I had to toss the first 80 pages of goose girl almost in their entirely. I had begun to write without any kind of an outline, and it wasnít until I was in about five chapters that I realized I had no story Ė I was sprawling words, bucketfuls of backstory, but nothing tied to the central tale, the journey of one girl. So I took almost a year off from writing this book to work on other things, all the while thinking about it, and when I returned, I had a much stronger image of the tale I wanted to tell.
Nevertheless, I still wrote thousands of words more than I needed. Here are just a few of the later scene deletions (and Iíll spare you the early deleted chapters, which are pretty nearly unreadable). Some elements of these crept into other scenes in goose girl. One line even made an appearance in princess academy and one image wiggled into enna burning. Most of these scenes I cut because they werenít important enough to justify how they weighed down the pace, and Iíve never regretted losing them.
Young Ani heals from her night at the swan pond
When next she awoke, the light from the nursery window shot around her in bright arrows. A nurse-mary had a hand on her forehead.
"Hot as a coal iron."
"Slept in damp and chill."
"With those birds."
Ani looked up to see the speakers and instead dreamed of a hard gray sky where flocks of swans flew straight and beat their wings against its curved face, cracking it like a mirror. She cringed as the shards poured down on her head and stuck in her skin only to jolt awake from the dream to a nurse-mary with a wet cloth dripping on her forehead.
Sometimes she woke to palace physicians dressed in heavy black or city medics with dyed white hair tied up over their shoulders, the same sort that had stood over her as a baby. They put cold things on her head and hot things on her body and poked her and pressed her until she thankfully slipped again into the dreams.
Calib-Loncriss and his friends came to visit, recounting to her the doings of the outside world that was charging into full springóa nest of blue eggs in an oak, rhubarb leaves as big as a bed blanket, a cache of yellow clay they dug up in the garden that the kitchen-steward showed them how to mold and cook into bowls. Mostly they performed for her mock sword fights with ash sticks until the room became too small for their antics and they ran outside. In three weeks she was restless in bed and her muscles ached to stand and run. But not yet, said the nurse-marys, and rest more, said the physicians.
The (unnecessary) Kildenrean farewell banquet (though I loved the image of the roasted swan and so inserted it in retrospect)
The queen arranged an escort of a forty company led by Talone, Watcher of the East Gate whom Ani met at her farewell banquet on the eve of their departure. Her betrothal had been announced in the weeks prior and that night the hall was made narrow with tables and hot with guests. She met the eyes of hundreds of nobles, relatives, and high-ranking palace servants, few of whom approached her, few of whose names she actually knew.
She spied Selia sitting at a side table conversing with a guest. Selia was the only member of her retinue that she would retain. Her closest friend. She smiled at her. Selia was occupied and did not notice.
The feast dragged on. Ani was tired of the weeks of preparing and making farewells and wanted the departure to come quickly now, a clean death by a sharp axe. After endless servings the main course finally arrived, heralded by six trumpets and carried on silver platters by gold-capped servants. Ani swallowed when she saw. On beds of blue cabbage leaves and water lilies sat white swans in attitude of swimming, their necks gracefully erect, their wings slightly raised, their eyes blinded by cherries. They had been roasted in their feathers. The smell of food and death intermingled, and Ani looked down at her hands to keep from seeing the room shift and fall around her and the vision of herself, kneeling blindly on the platter, her arms strained backwards as though she wished to fly away.
The plate of food was dim before her. She swallowed a spoonful of soup and bade its warmth awaken her body to the present moment. There was a hand on her shoulder and she turned to a familiar man, tall and muscular with eyes as gray as his temples.
"Princess, IÖ." He looked carefully at her. "Are you all right, Princess?"
"Oh, yes," she said. She ran a finger under her eyes to make sure no tears formed.
"Iím sorry to interrupt. I wanted to introduce myself." He knelt before her on one knee to better speak to her in the noisy hall. "I am to lead your escort to Bayern. My name is Talone."
"The queen informs me that you volunteered your services, Talone. Iím most grateful. Why do you wish to leave Kildenree on such an ignoble venture?"
Talone raised his brow, as stunned as if she had slapped his cheek. "If you permit, Princess, I donít regard acting as your escort to be an ignoble venture."
"Iím sorry," she said. "The last thing I meant was to insult. I know that Watcher of the East Gate is not a lowly position, and it must be a sacrifice for you to give up your post to follow me to Bayern. You have no family?"
