On princesses a foible, p.1
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On Princesses: A Foible
On Princesses: A Foible

  Susan Skylark

  Copyright 2013 Susan Skylark

  Revised 2016

  This is a foible, not a fable, fables are by definition useful and educational, this story is merely enjoyable or so thinks the author.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to an authorized retailor and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author

  What people are saying about this story:

  “Complete nonsense! What is the world coming to? Do not let your kids read this book…” --Pedagogy Monthly.--

  “…full of stereotypes and affronts, only reinforces the stigma society already holds for small dogs and their pet parents…” --The Lap Dog Gazette--

  “A curious look at a case involving dwarvish consumption of fried foods and the possible consequences thereof…” --The Journal of Dwarvish Gastroenterology--

  “A story full of hope for an overlooked and underrated subclass of society; yes, my fellow nerds, there is a chance for love and adventure, just not in the real world, as we have long maintained.” ---RPG Today--

  “I liked it…what are we talking about again? Tacos? Yeah, I like tacos…not tacos?”

  --Anonymous Undergrad after a busy night out--

  Table of Contents:

  The Story

  Other Books by this Author

  Sample Chapters

  On Princesses: A Foible

  Once upon a time in a land far away (as all such lands certainly are), there was born a Princess, and like all such royal children, her birth caused quite a stir in the Kingdom, for certainly this was a herald of troubles to come, for is it not so in all such tales? Quite sensibly therefore, in anticipation of this unknown but very certain threat to his Crown and Kingdom, the King sent his only child away for her sake and for all other sakes in the Kingdom. With a sigh of relief and a bit of grief, the loving but dutiful parents sent their child into another world where she might remain until the Appointed Time when the threat of all potential disasters would be long past and she could return safely to the realm. The place where the wizards banished the poor dear was a weird and wild place, filled with all manner of strange and bizarre creatures, and this was the opinion of people who had seen unicorns and dragons and centaurs.

  It was a place where no sane villain (and very few of the crazy ones) would think to look for such a personage, for what parent would dare send their beloved child There? Besides for the inanity of sending a royal child to such a place (which was precisely the reason to do it), there was also the fact that it would be the perfect place for her to grow up and learn all the things children of noble birth must know: namely that oneself is the most important entity in the known universe. For the citizens of this strange and distant land had long ago forgotten their past, cared little for their futures, and could really care less about anyone but themselves. It was a whole civilization of folk who thought they were aristocrats or at least thought they should be. It was perfect! Or at least it should have been, for the one problem with raising a completely self-absorbed person is trying to get them to notice or do anything not immediately associated with themselves.

  “Gertrude!” shrieked a prissy female at the top of her lungs and voice range, “Gertrude! I am in desperate need of your help! Eeek!”

  Gertrude dashed up the stairs at her sister’s frantic call for aid, which in itself was not disturbing, for Clarisse must cry out in vexation at least a dozen times a day, but that she would ask for help from her sister was nearly unthinkable. She either sought help from her indulgent parents, her elder but not wiser sister Missy, or from one of the equally flighty young women who always seemed to hang about her like the pox, but never would she deign to demand the assistance of her geeky twin sister. It must be something truly desperate indeed to draw such a cry for help when Gertrude was the only person within auditory range capable of rendering aid. Gertrude dashed into the bathroom where Clarisse was putting the finishing touches on her hours’ long morning ritual only to find the whole morning’s labor disfigured by a look of utter horror. Now this look on anyone else might cause the observer a moment of pity but it occupied Clarisse’s face so often that those familiar with her seldom seemed to notice, save in times of dire emergency, such as this. The panic filled eyes were focused on the bathroom mirror which had moments ago displayed only her gorgeous countenance but now her visage was obscured by a rather lengthy message scrawled out within the mirror itself, for no amount of wiping or scratching would efface the writing.

  Shrieked Clarisse as Gertrude ran into the little room, “what can it mean? Oh, what can it mean? How can hackers and telemarketers have gained access to my bathroom mirror? I have already destroyed or deleted this message many times over, only to have it appear here!” Gertrude was quite intrigued and even on the tingling verge of that excitement every true geek knows when an adventure is before them. She read the message again and again, and with each reading her smile deepened while Clarisse could only stare at her in growing mystification. Finally she groused, “why are you smiling like an idiot? This had better not be some trick of your nerdy friends!”

  Gertrude faced her twin sister and said, “how could you have let this go for so long? It says quite plainly that this is the five thousand one hundred and sixth time this message has been relayed! How can you be so oblivious? What other messages have you received?”

  Clarisse smiled frivolously and said, “oh, they have tried to contact me by every means possible. They even sent me a letter! Who sends letters in this day and age? I cannot get away from this harassment, even in my own bathroom! Every means by which to communicate has been tried and has failed, for I will not believe these hackers, whoever they are. Are you sure this is not some weird trick from your even weirder friends?”

  Gertrude laughed grimly, “my friends are too enlightened to try entangling you in such a plot. They would never waste their time.” She sighed deeply, “But alas, it is real and for some reason beyond comprehension this adventure has fallen to you.” She brightened then and said, “of course I must come with you because you will be completely inept upon such a quest.”

  Clarisse gaped, “you believe this nonsense? You really think this is wise or safe or socially acceptable?” Gertrude laughed as she grabbed her sister’s hand and drew her out of the bathroom and down the hall towards the bedrooms, saying, “it is certainly none of those but you are not going to miss this if I can help it!” Clarisse was too mystified to do anything but follow in confused astonishment.

  The full text of the writing was as follows, “My Dearest Madam, please be informed that we have tried reaching you by various means, on several occasions (5,106 to be exact). We were loath to send this message in this manner as it is quite intolerable to separate one’s royal personage from one’s royal reflection but we are quite desperate. Please proceed to the Park and enter the first horse drawn vehicle you encounter and all will be well. If you fail in this endeavor many lives, including possibly your own, shall be grievously touched. Ever Yours, The Royal Secretary of Lofrenier.” Clarisse could not comprehend in the least what Gertrude knew almost before she read the message: it must be magical and therefore an adventure, but who was senseless enough to ask for help from such a person as Clarisse? Regardless, this thing must be done and there was no way that Gertrude was going to miss it.

