It is… interesting, being a princess but without the wealth to go with it. If anything, people expect more of you. She still gets a fair amount of gentle mockery from her family about putting on airs. The whites, though, are particularly flummoxed. A poor black girl and an immigrant who outrank Big Daddy socially have taken some getting used to. Tiana throws back her head and laughs at the high society who come to dine at her restaurant, while their knees fight the urge to curtsy and they sit on their hands to quell the urge to wag fingers in her face for being uppity. Naveen is less comfortable with his new status. His kingdom was small and poor enough but he was never anything but royalty there. The first time a stranger in the street called him “boy” Tiana had to drag her fuming husband down an alley and explain what lynchings were.
Business is booming though. The royal connection attracts wealthy customers like a honeypot. There’s even a craze for gumbo and jambalaya, collard greens and catfish, in the grandest mansions of the South. Last week she saw a southern belle with straggly, mousey cornrows. She shakes her head and sighs, but counts the cash.
She asked Naveen if there was a national dish back home he wanted her to learn to make. His eyes bulged and the blood left his face. “Fricassee of frogs legs” he whispered. She retched and heaved.
They never speak, now, of Maldonian cuisine.
The soldier known round here as Fa Mulan came home five years ago. The marriage hoped for and dreamed of by old Fa Zhou, allying their family with the prestigious Lis never came to pass, but the old man can’t complain. His child has covered them in glory enough with twelve years of daring military victories. Li Shang, on the other hand, was never much of a soldier, and although they say Mulan saved his skin a dozen times, eventually his reckless ways were bound to catch up with him. Mulan, or Ping – that’s still the name the soldiers use – was grieved when Shang was reported dead, but there was relief too. Shang wanted marriage, wanted a dutiful wife with grace and decorum. Shang did not want Ping.
Although the villagers at home still use the name Mulan – more out of deference to the old man than anything. They’re used to the retired soldier’s masculine attire and manner. And though some whisper, dishonouring a war hero is not to be thought of. The face Fa Ping sees reflected in the pond: weathered, scarred and manly, does not look like a stranger anymore.
John Smith never came back, and married her but still the English came to claim her. Kidnap her. Take her to his land.
Rebecca – they made her stop using the old name, said it wasn’t Christian – tries not to think too much of home. She knows the forest isn’t what it was. She hopes her father died before the worst of it.
Sometimes she prays to the God they told her about. They told her He is merciful. He’d have to be, she thinks. It keeps her from crying to the tribe’s spirits for vengeance. They never saved her people, after all.
John – a different John (strange how they share names) who took a fancy to her – takes her to churches, displays her like a prize. She’s a curiosity, a tame savage. She thinks about the things she showed John, her John, back home. The wolves, the waters, the colours of the wind. She never knew then he thought her savage.
She saw John Smith again, alive and well. When she’d thought him dead, his broken promises for her and for her people didn’t hurt. But there he was, trying to avoid her eye. Alive while her people starved and burned and bled, betrayed.
She’s never seen him since. She’s sure he keeps away.
But she prays every night, now, to the new, merciful God. The picture of wifely devotion. She knows that John, this new and pious John, is pleased to see her kneel and fold her hands.
She prays each night for disease, for fire, for famine, for war. She prays to die the way her people died. If God is merciful, she thinks, death will come soon.
(cn child sexual abuse referenced)
She was 12 the first time Jafar tried to force her father into betrothing her to him, and though she knew well enough it was power he was after, the way he looked at her: mocking, arrogant, acquisitive, made her want to scrub her skin raw. By the time she was 15 she’d felt more than his eyes on her body. She tried not to be alone in the palace, got out when she could. That’s where she met him. A boy almost her own age who saw her as a companion, not a possession. No wonder she’d been smitten.
She wonders now if she didn’t move too fast. An irrational fear that Jafar might somehow come back had made her keen to marry, to be off the market. When the infatuation wore off, she realised all she wanted from Aladdin was friendship.
Their sex life foundered early. It was hard for her to relax, to trust. Flashbacks left her sobbing in his arms. To his credit he was patient, hid his frustration. Tried not to pressure her.
Now he’s Sultan, he’s taken a second wife, Arzoo, a sweet, light-eyed girl with a sex drive that matches his. She’s happy for them both, and enjoys their closeness. Sometimes they snuggle, all three together, and read stories, eat sweetmeats and laugh all night. Other nights she curls up alone in her chamber, happy knowing they’ll keep each other entertained till dawn. She loves them both a lot.
