In this chapter of A New Princess our new arrival and her sidekick find themselves at DISNEY Academy and start to realise that they're not in the Dark Wood anymore.
The girl in the scarlet cloak stopped on the road, she put her picnic basket down, lowered her hood, used a pocket handkerchief to mop her perspiring forehead and looked down at the wolf pup beside her.
The pup panted as it was a warm day, and he and his mistress had been walking for a long time.
“This is it, Lilbee,” the girl said, craning her head to look at the gleaming golden gates that stretched across the road and the cursive script above them that read:
Dignity Intelligence Sophistication Nobility Enthusiasm Youth. Those six words were the school’s values. Each young lady who passed through the gates may possess the six qualities and more besides, they may not even know it at the time, but when they left the school they would be Princesses not just in name or birth, but in the very fibre of their being. Because of its exclusivity the school was referred to as an academy and sometimes the DISNEY Academy, because of the words above the gate. Most called it The Academy.
Red, or to use her full name Little Red Riding Hood, had heard about The Academy. Everyone had heard about The Academy, it was just that she had never dreamt of actually attending it. How could she? She wasn’t of royal blood and she didn’t know any Princes, nor did she have any intention of trying to meet one. Then when her mother attempted to trace the Hood family tree she discovered that Red’s grandmother, sweet, old, goody basket loving, wolf fighting Granny was in fact of royal birth. Red’s mother had no intention of leaving the Dark Wood to become a Princess and the blood was on her father’s side of the family in any case, so it was that Red received a letter from The Academy inviting her to attend.
In the girl’s own opinion she wasn’t Princess material. She’d heard the stories of relative unknowns being plucked from obscurity and elevated to Princesshood. Girls like The Academy’s revered and respected Headmistress; Cinderella, but surely that couldn’t happen to her: Little Red Riding Hood of the Dark Wood, could it?
There was also the manner of her arrival. She had walked. When Princess Ariel arrived at The Academy she had been borne in a giant clamshell drawn by six snow-white dolphins, it floated down the river and into the moat. The exotic Princess Jasmine had flown on an enchanted carpet. Even the humble Belle had ridden in on her faithful steed Phillipe. Red looked down at her travel-stained boots and her dusty cloak and sighed. Lilbee gave her an encouraging smile.
“Okay,” Red said, taking a deep breath, “here goes nothing.” And she strode confidently forward, steeling herself to walk straight into the gates if they didn’t magically open for her, as she expected they wouldn’t. Of course there was a reason she had a grappling hook and a coil of rope in her picnic basket.
To Red’s immense surprise the gates swung open and she and Lilbee walked right through. Both of them stopped a little way down the path, turned and watched the gates swing shut again with a rather final sounding clang.
“We’re not in the Dark Wood anymore, Lilbee,” she said to her companion.
Lilbee yipped his assent. Red admired her surroundings as she strolled along the neat path. It was only made of packed dirt, but it had a different consistency as if it had been made of something else to look like dirt and the grass and wildflowers that bordered it had not just grown randomly, but followed a very set manner of planting. On either side was a wild, but not at all forbidding looking forest, in the way her home of Dark Wood could often be.
Lilbee wandered off the path, sniffed in the grass and stopped. He lowered his head down and came up holding a stick in his mouth. He sat down and looked up at Red beseechingly.
The girl in the scarlet cloak rolled her eyes, but said, “All right then,” and held out her hand. Lilbee dropped the stick into it. She drew her arm back and warned, “Keep an eye on this one, Lilbee, because it’s going for a mile,” the wolf pup nodded eagerly, grey tail twitching. “Ready, steady, GO!” on GO Red released the stick, it flew up in the air and some distance away began to drop. Lilbee took off like an arrow from a bow, keeping his eyes on the small falling piece of tree.
Red watched the little wolf bound through the lush green grass after the stick and smiled. On the other side of the path her attention was drawn by a tall, willowy girl with masses of fiery red curls, dressed in a dark blue dress, who was running for all she was worth towards the cover of the trees. “Excuse me,’ Red called out.
The redhead drew to a screeching halt and breathlessly asked, “Eh?”
“Where is the castle?”
“The castle. The Academy.”
