If you have not read Part 1, you may find it here.
Time passed and the princess grew to be lovelier, and even smarter, than anyone had previously imagined. So the king and queen required her to attend the masques and dance for the court, hoping to make a good match of her.
The soft cottons of her childhood left in the mists of childhood, her gowns were now always made of sumptuous dyed silks and finely wrought with embroidered birds and flowers. Now the mistress of her own seamstress, she could request nearly any kind of gown she wished. And though her gowns were always the most beautiful to behold, they contained a hidden and curious design, of which only her seamstress knew. Whenever the princess ordered a new gown, she requested that a hole about the size of a heart be cut into the lining exactly at the spot where her heart would be. Her seamstress argued with her, claiming that this hole would ruin the construction. But this, the princess countered, was like a vent to help with comfort and prevent too much warmth, and surely her seamstress was so clever that she could figure a harmless way to do it.
The seamstress, like the other servants, was now quite taken with the princess’s odd ways and she acquiesced peaceably. For though they often thought her requests odd, the servants now loved their princess, lovely as she was and respected by the King, Queen, and court. They also remembered, for her, the terrible days of her childhood, and often shook their heads among themselves when speaking of it. So they dutifully honored her requests without spreading the spiteful gossip that surrounded the other members of her family.
The princess also forbade anyone to dress her in her underclothes, permitting them only to enter after she had dressed in her undergarments and held the corset up over her chest, ready to have the laces tied. Strict rules surrounded bathing and the bedchamber as well. So, as it was when she was a child, no one was ever permitted to lay eyes on her skin, with the exception of her face and hands. Such was the way it had always been and the realm came to praise her for her modesty.
Two more winters passed, and then spring. Finally, the princess made a match and was engaged to marry. This meant leaving the country manor and making for her own home. She and her servants set about packing, dissembling her room, and preparing her treasured possessions for the move.
Shall I just seal the blanket chest princess? asked a servant one day. Them blankets have been laundered after winter I believe.
No, Marcy. I might not wish to take them all with me. Let me have a look. The servant lifted the pile out of the chest, her arms heavy with their burden, and set them gracelessly on the bed, where they tumbled over. The princess quickly pointed her favorites out, ordering the rest returned to the common closet. The servant picked the favorites up, a lighter load by far, and began to neatly place them in the chest.
Eh, Princess, there’s something right strange down ere.
And what is that? the princess asked, smiling, as the sun of the day beamed through the paneled glass windows.
The servant came forward then, holding the bright red heart of long ago. The princess gasped, her hand flying to cover her mouth.
I thought… that had been lost, she murmured.
But what is it, the servant inquired.
It’s nothing Marcy, nothing but a child’s toy. Give it to me now and get back to work.
Yes mam, the servant said as she extended her outspread palms, cupping the heart.
You always was a different sort of child mam, if I do say so. But ever so sweet, mam.
Thank you for saying so Marcy, the princess said as she slipped the heart into her pocket. Thank you for saying so.
As soon as the princess could reasonably get some privacy, she shut the door to her rooms and locked them. Sitting on her bed, she retrieved the heart, now many years old, from her apron. Turning it in her hands, she marveled at how fresh it appeared, how new.
The red paint had not faded, the surface had not dented, and the H looked as if it was carved just yesterday. It seemed smaller now, and she drew one of her palms around it gently, squeezing. It was ever so warm, as if it had just come off the sunning rock. Drawing her hand to her own chest, she felt a familiar, shooting pain and she responded by giving her chest 2 light taps with her fist, as if she had a cough. She had not seen her own chest in many months, for it was too painful to bear. She was still unsure how she would deal with it at her husband’s castle, or how she would hide it during bedding. There seemed to be no easy answer for he was sure to discover her secret eventually. That is why she had insisted on taking her seamstress and her own bed and bath servants, for she was sure they could be counted on to aid her and persuade the other servants to do so as well.