Talone shook his head. "Just the royal family. I was Third Watch when old King Turantac was still lucid, and I have seen more than what lies out from the East Gate."
"The East Gate," she said. His name and face pulled a memory and she nodded. "Talone. You found me the night I took sick." She remembered how he wrapped his cloak around her and held her tightly to still the fever chills. He was older but looked strong, and she thought how he deserved to be leading an army, not tromping through the woods with an exiled princess.
"I remember you." She smiled at him, and he received the smile with one of his own. "Thank you. Thank you very much."
More drama in the Forest! A chapter that did little more than foreshadow of the badness to come, on the road from Kildenree to Bayern
The guards removed their outer tunics and Ani sat fanning herself on a log. Dano made a small cook fire a bit removed from camp and began to boil water.
"Iím sick of your Road Stew, Dano," said Selia. "Itís properly named, for it tastes of the road."
Yulan, one of Ungoladís friends, laughed loudly. "Youíre right, Lady, like mud and weeds."
Dano was a small man of few words who looked up to the warriors with a child-like reverence. He could not bear to have the attention on him, and he lowered his head to hide his flushed face.
"Selia," said Ani, "Dano no doubt is doing his best under the circumstances."
Selia gave her a look that felt like a needle in skin. "You know, Crown Princess, my own mother, the key-mistress of the White Stone Palace, never scolded me as much as you do. And Iím two years your senior."
"Lady." Ingras rose. "Watch how you address the princess."
She sighed and made the innocent face of a petulant child. "All I want is some variety. Iím going in search of mushrooms." She looked at Ungolad.
"I will accompany you, Lady," he said. Ani watched them disappear into the trees and wondered if Selia returned the admiration of the broad guard. At least, in their most careful looks, they seemed to have some understanding.
Ingras approached Ani with his eyes respectfully lowered. At her signal, he sat on a tree root beside her. "Your lady-in-waiting is becoming insubordinate, Princess. I feel she must be put in her place."
"No, please," said Ani. Talk of putting people in their places made her uncomfortable. She was not sure what her own place was. "Weíre all just weary of travel. Let it pass."
Ingras nodded and left her. Falada, sensing the tension, nosed her shoulder with a question.
Selia. She is angry with me.
Falada snorted. That person. She does not understand horses, he said, as though that were all that need be said regarding anyoneís character.
When Danoís stew was nearly finished, Selia and Ungolad had not returned.
"Talone, could they be lost?" Ani asked. "Neither is used to finding their way through a wooded area."
Talone nodded. "Adon, Rashon, time to hunt the mushroom hunters. Stay within twenty paces of each other and walk toward the mountain no more than three hundred paces. Return if they are not found immediately."
The two young guards disappeared into the trees. Ingras served Ani her stew while the rest of the party watched. "I would rather wait and eat with the others," she told Ingras. "But you should not be hungry," he said. "Youíre a princess." She looked down at the bowl, afraid to catch anyoneís eye, afraid of what they thought of her. She wished she had enough courage to say, No, I will not eat now, I will wait. She blew cool her first spoonful.
Danoís pot was sitting off the fire and getting cold and Talone restlessly pacing when Adon returned.
"Rashon," he said, huffing for breath, "he has fallen." He said no more but turned back the way he came with Talone and three others on his heels. Ani stood by the side of the road and stared into the forest.
"What can have happened?" she said to Terne, the guard who stood nearest her.
"I really donít know, Princess," said Terne. He walked past her, knocking her aside with a rough elbow. He had glanced around first to make certain that Ingras was not watching.
Ani winced at the action more than the pain. She did not understand the hostility of guards like Terne and Istha, but she refused to report it Talone like a teased child to her nurse-mary. She looked at the still trees above her, stretched tall and slender toward the sky like the soft side of swansí necks, and tried to put those thoughts out of her mind.
Ungolad and Adon returned carrying the body of Rashon. There was blood on his head and his limbs hung limp. Talone walked beside Selia who was sobbing. The two men laid the body down on a patch of ferns alongside the road.
"He is dead?"
"He is, Princess. Fallen down a steep ravine."
An hour passed, marked by the sounds of hushed conversation and the scraping of shovels against earth. Ani did not want to see the body. She sat watching black ants rip up a fern leaf and carry it away in tiny, raised triangles like an army with banners. The sounds of digging stopped and she looked up. Selia sat by Danoís fire, her head in her hands. She was looking at Ungolad.
