Princess Laurel hated her life.
It wasn’t that she had a wicked stepmother. Her mother was in fact very nice.
It wasn’t that she was being forced to marry an unkind prince from a neighboring territory. Her father had married for love and expected her to do the same.
Laurel knew she was lucky in many respects. She had fine clothes, good food, comfortable rooms, servants. It was all quite perfect, except for one thing.
Images of Princess Laurel were plastered everywhere. Everyone felt like they knew her, and, worse, that she knew them.
The princess knew they meant well, that they adored her. But still it gave her the creeps. All these people acting like they had some close, personal relationship with her even though they’d never met.
She also hated how the people were always commenting on her: her clothes, her hair, her actions. She could feel their watching, judging eyes always. They were constantly taking notice and evaluating her. It was exhausting. So many expectations to live up to. So many people to disappoint.
The pressure increased with each day. When she thought she could bear it no longer, a witch came to court. She looked right at the princess and said, “My dear, it can be as you wish.”
Princess Laurel was taken aback. “Are you speaking to me?”
“Yes, of course. Who else?”
Laurel looked around. No one else was close enough to hear their conversation. The assembled people merely watched from a distance.
She moved closer to the old witch and whispered, “What do you know of my wishes?”
“Ah, my dear, it is as plain as that lovely mole on your face.”
Laurel grimaced. She hated that mole. The tiny thing was the source of much more discussion and debate than its size would seem to warrant.
“Really?” She was unconvinced. “What is it I wish for then?”
“To be anonymous. To be able to walk amongst the people, unnoticed. To no longer be the center of attention.”
Laurel couldn’t believe it. How had the old woman known? She realized, though, that the more important question was, “Can you really help me?”
“Of course. I said it could be as you wish.”
“What must I do?”
“You must find a black cloak, one with a hood. Then on a moonless night, leave the castle and go into the woods to the south. You will find a clearing where the river widens into a pool. Put out your torch, then lean over the water, as if to see your reflection. Of course, there won’t be one because the night will be too dark with the moon in hiding.”
“Yes, of course.”
“And there you must call on the Goddess of Celebrity.”
“The Goddess of Celebrity.” Laurel shrugged, much to the witch’s consternation. The old woman’s face pinched in disappointment. “Brittany, you know? The Goddess of Celebrity?” Laurel’s face remained devoid of understanding. “Goodness, that town crier is useless!” The witch harrumphed and stamped her foot. “But I will deal with that later.”
The witch exhaled and went back to her instructions. “At the wide spot in the river, you must call on Brittany, the Goddess of Celebrity, and ask her to take back the gift she has given you. She will be annoyed with you. No one likes to have her gifts returned, after all. So, you must tell her that it is because you are not worthy of it, that you cannot give the people the beautiful, fashionable, charming princess they deserve. You must ask her to bestow the gift on someone more suitable, more deserving, and let you be the mundane peasant girl you were meant to be.”
“Will it work?” Laurel was afraid to hope.
“Of course, my girl. Celebrity is one of the most powerful of the gods. Celebrity can do anything.”
“Thank you. I will do as you suggest.”
Waiting until the next moonless night was torture for Laurel, but eventually the time came. She donned her cloak and went into the woods as instructed. She prayed to the great and mighty Brittany, Goddess of Celebrity, that she might be relieved of the gift that had been such a burden to her all her days.
Dejected, Laurel returned slowly to the castle. The guard at the gate recognized her and said, “Princess Laurel, what are you doing out in the middle of the night? You must come in right away before anyone else sees you. The people will never stop talking if word of this gets out.”
Laurel started to cry. The guard swept her in quickly and ushered her back to her room. Laurel wept herself to sleep.
When she woke in the morning, the first thing she noticed was a foul smell.
“What on earth—?” she started to say as she stumbled out of bed.
No longer was she surrounded by silks and linen. No longer did she rest on a bed of goose down. Now there was only a small, hard bed and bare walls.
As she went through the day, no one gave her a second glance. No one commented on her clothes or complimented her hair. No one gossiped about who she had spoken to, or wondered who she might marry. She walked through town in blissful anonymity.
She was only a few blocks away when she saw it, one of the many posters of the beloved princess of the land. Only this time it wasn’t her face. It was a face that looked strangely like a younger, more beautiful version of the witch who had instructed her.
“Well,” Laurel said, “she’s welcome to it. She will find out soon enough that celebrity is not all it’s cracked up to be.”
With that, Laurel went to the market to watch the people who had spent so much time watching her.
Selena Thomason writes mostly science fiction, but sometimes feels called to other forms and genres. Her stories have been published in various magazines such as The Literary Bone, Ray Gun Revival, VerbSap, and Alien Skin Magazine. Selena is also Managing Editor of Dragons, Knights, and Angels magazine, as well as an assistant editor and columnist at The Sword Review.