“Aye the dungeon ye be wantin’. Jus’ keep following the path. Big buildin’, ye cannae miss it. If anyone asks, ye nivver saw me, okay?”
Before Red could ask what on earth the girl meant she let out a yelp and raced off, red hair flying behind like a crimson curtain.
Red kept walking. Lilbee was still searching for the stick. She hadn’t gone very far when another woman came running along the grass. She was dark skinned and wearing a plain yellow dress, her raven hair was tied in a neat functional ponytail behind her head. She brandished a rolling pin in one fist and was shouting, “Merida! Come back here! You can’t get out of cooking class that easy, young lady!”
“Excuse me?” Red asked politely.
The other woman seemed to notice her for the first time. “Yes, child?”
“I’m new here, is this the right way to the castle?”
“Oh yes, just keep following the path you can’t miss it. You didn’t happen to see a red haired girl in a blue dress, did you?”
The question put Red in a bit of a quandary. Merida must be the redhead she had encountered earlier, she was a clearly a student and the lady in the yellow dress was a teacher of some sort, probably a Princess. On the one hand she didn’t want to get her career at The Academy off to a bad start by lying to a teacher or even worse a Princess, but she also didn’t want to make an enemy of Merida by telling on her.
Lilbee came to the rescue by trotting up with the stick in his mouth. Red sighed happily. “Oh Lilbee! You found the stick! Good boy! Who’s a good boy?” and she bent and scratched him behind the ears and tickled his tummy. Lilbee had no idea why Red was so pleased that he had fetched a stick, that was his part of the game. Red threw the stick, he chased it and brought it back, then she threw it again until they both got tired and stopped. However if she wanted to scratch between his ears and tickle his tummy he wasn’t about to stop her.
The woman in the yellow dress frowned, but didn’t say anything, instead turned towards the forest and muttered, “So help me girl if I get jumped on by a frog,” and stalked off waving her rolling pin threateningly.
“C’mon Lilbee,” Red said to the little wolf.
Lilbee dropped his stick and trotted along behind the girl.
Both Merida and the rolling pin wielder in the yellow dress had been telling the truth, it would have been near impossible to miss The Academy’s main building. It was a huge castle with turrets and spires, it’s imposing bulk filled up the horizon, gaily coloured pennants fluttered in the gentle breeze. Red stopped walking and stared at it. “Wow!” she breathed.
Lilbee’s paws stirred up a miniature dust storm. He sat down on his haunches and looked at the castle in the near distance. The young wolf did not make a sound, but he was clearly every bit as impressed as Little Red Riding Hood.
Keeping their eyes on the castle as it came ever closer, the girl and the wolf continued down the path, stopping when they reached the moat. The drawbridge was down, but the bridge was guarded by two small men. One leaned heavily on his spear and as Red approached him she could tell that he was snoring loudly into his beard, he was sound asleep. The short guard on the other side of the drawbridge was at least awake. Red looked at him and said, “Hello, I’m Little Red Riding Hood.”
The guard regarded the girl, started to return her greeting them broke into a monumental sneezing fit. Red was so surprised she took an involuntary step backwards and Lilbee let out a startled yip before running behind his mistress and hiding behind her legs, peering out cautiously and curiously.
“Sn…sn…ee…zy,” the guard managed to wheeze out before finishing it off with an explosive. “Ahchoo!”
Red could see why he was called Sneezy, although maybe that was an explanation, not a name. She withdrew a handkerchief from a pocket in her dress and held it out to the man. He accepted it wordlessly and noisily blew his bulbous reddened nose into it.
“I’m a student,” Red said, holding out her letter of invitation.
Sneezy was about to take the document and check it when he was doubled over by another sustained barrage of sneezes. As he straightened up and wiped his streaming eyes another little man trotted down the drawbridge.
“Hello!” he beamed at Little Red Riding Hood and Lilbee. He wore a yellow cap and a bright red shirt that seemed to emphasize his impressive girth; he was almost as wide as he was tall. Like Sneezy, and the sleeping guard, a snowy white beard covered his chest and belly. “I’m Happy!”
“Little Red Riding Hood and Lilbee,” the girl introduced herself and her canine friend.
Happy took the letter from her hand, scanned it and chortled, ‘This all seems in order. Follow me and we’ll get you all set up, Miss Hood.”