Talone approached her. "Princess, will you come and give Rashon Last Words?"
She rose slowly. The talking stopped, and the men followed her to the grave and gathered around the body. She had never given Last Words before and had never imagined when she had memorized the speech for her tutor long ago that she would feel so numb when called upon to give them.
Rashon was covered now with a blanket that was not quite long enough, and scuffed boot tips pushed out of the end. She kept her eyes on his boots and recited the Death Poem. She picked a fern leaf for lack of flowers and tore it up over the newly dug hole, blessed the grave, and then sat down before her knees gave out. Two soldiers shoveled dirt over the body, a sound like the mild thuds of booted feet running on soft earth.
The night cooled and Dano made a large fire. The party sat in its searching orange light and talked and laughed in the strange, constricted way that Ani had observed men did after the death of her father. Selia sat beside Ungolad and watched the fire. Occasionally she leaned over to whisper something to Ungolad and he nodded. They did not look at each other. Adon crossed the camp and sat beside Ani. She waited for him to speak.
"I failed in my duties, Princess, and feel I must report to you." Talone saw Adon address the princess and approached them. The young soldier glanced up then continued speaking. "I was the senior officer and Rashon came to harm while in my care. Had I acted differentlyÖ." He paused, looking at the backs of his hands. "It does not make sense."
Talone sat on his heels. "Tell me what happened, soldier."
"I just," he looked around, and spoke more quietly, "I did not hear him, Captain. The ravine where Rashon fell was so close. Would he not yell or call out as he fell? It was a blow to the head that killed him, Princess, but I wonder. I wonder if he did not receive that blow before the fall." Adon looked up at the opposite side of the camp where Ungolad sat. "I wonder if there is treachery in the camp. I should not say, Princess, unless I know, but it does not sit right."
Ani looked at the soldier, unblinking. "Do you mean, you think there was murder?"
"I should not say unless I know, but all Iím saying, Princess, is it does not seem right. And when it is Ungolad that is the issue, if it is not right, it is wrong."
Talone nodded. "Thank you, Adon, for the warning. Speak of this to no one."
"Yes, sir," he said and left.
"Ungolad has many friends here, Princess." Talone sat beside her. "If there is intrigue, it will not die easily. I canít imagine why anyone would want to kill young Rashon. It was most likely an accident. Nevertheless, I recommend, Princess, that you stay close to me, and at any sign of trouble I want you to jump on the nearest horse and ride as fast as life allows. Understood?"
Ani nodded. She felt chilled suddenly and longed to move closer to the fire. The night forest pressed against her, an unkind shoulder shoving her away. But she looked at the flame-lit faces of the soldiers and the darkness like crouching shadows between them and came no closer. Ishta was there, staring at the flames, and Hul and Terne, and Yulan, an angry man quick to shout. She looked for her lady-in-waiting and wondered for the first time where the mushrooms were that she had gone to gather.
Selia sat facing the forest, her back to the fire. The light put yellow and orange into her light brown hair and lit her profile so that she resembled a face on a gold coin. Selia turned and saw her mistress, and Ani noticed how haggard she was from the long evening, her eyes swollen and red. Ani wanted to offer some kind of comfort, a hand on hair, a lap for her head, a soothing song like a nurse-mary might sing. But before Ani rose, Selia saw her, and she smiled. The fire made dark spots beneath her eyes.
Tatto and Ani take a (far too) leisurely tour of the city on her first day in Bayern
"You will be wanting some water." Tatto motioned to the courtyard well where a row of petitioners waited for their turn at the ladle after their audience with the king. "Everything has a line on marketday," he said.
The sight of water made Aniís mouth dry in an instant like a thin handkerchief at the first ray of full summer sun. No breakfast, no water since lunch the day before. The thought of another line made her woozy and she took a half step towards the last person to disguise the tremble of her legs.
Tatto laughed. "Donít worry, you donít have to wait when youíre a pageboy of the first floor." He walked forward, conscious of his red hemmed tunic with the sun insignia of Bayern, took the ladle from the last drinker and brought it full to Ani. She blushed and thought how tired she had become in the forest of being served. But she drank, and the cool water slipped down her throat and through her body in an instant, making her toes feel clean in her boots and her hair feel long and growing under her scarf.
