"And so the Prince and Princess rode off into the sunset and lived happily ever after!"
A collective sigh went through the three children sitting at the foot of the rocking chair and they all smiled at each other. Such a happy ending.
A large THUNK came from the area of the kitchen behind them and three heads turned to look at the young woman standing there, the bucket of water she had drawn and brought into the house sitting by the sink, her face flushed with the labor she had just undergone.
One hand on her hip, she gave a hard look at the slightly older woman sitting in the rocking chair who met her glare with a beautific smile of her own.
"Really, Teressa," The young woman said,"Do you have to fill their heads with that nonsense?"
Teressa looked startled that her stories would be labeled with such an unflattering term, her mouth turning down just a bit at the insult.
"But Falina," She said, her tone indicating that she really did not see what all the fuss was about,"It's such a wonderful story and the children do love it so. I don't see why you have to make such a fuss about it all."
Falina sighed, pushed back a strand of hair that had fallen into her eyes and shook her head before addressing her step-mother's observation.
"Teressa, there are three, count them, three royal families in all of Astelbania," She held up three fingers to emphasize her point. "Of those three there is one..." She put two fingers down, leaving the one digit standing,"That has an actual, honest to goodness prince in them. Okay, two if you count his younger brother who wont be ready to ride off into the sunset with any princess for a long time to come..."She paused and took a moment to get her thoughts back on track. It was ineveitable that, in talking with her step-mother, the subject always seemed to meander this way and that, not really going where Falina had meant for it to go.
"The point being, princes do not just appear from nowhere to whisk common girls off on a horse to become princesses. It just does not happen and telling them," She indicated the three upturned faces,"That it does is not helping them prepare for a future where they will more than likely become farmers, merchants or the wives of farmers and merchants!"
She took a deep breath and waited for Teressa to reply. The older woman sat for a moment and cocked her head as if deep in thought, pondering Falina's every word. Falina doubted that was the case as her step-mother was not known to be much for deep thoughts of any kind at all.
Teressa opened her mouth as if to speak, closed it and then opened it again. "But they really LIKE hearing those stories." She said at last and all three of her brothers and sisters nodded in agreement, huge smiles on their faces.
Falina gave a snort of disgust and threw up her hands in surrender. Teressa was a sweet woman with a huge heart and little brains. Why her father married her Falina would never know. She was about as far away from the ideal of her own, deceased, mother as anyone could be. Level and hard headed, Genevive Hardister had been a force to reckon with and Falina took after her in many ways and she could not see eye to eye with her step-mother's airy and unconventional ways.
"Are we ready to go?"
All heads turned to the door where her father stood. In his mid-fourties, Gregor Hardister still had a rugged handsomeness about him though a life time of hard work had taken the youth from his cheeks and replaced them with the lines of age. Still, ;most of those lines came from laughing and smiling with his family and so his face was one of character, the impression that a smile was just beneath the surface ready to break out at any moment.
"Just let me get my cloak," Falina said, wiping her hands on a towel and walking to the clothes peg by the door. She always made the rounds to the market with her father. He had said long ago that he had never proposed to her mother but that, one day, she had set her sights on him and, before he knew it, had bargained her way into his heart and life.
Falina knew she had inherited her mother's gift of bargaining and, since Genevive's death, had taken over the duties of market day.
Grabbing her cloak, she headed out to the wagon with her father and stepped up onto it, seating herself as Gregor grabbed the reins.
As the overloaded wagon lurched into motion, her father looked over at her a concerned look on his face.
"Do I have to ask what I interrupted back there?" He said, his tone indicating that he knew very well what had been going on.
Falina sighed. "I'm sorry, Father," She said, clutching onto the side of the wagon as they worked their way through ruts in the well used path leading to the main road. "It's not that I don't like her. She's a very...sweet person, really. But..."
"But she's not your mother." He finished for her.
Falina bit her bottom lip, not wanting to follow that path of conversation. She knew that Gregor still missed her mother though it had been five years since her death. He loved Teressa as well but her mother had been the love of his life and there was no way to replace that kind of loss.
"I'm sorry. I promise, I'll try not to be so critical of her." Falina sighed, inside rebelling at giving in to Teressa's flights of fancy but willing to do it for her father's sake.
Gregor reached over and gave her a bear hug, his huge arm enveloping Falina's own slight one.
"I know it's not easy and I know you miss your mother terribly," He said, once more taking up the reins. "But Teressa loves the children and she means no harm to anyone."
"I know," Falina nodded as they finally pulled onto the main road joining the traffic of other farmers and merchants headed to market. "I just hope somewhere there are two princes and a princess who are going to come sweep up Aliah, Zackary and Shanna when they get older or they are going to get an unpleasant dose of reality."
Her father's lips moved up into a smile then a chuckle came from him and then an outright laugh.
Falina winced. She had not meant for the statement to be in any way humourous.