The land of Mariskatania was a beautiful place. The countryside was filled with the colorful Jubb Jubb Trees and the towns were filled with colorful buildings, built from the colorful wood of the colorful Jubb Jubb Trees. The Jubb Jubb Trees were wondrous things, perfect for construction. It didn't take an axe to cut down one of the trees. Instead, one simply pulled the bright, golden ring located at the bottom of every Jubb Jubb Tree and it toppled right over. A silvery zipper ran the length of the tree and, once unzipped, allowed the smooth, brightly colored bark to be pulled off the tree in a long strip of soft yet strong and waterproof material. The tops of the Jubb Jubb Trees were a giant puff not unlike a massive cotton ball. This fluffy material was also used, mostly for the padding inside pillows and for making silly hats. Nothing was wasted.
With the bark removed and the fluffy canopy rolled away, the perfectly straight trunk was ready to be turned into boards for construction. There was a spot at the base of the trunk, marked with a bright pink X, where one could kick lightly causing the trunk to fall apart into an assorted pile of boards, planks and beams. A person with experience could drop ten trees in an hour and have them sorted into piles of lumber, ready for construction.
The carpenters would haul off the lumber for buildings, the fabric makers would roll away the giant puffy tops for spinning and weaving and the bark was used by just about everyone else for just about everything else, from paper to tents to kites. And there were a lot of kites in Mariskatania.
And one would think, with a wondrous thing like the Jubb Jubb Tree, that the land of Mariskatania must all be a place of beauty and happiness. And it usually was. Oh, it had its dark corners and oddities, but for the most part, for most of the time, the people were happy.
They busied themselves with the work and play that people had for countless generations before them. They tended their fields of Snapperjack Corn and Gumbleberries. They cared for their flocks of Licorice Sheep, which grew licorice instead of wool since the Jubb Jubb Trees did a better job of it with their puffy tops. The townsfolk went about their jobs of keeping everyone supplied with the tools and materials they needed. There was the pot maker, the candle maker, the shoe maker, the bell maker, the kite maker (a particularly important person in any town) and the cake maker to name a few.
They got together to bake and to sew and to dance and to sing. They got together for parties of all sorts, many of which included kite flying. They got together to show their love and adoration for the many good things they received from life. And every day the sun rose in the East and then, exactly twelve hours later, set once more in the East. The sun had heard of other suns setting in the West, but it had met the West once at a party and the two of them had gotten into an argument about the moon.
All in all, life for the people of Mariskatania was good.
And, to rule over them all and to be sure everyone was taken care of, there was the good Queen Gobbledeegook.
And now she was gone. Missing. Absent. She was simply nowhere to be found. Had she flown the coop? Skeedaddled? Made a beeline for the exit? Hit the road?
Could it be possible that Queen Gobbledeegook had simply left, without telling anyone? "No!" cried the princess, stamping her slippered foot on the floor in anger. It was the twelfth time she had done it that morning.
"But, Princess, what other explanation could there be?" asked the Chief Butler. At the moment, the Chief Butler and the princess were in the Breaking Fast Room in the royal Palace. The Breaking Fast Room was located at the East end of the Palace so those who were indeed breaking fast could watch the sun rise over the colorful spread of Jubb Jubb Trees in the valley below. The Palace itself was located in the biggest town of Mariskatania, perched at the top of the hill in the middle of the Town Square. During the day, after the last of the breakfast dishes had been cleared away, the Breaking Fast Room was unbolted from the Palace and hauled off to the storage sheds. Then the Whining And Dining Room was brought from the sheds and bolted into place so those enjoying a grumble-filled evening supper could watch the sun set back down over the same valley full of Jubb Jubb Trees.
"I do not mean to offend thee, Princess, but what other explanation could there be?" The Chief Butler looked extremely worried as he stood before the Princess in his red and white striped Palace uniform. His blue and yellow checkered hat was crumpled up between his hands as he nervously fidgeted under the Princess' pouty glare. The Junior Butlers stood off to the side, all dressed in white, looking even more worried than their boss. Not only was the Queen missing, but breakfast was also going uneaten and it was past time to start unbolting the room.
The Princess Abbey was a good and kindly thing, much like her mother. But the Queen's absence was making her scared and that was making her angry.
"I tell you, my mother would not just leave us!" Her crystal blue eyes glared at the Chief Butler as if daring him to say otherwise. She stamped her foot for the thirteenth time that morning. "Something must be terribly wrong! There's only one person who can get to the bottom of this. Send for the Hero of the Palace at once!"
