Books: princess academy
  Deleted scenes from princess academy

I often cut out as much as I write. In princess academy, I deleted a character (there were two tutors in the first drafts) and tens of thousands of words. Here are a few scenes I chopped out of the book, some because they slowed down the pace, some because in later drafts they proved to be untrue to Miri's (constantly evolving) character, and others because after reading them a few times, I just didn’t like them anymore. It’s actually embarrassing for me to show these scenes to anyone. I’ve never regretted anything I’ve ever cut, and if you read this over, I think you’ll agree. There is no possible way to get it all right the first time. Or the tenth time, in my opinion. Trimming, editing, and rewriting are good for the soul. And hard on the brain.

The academy’s first rest day

The only acknowledgement the tutors made to the fact that it was a rest day was to lead the class in silent prayer. The girls were instructed to close their eyes and contemplate creation and their place in it as they would have done at chapel with their families.

Miri pictured the village and its view—as far as she was concerned, that was all of creation. She imagined the wind come down from Mount Eskel wrapping around her face, redolent of snow and clean places. She saw the faces of her father and sister, indistinct in memory as though she saw them through smoke. Her inability to picture them clearly made them seem so much farther away than a three hours’ walk. She put her hand over her mouth and felt like the most lonesome thing in the world, a mate-less hawk circling overhead or the last autumn flower on the top of the hill.

Olaua told them to be done and open their eyes. Miri blinked at the bright light that reflected off the snow and dazzled through the windowpane. Gerti wiped at her eyes and looked around to see if anyone had noticed.

Running into the traders on the way to the village

“Good spring to you, Enrik,” said Miri with a generous smile. “Should be quite a trade day. Will you give me a lift up?”

“Why? You have two legs,” said Enrik.

“But your donkey has four,” she said. “Don’t you know Danlander law asserts that when a vehicle travels more than five miles, the number of passenger legs must equal the number of donkey legs?”

It was nonsense, but Miri fancied that it sounded enough like some of Danland’s obscure laws that Enrik might believe her. He just rolled his eyes and gave the donkey a slap on the rump with the reins.

Miri first tells Pa and Marda about quarry-speech

Pa frowned, not understanding. Marda smiled encouragement, but neither were as impressed as Miri had imagined they would be. Her pride flared.

“I can use quarry-speech,” Miri said. “I never could before and now I can. And not only that, but I’ve learned more things than I ever thought there was to know. I can read like the lowlanders now.” She took a sharp piece of rubble rock and scratched Marda’s name onto the linder. “That’s your name, Marda. One word is easy enough, but you should see the books I can read, Marda, stacks of paper this thick all covered in words, and I understand it all. I don’t care if you work in the quarry, because now I can read.”

Miri winced and dropped the rock, and the silence that followed she heard her words echoing in her mind again and again like a rebuke. Miri’s gush of delight dried up, leaving her as hollow as a winter gourd.

Marda gave her a pained half-smile. “I’ll go feed the rabbits.” She hopped off the stone and ran home.

Miri turned to her father. “I thought she’d be proud. I didn’t mean to brag.”

Pa raised one eyebrow.

“I did mean to brag.” Miri sat down hard on the stone. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think she would care so much about not going to the academy.”

Pa rubbed his whiskers. “This mountain holds seven emptied quarry pits. In all that time you girls are the first to learn to read.”

Miri heaved a sigh, feeling as wretched and tiny as the flower of her name. “I’m sorry,” she said again.

“What do we do now?”

“I’ll make oat biscuits and give Marda my portion of honey. Do you think she’d like that?” Miri asked, anxious for her father’s approval.

He nodded. “Doter says a little honey cheers the gloom out of bones and stones.”

After Doter tells her about her mother, Miri remembers the first time she entered the quarry

Miri thought of how many years she had carried that resentment. When Marda had first started working in the quarry, five-year old Miri had followed her, hiding behind houses, running from boulder to boulder. She had known her chase was not a secret, but playing the furtive sister made it seem less like a game and more like real work.

