The first installment of my serial presentation of “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” begins now!
Eight kingdoms there were in the land, all clustered together:
The kingdom of Marsdom, where dwelled Prince Richard – Rick, to his friends. He is not important.
The kingdom of Caspion, where dwelled twin princesses – Essandra who was known to frequent the palace kitchens like a common cook, as well as engage in other un-princess-like behavior, and Emmalyn who was the plainest princess a kingdom could never hope to have. Neither is particularly important.
The kingdom of Hennestay, where dwelled twin Princesses Karina and Shannon – both equally pretty and princess-like, and therefore in no easy way told apart. Again, not important.
The kingdom of Baylee, where dwelled Prince Vincent – a very handsome prince he was, but that was about all you could say for him, which just goes to show how unimportant he is.
The kingdom of Cormack, where dwelled Prince McKail – the perfect prince, beloved by all… except for the odd prince or two, jealous of Prince McKail’s popularity with the princesses of the area. Be assured that jealousy has nothing to do with the assertion that he is of virtually zero importance.
The kingdom of Mayers, where dwelled Prince Osmar – a relative of Prince McKail, but very little like him in either temperament or looks. Betrothed he was to Princess Emmalyn, and both were happy with the arrangement, though others spoke with pity for the plain princess who could apparently get no better. Tragically enough, he is the most important royal named thus far.
The kingdom of Liaralay, where dwelled Princess Terren the Fair – as beautiful a princess as anyone could wish, but, as often happens with beautiful princesses, very vain, haughty, hoity-toity… in short, stuck-up. Her vital importance will go no way toward improving her humility.
And lastly, the kingdom of Nikos, where dwelled Prince Jaron. Very little was known about him or his, except that he was the biggest creeper, common or royal, that side of the Enchanted Forest. He’s also the single most important person on this list, thank you very much.
That said, consider this tale…
The blast of a trumpet reached Prince Richard’s ears from outside the castle walls. A crier’s trumpet: The sign that a young royal from a neighboring kingdom had an announcement to make. Generally, these announcements were of no especial consequence; criers were the e-mail of way back then. After the trumpet blare faded away, these words were shouted:
“HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS, PRINCE OSMAR, REQUESTS THAT HIS HIGHNESS, PRINCE RICHARD, JOIN HIM STRAIGHT AWAY FOR A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED HUNTING TRIP! R.S.V.P.!”
All princes enjoyed a good hunt. Prince Richard was no exception. He was less than enthusiastic about having to hunt with Osmar, but goodness knew there were worse royal companions in the neighborhood. Therefore, with a reply cry accepting the invitation and a horse quickly saddled, Prince Richard made his way to the green where awaited the hunt’s host.
Short, round, and dashing (y’know, in a short, round, and not particularly dashing sort of way), Prince Osmar smiled contentedly as he saw Richard ride up to join him. “Hallo, Rick! So glad you could come.”
“The pleasure’s all mine, I’m sure. Is it to be just the two of us?” (This asked with a vague air of disappointment.)
“Not at all. I’ve invited all the other princes as well.”
“All of them?” (This asked with even greater disappointment.)
“Well, all of them except… well, you know.”
Rick sighed with relief. “Oh, well, that’s all right then. Ah, and here comes Prince McKail.”
Indeed, the flawless prince was riding up on his equally flawless white steed. His golden hair glinted brighter than jewels in the afternoon sunlight, and his smile shone brighter even than that. Had any women been on the green, they would surely have swooned.
“Hail, cousin!” called Osmar. “Well met!”
“Greetings, Osmar,” replied McKail. “And to you as well, Rick. A fine day for a hunt; I thank you, Osmar, for extending an invitation to me.”
“How could I not? We’re family and everything. And now our party is nearly complete! Scan the horizon – does Prince Vincent approach?”
“He does,” said Rick after a moment. Then a shadow crossed his countenance. “But… he does not come alone.”
Osmar frowned perplexedly. “No? Who comes with him?”
Rick gave him a pointed look. “One guess.”
Osmar said a very bad word then.