  They stopped in Clarisse’s room and Gertrude ransacked her as until now forbidden closet. She finally drew forth a long dress that might be just the thing, or as close to the thing as she could convince Clarisse to wear in public. Clarisse was aghast to see Gertrude digging in her closet but then even more mortified when she demanded that she wear last year’s prom dress out in the streets! The poor old dress was so terribly out of fashion that Clarisse would be forced to remain out of social reach for at least a week if she were foolish enough to give in to her sister’s ravings. Gertude solved this small problem by dashing from the room and presenting her sister with a veil. At first Clarisse had no idea what the filmy material was and then it occurred to her that she could then appease her sister (also something she had never done) and also be out and about without causing a riot and being recognized, as she had feared. As she donned the clothing, still not understanding but so shocked with the morning’s events that she dared not defy her sister, Gertrude dashed from the room and returned almost instantly garbed in one of those weird ensembles she insisted on wearing to Medieval Fairs and Sci-Fi Conventions but this outfit was much more appropriate to the former than the latter.

  “You look like Robin Hood,” laughed Clarisse, as Gertrude tied up the back of her dress.

  Gertrude grinned and said, “one of us had better. Come my Lady!” They donned a pair of cloaks (also quite unfashionable) and made their way out the door and towards the park.

  “I still can’t believe we are doing this,” said Clarisse as they entered the park.

  Gertrude grinned and said, “I cannot believe you are doing this, but I can easily believe I am doing this.”

  Clarisse nodded dully, remembering all the times her weird sister had dressed up to attend movie premieres, book signings, and conventions. On their own street, had there been anyone to observe they might have been remarked, but in the park they were quite overlooked, as the various denizens thereof were even more aberrantly arrayed than themselves. There were the punk kids with their tattered clothes, chains, tattoos, and interesting hair colors. There was a wedding party posing for pictures. There was a herd of young people wearing nothing but black, complete with stygian hair and make-up. There were clowns and street performers and old ladies with blue hair, and in the mix no one noticed the pair of oddly clad young ladies. They had circled the park halfway when finally a vehicle drawn by something of vaguely equine descent stood waiting, as had the Handsome Cabs of London in bygone years. Clarisse gave one desperate look to her sister, who only laughed excitedly and drew her into the buggy.

  The door closed behind them, the driver whipped up the beast, and off they rattled. It was completely dark in the little carriage, for the windows were covered and the doors were shut. Clarisse wondered if perhaps she had wandered into a bad dream. Gertrude was so happy she hoped she would not wake up and spoil it; her only disappointment was that her sister seemed to be the heroine of this tale rather than herself. They rattled on for what seemed hours but was perhaps only five minutes, when the driver stopped the creature pulling the vehicle, descended from his perch, and opened the door while bowing deeply to its occupants. They stood before an enormous castle that blushed crimson in the rising sun. A middle aged man and woman, both handsome and wearing crowns, stood upon the great steps and stared in wonder at Clarisse; they had yet to notice Gertrude in their excitement.

  Finally the woman spoke, “welcome home, Princess!”

  Gertrude gaped, “you are a princess? Well, I should have known! That explains everything!”

  “And who is this?” asked the King, in some amusement.

  Clarisse stuttered, quite overcome, “my sister.”

  The Royal pair exchanged an amused smile and the Queen said gently, “but child, you have no siblings. Perhaps she is your adopted sister but certainly she is not of Royal Blood.”

  Clarisse’s eyes widened with shock and she said joyfully, “we are not related? That is wonderful! I knew she was too strange to be a blood relative! I at first suspected aliens, but I suppose this is a reasonable alternative. What did you say about me being a Princess?” Quickly the whole tale was told about how the girl’s birth was certainly a proclamation of doom and how she had been sent to another world for everybody’s sake and how her mother in that strange land had only had one baby but somehow everyone thought she had had two quite unidentical twins. And now, the time had come for Clarisse to marry and live happily ever after. Clarisse gaped, “but how can I marry someone I do not even know? Maybe if he is a Prince and terribly handsome…”

  Said the King, “certainly he is a Prince and Princes by definition must be handsome. You must marry him or Dread Things might result.”

  Wailed Clarisse, “none of my friends can see me arrayed for a Royal Wedding?! This guy had better be handsome, rich, and a member of a popular boy band, or at least European.”

  The King and Queen exchanged a flummoxed look, not understanding the last part but the King replied soothingly, “worry not my dear, for the entire Kingdom shall see you so beautifully attired! Your fickle friends in that other world could never compare to those you shall certainly make in your true home.”

  The thought of being the most beautiful and popular woman in the Kingdom suddenly quieted the raging Clarisse, who then said upon further thought, “what if I do not like this Prince?”

  Said the King grimly, “as I said, Dread Things will likely result. Know you not your history?”

  Clarisse gaped, “how am I to know the history of a land I have never visited or even dreamed of? I hardly know anything about American history, or at least American history prior to the advent of the internet, which was when reality really began.”

  Gertrude could stand it no more, “Clarisse, are you an absolute imbecile? They are not speaking of a specific history but of the history of Fairyland in general. Have you never read a fairy tale?”

  Clarisse shrugged, “does watching that cartoon with the singing mice count?“

  The King was astonished at such disrespect for his daughter and at the weird name she apparently bore in The Other World. He said in a somewhat miffed tone, “my dear young lady! You must hereafter address your former sister as Her Royal Majesty the Princess Flufflebun.” Clarisse turned red with shame or anger, perhaps both; she liked the sound of everything except the last part.

  Gertrude asked pleasantly, though desperately concealing a laugh, “I beg your pardon Majesty, but I knew not your customs and old habits shall certainly die hard. May I beg to call Her Majesty ‘Fluffy’ or something less onerous in less than formal settings?”