He led her down a corridor opposite from the way she had come to avoid the area cramped with petitioners and guards. This corridor was cool and silent with outside air rolling in from open windows past her cheek and empty but for an occasional soft-footed servant that moved in and out of sight far ahead as though pulled and pushed by the breath of the doorways. Selia had come from this way and would not do so again, Ani reasoned, unless she spent her day walking in circles. Still, Ani kept her head down, following closely.
They walked along the rim of the city and away from the sun that sat three fist widths above the early horizon, Tatto talking all the way about his many and complicated duties as page. Where the steep streets flattened he showed her a narrow, arched gateway cut in the city wall.
"Out thereís the pasture," said Tatto. Framed by the gateway was a green land, long and rich in color, bordered on the near side by the outer ring of the city wall and on the far by tall water trees and a narrow river that ran parallel to the east wall. On the pasture she thought she spied a flock of geese, like small pricks of white stars on a green sky.
"The field where my da trains his men is just outside the wall, like here, but up near the main gates. These pastures west of the city wall, the king says, are just for the geese and ducks, and the sheep way over there, and on the other side the goats and cows, and behind them, well, thereíre lots of animals because thereíre lots of people in the palace. We canít just eat bread."
She had a desire to fly out under the arch into that greenness of the field, and maybe to the river to lie on her back and float away, far downstream, wherever the water told her to go. She had that desire, but the possibility of Falada anchored her to this city. She would have to find a way to breach the palace walls and search the stable grounds herself.
Ani escapes the city and returns to the Forest and Gilsaís house, and has this conversation (interesting, but too long and too sum-up-y)
Gilsa folded her arms and rocked in her chair in short, violent lurches. "I see where this is going. Youíre getting tale-headed, as my grandmother used to say. Donít do it, Ani. Youíll get lost in that yellow head of yours and youíll never see day for day again. Donít imagine that your wind-talking and bird-talking converts you into a story heroine with a sword of wind and an army of chickens to cross mountains and rage vengeance, and such. When the broth boils away, remember, you are just a girl--"
"A lady," said Finn.
Gilsa ignored him. "Öwith one girlís life thatís quite enough responsibility. We all have gifts from creation, mind. Finn can coax milk from Poppo better than any animal witch, and I wouldnít say this around company, but if there was a knitting competition at summermoon Iíd tie up the others in scarves before they could pull needles from bags. You just remember who you are, and make sure you use whatever you have to be that girl."
"Lady," said Finn.
"All right, lady," said Gilsa, and she reached over to tousle Finnís head.
Ani nodded. She felt a cramp of disappointment, a tiny palace of hope collapsed inside her, and she realized Gilsa was right. Somehow, deeply, she had thought that these things she could hear and things she could see made her something more than others. Somehow, these gifts would pave a road of triumph upon which she could ride home, older, accomplished, splendid and glorious, and her people would see her and her mother would see her and all would say, we never saw her truly, for truly she was more than we are, for truly she was the jewel of Kildenree. She thought now for the first time that perhaps she would never go home.
Ani shook her head and let the pieces settle inside her. The ideas of glory emptied liked tipped jars and she sat in the puddle and feltórelief. There was peace in this. She had a name to claim and a past to keep, and a right to be who she was, a princess and a goose girl, her motherís daughter and her own boring, silly, cold-potato-eating self. She had lost her crown, she had lost Falada; truly, she had lost all her best things. Now it was plain she must simply pick up what was left and make it better. And somehow, story heroine or goose girl, she had to stop a war.
From last chapter, Ani and Geric wander into the kitchen. In an earlier draft, she believed he was a kitchen-man from the palace (I ended up changing the tone and pacing of this last scene, so this had to go)
He offered his arm and paraded her through the kitchen, shouting, "Behold my bride! Behold my princess!" The kitchen staff, faces shiny with pan grease and oven heat, froze mid-stirring and washing and frying, and stared. Geric laughed and tossed radishes to a boy with his mouth agape, and Ani declared that every one of them would attend their wedding, for her husband-to-be had been a kitchen-man before he was a prince.
A boy of fifteen who stood at the spits took down a shallow pot from its hook and, like the soldiers into their shields, sang a marching song at the pan that echoed through the great kitchen like a voice from the future. The cooks and washers and cutters clapped and the voice sang, Tear down the borders, tear down the shores, tear down walls, tear down the doors, the king is coming home, my love. The king is coming home.
Return to main goose girl page