I’ve been working on this one for at least three weeks. (Line breaks and italics did not carry over from Word! Ugh! So much extra work!!)
The Tale of Lazyboy
Once upon a time, there was a young girl. Her family was poor, and she had no choice but to marry young to the man her father selected for her, the owner of a tavern. It wasn’t a happy marriage, and her husband died when she was still young and childless.
So when she found a baby boy washed up on the beach near her tavern not long after her husband’s death, she thought her prayers had been answered, and she told everyone that it was her own son, and that they simply hadn’t noticed she was pregnant because she was so slender. They didn’t really believe her, of course, but they were too polite to say so.
At first, she was very happy with her new son.
That didn’t last long.
She expected him to start doing chores around the tavern as soon as he was able to walk and talk. But he kept expecting his mother to love him and cuddle him and treat him like a son instead of like a servant.
By the time he was five, she called him by his name so rarely that she had almost forgotten he had a name, and by the time he was fifteen, the tavern’s patrons tended to call him Lazyboy if they called him anything at all.
Lazyboy wasn’t much more than eighteen when he thought he had found a way out of that miserable tavern at long last, but all that had happened was that he got a dunking in the sea near the astronomer’s tower, and then had a long, wet slog home again. And then he got a long lecture from his foster mother for getting his clothes all wet, as though he’d done it on purpose.
In the end, Lazyboy was only able to get away from his unhappy home the way most other young men his age were: the king went to war with a neighboring kingdom, and all the young men got called up to serve in the army if they were able. Lazyboy didn’t want to kill anyone, but he didn’t see that he had any choice, and anything had to be better than staying where he was!
The war was horrible, as wars always are, but at least it was a short one, as few wars are. In fact, it had taken longer for the army to march to the battleground than it had for them to be horribly massacred there.
Once the slaughter was over, the survivors had only to march back—on their own pace!—to be free to return to their lives. And Lazyboy was in no hurry to return to that awful tavern, so he decided to take “the scenic route”…
…which meant that instead of returning to his own kingdom, he went deeper into the kingdom his army had utterly failed to invade.
Of course, he hadn’t been walking through the enemy kingdom long before he ran out of the rations he had brought with him, and soon he was desperately hungry. Although there were a few farmhouses around, no one wanted to give him anything to eat, because he was the enemy, even though he was a very handsome enemy.
As he passed through a forest, he found a doe grazing in a clearing. Now, Lazyboy hadn’t been trusted with a bow and arrow—he wasn’t viewed by his superior officers as being intelligent enough to handle one without shooting his fellow soldiers in the foot—but he had a slingshot and some stones, and he was quite sure that he could take down the doe with ease, and finally have a good meal. He was getting ready to hurl a stone at her head when a fawn pranced up to her side and nuzzled her, then looked over at Lazyboy with wide, sad eyes, as if it knew what he wanted to do to its mother. His resolve weakened and crumbled, and he put the slingshot away. Despite that he didn’t like his mother one bit, he still wouldn’t want anyone to hurl a rock at her head, after all.
Lazyboy slept that night in that clearing, his stomach grumbling fearsomely in protest at its empty condition.
Two owls were perched above his head, hooting back and forth at each other.
“Too bad about this little human, eh?” one of them hooted at the other.
“Indeed,” the other hooted back. “He’ll be eaten up by the ogre at the other end of the forest, no question. No one wearing the enemy insignia can get past that ogre.”
“Foolish humans,” the first owl sighed sadly. “They didn’t learn a thing, watching what happened when an evil wizard took over the kingdom from the good king and queen that used to rule here, did they?”
“Humans can’t learn. It’s their nature,” the second owl informed the first sharply. “Oh, look, a squirrel!” With that, both owls took off in an excited flurry, and were gone.
Lazyboy wasn’t sure, in the morning, that he hadn’t dreamed it. Owls couldn’t talk, after all. Or could they? Perhaps if the land was ruled by a wizard, they could? Those soldiers that had massacred their army had certainly had weapons and armor that were unnaturally strong. Maybe it had been powered by magic! Or even if it hadn’t been…
…merely removing the insignia from his armor was a small enough thing. Even if he had been dreaming, what harm could it do?
Lazyboy took off his tunic and turned it inside out, hiding his insignia, and making himself look like a common mercenary instead of an enemy soldier, then he went upon his way once more.
As he passed the edge of the forest, Lazyboy had to walk unnervingly close to the mouth of a deep, dark cave. The nearer he got to the cave, the more he could smell the reek of ogre from within. Had those owls really been talking, and been telling the truth? How was that possible? No, surely not. It must have been an abandoned cave where an ogre used to live…
Even as he thought that, an ogre leapt out of the cave and landed in front of him, scaring Lazyboy right off his feet.
“Never smellt you before,” the ogre growled at him. “Where you from, boy? You’re not from ‘round these parts, are you?”
“No, sir, no indeed,” Lazyboy agreed, as he got back to his feet. “I’m from the village on the other side of the woods,” he lied. “That little farming village on the other side of the woods.”
“Oh…? You’re not from that lying kingdom on the other side of the river, then?”
“What river would that be, then?” Lazyboy asked curiously. “Do you mean the stream right beyond the village?”
“Idgit clod! I mean the river! The one it takes five grown men to paddle across in a raft made of twelve tree trunks tied together!” the ogre roared at him.
What an oddly specific description, Lazyboy couldn’t help but marvel. Who in the world could have given it to him, and why? And who would cross such a fierce river on a mere raft, no matter how many trees it was made from? He would never have dared on anything less than a full, powerful ship, like the military craft that had brought him across in the first place.
The ogre stared down at Lazyboy for several tense minutes, scratching his enormous head with one dirty finger. “Well, I guess if you’re not an enemy…no…can’t take no chances. What’s most important to you in all the world?”
“Most…?” Lazyboy was flummoxed. “I don’t know,” he had to admit. “My freedom, I suppose…?” Though he had had precious little of that in his life up until his current travels…
“Selfish little creep, ain’t ya?” the ogre asked, with a grimace. “Fine, then. Hold out your hand.”
Uncertainly, Lazyboy held out his hand. To his disgust, the ogre spat in it. “Eew! What was that!?” the youth shouted, wiping his hand on his pants.
“That’s the oath,” the ogre told him, with a grin that showed his three green teeth. “You try an’ hurt the king, and that oath’ll come up and bite you.”
“What’s that have to do with what’s most important to me?” Lazyboy demanded, but the ogre simply laughed at him, even as it disappeared back into its cave.
