In The Court of the Crimson King by HeadBoy
It was twenty years prior to our story that a crime was committed. Not just any crime, but a heinous one. An infant was stolen. A baby girl. A princess. An Heir to the Throne of Gilder.
King Peter was grief-stricken, Queen Daniella was in a perpetual state of shock. The last they saw of her was her crying, infant, body being hoisted from her crib, while they lay on the floor of their castle, beaten and helpless. Princess Arabella was scant weeks old when her rare beauty and cheer left Gilder by force.
The only thing they had to use as a clue to her whereabouts was the thought that the rival kingdom of Roscoe must have taken her in an act of vengeance. Arabella’s perfectly round head, with a diamond shaped red mark on the top of it, was sorely missed. War between Roscoe and Gilder escalated at that point, with no quarter given to prisoners, and no mercy shown to peasants caught in the line of battle.
After twenty years of brutal rampage, which brings us to today’s tale, Roscoe surrendered. Under duress, Roscoe’s King gave up his sword, and became a slave like the rest of his subjects.
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No matter how much public torture he was put under, he would not say where princess Arabella could be found. He would only say that, “She is alive. You find her.”
So King Peter and Queen Daniella sent out throughout the kingdom, and the former kingdom of Roscoe, for all young women, between 19 and 21 to report to the castle. Young maidens came from far and wide, everyone knew what was happening… after years of battle, the King and Queen would, once and for all, find their daughter.
The line of young women, some maidens, and some peasants, many somewhere in between, stretched as far as the eye could see.
King Peter and Queen Daniella sat on their thrones and watched as, one by one, the women were brought before them. The question was the same each time: Does she bear the birthmark?
“We do not know, Your Highness,” would be the response.
“Then let us find out,” Queen Daniella would say, in her thundering command.
The King’s attendant had the women kneel before them, one by one, and took to clippering away their hair to see if the diamond-shaped mark was to be found. Not on the first head, nor the second. Nor the third.
At the end of an hour, a gaggle of shorn women had gathered outside the gates, some sobbing over their newly bald heads, some in shock, others just staring blankly in disbelief. The pile of hair at the base of the throne grew as well. A mountain really.
A mountain of clippered hair. A morass of blonde, brunette, red and every hue in between, lay spent at the King and Queen’s feet. At the end of the third hour, the pile stood taller than any man in the kingdom. The crowd of young women outside the gate began to mutter, shaking from their horrors of their embaldened state.
The possibility of being princess Arabella elated them all, as they stood in line. The possibility that they were heir to the throne was a fair trade for their locks. Besides, it was a royal decree, the subjects of Gilder would submit willingly, and the subjects of the fallen kingdom of Roscoe would have no choice.
As the crowd swelled, the mutter became giggles, breaking the tension of the trauma they’d all just been subjected to. The now thousand women pointed at one another with the same “it’s not you either” look on their faces. The same amused smirk at how ridiculous it all must look: a cadre, a swarm, of young women, all dressed in their finest, shuffling back and forth, bald.
By the end of the first day, the King held up his hand. “No more today. We will resume at dawn.” The thousands of women still in line slept where they’d stood. The eager pushing and cajoling of the early morning had settled into a more civilized “I hope it’s me” feeling toward nightfall.
The King and Queen barely spoke to one another on their way to their chambers, too exhausted from the emotional up and down of so many possible long-lost heirs that were not to be.
On the second day, the Jester took to mocking the women on their way out of the King and Queen’s throne room. When it was apparent that they were not Princess Arabella, the mocking would follow them out the door, through the courtyard and out into the throng.
Juggling and dancing kept the waiting crowd’s spirits up. The Jester and the constant snipping kept the King and Queen amused and emotionally wound.
The sight of one woman after another being clippered into baldness had not numbed the King and Queen’s enthusiasm, they wanted their daughter back after twenty years of sadness. After twenty years of bitter war and death. The crowd outside had lingered, some afraid to go home without their pride and glory. Other women had taken a fast liking to the simplicity of being hairless. The Royal guard set up an area where the women who wished to have the uneven bits shaven off could have it done for them.
The mountain of hair in the throne room was now beginning a fourth pile. Too huge to describe, too awesome a sight to behold, it stood as testament to the determination of the King and Queen to find their heir.
As more and more women were clippered, the line shrunk, slightly. Then it began to grow again, as more and more women, slightly older, or younger, than the edict had called for queued up in hopes that by some stroke of luck, they were Princess Arabella.
At the end of the week, nearly every woman in the kingdom was shorn. Still no Arabella. Talk in the huddled, bald, mass was that she must have perished long ago, and the King and Queen were fooling themselves. When every woman in the kingdom with even the slimmest possibility of being Princess Arabella had been shaven, the search was ended.
The King and Queen looked down upon the sea of bald domed women, and the King spoke: “Thank you all for helping us try to find our daughter, your princess. We have not given up our search, but we now know she is not here. Go, all of you, return to your homes, return to your villages, return to your families. They must miss you like we miss our, beloved, Arabella.”
The crowd slowly began to disperse, heading out to the hills and valleys to resume their daily toil. It would be a year, at least, before any of them would grow their hair out to near its former length. Many of them would not, opting instead to keep their heads naked, in tribute to the King and Queen and their quest for their daughter Arabella. The kingdom of Gilder was falling silent, falling asleep. Newly nude heads were at home for the first time, sliding around on pillows used to cascading mounds of hair to hold the heads in a place of rest.
Back in the castle, King Peter looked across toward his wife, the Queen Daniella, and asked, “What shall we do with these mountains of hair?”
“I have no idea…” Queen Daniella said. “Arabella!” she shouted.
A lanky beauty appeared from behind the curtains, her hair hiding the long sought-for diamond-shaped birthmark. “Yes, mother?” she said, in deference to her mother, the Queen.
“What should we do with all this hair?” the Queen asked, unable to hide her smirk any longer.
“Perhaps we can use it to make a bed for me. The hiding place in the tower does get cold at night.”
“I have a question,” the King said, in a laughing baritone. “What do we do for fun next week?”
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