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Sunday, June 14, 2020
CHAPTER ONE: The Prince In Love
This is the story of Prince Doug. You’ve probably read other stories about princes who are strong and brave and tough and spend their time fighting dragons, waging war or rescuing damsels.
Doug was not that sort of prince.
At nineteen years old, he was cute and handsome with great hair and an adorable mole on his cheek, but he had no talent for fighting or hunting or any of those other “manly” pursuits which most princes in other stories spend their time doing. He was sensitive and artistic. He loved to paint, to write poetry, and to play his booblebox (which is kind of like an accordion, but not really).
Doug’s mother, Queen Eleanor, was proud of her son and supported him in his less than traditional princely endeavors.
His stepfather, King Rowan, on the other hand…
Eleanor’s first husband, the late King Henry, had loved his children very much and hadn’t cared in the least that they were so unlike the princes and princesses you find in fairy tales. If anything, he had loved them all the more for their uniqueness and individual-ity. When he passed away, the law of the land demanded that Eleanor remarry. She hadn’t wanted to for the very sensible reason that she was not in love with anybody, but she didn’t have any choice in the matter which is how King Rowan of Quelfmoor had become King Rowan of Langdale.
And, almost from the moment of his arrival in Langdale Castle, Rowan had been complaining about his stepchildren.
As the eldest of Queen Eleanor’s three children, Doug was the Regent; the next in line for the throne of Langdale. His stepfather thought he should be spending his time preparing himself to become king. Not painting, composing or boobleboxing.
“A future king,” Rowan would often complain to his wife, “has certain responsibilities. He should be learning how to swordfight or shoot an arrow or do that thing with the long stick, you know, where they’re on horses and they run at each other and…”
“Jousting?” Eleanor suggested.
“Yes! That’s the word! I mean, what kind of king is he going to be? How is he going to defend this country in wartime? Play them a jaunty tune on his bobblebook?”
“Rowan, Langdale has been at peace of six centuries.”
“Nevertheless, a good king must always be prepared for war.”
“Well, I think a good king must always be prepared to make peace.”
And so the argument continued.
Doug, for his part, was fully aware that his stepfather didn’t think much of him. It was disappointing for the Prince, but he was mature enough to know that you can’t force people to like you. Better to just be yourself and hope that they come around in time.
And, of course, to focus on the people who do like you. Which leads us to…
“Another masterpiece in the making?”
Doug was sitting in the Royal Garden with his easel painting some flowers when he was interrupted by a girl of eighteen with potting soil in her hair, dirt on her face, and mud covering almost all of the shabby clothes she had on. But her smile shone through all that as the first rays of the sun peek through the clouds at the end of a summer storm.
The Prince blushed a little and smiled back. “I don’t know if ‘masterpiece’ is the right word. But it’s coming along.”
“Can I see?” Without waiting for an answer, the girl walked around to the other side of the canvas to see Doug’s work in progress. “Oh, Doug,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s not quite finished yet.”
“I don’t care. It’s still beautiful. And I know it will be even beautifuller when it’s done.”
“I’m glad you like it, because…well, um…”
“I was going to give it to you. For your birthday.”
“You were?” she said, excitedly.
“Yeah, but now you’ve gone and spoiled the surprise, maybe I should forget the whole—”
“No, no, no! I don’t care that it’s not a surprise. I love it. I’ll cherish it forever.”
And, just like that, Doug knew. How he knew, he couldn’t tell you. But something about that moment, about the lilt in her voice when she said how much she loved the painting, the way the afternoon sun shone on the few parts of her face that weren’t hidden by dirt, about…who knows what? But he knew what he had to say next.
“You know,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “birthday presents really should be surprises. I should probably give you something else for your birthday and give you this for some other reason. Like Christmas or St. Floggins’ Day or…as an engagement gift.”
“I don’t care when you give it to me, as long as I…wait, what did you say?”
“St. Floggins’ Day? I know socks are the traditional gift, but—”
“No, after that. Did you just say…engagement? Are you serious?”