Deciding that everyone in this kingdom was entirely insane—or its ogres were, at any rate—Lazyboy went on his way, heading towards the capital city, where he might be able to find some work, though he didn’t know if he was actually good at anything. Outside the city, he found a traveling circus, and tried to find employment with them, but they turned him away quickly. He couldn’t tell stories, he couldn’t perform as a clown, he couldn’t toss the balls, he fell from the tightwire almost the moment he set foot on it, and his attempt at being an animal tamer was beyond disastrous.
In the city itself, he had no better luck at finding work. He had no skill with weapons, so he couldn’t find work as a mercenary, and his attempt to tend bar at a tavern like his mother’s ended with him spilling drinks on the patrons and causing a bar fight. He tried to wait tables at a nice restaurant, but they wouldn’t even let him in the door because they said he looked disreputable. There was one middle aged couple who approached him and offered him money to do something, but Lazyboy told them he wasn’t nearly desperate enough for money to do that, no matter how much money they were offering him.
He was beginning to despair of ever finding his way in the world, and feared that he would have to return home after all, and put up with his mother calling him names for the rest of his life, when he saw a flyer on a wall saying that all comers would be accepted into the royal army, no questions asked. The last thing he wanted was to enter the same army that had so recently killed so many of his friends, and yet…wouldn’t that be the best revenge, to find out how they had done it, and keep them from ever doing it again? After all, if this place really was ruled by a sorcerer, he might try to invade someday…
As soon as Lazyboy had that thought, he felt his palm sting, but he paid it no mind, and headed for the palace barracks, where he told them he wanted to enlist in the royal army.
True to their poster’s word, the royal army accepted Lazyboy without so much as asking his name, and he was soon being fitted with the strangest suit of armor he had ever seen. It fitted him as tightly as a glove, but only seemed to be made out of leather. How had this armor been able to stop so many blows of hardened steel? He couldn’t make any sense of it, but he didn’t dare ask, lest he reveal himself as a spy.
The more he thought about that, the more his palm stung, and his fingers started to have trouble bending.
On the third day of Lazyboy’s training, the trainees were put on parade before the entire royal family, who were on their way to their annual holiday in the mountains. The king was a suspicious-looking man with shifty eyes who seemed to expect a knife in his back at every second. His queen looked terribly bored with by everything around her, other than her daughter’s pretty red curls. It wasn’t the princess’s hair that attracted Lazyboy’s attention…or the attention of any of the other soldiers, for that matter. They were much more interested in her face. What of it they could see, that is. Most of it was hidden behind the book she was reading, but she did look up once, though that was only because Lazyboy tripped over his lance and ended up face-down in the mud.
Her laugh, when he looked up at her, his face still covered in mud, was quite enchanting.
After the royal family left the capital, the trainees began training harder than ever, and Lazyboy at first had no time to contemplate anything other than his training. Then he started looking for chances to get out of it. This really wasn’t what he wanted, after all. Food and a roof over his head at night, yes, but learning how to kill and fight and stab, no. He so often snuck out of exercises to find a quiet napping spot that he had soon won his nickname all over again.
The new recruits had barely finished their training—some with more distinction than others, of course—when a message came from the royal vacation home that the troops stationed there had gone missing, and a new platoon would be needed. The commanding officers discussed the matter in a long, secret conversation, and then hand-picked the new troops to send.
Lazyboy was the first one they selected.
Every other man they picked was known as a trouble-maker, too. That set all the hairs on the back of Lazyboy’s neck standing on end, and he was uncomfortable for the entire march to the king’s vacation home, but what could he do? He was sure that the veteran officers riding their horses in the back would kill him if he tried to run back to town.
As they got near the villa, Lazyboy became aware of a bizarrely large number of frogs hopping about, very strange for the deep mountains. “Is there a river around here?” he asked, as a huge frog leapt into the path right in front of him.
“Not for miles,” one of the other soldiers told him, shaking his head. “Those are the soldiers that came with the king,” he added, with a grimace. “Watch your step, Lazyboy.”
“That’s not my name,” Lazyboy moaned, even though he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Still, he was careful not to step on the frog, in case it used to be a man. He wasn’t sure, but he thought it might have said “thank you,” as he passed.
In fact, if he listened precisely right, the croakings of all those frogs did kind of sound like “be careful,” and “watch out,” and “beware!” But Lazyboy didn’t want to think that the frogs used to be men, and tried to tell himself that men couldn’t become frogs, and that the king couldn’t be an evil wizard. But if the king was a sorcerer, then he was going to be the one to take him down and bring an end to his tyranny!
His whole arm twitched with a painful numbness for a moment, then went back to normal as Lazyboy was distracted by the sight of the princess standing on the porch of the villa, looking at the soldiers with disgust.
“I thought we were through with smelly soldiers,” she sighed, shaking her head. Then she went back into the villa. “Mother, don’t we have any more preserves?”
“You’ve eaten them all already,” the queen’s voice replied. “You’ll have to make do with marmalade.”
Not long after, the king himself emerged from the villa, and began to give the soldiers their orders. He was an old man, much older than the queen, and didn’t seem like a wizard to Lazyboy. He looked less wizardly than the astronomer had, really. He only seemed like a grumpy old curmudgeon. But he also threatened to have them tortured to death if they so much as set a hand on the princess, so he was obviously quite cruel…though perhaps all kings were that cruel where their daughters were concerned? He didn’t admit to being responsible for whatever had happened to the previous soldiers guarding the villa, but he didn’t deny it, either.
For several days, Lazyboy and his fellow guards stood outside the villa, guarding it from whatever there was in the woods and the mountains that might endanger the royal family. Honestly, Lazyboy doubted there was anything in those mountains that could endanger anyone. He hadn’t seen anything larger than a squirrel in the whole time they’d been marching through the forest. There might have been bears, perhaps, but those were hardly likely to attack a villa. But it was the prerogative of royalty to be paranoid, and the penalty of the soldiery to protect them in their paranoia.
After their fourth day at the villa, a huge storm burst, and the guards had to start guarding from under shelter. Some of them guarded on the porches, but out of the storm, but some of them had to take duty positions inside the villa itself, much to the distaste of the royal residents.
The storm kept going and going, for days and days. Lazyboy didn’t think it was a natural storm; it seemed determined to flood the whole of the world.
By the third day of the storm, Lazyboy had been at his guard post in the villa’s royal library long enough that he had watched the princess read more books than most people had seen in their lifetimes. It was as though every time he blinked, she was reading a different book. The rare times she opened her mouth, it was to ask for food, and no matter what she asked for, it wasn’t available, and she had to settle for toast with marmalade instead.
On the fourth day of the storm, the princess suddenly threw down the book she was reading, and it burst into flames.
“What’s the matter with you?!” her mother exclaimed, lowering the delicate embroidery she had been working on. “We don’t burn books in this house.”
“What are you talking about?” the princess retorted. “Father does it all the time!”
“He never does it in the house,” her mother corrected her. “He always takes them outside first.”
