The Princess Showed up Wet and Extra Affectionate! That is how this week started, and that is what all the stories this week are about. Hold on to your hats folks, this is going to be a long one.
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This week we have Stories By:
Philip Norval Joe Carroll
And Jeff Hite
You can get your own copy (if you don’t happen to win the contest) of the Fox By Arlene Radasky at www.radasky.com
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By Ashley Redden
The pages of the ledger in which Jonathan had been transcribing sat perfectly flat and still as he finished carefully dotting the sentence he was writing, and then flapped wildly the next moment as a gust of wind whipped over the book. The brief gust of wind was immediately followed by the slamming of his chamber door. Jonathan looked up abruptly as William Connelly, the prince and future king of the Domain of Core Lands, stalked into the room his face drawn into a blossom of pent rage.
The prince immediately began pacing, two to three steps maximum in either direction, back and forth, over and over again. As he paced his hands clenched and unclenched so that each turned white as the blood was briefly squeezed from each fist. As Prince William prowled back and forth, the sound of his breathing dominated the small room.
Jonathan quietly closed the ledger and gently placed his scribe into the groove on the far left side of his well-worn desk. He eased his hands onto his lap, one on top of the other, and waited patiently. The prince continued his pacing until Jonathan had put away his things and settled down; the two following what had recently become a sad, but set routine for Jonathan the scribe and his prince.
The prince stopped and faced Jonathan, both hands clenched at his sides and opened his mouth to speak, his livid face straining as if constipated but no words came. The prince shook his head in a quick back and forth motion and disgustedly spat, “uugghh.”
He then grabbed his face with both hands his arms shaking. Frothing over with frustration, the prince renewed his manic pacing.
Jonathan ventured, “Is it the princess again?”
“Of course it’s the princess,” the prince exploded. He started to say something else that transformed itself into a snarl before it left his throat. The prince closed his eyes, and seemingly with great effort regained control.
He said again, “I’m sorry Jonathan. I apologize for the outburst. Yes, of course it’s the princess. Isn’t it always the princess?”
The prince resumed pacing, though with less of the furious energy than before. He said, “I don’t know what to do. I’m really not sure how much longer I can take it.”
He stopped and faced the scribe and continued, “I mean, I really love her, or I thought I did. But like this?” the statement hung in the air. “I’m not really sure what I feel now. All I know is this can’t continue.”
The prince held out both hands and implored, “Jonathan. What do I do?”
Jonathan asked quietly, “what happened?”
The Prince sighed and seemed to deflate, his mood flipping from profound ire to complete despair. Jonathan found it disquieting to see his prince afflicted so.
Jonathan pulled a chair from behind his and pushed it forward beckoning his prince, “Please my prince, sit and tell me what happened.”
The prince sat down, and with another gut wrenching sigh said, “I was sitting at my bureau beginning to get dressed for the day. I had just laid out my clothes when she came in through the window.” The prince looked away and was silent for a time.
Jonathan prodded, “you forgot to close the window again?”
“Yes,” answered the prince still looking away. “I forgot to close the window. So she came into my room. Miranda came into my bedroom through the open window and hopped onto my bureau. She scattered my rings from the bureau, some onto the floor.”
Jonathan asked, “Did she break anything?”
“No, but I don’t really care about the rings, they are just things after all. But this, this is the woman I love.” The prince buried his face into his hands. “Miranda was wet, dripping wet and, and…and amorous,” he finished lamely. He sighed again and continued, “She kept saying these things, like I love you and I miss you and then she did it.”
Jonathan asked, “Did what?”
The prince whispered, “She kissed me. Miranda kissed me”
Jonathan leaned forward a mixture of pity and concern written upon his face, “Do you mean on the lips?”
The prince said miserably, “no, not on the lips exactly. She kissed me with her tongue.”
“I was opening my mouth to speak, I’m not even sure what I was going to say, but when I opened my mouth she just shot that long sticky tongue onto mine.” The prince looked up at the scribe and with his eyes wide, pleading, hands open in entreaty and said, “I couldn’t help it.”
Jonathan placed his hand on the shoulder of his prince and asked quietly, “Couldn’t help what my prince?”
“I retched. I gagged. It was all I could do not to throw up.” He added miserably, “I broke her heart. My beloved kissed me and it was all I could do to keep from being sick. I couldn’t stay, so I fled. I was so upset with myself, with everything. But the more I thought about it, the injustice, the inhumanity of it all, the angrier I became. It’s just not right. What have I done to deserve this fate? Why has this befallen us? What did Miranda ever do to deserve such a thing as this?”
Suddenly the prince stood and exclaimed, “Why is this happening? Is it a crime to be so happy that such a thing must befall me? In fairly tales the prince is a frog only until the princess kisses him, then he becomes a prince and they live happily ever after. Why is this happening?”
The prince began again to pace around the room. “In fairly tales the princess gets her prince and a happy ending.”
He plopped back down onto the scribes extra chair and said, “But not in real life, no. In real life I get kissed by my beloved and am rewarded with what? Happiness? Bliss? No. I’m rewarded with the foul wet taste of pond scum. And what does she get? Happily ever after? No. Only if it includes eating flies and living for the rest of her life in a comfy sheltered pond,” he spat.
The prince buried his face again in his hands and sobbed. The sobs were mostly dry; so many tears had been shed already, nearly all of them seemed to have been spent.
Jonathan became aware of a haunting melody drifting in from the window. Though he couldn’t make out the words, the feminine voice was beautiful and melodic, full of adoration and loss and unrequited love.
The prince looked up from his hands becoming aware of the mournful song as it floated up from below stealing slowly into the small room, the voice of the longing and despair seeping from Miranda’s wounded soul. Both men turned toward the window to listen enrapt as Miranda poured out her broken heart for her betrothed, her prince, her one true love.
Prince William whispered his heart shattering with every word, “What am I going to do?”
Jonathan felt tears well in his eyes as he sat silently, not answering. He had no idea what to say.
