Once Upon A Time

July 30, 2008, 10:30 am; posted by
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Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a prince. This prince had fair hair and blue eyes and chiseled features, and when he donned his armor, any lady would swoon for him if she had any sense at all.

No ladies, however, swooned for the prince when he donned his armor. This was not for lack of ladies with good sense; on the contrary, it was for lack of any women at all, ladies or otherwise.

The prince had been brought up with the knowledge that long ago, when he was a mere lad, an evil sorceress had come to the land and stolen all the unsuspecting women from their unsuspecting husbands and families in one terrible night. To this day, a national day of mourning was held to remember the country\’s women. Since these men were neither known for their coping skills nor their capacity for any emotion at all, this sacred day was more one of drinking and acting awkward around each other and puttering about the house like a child without his security blanket. Which is exactly what these men were.

This tragic event, the cornerstone of the prince\’s existence, was why he had donned the armor that would have made any sensible lady swoon. The prince had always known that as soon as he came of age, he would set out to rescue his country\’s womenfolk by vanquishing the evil sorceress and her dragon (he assumed), triumphantly returning the lost women to their hearths and choosing the most beautiful and noble as his bride, to stand beside him throughout his long and prosperous reign.

After bidding farewell to his aging father and his countrymen, the prince valiantly vaulted onto his noble white steed and rode off into the forest with nothing but his armor, his weapons, and a knapsack full of dried venison. No man had mastered the arts of bread, cheese, butter, or food in general since the women had disappeared ”” but they understood meat.

The prince rode his noble steed in the forest for three days, seeing and hearing naught but their own breath. On the third day, the prince entered a beautiful glade, at the center of which was a massive snoring ogre.

The brave prince vaulted off his steed and unsheathed his magnificent sword, declaring, “Stand, Ogre, and meet my Doom!” Doom was, of course, the name of his blade.

The ogre sat up groggily and proved more massive than the prince might have imagined. The clever steed moved a safe distance away as the ogre yawned, filling the glade with the stench of death. Then the ogre stood and said, “Little prince, I will let you pass through my glade unmolested if you answer my question.”

The prince barked a laugh. “Let me? Nay, ogre, I will pass by on my own terms, with your head severed from your warty neck! Now stand and fight!”

The ogre sighed and shook his head. “Little prince, the first lesson you must learn is this: choose your battles wisely. There is more to won than glory, and more to be lost than honor. I ask you, then, what is your quest?”

The prince stood squarely and declared, “I go to release the women of my country from the clutches of an evil sorceress so that they may return to home, hearth and husband!” As an afterthought, he added, “I also go to find my one true love. And treasure, if there is any.”

At this, the ogre fell to his knees in a fit of laughter. The trees shook, the rocks trembled, and the prince faltered. “What are you laughing at?”

The ogre composed himself with some difficulty, wiping a mossy green tear from his eye and rising again to his feet. “I will let you pass, little prince. I will even let you jab your little doom at me, if you like. You have far greater battles ahead.”

The prince mounted his distant steed then, and did indeed jab his sword at the ogre, because he didn\’t like to be laughed at. He didn\’t break the skin, though; he didn\’t much feel like jabbing any longer.

The prince rode on for three more days, until he came to the edge of the forest and the shore of a wide, deep lake. On either side and as far as he could see, the water stretched on. The prince was perplexed, and had no idea what to do with this turn of events.

At that moment, a great and ugly beast reared its head from the depths of the briny blue. “Hello, little prince,” the kraken gurgled.

“You know, I\’m not that little where I come from,” the prince muttered, hefting his spear. “And unless you tell me how to cross this great water, I shall force you to forfeit your life, monster!”

“Will you?” the kraken asked, but his amusement didn\’t show well on his mucky face. “Well, then, I will tell you how to cross this water ”” if you will first tell me why you are so intent on crossing it.”

