* Answer the 11 questions provided.
* Create 11 questions for the next nominees to answer.
* Link back to the one who nominated you.
* Choose 11 people and link them in your post.
* Go to their page and tell them.
* No tag backs!
I’ve taken care of items one and three; now to finish the job by announcing my 11 nominees and questioning them like the good cop/bad cop interrogator I am.
Because I like to work with themes, I’ve chosen to relate each of my 11 questions to my novella, “The Swan Prince (Book One of the Wilderhark Tales)”, (coming in 3 weeks, whoo-hoo!). It was a challenge (there are only so many general questions you can ask about swans!), but I think I managed to come up with a “like or befitting a prince; magnificent” mix. Take a look.
1. If you were cursed to take on an animal form every night, which do you think the spell-caster would choose for you, and why?
3. Name the fairytale nearest to the story of your life.
4. You feel sick. ): Would you rather see a doctor about it, or tough it out alone?
5. Who is your favorite “Swan(n)” – Emma Swan (“Once Upon a Time”), Bella Swan (“Twilight”), Elizabeth Swann (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), or [other]?
6. Who is your favorite prince? (Real, fictional, the “Purple Rain” artist who partied like it was 1999… whatever.)
7. Who is your favorite “the”? Just kidding. X) If you had to go on a two-week walking trip with someone – any someone – who would you want it to be, and why?
8. Are you the cool, rational type, or emotional and instinctual?
9. How far would you go to make a person fall in love with you?
10. Describe your early childhood home.
11. What does “happily ever after” mean to you?
As for my nominees, I feel like I’ve already tagged most of the bloggers I follow. So I figure, hey, how about I show some love to the bloggers who follow me? (Just in case you weren’t of the opinion that a subscription to my words is reward enough in itself…)
A warm round of applause to our dozen-minus-one arbitrarily selected nominees:
Congratulations, one and all! And to anyone who didn’t get nominated and is sitting there thinking, “Aw… but I wanted to answer those questions…”, I do have a comments section, guys. If you’ve got answers you’d like to put there, I would be glad as all get-out to read them. (:
* Speaking of The Parasite Guy, would you believe it? He’s nominated me for yet another award – the Sunshine Award! – the rules for which are:
Post the sunshine award logo
Accept the nomination and link back to the nominator
Answer the questions
Nominate ten other blogs(or sites) and inform them of the award
1, done. 2, done. 3… well, I’ve answered these particular questions once before, and my opinions on these matters have not much changed. So I’ve decided to delegate and let one of my characters answer in my stead. And what better character to interview during this princely post than the swan prince himself? Sigmund, come on down!
Favorite color: “I’ve not thought about it, much,” he says, clearing his throat awkwardly at having been summoned and thrust into the spotlight with so little notice. “I suppose I prefer dusky reds, like burgundy.”
Favorite animal: “The trumpeter swan.”
Favorite number: His narrow, sidelong glance at me has “This is a silly question” written all through it, but he answers, “How about… seven.”
Favorite non-alcoholic beverage: “Water.”
Favorite alcoholic beverage: “They don’t serve alcoholic beverages at the children’s asylum. The nuns promote temperance. Perhaps if I spent my evenings carousing in the village with the other youths, I would acquire a taste for it anyway; but I do not.”
Facebook or Twitter: “Wilderhark has neither.”
Passions: “I have yet to develop any. I have more important things to concern myself with. Never you mind what.”
Giving or receiving gifts: One shoulder lifts and lowers in an elegant shrug. “If the gift is worth receiving, I would prefer that. If not, you’re welcome to it. Enjoy.”
Favorite city: “Cersegg. Though I don’t expect most of your readers will know where that is.”
Ooh, hey, this question wasn’t on the list, last time I answered. I choose San Francisco! (…pending my someday visit to London.)
Favorite TV shows: “Wilderhark doesn’t have television, either.”
Well, we do. And I don’t watch it much, but when I do, it’s probably because “Once Upon a Time” is on.
Thank you for your indulgence, Sigmund! As for my ten nominees… well, gee, the list I’d compiled for the Liebster would have been perfect – eleven minus The Parasite Guy, since he nominated me – except P.G. nominated Shannon A. Thompson as another of his ten, and I don’t want to burn her with too heavy a dose of awarded sunshine. So I’ve got one additional nominee:
Prince Jaron’s assignments completed back during Part 7, it’s back to the Enchantress to liberate Princess Terren and make his requests. But will all going according to plan? Find out in the much-anticipated serial finale of “Blood, Sweat, and Tears”!
Not surprisingly, Terren had lost all track of time. She could not tell if she had been awaiting the prince’s return for minutes or months or a millennium or what. Either way, she was pleased as punch when Jaron finally materialized in the cave in front of her.
“Ah, so you’ve returned,” said the Enchantress. “You made good time. Only…” – here she checked her watch – “…two days, seventeen hours, and twenty-five minutes.”
“Hey, wait ye just one stinking minute!” cried Terren. “Last I checked, wristwatches – and especially digital wristwatches – have yet to be invented!”
“Sometimes it seems as though nothing has yet been invented,” Jaron muttered.
The Enchantress shrugged. “Well, when you’re a powerful Enchantress, as I am, sometimes you get the prototypes for these things sooner than do others. But back to business. Prince Jaron, have you done as I have asked?”
“I have,” said Jaron. Proudly, he presented the bowl-shaped rock he himself had carved from the volcano. Looking around, he asked, “Have you a container durable enough to… well, contain this?”
“I do,” said the Enchantress, producing a small jar.
“Good.” Without ceremony, Jaron smashed the rock upon the cave wall and then held the largest piece over the Enchantress’s jar. Much of the lava collected had since cooled into rock, but more than a tablespoon of it had remained hot and liquid. This did Jaron pour into the jar.
“Behold,” said Jaron. “This lava did I take from the veins of the Fire Maiden. Lava, molten rock, was her life’s blood. And so I give you… blood from a stone.”
“Very good,” approved the Enchantress. “One payment received. What is your first request of me?”
“At an inn more than a day’s journey from here,” said Jaron, “I slew a drunk sitting by the side of the road. This man had done no wrong save take a sip too many, yet I killed him, for I had need of his clothes. My first request is that you bring him back to life, for the death dealt him was by no means a fair one.”
“I grant your request,” said the Enchantress. “Here, take this bottle of suspect fluid. When you leave the Forest on your way back to your kingdom, stop by the inn where this deed was done. Find the body, and pour the contents of this bottle upon it. Then he will be restored to life. Now, where is my second gift?”