“Ummm…it’s actually Red, the girl said politely, hurrying to catch up to Happy as he led she and Lilbee down the drawbridge, for someone so portly, he could move quickly.
“Of course it is, Miss Hood,” Happy laughed merrily.
Happy moved so quickly and surely along the wide hallways that Red and Lilbee had to rush to keep up with him and didn’t want to lose sight of him, because she’d be lost in the castle’s rabbit warren of halls within seconds and have to rely on Lilbee’s sense of smell to get them out again. Lilbee, like most wolves, had a useful nose, but as he was young what he considered worth sniffing out wasn’t necessarily what Red wanted him to find.
The cheerful bearded man came to a halt at a large wooden door. He knocked smartly and was greeted by a gruff “Whaddya want?” from the other side.
Red and Lilbee exchanged concerned looks. The voice on the other side of the door sounded like it belonged to a very angry person. The girl’s entrance to The Academy wasn’t turning out at all how she had expected.
To her surprise Happy greeted the rude response with a belly laugh and shouted through the door, “It’s me, Happy, I have the new student and her sidekick.”
“Yeah, yeah, hang on,” the voice snapped and footsteps could be heard approaching the door on the other side.
Happy grinned at Red and Lilbee and chuckled, “Don’t mind Grumpy, his bark is worse than his bite,” and as the door was thrown open he left, giggling his way down the corridor. Red did briefly wonder what he found so amusing, then again his name was Happy, she supposed.
Red found herself looking down into the face of another small man. He did not look very impressed. “Hmmppphhh!” he grunted at Red. “C’mon in,” and he turned his back on the girl and her wolf pup, sliding around behind a desk and glaring at her.
“Ya got the letter?” he asked.
Red nodded and handed it across.
“Siddown!” Grumpy ordered, indicating a chair on her side of the desk. “Ya make me nervous standin’ there.”
Red lowered herself carefully into the chair and Lilbee sat beside it, looking up anxiously at his mistress.
Grumpy opened a large, heavy book in front of him and leafed through it ponderously until he found the page he was looking for. “New arrivals,” he muttered to himself. “Where is that blasted pencil?”
Red noticed that the angry little man had a thick pencil tucked behind his ear and tried to point it out to him, but then he seemed to find it and said, “It’s behind my ear. If ya could see that why didn’t you tell me?”
Red started to protest that he hadn’t given her a chance, but Grumpy held up a hand, showing her a leathery palm and barked, “Name?”
“Little Red Riding Hood.”
The little man licked the end of the pencil and began to laboriously write the name down. ‘I guess it’s shorter than the titles Jasmine insists that she receives.”
“People call me Red for short,” the girl volunteered.
“Headmistress Cinderella is a stickler for full names at admission,” Grumpy told her.
“I have a wolf pup.”
“That’ll do, he got a name?”
“Is that with one l or two?”
“It’s short for Little Bad, his uncle is known as Big B…”
“I wanted his name, not his life story,” Grumpy cut the girl off.
Red frowned. She wished Happy had done this instead. Grumpy was very rude.
“You a Princess by birth?”
“Sort of. My grandmother on my father’s side is a Princess, but we didn’t know that…”
“Birth,” Grumpy said as he wrote it down. “Ya wouldn’t believe some of the ways these girls have of claiming royalty.” He closed the book with a slam and bellowed, “Dopey!”
The door opened quickly and another little man stood in the doorway. He was unusual for The Academy’s small staff, Red wondered how many there were of them, in that he was beardless, and when he snatched off his pointed hat she noticed that he was also completely bald. He did not speak, only stood there grinning.
“Take Red’s sidekick to the garden,” Grumpy ordered.
Red turned shocked green eyes on the officious little man. “Lilbee? No, we’re fri…”
Dopey bent down and offered the back of his hand to Lilbee, the wolf pup leaned forward and licked it enthusiastically. From somewhere in his shapeless green robe the small bald man produced a doggy treat. Lilbee snapped it up eagerly while Dopey tied a rope around his neck.
“Traitor,” Red muttered as Dopey led an unconcerned Lilbee out of the room and into the garden.
“Ya can see him later. The Headmistress doesn’t want sidekicks in on the entrance interview, they distract the students,” Grumpy told the girl.
