In Olden Times: Princess Britney (Approx. 2,500 wds.)
The king’s proclamation had reached even the tiny village where Abe lived. “Whomsoever,” it said, in true proclamationese, “rescues the princess Britney from the foul clutches of the evil wizard shall wed her and be heir to my throne.” Yes, an evil wizard had kidnapped the princess and spirited her away to his castle in the Dark Woods. The wizard was known only by his initials, T.V., and had malevolent powers. It was said that too much exposure to him addled people’s brains.
“I’m going to find the princess,” said Abe to his mother. “I’m off to the woods.”
“But many knights have already gone off to rescue her,” said his mother, “and none have returned.”
“No wonder. Look at all that armor a knight has to wear. They can hardly move around and can barely see through that visor.”
“But who’ll help me bring in the crops?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be back before long.”
“All right. But if you must go take Bob with you.”
Bob was the family dragon. Wait a minute, you say, aren’t dragons supposed to be bad, nasty foul-smelling creatures who go around breathing fire and eating people? True, as in every species there are some bad apples but by and large dragons have gotten a bad rap. Bob had been with the family for years and his ability to breathe fire was very helpful when it came to clearing woods.
“Okay,” said Abe. “I’ll go get him.”
“I want you to be careful out there. Don’t forget what happened to that Smythe boy, Jack. He bought some beans from a sly peddler, threw them into his back yard, a big beanstalk grew overnight, he climbed up it and was never seen again.”
“But I thought he found the goose that laid golden eggs up there and lived happily ever after.”
“Humph! A nice fairy tale. But don’t you believe it.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be careful.”
“I’ll pack you a good lunch. And dress warmly. And don’t forget to take your rubbers. It might rain.”
As can be seen, mothers in olden times were pretty much the same as mothers today.
* * *
The sun was shining, making the forest appear golden. Birds sang as if all was right with the world and there were no evil wizards in it. “Help,” cried a voice.
“Where’d that come from?” asked Abe.
“Up there,” said Bob.
Sure enough, up in a tree was a plump white-haired woman who looked liked everyone’s grandmother.
“Here I am,” she said. “Up in this tree.
Please, won’t you rescue me?”
“How’d you get up there?” asked Abe.
“I’m Marge, the witch. I had trouble navigating on my new broom
And wound up here, worse luck.
Then I dropped the broom so I’m stuck.”
“But I thought witches were supposed to be ugly hags who did bad things.”
“We may have some bad apples
But this is not true.
We witches are people
Just like you.”
“How come you talk in rhyme?”
“I learned in witches school
Making spells all in rhyme.
It became a habit,
Now I do it all the time.”
“Okay,” said Abe. “We’ll get you down. Bob, do your stuff.”
Bob stood next to the tree and raised his long tail. Marge the witch caught hold of it and slid down.
“Ah, that’s better
Now I’m safe and sound.
It feels good to have
My feet back on the ground.
What are you two doing here, may I ask?
Do you have some important task?”
“Yes, in fact we have.” Abe explained about his search for the kidnapped princess.
“A noble aim a princess to rescue.
And dangerous but perhaps I can help you.
Getting to the wizard’s castle won’t be play.
Take this map to show you the way.”
Abe took the map. “Thanks,” he said. “That will be very useful.”
“Take this ring, too.
I don’t know exactly what it’ll do.
But take it anyway.
What can it hurt, I always say.”
“Thanks again. It’s getting late so we’d better be on our way. Now I’m talking in rhyme, too. It’s contagious. Watch out for trees and don’t forget your broom.”
By late afternoon, Abe and Bob had reached the Dark Woods. Here the trees reached up to blot out the sky and on occasion also reached out to grab them. No more birds were singing. The silence was ominous. They had just reached a bridge which spanned a black river when there was a thunderous crash in the undergrowth and a knight clad all in black armor astride a huge black horse suddenly appeared.
“Yikes!” said Bob, leaping backward. Abe rubbed the ring that Marge the Witch had given him but nothing happened.
“Halt,” roared the knight. “No one may pass over this bridge.”
“Who are you?” asked Abe.
“I’m the guardian of the bridge, appointed by the evil wizard to keep out intruders. He hates unexpected guests.”