“I am. That is…if you would want to—”
“Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Each “yes’ was punctuated by a kiss on a different part of Doug’s face.
The girl spun around to see her father, the Head Gardener, standing a few yards off, gesturing for her to come over to him.
Gertie turned back to Doug, who now had large, dirty splotches on his face where she had kissed him. “I have to go. We’ll meet tonight, okay? In the usual place?” Again, without waiting for an answer, she hurried over to her father, leaving Doug alone with his dirty face, his unfinished painting, and some very happy thoughts.
CHAPTER TWO: The Queen’s Second Husband
The Kingdom of Langdale was lush, green and prosperous. The earth was fertile, the landscape abounded in natural splendor and real, honest-to-gosh magic was alive and well throughout the land.
By rather stark contrast, the neighboring province of Quelfmoor was squalid, barren and kinda useless. It had no natural beauty, no rare minerals, and the whole place had a very unpleasant smell.
As a matter of fact, when the people of Langdale accidentally stepped in…you know, the stuff animals leave behind in the road? Well, when they stepped in one, they often said, “Dang it! I stepped in a quelfmoor!”
So, when the period of mourning for King Henry ended and Queen Eleanor selected Rowan as her second husband, the people of both kingdoms were more than a little surprised. After all, Eleanor—being beautiful, wealthy and powerful—had plenty of suitors to choose from.
So, why did she pick Rowan? Was he the handsomest suitor? The bravest? The most charming? The most romantic? The tallest? The most virtuous? The best at Go Fish?
She picked him because of jam.
The only remotely redeeming thing about Quelfmoor were the quelfberries. These lumpy, sticky, gray berries were inedible when eaten plain, but could be made into a delicious jam. A jam that Queen Eleanor absolutely adored.
So, the marriage was a mutually beneficial arrangement. Rowan got to be in charge of a way better country, and Eleanor got all the quelfberry jam she could eat.
Not the best reason to get married, but not the worst, either.
When Rowan moved into Langdale Castle, he brought a few prized possessions, one loyal servant named Crevor (about whom more later) and his son, Prince Edmond. Edmond was about the same age as Doug, but that’s pretty much all the two princes had in common.
Edmond was, in Rowan’s mind, everything that a prince should be. He was also everything Doug was not. He had no aptitude for arts and/or crafts but was a great fighter, sportsman and strategist.
Yet, despite their many glaring differences, Doug and Edmond had become fast friends.
“Great shot, Edmond!”
After saying goodbye to Gertrude, Doug had washed his face then sought out his stepbrother to share with him the good news. He found Edmond at the shooting range, arriving just in time to see Edmond fire three arrows at once and hit three different targets.
“Thanks, Doug,” said Edmond. “Care to try it?” He held out his bow for Doug to take it.
“Er…I’d better not. If I tried to fire an arrow at one of those targets, I’d probably miss and kill someone.”
“That’s why you have to practice. If you keep trying, you’ll get better. I promise.”
“Thanks, Edmond, but I have to tell you something really important.”
“What is it?”
Edmond’s eyes went wide with surprise. “You asked Gertie?”
“I did. Just now, in the flower garden.”
“And she said yes?”
“Well, yeah, I wouldn’t be engaged if she hadn’t said yes.”
“Right, of course. Doug, this is wonderful!”
“Thanks. But, listen, don’t tell anyone, all right? I’m saving the big announcement for dinner tonight. But I just couldn’t go another minute without telling someone.”
“My lips are sealed, Brother.”
Edmond embraced Doug, who went back inside to write about his engagement in his journal. Edmond returned to his target practice.
CHAPTER THREE: Ash and Sir Sophie
While we’re waiting for dinner and Doug’s big announcement, let’s take a moment to meet his younger siblings, shall we?
Ash did not have any friends (apart from his brother and sister, that is). Most boys his age liked to play outside, run around and make a lot of noise. Ash preferred sitting his room and reading. He liked peace and quiet.
One day, while looking for a new book to read (by the time he was eight he had gone through every single book in the Castle Library), Ash had found a very old book bound in black leather in the bedroom of his governess, Imelda. He had blown through almost a hundred pages before she came in and saw him.
