Rumor Has It...
Gentle dew on green leaves glistened brilliantly as the first light of dawn shined on the small Bavarian town of Füssen.
Olga, a newly wed bride, rose from her hay-stuffed mattress at the break of dawn to the crowing of roosters. Careful not to wake the man sleeping next to her, she seated herself on the mattress and took her time dressing in her dirndl—a customary dress consisting of a bodice, skirt, blouse, and apron.
After she secured the lacing and tied her long blond hair up in a ribbon, she smiled tenderly to the face of her beloved, Diedrich.
Her man may have owned nothing, was a little stubborn and whiny, and behaved stupidly sometimes, but she loved him more than life itself, and she couldn’t feel prouder of him for how hard he’d been working to support their small nest over the past months.
She will not feel the warmth of his arms again until dusk when he return from the farm, and he will probably be bone-tired again. Such is spring to a farmer: a rush of work to get crops in the ground before the weeds take over.
There was nothing Olga could do about that. What she could do was let the love of her life sleep a little longer. She fixed the sheets to better protect him from cold, left a dish of cheese and bread on the table for when he wakes up, grabbed her butter-separator, and headed out to tend her father’s cows.
Shutting the door of their cottage behind her, she blinked rapidly from the blinding sunlight, and smiled. For Olga, this was to be just another peaceful spring day at Füssen.
Little did Olga know that over the next two days she was going to do something that would turn their quiet town on its head.
* * *
“Olga, good morning!”
“Good morning, Mr. Kunibert.” Olga stopped to greet her caller, balancing a basket full of bricks of butter against her hip.
The old man, Mr. Kunibert, looked like the devil. His skin wrinkled, his eyes a glowing yellow, slick, gray hair hung to his shoulders. His hands and apron were wet with blood from the chickens he butchered at the table of his shop that was strategically located at the head of the market.
Olga never let his looks bother her. She knew Mr. Kunibert was a very nice person, albeit a little on the perverted side.
“Is that today’s butter?” he asked.
“I’ve just churned and salted it.”
“I’ll take one.”
“Of course.” She approached the table and held out a brick of butter for him. “Freshly made by my own hands.
Mr. Kunibert turned to wash his hands. He then took the brick but withdrew his other hand—the one holding the payment—before Olga could take the coin.
He jested, eyes on her magnificent bosom, “Wooh! Didn’t you strap your laces a bit too tightly this morning?”
“Mr. Kunibert.” Olga rolled her eyes, her hand still in the air.
“How can you breathe like that? Loosen it up a little. I can help you, if you like.”
She raised her voice, almost yelping. “Mr. Kunibert!” Smiling wildly, she signaled ’give me, give me’ with her extended hand. “My Pfenninc,” she reminded him, “or do you mean to eat my butter for free?”
Mr. Kunibert comically looked left and right before leaning his upper half over the table to whisper, “Free or not, I’ll eat your butter any day.”
She hopped on her toes and threw her head back in hopelessness.
“What? I was talking about this butter.” He chuckled, playing with the brick in his hand. “What else did you think I meant?”
“Give me that!”
Laughing, Mr. Kunibert withdrew his hand before she could take the butter from him. He handed her the coin.
Olga said with a pretended sigh, “Thank you.” She then decided to tease the old man back. Smiling, she held the coin in front of her face between her index and middle finger. “I’d have you know, I’ve got nothing against dirty old men, so long as they pay first, joke later.” She tucked the coin in her cleavage.
Mr. Kunibert cracked a laugh. “You vixen! No wonder that basket always returns empty. I swear, Diedrich is the luckiest dog ever.”
“I know he is. No woman alive can fill my shoes,” she replied haughtily.
Mr. Kunibert snapped as if her words made him recall something. He bent forward and signaled for Olga to lean closer. “Oh, this reminds me, come here, there’s a secret I must tell you.”
Olga narrowed her gaze. “You just want to look down my bodice again.”
“No, I’m serious, you’ve got to hear this.”
