(PROMPT: a ten-year-old orphan named Amanda goes to meet her grandmother—who lives in a castle—for the first time. 10 minutes.)
Mandy stared across the vast expanse of the throne room.
“Meet your grandmother,” Jack told her.
She stared up at the queen hopefully until Jack nudged her. “Not Queen Alice,” he muttered. “Don’t embarrass yourself. Over there, on the left.”
To the left of the queen’s throne stood another elderly woman, hunchbacked where the queen was regal, salt and pepper gray where the queen was white, but—on a good note—smiling where the queen was framed in forbidding frowns. She waved Mandy over to her corner.
“Pleased to meet you, Mandy,” she said. “Don’t mind my outfit—it’ll grow on you.”
The outfit was strange—a bizarre conglomerate of colorful patches, none of them matching in color or texture.
“You,” Mandy stuttered, “You’re a fool?”
“Well, that’s not a very nice way to say hello. Some people think me right smart.”
“No—I mean…you’re a jester?”
The grandmother sighed. “Well, that’s what I was hired for, but I haven’t done much of a job of it yet.” She lowered her voice. “That queen is a piece of work. About as happy as a criminal with his neck in a noose. And her husband just laughs at me because I look ridiculous, he says.”
(And the complication, in the form of a second 10-minute-dash: Amanda discovers her grandmother is going to die...on the fourteenth of January, to be precise.)
“Well, what am I supposed to do here?” Mandy asked. “I’m not funny,” –and I’m definitely not about to dress up in a crazy 17-colored-outfit, she added mentally.
“As I see it, you can mostly do as you like, so long as you don’t get into trouble. And even if you do, I won’t be around long to worry about it.”
“What do you mean, you won’t be around long? Uncle sent me to live with you.”
Grandmother pursed her wrinkled lips. “It’s very inconvenient to you and your uncle, I know, but Freddy needs to learn to check other peoples’ schedules before he makes plans. I’m leaving on the fourteenth of January.”
“Leaving? Can’t I go with you?”
“Not unless your eternal soul is prepared and the Lord is willing. I’m going to die.”
“What? How can you possibly know that now?”
“Because that’s what Queen Alice told me. If I haven’t made her laugh by the fourteenth day of next month, it’s the end for me. Beheading.”
“But that’s only three weeks away!”
The old woman sighed and hugged Mandy to her chest. She felt all padded and squishy and warm; something about realizing she would only be around for a matter of days made her grandmother suddenly very dear to Mandy.“Well, it’s three weeks I’ll have to get to know you, and I’m thankful for that. As long as I don’t make her mad.” She pointed her gnarled old thumb to the queen. “Then it could be sooner.”