Jaron showed her his vial. “Behold,” said he. “This sweat did I mop from the brow of Prince Osmar of Mayers. Ask any one of his peers and they will tell you truly of his decidedly porcine qualities. And so I give you… sweat from a pig.”
“Well done,” praised the Enchantress. “Two payments received. What is your second request of me?”
“The King and Queen of Liaralay and the Queen of Mayers have conspired to marry Prince Osmar and Princess Terren,” said Jaron. “Neither prince nor princess (nor Osmar’s previous betrothed) wishes this union to take place. My second request is that you change the minds of the king and queens, bringing them back to their original plan to marry Osmar to Princess Emmalyn of Caspion, and Terren to no one yet.”
“I grant your request,” said the Enchantress. “Here, take this pouch of mysterious powder. When you leave this Forest, go to the highest tower of the castle of Liaralay and sprinkle the powder into the wind. Then the minds of the rulers of Liaralay and Mayers will be as they were before. And lastly, what of my third gift?”
Jaron brought forth his other vial. “Behold,” he said. “These tears did I gather from the faces of many quote-unquote ‘damsels in distress’ by the sea. None of them were in real need of rescue, and all cried merely to gain something from a studly passerby like myself. Fake crying; crocodile tears. And so I give you… tears from a crocodile.”
“Bravo,” congratulated the Enchantress. “All three payments received. So, what will your final request be? Up ‘til now, they have been quite unselfish; restoration of life for someone else, happiness for others… Surely now you would like to ask for something for yourself? Like… the love of Princess Terren, for instance? That was your plan, was it not?”
Terren nearly choked on her royal spit. “Thou would do that to me?!” she shrieked.
“That was my plan,” Jaron nodded.
“Vile wretch! To make me fall in love with a son of a yet-to-be-invented gun like you…! Have you no sense of morality?!”
“I would think he does,” said the Enchantress. “Why else would he have done what he did that night at the inn?”
Terren narrowed her eyes. “Why? What did he do?”
“Nothing,” said the Enchantress. “That’s the point. What is your third request, young prince?”
“On my way to acquire the crocodile tears,” said Jaron, “I stopped by my castle. Turns out the rulers of Liaralay have decided to wage war upon my kingdom. Something about me running off with their princess. This war will no doubt mean countless lives thrown away – women and children left without husbands and brothers and fathers. Me, I care but little about this. But a soldier told me this war was created so that my father the King would have to pay for my misdeed. Well, guess what: He has already had to pay a hefty price for my own childish behavior of eleven years ago. He will continue to pay it for the rest of time. He should not have to pay again. And so my third and final request is that you cause the King and Queen of Liaralay to call off their war on my kingdom.”
“Are you sure?” said the Enchantress. “Because I could make Princess Terren fall in love with you, no problem.”
“Do not tempt him!” cried Terren, aghast and enraged.
“I am not tempted,” Jaron assured her. “True, if thou had caught me before I hit the seashore, things might have been different. But whilst I was collecting the tears of pathetic pretender girls, I was given the opportunity to rescue a maiden who actually needed rescuing – she was going to be sacrificed to an ogre, don’t you know – and darned if she is not more fair than art thou, Terren of Liaralay! I have decided to woo her instead. So it looks like you missed your chance with Prince Jaron the Cool, Terren, baby.”
Terren was undecided whether to whoop for joy that Jaron would now finally leave her alone, retch up her last meal over Jaron’s ego, or throw a tantrum because someone traversed the earth who was fairer than she. She was still mulling over the possibilities when the Enchantress dumped some sweet-smelling concoction over her head.
“HEY!” sputtered Terren.
“I grant your request,” the Enchantress said to Jaron. “Merely return Terren home and the war will cease. Now leave my cave! I haven’t had a moment alone since you two barged in through mine rainbow!”
Thus did the adventure end. Jaron and Terren made the uneventful journey home. They stopped by the inn on the way. The drunk was still in the bushes where Jaron had left him, looking none too good, as one would imagine. But a few drops from the Enchantress’s bottle and he looked as good as new – albeit in naught but his underwear, until Jaron returned his clothes.
The war was called off the instant Terren entered her castle, and then she and Jaron sprinkled the powder from the Enchantress’s pouch, causing the King and Queen of Liaralay and the Queen of Mayers to nix Terren’s engagement, and freeing Osmar to marry Emmalyn once more.
A few months later, Terren became betrothed again – this time to Prince Vincent. Everyone from the kingdoms of both Liaralay and Baylee were pleased with this match. And Jaron returned to the area by the sea, where the princess he had saved from the sacrifice had been pining for him ever since he’d gone. They were betrothed to each other before the sun went down on the day. It happened also that Jaron’s princess had a mighty good-looking mare who took quite an interest in Jaron’s horse/father/king.
And so, true to fairytale form, everybody lived happily ever after.
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 whofromwhere??” 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! >>>
The last segment of “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” saw Princess Terren the Fair left in the keeping of the Enchantress, there to stay until Prince Jaron’s successful return from three seemingly impossible tasks. Given how little cause we’ve been given to fully trust Jaron, what are the odds Terren will be stuck there forever?
Several minutes passed. Of course, since she was in the Enchanted Forest, it felt like hours to Terren. Couple that with her anxiety at being left alone with some strange Enchantress, and it felt even longer. At last, the Enchantress spoke.
“You are wondering how it came to pass that the King of Nikos is a horse,” she said.
Terren didn’t much like having her mind read by creepy Enchantresses, but whatcha gonna do? “I am,” she nodded.
“Eleven years ago,” the Enchantress began, “King Jakob came to me, the young Prince Jaron with him. He wanted me to tell him what lay in his son’s royal future.”
“What, art thou all-knowing or something?”
“Nah, I just get these random bursts of information. Anyhoo, after I had received payment for my services, I informed him that Jaron would never rule as king. This upset Jakob a bit, but it upset Jaron much, much more. He threw quite a tantrum about it; you know what five-year-olds are. I told him he’d best get control of himself, else something ill-fated happen to him, but of course he did not listen; you know how Jaron is. In his boisterousness, the young fool knocked over a bottle containing one of my curses.”
Terren frowned. “Who keeps curses in a bottle?”
“Uh, Enchantresses? Duh? May I finish my story, please?”
“Sorry, sorry, by all means.”
“I thank thee. So, Jaron breaks my bottle, and out pops the curse.”
“Um, begging your pardon, but what exactly does a curse look like?”
