rhian_crockett: A painting of a castle; there is a red flag flying. (Default)
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Five years ago, I wrote a fairytale for my partner for our third anniversary. You can find that here. For our eighth(!) anniversary, I wrote a companion story, which you can find right here. You don't have to read the other one first, but it helps.

Licensed under creative commons BY-NC-SA.




This Is Not A Fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a princess whose birth caused great celebration throughout the surrounding kingdoms. All the fairies of the realm were invited, save one, and that one cursed her to prick her finger on a spindle and fall deep into an enchanted sleep. Some people tell her story with the addition of a prince, some daring exploits, and a traditional wedding at the end. The kiss that woke her is a universal element.

Well, four princes were there, too, and all of them were considered contenders for the honour of that kiss (and subsequently, her hand in marriage), due to a shortage of other eligible princesses. But this is not the story of that princess, for there is no prince in that story (whatever they say): only a kitchen girl whose daring was of a different sort. This is the story of three of those princes -- and of the most beautiful dress a fairy could imagine.

The three princes all knew one another growing up, despite being princes of entirely different kingdoms, because of course they were encouraged to keep only the highest society. They were schooled together, and taught to ride and to fence together, and so naturally the three of them drew closer together all the time. The eldest was a quiet boy, well built and with a pleasant enough face, if not exactly handsome. His chief flaw was his constant struggle with acne, though due to the blessing of a good fairy, the acne left no scars on his face and everyone had high hopes that his skin would settle down and leave him with the right sort of princely complexion once he was fully grown. His name was Brendan.

The second prince was Thomas. While there was nothing wrong with his face or build, he had a perpetual anxious air unsuited to a prince which came from the fact that he had an equally unprincely tendency to be clumsy. No matter how their teachers tried, or his friends coaxed, he would cut himself on his own sword, fall off his horse, drown in a few feet of water, and generally make a mess of things. A fairy with any sense would have seen that a lot of his problems were down to short-sightedness and consequent lack of confidence, and could have given him glasses at least (for spells to do with the eyes are quite tricky things). But glasses aren't a common prop in a fairytale, so I suppose we'll have to do without. And fairies are not, in any case, renowned for their sense.

The third prince was Killian. He was brave and strong and good, as well as charming and handsome to boot. The fairy might perhaps have arranged specially for that one princess to be his wife in due course, if it weren't for one problem: he would have had no interest in her at all. They would have had wonderful conversations about dresses, and sewing, and all sorts of domestic arts usually reserved for princesses, which Killian delighted in every bit as much as she did. But he would never have even thought to kiss her, so such conversations could never have come about anyway.

The three of them got along perfectly, and in fact had no secrets from one another at all, until Brendan was eighteen, Thomas seventeen (and a half, he would add), and Killian exactly seventeen years of age. Well, almost perfectly: as this is a fairytale we shall gloss over the times Brendan sniped at Thomas, or Killian withdrew in a mood, or Thomas said something well-meaning but ill-timed. Killian and Thomas could draw Brendan out of his shell; Brendan and Killian spent many painstaking hours helping Thomas practice his fencing; Thomas and Brendan never laughed at Killian's interest in the domestic sphere, and wore the clothes he made them until they fell apart.

But on Killian's seventeenth birthday, everything changed. For one thing, he had finally received the gift of a fairy wise enough to look into his heart. For another, the princess from that other story had pricked her finger on a spindle and fallen into her deep enchanted sleep at the top of her fairytale-mandated tower, and fast riders had come to the princes -- or more importantly, to each boy's parents, who had a vested interest in sending their sons off on this particular quest. During the night, though, while others discussed the princess and all her fairness and grace, Killian crept from the palace. By some luck that comes only to princes, the guards were all asleep or away from their posts, and he was able to saddle his horse and ride out into the night.

The popular opinion was that he had gone to find the princess in her tower. He was, after all, almost the same age as the sleeping girl -- he had been but a babe in arms at the great feast of celebration when she was born -- and he was handsome, good with a sword, and his bravery was well known. His parents were relieved, having had some suspicions about his willingness to go on any such quest; his future subjects were hopeful, because a wedding meant feasts and general pardons; and one fairy kept her own counsel as regarded the matter.

