The Grumpy Princess
Once upon a time there was a princess. Her name was Gisella. She lived in a kingdom called Ever Sunny. There was no winter in Ever Sunny. The sun always shone brightly on any of the 365 days in the year. With so much sun, the inhabitants of the kingdom were merry people. Everybody carried a big smile on their faces wherever they went. Everybody but Princess Gisella. She was grumpy. Instead of a smile, she had a frown on her face. Her eyebrows were constantly knitted, and she had a look of eternal disapproval in her eyes.
That day, like every day, when she opened her bedroom window and saw the sun shining brightly in her face, she frowned at it. And, frowning, she proceeded to the breakfast table, much to her parents’ chagrin.
“What about turning that frown upside down, my dear?” asked her mother, Queen Anna, smiling sweetly with her perfect set of white teeth.
Gisella knitted her eyebrows even more and ate her poached eggs, managing to keep the frown in her mouth all the time. Her mother sighed, her father sighed, but there was nothing to be done. Gisella refused to smile. When her father told her, “You must be more cheerful, my darling,” she answered, “People who smile too much are not serious.”
After breakfast, she went back to her room, where she spent all her time dedicating herself to her passion of mathematics. Gisella was very good with numbers, but nothing else. She lacked all the social skills that made a good princess. She couldn’t dance without stepping on her partner’s toes, she couldn’t play the lute or the harpsichord, her handwriting looked like chicken scratch and she couldn’t curtsey gracefully enough when introduced to other members of the nobility. Worst of all, in the eyes of her parents, she didn’t care. She was only interested in filling page after page with numbers and equations that were so advanced that they left even her tutors confused, though they would never admit it.
Gisella’s parents were very disappointed in her, but it was their nature to present a cheerful front. So the only thing they could do was to offer gentle advice, followed by an encouraging smile, because they didn’t have in their cheerful hearts what it took to scold a child. “It is so sunny outside, my darling. Don’t you want to go out for a royal picnic with all the nobles of the kingdom? You shouldn’t shirk your duties as a princess. You must be among the nobles because one day you shall be queen,” said her father, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder and smiling benevolently. She shook her blonde head of long, wheat-coloured hair. “Thank you, Papa, but I must finish this equation. Besides, I don’t like the sun. I prefer colder, grey weather. It is more conducive to the solving of equations.” So saying, she leaned over her formulae and numbers, and her father sighed. He knew that he wouldn’t get anything else from her when she was preoccupied with her numbers. Every time she leaned over her papers, the world around her ceased to exist, and only the relationship of numbers mattered.
While Gisella devoted that sunny afternoon to the hard science of mathematics, her parents and the nobles of Ever Sunny were performing their noble duty of socializing at the margins of the river Sunshine. When asked where Princess Gisella was, the king and queen answered “Alas, the child is busy with reams of equations.” The nobles shook their heads and smiled a melancholy smile. They all feared for the future of the kingdom in the hands of the grumpy princess who failed to perform her princessly duties and instead preferred to spend sunny day after sunny day locked up in her room, solving equations nobody understood. It was very sad, but the nobles of Ever Sunny tried to keep a smile in their faces.
“Look, a boat is approaching!” shouted Duke Delmanto.
“There is a person at the stern,” noticed the queen, with a bright smile.
The boat reached the shore of the river and a young lady, blonde, pale and beautiful beyond words, stepped down from the boat onto the shore with the help of the king. She bowed prettily and smiled at the queen and king, a bright, warm, cheerful smile, a smile fit for a princess.
“May I presume, noble sir and noble madam, that you are the rulers of this kingdom?” she asked in a sweet, perfectly regulated voice.
“Yes, my dear. How may we help you?” asked Queen Anne, smiling at the smiling princess.
Always smiling and showing her perfect teeth the colour of pearls, the cheerful young lady bowed again and said, in a modulated, very pleasant voice:
“My name is Princess Anya, formerly of Ever Cloudy Kingdom, a land where the sun rarely shines. Even though our kingdom is rather depressing, I tried to be always cheerful, because I know from instinct that a princess should be cheerful and smile at her people no matter the weather outside. But my brother repeatedly chided me for not being serious enough; and for smiling too much. I had to be more serious, he said. As much as I tried to comply with his restrictions, however, I couldn’t. I have, you see, a cheerful nature and I cannot help it. So one day my brother told me to pack my things; he put me in this boat and exiled me from the kingdom. I have been roaming the water courses ever since. It gets rather chilly at night, and I get lonely, but I always try to see the positive side of things.”