The crystal ball clouded over as the young sorceress, formerly known to Prince Connelly as Miriam but recently taking the self-bestowed title of The Exquisite Lady, removed her perfectly formed hand from over the now opaque ball. She leaned back into her chair, sighing as she did so. The Exquisite Lady couldn’t remember ever being so amused, she just couldn’t stop smiling. Nothing in this world brought her more pleasure than profound suffering, except perhaps, the profound suffering of a profound fool. She licked her lips as she thought of the situation that William Connelly, the prince and future king of the Domain of Core Lands found himself in. Delicious.
At first, when the prince had propositioned her, she was interested. Not in him as such, he was a simpering contemptible fool. Here was the future king of all the Realm of the Core Lands and he was interested in what? Love? Affection? Devotion? Dispicable.
She had at first entertained the prince in hopes that she could become his queen and in this way rise to power. But she soon realized that the Council on Sorcery would not allow such a transition.
Oh, they would concede marriage to the prince, one not of the magical community, and eventually she would rise to become the queen of the Realm of the Core Lands to rule beside King William. But she would be a ruler in name only.
Through the council’s less than subtle overtures she discovered that through their considerable influence she would be nothing more than an exotic harlot for the king’s bedchamber within the palace and a striking bauble to be paraded upon the arm of the king when traveling without.
After making this horrifying discovery, she had hatched a plan to remove her person from both the advances of the repulsive prince and the hawk eyed glare of the despicable Council. It was ever so simple to spell an ordinary frog with what was needed to convince the prince that his beloved had been cursed.
It was effortless in the extreme to spell the frog, once caught, with the attributes of Miriam. Actually, the frog delivered to the prince’s doorstep was the third one spelled by The Exquisite Lady. She had been so disgusted by the obscene politeness, the contemptible likeability of the cursed frog that she had in a rage blasted the first two amphibian impersonations of herself.
The spelled frog contained the exact personality of The Exquisite Lady, though not the real one. The personality that she delivered to the spelled frog had been carefully manicured, cultured for the outside world. The real thoughts and feelings, raging and ire of The Exquisite Lady were held in check, sequestered below the surface of her beautiful placid face. Even when she answered to the name Miriam, The Exquisite Lady had always been a superb actress.
Once the frog version of Miriam was delivered to the now satisfyingly heart broken prince, she had changed her name to The Exquisite Lady, magically altered her looks by casting a long-term glamour on herself and withdrawn from the public eye to plot and plan her next move.
The council deigned not to investigate the incident instead perceived that another sorcerer or sorceress had hexed the prince’s bride to be. As to the why, well simply put, the Council didn’t care. After all, she was merely a sorceress, a woman. Magical or no, she was beneath their caring. The Exquisite Lady mentally spat.
This lack of insight or interest was to be expected from a group so immured in their own self-importance, practically drowning in their own perceived gravitas. What difference to them was the suffering of a non-magical prince? The Council turned their gaze to other more important matters, leaving the prince to contend with his anguish without a second thought from any of the Council members. The Exquisite Lady had in fact counted on just such an attitude.
Though she hated the Council, lock stock and barrel, she could appreciate their haughty indifference. These were after all men of power which would make crushing the life slowly from each of them all the more entertaining. The beauty of The Exquisite Lady was overshadowed only by that of her ambition and perhaps her sadism.
She looked up as the almondy scent of some fresh baking goods, bread perhaps, wafted into the room from the apartment’s single window. With her attention drawn to the window, the unwelcome roar from the busy street below also returned. The Exquisite Lady had lived in this snug apartment for weeks now and was just beginning to unconsciously blot out the never ending ubiquitous background noise of the hectic goings on one story below her apartment window.
The apartment was located just to the north, less than a block, from the market, but more importantly, was right across the street from the Kasteel building which housed the sitting Council on Sorcery. The Exquisite lady stared daggers at the building wishing all sorts of horrors on the occupants’ therein.
The Council on Sorcery chose only men to sit upon that august assembly which was tantamount to the government for both the men and women of the magical world. There seemed to be two governments at work in the Realm of the Core Lands. One government, which consisted of the King and his servile ilk was visible, and to the disgust of The Exquisite Lady, seemed to be an astonishingly fair and equitable assembly. The omnipresence of the other government sat bloated upon the land slowly, inexorably swallowing it as consumption devours the elderly and infirmed, from the inside out.
This shadow government, run exclusively by the Council on Sorcery, operated independently of the King. Though both regimes acknowledged each others existence, the king gave hard won deference to the Council and rightly so for a seat on the Council was not chosen, but won. Each member of the Council on Sorcery had crushed a prior member to obtain that seat.
That only the most powerful sorcerers sat upon the Council gave the magical government strength, but did not, however, insure good leaders. Most of the magical community hated this Council, but The Exquisite Lady knew the magical community for the thick dullards that they were. The current leaders were paltry in comparison to her. She would lead with a truly iron fist.
‘But they only choose men!’ she mentally raged.
To approach the Council directly meant certain death. The Exquisite Lady was powerful and growing more so by the day, but even she could not subjugate the entire Council nor succor their support for membership. The one and only thing those bigoted worms would cooperate on was to vanquish any woman requesting membership to the council.
The Exquisite Lady had seen it happen before. When she was but a stripling eking out a bleak hand-to-mouth existence, fleeing one would be master after another; she had witnessed the Council in just such an action. A sorceress had attempted to join the Council, killing not one, but two of the sitting members. Had she been a man, she would have been awarded a place of honor. But, since she was female, she was tracked down and murdered.
The Council was brutal, as well as, thorough. She shuddered as she remembered thinking that in certain circumstances that death can be a blessing and even a release. The Exquisite Lady would not fall into that trap. Thought the council members may envy, loathe and hold nothing but utter contempt for one another, in the end they took care of their own. She needed another way in, another approach.
The Exquisite Lady toyed with a ring on her index finger as she vaguely watched sorcerers and sorceresses alike flow up and down the mushroom of steps belched forth from the mouth of the Kasteel building. She was snapped back to attention when she heard someone below call out, “make way for Mother Sorcerer.”
