“Once upon a time,” there was a total dickwad who did a terrible thing to people I loved, yet everybody told me there are “laws” and “moral codes” that meant I wasn’t allowed to punch him/poison him/have him otherwise attacked or assassinated.
Therefore… I wrote him into a story instead.
The little kingdom I created thanks to that is now, I have decided, going to become a series of writing exercises for myself. It’s a fun tone between the serious/medieval flavor and the humorous dialogue and descriptions, so I enjoy writing it. Most of what I write is long–novels and screenplays–so I don’t show very much to very many people because it takes so long to get the stories out of “crappy first draft” stage. By doodling around with these snippet-stories, I can actually have something to put up on the blog and share with people during those loooong bouts of “can’t show you anything, I’m revising a novel” times. There’s a lot of characters to explore and I can make it as serious or as ridiculous as I want.
I’m pretty sure that I’ll make every story start off with “once upon a time” and “but this is not that story,” just for the heck of it. Subject to change because I get to have the whims of a writer, so there.
Once upon a time, there was a joyful kingdom ruled over by a peaceful king and queen. They had four children: two princes and two princesses. Both princes and the older princess had found true love, married, and moved into castles of their own. Prince Riordan and Princess Heidi were influential, powerful leaders; Prince Eli and Princess Candice were clever and always reading; and Princess Audrey and Prince Jordan were beautiful and warm-hearted, always ready to welcome visitors to the land. The beloved Princess Audrey was pregnant with the first heir to the throne, which caused much celebration in the kingdom.
But this is not their story.
This is the story of the littlest princess, Deborah, who had just reached womanhood and was ready to find true love of her own. She was very kind and beautiful; suitors came from far and wide to seek her hand. She met them all with a dazzling smile, uncertain how to choose from among them.
The suitors knew they had to stand out if they wanted a chance with the princess. Some displayed their horsemanship, others their skill with weapons or athletics. Some painted her pictures or juggled flaming pints of beer.
But she fell in love with a singer. His name was Korbin; he was tall, and dressed in furs from his far northern land.
“I’ve come to woo the young princess and pursue further studies under the Court Singer,” he declared. All agreed to the arrangement. His smile was just as dazzling as the princess’, and they seemed a perfect match. He courted her for an entire year, eventually moving into a room in the castle. His mesmerizing voice could be heard constantly, reverberating through the halls. The king and queen adored him just as much as the princess did. They lavished food and gifts upon him, fully prepared for him to propose to the princess and become a prince himself.
The other princes and princesses were not so certain. They gathered around after that first year, away from Princess Deborah, to discuss it.
“Something’s suspicious about Korbin,” Princess Heidi pointed out. “There’s something I don’t trust, some hidden intention lurking beneath his smiles.”
“It’s difficult to trust any suitor,” Prince Riordan reasoned.
“He argues with us at every turn,” Prince Jordan said. “Be it as serious as archery or as silly as drinking, he angers when he isn’t the best.”
“And his face is too small for his head,” Prince Eli added.
“But he loves her!” argued Princess Audrey. “And that should be enough for us. Perhaps he and Deborah can be godparents to the baby; the more welcome he feels from us, the better he will act. It’s difficult becoming royalty.”
Princess Candice frowned. “But perhaps he’s a modern-day Siren, like those who tried to trap Odysseus. His voice might be an evil magic. We ought to warn her.”
The siblings did nothing, though, when they saw the rapturous joy on Princess Deborah’s face. How could they dare to ruin that?
And so Korbin remained another year, living off the hospitality of the castle. When he had failed to propose after this second year, the siblings gathered again.
“The bastard’s playing us,” Prince Eli announced.
“And playing her,” Princess Audrey added sadly. “He’s using the courtship to gain what he wants.”
“What shall we do?” Prince Riordan asked. “Is it time to bring it to Deborah’s, or at least the king and queen’s, attention?”
“Yes,” Prince Jordan said. He was holding his little daughter closely. “We have to protect each other.”
Princess Heidi spoke up. “We will watch him. Anything we can point to directly, we will report.”
“I’ll gather the dragons. It’s best to be prepared,” Princess Candice said with a grin.
Princess Deborah, meanwhile, had continued to grow in grace throughout her years. Though her siblings did not wish to confide their misgivings to her, and she was too kind to see the ill-will in others, she was still growing tired of the confusion Korbin caused. Did he love her, or not? What was he doing with her heart?
