It’s a matter of observation and timing, you see. In magic; in music; in everything.
Possibly the song never really had words--more likely, though, my mother simply could never remember them. She is a kind woman and generous, though quick to forget and hard-pressed to make decisions. These are far from dreadful qualities in a mother, but likewise far from desirable in a ruling queen. Though she finally agreed with her council that an alliance by marriage was the only way to save the kingdom, she wept so hard and so copiously at our departure that I never did manage to ask her what the song was named.
Sela wept, too. She is the most gently-bred of my handmaidens, and therefore the one I chose to keep by my side after the six of us crept out of camp by moonlight. It was not as hard as might be imagined: Bree and Tessa, who once were milkmaids, easily knocked the two guards unconscious with their work-sturdied arms. The poor men had thought they were meeting for a midnight assignation, after all.
I do not know if the milkmaids or the other two have been caught yet. I sent them fleeing in opposite directions, in pairs, to lead my soldiers on a merry chase. They would not know which group I was with, you see. Believing that I fled an arranged marriage, they would never think to look for me here, where I was meant to go in the first place.
For her part, Sela, despite and because of her gentility, is playing her part well. Every morning as we take the geese out and every afternoon when we bring them in, I speak out loud to the horse’s head that has been nailed above the kitchen door. More magic, Conrad thinks; more misdirection, in truth. It gives me a chance to check for the report Sela leaves each day in the horse’s mouth.
Today’s note reads: My lady, the Prince continues unfailing kind, though I fear he grows more fretful at my tearful refusals in the bedchamber. He struggles for patience however; and instead tells me of his plans for our kingdoms: how each will support and benefit from each other, how he intends to unite them into a single, stronger whole. Dear my lady, is it not time we ended this deception and returned you to your true place and status?
She is deeply uncomfortable with this charade, of course; as who would not be? She also remains unaware, it seems, that the prince has begun to suspect something is amiss--from little missteps in her comportment, from her choice of words, from the simple fact of her continuing reluctance to fulfill her royal duty. Soon enough, he will wonder where she goes off to every morning and afternoon. Soon enough, he will make it his business to find out, and follow.
By then, perhaps, I will have made my own decision: whether the man I am coming to know--albeit from a distance--is truly worthy of me, or whether I shall simply take the goose up the hill one day and keep on going until I reach some place where I would like to stay. It is rather an extraordinary courtship, I admit, but I have never been a particularly ordinary princess.
“Fancy talking to a dead horse’s head!” Conrad sneers at me, trying to substitute bravado for bravery. “And one without a proper name, even.”
“I have found,” I say, without bothering to look at him,” that most horses, when separated from their bodies, tend to be dead... unless they manage to make better plans. And Falada is a far superior name to Conrad.”
Before he can devise a retort, I walk on ahead of him, out of the kitchen and into the morning, humming a snatch of my “sorcerous” little song.
It’s a matter of observation, you see. And timing.