“Not unlike a pox,” said the Enchantress impatiently. “Do not interrupt me again. So the curse comes out and it incants:
Four hooves, flowing tail and mane,
A horse for all time you’ll remain,
And never human form regain.
Then it leapt at him, for to bring the curse to pass. But Jaron was a quick lad, and with his small dagger deflected the curse away from him. Curses are much akin to light in that you can turn them away with a reflective surface. Unfortunately – or not, depending of your point of view – Jaron set his dagger at such an angle that the curse bounced off of the dagger and onto the king. And so it was that King Jakob was changed into a horse; an immortal horse, but a horse nonetheless.”
“So who— Oh, sorry, were you finished?”
“More or less.”
“Oh, good. So who has been ruling over the kingdom of Nikos all these years if not King Jakob?”
“Why, Prince Jaron of course. And a fair job he’s been doing too, take it all ‘round.”
“But you said—!”
“I said he would never rule as king. Since King Jakob is not dead nor has he formally passed down the crown, Jaron can never officially be king. He will forever be a prince. So, I was right, ha-ha.”
If Terren hadn’t much liked having her mind read, she liked even less being ha-ha-ed. She determined to change the subject. “So, these things Jaron is to bring you… You were not in earnest about them, I hope? For how can one draw blood from a stone that hath no blood, or sweat from a pig, when swine sweateth not? As for the tears of a crocodile, surely ‘twould be a dangerous thing to attempt to gather them. What’s your angle, lady?”
“Tasks assigned by magical folk and spoken in riddles are always 100% doable,” the Enchantress said pompously. “Jaron is a moderately intelligent and very resourceful young man; he will find a way to do what I ask of him. Either that, or you can stay here with me forever. But I believe he will find a way.”
“One can hope and do no more,” Terren sighed.
Jaron reigned in his horse, a.k.a. his father, a.k.a. the King of Nikos. “Whoa, man,” he said. “This is as far as I will make you go. Do not move from this spot unless it is entirely necessary that you do so. I will return as quickly as I am able.”
Carrying nothing but his sword, the prince pushed forward alone. Before long he reached the foot of a relatively small mountain and began to climb. On and on he climbed. Roughly halfway up, a band of the mountain’s rock was soft. Here he stopped a moment, for to hew from the mountainside a fair-sized chunk of this soft rock. This chunk he carved with the tip of his sword until he had made it into the shape of a bowl. This bowl he placed upon his head like a helmet, and then he continued his ascent.
The nearer he came to the top of the mountain, the hotter the air and stone beneath him became. For this was no ordinary mountain. Very little in the Enchanted Forest was ordinary; most things in it were enchanted. (Huh, figure ye that). This mountain was a volcano, home to the deadly Fire Maiden.
Jaron knew all about the Fire Maiden, for there was a chapter on her in the required reading at Prince School. (Princes must be taught about these things, or how else are they to do their jobs properly in magic-infested society?). Jaron remembered every word from the Fire Maiden chapter – indeed, he remembered every word from everychapter from everybook concerning uncanny and weird fairytale beings. How did he remember it all? Easily: He had a portrait memory. And so armed with this knowledge of the Fire Maiden did Jaron seek her out.
The Fire Maiden, sensing the heat of another creature, rose from her magma chamber to meet whatever this other creature was. When she saw it was a young man – and a prince, at that, if his noble bearing meant anything – she smiled a sultry smile. The Fire Maiden’s favorite prey was princes.
“Hey, you…” she called to him seductively. “Get over here, baby, and get in on some hot lovin’.”
This was the Fire Maiden’s allure. She was hot; in every sense of the word. Her long hair was blue flame, in her mouth was a tongue of fire, and her eyes smoldered like burning coals. Men found her simply too much to resist. And so she drew them to her… where they were devoured in her fiery passion.
“Come on…” she called again, and Jaron listened. The Fire Maiden assumed she had him, just as she had so many others before him. But little did she know, Jaron had the edge. First, his eyesight being what it was, the stunning spectacle that was the Fire Maiden was little more than a bright but blurry sort-of-woman-like shape. Second, he was wise to her tricks, and therefore better prepared to resist them. And third, he was on a quest, and a prince on a quest was not a thing easily sidetracked; especially if that prince was Jaron.
As Jaron drew closer, of course, it became more difficult to stay focused. Particularly because the Fire Maiden was coming more into focus the closer his nearsighted eyes came. Plus it was getting hotter by the second (which, in the Enchanted Forest, seem like years).
At last, Jaron and the Fire Maiden were but a hand’s-breadth away from each other. The light from the Fire Maiden’s burning eyes reflected in Jaron’s dark ones. Her breath caused the perspiration on his face to evaporate before it had a chance to dampen his brow.
“Kiss me,” she whispered, for if they kissed, all would be over for him.
But Jaron had only just the other night discovered in himself the power to resist a woman he really wanted if he made up his mind to do it. His mind was made up now. He did not hesitate, but plunged his sword into the Fire Maiden’s belly. With a hiss like steam, the Fire Maiden fell.
Now Jaron had to act quickly; for without the Fire Maiden to keep it at bay, the volcano would erupt. According to the book Jaron had memorized thanks to his portrait memory, he had ten minutes before the volcano blew. In an instant, he slit the Fire Maiden’s throat. Hot lava gushed out, for that was the blood that flowed in her veins. With the bowl-shaped rock he had cut out of the mountain, Jaron collected the lava as it poured out, filling his rock not quite up to the brim. That done, he high-tailed it down the side of the mountain like his life depended on it; for as we know, his life did depend on it.
Jaron’s feet had scarcely touched the foot of the volcano before it erupted. Not out of danger yet, he fairly flew to his horse (his father, the king…), leapt on, and cried, “Get outta here! Go! Go! Go!” They raced for almost an hour (which seemed like but a second) before the prince was satisfied that they were safe from harm; in volcanic form, at least.
Jaron checked his bowl to be sure that it had not been damaged. He was pleased to see that it had not broken, and the surface of the lava had cooled off and hardened into rock, sealing the still liquid lava inside.
“Score,” said Jaron, wiping the perspiration from his brow.
Ah, perspiration. That reminded him of his second task: To fetch the sweat of a pig.
“Where the heck,” Jaron muttered to himself, “am I going to get that?”
Jaron mulled over this for a minute or two (which felt like… oh, you know the drill). And then came the notorious gleam in his eye.
