Ilya Repin. “Choosing a Bride for the Grand Duke” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Once long ago, as the full moon glowed in the sky, a line of maidens stood in brilliantly colored gowns and feathered headdresses. They chattered and peeped like exotic birds, as they waited for the king to arrive to choose one of them to be his bride.
Katerina alone was silent; she comforted herself with the thought that she was unlikely to be chosen. She had nothing against the king in particular—he seemed pleasant enough. But marriage to him meant a life of seclusion in the women’s quarters, a gilded cage, a life spent producing babies and little else.
Katerina’s mother had convinced her father that reading was a skill that would allow Katerina to assist her future husband. So as she stood waiting in the Great Hall, Katerina read. When the trumpets sounded, announcing the King’s arrival, she quickly tucked her book inside one of her wide sleeves.
As the king strode down the line, each maiden curtsied before him. When he stood in front of Katerina, she bent low, and as the king took her hand, the book slipped from her sleeve and dropped to the ground. The onlookers gasped, but the king merely bent and picked up the book. Glancing at its title, he smiled, commenting that philosophy was an unusual choice for a woman. He handed the book back to Katerina and walked on. Throughout the night, the king talked to all of the women, but he kept returning to Katerina.
At dawn, the King announced he had chosen Katerina to be his queen. As a result, carrying books—even if they were not read–became a fad among unmarried women. Over time, Katerina adjusted to her role as queen and to life in a “gilded cage”—though she had to admit that it was a luxurious, gilded cage that many would envy. Using her position, she convinced the king to let her teach all the women at court to read. A generation later, all of girls in their country, as well as the boys, were permitted to go to school. Finally, after many decades, on another moonlit night, a woman became the leader of the nation. She was also named Katerina, after her distant ancestor, the queen who made books and reading fashionable.
This fairy tale was written when I was feeling hopeful. It is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge—though I am again stretching the meaning of the term “micro.” There were two possible painting prompts, I chose the one above.