The princess sighed. “It’s too wet out there.” She waved her hand, and the charred remains of the book extinguished themselves, then swept themselves into the fireplace. Then she went to the shelf and picked up another book. “What was Father doing, keeping a filthy piece of propaganda like that in his library, anyway?” she muttered, shaking her head.
“You’re too sensitive, dear,” her mother chided, returning to her embroidery. It looked to be a portrait of the princess, all tidied up in a pretty gown—unlike her usual baggy blouse and pantaloons—and wearing fine necklaces and an elaborate crown.
The incident set Lazyboy to thinking about what the owls had said that night in the forest. That night, after the royal family had gone to bed, he decide to take a terrible risk, and he slipped into the princess’s chamber.
“You’ve got a lot of guts,” she said coldly. “You know what’ll happen if I scream?”
“I know,” he assured her. “I only want to ask you a couple of questions,” he promised. “It’s about that book you burned in the library today.”
“It was a terrible book,” the princess replied. “If you’d read it, you would have wanted to burn it, too, if you have any sense of decency at all.”
“That’s not the point. You did it with magic, didn’t you?”
The princess laughed. “Of course I did. My father is a great wizard, after all. I wouldn’t be his daughter if I hadn’t inherited his skill with magic.”
Lazyboy nodded uncomfortably. “Tell me, can the owls talk in this country?”
“What? Of course not!”
“But I heard them!” Lazyboy insisted. “They were talking about how I’d be eaten by the ogre at the edge of the forest and if I hadn’t heard them talking about that I’d have—” he stopped himself only seconds before admitting the truth about being an enemy spy.
The princess laughed. “I thought you had a funny accent.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t care less where you come from or what you want in my father’s army. I have no reason to feel loyalty to this kingdom: I know I’m only useful to this country until I’m married off to create an heir, after all. I know what society thinks of princesses.”
“That’s…” Lazyboy wanted to deny her words, but there wasn’t any point to it. That was the role of a princess, after all. It wasn’t fair, but since when was life fair? “Is it true that your father usurped his throne from a good king and queen who used to rule here?” he asked, trying to change the topic at hand to one that was less uncomfortable for him.
The princess laughed. “A good king? There’s no such thing! Kings live off the fat of the land, and force the peasants to slave away to support them. Some kings are nicer than others to those under them, but none of them are truly good.” She shrugged. “I suppose my father is worse than most,” she admitted, “but as to usurping the throne, well…that was before I was born, and Father burned all the books about the previous royal family. All except one, that is.”
“Why did he leave one behind?” Lazyboy asked curiously.
“He couldn’t burn it,” the princess replied, her eyes sparkling with curiosity. “It’s enchanted. Hidden deep in a magical cave, protected by a dragon, all the usual trappings. I’ve always wanted to read it, but it’s deeply forbidden to go anywhere near it, of course.”
“Where is this book kept?” Lazyboy asked, even though it made half his body briefly shudder with numbing pain.
“Do you have some kind of twitch, Lazyboy?” the princess asked, one eyebrow arched.
“That’s not my name.”
“I could call you Mudface, if you prefer?”
“I think I’d prefer Lazyboy,” he sighed.
The princess laughed. She had the most beautiful laugh. “I know where the cave is, but it’s sacred. I’m not about to tell you or anyone else where it is. If anyone goes there, it’s going to be me.”
“I’ve seen first-hand how strong this armor is, princess,” Lazyboy replied. “I’ve seen how powerful these weapons are against normal armor. I watched a lot of my friends and comrades die. If your father decides to invade my country in revenge for that attempted invasion, everyone I grew up with, my whole kingdom, will probably be killed. If he usurped his throne, I want to see the proof. I want to know if there are survivors of the original royal family. I want to put them back on the throne before your father can do anything to take vengeance.” His body shuddered again, and he realized his hand was entirely numb, as if it had turned to stone.
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” the princess asked, after a lengthy silence.
Lazyboy nodded solemnly.
The princess sighed deeply. “I don’t much like the idea of stabbing my father in the back, but I don’t want to get forced into marrying one of his cronies to create his ideal heir, either. Plus I really want to see that book.” She frowned, rubbing her chin for a moment. “I tell you what. We’ll go see what that book says, and once I’ve read it, then I’ll decide if I’m going to help you any further. Does that sound like a good deal?”
Lazyboy smiled. “It sounds more than fair, your highness.”
“Good boy. Now get out of my chamber and go about your duties. And don’t do anything about this. I’ll set things in motion. If you try anything, you’ll only succeed in getting yourself killed, or turned into a toad,” the princess told him, shaking her head.
Lazyboy didn’t much care for her estimation of his skills, but decided it was best not to argue, and did what she said.
As soon as it stopped raining—two days later—the princess informed her parents that she was sick of the holiday villa, because she had now read every book in the place—twice!—and there was nothing left to eat but toast and marmalade, and she was sick of it. So she was going to go back to the city, but they should stay and continue their vacation. The king and queen, of course, forbade her from going back to the capital alone, and insisted on going with her. After considerable haggling, the princess was allowed to go back without her parents, so long as seven soldiers accompanied her.
Lazyboy, of course, was one of the seven.
They had not been headed away from the villa for very long before the princess turned to one of the soldiers, smiled at him and said “Oh, dear me! I seem to have forgotten my sewing kit! Do be a dear and go back to the villa for it!”
“Of course, your highness!” the soldier replied. “Where did you leave it?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe under my bed? Have my mother help you look for it,” the princess suggested. “You can catch us up when you find it,” she added, as the soldier started running back towards the villa.
Then they resumed their progress towards the capital, with the princess on her beautiful black horse with its ornate saddle, and the soldiers on foot. As soon as they came to the first low spot in the path, they stopped, and the princess took a long drink from one of the water sacks hanging from her saddle. Once she had finished with it, she dropped it with an overly dramatic “Oh, dear!” With ludicrously overstated tears in her eyes, she turned to the soldiers. “Could a couple of you go and get me some more water?” she asked. “There’s a stream a mile or two that way,” she added, pointing off the path.
“I can do it by myself,” one of the soldiers replied, picking up the waterskin.
“There might be bears at the stream, this time of year,” the princess told him. “Better bring another man with you. Bears make good eating, you know, and I do love fresh meat.”
So many of the soldiers volunteered to be his back-up that they had to cut cards for the honor, and soon two of the soldiers were hurrying off to fill the waterskin and hunt for bear-meat. Lazyboy was pretty sure that bears wouldn’t taste good, but he didn’t want to disillusion them before they found out that the princess wasn’t actually waiting for them anyway. Why disappoint them twice?
