Carolyn Gage

Becca and the Woman Prince

                                        This story is dedicated to the memory of Fannyann Eddy.

Once upon a time, there was a princess named Becca who lived in a kingdom with her father and mother and a great number of subjects, which is why Becca grew up as an object.

Becca was a curious, white girl, and she noticed everything around her. She noticed that the castle floors were always shiny on Tuesday and dull on Monday. She noticed that the great cats who roamed the palace halls never came when they were called, which is why no one ever called them. And she noticed that when she played with her marbles, people always told her to do it somewhere else.

Becca asked a lot of questions, but, even more than that, she made observations. At dinner, she would want to talk about the green beans, and whether or not the way you slice them affects the way they taste. At breakfast, she would want to talk about the ponies in the meadow, and how they toss their heads, and why. And at the noon hour, she was likely to talk about the dam she built in the creek, or the insect larva she had found, or the great owl in the oak tree.

But no one ever listened to Becca. Around the palace she was known as Becca the Bore, or Becca the Boring, or the Princess Who Bores Everyone. And the more people cut her off, or got up and left in the middle of a conversation, or changed the subject, the more Becca would talk to herself.

Finally, the king, in exasperation, decided that the best thing to do would be to marry her off to a prince who lived in another kingdom. He sent out announcements that Princess Becca was accepting suitors. And, of course, he sent out miniature paintings of the princess with these announcements. These bore little resemblance to Becca, but that was generally the way with these sorts of portraits, and the princes who would respond probably knew that anyway.

And so the first batch of suitors arrived. They were cordial, correct, and uncomfortable. In fact, the best part of their visit was the soccer match they arranged on Saturdays among themselves. Becca came down the second Saturday to play with them, she being very skilled with her feet, but the princes all got uncomfortable again, and pretty soon Becca found herself on an empty field, kicking the ball around.

The courtship was very structured, and for an hour in the morning and then an hour in the evening, one or another of them would come and talk with Becca in her bower –properly chaperoned, of course.

Becca was charmed to have company that would pay attention to her and not leave for an hour, and she talked almost incessantly. She would occasionally pause for her companion to jump in, but princes are a dull lot, and they couldn’t see any point in saying anything, since the courtship of a princess has very little to do with whether or not you actually like her.

Pretty soon it was coming to the informal end of the first round of formal suitors. The king waited daily for the request for an audience with him that would indicate that one of them was going to ask for her hand. But the king waited in vain.

The princes had decided among themselves that there was something definitely wrong with Becca. Apparently, she did not understand her role at all, which at this stage of the game—even before the wedding vows!—was pretty disconcerting. They tried to imagine what it would be like to ride back to their kingdoms with Becca talking the whole time, or what they would do if she started insisting on joining them in the hunt or for tournaments. Really, she seemed capable of anything! And it was difficult for any of them to feel the sort of manly throb that portends a happy marriage, when the intended object of their desire showed not one shred of passivity, helplessness, or submissive behavior.

And so the princes took their leave, each one called suddenly home by some unspecified crisis in the family. Becca dutifully stood on the battlements and waved them off. She was not aware that she had been rejected, because she had never seen herself as up for sale in the first place. The whole thing had been an interesting diversion.

The king sent out a second round of announcements, this time to kingdoms far across the sea, to strange lands where foreign languages were spoken and where the customs and the people were very different from his own. Because of the unfortunate reports that would inevitably circulate from the first round of suitors, the lack of a common language could prove to be an advantage.

These suitors came also, but it seems that Becca’s behaviors transgressed all cultural borders. The second round of suitors left much as had the first.

At this point, the queen stepped in. She hired “tutors” for Becca. She recruited the most fashionable women at court to instruct her daughter in the art of dressing like a princess. Becca was fascinated, and she asked so many questions about the point of ribbons and lacings and frills, and so many questions about why some women wore fancy clothes and why others wore homespun, and she made so many comments on the effect of fashion on the physiology of the body that the ladies became self-conscious and, finally, exasperated. They reported to the queen that Becca was making fun of them. Becca, as usual, was oblivious to the effect she had on those around her.

