Swapping the genre roles around for the classic story - Princess and the Pea.
|The Queen sighed in exasperation. Annoyed, she prodded the King and gestured at the child before them.
"Do something!" She hissed. The King shrugged and peered down at the child, "Sweetie, don't you want to play with your toys?"
"Not mine!" came the loud wail between angry sobs. The King scooped up Bertie's Junior Alchemist Set and waved it at his daughter. "Look! You can make stuff go boom!"
The wailing got progressively louder. One chubby hand shoved the Set out of the King's hands, "Not PINK!"
In desperation, the King grabbed the nearest pink object off the floor. "Look pink! it's a -" He stared helplessly at the object. "Pea-shooter" the Queen helpfully interjected.
Nodding furiously, the King cranked up the charm. "Yes! Darling Sweetie Muffin Love, look a pink pea-shooter!"
There was a slight pause.
Encouraged, the King fiddled with the pea-shooter and squinted at the label. "Oooh! Look! It's semi-automatic! Look at all the peas lined up in this little chamber!" Not wanting to lose his Muffin's attention, he took aim at the nearest footman and fired.
The child's wailing drowned out the footman's whimper.
"I'm a Prin- PRINSESS-ESS" Enunciation was made difficult by the late arrive of most of the Crown Princess's baby teeth. "NOT prinse!"
Defeated, the King ignored the disapproval radiating from the Queen and waved at a footman. A stream of pink dollhouses and tea-sets were rushed out of hiding. The endless wailing had been hard on everyone in the castle.
The King basked in the sudden calm. Hiccuping, his Dear Sweetie Cupcake paid no more attention to her royal parents and focused instead on her approved "princess toys".
He felt another prod from his royal half.
"My King, this can't work. This is most un-progressive! King Don has a little girl that can swim, hunt, do calculus, play chess and read! And she's younger! King Rolf has seven tutors for his son, the same son who solved Bertie's Boggling Equation! And he's the same age!"
"Well... our little Lunchie-Pie is still royalty, just like them. She'll do fine."
The Queen humphed in a distinctly unqueenly fashion. "You know that princess Aurora over the next kingdom? She's stunning, witty, graceful, dances and sings in a most atrociously beautiful manner. Now that's a princess."
The King nodded in agreement, but the Queen was not quite done. "And still she fell victim to some stupid con and plunged her kingdom into disrepair and now some idiot-prince-only-good-for-hacking-briar is sitting on the throne and both of them haven't a clue how to make things right again."
The King winced and patted the Queen's hand. "You have been most kind to help out with the refugee situation." The Queen's eyes narrowed. "Our daughter," she said slowly and dramatically, "is NOT stunning. She's homely at best. I have also ascertained that she has no wit, charm or grace. She may sing and dance with all those lessons she's taking, but a talentless dancer in a pink tutu will be hopeless at running this kingdom."
Almost as an afterthought, the Queen added, "Oh, and she plays all sorts of musical instruments too." The King perked up. "I must hear our Sweetie-Tums play!"
"I meant Aurora, you fool." the Queen snapped.
"Ah." The King sighed "Perhaps our Little Pie Crust will marry someone capable. He grinned, "just like I did!"
The Queen sighed, but couldn't help making an internal note. It wasn't a bad idea.
They both gazed down dotingly at their bundle of joy. The King noted that his Cream Puff had gotten her frock wrinkled. The Queen noted that their daughter was also hopeless at hosting tea parties - Teddy Bear was seated right next to his sworn enemy, New Favourite Doll. Also some had been served tea while others had not.
"Why a pea-shooter?"
The Queen answered absent-mindedly, her mind already engaged elsewhere. "I was hoping she would at least prove to have some hand-eye coordination and some level of marksmanship. She could have been in your Special Forces. They say it builds character."
"Ah." The King paused. "Thankfully she will not be joining them. Having pink outfits will really ruin morale."
"NOT him, Mother!"
The Queen looked up from her parchments with a sigh. The Crown Princess stormed towards her, heedless of the many clerks scampering around her.
"I take it she met with Prince Roland." The Queen leveled this statement at the matron following behind the furious Princess. The Princess's governess nodded.
