Happily Ever After

By: Blair Babylon

Flicka von Hannover

Flicka von Hannover sits on the beach, watching the azure ripples of the Mediterranean Sea and digging in the white sand with her toes. She presses a wide-brimmed hat to her head, but the wind whips the white ribbons behind her and flaps the straw brim. The sun overhead shines warmly, and it’s a bright, crisp day. December is the last month of Monaco’s rainy season, but there are always plenty of sunny days to bask on the beach. The brisk breeze blowing in brings the fresh scent of the pure salt water, and it cools your cheeks.

Men in dark suits stand a discreet distance away, but they are blocking any route that you could take to leave. One of them has taken off his suit jacket. Holsters hang under his armpits, and another is strapped to his belt.

Flicka says, “In the fairy tales, I was always the princess.”

She stops as if reflecting on this statement. “Of course, I was. I am the princess. I’m a literal princess. I grew up in a castle. I’ve worn tiaras. People call me ‘Your Serene Highness.’ I am literally a fairy-tale princess.

“But now, I’m the stepmother.”

A few feet away, a small child studiously digs in the sand, shoveling it into a red bucket. She’s wearing long pants and a sweater, but her tiny feet are bare. Damp sand crusts her pink-painted toenails. Her baby-blond hair whips around her head, and she pulls the strands out of her mouth with one hand so as not to interrupt her methodical shoveling.

Flicka muses, “In the fairy tales, the stepmother is always the evil one, the one who drives the princess into the woods or makes her sleep in the fireplace cinders.

“But when you think about it, the father isn’t around. He’s either dead or swanning around somewhere at a war or a conquest. Maybe he’s on progress like Queen Elizabeth the First, wandering his kingdom and making proclamations. But the child’s father is not there.

“But she’s there. The stepmother is there.”

Flicka watches the child, Alina, and sadness fills her bright green eyes. “Maybe she doesn’t know how to be a mother. Maybe she’s never had a baby of her own. Maybe she was a motherless child, too, and her older brother stepped in to raise her because she clung to him so violently and wouldn’t let go, because she knew he was the only person left in the world who loved her even a little bit. Maybe she was just thrown in with this child who desperately needs somebody, but she doesn’t know the first thing about how to do it.

“Maybe the evil stepmother was trying to show the little princess that some people have to sleep on the hearth where it’s warm because they can’t afford the electricity bill.

“Maybe she sent the kid out into the meadow to gather raspberries because she had taught her how to get food, and they needed the raspberries to eat.”

Flicka bites her lip and then says, “Maybe she knew something bad was going to happen. Maybe she had seen the foreign prince coming with his army, and she knew what happened to little princesses who were captured by the enemy. Maybe she knew that in the wild forest, the little girl at least had a chance of survival.”

Flicka drags her long fingers through the sand and watches the sun-warmed grains fall into the furrows. The wind blowing from the sea tugs her sweater and yours. She’s wearing a simple gold band on her left hand. It’s not a wedding ring fit for a princess. It’s one a soldier would have given her.

“While we were in Geneva, if I would’ve had half a chance, I would have sent Alina anywhere else. The Ilyins probably wouldn’t have taken her to the warehouse that night, if she hadn’t been at the Mirabaud estate. I wanted to give her to one of Raphael’s sisters to keep or to raise, but every time I tried to talk to one of them, Sophie or Valerian wouldn’t allow the subject. I think Anaïs and Océane were trying, but they couldn’t figure out how to get her, either. Alina would have been so much safer with them. They might have been able to protect her.

“She’s still afraid of the dark. She won’t get in a car at night at all. I have to put her to bed while it’s still light out, or else she sobs until I crawl into her bed with her and stay until she goes to sleep. She has nightmares. She’s so young that I hope she’ll forget it and be okay.”

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