Everybody in the kingdom became enchanted with this visitor from another kingdom. The king and queen invited Princess Anya to live in their kingdom as a guest of honour, and introduced her to Princess Gisella, who frowned at the smiling princess, much to her parents’ disappointment. “Would you like to show Princess Anya your room, my dear?” suggested the queen.
“I would like to, but at the moment I’m much too busy calculating pi,” replied Gisella, going to her room and closing the door behind her. The queen and king sighed, even though they had a faint smile on their faces.
And so, day after day Princess Anya shone brightly on Ever Sunny Kingdom, always cheerful, always smiling, very accomplished, gaining the hearts of the inhabitants, be they nobles or commoners. Meanwhile, Princess Gisella kept to her quarters, too busy with her equations to realise what was going on around her in the kingdom.
One day, a very sunny, bright day like all the days in Ever Sunny, but even brighter and sunnier, the queen and the king called Princess Gisella into their room because they needed to talk to her. She showed up, with her grumpy face and knitted brow, not paying much attention to her surroundings because she was on the verge of a major mathematical discovery and the call of her parents cut her calculations short.
“Approach, my dear, said the king,” smiling benevolently at her. Gisella approached the throne.
“After much reflection, we have decided that Princess Anya will be a much more fit heiress to the throne,” said the queen, smiling at Gisella from her golden chair.
“Hum. The logical conclusion that I infer is that I am to be replaced by Princess Anya, I believe,” said Gisella, frowning as usual.
“You are a girl with a logical mind,” stated the king, nodding and smiling at Gisella. “Your inference is correct,” he added.
“I see. And what is going to happen to me?” Gisella asked, feeling a little uneasy, but not too much. She had a logical mind and she was curious to know what her fate might be.
“My dear, I’m afraid there is no room at all for a grumpy person in this very smiling kingdom. You will become obsolete,” replied the queen, trying to sugar-coat her harsh words with her sweetest smile.
“I see now. This means I have to leave the kingdom,” concluded Gisella.
“Precisely, my dear. I’m glad you have a bright intellect. I wish you had a bright smile to go with it,” said the king, nodding approvingly and smiling at Gisella.
“And when am I supposed to leave?” asked Gisella.
“No time like the present. Pack your things and go to Ever Cloudy Kingdom with this letter of recommendation,” said the king, handing in a sealed parchment to Gisella. She nodded, and left the room. She had to pack, and pack fast. The carriage to the Ever Cloudy Kingdom was set to depart in one hour.
Gisella took the trouble to pack her most important mathematical papers so she could work on them while in exile, and two or three dresses and a coat. “Better to travel light,” she thought.
When she was halfway to Ever Cloudy Kingdom, Gisella decided to open the letter addressed to the new regent, Prince Robert, Anya’s brother. The letter contained the following:
Most Noble Prince,
We entrust you with our beloved Princess Gisella. Taking into consideration her very serious character, we have decided that she will make an ideal wife for you. She is gifted with a logical mind, is very serious and never smiles. Her constant grumpy face has ever been a reason for concern in our sunny and cheerful kingdom, but we concluded that she will make a perfect wife for you in your cloudy kingdom where seriousness is a well-regarded, and desirable quality. She comes with her dowry that will be delivered by our coachman as soon as you announce the date of the wedding. I hope the amount written down in the order of payment will be to your satisfaction. We are sure that our dear Gisella will make you a good wife and the perfect queen for your ever-gloomy, ever-overcast kingdom.
Your loyal and regal servants,
King Astolfo and Queen Anna of Ever Sunny.
“What?” asked Gisella, frowning and knitting her brow as if it was the end of the world. And for her it was. “I’m not going to be sold by my parents like cattle. I’m not a prize bovine; I’m a mathematician! It is bad enough that my parents replaced me with Princess Anya, but considering the circumstances I totally agree she will make a better queen than I. However, selling me to a foreign prince I know nothing about is going too far. I must try my luck elsewhere.”
When the carriage stopped at a crossroads to wait for another carriage to go by, Gisella jumped out of her seat with her valise, and hid behind a tall and ancient oak tree of gnarled branches. She sighed with relief when her carriage disappeared in the dusty road. The coachman hadn’t noticed she wasn’t still in the carriage.
The sun was setting behind the hills when Gisella arrived in front of a sign that said:
Straight ahead, 3 miles
She walked the three miles and found herself in a kingdom of tall trees and luxuriant green bushes that flanked a wide river of clear waters. She could see the fishes jumping in the river.
Realising suddenly that she had no money whatsoever, Gisella stopped by a road inn and asked the innkeeper where she could find work.