They were halfway up the next peak when the princess claimed to see a deer in the forest, and sent two more soldiers scurrying off to hunt it down. Once again, the princess shouted after them that they could catch up, once they had caught the deer, and the reduced procession moved on.
As they crested the peak, they could see the mountains in every direction. It was an amazing sight.
The princess suddenly dismounted from her horse. “I’m exhausted,” she announced. “I’ll be taking a brief nap. You there,” she said, pointing at the one remaining soldier. “Run on ahead and tell them I’ll be back at the castle by sundown. And I’ll be wanting a nice bath, so have everything ready for me.”
“Yes, your highness, but…wouldn’t you rather send Lazyboy? He can’t protect you if anyone tries to come after you. I’d be a much better guard than him.”
“I can protect myself,” the princess assured him. “I wouldn’t trust this clown to get the message there in time,” she added, gesturing at Lazyboy. He knew it was only to get rid of the other man, but it stung anyway.
“Well, that’s true,” the other soldier agreed, and hurried off towards the capital.
Once the soldier was out of sight, the princess hopped back up onto her feet, and got back into the saddle. “Come on, get up here behind me,” she said, holding her hand out to Lazyboy.
“What? Are you—are you sure that’s a good idea?” It didn’t seem at all proper!
“There’s no other way for you to get there, so if you want to see the book at all, then get up here behind me, Lazyboy,” the princess retorted bitterly.
Lazyboy sighed, and climbed up onto the horse’s back behind the princess. “All right, let’s go, Princess Marmalade,” he said.
“That’s not my name,” she told him.
“Are you going to stop calling me Lazyboy?”
“Then let’s go, Princess Marmalade.”
The princess grumbled considerably, but didn’t argue further, and kicked her horse’s sides with her heels. The horse leapt into the air, and—much to Lazyboy’s astonishment—grew a pair of deep black, feathery wings, with which it soared from the mountain top and across the sky.
The winged horse eventually came down to land on the shores of a lake the likes of which Lazyboy had never seen before. The lake was enormous, and surrounded by mountains made of glass. In the base of each mountain was a cave, and above each cave was carved the coat of arms of a kingdom. As Lazyboy and Princess Marmalade began to walk towards the cave with her kingdom’s coat of arms, he heard a crunching beneath his feet. He looked down at the ground. Where other lakes might have pebbles or sand, this one had gems and gold dust. Lazyboy was treading on diamonds and rubies and emeralds of such size as he had never seen before. He was about to bend and pick some up when Marmalade caught his wrist in her hand.
“Don’t touch,” she said, her voice like ice. “That’s been the death of countless men.”
Lazyboy nodded. “Yes’m,” he replied.
“Good boy. Let’s go.”
It irked Lazyboy to be called a ‘boy’ by a girl several years younger than himself, but since she was a princess, he didn’t see that he had much choice but to accept it, so he followed along quietly after her. They entered the cave, which seemed surprisingly dark, considering the mountain was made of glass. Lazyboy would have expected it to be much lighter inside.
“Are there any torches in your saddlebags?” he asked the princess in a whisper, looking into the gloom ahead of them.
“We don’t need torches,” she told him, with a chuckle. Then she took a gem off her coronet, and swirled it around on her palm until it began to glow. Replacing the glowing gem on her coronet again, Princess Marmalade took hold of Lazyboy’s hand, and began to walk into the darkness ahead. “Keep close to me. We don’t know what else is in here other than the dragon.”
“Y-yes, princess,” Lazyboy said, trying to keep his voice level. Had a girl ever held his hand before? He wasn’t sure they had. Most of the girls around the tavern only laughed at him for working in a tavern and doing it badly…
“Don’t get any funny ideas,” Princess Marmalade added, even as she squeezed Lazyboy’s hand tighter. “This is simply so you can’t get lost.”
“Yeah, I get it,” he grumbled. Of course it was. What else would it be?
Even as he had that thought, he heard some squeaking laughter from near his feet. Looking around, he saw some rats—or he thought they were rats, anyway—laughing and shaking their heads. “She wouldn’t be talking so tough if he could hear how fast her heart is pounding, I’ll bet,” one of the rats said to the other.
“Bet she’s scared of the dark,” the second rat said.
“All humans are,” the first rat agreed, before they both scurried away.
“Um…did you hear that?” Lazyboy asked, looking back at the princess.
“Hear what?” She gave him an annoyed look. “Are you imagining things now?”
“I hope not.” He liked the idea that maybe the princess was more scared than he was. It made him feel a little less pathetic…
The princess scowled at him. “Keep quiet,” she admonished him. “We don’t know what’s in here, and it’s better not to warn it that we’re coming.”
Lazyboy nodded, but it seemed to him that the whole cave knew that they were coming. He could hear whispers echoing everywhere about the two humans clomping through the cave, holding hands and looking terrified and pathetic. He was trying to ignore it as best he could, since Princess Marmalade didn’t seem to hear a thing, and he didn’t want to make a princess think he was crazy, but it was hard to ignore the running commentary on their activities, especially since it seemed to know what they were doing better than they did; when the princess accidentally knocked a bunch of rocks into a subterranean lake, Lazyboy could hear the fish complaining as they poked their heads above the water, voices that were subsumed in gurgling as their heads plopped back down below the surface again.
Whether it was due to the noisy complaints of the myriad—mostly unseen—residents of the cave, or due to the general nature of walking through the ill-lit cavern, Lazyboy had lost all sense of time long before they came to a fork in the path and stopped to rest while the princess tried to figure out which way they should go.
“You’d think there’d be directions or something, if this book’s so sacred,” Lazyboy commented, looking around. He was saying it more because he expected all those voices to pipe up and tell him which way to go than because he really expected the cave walls to have arrows carved into them to show them the way to the book.
“It’s the sacred repository of all the kingdom’s history. It would be disastrous for it to fall into the hands of the kingdom’s enemies,” Princess Marmalade snapped at him.
“Like your father’s?” Lazyboy quipped, even though it sent a shudder of pain through his arm and side. He wasn’t sure he could move his arm at all. It really felt like it had turned to stone…
“My father is the king. How could he be the kingdom’s enemy?” the princess retorted.
Lazyboy sighed, and didn’t answer. The voices in the cave all laughed at her question, though. That made Lazyboy feel a bit better…though he was a bit too worried about his arm to be very greatly relieved.
After pacing in a circle for a few minutes, Princess Marmalade sat down near one wall, scowling. “I need to think about this,” she grumbled.
“Well, one of the paths looks like it’s going down below the mountain, and the other one’s climbing, right?” Lazyboy pointed out. “Doesn’t that tell you which one it’d be?”
“Not off-hand,” the princess replied. “I don’t know enough about the book.”
“Who wrote it?”
“Oh. Well, when was it written?”