The next night, though, found Thomas and Brendan in the stables. At least, Thomas found Brendan, by dint of walking right into him and narrowly missing tumbling them both into a heap of something unpleasant.

"What're you doing here?" Brendan hissed, helping Thomas up. "You're not meant to ride out until morning!"

"Neither are you," Thomas said. He tried in the dark to find his horse's tackle. "But I'm not riding to the tower. I'm going to look for Killian."

"Killian can look after himself."

"You don't think he's gone after the princess, either, do you?" Thomas asked. Rather too loudly, as it happens: a dozing guard gave a great snort in his sleep and jerked awake outside. Brendan glared at him and tugged him quickly into the darkest patch of shadows until the guard's soft convenient snoring resumed. He moved quickly then, saddling Thomas' horse as well as his own.

"Of course he hasn't. You'd better grab a few apples for your horse."

"What?"

Brendan sighed. "We need to go, Thomas. Before someone thinks to stop us."

And so it was that the two princes rode out in secret after their friend. Brendan was a competent tracker -- fortunately for Thomas -- and in any case, they had been brought up to believe that because they were princes, everything would turn out for the best for them. If they took the wrong way to begin with, they would meet someone who would set them right and who would also turn out to have the magical words or the mystical key needed. And they would end by finding what they sought.

They didn't account for the fact that since they were blatantly disregarding the rules of fairytales, those rules would not work for them.

"We've been through here three times," Thomas said, hesitantly. "Do you think it's an enchanted maze?"

"No," Brendan said.

"Do you think we're just lost?"

"Yes," Brendan said.

Thomas fed his horse an apple. "I think that's the princess' tower we can see."

"Yes."

"Do you want me to shut up?"

"Yes."

Thomas shut up. Brendan sat still in his saddle, his eyes on the tower up ahead. Finally, he shook his head and swung down from his saddle, taking his sword from where he'd secured it out of the way. "It's no good," he said, quietly. "Someone has to go to the tower. That's how the stories work. So that's what I'll do. You have to go and find Killian." He looked up at Thomas without any sign of a smile on his face. "I'll see you both at my wedding."

Thomas scrambled down from his own horse, in too much of a hurry to remember that he was clumsy and bound to fall. He landed lightly on his feet and grabbed Brendan's arm. "Would that make you happy?" His friend said nothing, and Thomas plunged on carelessly. "I know it wouldn't. You want Killian, not some princess. This isn't a fairytale. That's okay. If it's not going to be happy ever after, you going after the princess won't help anyway."

"So what should we do?"

"Keep looking for Killian," Thomas said, firmly. "Really looking. We can't trust our horses to lead us to him or our instincts, so we have to rely on our wits, instead. Your wits, anyway," he added, because he knew he was no good at tracking. "We're going off-script now. If we meet anyone, they'll try to point us back toward the tower; if we come up against some barrier, we know we're going the wrong way."

Brendan looked at him for a moment and then nodded. He looked at the sword in his hand and then tossed it aside, catching his horse's reins and mounting easily. "Let's get going, then."

It was a long ride, turning always against their instincts, distrusting every stranger and every obstacle. Thomas kept a mental tally: one talking cat, a small giant, a walking tree, three witches, and one swathe of charred land that strongly indicated the presence of a dragon. And a woman in a gingerbread cottage who he suspected might be a fourth witch, but who didn't really count in the tally, as she was waiting for someone else. They were, she said, too big for her oven, and Thomas didn't want to think about what that meant.

There were storms and fogs, suspiciously helpful farmers and suspiciously unhelpful villagers, damp nights curled in the hay in strangely convenient barns. It was hard for the princes to take, used as they were to soft mattresses and warm covers, but they had their own quest, and they had each other. They slept close together for warmth, and Thomas didn't embarrass Brendan by trying to talk about the way he'd hold him in the dead of the night. For one thing, he was afraid he'd stop.