"My dear, what was wrong? Was he disagreeable? Was there a lack of chemistry?"
"Mother, you know I want a real prince. Roland is hardly a real prince."
"I assure you, Roland comes from a very distinguished family, and yes, they rule a small kingdom, but it is a kingdom nonetheless. It's not easy to locate princes, Sweetie, not ones that won't want to whisk you back to their own kingdom."
"It's not his family. Some princes just aren't real princes. You know, like Prince Charming who married Princess Ella... tall, dashing, utterly romantic-"
The Queen snorted. "With a strange foot fetish. Which man dances with a girl for the night and decides that the best course of action the next morning is to hunt for someone with her shoe size the next morning? We all know it was only an excuse to indulge in his... hobbies."
The Princess ignored this interruption. Over the years, she had learnt to tune out the Queen when she was in one of those moods.
"I will only marry a real prince, Mother."
"Roland is a real prince. He also has a sensitive soul, he sings, he dances... he actually understands accounts- "
The Princess held up a hand. "I'm sorry Mother, but sensitive or not, Roland is not a real prince." With that announcement, she left. Bowing, her governess followed her difficult charge out the door.
The Queen sighed. The child had gotten harder to understand after the passing of the King. She roused herself and turned to look at Paul, her trusted manservant. "Paul?"
"Yes your majesty?"
"What's a real prince?"
"I assume you mean according to the Princess's notion. My understanding is that she means someone possessing more than average good-looks, a distinguished heritage, good character, surrounded with an atmosphere of grand adventure and romanticism."
"A good fairy tale you mean. A real prince will be someone who can balance the Kingdom's budget, rally the peasants after that last dour harvest and help me rein in the armed forces. Not to mention being able to represent the Kingdom fairly at the next All-Realms Conference." She paused, "I will admit that if he had a six-pack, that would be a bonus."
"Yes your majesty. If I may, I can clear out your schedule for the afternoon to reflect on this musing. I have already summarised the monthly reports for you. It's on your desk, but there's nothing urgent for your attention."
"Paul, you are marvelous." A thought struck her. "Paul, how old are you again?"
"25, your majesty." The Queen thought of her 20-year old daughter and gave a mental nod of approval.
"How long have you worked here again?"
"Since I was 8, your majesty." The answer was quite unexpected. Shaking her head, the Queen asked in wonder, "How can that be? You've only been my manservant for the last 7 years or so, since my silly husband, bless his heart, moved on."
For the first time, the Queen witnessed Paul blush. Nonetheless, he gave an honest answer.
"My father was a footman in this castle. When I was 8, he was injured somewhat while on the job. It was a truly minor injury, but a humiliating one. I'm afraid he was somewhat made fun of by the entire castle. However the King heard about it one day and being generous, he compensated my father. Part of that compensation was that I would be schooled here at the castle. Once here, I offered to help out with the clerks. When I graduated, I was given a position with the King's household. Soon after, the old Master Clerk recommended me to you."
The Queen listened in fascination, "I've never heard of this before, the silly old man never told me about this footman. That can only mean he had something to do with your father's injury."
Paul bowed his head. "It was a trifling injury your majesty."
The Queen raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
"Ahem. Very well, although I believe your majesty will find the scene familiar." He paused, "It was a pea, your majesty. The King had inadvertently shot my father with a pea-shooter. Unfortunately, the pea was projected with great force and became embedded in his behind."
Paul waited for the Queen's howls of laughter to abate. Giggling she patted Paul on the arm and said, "Nevermind my laughter, I am supremely grateful the King shot your father in his arse. Otherwise, you won't be here!"
"I agree your majesty," Paul allowed a slight grin to form on his face, "I keep that very same pea in a special capsule under my mattress, it is of great sentimental value!"
Once night fell, the Queen dismissed Paul with the rolls of parchments containing her directives. She then waited a beat before summoning her other most trusted advisor.
The Princess's governess gave a curtsy as she entered the room, before heading straight for the liquor cabinet to pour them both a strong nightcap. The nightcaps were necessary when discussing the one problem they had been attempting to solve for the last few years.