When we last left the world of “Blood, Sweat, and Tears”, there were grumblings of inter-kingdom war over the presumed kidnapping of Princess Terren the Fair. At first she wasn’t technically kidnapped, then she briefly was, but Prince Jaron saved her before continuing to force her against her will on a quest to seek the aid of an Enchantress. Let’s see what comes of all that, why don’t we…
The sun was scarcely up before the King and Queen of Liaralay sent emissaries over to King Jakob of Nikos, officially declaring their intent to wage war on his kingdom for his son’s abduction of their fair princess. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, depending on who you are and how easily you allow yourself to be surprised – the king did not give the emissaries an audience. Nor did he send a reply via crier or in any other manner.
People from all the kingdoms in the district were perplexed as to the eccentric behavior of King Jakob. Why, they wondered, did he do nothing about the threat to his domain? Why did he hide in that dark, forbidding castle of his? Indeed, when was the last time he had made an appearance? The general reckoning was ten years; maybe twelve, but at the very least ten.
There were any number of theories about his hiatus from the public eye. Some said he was simply shy. Others said he was simply mad. Still others said he was madly shy, though they couldn’t decide if the shyness was caused by madness or vice versa. Many grew suspicious over the years, doubting whether there was any king at all.
Some murmured that they would not put it past Prince Jaron to have orchestrated an assassination against his own father. But surely ten (possibly twelve) years ago was too soon for the prince to have done such a thing? Even were it only ten, Jaron would have been a lad of just six years; a mere babe in arms, really. Whoever heard of a child committing such a heinous act? And so the speculation continued.
Meanwhile, oblivious to the commotion back at home, Jaron and Terren came to the edge of a thickly wooded area.
“I do not know this place,” said Terren. “Where are we?”
“This, Terren,” said Jaron, “is the Enchanted Forest.”
“I do not.”
“You would go into the Enchanted Forest? And you would drag me in with you?!”
“Uh, where else would one find an Enchantress if not in the Enchanted Forest? Wake thee up, stupid.”
“Have you not heard the tales of the Enchanted Forest?” Terren said tensely. “’Tis a place fraught with danger and rife with peril. Few go in who come out alive. And even those who live are often changed, and for the worse.”
“Yes, yes, I’ve heard the stories same as you,” Jaron said, losing patience. “I am fully aware of what hazards may await us if we take but a few more steps. Even so, we will press on. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You need not fear for your safety, princess – you have with you a prince both daring and bold. Not to mention incredibly smart, good-looking, and witty, and I enjoy long walks by the shore and romantic candle-lit dinners.”
“All dinners are by the light of candles, you simpleton. It’s not like anyone’s invented the light bulb yet.”
Having no reply to that, Jaron urged his horse forward, under the trees. Terren, however reluctantly, followed after.
Not three steps into the Forest, things became very dark. The sun, you see, had no power there, except at select times. It would have been impossible to see a thing were it not for the countless fairy lights that twinkled on almost every flower. The air was thick with the breath of a million trees. If it had been invented yet, the Forest floor could have been likened to a treadmill, for it ever so slowly shifted backwards, so that any who stood still would eventually find himself right back where he started from. This was done to encourage people not to stand about all day, if they could help it.
Since minutes seem like hours in the Enchanted Forest– and hours like seconds, and seconds like years, and years like a day – Jaron and Terren had no idea how long their trek had been when they came to a colossal waterfall. Three things were strange about this particular waterfall. The first was that, although waterfalls tend to be rather noisy affairs, this one was perfectly silent. The second was that, even though in general a waterfall is part of a river, there was no river to be found, just the falls. And thirdly, while most waterfalls you encounter will be flowing down, down, down (hence the name “waterfall”), this particular waterfall flowed up.
Jaron pointed to the top of the waterfall. “That is our destination.”
“Way up there?” said Terren skeptically. “What, are we to climb?”
“Of course not, ding-a-ling damsel. The falls go upward, and so to go upward, it would make sense, would it not, for us to ride the falls?”
“No, it would not! We would get all wet!”
“A little water has never a man killed.”
Terren arched an eyebrow. “Unfamiliar with the concept of drowning, are we?”
Jaron gave her a dark look. “JUST JUMP ON YON STINKING WATERFALL, OKAY?!”
Terren obeyed, but not before expressing exactly how she felt about riding up waterfalls in enchanted forests.
If theme parks had been invented then, you can be sure that Jaron would have pulled for the addition of an Upward-flowing Waterfall Ride. Forsooth, the trip to the top of the falls was a blast-and-a-half.
“Well,” said Terren, once they’d arrived at the top, “we’ve arrived at the top. So where, pray, is the Enchantress?”
“Not here, if that is what you wish to know.”
Terren’s face grew crimson with anger. “Thou said this is our destination!”
“Aye, but not our final destination. But be calm, Terren, she is close by.”
“A stone’s-throw; no more.”
“So throw a stone and let’s get this show on the road!”
Jaron sighed and shook his head in a longsuffering manner. “You know naught about dealing with magic.”
“Oh, and I suppose you consider yourself an expert on all things magical?”
“Even if I did not, I would never admit it to you. Now, I am unsure precisely how much time we must spend in wait…”
“In wait?” interrupted Terren. “Why is there in waiting? Why can we not simply go see the Enchantress?”
“The Enchantress can be visited only at the mystical hour of Midnight. Or, y’know, during a Blue Moon. But methinks Midnight comes sooner than does a Blue Moon.”
“And how many hours until Midnight?”
Jaron shrugged. “Who can tell? In the Enchanted Forest, minutes seem like hours, and hours like seconds, and seconds like years, and years like a day. Get comfy, princess; we could be here for what seems like the rest of our lives.”
Terren heaved a deep sigh of resignation and obediently got comfy. She needn’t have bothered, however. In what seemed like only a moment, Midnight was upon them. Of course, this was before the invention of wristwatches, so the momentous occasion would have gone by completely unnoticed by Jaron and Terren, had not the sun suddenly burst forth in all its sunny glory. Midnight, you see, was one of those select times when the sun was permitted to shine in the Enchanted Forest.
After their eyes adjusted to the sudden light, Jaron and Terren beheld a beautiful multicolored prism created by the light of the sun refracted in myriad water droplets that made up the mist generated by the waterfall. In other words, a rainbow.
“There!” cried Jaron. “That is our final destination: Through the rainbow!”
Jaron and Terren urged their horses forward, and with mighty leaps on the parts of the animals, beasts and riders sailed through the rainbow and landed on the other side, in a cave that dazzled their eyes with its colorful light.
