The ball was over, and had been so for some time. The Prince was sitting alone in his chamber, the discarded slipper mocking him from its spot on the low table.
The Prince sighed and closed his eyes. It had been late when the last teetering party-goers had wobbled out to their carriages. It was later now. Beyond all that, he had a splitting headache. His father, the King, liked to serve unmixed wine at grand celebrations.
Before the Prince could fully doze off, his chamber door opened and his maid stepped in. Poking him incessantly, she managed to herd him from his couch to his bed.
"I'm too old to be treated poked," he complained, pulling off his shirt.
"Nonsense," countered the maid, who had been with him since his birth. "No man is ever too old to be set right by a woman. Just be sure you pick a woman who knows what she's about." The maid gave him a stern look with this last.
The Prince groaned and flopped back on the bed. "Women'll be the death of me."
The maid's hand smacked him on the knee. "Women are what give men life. It's the fire they breathe."
"I've lived just so fine so far without one."
"Humph. You haven't lived. What have you done? You've sat around in this palace all your years. Some life."
"If it's so horrible, then why is everyone clawing to get in?" The Prince countered.
"They don't have women either," the maid said, shrugging. She pulled off his boots, refilled the water basin and left without another word.
The Prince removed the last of his clothing and laid down in bed. Curled on his side, the light from the outer room hit him in the face. He tried shifting away, but it did little good. With a groan of untold hardship, he forced himself to his feet and went to close the door.
His eyes fell on the slipper. "I should get myself a man-servant," he muttered, closing the door.
The next day the Prince spent avoiding his father and staring at the slipper. If he was left undisturbed, he could trace up from the slipper to the barely glimpsed ankle, the ripples of fabric on the skirt, the smooth line of the bodice, the curve of the shoulders, the slender neck, to - Here he always drew a blank. He could not recall her face, the colour of her eyes. It was as if he had spent the entire night gazing up at her from below and before his eyes could reach her face, she was gone.
She was beautiful, though. He knew that. There could be no doubt about it. He had not been the only man to notice her. He wish he had had the chance to dance with her more than once, but there were so man women there that by the time he had pain them all due courtesy, she had fled.
The Prince left the slipper to go stand before his mirror. Surely he was not so hideous as to have sent her running in terror? or perhaps, he thought as he examined his profile, his dashing good looks had made her feel unworthy.
Yet she was so beautiful! No man could be deserving of her.
On the other hand, she was a woman. He could only hope she was similar to the Queen - calm and quiet - as opposed to his maid.
Thus the Prince stood, perplexed and distraught, when the King entered.
"Well, my boy, have you made your decision?"
The Prince's shoulders visibly slumped. "Must I marry?"
"You're going to need an heir, and a legitimate one. No common whelp can sit on the throne."
"So. Have you made your decision?"
The Prince motioned vaguely with his hand.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Yes and no."
The King lifted a brow and settled his arms over his comfortable girth. "Go on."
"She's beautiful. I just don't know who she is."
"What?" The King's volume was quickly approaching that of a roar. "You were supposed to greet each and every one of them formally. And learn their names!"
"But...there were so many of them..."
"And when you're king there'll be many more, and you must know them all if you expect to keep the assassination attempts at a manageable level."
"I know, but -"
"I don't care. The herald is to go out tonight with the news. What would you have him say? 'The Prince will marry that one really beautiful lady whose name he neglected to obtain, so slack-jawed was he'?"
"Can't you just not send the herald tonight?"
"Of course. I'm king. But I'm not god. And if I don't send the herald we'll be besieged tomorrow morning by desperate women all wanting to know who the lucky one whose eyes they should claw out."
The Prince blinked a few times, started to laugh, saw the look on his father's face, changed his mind, and sighed instead. He walked over to the table and lifted the slipper, slowly turning its delicate surface over in his hand. "What about postponing it?"
"I already told you -"
"I don't mean the herald. The announcement. Send out the herald, but have the message read something along the lines of: "Due to the overwhelming number of gorgeous women at last eve's ball, the Prince is still faced with the daunting task of choosing only one."
The King rubbed his chin as he considered this. "Could work. but when would the decision finally be announced, complete with name?"
"Not a chance. One week is all we would be able to survive. Women are insane when it comes to men, especially when the man is of royal blood."
The Prince, having no other options, nodded agreement.
The night he spent fitfully and in the morning he was awake before the sun. Unused to such early hours, however, he was not physically up and out of bed until the risen sun drove him to shutting the curtains.
Having dressed, he went immediately to the stables, where he ordered his horse to be saddled at once. The stable-boy rushed to do his bidding.
As he was riding down the lane to the gate, his father called out to him. "Where are you going so early in the morning?"
"To find her."
"Wait! Take a squire with you."
The Prince nodded and galloped back to the stables. "You!" He said to the stable boy. "Put on some fresh clothes and get yourself a horse."
The boy's eyes grew large and he hastily complied, making sure that the horse he chose for himself was markedly less-fine than that upon which the Prince sat.
With the Prince leading, the two exchanged the palace grounds for the road into town.
As they rode along, the Prince stopped at every home they came across, inquiring as to whether any of the women there had attended the ball of two nights past. When the reply came back in the affirmative, he and his stable-boy-made-squire would enter the house. The squire would then offer the woman the slipper to see if it fit. The women squeezed their feet or spread their toes, hoping to obtain the Prince's hand. But the Prince could tell the show was not of proper size for any of them.
The entire day was thus spent, with no encouraging results. As dusk began to settle lazily into place, they turned their steeds back to the palace.
|10 Feb 2000|| Guadalupe de los Santos|
I like this story, telling it from a more realistice prince's point of view. Nice beginning.
|9 May 2000|| Andrea Nichole Walker|
So the prince DOES have a mind! I like it.
|22 Jun 2001|| Andy|
Very amusingly written with an easy style. I liked it a lot. I'll read the other later when I finish the tour.