At this a groan went through the room. Princess Abbey looked up to see who dared react so to her order, but all she saw were the Junior Butlers, doing their best to look as if the groan had come from somewhere else.
A loud bell started to ring somewhere high in the Palace tower, summoning the Hero of the Palace. Within moments he came running into the Breaking Fast Room, knocking over several Palace Carpenters who had snuck in to try to make up for lost time on their job of unbolting the room.
The Hero slid to a stop in front of Princess Abbey and dropped to one knee, bowing his head in honor. Dressed from head to toe in armor so shiny and bright it was like looking into a mirror, the Hero was an awesome sight to behold. A round shield, as bright as his plate mail, was hung on one arm and a mighty sword was strapped to his back. This sword, it was told throughout the land, was a Sword of Power given to the Hero by a powerful magician. It was rumored that the sword gave strength and might to whoever held it. With it, the Hero stood ever ready to defend Mariskatania against any foe.
Every inch of him was lean and tough, built to fight for honor and correctness. His eyes were cunning and their steely gaze pierced you whenever he looked your way. His mouth was usually frozen in a snarling leer as he watched everything and everyone for hidden treachery.
"You summoned me, my Princess?" the Hero asked, his head still bowed.
"Yes, I have," said the Princess somberly, though she seemed less worried now that the Hero had arrived. "Please rise, Sir Nathan. Let us adjourn to the Big Comfy Chair Room and I will tell you of a dire situation."
The Princess took the Hero's arm as they left the room, though she had to stoop to do so. For you see, Sir Nathan was a very short Hero. He was so short and the Sword of Power so long, that from where it was strapped to his back its point dragged on the floor behind him, leaving a gouge in the polished wood. Behind their backs, the carpenters heaved a heavy sigh and shook their heads, dreading how much work it was going to take to fix the floor so the Breaking Fast Room was ready for use the next morning.
Already, the Junior Butlers were clearing away the uneaten food and unused dishes. With a few more whispered orders, the Chief Butler followed the Princess and the Hero out of the room.
The Big Comfy Chair Room was exactly what it sounded like; a room with a big, comfy chair in it. The ceiling of the Big Comfy Chair Room rose high above their heads, held aloft by flowing spans of Jubb Jubb wood. Stained glass windows set in both walls and ceiling flooded the room in a rainbow of colored shafts and motes of dust danced like tiny jewels in the air.
Seeing the dust, the Chief Butler made a mental note to give the Dusting Crew five demerits and to have the air in the room vacuumed as soon as possible.
The Big Comfy Chair Room was the biggest in the Palace, almost as long as the Palace itself. The Big Comfy Chair, as it was called, sat at one end of the room on a small raised platform. It was tall, taller than the Princess, and wide like a small couch. It was covered in a soft fabric knit from the finest Jubb Jubb fluff, all dyed emerald green. The wall behind the Chair was covered in draped, red, velvety fabric and a giant "M" for Mariskatania, carved from the rarest Jubb Jubb wood, emblazoned the middle. While most Jubb Jubb trees yielded wood colored red, blue, yellow, green and all those standard assorted colors, a few rare trees were very different. A small percentage of them gave up woods that shone like the brightest gold and silver and copper. The giant "M", carved to look like a winged dragon, was made of all three of these rare woods and shone in the streaming sunlight.
Curiously enough, the hills of the land of Mariskatania were filled almost to overflowing with rich pockets of gold and silver and copper, but since no one had ever invented a shovel, it all remained hidden away underground.
Now, on most days, Queen Gobbledeegook spent her afternoons in the Big Comfy Chair, meeting with the citizens of the land. It was then she settled disputes, handed out jobs and rewards and listened to any who had need to speak with her. But yesterday's solicitors had been turned away due to the Queen's absence and it looked like the same would have to happen today.
Princess Abbey walked over to the small stage and sat down on its edge, in front of the Chair. Someday it would be her turn to rule Mariskatania and then she would sit on the Chair, but not now, not yet. The Hero stood resolutely in front of her, his legs braced wide, his arms crossed in defiance across his chest. His darting eyes and sneering grimace almost seemed enough by themselves to thwart all would-be villains. However, the only other person in the room was the Chief Butler and so the sneer was wasted. Bright butterflies of colored sunlight reflected off the Hero's armor and danced across the walls and ceiling.