“Oh,” Red said, a little embarrassed that she had fussed at the procedure.
“Hypocrite,” Grumpy said to himself. “Bet she has those two rodents with her when she interviews,” and then he bellowed, “Bashful!”
Dopey’s place in the doorway was taken by another of the seemingly endless procession of little men. This one had a beard and a blue cap. He smiled shyly, snatched the cap off his head and twisted it in his hands, but for a fringe of snowy white hair around the edges of his head, he too was bald.
“Take Red here, to the Headmistress’ office for her entrance interview with Princess Cinderella,” Grumpy told the shy, blushing man in the doorway.
Bashful didn’t speak, but tied his beard in a knot and then had to try and disentangle his hat from it, he failed, grinned and motioned for Red to follow him. Red picked up her picnic basket and tried to see the little man’s face as they went through another complicated series of hallways, however Bashful always seemed to turn so that he didn’t have to look directly at her.
Because Bashful didn’t hurry through the halls the way that Happy did, Red was able to take the opportunity to examine her surroundings a little more. From behind a door labeled Music she could hear girlish voices raised in song. That put a smile on her face. Red had liked to sing at home, she’d often sung through the Dark Wood on her way to her grandmother’s house. It cheered her and kept her company on the way, she continued to do that even after the incident with Lilbee’s uncle and when she’d met the wolf pup. Lilbee liked to accompany her, although being a wolf he couldn’t really hold a tune.
There were portraits of Princesses on the walls. Red sighed as she looked at them and wondered if her picture would ever join them. They were all so beautiful and wise looking. The girl in the red cloak didn’t know if she had it in her to become a real Princess.
Bashful arrived at a large door labeled Headmistress. He used the ornate hand shaped brass doorknocker to gain entrance. A sensible sounding voice called, “Enter.”
Red frowned, it was admittedly more polite that Grumpy had been in the Admissions office, but that was most definitely a male voice, wasn’t the Headmistress Princess Cinderella?
Bashful opened the door, whispered something into the office and then left, leaving Red standing alone in the doorway. The girl looked into a large, open, brightly lit office. Freshly picked flowers were in vases. One large window was slightly open and the pleasant breeze from outside played with the curtains. The light streaming into the office puzzled Red. She’d been turned around a little on the journey through the castle, but she had a good sense of direction, honed by her trips to her grandmother’s house in the heart of the Dark Wood from an early age, and now she had a window for a point of reference she knew what direction this room faced and what was coming in through the window could not possibly be sunlight, but it was.
Another small man sat at an enormous desk. His beard was shorter and neater than most of the other little men, although like Bashful he had the same lack of hair on his head. One of the brown pointed caps the little men wore was on a hat rack in one corner of the room, and unlike all of the other little men Red had encountered, this one wore spectacles, they perched on his bulbous nose and he was peering over them at a mass of papers.
“You must be Miss Hood,” the little man said cheerfully, regarding her through his round lenses.
“It’s Red,” the girl said automatically.
“I’m Doc, Princess Cinderella’s personal secretary. She’s just with a student at present. If you’d like to take a seat I’ll alert her that you’re here.”
“Thank you,” Red said, pleasantly surprised by Doc’s quiet efficient courtesy after Grumpy’s earlier brusque manner.
The girl seated herself on one of the comfortable chairs that were along one wall. She set her picnic basket down at her feet, and as Doc made his way from behind his desk and opened the door that led into the Headmistress’ inner office a crack to let her quietly know that Red was waiting, she picked up a book that sat on the glass coffee table in front of her.
Doc resumed his seat and smiled at the girl over his glasses. Red opened up the book and was surprised to find that it was a brief history of The Academy. It had apparently been started many years ago when the very first Princess, the legendary Snow White, had stumbled across the grounds, while trying to find a place for her friends the Seven Dwarfs to live.
Red’s eyes opened wide. She did a quick mental count. She had met Sneezy at the drawbridge and the sleeping guard had to be Sleepy, then Happy had shown her to the Admissions office, which was manned by Grumpy. Dopey had taken Lilbee to the garden, Bashful had led her here and Doc was Cinderella’s secretary. That added up to seven. Obviously the dwarfs were The Academy staff.