She leaned toward him and whispered, “What?”
“Listen, oh, praise the Lord, you will not believe this. You must promise not to tell anyone.”
“What? Tell me.”
“You know that our lord Ludwig has left to Dusseldorf, right?”
“Everyone knows. We bid him farewell yesterday. So what?”
“Sooo, I’ve heard from a very reliable source…Spoiled Alicia. She’s planning on coming to town today.”
Olga set her palm to the side of his head and gave him a push just as she retreated. She scorned dismissively, “What a load of nonsense.”
“I’m sure she will.”
“You don’t believe me? Then wait and see for yourself. Spoiled Alicia—”
“Don’t call her spoiled. These are but her ungrateful maids telling false gossips behind her back. If the guards hear you, you could lose your tongue. And one more thing: she will come down here and do what, hm? Have you thought about that?”
“Perhaps…perhaps she wants to—”
“Buy one of your chickens, maybe?”
Irritated, Mr. Kunibert pulled a chicken by its legs out of a cage and showed it to Olga. “Maybe she will! As a matter of fact, I’m already prepared. I’m saving my fattest chicken for when she walks by and will give it to her as a gift.”
It sounded so stupid, Olga glared at him with a narrow gaze, “You can’t be serious.”
“You know nothing about how this world works. Her father is the lord. If…if…if by some chance it really happened and I can gift her something that will make her happy, it will reach her father’s ears. Do you even know what that means?”
Smiling with silliness and nodding her head, she joked, “Her father will buy a chicken from you every morning. Maybe two.”
“Very funny. Laugh all you like now, but when I drown in riches, guess who will be the first at my door, asking for a loan?”
Olga waved her hand in the air. “Yes, yes, yes, I’ll learn from your example and save my softest brick of butter for when I see her, so that I, too, will drown in riches.” She snapped with pretended shock. “Oh, no, wait, I totally forgot. I must first beg your wise guidance. Please tell me: what…does…Alicia…look like?”
Met by silence, Olga walked away, laughing over her shoulder. “I thought so.”
Mr. Kunibert yelled after her, “Laugh. Yes, laugh while you still can. I swear, I should not have told you. You’ll see, I’ll figure it out.”
Ignoring him, Olga waved at a woman walking in the opposite direction. “Good morning, Mrs. Muller.”
“Good morning, my dear.”
Olga stopped on her way, giggling and covering her mouth as she recalled the irritated look on Mr. Kunibert’s face and his absurd secret.
She sent her gaze south, beyond the log-built town’s church and green woods at its background, towards the great castle atop the hill overlooking their town.
Here, within the town’s market, was the closest Olga or any of her friends had ever been to the castle.
It looked so grand and so beautiful with its white walls and towers. She wondered to herself in which of those beautiful towers Alicia lived. Was she truly the apple of her father’s eye, as it was told? What was her daily life like? And what was she doing right now?
For but a moment, Olga allowed doubt to whisper in her ear: What if the news Mr. Kunibert told her was real? What if Spoiled Alicia truly intended to come down to town? And why…?
It was rumored that Alicia was descended from a line of twenty-one princesses.
It was rumored that Alicia had never taken a step outside her room and rose gardens before.
It was rumored that, once, Alicia wanted to attend a mass, so her father built her her own church within the castle walls, and when Alicia didn’t find her picture among the triptych of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and saints, it was said that she cried until the tears drenched her dress and ordered the church demolished.
It was rumored that the carpets of her room were replaced daily. That her bath was made of marble. Her bed of clouds. Her hairbrush of gold. That her maids outnumbered her father’s army, and her pets were even more numerous.
And it was rumored that… Alicia wasn’t even real.
Olga shook her head and laughed at herself for even considering such falsehoods. It was surely nonsense. No such a person could possibly exist.
Spoiled Alicia, if not a fairytale, was but an innocent child fallen victim to her own maids’ jealousy.
Leave the fairytales for the fools.
For now, Olga had fresh butter to sell.