Her eyes narrowed as she watched a single sorceress glide up the steps, the magical community parting as if swept aside by a strong tide. The title of Mother Sorceress was the highest rank to which a woman could ascend. More importantly, she trained the most powerful sorcerers, those that would likely advance to become future Council members. A malevolent smile drifted unbidden to The Exquisite Lady’s full luxurious lips as she considered another approach.
Perhaps if the future council members were trained properly, by the right person, then perhaps, just perhaps, the playing field would change, could be changed. She couldn’t challenge Mother Sorcerer directly, not yet; much work had to be done before that confrontation could occur. But the power was there, The Exquisite Lady could feel it, pulsing, and seeking release. She would perfect her craft and harness the power, then and only then would she move against the Council’s favorite feminine pet, Mother Sorceress.
The Exquisite Lady watched with the eyes of a viper as the powerful woman below entered the great sprawling building. She casually wondered what the odds were that the current Mother Sorceress would live a long and fruitful life. Though she did not as a rule gamble, The Exquisite Lady wouldn’t be on it.
The Princess and The Carp
By: Norval Joe
Mid summer’s night approached and the kingdom prepared to mourn. In two days time, the evening normally so filled with excitement, song and dance, would be subdued, as it had been for many years. It would commemorate the sixth year of the princesses absence. Six long years before, one week before her twelfth birthday, on the longest day of the year, the ladies in waiting went to her chambers.
There was to be a great party to celebrate the official passage to maidenhood of the princess on her upcoming birthday. When the servants arrived in the royal chambers, shortly before sunset, the royal daughter was nowhere to be found. The castle and grounds were searched. Guards and servants were questioned. Merchants who had entered or left the castle that afternoon were detained and their goods, carriages, shops and homes were searched.
She wasn’t found anywhere in the castle, city or surrounding countryside. The last anyone had seen of her was by a gardener, who saw her approaching the ornamental fish pond on the grounds south of the castle. This was a favorite place of the princess, so was not considered unusual or unbelievable. The pond was dredged, but no body was found.
That evening, during the middle of the ball, when the princess was to be presented, the music stopped and the king stepped onto the dais. The jovial crowd applauded and the king raised his hand for silence.
“Thank you all for coming this evening,” the king began with an obviously strained smile. “As most of you know, raising a child can be challenging at times and as a parent, one must often improvise.”
The king sighed deeply as if regretting what he was about to say. “I would beg your indulgence and ask the favor of the available young men present here tonight who are of noble birth and have valor and virtue above the average. Those of you young men that meet these criteria, if you would please join me in the antechamber to my left. I would discuss an issue of marked sensitivity with you. Thank you,” he said and indicated the doorway to a room off the main ballroom.
The king walked directly to the room and entered without looking back. One by one, various of the young men present left the gathering to join his highness. Eventually, eight of the youths felt themselves of high enough character and moral certitude that they would meet the kings requirement.
“Thank you for coming,” the king said as he took in the appearance of the gathered young men. “We have before us an issue both sensitive and disconcerting. It appears that the princess has gone missing. She was last seen in the area of the fish pond on the south side of the castles grounds. Considering the environs of her disappearance and the nature of popular malignant curses, we want to be certain to eliminate any possible scenarios, regardless the remoteness of their probabilities. There is one such scenario that only young men of your stature and caliber can help us eliminate.”
Several servants wheeled in large casks of water. The sounds issuing from the heavy barrels made it evident, there were frogs within. Many, many frogs.
“If you would be kind enough, it would be a noble gesture to my kingdom, and of course, my daughter. There are about three hundred of the frogs gathered from the pond while dredging it for,” he coughed, “well, you know why one would dredge a pond.”
The stress of his daughters disappearance, the obvious concern, the potential for foul play, suddenly became too much for the king and he was unable to speek. He turned away to compose himself. When he faced the young men again, his eyes were shining and red rimmed. He sniffed royally and with a husky voice, said, “after you have kissed the frog, place it in the cask to my right, that it may be returned safely to the fish pond, just in case….” he broke off again.
The youth truly were of high moral character and valor. Seeing the king is such emotional distress they set to, straight away, and began kissing the frogs, and placing them carefully into the appropriate cask.
The young men were all shown to the kings own chambers to bathe and change clothing after the unsuccessful investigation of the frogs.
Later, in the ballroom, after they were made presentable, the king tapped each of the men first on the right should, then on the head, with his ceremonial long sword. Thus he made them honorary knights of his realm, awarded them with shining armor and weapons, and thanked each of their parents personally.
The princess was not found.
Several months passed before the kingdom returned to a semblance of routine. Bakers baked, farmers farmed and cobblers cobbled, but a dull, dreamlike depression had settled on the people and their king.
His Majesty had doted on the daughter of his beloved late wife. She lost her life to complications from the child birth itself. Annalisa, named in memory of her mother, Anna, she looked so much like the the only woman the king had ever loved. With every waking moment his mind was occupied with her absence. The staff of the castle tip toed around him, and took every step as if walking on egg shells, whose crunch underfoot would awake the king to the sadness he must face with each day.
None in the castle noticed the young man who, daily, stood at the pond and cast crusts of sweet bread to the colorful carp that rose to the surface each time he approached.
Six years later, two days before the mid summer celebration, the chamberlain approached the king on his throne.
“Your Highness,” he said, bowing to one knee, “there is an old woman who desires an audience with the king.”
“Rise, Bucklesworth,” the king said. “Who is this woman and what is her concern?”
“My Lord,” he said, standing, “she wouldn’t give her name. She is a woman of incredible age, a dry husk the wind might carry away. She appears to be either ill or at the very end of her life, due to her age. She claims to have information about the missing princess.”
The words were barely out of the chamberlains mouth and the king was on his feet. “What?” he cried. “The princess? She has news of the princess and you stand here lolly gagging about? If you wish to see the fall of evening, you had better get her in here instantly.”
Startled and chagrinned at the kings vehemence, the chamberlain left, straightaway to retrieve the old woman.