In the midst of the light stood the Enchantress. It is a difficult thing to describe her, for she looked both young and old, beautiful and ugly, light and dark. And if you think that makes one difficult to describe, it makes one even more difficult to look at.
“Welcome,” said the Enchantress, her voice seeming to echo from very far away. “Welcome, Princess Terren the Fair of Liaralay. Welcome, Prince Jaron of Nikos. And welcome to you, Your Majesty, King Jakob of Nikos.”
Terren looked sharply at Jaron. “King Jakob of Nikos? Your father?”
Jaron smiled slightly and nodded once. “That,” he said dryly, “would be my horse.”
Ignoring his lady companion’s look of shock, Jaron addressed the Enchantress. “Mistress of magic,” said he, “I would ask three boons of you.”
“Would you?” replied the Enchantress. “Three boons given requires three payments received.”
“Name your price.”
The Enchantress looked hard at the prince. “I do not believe in sloth,” she intoned. “I value hard work. Anything worth having is worth earning by blood, sweat, and tears. That is my price: Blood from a stone; sweat from a pig; and the tears of a crocodile. Bring these to me and I shall grant your three requests. And,” she added, “to ensure your diligence as you perform your tasks, the Princess Terren will remain with me until your return.”
Terren, to be frank, was not overly pleased with this arrangement. She mouthed the word “no” to the prince several times, but he paid her no heed.
To the Enchantress he said, “Very well. Is there like a time limit, or what?”
“Take as long as you need,” said the Enchantress. “I’m in no hurry. The Princess might be, but that’s okay, ‘tis not all about her.”
“True doth be dat,” Jaron nodded. “Well, I am off. Later, Terren, baby.”
“Thy mother, Jaron of Nikos!” Terren muttered after him.
The following morning, in the Hennestay castle, both sets of regional twin princesses were discussing the latest gossip while enjoying tea and cakes.
“Have you heard?” Princess Karina asked eagerly.
“Heard what?” questioned Princess Emmalyn.
“The whole countryside is in a tizzy about it,” said Princess Shannon.
“About what?” asked Emmalyn.
“It’s all anyone is talking about,” said Karina.
“What IS it?!” bellowed Princess Essandra, even though princesses should never, ever bellow.
“’Tis Prince Jaron and Princess Terren,” said Shannon. “It seems they left the Mayers castle yesterday near abouts midday, and no one has seen hide nor hair of them since!”
“Jaron’s crier had been led to understand they were going to the Liaralay castle,” Karina supplied, “but when he got there, Jaron and Terren were not just behind him as he supposed. He was left standing there all day!”
“Scandalous!” gasped Emmalyn. “Where do you suppose they’ve gone?”
“No one knows,” said Karina. “My guess is they’re eloping!”
“Don’t be silly,” said Shannon. “Terren would never elope with Jaron.”
“To escape marriage to Osmar?” snorted Essandra. “Like anyone with any sense to speak of, she’d do anything.”
Emmalyn “accidentally” spilled tea all over her sister’s gown. She had been – and yet was – quite fond of Osmar, and was most put out at the cessation of their betrothal. She would have liked to cover Princess Terren in tea, as well. Taking her prince only to run off with Prince Jaron… of all the ungrateful tricks!
“There is talk of war,”Shannon went on. “It is rumored that Terren’s parents are none too pleased with this turn of events. (And who can blame them?) So miffed are they, in truth, that they are contemplating an assault on the kingdom of Nikos.”
“Oh, heavens!” trilled Emmalyn. “Would that not be something! What does Jaron’s father, King Jakob, have to say about all this?”
“No one has heard a word from him,” said Karina. “Not surprising, really. For verily, he is the most reclusive king in the land. But I would guess that even he would show himself when the armies of Liaralay beat down his door.”
“Well, yes, I would guess the same,” said Shannon. “More tea, anyone?”
“This tea is horrible,” opined Essandra. “It is diluted beyond help, and the farmer who grew these tea leaves ought to be beheaded.”
“Uh… sure…” said Karina. “So, one lump or two?”
On and on the travelers rode. Over rolling hills and grassy plains. Through fertile fields and rocky valleys. At last, round aboutsmidday, they came to a halt by a babbling brook in a shady wooded area.
“Whew,” said Jaron, swinging off of his horse and swinging Terren off behind him. “Y’know, I never grow weary of lifting you on and off a horse. I do, however, grow weary of riding if I have to do it for more than a few hours at a time. So by your leave, we will rest a moment.”
“Jaron, I am losing patience with you,” Terren said tensely. “I am no longer asking you – this is a command: Take, me, home, now.”
Jaron, true to form, smirked. “Ah, yes, and since you are so far above me on the social and political ladders… Oh, wait – no you’re not. I guess that means I need not listen to you, princess. Now, if you will allow me, I badly necessitate a brief doze.” The prince lowered himself onto the grassy bank of the brook, lay back, and closed his eyes. “Rouse me in half-an-hour, won’t you?”
Terren stomped her dainty foot. “No I will not! I want to go home! And if you refuse to take me, I will return alone!”
Jaron drowsily opened one eye. “You intend to walk a full day’s journey back to your kingdom? In those slippers? Ha. A merry time you’ll have attempting that.”
“I do not intend to walk. I intend to ride your horse.”
Jaron raised his eyebrows in amusement. “Oh, do you? You tryest that. I say, noble steed o’ mine?” Jaron’s horse looked up from the brook where it was quenching the thirst brought on by a hard ride of many miles. “The princess would ride you back to her castle. Don’t let her.”
Terren rolled her eyes. As if a mere horse could understand such a command. She stepped forward, for to mount the horse. But the animal stepped to the side, thwarting her. The princess moved toward the horse again, and again it shied away. Thrice was this phenomenon repeated before Terren threw her hands up in frustration.
“Gadzooks, Jaron! How is it that your horse does comprehend human speech so well?!”
Jaron smiled a little. “’Tis an uncommonly intelligent beast,” quoth he, closing his eyes once more. “More intelligent, even, than many a child of man. May I catch some Zs now, milady?”
“Do what you want,” Terren spat. She stomped a few paces away that she might find a nice, tall clump of grass to kick. A suitable thicket found, kick she did. Once, twice, thrice… But on the fourth kick, a rough hand shot out from the undergrowth and gripped her royal ankle.
The princess’s cry was cut short as another hand clamped over her mouth, but what little cry was made was heard by Jaron’s sharp ears. He quickly shot up, just in time to see the hem of Terren’s skirt disappear into the tall grass.