“I don’t blame him,” said Abe. “But I’m Abe and this is my dragon Bob. We have to cross the bridge to get to the evil wizard’s castle so we can rescue the princess Britney.”
“Yes, I”ve heard of her. Is she truly beautiful?”
“Truly. So, can we pass?”
“Bob, show this knight what you can do.”
Bob reared up on his back legs and let out a terrific blast of flame.”
“Very impressive,” said the knight.
“You can imagine what it could do to you encased in all that armor. You’d be cooked.”
“I don’t know, I’m a pretty good hand at fighting dragons. But you do have a point. It’s not an easy job guarding this bridge day and night. It doesn’t give me much time for a home life. They sometimes call me the Lonesome Knight. If you’ll stay over and be my guests tonight I’ll let you cross over tomorrow.”
“We’re in a real hurry,” replied Abe. “How about if we just stay for dinner?”
The Lonesome Knight appeared to consider for a moment. “All right,” he said. “I can live with that. I’ll ride on ahead to my castle and alert my chef. He hasn’t cooked for guests in ages. This will be a gala evening.”
* * *
By the time Abe and Bob were able to get away from the Lonesome Knight it was quite late. It was almost pitch black in the Dark Woods and to follow their map Abe had to read it by the light of the flames that Bob softly puffed out every now and then. Finally, at the end of the Woods, they saw the castle looming up fiercely against a threatening sky. Bolts of lightning flashed against the castle’s spires and a low rumble of thunder filled the heavy air. “I don’t like the looks of this,” said Bob.
“No, it doesn’t look like the place to spend your vacation. Well, let’s go and see if anyone’s at home.”
Abe had expected that the castle would be guarded by monsters or trolls but there didn’t seem to be any of those although they saw a large number of toads hopping about. The door of the castle was open. They went in and there in a kind of anteroom was a large owl sitting at a desk. No, on second look, it was an owlish-looking person scribbling something into a large book.
“Er, excuse me,” said Abe. “We’re looking for the evil wizard. Is he in?”
The owl-person looked up, seemingly startled, and cleared his throat. “Do you have an appointment?” he asked.
“Well, no,” said Abe.
“Then come back tomorrow.”
“We’ve come a long way and it’s important that we see him.”
“The wizard is busy. Don’t you know it’s almost midnight? A prime time for working on spells.”
“It’s about the Princess Britney. He’ll want to know what we have to say.”
“Well, all right. I’ll ask him. I’ll be right back.” The owl-person rose from behind the desk and maybe he was actually an owl because he seemed to fly through the door into the next room. Abe and Bob edged closer to the door, trying to hear what was being said.
“Can’t you see I’m busy?” growled a voice. “What, a boy, wanting to see me?”
“Yes. …. No, he looks like a peasant to me….. He mentioned the Princess Britney. He has a dragon with him.”
“A dragon? Why didn’t you say so? Haven’t seen one for ages. Didn’t know there were any left around here. All right, send them in.”
In a few minutes they were face to face with the evil wizard. He was very tall and very thin with a snowy white beard, a hooked nose and piercing eyes. He had on a long robe and a conical hat that made him seem even taller.
“Ah, you are a dragon,” he said, examining Bob. “Big fellow, aren’t you?” He turned his attention to Abe. “And who are you who interrupts my business at midnight? What’s your important errand?”
“I’m Abe and I’m here because the king has issued a proclamation saying that anyone who rescues the Princess Britney from the evil wizard, that’s you, gets to wed her and becomes heir to the kingdom.”
“The Princess. You would have to bring her up. Kidnapping her was the worst move I’ve ever made. She’s driving me crazy.”
“From the time she got here. Nothing is good enough for her. She doesn’t like the food. She doesn’t like the new clothes I bought for her, from Camelot no less. She doesn’t like the furniture. She doesn’t like her bed; she claims there’s a pea under the mattress. It’s even worse when she’s in one of her rare good moods. Then she sings in a tinny voice and does these strange gyrations. And she insists on showing her belly button. Ugh!”
“So we’ll have no problem. I’ll be glad to take her off your hands.”
“Not so fast. I can’t hand her over just like that. I have my reputation as an evil wizard to consider.”