  The Queen smiled demurely and said, “that sounds a grand idea child, and we shall grant this strange request because you are sisters, at least in another world. It seems you know something of our history?”

  Gertrude made a very proper courtesy to the Queen and said, “of your land in particular I know not even the name Majesty, but I am something of a scholar in Fairylore, as it were, and know well the inevitability of the disaster of which you speak if Certain Things are not accomplished.” Clarisse snorted in derision, thinking her sister too imbecilic to know anything of use or import.

  The Queen nodded gravely and said, “and will your sister abide by our Royal Decree or shall we face the Consequences?”

  Gertrude said quietly, “the decision must be hers Majesty but I pray her better nature wins out.”

  Clarisse grimaced, “I shall do as I think best…mother. Perhaps you should introduce me to Prince Charming before I make up my mind.”

  The King clapped his hands and servants rushed upon the small gathering like crows upon carrion, as he said, “that is a wonderful idea, my dear. His name is Prince Slofelling III, darling; Prince Charming LXVII, his younger brother, recently married some third-rate Princess of Glopenstein. He will be at the ball tonight, which celebrates your return to Lofrenier.” Then the servants swept them off to prepare for the ball. The King said quietly to the Queen, once the horde had vanished, “what think you my dear?”

  The Queen sighed, “I am afraid we sent her to the wrong world. She is a bit too arrogant, but perhaps it is only the strangeness of the situation?” The King could only shake his head in commiseration.

  Finally Clarisse’s dream had come true: she had minions and lackeys galore; they would make her as beautiful as possible without her having to lift a finger! Thus giving her plenty of time to interrogate her annoying ex-sister, who was not quite so pleased to be going through such a dressing ritual. Clarisse demanded of Gertrude, as the servants fussed about their hair, “what exactly is going on? Why is everyone convinced that the end of the world is going to happen if I don’t marry prince what’s his name?”

  Gertrude shook her head grimly, annoying the servants by disarraying the carefully coiled strands, “do you know nothing? In every single myth, legend, and fairy tale, Something Dreadful always happens when the Princess is about to marry. It may not be the end of the world but it will be Dreadful! You must marry this Prince and soon, or we all might be doomed.”

  Clarisse whined, “but I am too young to get married. Besides who gets married anymore, anyway? What if I do not like this guy?”

  Gertrude said bluntly, “then you doom us all.”

  Clarisse sighed, “then I had better try at least. Marriage cannot be worse than death I suppose.” The servants spent the better part of the day fussing over the ladies and finally they finished just ten minutes before the ball was to begin. Clarisse laughed for joy, she had never felt so regal. Even Gertrude, usually a bit of a tomboy, was pleased with the results.

  A harried looking servant waited anxiously for the ladies to emerge from their toilette, and after making the appropriate courtesies, said hastily, “your Majesty must hasten to follow me, else she shall be late for her grand entrance.”

  Clarisse er… Princess Flufflebun gasped and said, “how dreadful. Lead on young man!”

  The servant bowed and scurried off as quickly as seemed proper for a royal heiress to proceed. Upon nearing the ballroom, he advised her Highness that once she heard the flourish of the trumpets, she must make her entrance through the curtains yonder. Her attendant could then inconspicuously follow after. Whether Clarisse or Gertrude was more incensed at the idea of the latter waiting upon the former, none will ever know, but at that moment the trumpets cried aloud, saving the poor servant from anything worse than two murderous feminine glares. Catching their meaning, he wisely chose to absent himself immediately from their presence. Clarisse then made her first official appearance as Princess Flufflebun and the courtiers and guests gathered in the ballroom went mad with delight. Gertrude allowed the uproar to die down and followed quietly after.

  Gertude wandered about the heavily laden food tables, sampling the strange provender while her sister was gaily introduced to all and sundry by her overjoyed parents. After the extensive introductions and other formalities had been accomplished, it was time to dance, and dance they did. All night did they dance and did not retire until it was truly the dawning of the following day. Of course all the young gallants wished a chance to grace the floor with the stunning and long awaited Princess, but that honor fell almost exclusively to her affianced Prince. He was a splendid dancer and spent most of the night whirling her about to the envy and joy of all there present, thus Clarisse had very little idea of his personality but he was handsome even in his strange clothes, which sufficed for the present. Gertrude was not overly impressed with the Prince despite his good looks, for he did not deign to dance with nor even acknowledge the late sister of her Highness. But then no one paid her much heed, for she was wont to lurk in the shadows and watch all that went on, she had no title or riches, and who could pay attention to such an insignificant creature when the true Princess had returned? Mostly Gertrude was content to remain unnoticed, but somewhere deep within she felt a pang of sadness at the apparent apathy or even outright rejection of the court. She might say she needed no one’s affirmation but like all mortal men, her soul quailed to think herself unloved of all men.

  As morning made her presence known, the guests gratefully retreated to their beds. The Princess said goodnight to her newfound parents and in parting, they informed her that the wedding was to take place in three days, at which Clarisse gaped, whereupon her mother informed her gently that gaping was not a habit becoming in anyone, most especially a Princess of Lofrenier. Clarisse yawned widely, which gained her another brief admonition from her mother on the proper decorum befitting Princesses of Lofrenier, but she replied tiredly, “I had best get some sleep.” Her parents agreed and a servant appeared to lead her to her chambers.

  The exhausted and disappointed Gertrude followed reluctantly after. The servant eyed her strangely but decided that this bedraggled creature must be the strange lady’s maid that had accompanied the Princess on her journey home, so he said nothing of her presence and admitted her Majesty to her chambers. Clarisse flopped herself down upon the grand bed and groaned, “oh, my aching feet! I am to marry in three days! What am I to do?”

  Gertrude lay half somnolent in a chair and replied, “either marry the man or declare immediately that it cannot be and thus doom these poor folk to their fate.”

