If you heard the first part, you’ll know that Princess Talia has woken up somewhat confused. She is a student at an ancient college, but she’s not quite sure how she got there. In this episode we will find out how she fits into her new surroundings.
Ancient rules governed the conversation over dinner at Westerly College. For instance, it was forbidden to discuss the paintings on the wall or women who were not present. At least one of those diktats was being thoroughly broken that night, for the gossip on all the Freshers’ lips was of the princess who slept through tutorials and who called her fellow undergraduates 'peasants'.
The Rector of the college stood up at the High Table and declared the Latin grace:
And just as the first course of watery soup was being served, a dark beautiful woman clad in a long scholar’s gown strode into the hall. On her chest she wore a star glittering with diamonds. Nobody was in doubt about who she was. She headed for the High Table, but was directed by one of the scouts, a servant who looked as old as the college, to sit with the other undergraduates.
She picked up a bent, stainless steel spoon and stared at it with disdain. When she tried the soup she wrinkled her nose with disgust.
“This is not fit for the pigs,” she declared.
There was many a sly grin, and even a chuckle around the hall.
Sally was seated at the other end of the table from Talia. A Law student asked her:
“You do Classics with the princess don’t you? Is she as snooty as she seems?”
“Not really,” said Sally. “I think she’s just lost. She’s never had to mix with us commoners, I expect.”
But there were few people present who took so charitable a view of the princess. “Who does she think she’s impressing with her diamonds?” was a typical comment among the girls. And as for the boys, most were far too shy to talk to such a stunning beauty, let alone to a princess.
But Basil, who was seated opposite Her Royal Highness, or HRH as they had already started to call her behind her back, was not afraid to speak to Talia. After all, he had already woken her with a kiss.
“Princess,” he said, “are you feeling less sleepy now?”
Princess Talia fixed him with her blue gaze.
“Is that your idea of a joke?” she asked.
“No, it’s a polite question.”
“Good, because I do not find it funny,” she replied. And then she tried another spoonful of soup and spluttered it back into the bowl.
She muttered: “Will somebody please cut off the wretched cook’s head?” and she left the table, grabbing a piece of bread as she went.
At about three in the morning, harp music drifted into Sally’s consciousness. Next door, Talia began to sing.. sweetly and sadly. It was hard to make out the words, as they sounded like they were in old English, but she did catch 'alas' and 'woe'.
Sally gently knocked on the princess’s door, and heard the response from within:
“You may enter.”
“The song is sad this time,” said Sally, as she came into the richly furnished room which was lit by a candelabra of scented wax tapers. She was sure that candles must be an illegal fire risk. Even toasters were banned.
“That is because I am sad,” replied the princess, now resting her head against her harp.
“Will you tell me why?” asked Sally.
“I miss my parents.”
“Where are they?”
“Oh I see. I’m sorry,” said Sally. And she asked if the princess wanted to tell her more about it.
“It is not a secret,” said Talia. “I looked it up in the Library. They died of the sleeping sickness. And I myself have slept for around a thousand years. Now, a strange to say, I am not tired, and so I sit and play music. I hope that I am not disturbing you.”
But Sally did feel disturbed. Spookily disturbed. She shivered: “That’s not funny,” she said. “You shouldn’t joke about your parents being dead.”
“It is no joke,” said the princess. “I read it in a story.”
And when Sally went back to her room, she could not sleep. Not because of the music, but because she could not forget the creepy conversation. Next time somebody asked her what Princess Talia was really like, she replied: “Strange.”
Basil was Talia’s tutorial partner. He said that she wrote her essays in a beautiful manuscript hand, and when their tutor asked her a question, she replied the first time in Ancient Greek, before switching to Latin and finally English.
“PJ is in love with her,” he joked. PJ was their tutor, and although he was not in love with her, he was in awe of his new scholar’s beauty and brilliance. In fact, he hardly paid any attention to Basil during the tutorial. Afterwards, when Basil asked her how she had learned to speak Latin and Ancient Greek fluently, she shrugged her shoulders and said: “Why? I have the gift of languages. I read all of Homer when I was eight years old.”
At the end of the first week of term, Sally received a visit in her room from her royal neighbour. Talia’s gaze passed over the unmade bed with an old teddy lying on the pillow, the headphones, the illegal toaster, the lipstick stained teacups, the books piled on the floor, and the clothes lingering in heaps.
“I see your scout has not been to clean up,” she commented. And Sally explained that she came later in the morning, to allow her to sleep in until ten o’clock.
“I have a letter from my godmother,” went on the princess. “She says I must use this card and a secret code to obtain money. Do you understand this thing?” and she showed her a black plastic bank card.