“Oh, c’mon, not now…!” Jaron whined. “I dost require SLEEP, hang it!”
Terren, meanwhile, was being carried off like a gagged sack of potatoes by a large ruffian. The rapscallion ran but a few dozen yards before he met up with the others in his band of rogues. “Cast your eyes upon my prize, fellows!” he crowed, and the others jeered in appreciation. “I found this wench out near the Minstrel’s Stream.”
“All by her lonesome, was she?” inquired one of the scalawag’s fellows.
“I noticed no others, but then, I was not looking for any; I was heeding nature’s call in the tall grass.”
Terren wrinkled her petite nose and took a silent oath to avoid tall grass in the future.
“If there were others,” said one of the company, “they will soon be on our trail. We should make all haste to our secret headquarters.”
The others were in agreement with this. Terren was quickly trussed up and tossed onto the back of the baddies’ horse. Then the entire troupe proceeded deeper into the woods. At the first their pace was a hurried one, but when, after several minutes, they still had yet to find themselves pursued, their rate of speed reduced significantly.
“I guess she was alone after all,” commented one.
“’Twould appear so,” another nodded. “Ah, well, makes our jobs all the easier, eh, fell—”
His companions glanced over to see what had caused the speaker to stop short so. What they saw was his dead body on the ground.
Understandably, there was some swearing, followed by frantic looking about. Terren, as much as she was able, considering she was tightly bound and upside-down on a horse, looked about also. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw another of the hoodlums go down with a gargling gasp.
Only two of the crew remained, and each of them was feeling none too easy about the situation. “You don’t suppose this wood is haunted, do you?” one asked, jumping like he’d been shot when a mosquito brushed his nose, so edgy and agitated was he.
“I don’t think so,” replied the other, jumping because his associate had jumped, and he was more or less as edgy and agitated as the other. “Last I heard, the EnchantedForestwas the only place overly infested with spooks, spirits, and their ilk. This is just your typical, average, run-of-the-mill ARGH!!!…”
“What! What?!” the first hood screamed.
The second looked at him, wide-eyed, gasping for breath, life slowly ebbing from him. “S… S-sword…” he breathed. The last breath he ever breathed, incidentally.
The last man standing had had about enough of this suspense; at least, that’s the impression one would get from his screaming, “ENOUGH! Show yourself, whoever you are! For the love of all that’s decent in heaven and earth, SHOW YOURSELF!”
“Fine.” Jaron stepped out from behind a tree. “Here I am.”
That said, Jaron thrust his sword into the hooligan’s abdomen, nodding in satisfaction when the carcass ate dirt.
“Wherefore did you take so long to rescue me?” Terren demanded once Jaron had removed the gag that did hamper her speech.
“Begging your pardon, damsel in distress, but it was either wait until they no longer suspected pursuit or jump in at once when they were ready and be killed. Forgive me for choosing the former course.”
“Whatever,” said Terren, smoothing her tousled tresses. “Well, farewell.”
“Farewell?” repeated Jaron.
“Indeed,” said Terren. “See you, I have now a mount of my own. I can ride home now, if I so will it. And I do. So, farewell.”
Jaron watched the princess ride off until the flora, distance, and lack of the invention of glasses prevented him from watching further. After a snort that told of his deep displeasure, he gave a shrill whistle to call forth his horse. The horse appeared presently, and the prince mounted and continued on the path he’d set before himself, muttering oaths under his breath with every step his steed took.
Ere long, he came to a place where he was forced to pause. He glanced both left and right, frowning in bewilderment and concentration. Suddenly, he stopped, alert, for his sharp ears had detected movement not far behind him. He quickly forced his horse about and drew his sword, prepared for whatever creature might be upon him.
It turned out to be a horse, the princess Terren on its back.
“I do not know the way,” said she, sulkily.
Jaron graced her with a smirk-y smile. “What a shame. ‘Twould seem you’re stuck with me for awhile.”
Terren appeared as though she was sucking lemons. “Then let us keep that while as brief as possible. Come, spur your horse and ride.”
“I cannot, at present. Give but a moment, and we shall sally forth.”
“Why the delay?”
“I have difficulty recalling the bearing I am to take. Perhaps, my horse, you may remember better?”
The black beast tossed his head in an easterly direction and nickered with conviction.
“Ah, by the deuce, I believe you correct. Follow, Terren; we head east.”
“How is it your horse should know the way?” queried Terren, dubiously. “Can it interpret a map as well as know the human tongue?”
“Not at all. It knows the way for it has traveled this way before, and I with it. Now let us make haste – your most inconvenient capture has cost us much time.”
“No more time than your catnap by the brook would have taken,” Terren retorted.
“Nobody asked you.”
Another half-day they spent riding, stopping at last when the moon had risen and all the stars were twinkling merrily. This night, however, no inn was available, and so it was that they made their beds beneath the open sky.
“This ground is much too hard and rocky!” Terren lamented, tossing and turning on the lawn. “I cannot sleep upon it without some measure of bedding to cushion me.”
“I have naught but my very expensive cloak to give,” said Jaron. “And frankly, I was planning on using it as a covering against the night chill.”
“Please give it,” Terren beseeched, “or else I shall obtain no rest tonight.”
“Fine…” Jaron sighed, relinquishing his luxurious cape and spreading it o’er the ground.
“Thank-you,” said Terren, more out of etiquette than genuine gratitude; spoiled princesses tend to take getting their way for granted, after all. Really, Terren was surprised and annoyed she had not gotten more of her way during the last thirty-six hours.
From his semi-reclining position, propped against his already dozing horse, Jaron stared – with eyes as dark as the heavens above him – at the lovely princess as she gradually succumbed to slumber.
“Two nights,” he said, in a low, icy voice. “Two accursed nights have I gazed upon her, knowing I cannot have her.”
And then the gleam in his eyes shone brighter than the moon overhead. “…Yet.”
Previously in “Blood, Sweat, and Tears”, Princess Terren and Prince Osmar found themselves unexpectedly and most unhappily betrothed. Prince Jaron has vowed to put a stop to this by means of a magic quest, but can the guy be trusted?
Jaron brought his horse to a stop with a command of, “Stop!” The animal obeyed, breathing heavily, for it had galloped long and hard. Much longer than was necessary to go from the kingdom of Mayers to the neighboring kingdom of Liaralay.
“Jaron, where are we?” Terren demanded of the prince.
“An inn,” Jaron replied, lifting the princess from her mount.
“Wherefore are we at an inn?”
“Because the sun has been down for nearly an hour and we still have far to travel. I thought we should stop for the night.”