“Not a clue,” the princess sighed, with a shrug. “It’s enchanted, so maybe it was never written at all. Rather, maybe it’s always writing itself, if you see what I mean.”
“Um, not really,” Lazyboy admitted. He was really surprised that all those noisy voices hadn’t chipped in with any information by now… “Well, you said it was guarded by a dragon, right? Would a dragon rather live in a high place or a low one?”
“Even if we went down, we’d have to go down for a very long time before we’d be in a ‘low’ place,” Princess Marmalade informed him. “I appreciate that you’re trying to help, Lazyboy, but all you’re doing is distracting me.”
“Well, what would you rather I did instead?”
“Why don’t you take a nap? Isn’t that what you like to do best?”
Lazyboy grimaced. “Is it my fault that I prefer napping to learning how to kill people?”
The princess colored shamefully and looked away. “I guess I would, too, given that choice,” she admitted.
“How did you learn about this magic book, anyway?”
“I read about the glass mountains in another book,” the princess told him. “It didn’t mention the book for this kingdom, specifically, but it said that all the kingdoms have one, and that they can’t be destroyed. It said that conquerors and usurpers have been defeated and proper dynasties restored in the past thanks to the information in the books…for those who could conquer the trials of the caves and make it past the dragons.”
“Great. Nothing more specific than that?”
“Nope.” The princess sighed. “Of course, finding the right path is probably part of the trial,” she concluded. “That’s why I need you to keep quiet so I can figure it out.”
“At this rate, I think it’d be faster to go one way, and then backtrack if we don’t find it,” Lazyboy sighed. Anything was better than sitting there in the gloom, doing nothing. Despite what everyone else thought of him, it wasn’t that he was actually lazy; he was simply always being asked to do things he would sooner never do. Given the choice, he would much rather be active than laze around doing nothing.
“That’s assuming that both paths aren’t booby-trapped,” the princess snapped. “But…maybe you’re right. We’ll never find it by sitting here doing nothing, and I have no idea which way it is.” She got to her feet again. “All right, since this is your idea, which way do you want to go?”
Lazyboy looked at both paths for a moment, biting his lip. The voices in the cave all fell silent, as if every creature in the cave was holding its breath, waiting to see what he would decide. “I think up,” he said. “The downward path feels creepy to me.”
The voices let out an exuberant cheer, but Lazyboy wasn’t sure if that meant he had made the right choice, or if that meant he was about to die a horrible death and they were all excited at the prospect of watching it happen.
Princess Marmalade reached to take hold of Lazyboy’s hand, but she was standing on the wrong side, and reaching for the hand that didn’t work. Hastily, he moved to her other side, and took hold of her hand with his good hand. “This side is better,” he told her.
“Why?” she asked, looking at him suspiciously.
“Because it is,” he answered, with a helpless smile. He couldn’t tell her the truth. How could he? He didn’t even understand the truth.
The princess didn’t seem to trust that answer, but she didn’t argue, and they continued through the cave, heading up the path with the slow upward grade. As they walked, Princess Marmalade several times steered them away from death traps, forcing Lazyboy to halt in his tracks while she chanted a spell to prevent him from dying horribly, or she would simply pull him away from a trigger he was about to step on. The more times she did that, the more useless he felt, and the more sure he felt that he had steered them wrong in taking the upward path in the first place. But he was reluctant to say so; what if he said so, and they turned around, only to learn that this was the right path after all?
After a while, the death traps were petering out, and they both began to relax, thinking that perhaps they had gotten past the worst of it. Maybe they were getting closer to their goal, or at least getting to an area where whoever built this place assumed that all intruders were already dead and so no more traps were needed.
Maybe that was why neither of them noticed the trap until they had triggered it.
Lazyboy certainly hadn’t seen a tripwire or a switch.
He simply heard the bats flying overhead screeching about the spikes that were about to skewer them.
There wasn’t time to think about it. All he had time to do was dive to the side, grabbing Princess Marmalade and rolling with her, hoping to protect her from the spikes and keep her from getting hurt.
The sound of the spikes impacting with the floor was deafening.
But they had entirely missed both Lazyboy and the princess.
“How did you…?” the princess asked, even as she struggled away from Lazyboy’s grip. “I didn’t even see them coming at all…!”
“I…um…heard the bats…say they were coming…” Lazyboy admitted.
“Bats,” the princess repeated, incredulously. Then she sighed deeply. “All right, I think you need to explain yourself.
Lazyboy bit his lip uncomfortably, then slowly told her all about the voices he had been hearing this whole time, about how it seemed like he could hear animals talking, ever since that night in the forest.
“There are a lot of spirits living in that forest, it’s true,” the princess agreed, nodding, “but…did you do anything unusual while you were there?”
“Um…I spared a deer’s life. Does that count?”
“Well, I suppose it could, but…” The princess sighed, shaking her head. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter. But from now on, tell me these things! And if the voices in the cave say anything else useful, tell me about it immediately!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lazyboy agreed, nodding.
As they continued upwards through the cave, Lazyboy couldn’t help but feel that the princess wasn’t terribly grateful that he had saved her life—and the voices agreed with him—but at least she no longer thought he was crazy for hearing voices. That was some small comfort, at least. Not that it mattered, he supposed, if she thought he was crazy. Except that it was always a pity for a pretty princess to think a person was insane when he wasn’t, right?
Eventually, they came to a chasm in the path, with no obvious way across. “Do you think we went the wrong way after all?” Lazyboy asked, looking at the chasm with dismay. It looked like a very long drop.
“No, I don’t think so,” Princess Marmalade said, shaking her head. “Look, on the other side. There’s an opening, and I can see the dragon’s hoard through there.” Indeed, there was a golden glow coming from the opening on the far side of the chasm, but it was very far away, much too far to leap. “We have to find a way across. I don’t suppose the cave’s, uh, residents are telling you how to get across?”
The voices laughed at her question. “What an idiot!” one of the bats chortled. “Doesn’t she know that figuring it out is the whole point of the trial?! Don’t they teach princesses anything these days?!”
Lazyboy cleared his throat uncomfortably as the bat continued to insult the princess’ intelligence and education. “It seems that getting across is a trial we’re supposed to pass, so…no, no, they’re not going to tell us how to get across. And they don’t think much of you for asking.”
The princess scowled. “After all the work I’ve already put in, is it so wrong to want something to be easy for once?”
“I asked that question once, and got saddled with the nickname ‘Lazyboy’ for the rest of my life,” the other sighed sadly.
Princess Marmalade laughed uncomfortably, and crouched down by the edge of the chasm. Scooping up some loose sand, she tossed it out in a fanning pattern into the chasm. It spread out and fell deeply into the chasm, disappearing into the depths.
“What was that for?” Lazyboy asked curiously.