The prince, still somewhat stung by his encounter with the ogre, chose to slightly amend his quest. “I journey to release my countrywomen from the clutches of an evil sorceress and to find my one true”¦ queen.”

The kraken\’s peals of laughter were truly terrifying, boiling and churning the waters to a frothy gray soup. The prince missed soup.

When the kraken recovered himself, he said, “I will gladly take you across this water. You\’ll need all the help you can get. Climb onto my back, you and your gentle steed. You have nothing to fear from me.”

“What were you laughing at?” the prince asked tentatively, as he settled onto the kraken\’s briny back.

“Me? Oh, nothing. Frog in my throat, all that.”

When they reached the other side of the vast lake and the kraken deposited the prince and his noble sea horse on firm sand again, the kraken said, “I leave you with one piece of wisdom, little prince. Nothing is as it seems. For all your power, your greatest weapon is knowing when to surrender.”

“But a real man never surrenders!” the prince called out. The kraken, however, had already disappeared into the deep.

For three days longer, the prince and his steed traveled. On the third day, when the prince began to despair of ever returning home, he came upon a boneyard, stretching on for miles beyond the horizon. In the center of the carnage was a dragon, massive and black, and curled up asleep.

The prince and his cautious steed crept quietly amongst the refuse until they were close enough for the dragon\’s breath to singe their eyebrows. As the prince raised his lance to plunge it into the dragon\’s stone heart, it opened one eye and said, “You\’ll be lost for all eternity if you do that.”

Now, the young prince did not normally hesitate at the empty threats of his enemies. But he had been laughed at by both an ogre and a kraken, and his self-assurance was flagging. “Why?” he asked, a little bit whiny, lance still at the ready.

“You\’re the bloke means to round up all the women and take them back to their husbands?”

“How did you know?”

“News travels. You took a wrong turn few miles back.”

“And why will vanquishing you to the depths of Hades cause me to be lost for all eternity, wretched beast?”

“No, no. You\’re already lost. I know the way to where you\’re going, and I ate everyone else who knows. Knew.”

“Foul beast! You seek to lead me astray!” And the prince hefted his lance once again, to his wise steed\’s alarm.

“Before you kill me,” drawled the dragon, “may I offer you two pieces of wisdom?”

The brave prince, thrown off guard by this small generosity, assented. “First,” said the dragon, stretching leisurely, claws clicking on bone. “Stop calling people names. It\’s not nice. Second, ask for directions.”

“Is that all?” the prince asked, hefting his lance a third time.

“Oh, yes, and ”” ” The dragon released a colossally smoky guffaw. “That was in reference to your quest,” he said, and curled up to go back to sleep.

The prince, now almost completely at his wit\’s end, could no longer find it in himself to kill the dragon. In all honesty, he was almost sure the lance would glance off the thick black scales and the dragon would laugh at him again.

He simply could not bear that.

And so he tapped the dragon\’s shoulder with the tip of his lance and said politely, “If you please, which way to the evil sorceress\’s lair?”

This was how the prince came to find himself at the shore of a massive island, having first taken advantage of the ferry provided to assist commuters in traveling to and from the mainland. It was a nice ferry, well-kept and reasonably priced, and the prince enjoyed the slow chug of the engine and the sea breeze in his hair as the little boat crossed the channel. The horse did not enjoy it because he was not allowed on the ferry as he could not pay the toll, and the prince simply could not lend him any more money.

Upon reaching the island, the brave young prince leapt upon the land and bellowed, “I challenge the evil sorceress who stole the women of my country and turned them into slaves to a duel to the death!”

A fishwife on the dock stared at him for a moment before muttering, “Terrible grammar. What are they teaching in schools these days?”

No one else paid the bold prince any attention. So he sought out the nearest tavern, which was surprisingly clean and quiet for a dockside pub. In fact, it more resembled a tea house. The prince strode bravely to the bar and slammed his fist down on the counter. “I vow to handsomely reward any man who takes me to the evil sorceress residing on this island!”