“Well, my young lady, the castle is always in need of help. You can go there tomorrow morning and try your luck at getting a position,” suggested the owner.
And so she did. In the morning she put on her dark-grey travelling dress, packed her valise and set out for the majestic castle of uncountable towers, which was located on top of the highest hill in Evergreen, surrounded by parks and overlooking the river.
Gisella passed the barbican and asked a royal guard for directions. “Excuse me, where is the servants’ entrance?” she asked, very polite and very grumpy.
“Walk to the end of the cobblestone path into the rear courtyard and it is the third door to the left. But, miss, I doubt you will get a job as a serving maid with that sour face of yours,” said the guard.
“Well, that is for my employers to decide. But anyway, thank you for your suggestion,” she said, knitting her brow with determination and walking to the servants’ entrance.
As Gisella neared the entrance, she saw a plump lady in the courtyard standing on a crooked stool and stirring a huge cauldron over an open fire. Gisella asked the woman if she could get a job in the castle. The lady paused from her work to wipe her brow with a rag. Tucking the rag back into her apron pocket, she scrutinized Gisella from head to toe before finally saying,
“You look pretty enough to be a serving girl, but you should smile a little.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. I’m always grumpy,” answered Gisella. “But I’m hard-working and can do any kind of work you put before me.”
“We need a cleaning girl, if that suits you.”
Gisella nodded, still creasing her brow. “That will be fine with me. When can I start?”
“Now. Follow me. The woman led her through the door into a supply room. “Put on this uniform that hangs on the second peg. It’s a size too big but will have to do. Then gather up the bucket and cloth beneath it. You are to clean the library, make the fire and clean King Roderick’s room. These will be your chores for today. Your room is in the seventh gable of the east attic. Lucky for you, there is a small fireplace there. Lunch is served in the kitchen and dinner as well, when the bell sounds. Now get going,” said the plump lady, pushing Gisella.
As soon as she had left her valise in the attic and changed into her grey uniform, Gisella started to clean the king’s bedchamber. When she was cleaning his desk she noticed reams of papers with numbers written on them. She looked at the first sheet and shook her head. The calculations were not accurate.
Then she went to the royal library and made the fire, dusted everything and found even more papers with calculations on a side table. “Tsk-tsk, this balance of payments is full of mistakes. I cannot stand it.” If there was one thing Gisella couldn’t abide it was inaccurate calculations. They made her even grumpier than she usually was. So she took a pencil and an eraser from her apron and worked on the calculations until the expenditure column matched the revenue column. “There” she said when she finished. “Much better now.” After this, hearing the bell tolling, she went down to lunch.
The next day Gisella tackled the calculations in the king’s bed chamber. She also cleaned what she was supposed to clean. By dinner time, the plump lady, whose name was Cecily, brought sweet wine and a gigantic pie to the rough-hewn eating table. Everybody cheered the elaborate dessert. “Our good King Roderick sent this down to us. He is very happy with the results of a certain balance of payments he was working on turned out all right and he wanted us to share his happiness.”
Gisella frowned over her pie. She quite liked the king, even though she had never seen him. “He seems to be generous to his people, and he wasn’t trying to cheat on the balance of payments. It was wrong because he is not good with numbers,” she reflected, munching the delicious pie of succulent candied fruits.
Two weeks later, Gisella was cleaning in the library again and found other sheets of papers with payment balances, all wrong again. She sighed, rolled her sleeves up and set to work. “I feel sorry for this king. He is not good at collecting taxes and tributes. He can be fooled by anyone; any unscrupulous treasurer or dishonest tax collector can pull his leg. What a shame, as he is such a generous monarch. I have to help him.”
While she was working on the calculations, a young man, about 20 years old, tall and thin, with a pointed nose and dark eyes and quite good-looking, entered the library. He looked over what Gisella was doing and smiled.
“So you are my little calculation angel who fixes the balance of payments of the kingdom for me. Thank you very much, miss. I don’t know what I would do without you,” he said.
Gisella looked up at the young king and couldn’t help herself. He looked so grateful and so harmless and so handsome that she smiled. For just a second. A dry, short smile. But it was a smile. “I’m glad you appreciate my work, Your Majesty,” she said, curtsying. “But there is one thing I don’t understand… I hope I’m not being impertinent, but how is it that you don’t have anyone you can trust to manage your balance of payments for you?”
The king sighed. “I used to have a royal treasurer, a leftover from the time of my father and even grandfather. But I found out he was cheating the kingdom and taking money from the treasury. Then I decided to take the matter into my own hands. Unfortunately, as you must have noticed, I’m a dud with numbers. I was trained to attend tournaments and to compose music and poetry. I wish my parents had given me a more practical and less kingly education.”
