Books: the goose girl
  The lost chapter

Over the many drafts of goose girl, I cut about 350 pages of words, phrases, and sentences. Sometimes I cut entire scenes. But the most dramatic cut was an entire chapter. What follows was Chapter 2 up until about the 8th draft. In it, Ani is thirteen and first meets Falada. Originally, I thought it was important to see her interact more with her family and Selia, and witness Falada’s birth, but eventually I acknowledged that it was slowing down the real story of Ani’s journey.

Whenever I watch Deleted Scenes on a DVD, I find myself agreeing with the director’s cuts. They are often funny or interesting, but detract from the meat of the story or slow down the pace. Likewise with this chapter. Some elements made it into other parts of the book and some were really hard for me to lose, but I’ve never regretted trimming this fat. I thought you might be interested in seeing what kinds of things an author chooses to cut—what was gained by speeding up the unfolding of the story, and what was lost.

The (lost) chapter two

In the late spring after she was thirteen, Ani hid between an open door and a dark armoire, breathing in dust and holding in a cough with the back of her tongue. It was unusual to find a dusty room in the palace and she tried to remember where she was. First floor. East corridor. One, two, three doors from the archway that led to the garden. Her aunt’s room. Untouched, perhaps, in eight years and still smelling of musty lavender. She peeked around the armoire at the white walls and furnishings, sparser than most rooms, empty, uninteresting, but familiar in a way that made her throat tickle anew.

Boot heels clicked on the corridor marble in a relaxed pace and Selia’s high, easy voice echoed around her. The very person Ani was hiding from. She held the cough with her breath.

“Try this one,” came Selia’s voice. “Sum, sum, sum, in your mother’s room, not a peasant girl, not a farmer’s churl, I will be I swear, a crown princess fair…”

Between the door hinges, Ani could see the chamber-lord’s daughter pass by walking backwards and then Selia, facing her and walking forwards. They played a hand-slap game as they went, palms meeting, clapping, slapping belly and chest, chanting the rhythm. Selia’s song faded.

Ani leaned back and exhaled, sending bits of dust swirling into the slanted window light. Not caught. Hiding and seeking had been Selia’s idea. It gave Ani a knotted stomach to be the one hiding, miserable and waiting alone, never knowing when someone would jump around a corner or grab her from behind. And this round could take some time. Selia did not seem to be very ardent in her seeking.

At age twelve as was customary, the queen had picked the first lady of the crown princess’s retinue. Selia was the key-mistress’s daughter, a pretty girl descended from high ranking servants, not nobility, and therefore an ideal candidate for the first lady-in-waiting. Selia had replaced Ani’s nurse-mary attendant as a constant companion. Constant. Perhaps, Ani thought, she had suggested hiding and seeking just to distance herself from Ani for an hour.

The corridor was silent. Ani stepped from behind the door and walked to the window where she had sat with her aunt on rainy afternoons. Ani remembered little of her aunt, just stories and songs she had taught, and a feeling of wonderment and possibilities.

The bars between the panes crossed out the sky. Thin and misty in the distance lay the brown fields of the horse training grounds and low, steep-roofed stables. Ani breathed in. The antique odor of dust and lavender, the way the light from the window made patterns of crosses on her hands, the vision of brown and movement in the distance. Ani remembered an afternoon standing on the rails of a fence, her aunt behind her, watching the lithe gallop of a gray mare and hearing how one might gain her name. She was alone for the first time in many years. She stood and walked, slipper-soft, down the stone corridor and outside.

The air was wet and cool, a breeze coming down from the mountains that tingled pleasantly in her lungs. It was a different kind of air than what haunted the ancient corridors and wide pastures and perfumed gardens. It was redolent of high places and far places. Alone and under the sky, Ani felt more aware than she ever had of the differences between outside and inside, of all the living things that roamed away from walls, of wildness just far enough away not to be seen. She wished the breeze would stay on her skin forever, but in a huff it blew itself away, so she scurried away from the palace gate and made her way to the stables, feeling naked in her solitude. She prayed no one would notice.