One afternoon, she wandered down to the Court Singer’s room to listen in on Korbin’s lesson. The wooden door was cracked ajar; she pushed on it and entered.
“Where is Korbin?” she asked the ancient Court Singer. He was seated at a desk, hunched over a book, twirling his finger in the end of his long grey beard.
“Eh?” he turned to the princess and gave a good a bow as his sore old back could achieve from his seat. “Korbin? He quit lessons long ago. Loooong ago.” He nodded, head bobbling. “A lazy one, that boy. Very complainy. Not a joy to work with. Good singer–too bad he won’t have anything left once the voice goes. What a shame, what a shame.”
Princess Deborah sat down in shock. Korbin had quit lessons without telling her? What was he spending his time on, then?
She accepted a cup of water from the old man to help ease her shock, then reentered the hallways of the castle to worriedly wander. The gorgeous day did not match her mood. She went outside in the hopes that the blue sky would brighten her heart.
And there was Korbin, his back against a tree and his legs stretched out on the newfallen snow, stroking the hair of the young washerwoman whose head lay across his lap. The princess walked forth angrily and overheard his pretty whispers to the girl.
“You’re so gorgeous,” he was saying. “With how much I’ve been able to save living free in the castle, we can run off together.”
“Take me to see the snow,” she begged. “You’re a prince in your northern lands, yes?”
“Of course,” he lied smoothly. “Of course.”
Princess Deborah wasn’t ready to face him. Neither person, lost in reverie, had noticed her, so she turned back into the castle and fell to her bed with only the comfort of her little white spaniel there to hear her cries.
Her solitude was soon interrupted, however. Since it was almost Christmas, her royal siblings were coming to dine. Princess Audrey and Prince Jordan arrived first with their little one. The princess excused herself to greet her favorite sister.
Expecting to find the usual smiles, she was instead shocked at the weeping that met her in the room.
“Deborah?” she asked shyly, seating herself on the bed. “Deb, what’s the matter?”
She wiped her eyes. “Korbin doesn’t love me anymore. He’s been lying, Audrey. He quit his lessons and has been flirting with one of the washerwomen, who isn’t even of age yet.”
Audrey’s eyes widened. “He did what?”
Deborah nodded. “I didn’t want to believe it either, but I do. I saw the signs of his drifting and now I’ve seen the result.”
“Well then, he isn’t prince material,” Princess Audrey said kindly. “Do you want us to have him assassinated?”
“… Maybe,” Deborah said, before bursting into tears again.
Princess Audrey rejoined her husband as quickly as she could, and whispered the news to him.
“I knew it!” he said. “What an awful soul.” The other two pairs of siblings arrived and listened in on the announcement.
“Can we assassinate him?” Prince Eli and Princess Candice chorused in unison.
“Maybe,” Princess Audrey said.
While the royal siblings were gathered in the court, Korbin had re-entered the castle and hummed his way up the stairs into Princess Deborah’s room.
“Deborah, darling. Isn’t it time for dinner?”
She rose from her bed and turned to him with her tear-stained face. “You.”
He looked surprised. “… Yes? It’s me…”
Korbin began to catch on to the fact that he was in trouble. “What happened?”
“I know everything. Get. Out.”
He backed out of the room and tried to slink out of the castle. Princess Audrey, chasing her crawling baby, ran right into his path. She snatched the child up and looked at him; no judgment, just a look that slowly turned to disappointment as he stared back defiantly at her.
“You’d better go,” she said sadly. “You’ve lost your chance, and need to leave.”
“You know nothing of the situation,” he said haughtily. “You’re but a spoiled bitch and no man would have loved you if you didn’t come with a castle.”
Deborah had followed him and heard the entire thing, as had Prince Jordan.
“WHAT did you just say to my WIFE?” the prince roared, unsheathing his sword.
“I told you, I told you we’d get to chop him up,” Princess Candice whispered to her husband in the background.
Korbin put his hands up. “Calm down, sir. It sounds like you can’t handle the truth.”
Audrey grabbed the prince by the arm and tried to drag him back. “Don’t cut him.”
Korbin smiled nastily at Prince Jordan.
“You’ll only get blood on the rug,” Princess Audrey added, holding her head high at the boy.
“What’s going on here?” the king bellowed. He and the queen entered and surveyed the chaos in the room.
“I was just leaving,” offered Korbin.
“Like hell you were,” echoed Prince Riordan and Prince Eli, who drew their swords and advanced upon along him with Prince Jordan. Korbin fell into a crouch since he had no other weapon to defend himself with.