  Clarisse sighed, “at least he is handsome and rich. I am sure he must have some musical skill. It could be worse. Besides, I am starting to like this Princess thing. Though I must find myself a better entourage. Gertrude, you cannot be my constant attendant.” Gertrude’s only reply was a hearty snore. Once the ladies had wakened from their much needed slumber and after a hearty repast, the conversation was resumed. What was to come of Gertrude? Obviously Clarisse was resigned to her fate, but she could not abide having her nerdy sister ever underfoot, nor would Gertrude be happy in such a position. “Perhaps you could return home,” mused Clarisse.

  Gertrude gave her an astonished look, “and leave my only chance at living every geek’s dream? I will make my own way in this strange new world and forget all that has been before.”

  Clarisse began to yawn but checked herself, trying to become the lady she must now be, “sounds like a plan to me. When do you leave?” Gertrude gave her a pathetic look, that might have twinged what little heart Clarisse might have at such a lack of fondness for her onetime sister, but it did not show upon her countenance. Sighed she, “well, I suppose you can come to the wedding, but then the entire Kingdom has been invited. Perhaps you can call?” Gertrude gave Clarisse a patient look, but she seemed oblivious to the fact that it would be many centuries yet before telephones invaded this hitherto peaceful land.

  Gertrude stood, saying, “then this is goodbye Highness, and I wish you and yours all the best. Farewell.” She left the room and Clarisse returned to her eggs, wondering if they might find her some ketchup somewhere.

  Gertrude found a servant and asked if she might have an audience with the King. The servant replied that their Majesties were not to be disturbed but that the Steward might perhaps listen to her concerns. She followed her unhappy guide, who handed her off to the Steward and then vanished once more upon his own interrupted errands. Said she to the venerable man before her, “sir, I would ask what is to be my own part in this tale? My late sister is content to take her appointed place yet I am alone and adrift in this strange land. Any boon you can offer me, gladly would I receive it.”

  The aged man said thoughtfully, “you seem an earnest maid and I have seen the disdain with which you have been treated. If you do not desire to remain here in the favor of our Princess, I will offer you what help I can in equipping you for a life elsewhere.” And in so saying he did. Gertrude was soon clad as a peasant maiden and given a small supply of food and coins and those things necessary for a journey. She would rather have set out attired as she had arrived, but such was considered scandalous by those about her, save in times of dire need when the story required the heroine to garb herself as a man, thus to save her life. So it was that she set out sensibly, though girlishly clad, not knowing quite what to do with herself but with a rising sense of hope in knowing that in a place such as this, surely adventure must soon beset her.

  She asked directions to the nearest Fairywood and the man said, “what sensible maid would venture thither? Only young heroes set out a’questing would dare such a thing, but do as you will.” He then told her how to get there and off she went. The King and Queen were much disturbed to discover that the girl had vanished ere their waking, but dared make no fuss about the matter for reasons of their own. So involved was Clarisse with her own affairs that she was quite oblivious to the vanishment of her sister.

  Gertrude followed the winding road for most of the day, it was a pleasant land of rolling hills and scattered trees, but the ever growing blotch on the horizon promised a great forest lay before her. She rested briefly beside the road beneath an agreeable tree to consume her midday meal, but was soon enough off, hoping to reach that mysterious wood before dark. About mid-afternoon, she stood on the edge of the forest. It was not one of those dark, scary woods where mostly dreadful things dwell, the kind that grow about witch’s castles and where the undead seem to frequent; most of the residents were probably very much alive, by the look of it. The forest was as pleasant as the land without, she shouldered her satchel and walked boldly into the woods. One can tell much about a Fairywood by its appearance, much as one can tell a lot about a neighborhood by its upkeep. No self-respecting vampire or evil troll would be found in such a place. What with the birds chirping, squirrels doing whatever squirrels do, and actual sunlight reaching the forest floor, it was downright disgusting! There were no half-starved wolves, giant spiders, or even cursed pools of water. Instead there were bunnies, gobs and gobs of bunnies!

  Yes, bunnies, so many bunnies that the wolves were all well fed and no true hero would dare show his face in such a place. Even the trees were polite in this bizarre forest. Which is why Gertrude met Steve as she entered the local chapter of the Fairywood. Steve, as you can tell by his unheroic name, was not much of a hero. He only hung out in this particular Fairywood so the real heroes would not laugh at him in the cooler Fairywoods of the world. When Gertrude first espied our valiant subhero, he was locked in mortal conflict with a butterfly, a foe almost as feared as the bunnies. It was hard to tell who was winning, but as the insect was not even aware of the combat, it was probably a draw. Suddenly the subhero noticed he had an audience and with one last, grand thrust, the butterfly flew idly away as the boy put up his sword. He bowed deeply to this humble maiden (one never knew if a strange woman might not be a princess or a witch in disguise, so it was always wise to be polite); she made the appropriate gesture in return. Suddenly a troop of the strangest looking creatures Gertrude had ever seen traipsed between them.

  Steve said politely to their lost seeming leader, “there is nothing of interest here my good man, try the Dreadful Mountains about eighty leagues to the South. Good Hunting!” The goofy looking boy nodded his thanks and ordered his motley troop towards the south. She looked at Steve blankly and he shrugged, “just some lost tourists from The Other World. They pretend to come here and achieve great things while playing a weird sort of game with dice, sometimes their imaginations are so vivid they accidentally end up here in truth. But there’s nothing of interest for them here, but there are all sorts of Dreadful Things in the Mountains.”

  Gertrude shook here head in astonishment, wondering if that was what nerds looked like when they grew up, a hideous thought indeed! “What exactly are you doing here yourself, sir?” queried the maiden.

  Steve bowed expansively and said, “I am called Steve and I am not quite a hero.”

  “Steve?” asked she, “just plain Steve? What kind of a heroic name is that?”

  He shrugged, “it’s not, but then I’m not really much of a hero. All my brothers went off to fight an evil mage and got turned into quite respectable trees: oak, rowan, hickory. I went and he said he wanted to renew his subscription to ‘Vile Spells Quarterly.’”

  “Oh,” said she with some disappointment, “my name is Gertrude and I am quite alone in this strange place with neither kith nor kin, I had been hoping to come across someone who might help me find my place in this peculiar land.”

