(Or: The Girl in Burlap)


Ellie LaTraille

Once, in a faraway land (the name of which is not of importance to us at the moment), there lived a young girl who had been bourn in the town of Hadria, and, as a result, was called Adriana, as was custom. But after some time, her father decided that Hadria was no longer safe for them, and they fled to the aforementioned faraway land.

Adriana and her father settled into this new land fairly well, except for the fact that Adriana had grown up with many brothers and liked participating in sports and events that were reserved for men in the new land. And, hence, while Adriana was quite popular back in Hadria, she was severely unpopular in the new land. She was not allowed to participate.

Adriana grew up in this new land, with people telling her what she could and could not do. Soon, her father had remarried, an awful woman with four children of her own. Two of them were boys, and two of them were girls. Adriana was the youngest of them all by only a year. While Adriana was far more attractive than the girls, and far more capable than the boys, she did not fit in with either of them, and hence was the odd one out. There was never a complete three in her family, and she was saddened.

One day, in the later years of her youth, a prince came coming around, looking for an ordinary maiden to marry. "I do not want to marry a princess," was his reasoning. "Every prince marries a princess." Adriana's new stepmother heard about this coming, and she prepared her two daughters in the finest gowns that they owned—silk and wonderful. (The boys were out at a competition, where Adriana desperately wanted to be. It was a javelin competition, and, really, the strength of the local boys around her age was pathetic.) The stepmother also made Adriana stay, for it would be a disgrace to the family if she went out and played with the boys in this new country, but she did not dress Adriana in fine clothing; merely, Adriana dressed in her everyday burlap dress, clean and smelling nice as usual, but not radiant, for moving to the new town had snuffed out her ability to play with the boys, and, as a result, her radiance.

The prince came along soon. Adriana did not care about marrying a prince; she wanted to marry some fine athlete, from whom she could actually learn something. He came into the house, and the first two sisters fawned over him, giggling like desperate pigs pleading for their lives. Adriana merely nodded politely at the prince when he came in and watched her stepsisters put on their pathetic act.

The prince, of course, did not care for the sisters. In fact, he wondered most curiously at Adriana's behaviour. He was used to reactions like those of the stepsisters, but really, Adriana's was a new one. Always one for adventure, and always curious, he broke away, somehow, from the stepsisters and asked Adriana, "Do you not wish to marry a prince?"

Adriana gave a grim smile. "I apologise, sir, but I do not care whether I marry royalty or a plain boy. Marriage is not currently my top priority."

"Oh?" the prince asked, for he had never heard such an answer.

"Yes," said Adriana. "I wish to explore the world some more, instead of this little town. I wish to explore my abilities more, instead of this constraining place."

"Explore your abilities?" asked the prince, thinking this might be an invitation. He leaned down to kiss her, just as she turned her face to the side to point at the window, where she could see the javelin competition outside.

"Outside, out there—that is where I wish to explore. I want to know if I can throw my javelin higher than those boys. But I have never been given the opportunity." Feeling his mouth on the side of her head, Adriana frowned. "What are you doing?" she asked, not offended, but curiously, for she had never understood kissing or anything of the sort, for she had never experienced it.

The prince, maintaining his pride, rather than informing her that his kiss was rejected accidentally, told her, "I am smelling your hair." He sniffed. There was nothing odd about this in this culture, for smelling people was a polite way to get to know them. However, Adriana did not know this, for the culture was still foreign to her, no matter how long she had been living in it.

"Why?" she asked, as a result.

The prince grinned. "You are not from here, are you?"

Adriana shook her head. "I want to be out there."

At this point, Adriana's stepmother came forward. "Are my lovely daughters not good enough for you?" she asked. "This girl is wearing burlap."

And of course, clothing was important in this culture, so the prince could not be attracted to a girl in burlap if he wanted to maintain his status as a prince. But Adriana spoke up first. "I must take my leave, Prince," said she, and disappeared to her room.

But the prince wished to know her name. Alas, he would not be able to know at that moment.

The next day, Adriana's father announced that he would be leaving for business, as he was a merchant. He wished to take her stepbrothers with him, and her stepmother agreed that it would be important for them to learn their future trade.

It was the day of the second part of the javelin competition, since no one had really won on the previous day. Adriana quickly formed a plan. She told her stepmother that she was going out to fetch water from the well, and instead she ran to put on one of her stepbrothers' clothes. She tied her hair back, and, since she never painted her face, she looked like a boy. She grabbed her stepbrother's javelin and raced outside.

She registered as Nomad, saying that she was a traveler from an Italian town. In the competition, she threw her javelin further than any of the boys, and was invited to participate in the jumping competition the next day. Most of the boys scowled at her, but a few of the boys came up to her and demanded to know who she was. She refused to say anything, however, other than, "I am Nomad, from an Italian town."

The next day, her father and stepbrothers were still away, and she told her stepmother that she was going to buy berries from the market. She put on her other stepbrother's clothes this time, then raced to the competition. Again, she beat all the other boys, jumping higher than all of them. She was again invited to come back for the final round, which was an archery competition.

The next day, her father and stepbrothers were still away, and she told her stepmother that she was going to milk a cow. This time, she put on her father's clothes, for she was, by now, tall enough to wear them, and her father was quite slender, so they fit perfectly. She raced to the competition, but then realised that her father had taken his bow and arrows with him.

Poor Adriana cried in the farm. She wished terribly that she could have a bow and some arrows; three arrows was all she needed, and all she asked for. Somehow, someone was listening, and magically, a bow and some arrows floated down, with a note attached: "thank you for your patience." Deciding that it was a sign from God, she said a quick prayer, and then continued to the competition.

Adriana, as Nomad for the last time, quickly beat everyone. Three bullseyes in a row was all she needed to win first place. However, there was one other who tied first place with her—the prince.

As a tiebreaker, the prince challenged Nomad to a race. Adriana loved races, so she quickly agreed. Throughout the race, she and the prince were neck-and-neck…only to tie once again at the end. And so, seeing nothing more that he could do, he declared that he and Nomad had tied the competition, and they had both won first place.

The prince asked Nomad for a private conversation, wondering how someone so fantastic and so good at sports was able to waltz in and beat everyone—and almost beat the prince. But, at the same time, he was wondering what had happened to the Girl in Burlap.

So, he asked the first question first. Nomad simply replied that he had been raised in a very competitive town. He refused to take his helmet off, and as a result, the prince had never known who Nomad really was.

But then the prince asked a different question. "Who art thou, really? I am a prince, and, as such, I command thee to remove they helmet!"

And so, Nomad was forced to remove the helmet, revealing the Girl in Burlap standing right before the prince. The prince smiled. "You are the Girl in Burlap! You are the one who claimed that she could beat everyone in the town!" He laughed, and she raised an eyebrow, wondering why he was not angry at her not being a boy. But the prince had longed for someone from whom he could learn. He kneeled before her, and asked for her hand. "A most unconventional wife you would make, but I would gladly take you! Will you marry me?"

Adriana did not have much of a choise. She feared that he would send her to the stocks if she refused his proposal because she was a girl pretending to be a boy. But she also would not mind marrying someone from whom she could learn something, and so, she nodded her agreement. But she had a condition. "I will if you will allow me to explore new things," she said.

The prince nodded. "Yes, yes, of course!" And he drew her to him and kissed her right there.

That was certainly new.

But the prince had one final question. "What is your name? Your real name, oh fair Girl in Burlap?"

She smiled. "Adriana."

He smiled in return. "Oh, fair Adriana." And he kissed her again.

Oh, the natural instinct of teenagers.