I’m afraid I must break in here and explain some things. That’s right. It’s me, the author. I hate to break the continuity of the story, but without some back ground, I’m afraid it will be just too confusing.
Steven King said in his book, “On writing”, which is his memoiresque book about writing, he says to be writers we must be honest with my readers. He says to do this we must write our characters as they would truly act. Therefore, if a character uses foul language, as the old woman you are about to meet, does, then I as an honest writer must write her using foul language.
I have difficulty with this, as you can obviously see by my intrusion. I mean, Charles Dickens wrote about some of the most unsavory characters of his time period and didn’t use the foul language popularly used at the time. John Steinbeck wrote about low, coarse, and worldly people and never used fowl language. These authors are classical giants. Were they being dishonest to their readers? I think not.
My goal in writing is to provide interesting stories that can be enjoyed by readers, or in this case, listeners or all ages. However, I do believe it would dishonest to replace the old woman’s words with something less offensive, such as; ‘golly gosh’, “oh, ma heck”, “what the fetch”, and the like. With that in mind, I have decided to use a judicious censorship, and blank out some of the more offensive words this character was accustomed to use, and keep this a story appropriate for adults and children alike.
Thank you for your patience. I’ll return you to the story.
The king was still on his feet when the old woman entered. “You have word of my daughter, the princess,” he asked, breathlessly, almost as a whisper.
She curtsied, a mocking smile spread across her lips, “Yes, oh (word deleted) king. I, Saderma, the (word deleted) sorceress of (word removed) am the only (word deleted) who knows of the (word deleted) location of the (word deleted and replaced with princess),” she said.
The king squinted at the crone who defiantly stood as straight as her hunched back would allow. “Do I know you?” he asked, simply.
“(Three words deleted),” she said, and spat on the ground. “His (word deleted) arrogant Highness, is too (word deleted) to (two words deleted) and know his offenses to his own (word deleted) subjects.”
I’m sorry. Me again, the author. Censorship is never ideal, and in this case downright (word deleted). One of the precepts of a good story is the author should ‘show’ the reader what he would have him or her understand through the actions and dialogue of the characters in the story. This is obviously not working in the case of the Sorceress Saderma’s filthy dialogue. So, in the hope of a better flow to the story, I will do what authors should not. Rather than ‘show’, I will tell, even paraphrase, what Saderma had to say.
In essence, Saderma said she had been offended by an action of the king. Exactly what action was, it was difficult to filter from the verbal filth of the sorceress. Suffice it to say she sought revenge against the king and his kingdom by taking away the princess. Six years later Saderma realized she was about to die. Already at the end of a long, miserable life, riddled with disappointments and unrealized dreams, she could not go to her grave knowing her most evil, hateful and conniving plot would never be credited to the appropriate villain, namely herself, unless she personally made the king, and kingdom aware of it.
Now that she had told the king, and he was suffering sufficiently, Saderma wished to add conflict to his sadness and an unresolvable paradox to his torment. She said the princess would return on mid summers night. She would have only until her birthday to be kissed by her true love. If she was not kissed, or if she was kissed by someone other than her true love, she would return to her present enchanted state for the rest of her life. Saderma warned the king, it seemed as an afterthought, there may be other side effects from the long time the princess spent under this spell.
Saderma cackled an evil laugh, cast her arm above her head, and and spun in a circle, her black shawl flowed out and around her like an evil whirlwind. A sudden puff of smoke obscured the old witch from the view of the king and his court. When the smoke cleared the old woman, who must have expected to be gone, from the look of dejection on her face, stood, shoulders slumped. The kings guards siezed the opportunity and took her captive.
“(Word deleted),” she said as they lead her away to the dungeons.
“Bucklesworth,” the king shouted for his chamberlain.
“Yes, my Lord,” he said, already standing at the kings side.
“Let it be known throughout the kingdom, none are to celebrate Mid summers eve, until the princess is returned to the castle. None are to sing, dance, drink, or kiss, on pain of death, until she is back, safely in her rooms,” the King said. “All my subject are commanded to stand watch around their homes, their businesses, the castle, its grounds and the city until Annalisa has returned to me, from this moment forth.” The king pounded the base of his scepter onto the dais of the throne for emphasis.
So it was done. The news was spread abroad that the princess would return by mid summers eve, and that none were to kiss her, or risk her being kissed. The castle and city were set at watch, for none knew where she would return.
None knew, it was true, but one thought he had a very good idea where it would be. He brought enough food for the two days wait, a large umbrella to protect him from the hot sun, and blankets to roll out onto the grass beside the fish pond on the grounds south of the castle. While the rest of the townsfolk and servants in the castle peered around corners and under hedges, hoping to be the one to see her first, Orland cast crusts of sweet bread to the colorful carp that watched him from the murky water of the pond.
Meanwhile, the king took council from his advisors on how to determine who would be considered the princesses true love.
‘”Alright wise men, councilors, how are we to know who in or around our fair kingdom is the princesses true love?” the king asked of his assembled advisors.
“My lord,” the first councilor began, “it may just be that there is no true love, the princess has been gone for six years, it’s possible that none of the youth even remember her.”
The kings face reddened with rage.
“Guards, off with his head,” he said pointing to the advisor who had just spoken.
“My Lord,” the advisor begged, “His highness can’t be serious.”
“You’re right,” the kings said, “guards, don’t kill this man, just take him out of my sight, and encourage him to be more positive.”
“All right,” the king said, looking around the room, “who”s next?”
None were quick to offer his or her opinion. Eventually a small bald man spoke up, “perhaps it has to do with how much wealth a youth has.”
“Do you imply that my daughter is shallow and only interested in tangible things?” the king asked, peeved.
“By no means, your highness,” the advisor back peddled, “only that young women like nice things, and the ability to acquire nice things is often determined by how much disposable cash one has on hand.”
“We could have a contest,” said another, “and those that exert the most effort could be considered as possibilities for a true love. Who would try harder than the one who loves the princess the most.”
“Yes,” the king said, ” or the one who would most love to marry the heir to the the throne.”