  Steve brightened, dug around in his belt pouch for a moment, and pulled out a shiny silver badge that read, ‘Official Guide.’ He proudly pinned it on and Gertrude could only sigh, but could not refuse his help without being impolite. Just Plain Steve led the way deeper into the wood. Said he as they marched along, “it was quite providential that you found me, lady, for you undoubtedly need a place to stay for the night and I know the best inn in the forest. You will never sleep better than at the Inn of Glitch.”

  She raised her eyebrows, “the Inn of Glitch?”

  Steve asked in surprise, “you have not heard of Glitch?”

  She shook her head, “I am quite a stranger here.”

  He smiled in anticipation of regaling her with his vast knowledge of this rather unremarkable part of Lofrenier. “Glitch,” he said, “is a prosperous community in the heart of the forest. It is home to many somewhat interesting people, some of whom are actually successful at whatever it is they are supposed to be or do. The rest are, well…outcasts, losers, failures, that sort of thing.”

  She frowned, “it is not a den of iniquity where all sorts of shady characters can be found?”

  Steve said sadly, “it is nothing half so interesting, actually it is quite a nice sort of community.”

  “Nice?” came the aghast question.

  Steve shuddered, “yes, nice. There is no more proper word to describe it. Even the adjectives are pathetic in such a place.” What kind of a town could this be? She had never imagined anything so terrible!

  They ambled along the lovely path for a good half hour until they came at last to what could only be Glitch (not to be confused with the Dwarf Punk Band of the same name). It was…well… nice! Lovely little cottages with well tended gardens and neat shops (yes, gasp, neat too!) lined the cobblestone streets; characters you might see in one of those movies with the singing mice smiled and waved at one another and occasionally broke into a choreographed singing and dancing routine. They stopped outside of the inn, which might have crawled out of a little girl’s illustrated storybook, and Steve asked proudly, “well?”

  Gertrude shook her head sadly, “it is certainly nice, neat, and well, rather dull.”

  Steve nodded, “it wasn’t always so pleasant, but one of those good fairies came along and thought she was doing the town a favor by granting the residents unending peace and giddiness, such is the result. It is nice, but it is also very dull, especially once you’ve seen all the chorus numbers eighteen times. Shall we go in?” Gertrude nodded and preceded her guide into the picturesque inn.

  It was early in the day so there was hardly anyone about except a fat, smiling innkeeper, the requisite cat on the hearthrug, and a few scattered individuals who could not stand another spontaneous chorus of, ‘We Are So Happy it Hurts.’ Gertrude allowed Steve to pull out a stool for her at one of the corner tables and then seated himself. She smiled, glad to know that chivalry was not dead in this strange country, nor was it even slightly under the weather. The innkeeper brought them the standard (and only) house brew while Steve took off his guide button that they might speak upon non-professional topics. She eyed him curiously; he shrugged and said, “it’s a living.” She nodded and he continued, “so what is your…”

  She strained to hear the last word, “my what?” He mouthed the word again. She frowned, “my quest?”

  Steve looked at her with horror filled eyes as the nearly deserted room suddenly burst into chaos. Any number of out of work and down on their luck adventure seekers suddenly swarmed about the table. It took Steve ten minutes to quiet the giddy throng as he tried to explain to Gertrude the dangers of mentioning the Q word in such a place. She could see the obvious results and promised never to do such a silly thing again. Once the assembled creatures were quiet, Steve sorted through them with comments like, “sorry Chicamomicamar, not today,” and “we are not really in need of your magical sneezes.” The disappointed has-beens and never-wases left with slumping shoulders and teary eyes until only three remained.

  A tiny person stood on the end of the table, a llama with a horn on its nose looked at them eagerly, and a cloud of greenish-orange gas floated beside the llama. Steve made introductions, “this is Melvin the Giant.” In a side whisper he added, “he’s really an Imp but he thinks himself a Giant; it was all those self-esteem lectures they get in pixie school that did it, he really took them to heart.” Louder, he continued, “this is Ludwig the rhinoceros and Stench the gaseous anomaly.”

  Gertrude frowned at Ludwig, “you look like a llama with a horn on your nose.”

  The camelid nodded, “is that not the definition of rhinoceros? Horned nose? I am precisely what I claim to be.”

  “I see,” said she, though clearly she did not. She looked at the gas cloud, “what is a gaseous anomaly?”

  Stench replied, “it is the result of a dwarf eating a deep fried burrito. The chemical reaction that occurs occasionally results in a product with a life of its own. Like me. Sadly, I am not considered appropriate in polite society.”

  Gertrude said in wonder, “you cannot help your upbringing I suppose.”

  She whispered to Steve, “why did you not get rid of all of them?”

  He said in an undertone, “I could not have gotten rid of any of them if I had tried to be rid of them all. Don’t blame me, you are the one who mentioned the Q word.” He said for all to hear, “what then is our…agenda…my lady?”

  Gertrude stared at him blankly and said, “I have no idea.”

  The entire company suddenly broke into excited cheers and eagerness lit their eyes. She stared at Steve for interpretation. He said, “most agendas that might be attempted in Lofrenier are too dangerous, complicated, or important to be risked by the likes of us. Your agenda, what little of it there is, sounds like one we can actually manage and in accomplishing it, we can become heroes and perhaps free ourselves from this absurd nonexistence.”

  She nodded in comprehension but asked, “then how do we know when we have accomplished our task?” She smiled in understanding, answering her own question, “we just set forth and whatever befalls us is our destined adventure.”

  Steve nodded, “precisely. We shall set out at dawn.” He glanced around, but a look of disappointment crossed his face as he noticed that there were no shadowy figures about that might be plotting against them. Only the cat on the hearthrug paid them any attention at all, and that only a benign contempt

  They went to bed at a reasonable hour and left at a quite unreasonable hour. This was dawn? Gertrude asked why they had been roused from their beds in the darkest hour of the night and Steve simply replied, “that is the proper hour to go adventuring.” She sighed and continued to march along in silence, why did she persist in asking such silly questions?