“I understand your predicament.” Something in the kind eyes of the king compelled Gisella to tell him her story.
“And so here I am, an ex-princess, but much happier than when I was at home. At least here my talents with numbers are appreciated,” she added, still grumpy but with a flicker of light in her eyes, at that time, the colour of the deep waters of the river that could be seen from the library window.
“You are too precious to my kingdom to carry on as a mere cleaning girl. From now on you shall be my treasurer and sleep in a guest room in the palace,” decreed the king, smiling at her, but unaffectedly.
“His smile doesn’t look like it’s pinned to his face like everybody I know in Ever Sunny. If all the smiles were like that, I think I would start to like smiles much more than before, when I found them detestable,” thought Gisella. She bowed to King Roderick. “I would be honoured, Your Majesty. And I promise I’ll do my best. All the taxes will be collected and the revenue will be accounted for as it should.”
The king kissed her hand and bowed. “I will feel much more at ease to go on royal hunts and to my tournaments when I know my very diligent treasurer is taking good care of the kingdom’s finances,” he said, leaving the library.
And so Gisella became the treasurer of Evergreen, respected by all. Nobody cared if she was grumpy, or if she knitted her brow. Everybody was happy that the finances of the kingdom were in capable hands. Gisella was a very important person in the kingdom and King Roderick felt that finally his kingdom was running in harmony.
One day, when Gisella was calculating the taxes due by the merchants, King Roderick came into her office.
“My advisers tell me it is time for me to get married,” he said.
“Oh. And have you decided on your bride?” asked Gisella over the papers.
“I don’t want a ninny princess with a pea-brain. I don’t like princesses who embroider, spend the day in front of the mirror and smile falsely at the people from the balconies and from carriage windows. I have enough princely education for both of us. Certain princesses are able to lead a kingdom to ruin when they choose their birthday jewellery. I don’t want this kind of burden on the shoulders of my people.”
Gisella nodded. “But, as far as I know, princesses—and I know a lot of them—they are all the same. It will be very difficult to find a princess with the qualities you desire, Your Majesty, if I may say so.”
“But I have the very thing right in front of my eyes! Gisella, my dear, would you marry me and be the Queen of Evergreen? Since I first set eyes on you, I have found you irresistibly enchanting,” said King Roderick, holding Gisella’s hand. She blushed.
“I… I don’t know, Your Majesty. I am no longer a princess. I’m quite destitute. Besides, I am always grumpy and I’m not good at smiling and following the royal protocol. My parents tried their best to force the Guide to the Perfect Princess, a book penned by my great-grandmother, down my throat, but I found it too boring and foolish. I preferred to learn the table of logarithms from John Napier—much more exciting, and useful, in my opinion.”
King Roderick laughed. “This is exactly why I want you as my queen and nobody else, my little turtle dove. Oh, please say yes. I find your grumpy face so natural and refreshing when compared to the smiling princesses at the balls and tournaments I go to. And you are very important to this kingdom. I don’t know what I should do without you. If you marry me you don’t need to go to any royal functions. You can stay in the castle, immersed in your calculations and equations. I would love you even more if it was so. You will be the first queen mathematician in the annuls of our illustrious kingdom.”
“Then I accept your offer, my king.” And Gisella smiled, her short, dry smile. The king took her in his arms. The next day, the wedding was announced.
And so Gisella became the first mathematician queen ever known in that or any other neighbouring kingdom. Every year Evergreen hosted a meeting of mathematicians and scientists and gave the Golden Pi prize to the mathematician who had made the most important discovery. Evergreen became well known for its excellent mathematical schools and academies, all sponsored by the king and queen.
And Newton, the son of Roderick and Gisella, became one of the most famous mathematicians in fairyland, having solved many impossible equations and created the first royal computer that fairyland had heard of. As for Ever Sunny—it is still there, and Anya is their queen. After a severe drought that depleted half the kingdom’s storehouses of food in no time at all, Queen Anya was able to recover the kingdom’s losses by advertising a special kind of toothpaste that gave anyone who bought it a big, very white smile that didn’t go away but stayed pinned to the face until the jaws of the customer ached.
Livia Finucci has had prose and poetry published in anthologies and magazines such as Scifaikuest, Tales of the Talisman, Kepler’s Cowboys, Gears and Levers, Here There Be Dragons and Trump: Utopia or Dystopia. She was nominated for the Dwarf Stars Award in 2014. In her free time she enjoys botanical painting and feeding the street seagulls.