He was met with silence. “Is there no one man enough to aid me in my quest?”

Someone cleared their throat primly. “Not particularly,” a voice answered. It was, in fact, a woman. They were all women, dressed in trousers and smudged with dirt.

The prince backed out of the tavern. “What manner of enchantment is this?” he cried, rushing into the street, where he only saw more women, women everywhere, and all in men\’s clothes, doing men\’s work, and scratching like men do.

This, the prince decided, was the last straw. He had been laughed at, threatened, and insulted, and now he was faced with more of the fairer sex than he had ever imagined existed — and they all acted like men. The trembling prince fell to his knees and wailed, “I want my mommy!”

All activity ceased. Suddenly every single human being was staring in his direction, her eyes wide and her breath held. The prince froze, as well, waiting for the women to attack him.

The nearest woman knelt by his side and cooed, “What\’s the matter, deary?” and clutched him to her buxom bosom.

The prince detached himself from the woman and cleared his throat. “I ”” I need to see”¦” he chose his words carefully, heeding the dragon\’s advice. “I need to see the lady with the magical powers.”

And so it was that the young and dashing prince found himself in the presence of the great and terrible sorceress Vashti, who had stolen away all the women of his kingdom. “Can I help you?” the villainous Vashti asked.

She didn\’t look like a sorceress. She looked like a rather ordinary middle-aged woman dressed up like a man, just come in from her gardening. What\’s more, her throne ”” for she was the president of the government, which the prince\’s guide called a “democracy” ”” was not very majestic. It looked more like a desk.

The prince cleared his throat awkwardly. He had more expected to battle the sorceress in the bowels of the earth, his sword against her spells, or perhaps on a vast plain, his skill against her cunning. Instead he was in an office, having been relieved of his weapons before entering. “No need for these barbarities,” the guard had said, picking the things up with her fingertips and grimacing before tossing them in a pile of other weapons. The prince had assumed the other weapons belonged to other noble princes who had fought and courageously died for the sake of their womenfolk. Perhaps he would join their ranks today, though he didn\’t particularly want to. He preferred to return home in time for some soup.

The prince cleared his throat a second time. “Where have you put the women you stole from me and my father\’s kingdom?”

“My father\’s kingdom and me. The pronoun is always last,” President Vashti corrected, then looked down at a memo on the desk. “What did you say your name was?”

“I am Prince Charming of the —”

“Oh, yes.” She cut him off. “Your father is a dirty lying scumbag.”

“You will not speak of my father with disrespect, woman!” the prince roared, reaching for his sword and grasping air.

“Woman?” the woman repeated, not even rising from her seat but succeeding in making the prince tremble with the look in her eyes. “I am President Vashti to you, worm. And don\’t you forget it.”

“Yes, ma\’am.”

“As I said, your father is a dirty lying scumbag. The fact of the matter is, we got so sick and tired of dealing with you idiots that we left. We warned you, but you never believed us, called us your little women, told us not to worry our pretty little heads, ordered us back to our hearths and to hush the baby. Meanwhile, you ran the country into the ground with your greediness, licentiousness, and plain stupidity ”” honor, you called it. So we packed up in the middle of the day, right in front of your gaping faces, and we left. So you can go back and tell your father, young man, that we\’ll be back when we damn well please!”

There was a little cheer from a guard in the hall. The prince stared at President Vashti and said, “Mother?”

The president stood and tidied her papers before straightening her vest and striding from the room. “Evil sorceress, indeed,” she muttered.

When the prince arrived back at the castle, admitting a sound defeat at the hands of the guileful sorceress, he gave his father and the whole kingdom a detailed account of his heroism and courage, then delivered the terrible news that the women had developed a highly successful society and intended to peacefully take over their country within the week.

At these foreboding tidings, the king said, “Man, that woman is stubborn,” and continued gnawing dejectedly on his beef jerky.


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