  The two humans walked, the gaseous anomaly (hereafter the GA) floated along, and the llamaceros trotted along with the Imp/Giant and the tavern cat on his back. Why the cat had decided to join them was anybody’s guess, but then who, in any world, ever understands cats? Gertrude yawned another silly question, “are we not to soon meet a wizened old man to give us direction or pose us a riddle?”

  Steve shrugged, “as there are no real heroes in this wood, there is little need for a Wise Man, but Wise Guys we have aplenty. I would be content if we were spared such company, myself.” The assorted company muttered their agreement, but as always happens in fairy stories, once the question had been spoken aloud, it was not too many chapters later that the prophecy fulfilled itself. And so did Hamric the Disgraced Comedian join their enigmatic company. They found the poor fellow sitting forlornly on the side of the road and though Steve hastened their pace, it was too late. He joined their party as they jogged past and immediately began telling jokes that were old even in this Medieval world. Steve said in an undertone, to Gertrude’s aghast face, “that is what happens when you inadvertently insult a witch in a nightclub.” She shivered and hoped such a ghastly fate would never befall her. They marched on.

  They stopped at daybreak for a much needed rest and some breakfast. Hamric proved his usefulness to the company by producing a Hat of Unspoiling Bounty. He took off his magical headgear and from it produced a can of semi-edible pork product, a plastic wrapped, crème-filled sponge cake, and a case of diet cola. It was not the organic, froufrou elvish fare sometimes found in such tales, but it kept them fed, even the GA would not stoop to eating tofu though maybe the cat would, you never know with cats. As they ate, Gertrude asked, “are any of you going to the wedding?”

  They stopped eating and stared at her in astonishment. The Imp intoned, “silly girl, I am not getting married.” His ego could not fathom attending an event not featuring himself.

  Steve asked, “you mean The Wedding?! I had not heard the Princess had returned! When is it?”

  Gertrude said, “the day after tomorrow.”

  Steve paled, “so He has two days to wreak havoc ere Happily Ever After sets in.”

  Gertrude frowned, “who is He?”

  Steve said in confusion, “you do not know who He is?” Gertrude shook her head as Steve asked, “what world are you from?” She shrugged and he continued, “He is the Dark Lord, the ultimate evil in our world.”

  She asked, “what is His name?”

  Steve shook his head, “no one knows. It was so long and unpronounceable that it was forgotten long ago. He is simply He, Him, the Dark Lord, or He Who Cannot Be Pronounced, if you are being formal.”

  Gertrude asked, “why would He want to stop the wedding?”

  Steve replied, “He cannot stand Happily Ever After, it does horrible things to the morale of his Minions. They get the idea that they should live Happily Ever After too. And we all know that is a ridiculous aspiration for a Minion. A Minion’s sole task in life is to die by the hundreds in pointless conflict, they can’t do that if they want to live happily ever after. So He will stop at nothing to see that it does not come to pass. We had better head back to the capital and see if we can intercede between the Princess and the Dark Lord before it is too late.” Like a well trained army, they packed up their strange rations and marched hastily back the way they had come, hoping they would not arrive too late. Had the Princess known they intended to crash her wedding, she would have refused to proceed with the whole affair.

  By sunset, the bizarre little band had arrived in the capital city and lost themselves in the crowd. Gertrude felt like she was in the midst of the best fantasy convention ever, never had she seen so many interesting and fantastic creatures, except that time she went to a midnight movie at the bargain cinema back home. Steve said thoughtfully, “we need a way to get into the wedding.”

  Gertrude grinned impishly and led the party to the great square where the festivities would be held the next morning. “What are you doing?” gasped the flummoxed unhero.

  She took a seat and motioned for the others to do the same saying, “we are getting our seats. There is an open invitation for the entire Kingdom to come so we might as well get good seats.”

  Steve was perplexed, “who would come so early only to secure a place at an event that will not occur for twelve hours or more?”

  Gertrude laughed, “you would not believe what people would do where I come from just to be first in line.” Steve did not look any less confused but he took his place and wearily waited for dawn.

  They roused from their uncomfortable doze when the early guests started seating themselves. A regal lady in her middle years seated herself next to the GA and stared in horror at Steve, who sat on its other side, thinking he had done the unspeakable. He smiled sheepishly and continued to scan the area, looking for any sign of trouble. He need not have bothered, nothing exciting happened until the presentation of the bride, when the cat dashed from his seat, grabbed the girl, and suddenly vanished. Steve muttered, “I knew we should have never trusted a cat.” He looked at the others, “come on, we have a magazine to deliver.”

  As if this made perfect sense, they followed him unquestioningly, but were stopped short as the King bellowed, “not so fast. You cannot leave until that girl is married.”

  Gertrude stared at the King, aghast, “why ever for? It is not as if I am a princess or anything nearly so interesting.”

  “But you are,” said the smiling Queen.

  Steve smacked his forehead, “of course! Why did I not think you would so hide the real princess? But are we not to rescue the poor girl?”

  The Queen’s answer calmed the quite worried frown that creased Gertrude’s brow, at least until she processed the meaning of the last bit, “certainly you must rescue the poor creature, but not before the Princess is properly married, thereafter she may do as it pleases her.”

  “Wait,” gasped Gertrude, “you mean I am the true princess Flufflebun and have to marry Prince what’s his name?”

  “Certainly not,” said the King, “what a ridiculous name for a royal personage!” Gertrude began to relax but the King had not finished, “your true name is Marguerite Johanna Eloise Penelope VIII.”

  Gertrude, er Marguerite, grimaced, “much better, truly.”

  The Queen added, “and you may marry the man of your choosing, as long as he isn’t an enchanted tree or something.”

  Gertrude protested, “but I don’t know anyone well enough to marry them.”

  The Queen shook her head, “well, the longer you dither the more danger your adoptive sister will find herself in.”

  Gertrude sighed, “Steve?”

  The hero-wannabe gasped, “me? Seriously?”

  She smiled grimly, “you might be a lousy hero but you are a decent fellow and the only eligible guy I know in this bizarre land.”