Wiping a solitary tear from her eye, the Princess looked up at the Hero standing before her ... which is to say, she looked over at the Hero standing before her because, even sitting down on the short platform, she was still taller than he was. "I fear there is trouble in the land, Sir Hero. I'm worried that -"
But before she could get another word out, the Hero reached over his shoulder and laid his hand upon the hilt of the Sword of Power, whipping it out of its sheath and thrusting it into the air. A metallic hiss echoed through the quiet room as the Sword hummed with magical energy.
"Fear not, my Princess!" he cried, his snarling voice filling the room. "All who would dare bring evil villainy into this realm will be smitten before me! I shall ride forth and crush underfoot all who would oppose us!"
And with that, he wheeled about and dashed from the room, swinging the Sword before him. A Junior Butler, sticking his head into the room to see what all the fuss was about, barely got out of the way as the Hero ran by with his armor clattering loudly. The Hero could be heard crashing through the halls of the Palace, the sound dwindling as he ran further and further from the room.
"Um ..." said Princess Abbey, still looking at the doorway through which the Hero had run.
"He'll be back," said the Chief Butler with a sigh. "It'll be some time, but he'll be back. When he finally realizes he doesn't know who or what to smite, he'll come back." Almost in contradiction of his words, a stampede of hoof beats could be heard from outside as the Hero mounted his horse and charged off into the countryside. "Well ... he usually comes back."
Princess Abbey was just finishing dinner alone in the Whining And Dining Room, watching the sun sink behind the hills, when the Chief Butler entered and bowed. The long table was set with two place settings, but the Princess ate alone, the food on the second plate cold and untouched.
"Sir Nathan, the Hero, has returned," announced the Chief Butler.
The Princess swallowed her last bite of Gumbleberry Pie and dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her napkin before saying, "Show him in."
The Chief Butler stood aside and the Hero strode purposefully through the arched doorway. His mighty Sword of Power dragged fresh furrows in the highly polished floor. Dropping to one knee before the Princess, he swept his shiny helmet from his sweaty brow and bowed his head deeply.
"Princess Abbey!" he boomed. "I have scoured the land from here to the horizon and found no sign of trouble! Therefore I can only come to the conclusion that whatever treachery afflicting our country has fled before my awesome and terrible might!" With that he stood, set his helm back atop his head and turned to march from the room.
Just as he was at the doorway, the Princess said quietly, "Did you check the Swamp Forest of Misery?"
The Hero stopped in his tracks, his armor creaking slightly. For a moment, the only sound in the room was the sputtering candles on the table. Their flickering lights danced in Sir Nathan's polished armor.
"Or what about Mount Thunder?"
The Hero cringed a bit.
"Or the Caves of Dum?" At this the Chief Butler himself cringed. The Caves of Dum were originally called The Caves of Doom, which was a much better name because of all the dark and scary things that happened there. But a mistake in the Royal Register of Landmarx by a Junior Clerk recorded the name as the "Caves of Dum".
The Royal Register of Landmarx was part of the much larger Royal Register of Everything, a series of over 10,000 hand-written ledgers that were created to record everything known to the people of Mariskatania. By the time the mistake was caught, the Clerks were well past their work on Everything That Starts With C and far into the letter L. The Senior Clerk decided some unknown, unseen cave wasn't worth going back and redoing fourteen years worth of work for. A few days later, the Senior Clerk was fired for the incorrect spelling in the name "Royal Register of Landmarx".
Turning slowly about, Sir Nathan pulled his helmet once more from his head. Tucking it under his arm, he walked back to the Princess. He glanced guiltily at the Junior Butlers lining the walls, waiting to serve.
"Well, I was going to, but ..." The Hero tapered off into quiet, unintelligible mumblings.
"What was that?" asked the Princess, one eyebrow raising dangerously.
Clearing his throat, the Hero began again in a stronger voice. "I was going to until I utilized efficiency-maximizing stratagems and opted for a more concise search grid." Much satisfied with himself and his important-sounding answer, Sir Nathan nodded quickly and turned again on his heel to leave the room. He felt that the Princess, not a Knight herself, would simply have to take his word that he did what was for the best. Let her stick to matters of ruling and leave the hero stuff to me, he thought.
He had almost made it to the doorway when the Princess stopped him, the tone of her voice icy. "Efficiency-maximizing stratagems? Concise search grid?" Her glare was even more chilling than the one the Hero usually wore.
The Hero stopped again and turned around. Swallowing hard, he managed to get out, "Yuh ... yes, my Princess."
"I see," said Princess Abbey slowly. For a long moment, she said nothing. Her glare bore into his eyes and for the first time in his life, the Hero found himself trembling in his knees. This feeling of uncertainty and imminent doom was so new to him he didn't know what it was.