The queen hired women skilled in the art of talking to men, which, more accurately put, is the art of listening to men. Becca found the stratagems fascinating, and she enjoyed role-playing the part of the men during the teaching sessions, but when confronted with the real thing, she could never restrain herself from jumping in with corrections or questions about whatever the man had said.

Finally, both the king and queen gave up, and Becca was left to her long walks, to her books, paintings, building projects, scientific experiments, and music. And so things went on for a few more years.

And then one day a stranger strode up to the gates of the castle and announced her intention to woo the Princess Becca. This warrior from another culture wore a loose-fitting smock over tight trousers, with a bow slung across her back. Around her neck, on a string of bright beads, was one of the battered miniatures sent out by Becca’s father. She came bearing a sack of kola nuts to offer to Becca. Her skin was as dark as Becca’s was light, and her short hair grew in tight coils close to her scalp.

The king and queen were flustered. It never occurred to them that a woman would court their daughter. Such a thing had never been done before. Or, perhaps, the queen had a sister somewhere who never married and lived with another spinster, and maybe the king could remember a distant cousin who had a similar arrangement. But surely these were women who couldn’t get a husband. Surely they had not chosen such a life!

The royal pair called in their advisors. The advisors advised them to determine the status of the visitor before they did anything to offend her. Perhaps female marriages were customary in her kingdom… or queendom… ?

And so they called in the Woman Prince, for such, indeed, she was. When it was suggested by the chancellor that “Woman Prince” was synonymous with “Princess,” the visitor fixed a steely eye on the unfortunate man until his arguments crumbled right out of his mouth. And so the Woman Prince, whose name was Ymoja, was accepted as a prince, and it was determined that, as a prince, she had a right to court the Princess Becca.

Becca, as was usually the case with things regarding her welfare, was told nothing—only to expect a prince for lunch. Becca was seated in her bower, kicking her soccer ball around under her long skirt and nibbling the corners off the watercress sandwiches, while she waited for her new visitor. She had been experimenting with plant decoctions all morning, trying to extract the scent from roses, and her hands were stained yellow.

The Woman Prince was escorted into the bower by Becca’s former governess, who was the chaperon for these occasions. Ymoja froze when she caught sight of the Princess, who was at that very moment executing a kick that sent the tea table and the sandwiches flying. The governess began to scold her for being so careless, but the Woman Prince trapped the ball between her strong ankles and then gave it a sharp kick which sent it sailing over Becca’s head and through the open window behind her. Becca scrambled over the back of the bench to see where it landed. The leather ball had just cleared the moat, landing in a pile of rushes on the far side, where it flushed out a pair of disgruntled ducks.

Disguising her admiration, Becca turned to the Woman Prince: “I hope you know you’re going to have to go and get it.” The Woman Prince turned to the chaperon. The chaperon, at a loss to interpret for the Woman Prince, turned to Becca. Becca, never at a loss, used her hands to explain how the Woman Prince would need to leave the chamber, go all the way back down the great staircase, cross over the lowered drawbridge, climb into the mud, retrieve the ball from the duck nest, and bring it back to her. The Woman Prince stood shaking her head from side to side, until, finally, Becca, completely exasperated, took her by the arm and pulled her toward the door herself, and all the way down the great staircase, and out across the castle drawbridge. The chaperon, who had not had her lunch, stayed behind and finished Becca’s sandwiches.

Becca continued to talk the whole way down to the moat—which was not unusual, although she did incorporate more gestures into her speech than was her custom. When the two girls reached the far bank of the moat, where the soccer ball lay in the mud, Becca pointed to the mud and then to the Woman Prince. The Woman Prince nodded gravely, as if she understood, pointing to the mud and then back to the Princess. This went on for a few minutes, each taking turns pointing and nodding, until finally the Princess realized that the Woman Prince was mocking her. Becca had been making a fool of herself by treating the Woman Prince like an idiot, just because she didn’t speak Becca’s language.