"I have news of a middling kind. Prince Charm rode into the castle tonight seeking an audience with you. I believe he has been sent to invite you to the annual Briar Hacking Ceremony to celebrate Prince Charming's bravery. Of course he was told that it was late and that you would see him in the morning, but that's not the problematic bit." She continued, "my little charge caught a glimpse of him from her balcony. She has decided that he is dashing and mysterious, and that he must be as romantic as his father."
The Queen moaned. "Oh no. A real prince?"
The governess nodded morosely.
The Queen stared moodily at her glass. "He is exactly the kind of person I wanted our dear Princess to stay away from. Air-headed, bicep-bulging, weed-hacker. Why couldn't it be his sister instead? I hear she has been doing great things for the kingdom, they really lucked out with her."
"Also," she continued, slurring a little, "a marriage with him will mean joining the two kingdoms together. That's an economic disaster already! Not to mention a cultural one, they're still playing catch up with everyone else after all that sleeping for a hundred years nonsense."
Impassioned, she tipped her glass back, "And here I was thinking Paul would make such a great prince. If only he had been born one!"
"Hear hear!" the governess cheered. "What's a prince these days? Simple showmanship!"
"Yesh! Princes aren't born, they're made!"
They both halted, struck by the same brainwave. "Could it work?"
"Maybe. She just has to believe."
"It's been rainy the last few nights, that will help with atmosphere and all"
"More needs to be done though yes?"
"What? To make him all mysterious and appealing? He already hardly smiles!"
"No! I mean people would recognise him!"
"No... actually he always keeps that stupid hood pulled up like some priest outside of my chambers. Plus all that hair. I could get him shaved and give his hair a pruning. I would only have to swear my handmaidens to secrecy."
"Handmaidens eh? Ohhh what have you been up to in your chambers?"
"Hush that giggling, you old prune. It's not like that. He's too young!"
"We just need Paul to agree..."
"Oh he will, I will make it an order, appeal to his love for the Kingdom etc..."
"We can wing this..."
The next day, Prince Charm (named after his father, Prince Charming of course) paid his respects to the Queen and the Princess. The Queen stared in quiet disgust as the Princess looked on goggily-eyed at the boy. She was sickened further as she noted that the Prince Charm lapped it all up. Her hangover also did not help matters.
Night couldn't arrive fast enough. True to the last few days, it rained. Hard.
Midway through the dinner feast, 3 resounding knocks boomed at the castle doors (some bribery of the gate-men had been necessary to produce that sound). Everyone in the dinning hall jumped, save for the Queen and the governess.
The doors opened, and revealed a figure shrouded in semi-darkness. Notably, the figure did not start moving until a flash of lightning illuminated his form. The Queen couldn't help smiling with approval. The boy had a nice flare for the dramatic.
Even better, her handmaidens had also followed her instructions to the letter. His clothes were damp, but not drenched to the point where he may have looked like a sodding mess. His hair was also slicked back carelessly, done so in an artful fashion that best suited his features. Finally the clothes were well-cut and fitting.
He sunk to his knees as he neared the Queen.
"Who are you?"
"My name, your Majesty, is P- Peter" The Queen frowned a little. He hastily continued, "Prince Peter, I mean, from a Kingdom far away."
"What is your business here, Prince Peter?"
"I had been hunting this great white stag, when my companions and I were set upon by a host of bandits. I slew each and every one of them, but alas could not save anyone. I have been attempting to find my way home since, for we traveled far beyond our lands as we hunted the white stag. My only wish now is to seek some shelter for the night."
The Queen watched the Princess carefully as Prince Peter told his story. She appeared entranced.
Nodding, the Queen said to Prince Peter, "Oh but of course you shall have shelter! That is such a romantic story! Surely you are brave and able. You must be in order to have bested those notorious bandits (that we know of because, of course, they were rampaging through our lands). And to have traveled from distant lands, such adventure -"
A hard subtle kick from the governess stopped the Queen from gushing further.
Prince Charm's feathers appeared ruffled. "How do we know he's a real prince and not some bandit?"
The Queen was silently impressed. It was a pretty intelligent question from the prince.
"I would challenge you, here and now, so-called Prince Peter! Only a real prince can beat bandits. Or me!" Not so intelligent after all.
