by Matsuoka Haruka (松岡春香)
Once, there was a beautiful princess. Of course, there are many of those, but what makes this one exceptional is that she was particularly cruel. She had broken a number of kings and knights with her sharp tongue. She was the eldest of twelve sisters, and after her youngest sister was married to a fairy prince, her father quickly became frustrated. She was approaching midway through her twenties and not a suitor could stand her cruel tongue. If she wasn’t married, and soon, then she would never be married.
“There is none,” the woman said, “I have come to try for the hand of the princess.” She bowed before her. She had hair the color of burning wood that fell over her shoulders. The sharp-tongued princess simply stared at her. She was too tall for a woman, and though her breasts were large and well sized for her frame, they were far too large for a girl of the princess’s delicacy. She had a large frame and callused hands, and she was obviously used to working hard and long throughout the day in her small kingdom. Dirt was still lodged under her fingernails. The princess had no qualms about using it all against her female suitor.
“You are,” the princess declared, “The Queen of Horses.”
The queen’s back stiffened. She was a loud woman with a harsh temper.
“You are a spoiled brat,” she told the princess, “who doesn’t know joy or love. You need nothing more than a good spanking like a child.”
She left the castle like a storm. This was the final blow to the King’s dignity that he could take.
“You are a terror,” he told the princess. “You torment servants and princes alike. The next person to walk through that door will be the person to whom you are bound.”
During breakfast the next morning, the princess ate in the great dining room as ordered by her father, so she would know the face of the person to whom her father intended to marry her. A rough-faced man, a traveler who only intended to ask a meal from the kitchen, was the first man through the grand door.
“I am a horse trader,” the man said in an odd voice. “I cannot take a woman with hands as soft as hers. Her back is weak. She cannot ride without a saddle, nor can she carry hay or pack a wagon. What use do I have for her?”
The king promised to settle them in whatever city the horse man chose. He thought about it, and then nodded. When he sold his horses, he would settle in the capital of a nearby country.
“You cannot mean to marry me to him,” the princess insisted. “He’s a trader, not even a lordling.”
“I must keep my promise,” the king said tamely, and told the servants to pack the princess’s clothes. During her last three days, the princess was a nightmare. The servants were tempted to throw all of her belongings onto the back of a horse and let her go in the direction of the desert sands. However, her father would have had something to say about that. They were married in a hurried ceremony the night before they had to leave.
It took two long weeks to get to the capital, during which the princess learned to ride a horse like a man, with strong guidance and unafraid gestures. Her husband, though he was gruff, taught her patiently. Her hands grew calloused and harsh, and not a night in the marriage bed did she touch her husband, nor did he seem in any hurry to touch her. She was strong under her bratty exterior and quickly overcame the need to snipe at everything. When they arrived, she saw that the capital was a desperate place with people who needed whatever help they could get.
“I want you to go into town to sell the horses,” her husband told her when they came to his home. She simply nodded. He made her recite the prices of the horses, the highs and lows and how to read someone who just wanted to get the horses for a bargain. She felt like a student again and lowered her head with humiliation every time she named the wrong price. Finally, her husband sighed. “I will be there by the time the market opens, just set up a stall to keep from overheating in the sun.”
The princess was up before dawn and she took the horses down to the market. Dawn arrived and the buyers with it. Her husband did not follow. Noon lulled the buyers, and yet, her husband was not there. She sold many of the horses through the day, remembering the prices. She sold several low and a couple high. Dusk began to color the sky and still her husband had not arrived as he had promised.
A crowd of people suddenly rushed past, spooking the horses, and four of the last five escaped. She shouted and tried to gather them up. She managed to find three and lead them back to the stall, but no matter how high or low she searched, the final horse wouldn’t be found. She was ready to cry. It was getting late and she could not find the final horse. The sun had set and her husband had to be there soon and she was missing a horse. She searched as long as she could, and finally she trooped back to the stall where the other four waited.
