Juliet by Linda McMullen

A name like Juliet was a burden, especially when your father had wasted the last of the family fortune on drink and your mother had pretended to endure migraines for two decades. My assets were: an expensive education, one fine gown not yet pawned, and a reasonably pleasing person. 

My liabilities I have already described. 

I couldn’t bear to watch them sell the manor — a pox on them who lost it! — so I set off. 

As I walked, the Prince’s carriage passed. He was everything a prince should be, and more. He had forgiven some of our family’s debts. His mercy would permit my parents to live out their days as “gentlefolk in reduced circumstances” rather than outright penury. I saw him stop to engage with peasants, merchants, and lords alike. I was… impressed.

Where art thou, Romeo? 

Three long days trudging toward the palace, after which I arrived footsore, starving, and unfit to be seen. Then, a boon: the skies opened! The storm, I reasoned, would provide a ready-made excuse for my disheveled hair, my stained and spotted dress; it would answer for my being a gentlewoman alone in the world.

I knocked at the palace gate.

The guards took me to the Queen, a harridan known for her ferocious pride. 

I did my elocution teacher credit; my accent was even loftier than her majesty’s. 

She gave me dinner. I was ravenous, but dined delicately, eating only half of what was offered.

She instructed the servants to find a room for me. The room contained an ewer of water and fresh flowers. The bed was piled with downy mattresses. 

The moment the servant exited, I took off my shoes, bathed my blistered feet, and reasoned: This was clearly a test. 

There was only one thing to do. 

I lifted one leaden mattress off the bed and examined it. 

Nothing. 

Nothing on the second, either. Or the third.

The clock struck twelve. 

My arms and shoulders ached, and my back streamed with perspiration, as I removed the last mattress. 

Absolutely nothing. 

I sank to the floor. I had twenty heavy mattresses to lift back onto the bedstead, I would fail the test, I would be driven from the palacedestitute… alone…

I stood – and emitted a most unladylike exclamation.

My ruined foot had trodden on a dried pea.

I must have dragged it off the bedstead with the last mattress.

Thank you, O God. 

It took me hours to put the mattresses to rights. A soft light was breaking through yonder window, and I looked distinctly unrested.

Wait, I thought.  That’s perfect…

The Queen looked her astonishment when I told her I had tossed and turned all night; my sensitive skin had detected the pea beneath the mattresses. 

That, for her, proved my noble origins. That battle was won.

As for the prince… I courted him, properly. I walked with him, read with him… and then we kissed.

Now our love is deep, and our bounty infinite.

About The Author

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over fifty literary magazines, including, most recently, Drunk Monkeys, Storgy, and Newfound.

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