“I was hoping that there was actually a bridge there, and it was the same color as the walls, so we weren’t noticing it by a trick of the light,” the princess sighed. “I read a book where that happened once, but…well, let me try a few spells. Maybe it’s hidden and I can reveal it.”
She tried a few spells, and when those didn’t work, she tried a few more. Those didn’t work either, and she had to resort to a great many spells, but none of them worked. By the time she started screaming incoherently in rage, Lazyboy decided he had better interfere, and carefully stepped up behind her, pulling her away from the edge before she could work herself up and fall into the chasm.
“I don’t think there’s a bridge there,” he told her. “There must be another way across.”
That only made the princess angry at him instead of at the bridge that wasn’t cooperating with her, and she began to lecture him on a great many topics, ranging from his conduct to his slovenly appearance. Most of what she had to say he had heard many times before, so Lazyboy wasn’t really paying attention, and was looking around the cave idly.
That was probably the only reason he saw it.
“Hey, what’s that?”
“Don’t you dare try to distract me!” Princess Marmalade screeched at him.
“No, I’m serious. Look!” Lazyboy pointed at it. A bit over their heads, a thin thing passed from the wall and crossed the chasm towards the other side. It was very dark, and hard to see in the gloom of the cave, but it looked rather like a rope.
“That can’t be the way across,” the princess said, her voice trembling. Lazyboy assumed it was shaking in anger.
“Looks like it. Unless you want to try more magic.”
Princess Marmalade sighed. “No I…but that doesn’t look very sturdy. I’d rather not fall to my death.”
“If you’re afraid of dying, why did you sign on to fight a dragon?” Lazyboy laughed.
“Idiot!” the princess snapped.
“Oh, you expected me to do it?” he asked, his eyes narrowing.
“We’ll figure it out when we get there. If we get there.” The princess’ eyes were glued to that rope…
“Princess…you’re not…” Lazyboy caught himself before he could ask if she was afraid of heights. Of course she’d never admit it if she was. “If you’re feeling tired, do you want me to carry you across?” he offered instead. She could accept that without having to admit to fear.
“Do I look tired?” she countered angrily.
“Actually, yes, you look ready to keel over.”
Princess Marmalade bit her lip a moment, then sighed deeply. “Very well,” she answered, in a miserable tone of voice, “but only since you’re so insistent.” No matter what she said, she looked grateful.
But now Lazyboy had a problem. He only had one working hand. How was he even going to get himself across, let alone the princess? After some thought, he removed his armor, and used its straps to make a harness, fastening it around his belt and his dead arm for stability. Then he hooked one end of it onto the rope, and tested it with his weight.
“It seems sturdy,” he told the princess, “Come here and grab hold of my waist.”
She wasn’t too pleased to be taking his orders, but she did so anyway, and Lazyboy hooked the harness to her dress, then grabbed the rope with his good hand. “Why are you only using one hand?” Princess Marmalade asked as he started swinging them out across the chasm.
“For stability,” he answered, without pausing. The princess didn’t find that a very convincing answer, but she didn’t press further, being distracted by the golden glow of the dragon’s hoard that was ever growing closer.
As soon as they were on the other side of the chasm, Lazyboy quickly unhooked them from the harness, which he left on the rope, in case they needed a quick getaway. That need certainly seemed likely, given the size of the dragon in front of them. It was nearly the size of his mother’s tavern, a place that Lazyboy suddenly felt rather homesick for, now that he was never going to see it again. The dragon was the color of fire, and little spouts of the stuff puffed out of its mouth as it slept on its bed of gold and gems.
While Lazyboy was preoccupied with the size and terrifying aspect of the dragon, Princess Marmalade was scanning the room for the enchanted tome, but the longer she spent looking, the more distraught she became. “I can’t see it anywhere!” she exclaimed, forgetting the dragon entirely in her despair. Was this whole trip for nothing? Had the dragon eaten the magic book?
“What can’t you find, child?”
For a moment, neither human even understood who had spoken.
Then they realized it was the dragon, and they were both tempted to scream and panic. Lazyboy was still considering giving in to that temptation when the princess answered the enormous beast. “The book of the kingdom,” she answered. “Did you do something with it?”
The dragon laughed, lifting its enormous head to look at her. “Only the worthy can access the chronicles of the kingdom, little girl,” it told her. “Are you going to prove your worth to access it?”
“Does that…gulp…involve fighting you?” Lazyboy asked.
“It can, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” the dragon chuckled.
“Oh, thank god!” Lazyboy exclaimed, collapsing to the ground, releasing a plume of gold dust into the air.
“How do I prove my worth?” Princess Marmalade asked the dragon.
“You both have to prove your worth, if you both want access,” the dragon told her.
“Lazyboy doesn’t matter. He’s only my escort. I’m the one who wants access,” the princess insisted.
“I thought he was the one who wanted to see it,” the dragon countered, its voice laughingly singsong.
Princess Marmalade colored shamefully, and glanced down at Lazyboy, who by now had fallen flat on his back, and still looked relieved that he wasn’t going to be fighting any dragons. “Well, I guess…I mean…can’t I…all right, how do we prove our worth?”
“A task for him, I think,” the dragon said, turning its head towards Lazyboy, “and a riddle for you. Your magic can’t help you with a riddle, and the inhabitants of the cave can’t tell him the answer to a task,” it added, laughing.
“You’ve been listening to our conversations?” Lazyboy asked, sitting up.
“You’ll understand in time. If you complete your task.” The dragon let out a shrill whistle, and several bats flew in. “They’ll tell you what to do,” he told Lazyboy. The bats flew off into a small cave to one side of the hoard, and Lazyboy followed them, clambering over piles of gold, silver and gemstones. The dragon turned its attention towards the princess. “So, now, your riddles.”
“Riddles? I thought it was only one!” the princess exclaimed.
“You’ve read too many books. Only one isn’t test enough. You’ll need to answer at least three riddles to prove your worth. Maybe more. We’ll have to see if I’m convinced when we reach three,” the dragon said, shaking its head. “You’re an unusual case, to say the least. All right, then…first riddle…I travel at the speed of sorrow, leaving despair in my wake, the smell of gunpowder and corpses. Who am I?”
“War,” the princess answered.
“Yes, I suppose that was too easy,” the dragon agreed, nodding. “We’ll make the second one harder, then, shall we?”
Meanwhile, Lazyboy found that the cavern the bats led him to contained half a dozen earthenware pots full of dirt. “What am I supposed to do?” he asked.
“These are the remains of some of the people who’ve tried to access the chronicles before,” one of the bats laughed at him, making Lazyboy leap back in terror.
“No, not really,” one of the other bats said. “They tried to take the gems from the beach.”
“Uh, great,” Lazyboy replied, “that makes me feel so much better.”