Becca smiled at her own stupidity, retrieved the ball, and began to head back to the palace. The Woman Prince reached out her hand and stopped her. Ymoja took the ball from Becca’s hand and set it on a level patch of ground. Then, lifting up her foot slowly and placing it very gently on top of the ball, she turned her head and looked solemnly at the Princess. Becca solemnly reached down and pulled the back hem of her skirt up, between her legs, and tucked it into the front of her waistband. She gave the ball a solid boot, and the two women took off. They ran and kicked and rolled until they were both covered with dust and sweat and were feeling very good about themselves. Becca smiled at her new friend and said, “I want to learn your language. Teach me.”

The Woman Prince understood exactly what Becca was asking, and she answered, in her own language, “I will.”

And so every day and all day, the Woman Prince and Becca would get together and teach each other their languages. Very soon, they could communicate well enough to disagree, and this was a great thing for Becca, because no one had ever taken her seriously enough to argue. Their voices would ring out loudly all over the palace, as they ran up the stairs and down the garden paths, talking, shouting, laughing… talking, talking, talking.

The Woman Prince taught Becca about her home in West Africa, Mali, which she called “the Bright Country.” She showed Becca her “sassa,” a goatskin pouch with magic charms which she carried with her at all times, explaining how the “jinn,” or spirits, caused trouble for anyone caught without their “sassa.” And the Woman Prince talked about the “simbon,” or hunters in her country, and how they were protected by two hunter gods, and how these two male gods would become very angry unless their names were always said together, because they were so deeply in love with each other.

The Woman Prince spoke of many things, but she never spoke of her family or of the women from her country.

The more Becca listened to the Woman Prince, the more she began to notice things—things she had always overlooked, even though they had been right in front of her for years. And one of the things she began to notice were boots, especially the boots the guardsmen wore when they were on duty at the palace.

One day, Becca asked one of the guardsmen where he got his boots. He told her they were issued by special order of the king. And so Becca went to her father. She wanted a pair of boots, she told him. They were better for riding, better for hiking, and a lot better for soccer. She explained about how her slippers kept coming off every time she got in a good kick, and how this prevented her from following through with a goal. The king sat and listened gravely, nodding his head as if he could sympathize. And so Becca drew out a pattern of her feet for him, gave him a pair of her most comfortable slippers, and handed him a rough sketch of the kind of lacings she had in mind for the boots.

The king sat for a long time looking at the drawing of the boots. He continued to look at the drawing long after Becca had left. He did not send for a shoemaker. He sent for his wife. And she looked at the drawing of the boots. And then she looked at the king.

They had been willing to allow the Woman Prince to court their daughter. They had even been willing to allow the Woman Prince to marry Becca and take her away to a foreign country. But they were not willing to allow her to turn their daughter into a prince. Two princes certainly couldn’t marry, not even two women princes. And who would ever want their daughter after she had made herself into a prince? It was bad enough that she talked all the time.

The king and the queen realized that they needed to act quickly. Today it was the boots, tomorrow it might be trousers, and who knew after that? Would she want to inherit the kingdom, too? It was a bad business, this Woman Prince affair.

The next morning, the Woman Prince was summoned to the king’s chamber. He had all of his chancellors lined up behind him. The Woman Prince was asked to sit, but she declined. The king, flustered, ordered the chair removed. And then he got down to his point: A mistake had been made. The Princess Becca had apparently been betrothed at birth to a prince from a neighboring kingdom, but because of some remodeling that had been going on in the document room at the time, the record of this arrangement had gotten mislaid, and it had only just recently come to light. He, the king, was embarrassed to inform her of this, having granted the Woman Prince permission to court his daughter, and certainly no other prince had ever given his daughter so much pleasure, which only made this meeting twice as painful for him.

The Woman Prince had not moved a muscle since the removal of the chair. She did not look happy and she did not look sad. She stood like a statue. The king kept coming to the end of sentences, and looking expectantly at her. When she didn’t move, he would ramble on with another stream of so-of-course-you-see’s and believe-me-nothing-would-have-pleased-me-more’s.

Eventually even the king ran out of stock phrases. Winding down like a toy drummer, he finally folded his hands and turned to his chancellors, who were making a point of staring straight ahead. The king gave up and looked at his lap. There was a long silence. Finally, the Woman Prince said something. Using the king’s language, she asked, “Will that be all?”

