CHAPTER 3: TOWERS, TRYSTS AND TRIALS
As events unfolded to the south, the Prince of the Realm, a man so aptly called Charming, who had been raised from birth to believe himself to be nothing less than legend, had chosen not to spend this day or the week before or even the last few years questing for the dragon. Instead, he had escaped the castle to dally with a lovely lady of noble birth renowned for her extensive golden tresses.
Such a distraction was surely his due. Quests and dragons could wait awhile for Prince Charming, particularly as his first duty on killing the dragon would likely be to marry Princess Gwendolyn, which truth be told, Charming found rather distasteful. She was his princess he supposed, but she had also been his father’s princess. It was an unpleasant thing to think about, and so he didn’t. So, until duty called, he would spend his time on other conquests of the heart.
And what a conquest on this day! The lady truly had spectacular hair, and once she had undone her intricate braids, he had to swim in a sea of soft gold to reach her. They had chosen one of her family's older and little-used towers for their tryst. It was of the classical style, with a single heavy wooden door at the base and single great window carved into the upper-most chamber. At the moment, the sun was streaming through this window, framing him perfectly as he embraced the lady on a low settee.
“As I touch your fragrant golden tresses,
I am moved by your inner beauty.”
He silently congratulated himself for using couplet. As a true student of the art of romance, he knew that there was nothing that could win the heart of a maiden better than a powerful couplet. The women who surrounded him in the court always cooed and sighed when he choose to grace them with his poetic flourishes. He gave a quick glance to the mirror in her bedroom to make certain he looked as dashing as ever.
She cleared her throat and spoke in a tone that suggested she was repeating herself. “What about my inner beauty?”
He closed his eyes and paused, as if enraptured. It was now time to add rhyme.
“Such a vision of loveliness as you,
Leaves my tongue lost while my heart speaks love true.”
He waited for the inevitable sigh and, of course, for her to throw herself at him. She placed her hands on his silk doublet and pressed close against him literally enfolding him in her tresses. “Did you just say you love me?”
He opened his eyes and smiled weakly. “Um…” he started, then realizing he wasn’t in couplet, he quickly turned his head and gave a cough. Gently, he removed her hands and, careful not to become too entangled in the somewhat alarming volume of hair that spilled across the room, strode to the window. The Prince visibly paused, as if overcome by the moment, something that she could only take as a true sign of the depth of his spirit. Of course she wanted to hear love in his words. He could hardly blame her, but he had to bring her to understand. Prince Charming had responsibilities, and not just to Princess Gwendolyn. Given his natural charms, it would be selfish of him not to let as many women as possible enjoy them. He gazed out across the folded land so that his profile would be lighted most advantageously by the sun’s brilliance.
“Alas, duty has its calling and its price,
So may the memory of today be nice.”
Certainly not his best, but this simple creature would be mesmerized.
“Duty? What duty? Do you love me?”
Things had escalated, surprisingly so. Was the lady mad? He was Prince Charming, and while this was a lovely tower, and her family was not without means, the stonework was chipped and the forest green curtains and bedding were out of date, having been woven in his not inexpert estimation at least two years or more ago when heavy brocade fringes were still in fashion. It was archaic. He wet his lips and inhaled deeply filling his chest. He outstretched his right arm.
“I hunger for thee till I have had love’s fill,
But as to the morrow, thou shouldst not speak shrill.”
It was a bad day. His meter was varying terribly.
He sighed. He never should have bothered speaking with her. Better to be silent, look sensitive, and kiss women whenever they opened their mouths. It was clear that this one had little understanding of his and her relative positions in the world, and the meaning of the word ‘tryst’.
“My Prince,” came a hiss from somewhere below. He was annoyed. He had asked not to be disturbed, but he reflected that this ‘interruption’ might prove to be perfectly timed. Though he often resented his Father, the King, for appointing such an obnoxious and old man as his squire and bodyguard, in this case, his servant might just prove helpful. The voice returned, this time as a low gravelly rumble, “My Prince, you are needed urgently.”
Now was the time to win her. He looked back over to the window, leaned out and peered down at the top of the red balding head of the squire. Making sure to school his face to a stern countenance the prince filled his voice with a tone of deep condemnation. “Squire, you forget yourself. The lady and I have courtly matters that we are discussing and for a man of chivalry, there is nothing more important in this entire world than paying his due respects to a Lady.”
The grizzled old squire stared up at him with that hint of disrespect that reminded the prince once again that he needed to have the man sacked. “Though I’m sure your . . . discussion with the Lady is of utmost importance,” he said with barely disguised disdain, “I think you’ll want to come down and hear the news I bring from the castle.”