Miri had never actually stepped over the lip of the quarry, sitting just before the earth dropped away. With a shard of linder she had played quarry-worker, shaving rubble rock into square blocks, using thread plucked from her shirt to pull them up a tiny slope. She knew all the quarry songs, sang the ones with the rhythm of the wedge when she broke the rock into smaller pieces, the rhythm of the chisel when she made them square.

When she was bored, she would stand where her father could see her and lift a foot, hold it over the lip of the pit, and wave it around, threatening to take a step.

Her father would shake his head. She would move back. A few minutes later she would threaten another step. When his expression took that sad, disappointed look, Miri’s heart could not bear it and she would run home, to Doter, or to find Peder or Esa to play with.

One very hot day both Peder and Esa had been in bed with a summer cold. There was no shade, and the glare of the sun made her angry. The closest drinking water was in the quarry pit, and Miri, with defiant fists, had waited until her father saw her from across the quarry then taken three bold steps down the slope.

She had expected a sad look or even a stern one, but instead her father had spoken to her in quarry-speech for the first time. The feel of it in her head had been astounding.

Even now, looking back, Miri could not put words to what he had said, but she still remembered the feeling. Warning. Despair. Anger. Heartbreaking love. The shock of it in her five-year-old mind had been enough to chase her from the quarry and quell the temptation to return for many years.

Now that Miri knew the story of her mother, she thought she understood what he had said. Seeing his daughter there must have brought back the memory of the day her mother had fallen. Even though Miri did not share that memory, she had still understood the sense of his quarry-speech—how he felt that day was how he would feel again if harm ever came to Miri.

The thought rang through her like a bell. Her father had a powerful love, and his pain ached even in memory. Miri determined not to test that pain any longer. She would not ask to work in the quarry again. She would find her own place to be.

After the spring festival, the girls return to the academy

Returning to the academy the next day, the older girls kept their distance from Miri at the front of the group. Miri folded her arms, remembered that she did not care, and chatted with Britta about the lovely things the traders had brought. After a while, Katar walked in step. She glanced at Miri every so often with an unpleasant smile.

“I know you think you can beat me, tiny little Miri,” Katar said at last. “But you’re wrong. I’m ahead now, and I’m not budging.”

“I was ahead before,” said Miri.

“Just luck,” said Katar. “Maybe you can take second place. Won’t that be lovely?”

Katar gave Miri that irritating sneer she saved for her haughtiest moments.

“You’re trying to make me think I don’t have a chance so I’ll give up,” said Miri. “That means you’re scared of me, of little tiny Miri.”

“We’ll see.”

Bena stepped beside Britta. “If you cheat, Miri, I’ll make sure every person on Mount Eskel knows about it.”

“If I win, it won’t be from cheating.”

Now during Olaua’s lectures, the space between Miri’s eyebrows was hard and sore, though she did her best to hide it. She found herself glancing often at Katar, wondering if the older girl had caught things that Miri missed, or staring at the painting with hope so strong it felt like something she could reach out and grab. If she did not win Academy Princess, the prince would never notice her…and there was that thought again. Did she really want to be chosen as princess after all? And what if she did? Miri reasoned all the other girls wanted to win, and so there was nothing wrong with her having that desire as well. Not that she did.

Katar stayed at her desk reading when the class went outside, and at first Miri tried to do the same. But when Britta tugged her hand, Miri followed. Her pa did not think ill of her, Marda was learning to read—she felt too good to stay cooped up. Outside Miri and Britta talked and laughed, and Esa joined, then Frid, and bit by bit, some of the younger girls.

Miri organized games of hide and seek and pass-a-secret. More than once she found herself laughing so hard her whole body felt light and huggable. Despite all the tortured studying and headaches and anticipation of the ball, on those outside breaks Miri felt freer and happier than she could ever remember. She impulsively hugged Frid and gave Esa a friendly cheek kiss.

It seemed silly to realize only now that having friends made her happy.

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