Once upon a time there was a Troll Princess. She was the only child of the Troll King and the Troll Queen, and her name was Princess Emma.
One day Emma was busy in her work room when she got a message to attend her parents in the throne room. Emma wondered a little as she made her way through the castle. “Its probably something to do with my birthday,” she thought. She would be turning eighteen soon and her parents were full of plans and excitement for the party.
“I was already married to your father when I turned eighteen,” said her mother. “Its time for us to choose you a husband.”
Emma listened absently as her parents discussed her options. They had some very particular ideas on who her future husband should be. After all, one day, he would be the King, and rule at their daughter’s side. He had to be a prince, of course. And more than that – he had to be a human prince.
“So clever, you know, humans” said her father. He liked to think of himself as an enlightened, modern ruler. “They are the coming thing. So many of them around these days, too.”
“And so…delicate,” said her mother. “So soft.”
It was no use arguing with her parents once they had set their minds on something. Emma just nodded politely , and escaped back to her workroom. She did not have any strong feelings about husbands or princes and she was in the middle of setting up a model for a drip irrigation system.
In the following weeks the King and Queen were busy, happily working their way through long lists of candidates. “Emma,” the King would call out “what do you think of this one? Prince Roggarious Percephanus of the Golden Hill. It says here he is of a great and ancient family. Although it seems he is rather ancient himself.”
“Hmm,” said Emma, going through a pile of books on subsistence agriculture.
“Or this one. Prince Lillman Lillmat. Sorry. Limlat. A benefactor of the poor. That sounds all right?”
“Umm,” said Emma, having found a pamphlet on new technique for building houses out of mud.
“I like the sound of this one, my dear,” said the Queen. “Prince Imrehan Rogerah the Third. ‘A King of the Table’.
But the door was already closing behind Emma, on her way to the stables.
The Queen and Emma had spent some enjoyable hours dressing for the occasion. Emma liked the novelty of it all. She moved slowly in the rustling sweep of her skirts; her claws kept getting tangled in the lace edging, and she had to breath carefully to avoid popping the buttons off her tight bodice.
The prince arrived on the stagecoach with a marked absence of royal fuss. He had no entourage – no servants or advisor. He smoked nonstop and peered closely at the decorations.
“Valuable, is it?” He asked, fingering a tapestry.
“So pleased to meet you,” he said, looking at the throne. “Do you know – is that solid, or gold plated?”
An elaborate tea was set up in the royal rose garden, and the King and Queen soon found a reason to excuse themselves.
“It’s not a problem. About the enchantment.”, the Prince said earnestly as soon as they were gone. “I’ve got a very good man who can fix that for you. You know, if the marriage itself does not do the trick.” He tilted a silver teapot, considering his reflection.
He put the teapot down. “The enchantment. You know. The – um – troll thing? Or can’t you speak about it?”
What on earth could he mean? “Enchantment”? And then – she understood. Embarrassment burnt up inside her.
“I’m sorry for the misunderstanding” she managed, “but I really am a troll. There is no enchantment”. She hated the apology in her voice. It seemed desperately important that he not notice her mortification.
“Oh I quite understand” prince Stefan smiled. “You cannot discuss it – wrong of me to even bring it up.” He gave her knee a friendly pat, and put his cigarette out in a teacup.
Luckily the Queen chose that moment to rejoin them and after some discussion of the state of the royal treasury, Emma made her escape.
She found her way to the back kitchen steps. The sun was setting behind the stables, and long shadows stretched over the stable yard. The stage coach driver was grooming his horses. It was soothing to watch the regular movement of brush over flank, and hear the deep contented snorting of the horses.
She picked at the rosemary and geranium bushes growing next to the steps. Soon she was absentmindedly constructing a small and fragrant water turbine out of the twigs and leaves.
The driver hummed as he worked, a deep buzzing like a large cat purring. As a matter of fact there was a cat draped across his shoulders – an unusually large black cat with one white ear. Emma became absorbed in the turbine. She twiddled it in her fingers, watching the leaves spinning.
“Want to try it out?”
She looked up into a pair of yellow eyes in a fierce troll face.
“The inflow to the horse trough should do.” He took the turbine carefully from her, and walked off towards the trough, the cat following. After a moment, Emma got up and joined him.
The turbine spun in the water, losing leaf blades one by one.
Emma helped him fish the leaves out, and watched as he deftly reinserted them.
“You are the Princess Emma,” he said. “I’m Driver”.
The turbine went back into the water. It refused to spin. Emma retrieved it and had a look.
“So. What did you think of His Highness the Prince?”
Emma glanced up at him. The cat was back on his shoulders. Close up, she could see the scars that raked across its face, and its bitten ears.
“Prince Stefan? His highness doesn’t believe I’m a troll.”
Driver frowned and said, “He doesn’t believe you are a troll. What does he think you are, then. A mouse?”
Emma grinned. Somehow the memory was no longer so painful. Why had she been so embarrassed? “He thinks I’m a human Princess under enchantment. You know. To be cured by a kiss and all that.”
Emma carefully placed the turbine back in the inflow, and they watched it spin. The cat twitched his tail.
“This is Trollcat,” said Driver. “He likes you”.
“How can you tell?”
The turbine spun, and wobbled, and broke apart again.
“I must go,” said Emma. “They will be wondering. Thanks. And goodnight”
She left him gathering leaves from the water.