The king nodded miserably, and the Woman Prince turned sharply and swept a contemptuous gaze across the faces of the chancellors, like a teacher wiping an insult off the chalkboard, and then she exited. The Woman Prince went directly to Becca.

Becca was astonished. She puzzled over who this prince could be, and how was it that no one had ever mentioned such a thing to her. The Woman Prince finally exploded, in her own language: “There is no prince.”

Becca looked up, amazed. She spoke in her own language: “What do you mean?”

The Woman Prince for the first and only time in her life looked at Becca with contempt. Becca felt a pain unlike anything she had ever experienced. And in that instant, she knew that she would leave her castle, leave her people, leave her language, leave her innocence about the world—that she would leave everything she had ever known and learn another whole way of living in order that this woman whom she loved with all her heart and all her soul and all her body would never, never in her life, ever, have a reason to look at her that way again. And she knew that the price could be nothing less.

Becca rose. “I understand,” she said in the language of the Woman Prince. “I will leave this place. I will leave tonight.”

The Woman Prince looked at her. Becca was standing, but she was not as tall as the Woman Prince, and she needed to tilt her head in order to look into her eyes. She repeated, “I will leave this place. Tonight.”
The Woman Prince, in a palace of lies, in a palace of liars, looked long and hard into Becca’s eyes. “I won’t take you,” she said.

Becca, stung for a second time by her lover—but this time by her words, answered her, “I didn’t ask you to. I am leaving because I don’t belong here.” She turned to leave, but something didn’t seem right. She turned back to the Woman Prince, and took off her ring. She held it out to her. “I want to give this to you, because I love you.”

The Woman Prince looked at the ring, an expensive ring, a white woman’s ring, the ring of a princess. And then she looked at Becca. Becca nodded, and put the ring back on her own finger. Great tears began to roll down her cheeks. The Woman Prince knew they were not for her. She knew they were the tears of a white girl who for once could not have what she wanted. And she turned and left before the tears rolled down her own cheeks, tears for an African Woman Prince who was so brave, so very alone in a palace of liars.

And that night, the queen drank more wine that she had in years—maybe as much wine as she had the night she and her girlfriend had gotten drunk and spent the night together almost forty years ago. The king took a potion, because he didn’t like the night.

Becca stuffed the cracks around the door and the windows of her bedroom, so that the light wouldn’t shine through, and she packed. She packed carefully, for the first time in her life having to worry about survival. In a way, her great heart-ache made the task easier. What could she fear when she had already lost the greatest thing in her life?

The Woman Prince paced the battlements, which were outside the large window of her chamber. She had come here—why? She had seen a picture of the white princess. Why had she come? Because in her kingdom they had no use for Woman Princes. Because her brothers were the ones who would inherit the kingdom. Because, where she came from, the women would be given in marriage to the men. Because this was a chance to go somewhere different, to start all over.

What had she been thinking? And if she had married Becca, where did she think she could take her? Back to her homeland, where Becca would see that Ymoja was only a princess in her own kingdom and not a Woman Prince at all? Wasn’t this the ending she had known would have to happen all along? Stupid, stupid woman. Stupid. And part of her heart was hardened against the love of a soft, white girl who had been content to be a princess. And part of her heart cried out for that girl, because they had laughed and wrestled and argued and played soccer.

And the great and proud Woman Prince paced until the light of dawn began to appear in the sky. And then she heard the sound of the drawbridge being lowered, slowly—oh, so slowly. And with a shock, she saw Becca—Becca in boots!—leading her little, speckled pony across the drawbridge. And then, she saw her throw a bundle up on the saddle and swing herself onto the back of the pony. Becca, who didn’t even know how to build a fire! Becca, who had no idea what the world was like! Becca, her lover, was riding out alone across the misty fields!