The Queen noted Prince Charm's bulging arm muscles and the size of his sword (thanks to the annual Briar Hacking Tournament) with alarm. She hurriedly called out, "Oh our poor royal sensibilities could not bear to see two such fine men duel it out! Nay princes, come, I accept that the mysterious dark stranger before me is who he says he is - I sense goodness in him, and honesty."
Prince Charm continued to glare at the newcomer. The Princess glazed uncertainly between the two princes, clearly torn.
Clapping her hands, the Queen ordered that a chair be brought for the newcomer, to be set down right next to the Princess. She gleefully observed that the vein at Prince Charm's neck had swelled and fairly popped when that happened. The Princess on the other hand, was fairly spoiled by the sudden attention and charms of two princes.
Noting that Prince Peter and the Princess were getting along, the Queen gave a whispered command for an impromptu dance floor to be created. Any attempt by Prince Charm to claim the first few dances from the Princess was lost when the Queen indicated that she was also joining the dance floor and expected Prince Charm to escort her.
During a rare moment alone, the Princess found herself sitting by her governess. It didn't take much for the Princess to reveal her thoughts.
"Oh! Have you ever seen two such princes? Even Princess Ella never had such choices!"
The governess noted with some disapproval that the Princess had automatically assumed that both lads were interested in her. They would have to work on the Princess's humility. The governess ventured to ask the important question and waited for the answer with baited breath. "So both of them are true, real princes?"
"Of course they are! Having met them, I know now that they are both well-raised, kindly, strong, handsome, witty, charming, graceful, wise... oh everything!" Their Princess was sometimes a little silly.
"But" she went on, "Mother always says that it is important for a man to be sensitive as well. I'm not quite sure how to identify that quality. Although I suppose I could see why it might be an important quality in a prince." Her governess mentally cursed the Queen's inconvenient piece of advice as she comforted her charge. "Well, sometimes the only way to find out is to test a man, note his responses when..."
Her suggestion was cut off by the Princess. "A test! Of course! What better way than to see if they are as sensitive as I am?"
"Well I didn't really mean a formal sort of tes-"
"Do you think 5 mattresses will be enough?"
The governess blanched. "Your Highness?"
"No, you're right, 5 is nothing. I myself can still feel the hard lumps with 5 mattresses. We'll make it some difficult number, perhaps like 20 or so, to really test them out."
The governess demanded a coherent explanation, worry etched all over her face.
"Well, a real prince would be sensitive yes? He would have been brought up to appreciate the exquisite, the refined. How can a Kingdom strive towards greatness if its leaders can't even identify what greatness is? How can they inspire to lead when they don't know any better?" The Princess shuddered. "Why, we would be no better than those bandits out in the woods, or like Lady Margaret, who's wearing purple in the most awful outfit!"
The Princess always engineered a sense of pride and shame in her governess. On one hand, she had the makings of a great orator. On the other hand, that would be a truly bad idea.
The Princess nodded decisively. "Please let Mother know of my plans, I am retiring to my room to make the necessary arrangements. Looking for the right-sized lump will be a delicate matter. I will have to put a lot of thought into this."
The Queen glared at the governess.
"Really?" She sputtered. "My child is running around deciding our future, her future by way of a lumpy mattress?"
The governess shrugged. "20 mattresses I believe. And only 1 lump."
The Queen buried her head in her hands. "We are going to be the laughingstock of all the other realms. At least the glass slipper test was romantic!"
"I think you could spin this around, just like Princess Ella did. Otherwise, you could also refuse all press and make no comments; it may be possible to get away with just a brief mention in the chronicles." The Queen dropped her hands and let out a sigh. "Nevermind, our name in posterity is not something of concern right now. Let's focus on how to get Pa-Peter through this... 'test'." The governess nodded and proceeded to lay out the situation as she had been able to determine.
"The Princess is surprisingly efficient. She has isolated both boys in adjourning bed chambers and has posted multiple guards and handmaidens to watch over them. She has also stripped the castle of all mattresses. There are too many gossips gawking about for anyone to safely tip P-Peter off." She pondered a little and remarked, "the Princess has also been overturning her room, looking for the perfect lump."
The Queen was silent for a moment.
