“Don’t worry my good subjects! I shall return soon and unharmed.” Prince Charmaigne flashed a pearly grin at the swarm of people that scrambled closer to his steed and gave them a grand gesture that resembled a wave. “Don’t miss me too much.” He winked at a petite blonde woman closest to him, and she brought a hand up to her reddening cheeks.
She’s quite pretty, Prince Charmaigne thought. It’s such a shame to leave her. But no matter. The princess that I will heroically rescue will be the most beautiful lady in all the land. Charmaigne flicked a lock of golden hair away from his face as he daydreamed of his bride-to-be.
And if she’s not, he smirked, I just won’t rescue her. Oh, my dear beloved subjects! It was most tragic. I gave it my best efforts, but alas, once I had scaled that particularly perilous and slippery tower, the princess had already departed from this world! Fret not. I will find you all a princess to adore.
Prince Charmaigne couldn’t help the small chuckle that escaped his lips. Those fools will believe any lies I spew at them. Besides, the ladies can’t resist my handsome face. He kicked his horse into a gallop, off to find his awaiting damsel.
He crossed the swiftest, most deadly river in the land . . . by an exceptionally expensive boat that he enjoyed so much he decided to add it to his personal collection. He braved the scorching desert that claimed even the most expert of travelers . . . by guided tour. He even signed a parchment scroll for the daughter of his guide. And last, but certainly no less dangerous, he prepared to slay the dragon that guarded his princess’s castle . . . the dragon that was nowhere to be found.
No matter, thought Prince Charmaigne. My people don’t need to know that the dragon was missing. They just want to hear an epic tale.
He slung his sword back into its sheath and strolled through the castle, his dragon-deterring armor clinking with every step. Man, this stuff is really quite heavy. After many more clanky steps, he located the treacherous tower. Honestly, why do all the tales describe the prince climbing the tower? All buildings must have doors. I’m going to use the stairs like the civilized human being that I am.
Tucking his hands behind his back, Charmaigne circled the tower made of grey stone dotted with moss and searched for an entryway.
“Aha! A door. All those other princes must have been quite thick-headed. Unlike me, of course.” He reached for the knob. “Ugh! Who even invented locks? So ridiculous.” The amount of energy I’ll have to expend to break this door down is wasteful.
He swung his leg back and landed a solid kick in the center of the door. It shook but didn’t give way. He kicked again and again until, with a loud crack, the door heaved inwards, and Charmaigne stumbled through the opening, propelled by his momentum.
Finally. He smoothed back the strands of hair that had fallen in his eyes and fanned his neck. Ew, now I'm sweating. I can’t be sweating when I meet my princess for the first time. Charmaigne pried all the heavy metal from his body before entering the tower.
Panting and sweating, the prince crawled over the last step and slumped against the door that sealed off the single room at the top of the tower. Man, this girl better be worth it. He placed his hand on the doorknob and took a deep breath before flinging the door open. It cracked against the other side of the wall, the sound echoing around the small room.
“Have no fear, princess! Your salvation has arrived!” The prince called out while flinging his arms open wide.
“Excuse me! Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?” A girl with long brown hair leapt up from where she sat at a wooden table, throwing a scrap of fabric and some thread onto the tabletop.
“I . . . well, I . . . well of course I’ve heard of knocking; I am an exceptionally well-educated prince.”
“If you’re so well-educated then why didn’t you knock?” She crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow.
“I didn’t exactly think I would be rewarded with an answer. You were supposed to be in a deep slumber. I was to awaken you,” Prince Charmaigne smacked his lips together twice, “with a kiss.”
The girl scoffed and paced towards the only window in the room, placing her hands on the sill, her back to Charmaigne.
“Well, if you didn’t expect a princess who was awake—and consenting, by the way,” she raised her eyebrow again, “then why did you announce yourself? It was a little over the top in my opinion.”
Charmaigne stalked towards the girl. “My, my, my. You sure speak a lot for a woman.” He ran his fingers from her shoulder to her elbow. “That’s going to have to change if you’re going to be my wife.”
The girl spun and slapped Charmaigne with her momentum.
“Your wife!? Who do you think you are? Don’t ever touch me again. I will never be your wife, so save yourself some trouble and leave my tower now.”
Eyes wide, Charmaigne brought a hand up to his stinging cheek.
“Ooooww! What was that for?”
“Do you seriously not understand that your behavior is disgusting?” Charmaigne didn’t deviate from his open-mouthed, shocked expression.
“You barge into my room unannounced,” she pointed a finger towards her throat, “tell me that it’s not my place as a woman to dare to open my mouth and speak, and you touch me without my permission. Check, check, checkmate.” She jabbed his chest with a finger after each “check” spewed from her lips.
“With actions like those, I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last prince on Earth. No, I wouldn’t even marry you if you were the last man on Earth.”
“But . . . I’m handsome and wealthy; what more is there to want?” Charmaigne rubbed at his cheek and gave it a few pats, checking to see how much swelling there was.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I want a man with manners and a brain, and you obviously lack both. Plus, your eyes are too far apart. And your eyebrows look like caterpillars.”
“Yes! Fat caterpillars wriggling around on top of your face.” She jabbed a pointed finger at the door.
“I . . . I won’t stand for this ridicule! I’ll have you know that every woman in my kingdom thinks I am handsome.”
“Then marry one of them!” She pointed towards the door again.
“You can’t make me leave.”
“Is that a challenge?” She smirked and crossed her arms. “Do you really think you’re the only prince to try and ‘rescue’ me? I dealt with them, and I’ll deal with you.”
