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The authorities of Westerly College, Oxford have given Princess Talia a choice. She can either be sent down and leave the college for good, or she can visit a psychiatrist and undertake any treatment prescribed. Of course both Talia and her friend Basil believe that she is perfectly sane, and that the Rector's wife really is a dangerous witch. They are supported by the mysterious Law don, Count Anthony.


Story by Bertie.

Read by Elizabeth.

Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.

Illustrated by Chiara Civati.

Sally had not spoken to the princess for about three weeks, ever since their ill-fated trip to the shopping centre. She had felt incredibly embarrassed about Talia taking a haughty attitude with everyone she met. It was one thing to call the spoilt brats of Westerly College 'peasants', but it was quite another to treat shop assistants as if they were lowlife. Sally felt that it was plain bad manners to act that way. And when Talia physically attacked another shopper, accusing her of having stolen her purse, she thought that things had gone too far.

But now she felt sorry for her friend, because she did still regard her as a friend. Of course she had heard how the princess had flown at the Rector’s wife in the quad with her fists and nails, and how she had actually bitten the poor woman on the wrist while the college porter had to wrestle her off. Lots of people were laughing about it, but Sally felt it was just terribly sad. When she called her dad and told him about it he said:

“Well that is a shame, because I liked the princess, though your mother did think she was a bit snooty. But she’s not the first young royal to go a bit potty, and I daresay she won’t be the last. Some people are envious of princes and princesses and what have you, but I’ve never been. Too much wealth, fame and privilege isn’t good for anybody, especially for the young when it all just comes served up on a silver spoon. If you want to stay sane, it’s better to be born into a normal family, that’s what I say!”

Nobody thought that Talia would be allowed to stay in college after such an assault, apart from a few, like Sheena Simon, who reckoned that she would be let off any harsh punishment because she was a princess. The student newspaper soon got hold of the story, and published it on the front page. And then a reporter from London came up to ask questions around the college. He knocked on Sally’s door and asked if she knew which country Talia was from. Sally just said: “Nobody knows,” and shut the door. She was amazed when she was quoted in the newspaper the following Sunday. They seemed to know all about her, including the fact that she was from Liverpool. She was even described as 'a former friend of the phony princess', which made her feel really bad. But somehow she couldn’t quite bring herself to knock on Talia’s door.

But then Talia knocked on hers.

“I just wanted to give you a little present before I go,” she said. And she handed her the crystal pendant that she had lent to her before, when her dad had been ill in hospital.

“You’ve been so sweet to me Sally,” said Talia, “and I am sorry that I have not always been the easiest person to have as a friend. But I want you to wear this always. It will protect you from danger. And just between you and me, this college will be a dangerous place over the coming days and weeks so please don’t forget to wear this keepsake.”

Sally recalled how when her father had been ill in hospital, she had put the pendant around his neck and it had changed colour as he recovered. She had never really figured out whether that had been sheer coincidence, or some mystical power. Anyway, as she took the stone from her friend and hung it around her own neck, she felt an energising force.

“It’s very strong,” said Talia. “You might find it difficult to sleep with it on. But whatever you do, don’t take it off.”

Sally tucked the stone out of sight under her t-shirt.

“Well thank you,” she said. “It's really generous of you, and I will always remember you by it, but where are you going to go?”

“To my fairy godmother,” said Talia. “I have no other relative.” And Sally thought:

“It’s kind of beautiful to be that crazy.”

Basil had not yet heard the news of Talia’s fate. In fact, he hadn’t seen her all day. She had spent that morning preparing with Count Anthony for the ordeal of the 'trial by don'. He was anxious for news, and could not concentrate on his studies or anything else for that matter.

The daffodils were out in the Fellow’s Garden. He climbed up the steps at the back of the college and onto the rampart at the top of the ancient wall. He looked down into the alley bellow. A girl was pushing her bicycle over the cobbles. Next, he glanced up into the square at the end of the alley and at the domed library building. He was acutely aware of what a privilege it was to spend four years, shielded from the hustle and tussle of the real world, while filling his head with languages and cultures that had long since turned into dust.

What would he do if Talia was sent down, and had to leave college? He had absolutely no idea where she had come from, or where she would return to, but he was sure that wherever it was, he would go there with her. Yes, he would give all this up for Talia. Oxford was special, but it was hardly unique. After all, there was the other place, not to mention great universities like Bologna, Heidelberg, Harvard, and Yale ... But there was only one Talia. He hadn’t lived that long in the world, but he knew that he would never meet another woman like her. She was his destiny.

While he was deep in his thoughts, his phone pinged. He took it out of his pocket and saw Talia’s name at the top of his messages. He shuddered. It would surely be news of the judgement from the kangaroo court of dons that was deciding her fate. But how odd? Talia was a technophobe who owned a bejewelled mobile but didn’t know how to use it. As he was opening the message, he thought: “Perhaps she asked her driver to send it for her, it must be important.”

It read: “Basil, do come right away. The Rector wishes to see you in the lodge. He will listen to you. Only you can persuade him to show me mercy.”

His long legs were propelled by great urgency as he ran down the steps and bounded across the garden. He knew that he should stop to prepare some thoughts to give to the Rector, but at the same time the instinct to rush to the rescue of the princess was too much for him to hold back.