Princess Deborah’s voice rang through the court. All eyes turned to she who stood tall in the center of the room. Her eyes blazed with the fiery passion of her soul.
“Do not hurt him. He isn’t worth the effort.”
Korbin remained in his crouch, but was clearly listening intently.
The princess continued, her voice as fiery as a dragon’s flame. “You slept under our roof, you broke of our bread, and you were included in all the invitations my royal siblings extended to me. You did all of this under the guise of loving me and studying music.
“I know now that it was all a lie. You are but a thief, a liar, and a fool.”
He began to speak up, to protest her words, but the righteous anger had filled her lungs and poured out onto the stones at her feet.
“Quiet, dog! I loved you; I loved you truly, and that is why I am so ashamed of what you have become. You had a world of potential before you, and you threw it away.”
“You should have reminded me–you should have kept me accountable to my lessons–”
“So it’s my fault?!” Her voice was a frightful thunder to behold. “You blame me for your failures? I, who took you in and gave you all the castle had to offer?”
She cut him off again, to his own benefit. “Remember, before you try to speak, that I could have you killed. Look at my brothers; no, look at my sisters, for they would kill you just as well.” Indeed, Princess Heidi had an arrow set in her strung bow, ready to shoot if need be.
“Then I thank you for my life,” he said to Princess Deborah, a note of sarcasm still present.
She shook her head, disappoint evident. “Look at you. How far the mighty fall. You have broken the trust of all here. You used us. Furthermore, the words you spoke to my sister are unrepeatable and you shall answer for them before your Maker, when the day comes. I hope you are prepared for that; I hope you have an explanation ready, you who claim to be Good yet have the heart of a soggy black worm.
“From this point forth I shall scrub you from my memory. Your name will be stricken from the castle. It will be as easy for me to forget you as it is to throw the waste of a chamberpot out the window.
“And it’s all your fault. Remember that, when you think of me; when you are slogging through the snow, alone and broken, without a penny to your name, what you could have had. Take responsibility now, and perhaps you can change the course of your life. But it won’t matter to me.
“I am a princess, and when I leave this room I will have moved on with my life.”
And so the Princess Deborah swept her cloak behind her and marched from the room.
“I should spit on you,” Prince Jordan reminded him as the royal siblings followed her out. “Or worse. But luckily for you, I have honor.”
Princess Candice had run from the room during all this. She burst through the door on the back of a dragon; its black scales glittered in the candlelight from the chandeliers. She brandished a shining longsword in her right hand.
“Is it time to murder him now?” she called from her pet. “I saw Deborah leave; funny, I thought she might want to witness it.”
“No,” Princess Heidi said. “She’s too kind. He gets to live.”
“But my dragon is hungry,” Candice said sadly.
Prince Eli held the halter of his wife’s dragon while she dismounted. Then the royal siblings all looked down upon the quivering coward they’d tried so hard to like for the sake of their sister.
“Enjoy the rest of your life,” Prince Riordan said as the guards began to frogmarch Korbin out. “And remember the princess’ words.”
“And mine,” Prince Jordan said, hand still gripped tightly on the hilt of his broadsword. “Which are ‘grow a pair.’”
Then Korbin was taken away, banished from the castle, banished from the kingdom. (Some reports say he did continue singing, in a new far off land; some say he impregnated the washerwoman and was forced to shovel manure to pay for the child’s care. Still others say he was found dead in a tavern after drowning away his sorrows in ale).
But all we know for certain is that that night Deborah wept, for she’d truly loved Korbin, was sad for the decline of his soul, and feared there would never be another suitor come to call. The princess was brave inside, though, so she dried her tears the next morning and continued her usual pursuits, fox-hunting with her hounds and reading in the meadow.
Not a month later, new suitors tentatively arrived at the castle and asked to speak with the littlest princess. It had been so long since she’d been courted so lovingly; it was almost overwhelming.
The royal siblings were worried about her heart. They judged each suitor harshly, in quiet, to make sure he was worthy of the princess’ time. Before long, it became clear that Evan, a knight who had been raised in a local church, stood out among them all. Princess Deborah smiled and laughed again when he was around. Evan reached out to the king, the queen, and the royal siblings, too, eager to show that he was open and genuine in a way Korbin had never been.
Princess Deborah slept soundly each night. Her heart was at peace because she’d escaped the terror of the two-faced Korbin. Though the castle records do not show whether she married Evan or another suitor, we can say with confidence that she and her family lived