“Don’t forget Bob the dragon over there. Bob, give him a demonstration of how far your flames go.”
“Don’t waste his breath. I’m a wizard. Take care or I’ll transform him into a toad just as I’ve done with all those knights who’ve come after the princess before you. Oh, how I wish I’d let one of them take the princess, but little did I know.”
“I think we can work something out,” said Abe. “Suppose the king appoints you royal wizard and agrees not to send any more knights after you?”
“Mmmm. Royal wizard, huh? That has a nice ring to it. And all those toads hopping around are bothersome.”
“You’ll have to transform them back into knights, of course.”
“All right. Oh, just one more thing. That ring on your finger. How about throwing that in?”
Abe hesitated, the ring might have magic powers. But when he’d rubbed it after being confronted by the Lonesome Knight, it had done nothing. “Okay", he said. “Just to show you my heart’s in the right place.”
At that point they heard a loud female voice calling. “T.V. where are you? I can’t sleep on this horrible bed. I’m bored. This place is so drafty. I think I’m catching a cold. Make up some magic potion for me at once.”
“Coming, dear,” the wizard called back. Then, addressing Jack, he said, “We have a deal.”
The next morning Abe and Bob were back on the path in the forest. Following them on a white horse was Princess Britney while further back another three horses were piled high with bags containing her clothes, jewelry, cosmetics and other assorted effects. The princess, with her long blonde hair and milky white skin was truly beautiful but, as the wizard had told them, she was a non-stop complainer. She complained about her horse, which was too bony, the path, which was too bumpy, the weather, which was too warm. Insects were attacking her, she said. She was hungry. When were they going to get there? Why was that dragon always looking at her?
Abe motioned Bob to move up with him, out of earshot of the princess. “Boy,” he said, “I thought the wizard was exaggerating but she’s impossible. I don’t care how good-looking she is, but I couldn’t possibly live with her.”
“You’d be heir to the throne,” Bob reminded him.
“But I’d be driven out of my mind.”
“What can we do? You rescued her so now she’s yours.”
Abe thought a bit, then he and Bob both exclaimed at the same time, “The Lonesome Knight!”
“We’ll tell her you were just carrying out the knight’s quest,” said Bob. “After all, you’re a mere farm boy. She should be delighted to get a genuine knight with his own castle.”
“And a bunch of servants she can boss around.”
After another few hours, during which time the princess never stopped complaining, they reached the Lonesome Knight’s bridge. True to his appointment, the knight was at his post. “Abe! Bob! You’ve made it back. You’ll come to lunch, won’t you?”
The princess came into view on her white horse. The knight’s mouth fell open at her beauty. Abe quickly explained that, although he’d been the one to obtain the princess’s release from the wizard, he wouldn’t even have reached the wizard’s castle if it hadn’t been for the knight, and besides he was only a peasant and therefore the knight was the logical one to win the princess’s hand.
“Are you sure?” asked the dumbfounded knight. “I’ve never seen a woman so beautiful.”
“Absolutely,” said Abe. “She’s yours. Think of all the feasts, dinner parties and jousts you can hold with her as your wife.”
“I don’t know what to say. How can I ever repay you?”
“Let me see. How about not levying any taxes on my village. Oh, and keep the princess in the capital and don’t under any circumstances visit my village with her.”
“Done,” said the knight. “You know, I’ll have to get another name. I’ll no longer be the Lonesome Knight.”
“Don’t worry,” Abe assured him, “another name will come up.”
So, leaving the princess behind, Abe and Bob hurried back home. Needless to say, Abe’s mother was overjoyed to see her son. The villagers, when they learned they’d no longer be taxed, appointed Abe mayor for life. Abe in turn appointed Bob as his second-in-command.
A month later, Abe’s family gathered for a big celebration and Jack had to endure the hugs and kisses of all of his strange aunts and uncles. But Abe’s Aunt Sophie, his favorite aunt, had brought along one of her neighbor’s daughters, a lovely girl named Rose, who Abe immediately fell for and wanted to marry, but in the meantime the evil wizard had obtained even greater powers with his new ring and. . . but that’s all stuff for the sequel, In Olden Times 2, coming soon. Until then, all readers, live, if not happily ever after, happily for the moment.