“What meanest thou, we still have far to travel?! Where are we going?!”
“Somewhere,” Jaron answered vaguely. “Wait – we cannot enter the inn dressed in royal garb. Hold a moment.”
Jaron quickly scanned the area and his eyes landed upon a drunk by the roadside, inexplicably surrounded by several rough cotton sacks. Before either Terren or the drunk knew what was happening, Jaron had run the poor devil through with his sword and was stealing his clothes.
“Jar—! What—! You—!” Terren stammered as the freshly grunged-down prince stowed his princely garments away in one of the cotton sacks. She was still stammering while he dragged the lifeless drunk into some nearby bushes, and while he hacked at, twisted, and tied the sacks into something resembling a peasant girl’s dress. But she had about finished her stammering by the time he was braiding her hair in the latest commoner ‘do.
“There,” said Jaron, satisfied with his work. “We can now enter the inn at our leisure.”
Terren followed him inside in stony silence, glancing briefly at the bushes that concealed Jaron’s hapless victim. She could only wonder: If Jaron could do such a deed without so much as batting an eye, what else was he capable of?
“Kindly leave all the talking to me,” Jaron murmured as the royals incognito stepped up to the innkeeper. To the aforementioned innkeeper, Jaron said (in a rather bad peasant accent), “Evening, innkeep. Me and me gal here need a room for the night. Can you accommodate us?”
“If you’ve got the money, sure,” grunted the innkeeper.
“If you’ve got the room – and dinner – then I’ve got the money. Here’s a coin for a down payment. You’ll get the rest tomorrow. If we enjoy our stay.”
The innkeeper grunted something else that neither Jaron nor Terren could make out, then led both guests to what would be their room for the night. It was a small room, the only objects worth mentioning in it being a single bed and a hard-backed chair.
Jaron and Terren were presently served dinner by the innkeeper’s buxom wife. Both looked with distaste at this commoner’s fare, but Jaron, being a young man, ultimately took the stance that even suspicious-looking gruel beat going hungry, and so fell to.
“Jaron,” Terren began sometime during the middle of the meal, “if it please you, will you not kindly tell me WHERE THE HECK WE’RE GOING?”
Jaron looked up from his repast. “If you had to guess,” he said calmly, “where would you suppose we were going?”
Terren shrugged. “Uh… to see an Enchantress?”
“Bingo.” Jaron went back to his “soup” or whatever it was meant to be.
“Was it not the plan for you to go alone?”
“It may have been your plan. Never mine. Well, that’s about all of this dinner I can take… Oh, would you look at that,” said Jaron, the smile and gleam returning. “Only one bed. How cozy.”
Terren struggled against sneering in disgust. Princesses ought not to sneer. “One of us might sleep on the chair.”
“It won’t be me,” said Jaron, throwing himself onto the lone bed. “Good fortune to you, trying to get any rest on that chair. You will be much in need of rest, too, for the ride ahead of us on the morrow is a long one.”
“I’ve been thinking…”
“I would advise you to stop that at once.”
Terren disregarded the interruption and continued. “Is it really necessary for us to go to all the bother of finding an Enchantress and begging for her service? Surely, the scandal of you carrying me off and we two abiding the night in the same room would be enough to convince the Queen of Mayers to call off my betrothal to her son.”
“Perhaps, but even so, I would that we continue on. Why leave these things to chance?”
“Because I would like to go home,” Terren said between clenched teeth.
“Tough haggis, baby. Are you coming to bed or are you not?”
“Not if you’re going to be in it.”
Jaron sighed resignedly. “Uncooperative little waif. Very well; you may have the bed, and I will suffer through the night on a hard, uncomfortable chair. Chivalry is not yet dead.”
Terren was just settling into the bed when Jaron asked, in a suspiciously casual manner, “Just wondering, princess – are you a very light sleeper?”
“No…” said Terren guardedly. “Once I find slumber, which I may never do, if you continue to try and carry on a conversation with me, I tend to doze quite heavily. Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” Jaron said, even more casually, and therefore, even more suspiciously. “Goodnight, Terren.”
“Terren?” said Jaron, perhaps a quarter of an hour later. He received no reply. Rising from his chair, he advanced toward the bed and the sleeping princess.
“Terren?” he repeated, a little louder. Still no reply. He poked her a few times, blew on her face, tugged on her arm, slapped her leg, whisper-screamed “FIRE!” and “Hey, is that corset on sale?”… All without any response to show for it.
Cautiously, he sat on the bed. Nothing. He moved closer to her. Still nothing. Slowly… slowly… slowly he crept forward until he was literally on top of her. Even yet, nothing.
Jaron smiled to himself. This princess would sleep through anything. He could do whatever he willed and she would never stir. He could have his devilish way with her and she would utter no protest. He could do anything his baser instincts dictated he do – anything – and nothing would stop him. Nothing.
And yet… something held him back. He hesitated, indecisive, irresolute, uncertain.
He gazed down at the girl underneath him. She was so very beautiful. Even in the dim light, even with the absence of the invention of glasses, Jaron could see she was very, very beautiful. And he wanted her. He wanted her bad. He had wanted her ever since she was a practically-marriageable girl of ten; so about two years, now. And now she was his for the taking.
Jaron hesitated a moment longer… and then he made his choice.
That night, in the dark room of a remote inn, with no one to see him, no one to tell on him, no one to know what shocking thing he was about to do… Prince Jaron returned to his chair, shut his eyes, and wished that the morning would hurry up and come.
The second installment of “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” is here! Will Prince Jaron’s lucky slaying of the dragon back in Part 1 secure him the hand of Princess Terren the Fair?
“HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS,” announced the crier, “PRINCE JARON THE COOL!”
Princess Terren sighed wearily. People would tack any old thing onto their titles these days. And she didn’t particularly care to see Prince Jaron today. He was always popping by, and for the most part, she put up with him, for one mustn’t burn bridges when one was heiress to one’s own kingdom. But she didn’t like him terribly much, and would much prefer that he leave her alone. She knew why he called so often, of course: She was the most beautiful princess, like, ever. Annoying suitors were just another part of the package.
“Hello, Terren, baby,” said Jaron, swaggering into her visiting chambers.
“I do wish,” said Terren, with more than a little attitude, for that was her way, “that you wouldn’t call me that.”
“Whatever you say, milady. Guess what? I bring you a gift beyond price.”
“I do. Servant! The dragon head!”
“Dragon head?!” Terren gasped as the horrible thing was dragged into her chamber. “Oh, that’s repulsive! Take it away!”