And in an instant, a blind and rushing instant, the Woman Prince tore back into her room, snatched up her bow and her sassa, and dashed down the great stairway, through the castle gate, and into the courtyard. She ran past the sleeping castle guards, past the dazed gatekeeper with his stocking feet and his shiny new gold piece. The drawbridge was still down and, racing over it, the Woman Prince could just see Becca on her pony in the distance. She lifted her voice and called out with her fiercest warrior cry, a cry that pierced the fog and rang across the damp fields as she broke into the long, even strides that had carried her so many miles from her African homeland—strides that now carried her toward the red glow of the newly-risen sun.

In the morning, the king and the queen were not surprised to hear that the Woman Prince was gone. That she had left all her belongings behind did seem odd, but no one really wanted to talk about the episode, and the queen ordered the things to be discretely packed into a chest and labeled and carried down to the cellar—in case the Woman Prince should send for them. After all, this was as much a question of diplomacy as hospitality.
There was a note on the princess’ door that she did not want to see anybody or talk to anybody. And, frankly, nobody wanted to see her or talk to her—and so the note, the door, and the princess were left undisturbed.

It was not until the second day, when the servants began to whisper about whether or not the princess was eating, that the queen felt compelled to knock on her door. Too embarrassed to admit that her daughter would not speak to her, she reported that Becca had a sick headache and wished to be left alone.

As usual, it was the working women who figured out what was really going on: no food, no water, and especially no chamber pots to be emptied… ! Either the princess was killing herself or she was not there.

On the third day, one of the maids took it upon herself to climb out on the ledge of the castle wall and peer into the window of Becca’s bedroom. The room looked as if a whirlwind had torn through it. Chests lay open with all their contents spilling out, clothing was strewn all over the bed, and the bed itself was torn apart—but no princess.

The queen became hysterical. The Woman Prince had kidnapped her daughter and was holding her for ransom! The king made unfortunate remarks about foreigners in general and women princes in particular. But, as always, it was the working women who figured out the truth. They noted that the mayhem in Becca’s room was not indicative of a bloody struggle, but of a hasty flight. The ransacking, chaotic as it appeared, actually represented a thorough but hurried search for items whose existence, value, and whereabouts could have been known only to their owner. Besides, anyone who had ever seen the two women playing together would have known how utterly unthinkable it was that either one of them should dominate the other for a minute longer than might be absolutely necessary to kick a field goal.

And so the queen, who had made a fool of herself by reporting the conversation with Becca, retreated to her bedchamber—and her wine—with her own sick headache. And the king, with some embarrassment, ordered destroyed the posters announcing a reward for the capture of the Woman Prince. A great silence descended on the castle. Becca’s things were bundled together into several chests, labeled, and sent to the cellar, also. And the queen ordered that a lock be placed on the door to Becca’s room.

The chancellors, the king, and the queen never made mention again of either Becca or the Woman Prince, and the servants learned to follow their example—at least when they were not among themselves.

As the years went by, rumors began to reach the palace of two girl knights—one black and one white—who were riding about the neighboring kingdoms punishing acts of violence against women and teaching girls to defend themselves. There were some who swore the whole thing was a myth, and there were others who believed in the knights, but who insisted they were two young men. And there were others—young girls of a marriageable age, mostly—who just disappeared one night and were never seen again by their families.

Years and years later, after wars and famines and plagues had ravaged the kingdom of Becca’s childhood, a rumor reached the ears of the aging king. The queen, alas, had died many years earlier from an unfortunate fall from her bedchamber window.

The rumor was this: That at the very remotest corner at the far ends of the earth stood a small cottage, and a lovely garden with a creek running through it, and in this cottage lived two older women—one black and the other white—who had many visitors from near and far, but always women. And these visitors would come away struck by how much the two women loved their garden, and how much they loved their animals, and how much they loved their charming home… But the thing that would impress the visitors the most was how much the two women loved—absolutely loved—talking to each other.

"Becca and the Woman Prince" was originally published in Lesbian Love Stories II, edi. by Irene Zahava. Also published in The Spindle and Other Lesbian Fairy Tales by Carolyn Gage.

Carolyn Gage is a lesbian‑feminist playwright, performer, director, and activist. The author of nine books on lesbian theatre and sixty-five plays, musicals, and one-woman shows, she specializes in non-traditional roles for women, especially those reclaiming famous lesbians whose stories have been distorted or erased from history.