She turned the heart around again, bringing its warmth to her lips. Then, wondering if its heat would soothe her chest pain, she held it there for a few moments. Its warmth oozed through her entire body, driving all pain completely away. She lied on her bed like that for several hours, refusing entrance to her loyal servants and nearly missing dinner. Yet, she knew her absence would invite the concern of the king and queen and she dared not do that. She quickly took her apron off and, slipping the heart into her waist purse, headed to the royal dining chamber.
Each day thereafter, she always made time to lie quietly with the heart on her chest, as it soothed her pain and warmed her entire body. She only wished she could somehow sew it into her gowns so that she could receive its benefits all the time. So that is what she did. Quickly detaching her apron pocket and removing her gown, she quickly sewed the apron pocket to the gown’s underlayer, slipping the heart inside it. Amazingly, it created no unattractive bulk. It seemed to fall into her very body, leaving no trace of itself behind. She did not understand this, and checking the pocket with her hand determined that could even feel it hanging there – but she could not see it. Her puzzlement turned to gratitude as she was able to conduct all her days in comfort. Shortly after that, she ordered all of her gowns to be outfitted such, with a muslin pocket sewn into the center chest point, even her wedding gown.
The wedding ceremony befitted her station, with nobles travelling from all around the country, and food and drink for all, even the servants and peasants. The queen was there, grown older and more sour over the years. A steely satisfaction replaced what should have been parental joy as she surveyed the gathering and thought of how the match would benefit her realm. As for the princess, she had turned out well enough, better than the queen had ever imagined, and have even brought some pride to the realm. At the formal leave-taking ceremony, the last time the queen would see her daughter, she held her in a stiff embrace before the audience and as she did so she felt something very odd.
She leaned in towards the princess’s ear, What is it you have in your gown you sly girl? I cannot see it, but feel it I can. What odd little treasure do you secret in your gown?
The princess withdrew in horror, fearing her very life, fearing the queen would find the heart and smash it to bits. She quickly retreated to her carriage under a guise of bridal cheer and enthusiasm, bidding her husband to follow her in her happiness. The carriage set off to bear the princess to her new life, far across the land and far away from her mother.
The first night of the marriage was overseen by her husband’s court and by his own parents. After the feast, the couple was escorted to the bedchamber with well wishers lining the halls. The princess, ever sweet, smiled dutifully as she crossed the threshold and entered the candlelit chamber, as Marcy, her trusted maid, closed the chamber doors behind her.
The night proceeded according to plan and although the couple did consummate their marriage, the princess was able to claim modesty and wear certain undergarments under the bed covers. The prince, because he was right and gentle, afforded her every request and comfort. Her modesty and virtue was famous across the land, so much had he heard of it and he was proud indeed to have such a bride. Just as with everyone except the queen, the prince was unable to detect the heart, though he drew close enough to do so. It seemed the only people who could feel the heart beneath her clothing was her and her mother, the queen – and no one could see it. Yet the problem of the queen seemed solved for now and the princess rested in peace, warmth, and comfort.
Such did she pass the days at her new home, becoming a friend to nearly everyone at the castle. Messages were carried to her parents praising them for sharing such a daughter. The queen, pleased by the reception, took special care to keep track of the princess’s odd habits – namely those of bed, bathing, and dressing. For this, she employed a foreign maid who waited on the princess and who could freely observe the rituals of her day.
The princess, reported the maid, was indeed rumored to indulge in odd habits. For example, no servant could wait on her during dressing or bathing except Marcy. In addition, each dress and gown had a pocket sewn on the underside in the general vicinity of the heart. When questioned, the princess claimed to keep a locket holding the visage of her dearest husband and some special verses from the Holy Book. The maid also reported that the princess and prince were quite taken with one another and inspired confidence in all who saw them. The queen, ever curious about the inner pockets and piqued by the mysterious bulk she had felt the last day she saw her daughter, promised a handsome bonus upon the maid, if she could somehow inspect a gown as the princess was wearing it. And to this end, she gave her some herbs that would drop the princess into a deep and dreamless sleep at any time of the maid’s choosing.