He shook his head and leaned forward, heavily, he rested his elbows on his knees and bowed his head, tiredly. “There is no simple solution. I fear we must wait until the princess arrives, if she returns at all, and see what options present themselves.”
After such a pronouncement from the king, none would be brash enough to disagree.
The two days passed with the castle and surrounding village in a frenzy. All wanted to be the first to sight the princess. Many hadn’t slept for fear they would miss the opportunity while others chased about from suspected sighting to rumored potential location. All were becoming weary from lack of sleep and the strain of constant vigilance. Arguments broke out between friends, fist fights between enemies, two mean drinking in the pub drew swords. The sun set on mid summers eve through a haze of oppressive heat and humidity.
Orland sat on the bank, tossed bits of bread to the colorful carp, and said, “it has been a long, long, time. Are you ready to return to society? Insincere courtiers, evil conniving political advisors, manipulative and selfish supplicants. I think you would be happier to remain a fish.”
The sun touched the shadowed hills to the west and the evening sky turned orange in the moist heat of summer. Orland stood, picked up a clean folded blanket from the grass beside where he had sat. He looked down at the fish and waited for the sun to drop below the horizon.
As the last rays from the setting sun burst red toward the heavens, the water around the carp swirled, Orland held up the blanket, and the princess suddenly appeared, her bare feet squishing the slimy mud of the pond bank between her toes. Orland quickly wrapped the blanket around her naked form, and shouted, loud enough for the guards on the castle wall to hear, “The princess. I have found the princess.”
The princess looked on Orland, water dripping from he long golden curls. Unusually affectionate, she tried to kiss the young man. He had a firm hold on the blanket, wrapped tightly around the slender woman, she was unable to mover her arms and was easily held at a safe distance. “Not, yet, my love,” Orland said with affection, and moved her toward the onrushing crowd of guards and castle servants.
To the first guards that approached, Orland said, “Here, hold the blanket thus, and she will be unable to kiss you or anyone she meets. She must be gotten to the castle as quickly as possible.”
The guard looked at the young man condescendingly. “I can do my job, boy, without your advice.”
The princess nearly tore the blanket from Orland’s hand as she lunged for the guard her lips puckered, fish like, to kiss the older man.
“Hold on there, boy, don’t let loose before I can get a hold of her,” his tone changed to surprised irritation. “There now, I have her. Puckleberry, help me with this young woman. This boy here claims she is the princess. I don’t doubt he is correct. She is the spitting image of her late mother. I was in the guard on her wedding day. Watched her walk past, as close to me as this girl is now.”
“Captain,” Puckleberry asked, “what should we do with the boy?”
“Good thinking, there, Puck. I have the princess now, you bring him along. I am sure there are those who will wish to speak with the boy.”
“With all due respect, gentlemen,” Orland said to the guards with the utmost politeness, “I am nearly two years older than the princess. My name is Orland, and I would ask that you stop calling me ‘the boy’.”
The guards ignored him, and with a procession of castle servants, assorted passers by, and lookers on, they marched the princess and the boy back up to the castle.
The chamberlain was still panting from the effort of fending off the princesses amorous advances when he approached Orland, who was flanked by two armed guards. “So, you’re the boy who found the princess.” The chamberlain let the implied question hang between them.
Grown weary from answering the same questions for now, the fourth time, Orland answered, petulantly, “Yes, though I am a young man, and no longer a boy, I did find the princess.”
The only indication the chamberlain took offence at the young mans response, was a quick flaring of nostrils, “tell me how you found her.” He commanded, flatly.
“I was by the ornamental pond, the sun set and the princess changed from the form of an oriental carp to that of the restored princess,” he replied with matching nonchalance.
This time the Chamberlain, did react, with raised eyebrows and wide eyes, “and did she kiss you?” he asked Orland.
“No, Chamberlain,” Orland replied, perceiving the dangerous ground he was apparently treading upon. “I had a blanket and wrapped her in it immediately.”
“Interesting,” Bucklesworth said. “How is it you were by the pond, at the very moment of her transformation, and just happened to have a blanket ready to both clothe and restrain the princess?”
“My lord, Chamberlain,” Orland began diplomatically, “I wish to answer your questions candidly, but I fear you may misconstrue my answers. I will say that I believed the princess had been transformed as a carp. The reasons I believed this, I would like to present to the king, and for such, I formally request an audience with the king.”
“I see.” The Chamberlain said without inflection. “You are obviously familiar with the ways of court, that you would request an audience, formally. For all formal requests by citizens of the kingdom must be granted immediately. However, I do not know who you are. You have not brought a witness to stand as guarantor of your citizenship. Therefore, we will have you wait until we can find such a guarantor.”
He turned turned his attention to the guards. “Captain, take this man to the dungeon, until we are able to find the appropriate guarantor.
Shocked at the chamberlains indifference, Orland struggled in the grasp of the guards as he was dragged away.
“The king will be my witness and my guarantor, if I may just speak with him,” Orland cried as he was shoved through the door to the passageway.
The Chamberlain chuckled to himself as the sounds of Orland’s shouts faded away. “Yes, of course, the King,” he said, and smiled as he returned to the side of the king.
Hundreds of feet below the king’s council chamber, the thick oak door slammed shut, and the metal bar dropped to seal Orland in the dark, musty stone chamber. A small iron shod square, the size of a mans fist, at eye level allowed visual, and verbal, access to the cell. He stood by the door and listened.
Across the passage he heard sniffing. Not the sound of someone who had been crying, it was the sound of a dog, sniffing out its prey.
A loud cackle startled the young man, and he shouted in his surprise. From across the passage came more laughter and then the gravelly voice of an ancient woman, “Who is there? Who is it in the cell across the passage? Is it you?”
She laughed until she coughed and laughed again.
When the last echoes of her cackling died away, he said, “Yes Mother, It is I. Orland.”
By: Jeff Hite
“Daddy I need your help.”
“Darling what has happened to you.”
“Oh Daddy never mind that, I need your help, and I know I can always count on you to help me. Please Daddy.”
“Laying it on a bit thick aren’t you? And you know what your mother will say if you get her carpet all wet. Where have you been?”
