Fished this out for a friend - it's the re-write (500 words only) I did of the story for Bristol Storytelling Festival and the story trail on the Gloucester Road Bristol. See note at the end. Here's the link to all the shoe making!
The 12 Dancing Princesses
The Baron of Bristol was a man of power. He collected taxes from the hardworking Bristolians, ran the competition which saw Brunel build a bridge across the gorge and pulled the train track builders to Bristol to help us trade with lands near and far.
One thing that left him troubled & powerless were his 12 daughters. He loved them dearly…but they were bright, intelligent and wilful and he feared that the rest of the world would think him weak for not having better control over his girls, so at night, he locked them in a fortified chamber with a golden key which he hung around his neck.
One morning, the Baron unlocked the chamber to find that his daughters’ shoes were in tatters; soles loose, embroidery ruined and seams broken open. It was as if they had danced the night away! But how? The chamber was locked! They were wilful and kept their secret.
This enraged the Baron so he set a challenge, find his daughters’ secret. Many young men tried & failed & were banished to far away lands.
The hopeful men spent the night in a chamber adjoining the bedroom, which was lined with 12 beds and 12 sleeping daughters, and despite their attempts to stay awake, the men slept soundly and woke to find 12 pairs of tattered shoes and the secret intact.
In a local Tavern, The Three Sugar Loaves, a penniless and hopeful Scottish shipbuilder, who lived on Christmas Steps, heard about the Baron and his 12 daughters. He loved nothing better than to solve a problem and needed the cash reward to help finance his dream of opening a shipyard, in the docks of Bristol. The landlady of The Three Sugar Loaves handed a parcel to the young man, and whispered in his ear.
‘Do not drink the wine the girls offer you, it contains a sleeping potion . Wear this invisibility cloak & follow them closely.’ Bright girls, he thought to himself.
That night the young shipbuilder was welcomed by the Baron of Bristol to his home, a grand house on Victoria Square. He tipped the wine into the chamber pot, bade goodnight to the girls, got the cloak ready and faked sweet slumber.
‘He’s asleep’, he heard one of the girls whisper. His ears alert, eyes ready to follow the girls.
He saw them lift a tapestry and walk down a secret stairwell and enter the Underfall, the world under the streets of Bristol. They walked into a blue forest with trees fashioned from glass, he grabbed a blue orb from a tree and pulled it under his cloak.
The daughters glided in gondoliers across a silver lake and arrived at a palace. From the safety of his cloak he watched each girl engage in lively conversation with 12 young men. He listened to their conversations about travel, steam engines, engineering, politics and the poor and watched their faces drop.
‘No one wants to listen to us and our ideas’, one sighed. The night was young and girls not wanting to waste the beautiful music from the band, danced until their shoes were in tatters.
He followed them for two more nights. Everything happened as it had before. The shipbuilder brought back with him a gondolier’s hat and dipped a jar into the silver lake to bring back some of the magical water.
On the third morning the Baron called the shipbuilder and his 12 daughters to his study, it was a bit of a squeeze!
‘Well?’, he questioned the young man.
‘You lock away in the chamber each night the future of our city; the engineers, the social reformers, the doctors and explorers.’ With this he placed on the Baron’s desk the blue glass orb, the gondoliers hat and the jar of silvery water. The girls were shocked, their secret had been uncovered.
‘What you can not see is that your bright, intelligent and wilful daughters are a blessing to you and our world. Throw away that key and do everything you can to let them shine’.
The Baron heard for himself, for the first time, that his daughters were jewels and that by being bright, intelligent and wilful they would change the world and that he needed to celebrate their gifts, not fear them or how others thought about him.
The shipbuilder took his reward and invested in his passion, shipbuilding, and in memory of his nights with the Baron’s daughters he called it The Underfall Yard.
This story was re-worked by Alli Tillcock
In the original story of the 12 Dancing Princesses, whilst I admire the princesses for being able to trick each spy and escape into a fantasy world, I think that the reward (one of the Princesses is married off to the man who discovers their secret) treats them as objects to be married off, which they most definitely are not!
I wanted to place the story in a time of change for Bristol and reflect it’s industrial heritage in the story. Would the world have been different if Brunel was a woman? Discuss…
Being creative with words and fabric are really important to me, and Flo-Jo’s being here on the Gloucester Road is like a jewel. I love the idea that behind the things we make with our hands that there’s a story, some flow and we can take time out from our busy lives and relax, stitch, chat & create.
Alli Tillcock – Alli Handmade on Facebook or check out my blog theemptyoxobox.