|Mariella by R.W. Whitefield|
Mariella uses magic to protect her kingdom, but also to choose her gender from male to female. As a princess, she knows she can rule her kingdom well if only her father, the king, would accept that she is not a boy. Yet the king banishes her to the servant’s quarters before marrying her off to the enemy kingdom. Mariella loves her new husband, an ice-cold prince, and has the power to save his kingdom. But first she must seduce him and win his heart.
Mariella put on her slippers and walked slowly down to the courtyard, where she knew her father would be waiting to see her. Her breath came short and quick, as though the winds of the kingdom had sucked it all out of her. Her knees quaked as though the earth were quaking. She thought of going back up to her room and putting on her father’s old clothes again—being crowned as king rather than queen—all to avoid whatever might come when her father saw her as his daughter. That would mean admitting defeat. She held her head up high, although her heart fluttered in her chest.
Her father stood in the courtyard, wrapped in the same furs he had worn at the cabin. He looked frail and lost, and Mariella’s heart went out to him. She stepped into the courtyard without hesitation. As Ter looked about the room, Mariella went up to him and embraced him.
Ter’s body went stiff in her arms, and Mariella let him go. He frowned at her. “Who dares to touch me?”
Mariella smiled at him. “It’s me, father.”
“Father?” Ter frowned. “I never had a daughter. I have a son.”
“I was your son.” Mariella bent down and took his trembling hand in hers, and kissed it as an adoring daughter would do to her father, to pledge her loyalty and love to him. “And today I am your daughter, Mariella.”
Ter stared at his daughter, and Mariella went on. “And you promised that you would place the crown upon my head when I took the throne. Will you crown the Queen of the Kingdom of the Earth today?”
King Ter yanked his hand away from hers. “You are an imposter. You expect me to believe that you’re my son, then you want me to crown you? Leave or I’ll have you killed!”
“Do you not see my face? Do you not see how much I look like my mother? Do I not look like you at all? I know you have not watched me grow, but can you not believe it is me?” She moved into the light so that the king could see her face.
The king stared at her in astonishment. “You have her eyes. Those are my wife’s eyes. My son’s eyes.”
It was then that Salaria came through the door, and the king’s face darkened. “You! I know you, witch. You’ve turned my son into a girl to spite me—I’ll have your head!”
“No, Father,” cried Mariella. “I asked her to help me. This was my choice. Whether I am son or daughter to you, I am still loyal, and I am still your heir.” She knelt before him. “Will you place the crown upon my head at sundown?”
King Ter pushed her away. “What kind of king will you be, when you sit on the throne in a woman’s dress? Other kingdoms will think you weak, and you will never have an heir. What of the manly arts? Can you hold a sword, or shoot an arrow?”
Salaria placed her hand on Mariella’s shoulder, spreading out her other arm so that her cape billowed out behind her. Even though she stood, Mariella could hear Salaria’s whisper echoing in her ear as though by magic. “Remember, Mariella, you can call upon the wind and the earth to slay your enemies. You are not weak.”
Mariella had heard the sneer in her father’s voice when he called her aunt a witch. She thought of her aunt’s advice to her, long ago—that it was better to be thought strange than to be thought dangerous. “I cannot shoot or stab, but I would not be the first queen or king not to. I can rule the kingdom as well as my mother could have.”
The king’s face twisted in anger. “You dare compare yourself to my wife? If she could see what became of her son, it would break her heart.” He gathered up his robes and walked past her, out the door.