Charmaigne looked her up and down before chuckling. “I would like to see you try.”
The princess brought her two pointer fingers to her lips and let out a sharp, piercing whistle. A beat of silence filled the room followed by the clank of chains against stone. Charmaigne’s eyes darted around the room before his gaze landed on the window. He dashed towards it to inspect the outside.
Almost as soon as Charmaigne reached the window did he leap back with a screech, landing on his backside. Long, curved talons latched onto the windowsill, shaking the tower.
“What . . . what . . . what is that?” Charmaigne stuttered.
“I’m quite sure you know how the tales go,” the princess said with a growing smile.
The talons slipped away, grinding against the stone, and were replaced with a large red eye that filled the whole window.
“That’s Golrath. And if you don’t leave in the next five seconds, I’ll have him eat you for a light pre-dinner snack.” The princess tapped a finger against her lips as Charmaigne gaped at her. “One. . . .”
Charmaigne scrambled to his feet and darted out the door before the next number escaped her lips. The princess sauntered over to the window and leaned her head out of it. Sunlight reflected off Golrath’s obsidian-colored scales, and a light breeze from his wings caressed the princess’s face.
“Thanks, Love.” She blew him a kiss, and Golrath turned to fly back to his den.
“Ugh! The audacity of that girl.” Back in the castle, Prince Charmaigne paced from his four-poster bed to his balcony and back again. “My eyes are the perfect distance apart, and my eyebrows are not even close to looking like caterpillars!”
A snicker came from behind Charmaigne.
“Why are you laughing?” He spun and pointed a finger at his butler, who stood near the oak door against the wall with his gloved hands folded in front of him.
“No reason, My Prince.”
Charmaigne stalked towards the butler. “Don’t lie to me, Bartholomew.”
“It’s just . . . I’ve never heard of a woman speaking like that to you. A little challenge might do you some good.” A whisper of a smile hovered around the corners of his mouth.
“A little challenge? Bartholomew, this woman is an utter disaster. It would take a lot more than a little challenge to fix her.”
Bartholomew stared into Charmaigne’s eyes for a moment. “My Prince, may I speak cavalierly?”
“Of course. Whatever you have to say, say it.”
“I didn’t mean that she was a challenge; I meant that she would challenge you. I say this with the utmost respect, but you think of no one other than yourself.”
“How could you say such a thing?” Charmaigne demanded. Bartholomew reached a hand out to Charmaigne’s shoulder but withdrew it.
“Did you even stop to consider how the princess might feel in that situation? A stranger bursting into her room and demanding a marriage?”
Charmaigne plopped into a chair on his left. “I could have you executed for speaking to me like that.” His eyes were not on the butler but looking past the gauzy curtains framing his balcony. They blew gently with the wind.
“You could, but you won’t.” Bartholomew sat down across from Charmaigne, drawing his attention away from the balcony. “You will be king one day, and when that time comes there will be thousands of other people that you will have to put before yourself.”
“Yes, I know—”
“I fear that you won’t be able to do that. Perhaps this princess can help teach you humility and compassion for someone other than yourself.”
“I don’t need her help.”
“Yes, you do.”
Charmaigne looked back towards the balcony. “She’ll never forgive me for what I did.”
“What did you do, exactly?”
Charmaigne sighed and stood, walking over to his dark brown desk stacked with books and slips of parchment. He twiddled with a quill and inkpot.
“I was . . . I was a complete fool. I acted unspeakably towards her. I think you would be ashamed of me if I even told you more. She won’t forgive me.”
“You’ll never know unless you try. The effort you make to see her again will speak volumes to her if she has the heart I believe her to have.”
“And if she rejects me?” Charmaigne nibbled on his thumbnail.
“Then you shall learn from that experience as well.”
“Fine. Then I’m going to do this the right way if it’s the last thing I do.” Charmaigne stood and patted Bartholomew’s shoulder before exiting the room to prepare for his journey.
After crossing the river, braving the desert, and spending a thorough amount of time inspecting the castle for the black dragon, Charmaigne found himself once again outside the door to the princess’s tower. He took a deep breath, raised his fist, and knocked.
The sound of a chair scraping against stone was followed by the patter of bare feet.
“Hello?” The door remained closed.
“Please, Princess, forgive me. I was . . . most horrid to you the other day. I can only beg you to let me in, for I know I do not deserve your forgiveness.” After a few too many seconds of silence, Charmaigne turned away from the door and sighed. He was about to begin his descent when the squeak of hinges touched his ears.
He slowly turned his head back around. An eye, a nose, and half a mouth peeked out from the crack of the open door.
“Perhaps the dragon was a little over the top?”
“Maybe just a little.” Charmaigne held up his thumb and index finger a half an inch apart.
“Would . . . would you like some tea? Golrath is excellent at boiling water, among other things.”
“Actually, I’m really not quite all that thirsty. But thank you ever so very much for the offer.”
“Too soon?” The princess chuckled.
“Much too soon.” Charmaigne joined her.
The crack in the door widened, and the princess gestured for Charmaigne to enter.
“My name is Lily, by the way.”
“Oh! Are we on a first-name basis now? That’s much too forward for me, Princess. I think I should leave now.”
“Golrath can make you stay just as easily as he can make you leave.” Lily quirked an eyebrow at Charmaigne.
“Ah, well, Lily is fine then. A lovely name. Mine is Charmaigne.”
“Wow, how charming.”
“What can I say? My parents always knew I was destined to look this handsome.”
“Don’t push your luck, Mr. Caterpillar Brows.”