When we last saw Prince Jaron, it was one item for the Enchantress down, two items to go. He managed to get the “blood” component of the required “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” in his face-off with the dreaded Fire Maiden. Think he can handle a match of wits against a pig and a crocodile?
“Lady who from where??” questioned Osmar, Prince of Mayers.
“Lady Marinara Mozzarella Ding-dong-ditch from Hem-haw-grumble-mumble-place,” repeated his doorman. “And she requests an audience with Your Highness.”
“Oh. Well, okay,” said Osmar uncertainly. “Send her in.”
The doorman bowed out and, a moment later, a rather peculiar-looking woman entered Osmar’s visiting chambers. Well, she didn’t so much look peculiar as… not quite right. That is, there was nothing really very odd about her. She was put together in what was considered the acceptable human fashion – a head, some limbs, she walked upright, and all that – and she was dressed as any respectable lady would. And yet, for some reason Osmar could not quite put his finger on, something about this woman was a little off. It made him a bit uneasy.
“Um, good day, milady,” he said. One must be a good host even if one was creeped out, after all.
“Good day, Your Highness,” replied Lady Marinara, with a curtsy. Something about her voice seemed a bit wack as well.
“Uh, what brings you to mine humble castle?”
“Why,” said the Lady, “to meet my betrothed, naturally.”
Osmar’s eyes grew near as round as he was. “W-what dost thou say?!”
“We are to be married,” said the Lady, drawing nearer to her apparent intended. “You know, since Princess Terren the Fair appears to have gone AWOL. What, have you heard none of this?”
“I have not!” said Osmar, and stumbled backward, for to keep the distance between himself and this strange female at least as great as it was before she began coming toward him. “Are you certain of your information??”
“I am indeed,” said Lady Marinara, stepping closer still and rapidly closing the space between them. “My parents, the Duke and Duchess of Hem-haw-grumble-mumble-place, are quite giddy over this fine match.”
“But…! But…!” Osmar now had his back to the wall, with the Lady practically falling on top of him. “I… I don’t… There must be some mistake!”
“No mistake about it. But you seem anxious. Are you displeased with me?”
“I… Uh… No… I mean…”
“Am I not fair enough for you?”
“No… I mean, yes… That is to say… What was the question?”
“I assure you, darling, that what I may lack in looks, I more than make up for in the bedchamber.”
“Oh…! Oh, dear…! Oh, my stars…!”
“Oh, bother, I’ve upset you,” Lady Marinara purred. “Look upon thyself – shaking, going all russet hued, perspiring as if there will be no morrow… Here, allow me.”
The Lady reached into her sleeve and produced a handkerchief which she used to mop the prince’s clammy face and neck. “There, there, Osmond,” she cooed. “Surely ‘tis not as bad as all that.”
“Osmond?” said Osmar. “I am called Osmar, not Osmond.”
The Lady gasped and clutched her hand to her heart. “Not Prince Osmond of Layers?! Oh, bless my soul…! In truth, a mistake has been made here! A thousand apologies for this titanic misunderstanding! By your leave, I would go before I further embarrass us both.”
“As you will,” said Osmar, so relieved he was in danger of wetting his royal hosen.
The Lady Marinara Mozzarella Ding-dong-ditch vacated the premises. Presently she reached the dark horse waiting for her outside the city walls. She rode as far as a shady glade, and there she took her sopping handkerchief and wrung the moisture out into a small vial.
“Yuck,” said she, though it sounded very much like a he – a he we have all come to know and love as Prince Jaron. “I enjoyed the killing of the Fire Maiden more. Although ‘twas good sport worrying that little porker so.”
Jaron had but one gift left to obtain: The tears of a crocodile. He had given much thought to this when he was riding toward the kingdom of Mayers for gift number two, and by the time that part of the mission was complete, he had come up with a plan that he thought should do the trick. But first he simply had to drop by his own castle and get something decent to eat, as well as one or two other little things.
The detour was meant be a quick get-thee-in-get-thee-out affair, but to his surprise, Jaron beheld a fair-sized army stationed just outside his city walls!
“Hey,” he called to a soldier who appeared to be standing around doing nothing. “What doth be the deal?”
The soldier looked Jaron (in disguise, of course, but this time as a farmer) up and down. “What doth be the deal with that getup?”
“I would have you know that overalls are all the rage in the wheat fields,” Jaron said haughtily. “’Tis what the stylish man in agriculture does wear today. Now I repeat my question: What’s with the army? Is an attack planned on the kingdom of Nikos, or what?”
“Well, duh,” said the soldier. “Where hast thou been that you know not of this? Hast thou been living under a rock or something?”
“Eh, people tell me nothing. Mayhap you could break the pattern. Why this assault? What has Nikos done to Liaralay – for surely, this army bears that kingdom’s colors – that Liaralay would see Nikos destroyed?”