Ani found the stable-master leaning against a fence supervising the training of a chestnut yearling. A short woman with ruddy cheeks had a rope tied to the horse’s halter, crossed back over and looped around his rump. She stood in the center of the corral, keeping hold of him with one end of the rope and tapping encouragement against his rump with the other.

“Do not you let him master you, Hen,” said the stable-master.

“He is stronger and he knows it,” said the woman, with a strain on her voice that ended as a laugh.

Ani stood by the stable-master’s elbow and waited to be noticed. He was watching the yearling with a creased brow, his thumb tapping the rhythm of the hooves against the fence post.

“Excuse me, stable-master,” she said.

He turned his head slowly and focused on her face moments after seeing her. His hair was completely white and the tightness of his cheeks did not seem to permit smiling. “Well, who are you?”

“I am Anidori-Kiladra,” she said.

“Mmm? Oh, yes. If you are looking for your ride-master, Crown Princess, he will be at the riding stables, as always.”

He nodded as if he were bowing and turned his back to her. She stood a moment before speaking again. “I have not come to ride today. I want to know if you have any mares who have yet to foal.”

“Aye, Princess,” he said, “three still.”

Ani could not stop a smile. “I would like to help one of them foal, when she does.”

The stable-master grumbled at the request but immediately left the fence and made his way to a near stable. Ani followed, looking up at his face and waiting for an answer. He frowned.

“In my day, even royalty had to give reasons.”

“I would like to see a birth,” said Ani carefully. “I cannot really give a reason. My mother says royalty is a reason.”

“She would.”

Ani thought, if my mother made such a request, it would be granted with gratitude. I am not much like my mother.

He stopped in front of three stalls, each a separate, roofed structure, three walls with a gated front, each housing a mare with an enormous belly and miserable demeanor. “You are the crown princess and you can do what you will, as far as I understand, so here we are. Each could go anytime. I suggest you check often.”

“I will. Thank you. And I will stay out of your way until then.”

“If you do a decent job, perhaps I will hire you on as a hand.”

She suspected it was a joke, but he did not smile.

Ani returned daily. She missed the first mare’s labor during the night. The second she swore not to miss and begged a stable-hand to come to her apartments when this mare showed signs.

Then came the first morning that tasted of real summer, a rush of early morning heat and the sky a glaring, furious blue. Ani awoke to the dissonant clamor of many hooves on cobblestone just below her window. She peered through her curtains to the courtyard. Rows of palace guards lined the way from the front gate, their rust-colored flags held aloft in welcome. Through their ranks rode thirty men, five wagons and a carriage, all dust-covered and worn. One horseman carried a banner that Ani tried to make out—blue field, white crown, yellow sun. The sign of Bayern, the country on the other side of the Bavara Mountains and nearest neighbor to Kildenree.

“They have arrived,” said the waiting-maid, hurrying into the room with her arms full of dress and shoes and ribbons. “I roused your lady and she will be in shortly. Their majesties are waiting on their children to receive the prime minister.”

Ani stood still while the maid slipped the dress over her head. “I won’t know what to say. I have never received a guest before, and I was going to go riding today.”

“No riding today, Crown Princess, nor tomorrow either from what I gather. And just you keep an eye on your mother and that little Napralina. Follow them and you can’t step wrong.”

Selia rushed in, dressed and lovely though slightly bleary-eyed, to help Ani with her hair. She plaited half of it on the crown of her head, leaving one lock curled and loose down her back. Her hands shook with excitement as she worked.

“Off you go now, my ladies,” said the waiting-maid. They ran down the corridor, holding hands, breathless with the exercise and anticipation.

“I wish it had been a prince or widower king instead of just a prime minister,” said Selia. “Do you think he brought any nobles? And will they be handsome?”

“They are all dark-haired,” said Ani. “I saw them this morning.”

Selia stopped. “Why did you not say so before?”

“It did not seem to matter. I wish you could greet him for me, Selia. I was going to go to the stables today.”

Selia arched a thin eyebrow. “My mother says if one spends all their time with animals, she will smell like animals and the smell will never wash away.” She let go of Ani’s hand and, with dignity, entered the receiving room. Ani followed.