“And so I shall,” he said, this time real anger coloring his tone, “when we are done and perhaps the sun has set on a long day, but for now, you shall remember your place and wait. Now! Go! And never interrupt me and this Lady again.” He turned his back to the window and found her smiling. The straps of her dress had made a strategic retreat and her shoulders were now bare. Definite progress, but the thought was cut short by the throaty roar of his damnable servant.
“THE DRAGON IS DEAD!”
A sudden rush of blood went to his head and he swayed on his feet as those words echoed in his mind. Something had gone terribly wrong. Whoever this long-haired woman was in front of him--the stress of the moment having driven her name fully from his typically impeccable memory-- didn’t matter. That was his dragon to kill and his legend to be sung by minstrels until the end of days. He steadied himself and then dashed back to the window. “What?” was all he could muster, and even that took effort.
“It’s amazing, there’s a body, the Princess is rescued, and he even brought the head of the beast back to the King. Word is spreading across the land, the whole Kingdom is singing his praises.”
“That’s not possible, the Kingdom is supposed to sing about me. Who is he?”
“He’s a peasant. I think his name is Tim . . . no . . . Will . . . William?”
Charming had lost his voice. He raised his hand for the squire to wait. He needed to get out of the suddenly claustrophobic chamber. “I must away,” he told the Lady.
“What about nothing being as important as speaking with a Lady?”
She was obviously irrational with disappointment and yet, the dragon was dead. He had no time to waste. This was a plot. Yes, that was it; it was an illusion, a deception, a chimera, a glamour meant to delude the people. Vile sorceries had to be involved. He brushed past the lady, stumbled through the grasping strands of her hair and tried the door. It remained unmoved. He cursed as he remembered that he had locked the blasted thing against unwanted intrusions from the crone that looked after the place. He turned back to the lady… lady… damn still nothing, and then nearly fell over as her hair wrapped itself around his ankles like a snare. “I must away,” he grunted as he pulled tangles of hair from around his feet. “Where is the key?”
“I don’t know. Somewhere in all this.” She gestured helplessly at her tresses, which spilled like waves across the floor and over the furniture.
Her hair was everywhere. The enormity of it all engulfed him, yards and yards of golden locks. He needed the key, but given that her hair seemed to be covering every surface in the room, he thought he would have better luck searching a haystack for a single straw. “Fine.” He said perhaps a bit too curtly, “My apologies, but I’m afraid I’m going to have open this door the hard way.” He reared back on his heel and gave the door a resounding kick. The thick oak registered not even a quiver, and he barely managed to suppress an unprincely yelp as a sharp pain shot through his foot and up his leg. He limped about the room biting his lip against the curses that threatened to erupt.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
Of course he wasn’t okay! His dragon was dead! He supposed ‘his’ princess was in another’s arms! Still he had to be as courtly as possible despite, or perhaps because this lady was clearly unable to grasp the significance of the tragedy unfolding before them. “I must away. I have to depart for the palace with all due haste. That was my dragon. Do you understand? I have to get out of here!”
“We’re trapped,” she said much too happily.
“Are you coming, my Prince?” shouted the squire from below.
Charming was feeling strange, flushed and hot, and not from lovemaking. He ran a hand across his forehead, inadvertently mussing his perfect hair. He took a deep breath and steadied himself again. I am Prince Charming; nothing is beyond my talents, he reminded himself. He calmed himself and turned back to the lady.
“Do not give me false hope,
But tell me that you have a rope.”
He smiled. He had regained couplet.
“Surely, you’re joking. A rope? I would not have thought you were into that sort of thing.” she said with what might have been mockery had it not been directed at him.
He stared at the woman and her cursed hair, and quite suddenly an idea formed in his head. Discarding couplet altogether, he shouted (though she was right next to him), “My Lady, I need your hair! The kingdom needs your hair! Just twist it and it will be long enough for me to descend to the ground below.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s long enough,” she said in an acerbic voice, “but there is no way…”
He cut her off.
“Dear Lady do not be slow,
Throw your tresses out yon window.”
He had regained couplet. She would do anything for him now.
“Are you mad!” she said in disbelief.
He could delay no longer; explanations had never been his strong suit anyway. He grabbed as much of her hair as he could carry in his arms and hefted it out the window. The lady jumped up and held out her hands.
“Your Highness, stop! It won’t support your…”
He interrupted with a bit of hastily conjured doggerel,
“Alas I must swiftly away,
Cherish the memory of today.”
With that, he grabbed two thick handfuls of hair and leapt out the window. There was a shriek from above...
Excerpted from "A Fairy-tale Ending: Book One of the Charming Tales" by Jack Heckel. Copyright © 0 by Jack Heckel. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.