“I cannot believe I have lost one of your brothers,” she sighed, and led the four away from the market. When she least expected it, the thunder of two sets of horse hooves came up behind her. She spun around. On the back of one horse was the queen she had ridiculed. She gasped and hid behind the neck of the horse she led.
“I believe you lost this horse,” the queen called. “I see the brother of his heart.”
The princess peeked over. “Yes, I did. Thank you, ever so much, for bringing him back to me.” The queen looked at her without recognition, and she sighed with relief.
“You have beautiful horses. Might I buy these four?” she gestured to the four that had escaped.
“You may, m’lady,” she nodded.
“I’ll have payment sent to you for them, if I may take them now?”
With a great deal of fluster, the princess let her buy the last four horses. They were the largest and most beautiful, and the most expensive. She had no payment in hand, no promise of it, nor had she remembered to give the queen a price. It wasn’t until she was home that she realized her mistake and slumped over. After she’d done so well today…
She sighed and took the final horse to the home that she shared with her husband.
“You,” she cried when she saw that her husband was still at home, “You left me there alone.”
“The market, my wife,” he said calmly, “was not today. Today was a show for the queen. Where are the horses?”
The princess trembled with anger and threw the bag of gold and silver payment she had gotten throughout the day at him.
He counted the gold, with utter ice calm. “You got a good price for the horses. What did you get for the last four?”
“The queen took them,” she said sullenly. Her thick black hair, once spoken of by poets with adoration, was dirty and rough, instead of silken strands. She sighed and ran the brush through them.
“And what price did she offer to pay?”
“I don’t know.”
They sat in silence until her husband sighed and reached for the brush, gently brushing her hair. The princess could have cried for this one kindness, especially when he braided it tightly so that dirt and grime could not fight its way into her hair. “Thank you,” she whispered, and her husband made a noncommittal sound.
“You can have the bed. It isn’t much, but I’ll sleep on the mat.”
She nodded and lay on the bed. It was too rough and too cold; finally she called to her husband. “You can sleep in here. It must be cold out there.” That night, they slept on opposite sides of the bed, carefully avoiding touching one another’s skin.
Over the next week, she searched to be able to contact the queen again to get the price of the horses. She was grimy and her hair still got dirt in it despite the tight braid her husband had given her. She came home from the market one day to a bathtub in the center of the room, filled with hot, sweet-smelling water.
“Jobs are hard to be had in the city,” her husband told the princess. “However, because of the horses you sold the Queen, she is willing to take you onto her staff.”
She nodded and undressed. Though she was more worn than she had been, she hadn’t lost her beauty. In fact, her tall grace had turned into something more ethereal, tired but strong. Once, she would have insisted that she wouldn’t do anything, not with that queen, and most certainly not being her servant. However, she had been humbled by this hard life, and she grew tired of trying to make one meal count for two or even three, torn and worn dresses that she couldn’t get material to make new.
She sank into the water with a soft sigh and washed. She delighted in the cleanliness and watched the dirt and grime wash off of her. “I will go in the morning?”
Her husband nodded before looking away carefully. “Yes. I’ll take you to the Palace in the morning.”
He had bought her a new dress for working at the palace, a pale blue one with silver lining. To her tired eyes, it seemed almost as beautiful as any gown she had worn to balls at home. She burst into tears and knelt in front of it. “Thank you,” she whispered. That night, she undressed and lay on the bed, willing for her husband to touch her. Her skin was just as pale and soft as it had been, the only differences were on her face and hands. He averted his eyes when he came in and went to bed fully dressed except his boots, which he left beside the bed.
“Please?” she asked softly. “Consummate the marriage?”
He shook his head. “You are made to be married to a prince. This sham can be annulled.”
“You’ve been so kind to me,” she said softly, reaching for him.
He brushed her hands off. “You are not a whore. Sex is not a favor.”
She lowered her eyes and rolled over. “I understand.”
