, how do you think I arrived here? There’s no other explanation, is there?”
And frankly, there was no other explanation, unless Talia was quite mad, and Sally was swiftly catching up with her insanity.
Two weeks went by, and Sally’s dad was not only back at home, but back at work, back jogging in the mornings, and according to her mum, he looked twenty years younger.
“If that’s what a good rest and hospital food does for you, then I think I might check myself into intensive care,” said her mum on the phone.
It was the final Saturday of the first term at college, and Sally was getting ready to go out with Basil and Doug for a pizza. There was an unexpected knock on the door, her door, not her neighbour’s. She heard a familiar voice:
“Sally, may I come in?”
It was Princess Talia. Sally leapt across the room and opened the door. Talia came in and sat on the end of her rumpled bed. She wrung her hands and looked quite intense, even by her usual standards. At last she said:
“Sally, you are friends with Basil, aren’t you?”
And Sally said that yes, she was friends with Basil.
“Yes, I think you could say we are good friends.”
“Are you … more than just good friends?”
And Sally laughed and said: “No, we’re just good friends.”
“Ah,” said Talia, “because you see. I’m not friends at all with Basil. In fact, I don’t think he even notices me.”
“Of course he notices you,” said Sally. “All the boys notice you. Some of them stare at you like you were a goddess or something.”
“But not Basil,” said Talia sadly.
And Sally was amazed, because at last she had found a chink in the princess’s armour of supreme indifference and serenity. She invited her to join them for dinner, and the princess thanked her from the bottom of her heart.
Sally said: “You look a touch overdressed for The Sunny Pizza Palace but never mind, I’m sure Basil will appreciate your charms.”
Talia went back to her room to change. When they met twenty minutes later, Sally was amazed to see that the princess was wearing jeans – albeit ones with a designer label. When the boys joined them, Basil’s smile at learning of the surprise fourth member of their party gave the game away.
“He’s pretty pleased to see her,” Sally thought, and she felt an unexpected pang of jealousy.