He was in such a blind hurry across the quad that he almost didn’t take in the tall dark figure of County Anthony, the Law don, coming towards him.

“Basil, where are you off to at such a rush?” asked the count.

“The Rector wants to speak to me about Talia,” gasped Basil. “He’s waiting for me in the lodge.”

“Have you lost your mind? If you set foot in the Rector’s lodge, you will be in the greatest danger.”

“... But Talia ...” stammered Basil, and he showed the text message to the law don. As he did so, he came to his senses, and realised that deep down he already understood that the message was not from Talia. When County Anthony said: “And that missive is a fake,” he knew that he was speaking the truth.

“I see,” said Basil. “Yes, I suppose you are right. Talia never uses a mobile phone... I just felt so useless standing around and waiting. A chance to help was... was...”

“Irresistible,” said Count Anthony. “Yes, the person who sent that message perfectly understood your state of mind. But if there is any lingering doubt that the text is a forgery, let us go and speak to the princess in person and confirm it from the horse’s mouth,  although in the case of the princess that is perhaps not such an apt phrase.”

When, a few minutes later, they were standing in the princess’s room, she shrugged her shoulders and said: “I know that you are greatly attached to your mobile phone, but I'm afraid that I don’t understand technology any more than you understand magic.”

And Basil looked into the princess’s oval face and saw someone who had a completely different understanding of the world from himself. Perhaps that was why she was so fascinating. But she was clearly in a state of great anxiety. She was fumbling nervously with the silver coin which hung in a pendant from her neck.

“They sent you down, didn’t they?” said Basil. The princess shrugged her shoulders. She did not mention the alternative she had been given - to visit a psychiatrist, and to undergo any treatment that was prescribed to her. It was something for her that was simply beyond consideration.

“Where will you... I mean to say, where will we go? Because wherever it is, I am coming with you. That’s non-negotiable.”

“Basil. You are so sweet and wonderful. I don’t know what I would do without you. I shall go and stay with my fairy godmother in London. You will be most welcome, I know.”

“The danger is very real,” said Count Anthony, “I must stress that we must suspect everyone and trust nobody. I have just spoken to a senior contact in the government, and I had a bad feeling. He was not nearly so friendly as usual. I think that perhaps the Rector, who used to be a cabinet minister, still has had some malign influence in the corridors of power. We really are on our own now. You must leave immediately.”

Basil looked around the room at the great many treasures belonging to the princess. A bearskin rug, the picture of a garden on the wall, the four-poster bed, and the gilded harp.

“How will we move all this down to London?” he asked. “Oh don’t worry about that,” said the princess. “My godmother will arrange it.”

“Please hurry now,” said Count Anthony. “There is no time. Anything could happen if you stay here.”

Basil and Talia walked at a measured pace down the stairs. “Can I go back to my room and fetch a few things?” asked Basil.

“Not now,” said the count. “They will be sent on to you.”

As usual, Talia’s black limousine and a driver were waiting in the back quad. The driver sprang out of the seat and opened a rear door for Talia. Basil went around the other side. Soon the car slipped out of the back gates. The count nodded his farewell. None of them saw the face that watched the departure from a window high up in Fletcher’s Tower.

Basil sank back into the leather and held Talia’s hand as they made their way out of the city over Magdalen Bridge, and up the hill on the way to London. For a while he closed his eyes and wondered if London really existed. He had grown up there, practically in the centre of town, but now after the strange events of Oxford, reality seemed remote. But when he opened his eyes he could see it all around him. The ordinary streets, the ordinary houses, the ordinary life of people who actually lived in Oxford. Yes, he was going to have to adjust himself back to real life. At some point he would have to find his own place to live, a job to pay for it, a plausible explanation for why he had not finished his degree... not least to his parents. And there was this little problem about that explanation. Most people, in fact 99.9% of people, didn’t believe in magic, which brought a question to mind:

“Talia, what’s your fairy godmother like?” he asked. “I mean, is she elderly? Will she mind me coming to stay?”

“Well she is rather old,” said Talia, “but I know that she won’t mind. In fact, I am sure that she will see it as an honour to meet you and help you in any way that she can. You see Basil, you may yet be called upon by destiny. I do so hope it won’t come to that, because it will be terribly dangerous for you, but there may be no escape from it. Destiny is so very determined, as a rule.”

It was all too much for Basil to take in, and so he closed his eyes. He only opened them when he heard Talia say in a sharp voice to the driver: “Excuse me, where are you taking us?”

The car had turned off the London road. It was entering the forecourt of a large house with ivy climbing up the walls. He caught sight of a sign. It said: 'Bidcliffe Clinic', but it did not say what sort of clinic it was.

“I’m sorry Your Highness,” said the driver. “Orders is orders.”

Two burly men and a woman were waiting for them at the door to the house. The woman wore a business suit. The men were dressed in blue nursing uniforms.

And that was the thirteenth episode of our Waking Beauty series. Bertie says well done for listening so far. We do read all the comments and we understand how there are loads of people waiting to see what happens to Princess Talia, and of course that includes me! So do drop by at to check for new episodes, and if you ever can make a small donation, we are always ever so grateful. For now, from me Elizabeth, goodbye!

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