“It’s only dirt,” the third bat told him.
“I certainly hope so,” Lazyboy said, “but what am I supposed to do with it?”
“There’s gold and other valuables in there with the dirt,” one of the bats told him. “Your task is to separate it out as quickly as possible. Like, before the dragon gets bored waiting for you.”
Lazyboy looked at the pots uncomfortably. “Uh, that sounds slightly impossible.”
“It wouldn’t be a task if it was easy.”
“I didn’t say it sounded hard, I said it sounded impossible!”
The bats only laughed at him.
“Do I have any tools to work with?”
“Nope,” they laughed. “Oh, and the dragon doesn’t like it if you make a mess, so don’t spill any of the dirt.”
Lazyboy grimaced. “At least give me some empty pots to transfer the dirt into as I’m going through it!”
“Oh, there’s more pots over here,” one of the bats told him, swooping over to a corner, where several pots were waiting.
Lazyboy sighed in relief, and dragged several empty pots over to the pots filled with earth. “Say, I don’t suppose there’s any water?” he asked. “I’m really thirsty; I haven’t had anything to drink all day, and my water bottle’s empty.”
“There’s a stream running through the next cave over,” another bat said. “Follow me, and you can have all the water you want.”
Lazyboy grabbed an empty pot, and followed the bat to the stream, where he filled the empty pot with water after drinking his fill of the cold, clear water. Dragging the now very heavy pot of water back to the pots of earth, he took his shirt off, and fitted it over one of the empty pots, then dumped some of the dirt into the shirt, and poured a little water over it to force the dirt through the cloth while the gold and gems remained in the shirt.
“Is he allowed to do that?” one of the bats asked.
“I don’t think so,” another answered.
“The rules didn’t say I couldn’t,” Lazyboy pointed out, even as he kept up what he was doing.
“But you know you’re not supposed to, so stop it!”
The bats continued to shriek at him for cheating, but Lazyboy kept right on with what he was doing, until the dirt was all sieved out, and the gold and gems were all sparkly and clean in their own pots, and the dirt was all dirty and alone it its own pots off in the corner. Satisfied that he had done the task satisfactorily, Lazyboy dragged one of the pots of gems to the hoard of the dragon, and told it that he’d done as he’d been ordered.
“Oh, already? That was quick,” the dragon said, yawning. “I suppose I’ll give you both a pass.”
“You suppose?!” Princess Marmalade shouted. “After all those riddles I’ve answered correctly, that should be more than a ‘suppose!’”
“Mmm, yes, but it’s not as though any of them were real stumpers. I haven’t really been feeling the whole riddling thing lately. I’m getting old, I suppose,” The dragon shook its head. “It’s empty nest syndrome, I think. I haven’t been the same since my eggs hatched, you know.”
“Eggs?” Lazyboy looked at the dragon curiously. “You’re a girl?”
“I am a lady,” the dragon corrected him, “and a very old one, I might add, so I need my sleep. Get on with your business so I can get back to my nap.”
“Well, if you’ll point us in the direction of the book, we’ll look up what we wanted to know and be on our way,” the princess assured the dragon with a hasty smile.
The dragon sighed, shaking her head. “My dear child, there is no book. There is a chronicle, but it is not written in any clumsy, silly book.”
“What is it written in, then?” Lazyboy asked. He wasn’t aware of chronicles being written in anything else, though he certainly wasn’t an expert in such matters.
“Me, of course,” the dragon laughed. “That’s why I know everything you’ve said and done, silly children. Now, you’ve only earned one question answered, I think, between the pair of you, so ask carefully.”
“Well, I think what we both want to know is how my father came to the throne,” Princess Marmalade said. “Isn’t that right, Lazyboy?”
Lazyboy grimaced. “I do wish you’d stop calling me that,” he sighed. “But yes, that’s what I want to know, too. I heard he usurped the throne, and I wanted to know if that’s true, and if there are survivors from the original royal family if so, and—”
The dragon started laughing, cutting him off. “That’s much more than one question, if you ask it like that,” she told him. “Try again, children.”
The princess cleared her throat uncomfortably. “We would like to know about the events leading up to and immediately following my father’s ascension to the throne, including the fate of the previous royal family,” she said.
“Still a bit large for a single request,” the dragon said, scratching herself idly with one enormous claw, “but I suppose I’ll allow it, under the circumstances. Here, boy, fetch me one of those diamonds by your feet, will you?”
Confused, Lazyboy did as the dragon asked, and grabbed an enormous diamond—easily the size of his head, and brought it to the dragon. She took it from him, and set it on a pedestal nearby, then breathed a little fire onto the diamond. The firelight shone onto the diamond, and formed a ray of light that passed through the diamond and made a picture on the far wall of the cavern.
“That’s the capital!” Lazyboy exclaimed, astonished. “How…?”
“It’s one of my many magics, of course,” the dragon laughed. “This is what you wanted to see.”
They seemed to pass inside the city, and inside the castle, where the king—much younger, of course—was kneeling before a king and queen utterly unfamiliar to Lazyboy and Princess Marmalade. The king, or rather, Marmalade’s father, was dressed only like an ordinary court magician, but there was a scheming look on his face that convinced Lazyboy that what he had heard in the forest was completely true, and made Marmalade worry that her father was a murderer.
She didn’t have to worry for long, because soon the image showed her the truth of her father staging a coup and assassinating the king and queen and their children. But their youngest son, still an infant in his cradle, fell out of the window and into the river during the struggle. The bassinet with the baby floated downstream and into the ocean, where it soon washed up onto the beach near a tavern, and was found by a young widow…
“That’s my mother!” Lazyboy exclaimed. “We’ll soon find out what happened to the prince—the rightful king! I’m sure my mother will remember what she did with the baby. C’mon, we have to get back to the tavern before your father can invade my kingdom!” With that, he ran out of the cavern and started back across the rope without waiting for the princess to react.
“Not very bright, is he?” the dragon asked.
“No, he really isn’t,” Princess Marmalade sighed, shaking her head. “He can be rather sweet, but he really is quite a moron,” she said, even as she watched the girl from the tavern telling people that the foundling was her own son.
“Are you going to tell him the truth?” the dragon asked.
“Not for the moment,” the princess said. “I’m not sure what he’d do if he found out. A kindly idiot isn’t necessarily the best candidate for a king, after all.”
“Perhaps not,” the dragon conceded, even as the image shut off again. “But with a wise queen beside him…”
The princess laughed. “Where would that fool find one of those?”
The dragon only laughed at her. After all, as the chronicle of the entire kingdom, she did sometimes understand people better than they understood themselves.