“Come on dad, I really need your help.”
“Why don’t you go get changed and then we can talk about whatever it is. You are soaking wet.”
“I promise only that I will listen.” But I knew even as I said it that it was a lie, I very seldom could say no to her. Though I was learning to do it. She reminded me so much of her mother when she was younger, it is hard to say no to her too.
“Now go get changed before you ruin this carpet, and your mother gets angry at both of us.” She left with a smile on her face. She probably knew that she would get her way. I guess that meant that I had given in to her too many times. Well we would just have to see what she wanted this time. I knew that I could not give in to her forever, eventually she would ask for something that I could not give. I just hoped that today was not that day.
“Sire,” the voice came from behind me.
“Yes, Lord Mitchell, what can I do for you?”
“Sire, your daughter just went for a swim with my son in the main fountain.” Well that explained why she was dripping wet. I had kind of wondered about that. “As you know he is betrothed to princess Gladies, but your daughter seems bent on causing tension in that relation before it even begins, if they do not behave with some decorum the rumors will fly, and King Mathews will call the whole thing off and as you are well aware there will be reprocuctions for something like that.”
“I do not need to be lectured by you Lord Mitchell. I am well aware of our relations with King Mathews.” Both Mathews and Mitchell had been planning this since the day that Gladies was born. His son Alexander, was three years older than Gladies and she was prone with fits of jealousy of Lindsey who was six months older than Alexander.
“Mitchell, I will speak with Lindsey, but they are children, and well to put this as bluntly as possible, it takes two to dance.”
“I have already forbade Alexander to see your daughter, but some how your Daughter managed to get past my guards and sneak him out. And they both ended up in…”
“Enough. I will not have you accusing my daughter of things.”
“Enough! You are dismissed.” Mitchell turned on his heal and headed toward the main corridor. It was not until the main doors were closed that I heard Lindsey’s breathing behind me. “He is gone my dear, you may come out.”
“I was not hiding from him Daddy.”
“Don’t you daddy me young lady, and if you were not hiding from him, who were you hiding from back there.”
“I was not really hiding from anyone.”
“You know what kind of trouble you are causing right?” I tried to make it sound like a question, but It still came out as more like a statement of fact. She hung her head before answering.
“Oh Lindsey, why?”
“He and I were just playing around. It was a hot day, so we went to put our feet in the fountain. Nothing wrong with that is there? Well we were goofing off an we both ended up in the water. When we came up there was Lord Mitchell and he dragged Alexander off.”
“But, you heard him, He has forbid Alexander from seeing you. He is betrothed to Gladies.”
“I know Daddy, but we were just playing around and Gladies is not even here. She is at home and it was such a nice day out.”
“Alright, now you listen to me. We need this alliance with King Mathews. His allegiance is dependant on a successful marriage between Alexander and Gladies. I know that the two of you are friends, but you two need to keep a lid on things. You are both old enough to know better. Gladies is incredibly envious of you, because she only gets to visit a couple of weeks at a time, and the two of you have grown up together and always near each other.”
“Look but nothing, don’t make me order you to stay away from him. I would hate to have to do that.”
“Now what was it you needed from me?”
“I don’t think you want to know now.”
“Well you have not asked.”
“No but since It has to do with Alex and Gladies I don’t think you would go for it.”
“No, you are probably right.”
“But Daddy, he does not love her.”
“Oh Princess, so few marriages of Royalty have to do with love. And who does he love, you?”
“No, well I don’t think so at least. He just does not love her, and he begged me to talk to you. He sent me a note today. That was why I had to go get him. He begged me to talk to you about it. He says she is not happy with it either. Though I don’t know why.”
“Well as I said we need this Alliance so they need to try make this work. I know it is not always easy. Your mother and I.”
“What about us dear?” The Queen asked coming in from the side entrance.
“I was just explaining the importance of making a betrothal work when there is an alliance involved in the balance.”
“Dear you know we were blessed in that one.”
“Yes, I know but.”
“You see Daddy, this is not the same thing you two are happy, Alex and Galdies are not happy.”
“That is because they are still young. They will learn to get along.”
“Dear you know that can be difficult.”
“Yes, I do but as I was just explaining to Lindsey the need to make it work for the sake of the Alliance between our Kingdom and King Mathews’ Kingdom, and that her playing around in the main fountain with Alexander is not helping things.”
“What were you doing in the fountain, you were not wearing that dress were you?”
“We were just cooling our feet, and things got carried away, and no mother, I just got changed.”
“Good. Now lets talk about this ball for next year.”
“Wait just a moment, here ladies. I believe I am in charge here and Lindsey has caused some serious trouble today. She Broke Alexander out of his fathers isolation from her, and then they caused a scene in the main fountain.”
“But Dad you said.”
“But nothing I need to make, sure you understand me young lady.”
“I do, but I think we should talk to Alex and Gladies.”
“It is out of my hands.”
“You are the King Daddy.”
“I know but something are even out of the Kings hands now I do not want to hear about this again, do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Sire.” She said bowing to me, and I hated the look in her eyes.
“How is Alexander,” I asked Lindsey between bites of my breakfast.
“Come now Lindsey, just because I have responsibilities that go beyond the palace walls does not mean that I don’t know what is going on inside them. I know that you met with him last night.”
“You a spying on me?” She banged her glass on the table.
“No dear, one of the guards saw you last night, and he remarked to me that he thought it was a shame that he was marrying Gladies since you two were so happy together.”
“Daddy I didn’t.”
“Now listen young lady, we talked about this not two weeks ago. You two have got to stop this. If you ruin the alliance between our two kingdoms we could have some serious issues. We could end up defending our boarders against a hostile kingdom instead of having a helping neighbor. If there is a boarder war, you understand that Alexander would eventually have lead troops into battle against Gladies’ people. That he could get killed, and then where would you be, for the sake of everyone involved, you two need to stay away from each other.”
“Sire, that is what I was about to tell you. There is a problem with the marriage. Alex was telling me.”
“Yes, I know that He and Gladies don’t love each other. We talked about this.”
