Member Monday: Excerpt From “The Once and Future Queen”, by Jennifer Levens

We have another Member Monday submission for you. This is an excerpt from Jennifer Levens‘ novel-in-progress, The Once and Future Queen. Jennifer currently has three books available at The Virgin’s Daughter, Words: A Collection of Short Stories, Essays, and Very Bad Poetry, and A Little Romance: A Small Collection of Short Stories and Poems.

Excerpt from The Once and Future Queen

By Jennifer Levens

Prologue—2019—a Park in New York City

Three nannies watched their respective charges climb on the bars and swing on the swings in the park playground. Fiona James approached them with a child in a walker. She had no uniform. She approached the three women. “Hi!” she said, her Welsh accent thick. They looked up at her. “Um, me name is Fiona Matilda James. I just got this job. Frankly, ladies, I’m not quite sure what I am to do with such a babe in such a fine park as this.”

“Well, Fiona, this is not a place to let children run free. I would recommend that you take the tyke over to that sandbox, sift for cat pooh and if there is none, put him in and come back here and tell us your story. We can see well enough from here. Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to the kid. We all have them here. It is safe and we watch for perverts.” The sandy-haired nanny in the gray uniform said. “Oh, my name is Sandy. I think my mom named me after the girl in Grease. She had a crush on John Travolta.”

“You may as well do as she says.” The girl in blue said in her French accented English. “Do you see those two monsters over on the monkey bars? They are mine. I just don’t feel like chasing them down now. So go put the little one in the sandbox like Sandy said and come over here. We can swap stories.” She swept her head around flinging a shock of dark hair over her shoulder, her chocolate colored eyes smiling a welcome.

Fiona did as she was told and was soon back with the three young women. The third one another blonde said, “I am Joan. I am from New York and I go to NYU. I do this to be able to afford living here. I have four other roommates in a two bedroom flat up near Columbia. I only have one semester to go and I am out of this berg for good. Now, Fi, dish. What’s your story? And why New York?”

“Alright. It is a strange story, and I don’t believe that this has happened to me. I don’t really need to work. It is just a way to get to know the city and some of the people in it. Just think, if it weren’t for this job, I would never have met you three. So, are you ready?” Fiona shook her head looking down at her lap. Her red curls and green eyes shone. Sunlight glinted from her hair and excitement from her eyes. “Tis a strange happening of events. I need to tell you, I want to go to school here in America. It is much easier to get a college education here than in Great Britain. Anyway, I was raised in northwestern Wales. If the story holds, my family has some royal blood..”

Sandy interrupted, “ You mean like a welsh king or something?”

“No, Sandy, Queen Elizabeth I. But that is not particularly important to this story. As you heard my middle name is Matilda. In Wales I am called Tildy. We don’t know why me ma called me Fiona. Perhaps she just like the name. I don’t think there is any connection to the Irish, but who knows. To get on with it, one of my great, greats and they go back so far, I have a hard time thinking about it, owned an inn Wales. It still stands today and someone in my family owns it. When all of us inherited it, we went to look at it. There was the sign newly painted but with the same name as in the past, the Cock and the sow! Could have been just a pile of rocks and rotted wood, but it wasn’t. There was a little problem with one of the barns, but the inn and the gardens were in good shape. From what I can gather the woman I was named after was a Matilda, so she must be one of the great greats too. So, we started going through the place. Like I said it was in good condition and with a little updating it would bring some nice change. You see one of my cousins is a chef and another is in the hospitality business I guess you call it here. So, it was established that those two would buy out the rest of us. Property in that area is not so terribly expensive as in England or even around the cities. That was a good enough deal, but the best part was when we went into the barn. There was a lot of rotted wood and the roof leaked, I mean there were big holes in it, like no one cared about the building and so didn’t fix it. There were old tools stacked up in some of the stalls. The smell of rotting hay was really bad. A couple of the cousins couldn’t take it. They left. There were only three of us left in there and I went into one of the emptier stalls and fell through the floor. Oh, I didn’t get hurt, but I found that someone had made a hidey-hole and left stuff in there. Some of it was paper and rotten, but there was a hide bag, rather large, and I pulled it out. I called to the rest to come outside.

“We gathered and I showed them what I had found. They were all over me. My relatives were just a mingled hoard. I yelled at them to get back. I said, “I found this. I get to open it. I hope there aren’t any dead rats or anything in it. Stand back. We can share whatever this is. Oh boy, I didn’t know what I was saying and the red tape…”

“So what was in the bag, Tildy?” Seraph, the French girl asked.

“I’m getting there. I opened the bag and looked in. It looked like a little girl’s collection of toy jewelry. I told someone to get a sheet or a blanket. This needed to be dumped out. Walter, one of my cousins ran to his car and got the car blanket. They helped to spread it out evenly and we all knelt around it. I dumped the bag.”

“You can go faster you know,” said Sandy.

“Should we check on our children?” Fiona/Tildy asked.

“Oh my god, I forgot about them, “ yelled Joan and got up to check on them.

Seraph and Sandy did the same. Fiona/Tildy smiled and went to the sandbox. Her charge was well and good so she went back to the bench.

The other three joined her. “Can you hurry it up, Tild?” asked Joan.

“Yeah,” Sandy and Seraph joined the chorus.

“What happened they all asked at once.

“Here’s the interesting part.” The other three groaned. “Come on! I don’t get to tell stories much and I am almost through except for the cleanup details. All right. I dumped the bag and out fell jewels and jewelry. There were earrings, necklaces, pins all encrusted with jewels and then there were the unset jewels. It looked like millions of pounds lying there on the ground and there were only five of us!

“The upshot was that we had to report the treasure to the authorities, but the good news is that after evaluation and the inheritance taxes and the income taxes on this windfall, we five had over thirty million pounds to split up. The cousins who wanted the inn bought it outright from us other three. They still had plenty to invest. My brother and cousin took their share and that left me. So here I am in America, where I always wanted to be and you ladies have just heard a great story.

The three nannies looked at Tildy with wonderous disgust. Seraph said, “You are acting as a nanny when you are so rich, taking the food from poor girls’ mouths?”

Sandy gave a Bronx cheer. “You have got to be kidding. Nobody, I mean nobody brags about being rich in the United States. This was just a good story right Tildy?”

“I have to get to school for classes. See you all tomorrow. Oh, and Tildy? Great story. It would be so nice if it were true. Goodbye all.” And Joan left with her charges.

Tildy went over and picked up her daughter. “Come Sydney Elizabeth. Some people just don’t know the truth when they hear. Let’s go home.”

Copyright by Jennifer Levens; used with permission

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