THE SCARLET CIRCUS by Jane Yolen preview: “Unicorn Tapestry”
In celebration of the release of Jane Yolen’s THE SCARLET CIRCUS, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book “is a magical collection of love stories, where love is often an act of courage and intelligence.” (Anne Bishop, New York Times bestselling author of the Black Jewels series)
Princess Marian was a middle child and middle—she often complained—in everything else. Her older sister, Mildred, was beautiful and about to be married to the Emperor Karlmage. Her younger sister, Margaret, was striking and about to be wed to a neighboring king, Hal. But Marian, middling pretty and middling smart and middling in all her talents, was about to be married to no one. There were simply no eligible royals left in the world.
“Or at least in the world as we know it,” said her mother. She was never willing to make a completely definitive statement. She sighed and gazed fondly into Marian’s eyes (not blue like Mildred’s or green like Margaret’s but a sort of middling muddy brown). “They are all either married, engaged, enchanted, or strayed. I am sorry, Em. There’s always the convent, you know.”
The tears that filled Marian’s eyes were the same middling muddy color, until they slid down onto her cheeks, where they became ordinary tears. Marian wiped them away quickly. Princesses are not supposed to cry, at least not where they can be seen. She wasn’t sad about the not-marrying part. It had always been her contention that marriage is not necessarily the only thing a princess can do. But she didn’t want to be shut away in a convent, not when she didn’t have the proper strong beliefs.
Marian left her mother’s chamber and trudged slowly down the winding stone stair. She went out a little dark side door, the one that was hidden by a large tapestry. Only Marian and her sisters knew about the door. They had discovered it one day playing catch-as-who-can. The door opened onto a wild part of the vast palace gardens, near an untended lily pool.
Marian was so upset, she picked up a smooth white stone and threw it across the pond. It skipped three times before it sank. “If only stones could grant wishes,” she said aloud.
“As-you-will,” sang out an undistinguished brown bird on the cherry bough. For such a mud-colored bird, it had quite a lovely voice, clear yet tremulous. “As-you-will.” Or at least that is what Marian thought the bird sang.
“What I will,” Marian answered back, “is to be kept out of the convent. And I wish that I had something—anything—that distinguishes me. That makes me magical. Or special. Marriage is not necessary.” She paused. “Though it could be nice.”
Then she turned and walked away, feeling a fool for having made a wish upon an ordinary white skipping stone that had sunk with scarcely a ripple, and for having talked back to a totally uninteresting and ordinary bird. Maybe, she thought fiercely to herself, maybe I do need to be shut away, and not necessarily in a convent, either.
She made an angry tour around all the gardens, which took several hours. By then most of her anger had dissipated, so she slipped back past the ivy and through the hidden door.