“But it’s a gift,” Jaron insisted. “A wedding gift, if you like.”
“W-wedding gift? What do you mean?”
“This ain’t no dime-a-dozen dragon head, princess,” Jaron said, smirking away. “This is the head of the dragon that, if killed, would allow the killer to marry little old you.”
Terren suddenly found it very difficult to breathe. This had not been part of the plan when she conceived it! She had greatly hoped that the dragon would be killed by Prince McKail – maybe Prince Vincent! She never intended for Prince Jaron to be the one to slay her monster! All at once, the world seemed a very dismal place indeed.
But she had made her bed, now she would have to lie in it. Such was the life of a princess. Bravely, she said, “Oh! How… wonderful! Ha! So, um, Jaron… would you like to take me as your bride?”
In one stride, Jaron crossed the distance between them and swept the stunning beauty into his arms. He ran his long fingers through her flowing mane of shining red hair. They kissed, and Jaron wanted nothing more than to ravish that princess like she’d never been ravished before. He gazed into her clear blue eyes, moments away from giving the word that would change their lives for ever.
And then a courier arrived with a priority-mail message for the princess.
Terren pulled away from the unwanted embrace with giddy relief. She smiled widely as she beheld message’s opening paragraphs, congratulating her on her long-awaited betrothal to— to whom? One of her favorites? Or some wild card prince from another neighborhood? So long as it wasn’t Jaron, she really cared not. Then her smile vanished as her gaze came to rest on the remainder of the announcement.
The gist was this: Princess Emmalyns’ parents, the King and Queen of Caspion, and Prince Osmar’s mother, the Queen of Mayers, had decided that their hitherto-betrothed children ought not to marry after all; nothing personal, of course, merely royal politics at work. For their kingdoms were not quite as near each other as they might have been, and their lands could not conveniently be joined. Therefore had Osmar’s mother turned to the kingdom just the other side of Mayers’ borders: Liaralay.
“No…!” Terren gasped, dropping the parchment as though it were a hot coal. “No…! They can’t…! NO!…” And her fair body fell to the floor in a fit of agonized weeping.
Jaron looked on in surprise. “Why, princess, what troubles you that you should lament so?”
Still howling, the princess indicated the message where it had fallen. Jaron picked up the missive and quickly scanned its contents. His face paled.
“N-no…” he said, his voice thick and strangled. “No! They can’t… NO!”
“My thoughts were the same,” Terren sniffled.
“Wherefore?!” Jaron railed. “Wherefore would those accursed adults do this to me?! To us?! Terren, we can’t just take this lying down! This union must not occur! Come, we will ride to the Mayers castle and confer with Prince Osmar. Perhaps we will get to the bottom of this matter and come up with a solution.”
Prince Jaron lifted Terren onto his horse – a dark, brooding horse, it was, looking only barely tamed; much like its master, in that respect.
Jaron and Terren rode swiftly to their destination, and after Jaron’s crier announced their arrival, both burst into Osmar’s visiting chambers. The corpulent prince looked forlornly at his callers.
“Greetings,” he mumbled sadly. “I presume you are here to discuss this most dire turn of events?”
“We are,” replied Terren stiffly. “We cannot allow this engagement. Something must be done about it.”
Osmar shrugged. “I could wish no less, but what is to be done? It is not for us to say whom we will wed; our parents say it for us. And they have said we are to marry.”
“Well, I say otherwise,” Jaron stated with determination. “And my word will be the final one. Now, let us put our minds to the task at hand: How to prevent this doom?”
Much thought was given to this query. At length Terren suggested, “Suppose we take our cue from those lovers in that new play that hast just come out? What is its name…? Ah, yes, ‘Romeo and Juliet’. In this play did Juliet feign death that she and Romeo might be wed in peace.”
“But I thought we didn’t want to be wed,” Osmar reminded her.
“I know that, you fool. But you could still pretend to be dead. They can’t make us marry if you’re dead, after all, so they’ll break off the engagement and free me to marry whomever I will.”
“But what about me? I’ll be dead!”
“Not for real, lackwit!” growled Jaron. “You’ll be pretending! You need only ingest a potion that causes you to lie as though in death, as did Juliet, though in truth she lived.”
“Oh-h-h…” Osmar nodded, understanding. “Where would one find such a tonic?”
“Well, Juliet came by hers from a monk,” said Terren. “But we have no monks in the land. Enchantresses, though, we have aplenty. Mayhap we could get a potion from one of them.”
“Or, hey, we could simplify things,” suggested Jaron. “Rather than obtain a formula to make Osmar appear dead, we could see to it that he is truly dead. We could do it now; I happen to be in possession of my sword…”
“NO,” said Osmar firmly. “I would much rather we forget the whole death thing entirely. Can we think of nothing better?”
For several moments, it seemed that no one could. Then Jaron spoke once more. “Suppose we forgot the death potion – could you not still go to an Enchantress for aid?”
“Me?” asked Osmar, pointing to himself. “I have to go?”
“Verily. Go to an Enchantress, and request that she change the minds of your mother and the King and Queen of Liaralay. Then all will be well. Off you go, then! Happy trails!”
Osmar shook his head vehemently. “Uh-uh. Such a journey would be too perilous. Even if I knew where such an Enchantress could be found, which I do not, Enchantresses are chancy folk. One false move on my part, and BAM! I’m a frog! Enchantresses fairly look for excuses to turn princes into frogs, you know.”
“Do you mean to say,” Terren said coldly, “that you refuse to go?”
“That is what I mean to say,” Osmar confirmed. “I’m not about to risk my life in this manner, and neither should you. Better for us both to just live with our parents’ decisions – because at least then we’ll be living.”
“It is not living to be married to a pig like you!” Terren hissed. “SOMEONE will be going to see that Enchantress, or Heaven help you, you worthless prince!”
Osmar blinked nervously. “Well… uh… er… Why does Prince Jaron not go?”
Two pairs of eyes looked at the prince in question. The prince in question raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Me? You would have me visit the Enchantress and make your request?”
Terren and Osmar nodded in affirmation. Jaron narrowed his eyes, considering. Then, slowly, a small, sly smile appeared on his face, and in his dark eyes shone their telltale gleam.
“Very well,” he assented. “This I will do.”
“Brilliant,” said Terren. “You do that. But first, do be so kind as to drop me off at my castle.”
“Of course, princess,” said Jaron, still smiling, eyes still gleaming.
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 EnchantedForest. 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.