A man with oak-brown hair and steel temples rose from his seat. He was tall and broad with hands that looked more likely to belong to a warrior than a diplomat. His face was generously wrinkled and allowed even more lines when he smiled.

“Ah, this must be your eldest.” He spoke his words carelessly, letting each word bleed into the next, his vowels short and consonants ringing out from his throat. It was the first time Ani had heard the rough accent of Bayern, and she thought it lovely.

Ani looked up, her hands poised to curtsy, but the prime minister’s eyes were not on her, they were on Selia. Ani looked at her mother. No one seemed to notice.

“I am pleased,” said the prime minister.

Selia curtsied deeply and her cheeks glowed.

“A lovely girl, and so like her sister. You are indeed blessed with so many handsome children.”

“We feel so, yes,” said the queen with a smile.

“Mother,” said Ani quietly. She wished she could back out of the room and flee, and be alone somewhere, in the garden, under a blanket.

The prime minister’s gaze at last turned to Ani. “And you, my dear, you are not again another daughter?”

The queen, confused, only frowned.

“I,” she began to say, and stuttered. “I am,” she looked to her mother.

Then her father met her eyes. His mouth opened slightly as he recognized the mistake. At once he stepped forward with a good-natured laugh.

“Good joke, Anidori,” he said. He knelt beside her to put one arm around her middle. “Very good. I am afraid our eldest here has played you a small trick and traded places with her lady-in-waiting. You have met Selia, the key-mistress’s daughter. This beauty here is my own. Anidori, greet Prime Minister Odaccar of Bayern.”

Ani curtsied, almost as smoothly as Selia.

“Ah, yes, of course,” said the prime minister. “You do, indeed, have lovely children.”

The prime minister addressed the queen, beginning with greetings from Bayern’s king that led into words concerning borders and roads. Ani, with relief that rushed toward gratitude, leaned over to the king’s ear and whispered “Thank you, Father.” He lightly pinched her arm and blinked his eyes, and Ani thought he seemed somewhat saddened. But she gave little thought to why, or to the prime minister’s speech and her mother’s reply, for soon she found a window in the room with a northern aspect and watched the faint movements in the direction of the stables.

Her waiting-maid had spoken truth, and Ani’s presence was required for a week of formalities and luncheons and city tours. She thought to be flattered that she was included in such important receptions, but her thoughts kept returning to the activities of the stables. At last she had a chance to visit them when one morning she was to go riding with several of the Bayern and some of the local nobles. While they saddled their horses, Ani managed to slip away to find Hen.

The second mare had foaled.

“Lida has yet to,” said Hen. “Check on us often, though.”

Ani made her way back to the riding party in the shadow of the great stable, thinking on Lida and hoping. She passed an open window and the sleepy scent of stabled horses made her pause. Inside were housed all the horses of the Bayern visitors not in use with the riding party. They were magnificent. She smiled at a near one and he grumbled over a mouthful of oats and did not turn his head.

From out of the top of one of the stalls flew bits of straw, the dust made from two stable-hands with pitchforks mucking out the stall. She could hear bits of their low conversation, distilled by wood and horse and the energy of work.

“…not know why they bother,” said one.

“My brother is in the royal guard and he says our numbers are not what you would think…civil war before the old king wiped out one generation of men…”

“I hear the Bayern capital is as big as this city plus ten more…and so you would think, besides…lately, the mountain range feels awfully thin.”

“But their prime minister rode all this way…show a desire for peace?”

“…just look at their horses alone…”

One of the stable-hands emerged, hair stuck with hay, his face turned toward the light of the window. Ani jumped aside and quickly walked away, checking her pace to make sure it seemed natural. There had been urgency in their voices, something more than what she heard in casual conversation, something, perhaps, of fear.

She meant to think over this. She meant to remember and understand, but she had not walked a few paces before she met up with a member of the riding party. The group was looking for her and anxious to get started. By the time they returned late that afternoon, the conversation napped in a corner of her mind.