“Daddy, it is more than that. There is something going on. Alex wants to talk to you about it, but he can’t arrange a meeting without drawing attention from his father. He needs you to summon him. That was what I was talking to him about last night. He needs to to call him so you can have a discussion without his father there.”
“Did he tell you want it was that he wanted to talk to me about?”
“No, he was afraid to talk about it he said his fathers spies are everywhere. We saw two of them last night. But none of them saw us. It was just luck that one of your guards saw us.”
There was a knock at the door and one of the messengers came in and handed me a note, disappearing back out the door.
“Well it appears that you didn’t avoid all of his spies. This is a request to met with me immediately, he says and I quote, ‘about the actions of your daughter.’ Now what am I supposed to do. King Mathews and Gladies will be here today, this was not the time to be trying to pull a stunt like this.”
“Today? I thought they were not coming until next week?”
“They changed it a few days ago, it was to be a surprise to Alexander.”
“It will be, but Daddy, he needs to talk to you. There is something going on that you need to know about. Something that he was afraid to even tell me.”
“Well we will have to try to arrange something. Do you think he would talk about it in front of you and Gladies?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well that is chance we will have to take.” I sipped at my coffee while and idea formed in my head. If there was one thing I had learned in my years of being a king, it was to listen when someone said they needed to talk to me. It had saved me many a headache. If Alexander was willing to risk the wrath of his father then this was most likely something worth listening to. I just hoped it was not a teenaged boy hormone drivin issue. I was not too old to remember all too well how those kinds of issues could effect things.
“Daddy? What are you thinking about?”
“How do you feel about taking another dip in the fountain?”
For the first time in a dozen years King Mathews and I stood in the same room, but this was not going to be the plesant greeting I had hoped we could have later in the day. The Visiting Monarch and Lord Mitchell stood behind our three Children, two of them soaking wet and all of the surrounded by a small contingent of guards from the two kingdoms. This was not going to be fun, but it was the only way I could think of to make this happen.
“Lindsey, Alexander what were you thinking? Didn’t we just have this discussion a few weeks ago?” I was aware that my voice was echoing, and I hoped that it was carrying outside of the room, and that the sweat that was running down my back was not showing up anywhere else. “You have now embarrassed the whole court, not to mention what you two have done to poor Gladies.” I saw that she was crying now. I hoped that we would be able to console her later, but from the looks of her it would be hard.
“Your daughter’s actions are jeopardizing what should be happy union between our two nations.” Mathews’ face as red with anger, “If you cannot control even members of your family, I should begin to wonder how wise such a union of our nations would be. It might be that I am saddled with ruling both nations because of your incompetence.” That was taking it a bit far, and even if this thing did happen after today, I could see some trouble ahead.
“You should lock her up until after the wedding, and the find her some nobleman the the northern kingdoms to marry her off to so that she will not interfere in the future.” Mitchell too was laying it on pretty thick. I would let them go on for a moment more before I would put it an end to it. I was the ruler here and they were the ones that were going to profit from this union the most.
“Lord Mitchell speaks with wisdom, you should ship her off now, I hear Prince Welterbock is looking for a bride. I can have my men ready to take her this afternoon.” Why did they want Lindsey out of the way so badly? He might be able to order his men to take her this afternoon, but the trip to Welterbock’s realm would take weeks. That was over doing it a bit if you asked me. There was something about Lindsey that they were afraid of.
“You should take this offer Sire, it would be a gesture of good will toward this union.”
“Enough!” The room fell silent, I could see tears in Lindsey’s eyes now as well. “I will consider your offer King Mathews there is some wisdom in this plan and if it would help bring our two great nations together, what is the loss of a daughter.” The expression on my daughters face ripped my heart out, but I had to finish what we had started here. I just hoped that I would have time to explain it to her before she would have to leave.
“Ah, you are the ruler I thought you to be, it would have been a shame for the long relationship that Mitchell and I have worked would turn ugly due to one young girl and her father’s inability to control her.” And there it was.
“That will be enough. I will discuss the consequences of their actions with our children alone. They will all learn a hard lesson in what it means to rule a kingdom, and how the decisions of a ruler must be followed. Please leave us.” Everyone bowed and everyone but the three children left the room. I quietly dismissed my guards, with orders that the doors were to be cleared and that we were not to be disturbed. As soon as the room was empty, to my surprise Gladies and Alexander fell into each others arms in barely controlled passion. I let them kiss for a few moments before I cleared my throat.
“Your Highness,” Alexander began kneeling before me. “please forgive us. We have not seen each other in several months, and we dare not show affection infront of our parents.”
“You will have to explain to me young prince why that is. We have made some pretty bold statements today, and my daughter may still have to go to the northern realm despite my best efforts.” I looked at her for the first time since everyone had left. The hurt expression was no longer on her face, but now it was replaced by confusion.
“What? Daddy you would not really send me away would you?”
“I told you before that some times a royal marriage is not about love and can be very hard. There are sacrifices that need to be made.” The pain on her face was back. She started to turn away from me but I grabbed her arm and pulled her close to me. “Wait a moment I must see what is going on here.” I whispered.
“Your Highness. Lindsey, your daughter has been one of my best friends since I was old enough to keep up with her. I would never want to hurt her, but it may indeed be necessary for her to make this trip to the northern realm though not for the reasons you think.”
“Sire what Alex is going to tell you is that we love Lindsey, but we may need her help in protecting your kingdom.”
“Alright, enough double talk and hints. These are very serious statements you are making and we do not have much time before your fathers’ demand to come back in here. So please out with it.”
“The union between my father and King Mathews is not meant to benefit your kingdom. The union between Gladies and I is meant to seal the bargin for my father to turn his forces over to King Mathews, between the our border forces and King Mathews’ Army, they would vastly out number your force, and with all due respect to your forces, if you decided to fight it would not be a very long battle your Highness.”
“My Father has wanted access to your ports for as long as I can remember. He sees in the Union a way to get that, with little or no struggle. Without Lord Mitchell’s Boarder forces, we would have to drive though the boarder lands to get to your kingdom and our forces would be exhausted before we even came to your realm.”