  Steve shrugged and a hasty wedding followed with much rejoicing (and an even greater sigh of relief). The requisite fairy godmother appeared shortly after the nuptials to bless the couple with the usual gifts of graciousness, wisdom, and so forth. Once that ordeal was over, another fairy person made her approach to the couple. The King gasped, “you have not come to hex our poor child Moargoth, we did invite you to the wedding after all?”

  The rather wicked looking fairy laughed heartily, “certainly not, it was nice to finally be invited to such a function rather than having to crash the party and curse the poor dear. I have come to bestow my gifts on the happy couple, which are far more useful and interesting than those of my nicey-nice cousin.” It was at this point that they began to realize that maybe she was not entirely evil after all, but rather liked to dress in a Gothic style, which was just beginning to become trendy in that world. Everyone within hearing looked quite interested in this proposition, except the poor nice fairy who would have glowered were it in her nature, instead she vanished after a woeful look at all and sundry. “First,” said Moargoth, “if you are going to rescue that brainless bit of fluff, you will need some more intimidating allies.” She rolled up her sleeves and got to work.

  The imp finally reached the gigantesque proportions he entertained in his imagination, the rhinocerllama became a terrifying unicorn, but the GA was left unchanged as there is nothing more dangerous in the known or imagined universe, except perhaps a bad comedian, which is why Hamric found himself quite himself as well. To the new prince-by-marriage, she gave this hint, “you are quite right to pursue a certain evil mage in this matter, you already know he has a fondness for arcane magazines, but you must also know he tends to be a bit absentminded and very particular, you should be able to use this to your advantage. If you successfully complete this quest, you shall be a hero indeed and will be in desperate need of a more appropriate name. As for you princess, you might find this small yappy dog quite useful. If not, feed it to your gaseous friend.” Then she was gone.

  The party exchanged a wondering look, made their farewells to the royal parents, and swiftly departed. They were quite happy with the magnificent horses they were allowed to borrow from the royal stables, but had been firmly warned to bring them back with full stomachs and they were not to attempt any stunt riding, they were just to rescue the poor girl and come straight home. They even provided a fuzzy pink purse to carry the small, evil dog in.

  Gertrude asked of her new lord, “who exactly is this evil mage of yours and why did he kidnap my sister? I thought only He Whose Name is Tedious or whatever you call Him was interested in messing up her Happily Ever After.”

  Steve the Unglorious replied, “I now believe that He and the rather insignificant evil mage of my previous acquaintance are one and the same, much as you, my beloved, are truly a princess. Your true guise was hidden for reasons that at the time seemed sensible. What better way to hide your true identity as the Most Evil Mage in the World than by being a rather drab evil mage in a low rent part of the realm?” She shook her head in wonder, could this tale get any stranger? And as you full well know, it did simply because she thought it couldn’t. They rode on for several days, still grateful to the Benevolent Hat of Hamric for its sustaining but inglorious fare. They rode on for another round of several more days after that (feel free to insert tedious descriptors of the countryside here, it should fill several pages at the least). Finally they came to the foothills of the Dreadful Mountains, which were swathed in a Dark and Terrifying Forest where they met some old friends. The troop of nerds met this strange company with some hesitancy, trying to decide if this were a rival gang of geeks or perhaps an expedient way to level up, but finally deciding it must be some new plot twist introduced by a desperate GM to keep things interesting and therefore not immediately hostile.

  “Whither goest thou?” came the curious lilting voice of the leader, who seemed to be speaking in a bad Scottish accent.

  Steve frowned at the nerd leader in incomprehension. Gertrude giggled in a very unprincess like fashion and said politely, “we all love the good King’s English, but a more modern vernacular is an acceptable alternative.”

  Much relieved, as he knew little of that forgotten tongue, the lead nerd said, “where are you going and may we be of assistance?”

  Steve shook his head, “we are going to rescue a non-princess from a false feline.”

  “Sounds like a perfectly reasonable quest,” said he, “we are in. What are the rules?”

  Steve frowned again in confusion but Gertrude said, “rescuing the girl without getting ourselves killed or turned into trees are about the only ground rules.”

  “Drat,” said the nerd, “I had at least hoped that fire weapons were worth double points, but I suppose we had best do this your way.” Gertrude laughed aloud and Steve just scratched his head.

  The nerds introduced themselves to the flummoxed company of would-be heroes as a band of dwarves, elves, halflings, weredragons, and a vegan vampire. The gigantesque imp said to them in a whisper that shook the trees, “I know a not-so-good fairy that can help you with your identity issues. She did me worlds of good, finally convinced my body to be what my mind always knew I was.” They exchanged confused looks but nodded as if they knew exactly what the giant was babbling about; it was not wise to disagree with someone ten feet tall at the knees.

  They camped for the night outside the Dark and Terrible Forest and planned to make their way into its mysterious depths at first light, which is the only time one ever dares such a thing (otherwise you keep bumping into trees in the dark and it is rather embarrassing). Morning came, the unicorn returned from his midnight scouting foray and said that the dark mage’s hut lay less than an hour’s journey into the wood and that the local troll union was on its yearly picnic in the Moldering Swamp so the way was relatively clear of enemies. They set forth into the Forest, wondering at the great difference between this place and the forest that had been their home. There was not a bunny in sight and the trees looked quite disagreeable, even the squirrels were black and boasted large teeth and creepy red eyes. They trudged on without incident and came to an assiduously maintained dilapidated hovel, obviously the owner was very persnickety in the upkeep of his downtrodden abode. Steve smiled, particular about the details indeed; he had a plan and quickly recounted it to the others, who stared at him in incomprehension but each would do their part.

  He knocked boldly upon the door and it was answered by a stooped man with a trailing beard and half-moon spectacles. He blinked at the party standing about outside his door, not quite sure what to think. This certainly was no band of heroes so he need not immediately turn them into trees, unless of course they proved irksome, wanted donations for some noble cause, or were members of an obscure religion seeking converts. Steve pulled a stack of periodicals from beneath his tunic and said, “I have brought the magazines you ordered Master Mage, how will you be paying for them?”