Then it suddenly struck her, and she grinned. "Coax the Princess into looking at her childhood toys, specifically, a pink pea-shooter which should be still lying about. I believe there should still be peas in there, it would probably suit her purpose. Take the pea-shooter discreetly to Peter's bed chamber and flash it at him. I think that should give him something to think about."
The next morning found the Queen, the Princess and the governess at the breakfast table unusually early.
When the Princes did finally appear, all 3 women halted whatever they were doing. Sensing her daughter about to speak, the Queen raced for the advantage. "Good morning! I think the poor creatures must have slept poorly after last night debauchery!" She tittered. The governess winced slightly. The Queen never tittered.
Prince Charm stood a little straighter. "Not at all my fair lady! You have been the most gracious of hosts. The bedding provided last night was most soft and yielding!" In truth, Prince Charm was silently nursing a massive hangover. Stumbling into his bedchamber, he had drunkenly ambled about, instinctively looking for the bed. It was only when a footman gently pointed upwards that the prince took proper notice of the feather-soft pillar in the middle of the room.
Another Prince would have cursed and asked for a different bed, or even a different chamber. However the Prince was a true product of royalty - like golden spinning wheels, flying carpets or talking cats, anything out of the ordinary was destiny calling. This was clearly a test of some sort. Flexing his muscles (there was a small audience), the Prince was quite sure he knew what it was. Obviously he had been called to climb that mountain of bedding. The question was whether he should be doing this with only one hand.
5 minutes later, he gave up on the idea of using only one hand to clamber up. Since they were the softest mattresses available in the castle, they didn't provide him much support on his climb. It felt like he was scrambling up a vertical wall of soft, wobbly jello. However the Prince refused to surrender. The sight of the footman clutching a very tall ladder only served to spur him on.
That was the reason that, when the Prince finally hauled himself to the top, he collapsed, huffing and trembling, into a deep sleep.
In contrast, witnesses would later testify that events in Prince Peter's chamber were much less interesting. Frankly, it was boring.
Having brushed his teeth and gotten dressed for bed (he drank moderately during dinner), he marched towards the tower of mattresses and gazed upwards. His audience held their breaths, only to let them go in disappointment. Having examined the mattress carefully, he motioned for the footman with the ladder to approach.
There was a moment during his (relatively easy) climb when the Prince paused. Below him, his audience shifted in anticipate. However they were sorely disappointed again. Having remained motionless for several beats, the Prince merely continued up on his climb. It appeared to be nothing but a brief rest. Certainly it was far less entertaining than Prince Charm's manly ascent.
From Prince Peter's point of view however, the pause was significant. It was the moment when he caught sight of a slip of pink from the governess's bosom. He had blushed, only to hastily move on when he squinted a little and realised that it was a pink pea-shooter. Mind reeling and at a loss at what it forebode, the Prince tossed and turned restlessly throughout the night.
Buttering her toast gingerly, the Queen now turned her attention towards Prince Peter. She gazed intently at him. "Prince Peter, you look most exhausted! Listen, I am now ordering you to respond with only the truth, nothing more or less."
Waggling her eyebrows, she enquired, "Dear Prince, did you rest well last night?"
Prince Peter looked at her in confusion. However a lifetime of training prompted him to obey her command to the letter. "No..." He hesitated before continuing, "I must confess that I had trouble sleeping."
"Ah." The Queen shushed the Princess who was about to speak. "And my dearest Prince, forgive me but I have to ask - does your usual mattress feel like the one you slept on last night?"
She looked triumphantly at the Princess, "Was there something under your mattress?"
"Um." He said uncertainly, "Yes?"
"Do you know what it was?"
In the ensuing preparations for the wedding, no one paid heed to the protests made by Prince Charm. Disgusted, he returned to his kingdom whereupon he became a well-known dragon slayer who was reputed to check under his mattress every night before bed.
Prince Peter and the Princess were presumably happy with their marriage. More importantly, the kingdom prospered.
A quick sharp word from the Queen to the editor ensured that this tale was kept to one single paragraph in the chronicles. It was destined to remain forgotten until a man named Hans came along, whereupon it was expanded into a very short page with pictures. Thankfully by then, the names (and genders) of all parties had been very much forgotten.
In this case it would be accurate to say that on balance, parties did live happily ever after.