“Sure,” said Sally. “You stick it in the hole in the wall.” And when Talia looked baffled, she offered to come with her to the bank and show her how to use it.
As they stepped out of the college, a bicycle shot by.
“Woh!” said Talia, quite alarmed.
“I know. They aren’t supposed to ride on this street,” said Sally. “Look, a policeman is stopping him.” The narrow street was busy, as always, with people walking up and down, their footsteps and conversations echoing around the ancient stones. At the end they turned onto the shopping street with its rumbling of traffic. Talia tugged on Sally’s sleeve.
“I can’t go on,” she said. “This quest is too frightening for me,” and she turned back to the college. Sally wondered if the princess was suffering from something like agoraphobia.
Later in the Junior Common Room, a small group of students were discussing the subject of Princess Talia, not for the first time, while lounging with cups of cocoa.
“She’s just putting on an act to seek attention,” said Jennie, who was a scraggy English Lit. student. Matt, on whose shoulder Jennie was resting her head, asked: “She’s princess of where did you say?” But nobody knew where Talia was from. Jennie suggested: “In all probability she’s from Essex.”
They did not realise that Princess Talia was in the room and had overheard their conversation.
“No, I am not from Essex,” she said as she loomed over them, richly dressed and bejewelled as usual. “I am from Wessex.”
“Oh you’re a Wessex girl,” said Matt.
“I would thank you not to be so rude to your betters,” replied the princess. “And do not gossip about me, if you do not wish your tongue to be cut out.”
“Is she for real?” asked Jennie when Talia was gone.
“I’m afraid she is,” said Matt.
Princess Talia needed money to buy food, because she couldn’t stand the stuff they served up in the hall, but she was still terrified of stepping outside onto the street. Finally, she resolved her dilemma by entrusting her black bank card and her secret number to Sally, who withdrew £50 from the machine, and then visited the covered market to buy walnut bread, pheasant pâté, Roquefort cheese, fresh plums, apricots, and other delicacies. She presented the basket of food, and the remaining money, in the form of a handful of coins and some smoothly rolled banknotes, to Talia. The princess examined the notes with great curiosity.
“This parchment is valuable?” she asked. “Are you sure?”
“Why yes,” said Sally. “It’s a twenty pound note.”
“And who is this?” asked the princess, pointing to the portrait of a lady on the note.
“Why the Queen.”
“I must meet her,” said Talia with determination. “Will you arrange it for me, Sally?” Her eyes were full of such intensity that she seemed almost crazy. Sally, quite bemused, replied: “Sure I’ll just text Lizzy right now.”
She too was now wondering if Talia was 'for real' and when the next day Talia met her in the quad and demanded to know if the Queen had agreed to meet her, Sally couldn’t help exclaiming that her friend must be off her head if she really thought that she could fix a tête-à-tête with the monarch. Talia flew into a rage and said: “Don’t speak to me in that tone as if I am some sort of mad woman! It’s quite clear that I can’t rely on you to do the smallest thing for me. I’ll ask somebody efficient to make this arrangement. In fact, I’ll ask my godmother, even though I only do that as a last resort, but this is a last resort!”
Sally was quite shaken by this outburst. If it wasn’t obvious that the princess was off her head, she would have been more angry with her. Anyway, it made an amusing story over dinner when she told Jennie and Matt that Talia expected to see the Queen.
The following Friday, a sleek black car drew up into the back quad and a smart man in a suit stepped out and went to fetch Talia from her room. The limousine brought her back the following afternoon.
“I met your Queen,” said Talia when she saw Sally, “but I didn’t think much of her. Oh she was perfectly polite, but she didn’t seem to know who I was, and she couldn’t help me one little bit. It was a waste of time. But at least I’m not afraid of automobiles anymore. In fact, now I have been inside one, I see that they are most convenient, and far better than a horse in every respect. I shall ask my godmother to make one available for me at all times.”
And after that, there was always a black car waiting in the quad for Princess Talia. She hardly ever used it, and the drivers who worked in shifts, either slept on the back seat or took walks around the college. The students thought they were quite sinister. They never took their jackets off, and Basil reckoned that they packed guns in holsters under their arms.
The black cars and the body guards were pretty convincing, even to the most sceptical scholars. Nobody in college now doubted that Princess Talia was 'for real' but who she really was, remained a mystery.
And that was the second episode in our new series, 'Awaking Beauty'.
We’ll be following Princess Talia through her time as a student at Westerly College, and we’ll find out if the real princess manages to adjust to the real world.