  The mage blinked at him again, but finally understood and an eager smile lit his face, “of course, of course, I am really excited about that new alchemy spell in the latest issue, to think they discovered how to turn lead into apple butter!”

  “Quite useful I am sure,” quoth Steve, “that will be two pieces of gold, five pieces of silver, and seventeen pieces of tin.”

  The Mage nodded happily, disappearing into the house to retrieve his magical coin purse. He returned and said quite embarrassed, “I am so sorry, I do not seem to have exact change. Will you take three gold pieces instead? I am fresh out of tin!”

  Steve looked rather shocked, “sir, I could not! I must have exact change or I may be accused of price gouging or banditry! Certainly not. I must have exact change or I fear I will have to revoke your subscription and you’ll lose your complimentary frog itcher too!”

  “Oh!” said the Mage in some distress, “we certainly cannot have that! A frog itcher? I never knew I needed one, but it sounds too good a deal to pass up. Let me see?” He thought for a few moments and then his face brightened, “I know!” He said some very ominous sounding words and suddenly all the noble trees that bedecked his front yard suddenly stretched, yawned, and looked far more like a dozen flummoxed heroes than a lovely grove. “Don’t know what the Neighborhood Committee will say about that, but it may be my only hope of saving my subscription. Come lads, have you got any tin? If you can scrounge up seventeen pieces of tin I’ll give you your freedom in exchange.”

  The former trees all shared an excited grin and began turning out their pockets. They found the requisite number of coins and eagerly handed them to the wizard before dashing quickly off into the forest before he changed his mind. The wizard nearly glowed with excitement as he gave Steve his money and took his magazines and free gift. He flipped through the top issue and looked a bit disappointed that there was no mention of his latest exploit. He suddenly glared at the strange company about him, “how many people does it take to deliver a magazine? Who are you?”

  Steve smiled in grim amusement and said, “we are here to rescue the princess!”

  The mage smiled wickedly and said, “no, you are going to improve my landscaping before the neighbors complain.” But before he could work his vile magic, the GA engulfed him and he dared not breathe, lest he inhale the noxious fumes.

  “Very good,” said Steve, as the magician started turning blue, “Hamric, you know what to do.” The comedian started his routine and the now purple magician looked like he might explode or faint. He could not utter foul incantations thanks to the GA and the bad jokes prevented him from concentrating and thus using his cunning to escape this snare. He was forced to stand there, helpless and purple, at the mercy of his captors. Long after this adventure, Hamric and the GA started their own evil mage capture business and made a very good living thereafter.

  Gertrude burst into the house, searching for her sister. What she found was an aviary with a hundred different birds in it; instinctively she knew one of those feather brains must be her sister, but which one? A smile grew on her face as she saw the magpie. She pulled the designer canine from its fuchsia handbag and launched it at the vain, chattering bird. The dog licked the bird, and suddenly it was Clarisse, simultaneously bemoaning her lack of stylish attire and rumpled hair and gushing over the small furry dog. Gertrude shook her head in wonder, and handed her sister the pink fuzzy dog purse and a hairbrush. Clarisse stowed the dog in the handbag and began the laborious process of straightening her hair, which would take even longer than this entire adventure.

  Steve came into the house, smiled to see the lady restored, and asked Gertrude for seven pairs of ruby slippers. She stared at him in confusion, but remembering the magical virtue inherent in ruby slippers, she assisted her beloved in ransacking the house in search of the appropriate footwear. All they could find were red bowling shoes, but they would have to do. Steve looked at Clarisse and asked, “lady, is it your wish to remain here or would you return to your own wild and dangerous world?”

  Clarisse looked at him as if he were mad, “you think I would remain here a minute longer than I have to? Get me out of here!”

  He bowed, tossed her a pair of shoes, and ran out the door. Clarisse grimaced at the unstylish footwear but put them on, she was horrified to see the small herd of geeks doing likewise and nearly took them off again, but for a firm look from Gertrude. Nearly in tears, she complied. To think she would wear anything worn by geeks! Steve was just lacing another pair on the purplish wizard, who was willing to cooperate with anything as long as there was a hope he might draw breath in the next hour. Steve took Clarisse’s hand and led her over to where the geeks and the wizard waited. Gertrude handed Clarisse a bottle of hand sanitizer as she passed, knowing she might otherwise die after this was all over unless she could quickly disinfect herself of nerd germs. Steve gave her hand into that of the head geek and said quickly, “you know what to do. You will have little time once our friend the mage here recovers his breath, so make it quick!”

  They started to click their heels together and repeat the magic words while Hamric and the GA dove for cover, not wishing to accidentally find themselves in that horrific world from which the nerds had come and to which they would return. The mage started to incantate, but suddenly the whole company vanished, dog and all. Gertrude looked to her husband and asked, “was it wise to send that mage into my world?”

  Steve smiled, “he will have no magic there, only his absentminded pickiness will remain to him. What he will do with that, I know not, but he is canny enough to survive and will cause little harm to others, bereft as he is of his magic.”

  Steve was quite right, the mage settled in quite happily and quickly earned a doctorate of Arcane Theorization in Alternate Plane Physics and soon had tenure at a prestigious university. The nerds were quite delighted with their adventure and spent the next six months counting up and arguing over their experience points. Clarisse spent the same amount of time cleansing at the spa, undergoing a detoxifying diet, and complaining incessantly to her shrink, but she was quite smitten with the dog, after all, only the kiss of true love could break the vile mage’s spell. On the way home, the Giant asked of Steve, “what was my part in this whole crazy tale?”

  Steve shrugged, “comic relief.” The Giant smiled and Hamric wept, knowing that role could never more be his.

  Steve received a much more heroic name from the Fairy Goth-mother (she originated the trend after all) and they all went to a Glitch concert to celebrate. So they all lived more or less, happily ever after, that is if you like dwarvish punk music, which would otherwise make for a rather miserable evening, but then, there is always tomorrow!

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