When they found the place at last, they no longer had any doubts. It wasn't a tower, for this wasn't a fairytale: they'd already worked that much out. Nor was it a small but comfortable cottage, because they were usually traps or occupied by princesses in disguise. It was a house, quite modern and plain, with nothing magical or special about it at all. It looked like it had the kind of awkward corners that mean your furniture will never quite fit or look right, and it was lit that night not with the flicker of candles or a warm fire in a grate, but with some steady anachronistic yellow light.

What gave it away more than any of that, though, was Killian's dappled horse looking incongruous in the garden, and Killian himself standing on a stool to groom him comfortably. Thomas gave a glad cry; Brendan caught at his friend's reins before Thomas tried to do something foolish like gallop. They rode up to the little house at a sensible pace.

"How did you find me?" Killian asked, before they were even both dismounted, checking their simultaneous urge to go up and hug him tight.

"Thomas had an idea," Brendan said, at the same moment as Thomas said, "Brendan tracked you."

"But... Why are you here?" His eyes were still confused, as though he was barely taking in what was really happening, having so firmly expected things to turn out otherwise. Brendan shuffled his feet, cleared his throat, searched hard for the words that never would come as glibly as they did to others --

"Because we love you," Thomas said, firmly. He blushed immediately afterwards, ducking his head as he always did when unsure.

"Shouldn't you be... rescuing the princess?"

"No," Brendan said, because that was easy and firm and beside all that, true. He rather thought the princess could take care of herself. It was Killian who looked small and lonely. "Shouldn't you?"

"I..."

"You're different," Thomas said, filling up Killian and Brendan's silence with words, as he often did. "You don't want the princess. Well, that's okay, Killian."

"How can that be okay?" Killian asked -- for he knew his fairytales as well as anyone, having secretly imagined himself at the centre of all of them, and he knew what the role of a prince really is. "We're meant to be... to be racing there, competing for her hand, not leaving her there in that tower!"

"We'd rather compete for you," Thomas said, when Brendan said nothing. "I don't care a bit for a princess. I'd probably trip over her dress, anyway," which was true, "and I'd -- I'd probably make her sick! But you know me. You know all my secrets. You already know that I can't ride a horse unless I bribe it with apples. You know that no fairies came to the banquet when I was born because my mother cooked and she spoils everything like I do and uses fattening ingredients besides. You know that I'm scared of being bitten by a fish while I'm swimming. You -- you know everything, and -- "

"And you like us anyway," Brendan finished. He had an idea that he should say something more, but words never came easily to him. And like Thomas, he knew that Killian could understand. With his better eyesight, though, he could see into the house where Thomas couldn't, into the window of a room where a beautiful dress was laid out on a bed. Suddenly he knew he did have one more thing to say. "And we like you. Even if -- even if you'd rather be a princess."

"I -- I just like to wear dresses sometimes," Killian said, softly, and his face burned with his shame. Brendan took a step closer, but it was Thomas who spoke.

"That's okay. We like you anyway." And he grinned, his big honest grin that didn't suit a prince at all. "We want you, not a princess we barely know."

"But -- "

Brendan cleared his throat a little. "I read fairytales, too," he said, and steeled his courage as much as any prince who climbed a tower to kiss a princess had to when fighting his way inside. "And I know they don't usually end with two princes together, let alone three. But -- three is a magical number. And it's not the people in a fairytale that are important, but the fact that they... they do selfless acts, learn to love, slay the dragons. Achieve their dreams."

He was quite right, too: it was a fairytale after all. A wise sage of our world once said that fairy stories are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they teach us that dragons can be killed. And so fairytales taught Brendan and Killian, and Thomas too, that the thing that wins in the end is love. It's perhaps best not to remark too much upon what the boys did once Killian understood this for himself, but it began with a lot of kissing and some negotiating of rules about who got to kiss who and for how long before someone else should have a chance, and went on to involve Brendan lacing Killian into the dress, and Thomas tripping over Killian's train. It ended with a remarkable lack of any sort of clothing at all, since teenage boys will be teenage boys -- even, apparently, in fairy stories.

(And in a tower, far away, a young serving girl kissed a princess and woke her from her enchanted sleep. Unfortunately for them, they gained an audience fairly swiftly.)
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rhian_crockett: A painting of a castle; there is a red flag flying. (Default)
Rhian Crockett

August 2013

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