So the maid, intent upon her bonus, set on her task and waited for the perfect time to give the princess the herbs. At last, that day arrived. Marcy, the princess’s most trusted servant, came down with flu and was unable to work. The maid vied to be chosen to substitute for Marcy and, because of her good behavior, was chosen. It was then that she was allowed to enter the bed chamber under strictest instructions to follow the princess’s directions, to do nothing that was not expressly requested.
So the maid entered the bed chamber for the morning dressing prepared to carry out her mission. The princess stood by her bed, already clothed in her undergarments and needing her laces done. The maid, helping her with her laces, then tied the gown on, shaping it to flatter the princess’s body.
The princess, now fully dressed, retired behind her dressing screen, saying, please pour my morning tea and be on your way now.
Yes mam, said the maid as she dropped a vial’s herbals into the tea.
May I bring it to you mam? questioned the maid with much cunning.
The princess emerged from behind her screen and sat at her dressing table to wait for the hair dresser. I don’t see why not, she responded.
The maid, careful not to spill a drop, carried the teacup to the princess, handing it to her. The princess received the cup with a smile and took a sip. Before she had time to issue another instruction, to complain about the flavor of the tea, or even say thank you, she slumped down in her chair, breathing heavily.
Working quickly, the maid eased the princess off the chair and onto the floor. She had yet to ring the bell for the hair dresser so she had some time. Carefully untying the dress, she felt for the pocket, felt for any trace of an object hidden there. There was none. She took the bodice off and turned it inside out, at once spying a plain muslin pocket that appeared to be quite empty. She rolled her eyes and more determined than ever, stuck her hand into the pocket, which was, as suspected, empty.
She then proceeded to undo the corset, gently rolling the princess’s body to and fro to get to the laces. Yet, even after taking the corset off, she found nothing abnormal. Frustrated she thought of what to do, eying the princess’s delicate undergarments, when she saw something quite unusual. There was a spot darker than the others, right under the muslin wrapping, in the center of the chest. The wrapping lightly bound the princess’s ribcage – this was normal practice for protecting the skin from a tightly laced corset and for adding extra support – so she unwound it.
The maid finally saw what she came to see, the secret the queen had so longed to discover. And she drew back, repulsed.
The dark spot was nothing but a pre-cut hole that should have exposed the skin entirely. Yet, there was no skin. Instead, there was a gaping cavern lined with what appeared to be black rotting flesh and inside it, completely unprotected, was a beating red heart marked with an H. She gasped, barely preventing a scream from being ripped out of her throat.
Crossing herself, she gathered the heart quickly, finding it only a clay object when removed, and stowed the cursed thing in her apron. Sure that the princess lay dead, the maid was amazed by signs of life – deep breathing and warm, flushed skin. Unsure whether the princess was dead or alive, she tried to cover her steps, redressing the princess as quickly as she could and leaving her body on the floor by the dressing table, where it would appear, to the unsuspecting eye, that she had fallen from a faint.
Rushing out of the chamber, the maid called for help, Please! our princess has fallen from faint, bring the salts!
The maid watched the servants revive the princess, every bit alive as they, and watched too, as the doctor tended to her. Convinced some evil was at hand, the maid travelled to the queen’s manor as soon as she could, with the heart in her purse. Yet, she did not get far.
The forest was rugged terrain and she had no horse. Fatigued and walking in pouring rain, she tripped and fell on a rock, her body falling into a little stream, never to emerge again. And the heart, tumbling out of her purse, fell to rest at the bottom of this little stream, most forgotten and lost.
And in the days afterward, the princess mourned her loss, and her pain and anguish returned to her doubly. Bereft, she often wept when she was alone and sought comfort along the lonely walking paths of her gardens.
If you have not read the Part 1, you may find it here.