Arzoo is filling out, she’s noticed lately. She hopes the baby will be a little girl. She knows Aladdin always wanted a daughter. And if it is, Jasmine will keep her safe, make sure she always has a refuge in her second mother’s chamber.
She won’t let anyone harm a hair on her head.
She’s aged well, the village gossips tell each other. Kept her figure too. Still lives up to her name. Such a pity, really, that she doesn’t make the most of it.So sad it never worked out with that lovely Prince. Or Gaston! Whatever happened to him? She had her pick! And now look! Still in her papa’s old tumbledown cottage (although it does look considerably smarter than it did in his day), still tinkering with his ridiculous contraptions (although the oven timer and shut off switch she sold the baker has cut down on accidents, and that what did she call it? Combine Scythe? She designed for the farm makes light work of harvest. In fact hardly a house in the village hasn’t got one of Belle’s inventions making life a little easier.
Oh, she’d loved the Beast, perhaps the way a captive loves her captor, just at first – nobody was calling it a healthy start to a relationship. But she’d come to love his roughness, the way his massive arms encircled her at night. The musky smell of his fur. His blazing eyes. When the spell was broken, and a pallid, blond youth stood in front of her… Well, it was safe to say the magic died.
He didn’t grudge her going. Their love had been real enough, while it lasted, to break the spell. For that he’d always be grateful.
She still visits the castle every now and then. More often than not to borrow a book.
She’s a funny girl, the village gossips say, because although her chestnut hair is streaked with grey now, to them she’ll always be little Beauty: the willful, bookish inventor’s daughter, who didn’t know a good thing when she had it.
Ariel has now spent more of her time on land than she ever did as a mermaid. Even swimming with what her relatives see as her strange bifurcated tail hardly seems strange anymore. She does think of the speed and power she had as a mermaid. She can barely hold her breath more than a minute now, and her gills closed up long since. She knows her sisters still shake their heads and sigh over her – why would anyone choose a life like that? Choose to change their body, at such great risk? Especially anyone with the great good fortune to be born a princess of the sea! She can’t explain to them that she always knew where she belonged.
As queen, Ariel has made it her business to ensure her human subjects all know how to swim. She visits all the schools regularly to impress the basics of water safety on classes full of chattering children. Her own son, to his grandparents’ relief, takes after the leggy side of the family. (Although she was delighted to find, behind his little ears, tiny gill flaps.) Sebastian – named for a long dead friend – regularly swims down to visit his mother’s family. And though the mermaids laugh and tug his feet, he keeps on going back. Ariel knows the feeling of being in the wrong element. She’s ready to let Sebastian leave the land forever. But as the heir to the throne, she knows there’ll be a row with his father. She finds herself wondering if it’s not too late: another heir would solve the problem.
But oh! How she wishes she could still spawn like her mother had! Human pregnancy was not something she’d factored in. Mind you, for her husband, she’d still go through worse.
Marriage, not the kiss, woke Sleeping Beauty up. It takes a little while to come round properly when you’ve been out of it for a century. Aurora never could be sure if the Prince had ever gone through the formality of asking for her hand in marriage. It was entirely possible she’d nodded a sleepy assent, presuming this to be yet another dream. However, the more she came to know her new husband, the less she believed it. He wasn’t the type to ask, he was the type to assume. To insist.She soon sought refuge from the life she’d sleepwalked into, (or rather been led into, unable to protest) with other needles. Among the many innovations she was expected to be grateful for – her husband constantly told her he’d not only saved her life but (to hear him tell it) singlehandedly whisked her out of the dark ages – these needles, with their sweet doses of oblivion almost as deep as the slumber she had enjoyed before her rude awakening, were the ones she loved the most. After a while, though, she hated being enslaved by both the drugs and her marriage, she kicked the habit and shinned down the climbing roses that still covered the palace walls. The thorns that tore her skin and the cold moonlight made her feel more awake than ever before.
Far from the castle she’d grown up in, scarred and scared the king would come to claim her, she found another kind of needle to help her lose the look of fugitive nobility and blend in with the scenery.
Now she is so wrinkled, she likes to say she looks every day of her 173 years – and yet her skin is blooming. She’s wreathed her body in blood-red roses and long, sharp thorns. Whenever she starts to crave the sweet injected sleep she knows the buzz of her needle tracing yet more twisted vines on her sinewy old frame will shake her awake her again.
She doesn’t trust sleep any more.