The girl continued reading. The castle had not been here originally. In fact there was nothing at all. Snow White’s benevolent Uncle Walt had purchased a prefabricated gingerbread cottage from a less than ethical witch and had his three handymen: a friendly mouse, a bad tempered duck and there seemed to be some sort of confusion about the final member of the trio. Many believed he was a dog, but no one could decide on what breed. All did however agree that he was completely and totally incompetent. As a result the gingerbread cottage hadn’t really proven suitable for anyone other than Snow White and her dwarfs. Plus that had a tendency to snack on its fittings at times.
The current building had been replaced the gingerbread cottage when Cinderella arrived in her glittering pumpkin coach, accompanied by her Fairy Godmother. The Princess’ chaperone had been astonished at the primitive form of accommodation that her goddaughter had been expected to occupy and had magically constructed the castle. It had been expanded and added onto since. One of the newest additions was the magical carpet landing strip that Princess’ Jasmine’s Genie had installed when she first came to The Academy.
Red was about to begin the section about the staff when the Headmistress’ door flew open and Merida emerged. The girl looked flustered and the spots of colour on her face clearly said that she’d been engaged in strenuous argument. “But I dinnae like cookin’!” she protested.
“We all have to do things we don’t like sometimes Merida, that’s not a sufficient reason for not doing them. Please apologise to Princess Tiana and don’t run away from cookery class again, and we’ll consider this matter closed. I don’t want to see you here for the same thing again, young lady,” said an unseen, but gentle and sensible sounding voice.
Red didn’t understand Merida’s objection to cookery class. That was something she was really looking forward to.
Doc shook his head as Merida stomped past him, so caught up in her own personal bad mood that she didn’t even see Red sitting quietly waiting to be seen.
“The Headmistress will see you now, Miss Hood,” Doc said politely.
Red nodded, stood up, smoothed the front of her cloak and her skirts, took a deep breath, licked her lips to moisten them and stepped forward into the Headmistress’ office.
“I’ve heard so much about you,” Cinderella, a beautiful composed blonde woman, smiled at the red-cloaked girl.
“You have, ma’am,” Red croaked, astonished that this vision would have somehow heard about her.
“Yes, dear. I take an interest in all my girls and everything that came back to me about you…” she seemed at a loss as to which of the girl’s names to use.
“People call me Red, ma’am.”
“Thank you, dear,” Cinderella said. “You and I aren’t that different.”
“We aren’t?” Red asked, so stunned that she forgot to use the honourific.
“Oh yes, I believe you did a lot of the work around the house and looked after your grandmother.”
“Ummmm…yes, that’s right, Princess.”
“Headmistress, darling,” Cinderella smiled, lighting up her face. Red wondered how she did that if she’d be able to do it too in time. “We’re all Princesses here, but only one is Headmistress. You have already displayed some of the qualities that we here at DISNEY Academy value quite highly and I think you’ll have a wonderful career here and beyond.”
“Thank you Headmistress.”
“Now, you’ve travelled a long way and I’m sure you’re eager to meet your class mates,” Cinderella said brightly.
The first part of the comment made Red aware of how travel stained her cloak was and she felt her cheeks heat up a little, but the second part was true, she was eager to meet her classmates, although she had already bumped into Merida. Considering that the flame haired girl had just received a dressing down from the mild mannered Headmistress, Red felt that it was probably best not to mention her accidental encounter on the way to the castle.
Cinderella stood up and as she made her way from around behind the desk she turned and a frown crossed that flawless face. Red followed the Headmistress’ blue eyed gaze upwards and saw a almost imperceptible strand of spider’s web stretched from a high shelf to the window frame. Probably a daddy long legs, they got plenty of them in the cottage back at home in the Dark Wood.
Cinderella’s lips pursed. “Jacques, Gus,” she called.
Red’s eyes widened as two mice appeared on the Princess’ desk, carrying a feather duster between them.
“Thank you, boys,” Cinderella said graciously, taking the duster from them and using it to make the web disappear. “I really shouldn’t complain,” she sighed. “The dwarfs do their best, but they always seem to miss the higher bits. I really will have to ask my Godmother if she can help out here.”
Small bit of cleaning done, Cinderella motioned to Red to follow her.