They had gotten closer since they had started sharing a bed, sometimes curling around one another, but that night they carefully did not touch one another.
She woke long before her husband and dressed. She did not wait for him, but instead went to the Palace without him. She worked hard because the day she began working was the day that the Queen was to be married. As hard as she tried, she could not see who the Queen intended to marry. She knew better than to fail at her duties, so she finally went back to the kitchen, and scrubbed pots and pans until her knuckles were raw.
It was nearing sunset when her husband came into the kitchen. “Help me dress, that’s your last duty of the day,” he told her. She frowned but nodded, setting her hands into her pockets to hide the roughness of them. She did not ask any questions though she wanted to.
They made their way through rooms that quickly grew lovelier and more expensive until they reached a room that could only be the Queen’s.
“Undress me,” he instructed, and she worked off the harsh buttons and dropped the shirt onto the floor beside them. There were bandages to bind breasts and she slowly unwound those, gently brushing her fingers against the bruises that had been left. Her husband unclipped the braid from behind his head and stepped out of the pants. “Help me bathe,” she instructed softly, “and join me?”
The princess nodded and slid into the water next to the queen, washing her hair and body. She tried to keep her touch as brief as possible, but the queen stopped her and cupped a hand around the princess’s. “Do you feel betrayed that I lied to you?”
“No,” she whispered, “it was a lesson I needed to learn.”
The Queen kissed the palm of her hand and tugged the young princess towards her. “Am I still the Queen of Horses?”
“You are, but that is the highest title I could ever imagine.” She kissed each bruise on her queen’s breasts, making the woman’s voice hitch.
“Did you ever suspect?” she asked breathlessly.
“No, I didn’t,” she whispered, finding her way to the pale pink nipple. She kissed it affectionately and the queen shuddered. “What is your real name?” she asked.
“Gabrielle. And you are?” Gabrielle stroked the long, dark hair that swam around the princess.
“Liliane,” she smiled.
“What a lovely name,” Gabrielle whispered and kissed her softly. She had a forceful kiss that was fitting for a queen, and Liliane made a soft sound against her lips. Their hands moved slowly against one another’s skin, touching and feeling and memorizing everything. She felt the princess’s hand cup her breasts and hold the heavy weight as the thumb found a nipple. Their breaths hitched in tandem because Gabrielle’s hand found the slick part of the princess and she slid two fingers into her with a slight smile.
“Oh,” Liliane moaned softly and moved against her fingers.
“You are such a beautiful girl,” the queen whispered, holding a strong arm around her shoulders before she removed her finger, “And it is time that we were truly married.”
The princess whimpered softly. “Please, Lady, don’t stop there,” she whispered into her ear.
Gabrielle smiled and lifted her out of the water and dried her with a soft towel.
“We aren’t officially married yet,” the queen reminded her with a soft smile.
“We are.” the princess smiled. “The princess and the horse man, her husband.”
“I imagine once, for the memories.” She laid Liliane onto the bed and ran her fingers over her, where she was already getting smooth and wet. She brushed her fingertip against the tiny nub that made the princess shudder.
“Oh, please, more,” she whimpered, moving up slightly.
She pressed two fingers into her again. “Like this?”
“Yes, please, don’t stop,” the princess begged and moved against her fingers. She teased her, made her feel better than anything she could imagine and she felt herself tensing. “I’m… oh,” she moaned softly as she clamped down around Gabrielle’s fingers.
“Now it is time for us to get married,” Gabrielle whispered with a soft smile as she kissed the princess.
They wore long white dresses with tiny beads. Their fingers didn’t stop touching until it was time for the rings to be slid onto each other’s hands.
“Now, you are mine forever,” Queen Gabrielle whispered, and pressed a kiss to her forehead before the officiate told them that they may kiss the bride.
Liliane melted against her and pulled back slowly.
And so, the humbled princess and her queen lived happily ever after.