“Coo, can you really not know even this much? Prince Jaron stole Princess Terren the Fair away near four days ago. The princess’s parents are hopping mad, and are determined that King Jakob shall pay the price for his son’s misdeed.”
“Again?” murmured the prince, his thoughts on a certain incident eleven years past. Shaking his head, for to clear it, he said aloud to the soldier, “Well, thanks aplenty for bringing me into the loop. I don’t suppose you are allowing anyone to enter the city?”
“Regrettably, no,” said the soldier, sounding none too regretful. “There’s a war on, you understand.”
“Certainly, certainly. I will continue on my way. I thank you for your time.”
It was an inconvenience having to go ‘round the city, then in through the secret way that only two or three elite knew, but Jaron was no stranger to inconvenience. But an hour later and he was on his way again.
His destination this time was an area by the sea. For those of you unfamiliar with the layout of the land, be informed that the cluster of kingdoms Jaron called home was nowhere near the sea. A trip to the beach would set you back a week, perhaps eight days. That’s if you’re on horseback, mind you. However, if the horse is wearing magic horseshoes – the kind that allows the horsy wearer to fly as swift as a hurricane wind – you can cut down travel time significantly.
As luck would have it, one of the many Nikos family heirlooms was a set of magic horseshoes, passed down for six generations. These horseshoes Jaron had grabbed during his visit to his castle, and so it was that his horse/father/king bore him super speedy fast to the cluster of kingdoms by the sea.
This cluster of kingdoms was noted for its exceedingly high number of damsels in distress. It seemed you couldn’t go two miles without running into one or more of them. Part of the problem was the number of girl-stealing riffraff in the neighborhood – dragons, giants, witches, sea monsters, black knights, and the like. But much of the time, the young women in the area just liked being rescued by dashing young men, so they quite often purposely put themselves in a position to be taken. Silly, but true. Jaron had heard all about these nutty girls, which was precisely why he rode that way on this particular occasion.
The prince had not been in the area long when he came to a young lady tied to a tree. When she saw him riding toward her, the girl began to howl.
“Oh-h-h…!” she wailed prettily. “Oh, good knight! Save me, save me, I pray!”
“What seems to be the problem, fair maid?” asked Jaron.
“Oh-h-h…! A vile knave did snatch me from my home one night, for to make me his bride! When I would have none of it, he lashed me to this tree, leaving me for dead! Oh-h-h…! Thank goodness you have come to rescue me!” Here the maid threw in some tears for good measure.
Now, Jaron was a fair judge of sincerity. When one playacted to get one’s own way as often as he himself had done, one developed the knack to be able to tell whether another was being true or false. This girl, Jaron realized at once, was so not being true. In fact, it would not have surprised him in the least if she had tied herself to the tree. Far from being upset that she would attempt to thus deceive him, Jaron was pleased. This had been exactly what he had hoped for.
Taking from the pouch he wore a small vial (not the one containing Osmar’s sweat; a new one), Jaron collected the biggest tears that coursed down the maiden’s face. The girl stopped whimpering in surprise.
“What… what are you doing?” she asked in bewilderment.
“Not falling for your poorly-veiled ruse, if that’s what you wish to know,” Jaron retorted. Without another word, he rode off, leaving the girl with her mouth hanging open like a codfish.
Jaron had been riding only a few minutes when he came upon another maid, this one high up in a tower. “Yoo-hoo!” she called down, fluttering her handkerchief flirtatiously. “Kind sir, prithee liberate me from this prison!”
“Why, how came you to be imprisoned in this wise?” inquired Jaron, already scaling the tower wall.
The girl sniffled charmingly. “Oh me, oh my… A horrid wizard locked me away! He intends to give me in marriage to his ugly little son! I cannot even bear to look upon his face, and I must be bound to him forever! Oh, ‘tis just too much to bear…!” Here the girl began to cry, just for effect.
Jaron pulled himself up to the window where the weeping girl stood and, with one hand, reached up with the vial to collect the young woman’s tears. The maid stopped her boo-hoo-ing in surprise.
“What… what’s going on?” she asked in bafflement.
“Not your rescue, if that is your question,” Jaron rejoined. Without further parley, he climbed back down and sped away, leaving the maid to lose her handkerchief due to a hand too limp with shock to do its job.
Many variations of this same theme followed. Jaron went from maiden to maiden, staying just long enough to accumulate their bogus tears. Of course, on occasion, the prince would actually come to a young woman in genuine need of help. If this were the case, he would grudgingly take the time to save her before he moved on. Even with bothersome delays like these, Jaron managed to fill his vial satisfactorily within only a few hours. At last, his task complete, all three offerings to the Enchantress gathered, Jaron made all haste back to the Enchanted Forest.
<<< End of Part 7 – and next story time, the grand finale! >>>