The Princess drummed her highly polished nails of her right hand on the tabletop. Her left hand still held her fork, its tines pointed straight at the Hero's heart. "And where did you learn this ... shall we say interesting ... technique?"
Now the Hero was on ground he was much more comfortable with. Hero Knight stuff. He could talk for days about Hero Knight stuff. He managed to calm his shaking legs. Mostly. "Well, your Majesty, it was part of Basic Knight Training. You see, all soldiers of the realm are required -"
"- required to go through two hours of rigorous training before becoming a Knight in the service of Mariskatania," finished the Princess. Most Mariskatanians didn't have the gumption to take a break from kite-flying for two whole hours and those that did were honored and admired for their dedication. "Yes, I know about Basic Knight Training. Do you know, Sir Nathan, who it is that wrote up the thirty-two chapter manual covered in Basic Knight Training?"
Sir Nathan could feel his knees starting to wobble again. "No. No, my Princess." His Hero instincts were warning him of trouble, but Sir Nathan didn't know how to defend himself against the angry tone in Princess Abbey's voice.
"It was me."
"You, your majesty?" asked the Hero faintly.
"Yes! It was part of an extra-credit project for school."
Sir Nathan's only answer was to swallow hard. He looked left and right, hoping to find help of any sort from the others in the room. But the Junior Butlers kept their eyes carefully focused on the floor or the walls, anywhere but near the Hero.
"Do you know ... what I got for a grade?" asked the Princess, her voice as cold and cutting as the Hero's Sword of Power.
Sir Nathan shook his head side to side, not trusting his voice not to crack.
"I got ... a B." The Princess practically spat.
She said nothing more and the Hero stood as silently and as still as he could, praying feverishly that he somehow wouldn't be blamed for her less-than-perfect grade.
"Do you want to know ... why I only got ... a B?" asked the Princess very slowly. Her eyes were smoldering slits. Her fingers had stopped drumming on the table top. The knuckles on her left hand were white from her tight grip on the fork.
Sweat dripped freely down the Hero's face. He tried to swallow again, but found he had no moisture in his mouth. A hard, dry lump formed in his throat and his heart beat deafeningly in his ears. He was sure he was in big trouble now; trouble for the bad grade, trouble for the trouble that worried the Princess (whatever it was), trouble for a bad harvest of Snapperjack Corn this season. Some way, somehow, he was in trouble and it was of a sort he couldn't fight.
Sure that he was placing his head in the lion's mouth, Sir Nathan found he could only nod slowly in answer to Princess Abbey's question.
"I didn't use ...," started the Princess. Her right eye started to twitch. A vein stood out on her forehead, appearing to throb slightly in the flickering candlelight. "I didn't use ... a number two pencil."
Sir Nathan froze, his mind trapped in his terror. A long silence stretched out. A candle on the table guttered briefly and went out, a thick tendril of white smoke rising into the still air.
"Thirty-two chapters. Two thousand, eight hundred and nine pages. Organized and cross-indexed by subject matter. Complete bibliography, title page, glossary and seventy-two color illustrations. Two weeks of working after school and on weekends and I got a B!" Princess Abbey slammed her left hand down on the table. The fork went clattering across the floor. The Hero jumped. One of the Junior Butlers fainted.
"In all those pages, do you know how many times 'efficiency-maximizing stratagems' or a 'concise search grid' is mentioned? Don't even bother trying to think of an answer! I'll tell you! Never! Not once! In all those pages, in all those chapters, this sort of thing is never mentioned!"
The Princess quickly jumped to her feet, knocking her chair over from the force of the action. She crossed the distance to the Hero in three quick steps and halted, glaring down over her nose at his pale, sweaty face.
"You have lied to me! You lied to a member of the Royal Family! For that, there must be punishment!" Two more Junior Butlers fainted and a third violently vomited into a vase. "Now ... now ...," she stammered. "Now ... GO TO YOUR ROOM!"
Running as fast his little legs could carry him, the Hero turned and stumbled through the doorway. His dragging sword flung up splinters of wood from the floor as he ran. Her hands balled into fists, the Princess shook with her rage. Spinning about, she grabbed a glass pitcher of milk from the table and flung it across the room to smash into the stone fireplace.
Realizing the pitcher was one of her mother's favorite antiques, a gift from the Queen's Aunt Padoodle, Princess Abbey shouted, "Oh, poop!" and stormed from the room.