“What are you doing?” said Imelda, nervously. “You shouldn’t be in here. What’s that book?”
She snatched the book away and read the title:
Magic For Beginners
“This is what you’ve been reading?”
“And…what did you think?”
“You’d like to learn more about magic?”
“Well…I think that can be arranged.”
You see, before getting the job as Royal Governess, Imelda had been a witch. But witchery didn’t pay very well and the health benefits weren’t great, so she became a governess instead.
Now, however, she could be both. And that’s how she came to take on Ash as an apprentice.
Ash, being very clever and dedicated, progressed quickly through his studies. Queen Eleanor, obviously, was very proud of her son’s magical skills. And, just as obviously, King Rowan just complained about it.
See, most of the people who practiced magic back then were women, like Imelda. There were a few dudes who did magic, but they weren’t princes. It was not considered appropriate for a person of Royal Blood to use magic, let alone a boy.
“Bad enough he’s mute,” Rowan would whine. “He has to be a boy witch on top of it?”
“First,” replied Eleanor, “the word for ‘boy witch’ is ‘warlock. Second, Ash is not mute.”
“He can’t talk, can he? That’s what mute means!”
“We don’t know that he can’t talk. Maybe he just doesn’t want to talk.”
“Oh, you mean he’s faking?”
“I didn’t say that. I just think…maybe he doesn’t have anything to say. Yet.”
“Well, if you ask me…”
“Nobody asked you.”
“…he’s almost as weird as your daughter.”
Ah, yes. Eleanor’s only daughter, Sophie.
Now, most girls would love to be princesses. Not Sophie. At the ripe old age of six, Sophie had already decided what she wanted to be when she grew up:
Sophie wanted to be a knight.
“Knights are way better than princesses!” explained Sophie (or Sir Sophie, as she preferred to be called). “They get to wear helmets, and fight with swords and ride noble steeds and say ‘charge!’ Princesses don’t get to do any of that stuff! All princesses get to do is look pretty and wear uncomfy clothes until they’re old enough to marry some dumb boy.”
So, from then on, Sir Sophie decided that she would be a knight. She had a sword (made of wood) which she always carried around, a helmet (a cardboard box with eyeholes cut in it) which she always wore over her head, and she rode around the castle on her noble steed, Buster (who was a pig) yelling “Charge!”
Just to be clear, Sophie was the one who yelled “charge.” Not Buster. Buster was not a talking pig. Just a regular type pig.
Anyway, you can guess how enthusiastic Rowan was about Sophie’s ambition.
“No prince wants to marry a girl who rides a pig and pretends to be a knight!”
“Okay,” said Eleanor, who was getting more than a little sick of her husband criticizing her children, “in the first place, Sophie is six, so I think we can put off worrying about her getting married for a while. Secondly, pretending to be a knight is teaching her honor, bravery, integrity and self-confidence. All of which are traits I want to encourage. Also, I think she looks super cute in her helmet.”
“At least you’ll admit that it’s a little…oh, you know…not very clean? Unhealthy?”
“Exactly! The way she rides that pig everywhere? Can’t be sanitary.”
“Actually, that pig is probably one of the cleanest animals in the kingdom.”
“Captain Randy of the Royal Guard told her that knights keep their noble steeds clean, so she gives him a bath every night.”
“Does she really? Fine, but it’s still weird!”
Ah, yes. That dreaded word. Weird! Anything that is different from what is expected, from what things are “supposed” to be, anything that is even slightly outside the agreed upon societal norms is given that label: Weird.
Doug would rather paint a picture than shoot an arrow? Weird!
Ash doesn’t talk and studies magic? Weird!
Sir Sophie rides a pig and wields a wooden sword? Weird!
Eleanor loves all three of them and wouldn’t change them even if she could? Weird!
And you know what? Rowan’s right. The whole family are weird. Very weird. Super weird. Where he makes his mistake, where practically everyone makes their mistake, is in thinking that weird is a bad thing to be.
Hopefully, by the end of this story, he’ll see how wrong he is.