“What doth be up, gents?” smirked Prince Jaron. Or perchance ‘twas not a smirk; hard to say, when even Jaron’s most innocent looks appeared to conceal a deviousness none could fathom. “I chanced to be visiting at the Baylee castle when the crier proclaiming this hunt arrived. Of course, only Vincent was called for by name, but surely had I been at home, I would have received a similar invitation?”
“Oh, naturally,” Osmar lied. Determining to ignore Jaron as much as might be, he called out, “Let the hunt commence!”
At the command of their master, the hounds surged forward, the horses and their riders close behind. A fox was flushed out ere long, and it gave a merry chase. The youths were almost upon it, when the handsome Prince Vincent chanced to glance up.
“Look to sky!” he called to his companions. “A dragon!”
“Where?!” demanded Jaron, deeply dark eyes squinting hard. For the prince’s vision was poor, and prescription lenses had not yet been invented.
“There! A dragon!” cried Osmar. “That won’t do! We should send for our bravest knights, for to slay it!”
“We don’t need knights,” Jaron declared with contempt. “Are we not princes? We can slay the beast ourselves. Heck, I can do it alone.”
“Big words, those,” commented Rick, “considering your lack of skill with a blade. Not to mention your nearness of sight.”
“I don’t need to see,” Jaron spat. “Nor do I need to wield a sword with any especial proficiency. (Although I happen to handle my weapon pretty decently, thank you very much.) Even if I couldn’t, however, I have my wits to aid me.”
Suppressed chuckles all around.
“Perhaps it would be better if I slew the creature,” offered McKail. “Really, I mind not at all.”
“Eh, well, if you really want to,” Jaron conceded, a tad quickly, it was noted.
“I hear tell this is no ordinary dragon,” said Vincent. “Word is it is bound up by an oath: Whoever kills it may marry Princess Terren the Fair, if he so wishes.”
Prince Jaron got a telling gleam in his eye; such a look could only mean that he had plans half the time not fit to tell. “Is that so? In that case, McKail, you may stay. The dragon is my own to defeat.”
“Are you sure?” asked McKail, fearing not a mite for his own safety, but quite a bit for Jaron’s. He was a selfless prince, that way.
Jaron nodded, mind firmly made, so the others shrugged and settled in to watch the violent destruction of their fellow royal.
“Ho, dragon!” Jaron called as the beast wheeled overhead. “Your mama was a lizard! Yeah, that’s right, I said it! You don’t like it, come and get some!”
The dragon snarled and swept lower, the better to kill whatever arrogant boy did shout at him so. Said arrogant boy leapt off his horse and sprinted into a copse of trees, and the dragon followed. Though it would have little room to maneuver on such a battlefield, it doubted not that it could take off the prince’s head in one bite.
“Ha!” cried Jaron, whipping around to face his opponent under the shady bower. “You fool! You’ve fallen right into my trap!”
The dragon cocked its head in puzzlement, for surely there was no trap to be found in the place.
“You doubt me?” Jaron said, noting the dragon’s incredulity. “Then look up, and behold the device that dooms thee!”
Convinced that this crazy human was on illegal herbs or something, the dragon looked up, just to reassure itself that nothing was there. THIWP! Before it had even finished tilting back its massive head, an arrow lodged in its throat. The dragon looked down at the prince, proudly holding his still quivering bow, and then it slowly fell, its disbelief at being taken down by such a lame trick quickly fading into blackness.
Jaron nodded in satisfaction and took up his sword as the other princes rode forward to comment on the battle.
“That seemed incredibly easy,” noted McKail.
“Everything’s easy,” Jaron smirked, “when you’re a genius like me.”
“That was a really dumb dragon,” Rick stated.
“No, I’m just a genius,” Jaron reiterated. Thus saying, he brought his sword down hard upon the dragon’s neck, severing head from body.
“I think,” he said, “I will take this souvenir of my daring exploit to Princess Terren the Fair.”
Which just went to show what Jaron knew about a princess’s tastes in courting gifts.
<<< End of Part 1 >>>