“You two seem to know a great deal about your parents plans, and you would both benifit from them, you” I said pointing to Alexander, “would become ruller of the largest Kingdom next to Castleton, and would have the men to defend it, and you Galdies would would be on his arm, with access to the finest things from both the northern and the southern ports. Why then would you help me?”
“For many reasons Sire,” Alexander began “The formost of those being that you are a better ruler than either of them. But also with a peaceful agreement, none of our troops have to fight, no one has to die. We would still be the largest Nation next to Castleton, and I have no desire for such power. Princess Lindsey does not get sent off the marry some man she barely knows, and we continue as we are for the time being.”
“Are you in agreement with this Gladies. You also stand to loose a lot if your Husband is not the king of the realm, but merely a lord.” She nodded her head. “And what do you two propose that we do about it? If you two get married your fathers will take the initiative against me. If you don’t marry then it will break the pact and King Mathews will have an excuse to attack the boarder lands who will probably allow them to march right through and maybe even back them up on their way to attack us.”
“Sire, my plan is simple. Gladies and I have spent a long time showing that we have no feelings for each other. If we are forced to marry under those circumstances it would be a loveless marriage and I have enough sway my fathers council to hold things up for a good long time, if need be. If they insist that you send Lindsey north I have made not secret of my feelings for her,” he said putting his arm around Lindsey “and I would run away and bring her back as my wife.”
“Your wife? And What about Gladies at that point.”
“I Sire, would find them and break them up as a jilted lover. The whole thing will tie up our fathers so long that it would give you time to bring the strength of your army up and to replace the commanders of the boarder forces with men loyal to you.”
“Well it seems you have put some thought into this, however, there are a couple of parts of it that I don’t like. First Lindsey seems to be a pawn, while you two are obviously in love with one another.”
“Father, I would gladly play along as long as we can stop a war.”
“I am glad to hear that because you are going to have to one way or another, but your plans are too complicated and depend too much on your fathers giving you credence that I am not sure they will give you. Hmmm I must think about this for a moment.” The wheels in my head were spinning but it would require the cooperation of another person. “Alexander, go out into the corridor, and find Samuel, tell him to fetch Maria quickly, remind the guards that no one is to disturb us except Samuel and Maria. Got that?”
“Darling daughter, you I am afraid are going to have to make a trip north.” she began to cry again but I pulled her close and said, “But not to marry Prince Welterbock.” She smiled at me then. You and your sister will go and offer a peace deal to him. Maria, if she accepts and still has feelings for Welterbock’s younger brother will be betrothed to him, if she agrees. That depends a lot on how she feels, but if I remember how they looked at each other last year while he was here this may work.” A few moments later Samuel appeared with Maria.
“Good you are here. First Samuel, I need to to help me stall the Lords outside. Give them something to do, tell King Mathews to prepare his men to go north, but with both of my daughters, that should keep him busy for a little while. And lord Mitchell Tell him that I insist that as a token of good will we will have the wedding of Alexander and Gladies next week right here.” He looked pained by the thought of me sending off both of my daughters to Price Welterbock, but nodded and ran out.
“Father we are going north?” Maria asked almost excited.
“Yes you and your sister will be going north to offer a pact with Prince Welterbock, and if you so desire, you and Robert will be betrothed at that time.”
“Yes, your wedding would be a long way off but you may begin to court if he is still interested in you.”
“Oh Father he is, you should read his letters.”
“That is alright I will take your word for it. Now you and your sister go talk to your mother, Lindsey give your mother an idea about what is going on so that the rumors don’t spread. Your sister is going as your handmaid for the time being until one can be found for you from the northern country. Maria you will need to play that part until you get there since you will be traveling with King Mitchell’s men. They are going to be given instructions to return as soon as you are delivered safely to Prince Welterbock. This may be the last time for a long that we are able to speak openly. I want you both to know that I love you, and that I am very proud of you. When you are in your mothers chambers you are not to speak openly in front of any of the servants, is that understood?” Both of them nodded and then headed off to their mother’s chambers.
“Now you two.” I said turning to Alexander and Gladies, “You have done a good job of acting uninterested in each other. I think that you have everyone fooled. I know I was. I need you to continue to play that part, to the point of loud arguments in the next week or so while you are here waiting to be married. I will offer you the privacy of my quarters on occasion so that you might spend some time together, with a trusted chaperon of course until you are married.” they both smiled at me and each other. “I feel like some kind of fool match maker today. Alexander, I need a letter of intent from you that will be going with my daughters.”
“A letter of intent sire?”
“Yes, you are going to write to Prince Welterbock telling him that with my help you intend to arrest the throne from your new father-in-law, and that you wish his help in the from of soldiers loyal to him that would also be loyal to you, and a deaf ear to a request of help from your father-in-law. It will be accompanied by a letter from me, stating that we intend to live in peace with each other, and with him and between the three nations we will be bigger than Castleton, holding all of the northern continent. We will also state that our ports will be open to him and his people free of extra tariffs that are currently in place. does that make sense to you?” He nodded. “Good, then the only hold out will be the boarder lands and with you and the northern lands to their north and me to the south he will have no choice but to join us.”
“What about my father?” Gladies asked.
“A fair question. I do not want to pain you and so do not want him killed, but he did conspire with your father Alexander, to over throw me. We will need to punish them in some way. They will be stripped of their titles and given licenses as artisans, under our close supervision. They will be allowed to take some of their wealth so that they can live well, without working of they so choose, but may never again rise to any power greater than town council member. Would that be acceptable to you?”
“Of course Sire.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, you are not going to kill him and you are not going to exile him, this seems very fair.”
Three years ago the Castletonians came to us with a peace treaty, we had not attacked them or shown them any sign of agression, but since we held all lands to their north and controlled all the ports, they needed a peace deal to shore up their faltering economy. We gave it willingly. Of course they gave Lindsey and her husband a large holding to our south that expanded our area even more, I suspect that in the next generation we will hold all of Castleton as well.