The princess sat contentedly in her miniature throne, stuffing birthday cake into her mouth with gloved hands. Her mother, Queen Jordanna, winced every time she reached for another bite, as the princess was dressed all in white.
The King did not seem to notice of the festivities around him. His guests were drunk and loud, but he seemed worried. Perhaps he knew what was coming. King George was said to have a touch of premonition, although no one would dare to suggest such a thing in his presence.
It was after dessert served, when, suddenly, a delicate cough floated through the room. Hardly anyone noticed, such was the bustle and noise of the feast.
Princess Margret’s mother realized first, and she immediately turned to her daughter to offer her some water. A servant reached out a hand and patted Margret on the back. Her older sister, Julia, turned and shook Margret’s shoulders. Slowly, guests turned to watch, until the entire room was staring at the young Princess.
As she coughed, smoke began to pour out of her nose. At first there were just small puffs of smoke, hardly noticeable, perhaps explained away as dust or icing sugar. But as the Princess’s cough continued, the air in front of her face slowly became cloudy. Then she was surrounded by a great billow of smoke, obscuring the guests’ view of the spectacle and shrouding the high table in an acrid fog.
Julia began to cry, a high keening wail that caused everyone in the hall to shiver in alarm.
Finally, Margret’s coughing ended. The smoke began to dissipate, Julia’s screaming the only warning of what our guests were about to see.
Slowly, the scene came into focus. The Queen was prostrate, having fainted. The King was standing, a wild look in his eye, his sword drawn and raised high. The elder Princess continued to sob.
And the young Princess was gone.
It took several seconds for the guests to realize what had happened, and then there was pandemonium. The search for the princess began that night. It continued in earnest for several weeks, then months, then years, until even the King gave up and resigned himself to the loss of his youngest daughter.
Princess Margret’s disappearance took on the stuff of legends.
Rumours spread that the princess had transformed into a dragoness, and she was being kept deep in the dungeons. Sometimes, on especially quiet nights, you could hear the princess rage and roar, struggling desperately to escape her prison.
Others claimed she had been poisoned, the smoke a distraction. They were onvinced that Princess Julia would be the next target, and the stories so frightened the remaining Princess that on her 8th birthday, and every birthday afterwards, she refused to leave her room.
Still others said that Margret had been stolen away and that she was living out her days in some magical realm. What the magical folk would have wanted with a three year old princess, no one could fathom. A princess would be meaningless to them, and it was far easier to steel common children.
Even when the King, Queen, and their daughter, and her daughter’s daughters, were dead and gone, the spirit of the lost Princess Margret hung over the kingdom, shaping the fears of the common folk, and fuelling their odd tradition of lighting candles on each child’s birthday, so the children could blow away the smoke and thus avoid the unfortunate luck of Princess Margret, who had been swallowed whole by a cloud of smoke on her own birthday, never to be seen again.
This was just a fun little exercise, where the goal was to write an original story (~600 words) that explains how a common tradition was developed. My story tells the tale of Princess Margret, who mysteriously disappeared on her third Birthday, sparking the common tradition of lighting candles on a birthday cake. Hope you enjoyed it!