The visitors from Bayern had only one week in Kildenree before needing to start on the homeward rode. The journey took months and they wanted to reach Bayern before the cold did. On their last night, a feast was held in the grand dining hall that Ani had watched many years ago from the cold shore of the swan pond. It was the first time she sat at banquet for so grand a feast, but she was restless. When at last the dessert plates were taken away, Ani rose to leave. Strains of music called dancers to the ballroom. Her mother on her father’s arm led the way, her simple step a measure of grace and a seeming dance, her hair a golden crown, her every gesture the answer for beauty. Ani watched her from the far end of the room and marveled. I am her daughter, she thought. Would that I could be like her.

She turned suddenly to leave and knocked her shoulder into the prime minister’s chest. He steadied her with two strong hands.

“Now, your name’s not Susena-Ofelienna? No, no, you’re the eldest, and your name, I’m certain, is Anidori-Kiladra. Such long names, it took me half the journey to learn them.” He laughed pleasantly, ending with a snort that made him smile in surprise and laugh again. Then his tone tightened. “I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with your mother concerning you, Crown Princess. Perhaps it would be wise if you spoke with her about plans we made.”

His smile faded, but he winked and walked towards the music that echoed in the corners of the banquet hall, dimmed and eerie and beautiful.

“Shall we go to the dancing?” Selia was at her side. Her peach colored gown, one of Ani’s own, brightened her skin and gave her the appearance of something that belonged in a garden.

“I would rather not,” said Ani. “It has been a long week and I’m tired of all of this.”

“Oh, I see,” said Selia. “You are tired. But you forget that your lady-in-waiting can’t go without you. And I want to go.”

“I am sorry, Selia. Please don’t be cross with me. There is something else I need to do.”

Selia’s mouth twitched, then, slowly, she smiled. “Of course. I didn’t mean to press. We will dance next time. Sleep well, Crown Princess.” Selia curtsied and walked away.

Ani changed her clothes and sneaked out the nursery porch to the stables. Hen was at the table where the stable-hands dined, marking numbers on a parchment by candlelight.

“How is Lida?” said Ani.

Hen looked up and smiled. Her eyes were red from straining in low light. “Close. We could use extra eyes tonight. This is a bad time for a foreign visit of thirty-plus horses, and there are twenty yearlings in training, fifteen foals, and poor Lida. The stable-master needs more hands than he can count.” She stood and tossed Ani a blanket. “Bed down tonight in the clean hay near her stall, but keep still and quiet and do not disturb her. Give word if she progresses.” She looked back down to her paper and rubbed her eyes with one hand.

Bed down on some hay, Hen had said without a thought, as though Ani were another stable-hand. The familiarity elated her. She hugged the blanket and ran to Lida’s pen.

She was a tall horse, honey-colored with a pale mane and a white mark on her forehead like the handprint of a baby.

“Hello, my lady,” Ani whispered.

The mare rolled her eyes and shifted her weight off the right foreleg then the left, then the right. Her head hung forward as though it was very heavy and her neck was darkened with sweat. Ani climbed into an empty stall that shared a fence with Lida’s pen and settled down in a corner of hay. Lida eyed her and paced restively at the far end of the stall.

When the wooden walls began to blur into a night brown, Ani put the blanket over her and made a prickly pillow of the hay. It was the first night she slept on anything but a mattress of goose down but for the night on the sand of the swan pond. The smells of hay and animal tickled her nose and she wondered if she could sleep, and even while she wondered, drowsiness spun the thin webs of the beginnings of dreams.

Dawn woke her with its bright fingers in her eyes. She sat up straight in panic, but Lida’s sides still bulged like enormous saddlebags. No foal to be seen.

When Hen brought her eggs cooked in bread for breakfast, Lida was turning in circles, twitching her tail, agitated and unhappy. Hen ducked through the fence and examined the horse. Lida rested her head on Hen’s sunburned neck.

“Her milk is coming in cloudy,” said Hen. “She is nearly ready.”

Not long later, Lida was standing in the shady part of her stall and pushing her hindquarters against the wall when fluids gushed out and down her legs. Ani called out for the stable-master. Lida knelt on her forelegs and fell heavily on her side. Ani rubbed her belly and said soothing words and felt completely helpless. Already below her tail the tip of a hoof was emerging.

