Chapter 3:

The Cursed Princess

ZAUBER: the thread that binds us

Paltar needed a moment to process what Meister Folderich had just said.

"Excuse me?"

Annoyed, Meister Folderich pointed to where he had placed his bag. "There. Get the bird out."

Following his instruction, Paltar turned his gaze around. It was true: there was a goose, as tall as his knees and its feathers as white as snow. The bird seemed fascinated by the dress that peeked out of the bag. It was as if it possessed human intelligence, as it focused on the ribbons, carefully picking at them. That was when panic struck him.

"Get away from that," he urged the bird.

He knew from his days on the farm how sharp the bill of a goose could be. If it wanted to, the bird could surely tear his beloved latest design to shreds. But as fascinated as it was, it didn't even nibble on the fabric. Instead, it elegantly craned its neck to get a closer look at the ribbons.

"I'm sorry," Paltar said as he hurried over to pick it up, "but you have to go."

The bird's scream sounded almost like an angry 'hey!' as he quickly fled the shop. The goose thrashed around in his arms, and Paltar was lucky that its wings only grazed his cheek and not his eyes.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he explained as if it was one of his chickens on the farm, "so please, calm down."

He walked down the streets, looking everywhere for the possible owner of the goose. Maybe it was a wild goose, but even then, it should have a flock to return to. Still, both possibilities seemed highly unlikely. Why would a wild animal come into the store, and then look at his dress?

"Let me go," the goose hissed, its voice surprisingly soft for its words. "You shall pay for this, tailor!"

"W-what?" Paltar stopped and looked down at the goose. "What did you just say?"

He looked around. There were too many onlookers. Paltar was sure that the goose had just talked to him, and while he wanted to confirm this, he didn't want anyone to see him talking to an animal—not when there might be potential customers around. Instead, he ducked into a quiet alley between two houses before looking at the goose again. Fortunately, it didn't try to escape.

"What did you say?" he repeated.

"I told you to let me go," the goose hissed back.

"So... you can talk..." he managed to say.

"Of course I can talk!"

With an indignant flap of her wings, the goose jumped out of his arms and onto the ground. Paltar just stared at her.

"I can't believe it," he muttered.

No, that wasn't quite true. While there had been no trace of magic in his first life, he knew that in this world, there was a kernel of truth hidden in every cautious fairy tale that his mother had told him. And during his apprenticeship, he got to see one or two magical artifacts up close. Once, Meister Folderich sewed the pelt of a wolf-woman to a noble's coat. Paltar had heard of talking animals before, like dancing mice and helpful pigeons. But he never imagined them to be so loud and rude.

"But you are," the goose insisted. "We’re talking right now."

He nodded slowly, and then crouched down beside her.

"And now?" he said.

The goose tilted her head.

"What do you mean?" she asked him instead.

"You're free now," he explained. "Won’t you just fly away?"

He was prepared for that. The goose would surely notice something off about him, being somewhat lesser, and then leave. But it was okay. He always had his dresses to return to. Then, he remembered.

"Wait," he said, while the goose was still staring at him. "Did you really look at my dress, back at the store?"

"That was your design?" The goose laughed. "It looked so weird. Who would wear something like that?"

She let out a big, cackling laugh again before quickly becoming quiet.

"I mean, could you... make something like that for me?" she whispered. "It was... special. Magical."

This conversation was getting more and more absurd.

"A dress? For you?" he had to ask.

"I can pay you," she hastened to say, "after... I turn back."

She perked up, as if that had given her an idea.

"Actually, you should help me with that."

She spread out her wings and made an elegant turn.

"I am Princess Nanna," she introduced herself, "cursed to take this animal form. If you help me break this spell, I will reward you handsomely."

Paltar just stared at her.

"Hey, did you hear me?" she hissed. "I will pay you. With money!"

"You're... a princess?"

He couldn't believe it. This was even more improbable than a talking animal.

"I just said that, right?" Nanna replied. "Princess Nanna of Limberg."

Vaguely, Paltar remembered the talk of a lost princess in the royal family, but it still seemed quite convenient. He crouched down to meet her at eye level. Despite all his doubts, he focused on her.

"W-what are you looking at?"

Her life threads could not lie. He saw them, reaching far out into the world. One of her threads glittered in a way that he had never seen before, yet it was familiar. He hesitated to reach for it. At least it seemed to him that she was speaking the truth.

"If I were to help you," he said, "what would my reward be?"

"Whatever you want, of course," she said. "I can give you gold, find you the perfect noble bride, or even make you my royal tailor."

"I'll take the gold and the job, then," he hurried to say. "No need for a bride, noble or otherwise."

He had learned his lesson.

"Ah, you're already married?" Nanna nodded her head. "For a talented young man like you, it's understandable that-"

"No!" Paltar interrupted her. "I'm not married, nor do I intend to marry, or..."

He sighed.

"I'm more than happy with money and the job. We have a deal, then?"

He held out his hand. Nanna looked at it for a moment, before she slowly reached out with one of her wings.

"Very well-"

"Paltar!" Meister Folderich shouted.

He froze, before the tip of her feathers could reach his skin. When he turned to look, he saw his master approaching quickly.

"What are you doing out here?" he asked. "And where is the Fräulein I heard you talking to?"

He stopped when he saw the goose next to Paltar. He blinked slowly, before realization dawned on him.

"A talking goose? Hey, you!" He pointed at Nanna.

"That's no way to talk to me," she hissed back.

With surprising speed for his age, Meister Folderich sprang forward.

"Get the goose, boy. Its feathers must be magical!" he shouted to Paltar.

The apprentice sighed. This was exactly what he wanted to avoid. He ran to Nanna, who puffed her feathers up.

"Stay away," she hissed.

He closed the distance.

"A deal’s a deal," he whispered, and scooped her up.

For a moment, Nanna seemed like she wanted to struggle, but then, she fell silent in his arms.

"Good boy," Meister Folderich laughed, and dusted himself off. "Come, let's go back to the shop."

Paltar followed him without saying a word. Hopefully, his master didn't notice how fast his heart was beating...

"Do you know what you're doing, tailor?" Nanna whispered.

"I do," he answered under his breath. "I just need my bag."

The bag contained most of his meager possessions—and most importantly, his latest dress. He held Nanna close to his chest, who could probably sense his anxiety. He didn't want to deceive Meister Folderich, but he couldn't let him have Nanna. His gut told him to trust the talking goose, no matter how ridiculous it seemed. And a promise was a promise, after all.

He went in behind Meister Folderich, who was gloating to the other apprentices about “his” catch. As inconspicuously as possible, Paltar walked to his bag and picked it up with one hand while holding Nanna in the other.

"Get ready," Paltar warned her.

They didn't expect him to run.

"What are you doing?" Meister Folderich shouted.

"Ah, Meister," he called back as he burst through the door, "I think I'll end my apprenticeship here."


Close to his chest, Paltar felt Nanna giggle, and then break into full laughter as he ran through the town at full speed. Behind him, he could hear the angry shouts of his former colleagues, led by Meister Folderich.

"Where...?" he panted.

He had no energy for words. But Nanna understood.

"Turn left here," she said.

He ran.

"Right! Now, right, I said!"

Paltar didn't think. He only followed her instructions until the forest at the edge of town came into view, and his legs gave out under him.

"Have we... lost them?" he asked.

Nanna jumped to the ground and looked around.

"It seems so." She tilted her head. "You're an interestig tailor, ah…?"

Her voice trailed off.

"Paltar," he said. "My name is Paltar."

She giggled.

"Very well, Paltar. And as you said, a deal is a deal."

With that, she snuggled up against his bag, the dress still hanging from it.