“All right, Crown Princess, out of the way,” said the stable-master. He hopped over the fence. “You have helped me much and I thank you, and now Hen and I can manage.” He gently pushed her aside and squatted down beside the mare.

“I want to help,” she said.

The stable-master squinted at her. “You will get messy but I guess you don’t care much. Don’t spook her and stay small and quiet.”

The stable-master tied Lida’s tail up and stepped back. Hen sat on her heels in the corner and Ani imitated her. The mare let out a loud, human-sounding sigh. Two hooves emerged, one in front of the other. After a time, a nose nestled between them covered in white, filmy membrane.

“She is doing fine. She is a strong mare.”

The head came out between the front hooves and stopped, the muzzle resting on the knees. Minutes later, the stable-master gently pushed down on the foal’s front hooves, helping the shoulders to squeeze through.

“Come here, Crown Princess,” said the stable-master, “and get ready.”

Ani squatted beside him, her arms open and trembling. Soon thereafter the colt slid out of his mother and into her arms. The stable-master freed him from the opaque sack and immediately he tried to stand, though he crumpled in a heap over his too-long legs like a toy house built of sticks.

Hen laughed. “He is an eager one, this little white ghost.”

The stable-master told Ani to clean out his nose. It was wet and warm, and he smelled warm and real like upturned earth and living things. Lida licked him clean. Her rough tongue spiked his hair into fuzzy peaks. He was soft as a kitten and white as a unicorn, his round, bluish eyes too big for his head. He looked at Ani, though she was unsure if he could already see, opened his mouth and made a sound that seemed to be mostly vowels. But Ani was listening, and where the others only heard the same kind of noise newborn foals are likely to make, Ani heard a name. She let the sound soak into her mind to understand it, let it sit like an egg slowly cooked to hardness, and then she repeated it back.

“The crown princess is a foal herself,” Hen said.

The colt blinked, stood uneasily and took a small step before collapsing down on top of himself.

“Falada,” said Ani. “His name is Falada.”

The stable-master patted the colt on the neck. “Falada, eh? You have chosen a fine name there, horse patron.”

“Falada,” said Hen.

Selia was not eager to accompany Ani to the stables and so they formed a friendly pact, freeing Selia from her mistress’s side for a few hours each day with the agreement to keep silent on the subject of her whereabouts. Ani gratefully promised Selia silk ribbons and her best pair of slippers and ran off to the freedom of the stables. The stables were Ani’s one small rebellion from her safe palace prison, and she was determined to spend as much time with Falada as she could. If her mother found out, Ani thought, she might take him away.

For the first day, the stable-master penned the mare and foal together and would let no one near to disturb them. Ani sat in the next pen over, her back to the wall, and listened. His mother nosed her foal and made soft chuckling noises that Ani repeated to herself. Mostly the colt noised his name and began to say other words that she learned meant hay, water, mother, and after time, one for Ani.

As he grew, his fuzzy coat that had stuck up like blades of grass smoothed into a brilliant white. He was frisky and long legged, and after a year, Falada still looked like a skinny little boy next to his robust mother. He loved to show off for the other horses, prancing around the corral with his neck arched and forelegs lifting high, and Ani pranced beside him, jogging with her knees up and yellow hair loose like a mane.

It was with startled wonder one day when Ani realized that not only could others not perceive the clarity and distinctiveness she heard in every sound Falada made, but often the stable-hands did not seem to detect any sound at all. The horse’s voice slipped into her mind so naturally and familiarly they were like her own clear thoughts, a voice quieter, rougher, more like the creak of wood than song of bird, more like the pattern of raindrops. Some months after that realization, Ani also found she could speak to Falada without speaking at all. Afraid of the mistrust she engendered by her early speaking abilities, afraid that she was already too different in a kingdom that sat comfortably with homogeny, she determined to never reveal her discovery.

Do you know, she said, two years after his birth, that other humans and horses do not speak as we do?

You are not a horse? said Falada. It was the closest she ever heard to a horse’s humor. And she laughed out loud.

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