Without Lazyboy’s harness to help her, it took Princess Marmalade some time to get back across the chasm, since she was smart enough to be fearful of the idea of falling to her death. Though she couldn’t understand what they said, the bats and other residents of the cave did their best to help her back out of the cave, since Lazyboy hadn’t waited for her on the other side of the chasm, and was all the way back at her horse by the time she caught up to him.
“Where have you been?” he asked her, when the princess finally reached him.
Princess Marmalade slapped him in the face as hard as she could, then stopped to catch her breath—she had been running for some distance, worried she’d be left behind entirely—before berating him for leaving her alone in the dragon’s cave. “What if I’d been killed by those death traps, or unable to get across that chasm alone?!” she demanded at the end of the lecture.
“I’m sorry,” Lazyboy said sheepishly. “I wasn’t thinking about anything except…I’m worried about what’s going to happen to my mother if the king finds out she knows what happened to the last of the real royal family.”
The princess felt a pang of guilt at that. “Don’t worry about that. How would he find out? There’s no way the dragon would ever show him or one of his agents, and I’m not about to tell him.”
“Still, we need to go talk to her and find out what happened to that baby,” Lazyboy insisted.
“No, we don’t,” the princess said quietly.
“I kept watching after you ran out. The baby…it…um….died.”
“Oh.” Lazyboy was crestfallen. “There’s no proper king? But we can’t let a murderer stay on the throne!” His whole body was wracked with pain, and he fell to his knees.
“What in the world is wrong with you?”
“I…I’m not sure…” It probably had to do with what the ogre had done to him, he was pretty sure, given that it was the hand that the ogre had spit on that had first gone numb, and now that whole arm was useless to him, but…that didn’t mean he knew what was going on. Forcing himself back onto his feet, Lazyboy looked at the princess and tried to put on a brave face. “What are we going to do, then?”
“I suppose that’s the question, isn’t it? What would you do if the baby had lived?”
“I’d find him and help him raise an army and put him back on the throne, of course, even if it killed me,” Lazyboy said, trying to ignore the way it sent shivers of pain through his arm.
“Why? This isn’t even your kingdom! Why not go home to your mother and live in peace there?”
“My mother’s never really been very loving to me,” Lazyboy admitted. “She’s the one who first gave me my nickname, actually,” he sighed. “She runs a tavern, and doesn’t really have time for motherhood, ‘cause the tavern’s so busy. I hated living in the tavern. I’d never want anything to happen to her or the tavern, but I don’t ever want to go back there, either…”
Without really meaning to, Lazyboy ended up pouring out his entire life’s story—boring as he found it to be—even though he had to stop to prepare a meal for them in the middle, and then Princess Marmalade told him all about how horribly boring it was to grow up in the palace, sheltered on all sides from everything and everyone, having nothing and no one but what she could find in books. By the time they were finished talking, it was very late, and they decided it was too dark to travel, and they settled in to camp for the night, sleeping on opposite sides of the horse, for propriety’s sake.
Lazyboy was surprised to wake up to find that his arm was feeling much better. It wasn’t entirely back to normal, but he was able to wiggle it a little. Princess Marmalade, on the other hand, was horrified to wake up and find that one of her arms felt like it had turned to stone in the night.
“What did you put in that food?!” she demanded of Lazyboy.
“I didn’t put anything in it!” he protested, nearly in tears.
“I can’t even move my arm!”
“It’s contagious…?” Lazyboy asked, staring at her arm in terror.
The princess grimaced. “You let that ogre make a spit-oath with you, and you didn’t mention it?! You bloody idiot!”
“Wh-wh-what—what’s a spit-oath?!”
Princess Marmalade didn’t bother explaining; she simply grabbed Lazyboy by the front of his shirt, and dragged him to the lake, shoved him into the water, and started casting a spell. As the spell worked, the water rose up over Lazyboy’s body as if it was a living thing, writhing and caressing, and the princess’s arm slowly began to regain its feeling again. As the spell came to its end, the water abruptly dropped back into the lake again.
“All right, the residue’s off you now,” she told him. “But if you ever do anything so stupid again…!”
“I don’t understand one bit of this,” Lazyboy moaned, still sitting on the lakebed.
“Get out of the lake before you catch cold,” the princess sighed.
“But what’s going on?”
“I want to know why you didn’t tell me about that oath earlier. Why make up elaborate lies when you were being so badly hampered by it? You could have gotten us both killed on that rope because you couldn’t use your hand!”
Lazyboy grimaced as he walked back out of the lake. “Didn’t see you noticing then. But I don’t get it. Why was it different this morning? My arm was better, and your arm was starting to get bad. Why was that? Because you were going to help me overthrow your father?”
The princess blushed slightly. “Um…that must be it,” she said. How dense was he? “All right, let’s get out of here. I think the best thing to do is to confront my father with what he’s done.”
“But won’t he kill us?”
“He won’t kill me. Not so easily as that,” Princess Marmalade laughed. Then she hopped up on the saddle, and Lazyboy clambered up behind her. The horse was soon leaping into the air, and they flew back to the capital city.
As soon as they arrived, Lazyboy was arrested and locked away in the dungeon, accused of having kidnapped the princess. Princess Marmalade was immediately brought before her parents in their private chambers, where they lavished hugs and kisses on her, greatly relieved to have her back after her lengthy “kidnapping” ordeal.
“I wasn’t kidnapped,” the princess assured them. “I left with him on my own. In fact, it was my idea.”
“Don’t be silly,” her mother insisted. “You’re a good girl. You’d never run off with a scurrilous man like that.”
“He’s actually of very noble birth,” the princess told her mother. “A prince, in fact.”
“He’s a common soldier, and a ruffian,” the king said. “He’ll be tortured until he fesses up, and then we’ll hold a nice public execution. We haven’t had one of those for months.”
“You already murdered his parents and siblings,” Princess Marmalade said coldly. “You won’t kill him, too.”
“What are you talking about? I am the king. I don’t ‘murder.’ I execute criminals. And as your father, I will not be talked to in such a manner!” The king’s face was contorted with a fury that terrified his wife, but not his daughter.
“But you weren’t the king yet when you murdered them,” the princess replied, with a cold smile. “He only escaped because his bassinet fell into the river.”
The king’s angry face turned pale with fear. The youngest prince had survived? But if he was a prisoner in the dungeons, then he could be disposed of neatly and handily! He turned to issue the orders, but found the chamber door sealed with ice. “What–?!”
“It’s not going to be that easy,” the princess told him. “I’m not going to let you get away with this.”
“You would turn on your own father?” the king roared. “I have more magic in one finger than you have in your whole body!”
“Maybe so, but I have more presence of mind to use it,” the princess countered. “And better reason.”
Spell after spell flew across the room. Counter-spell after counter-spell burst protectively. Finally, the queen could take it no more, and threw herself in between the combatants, forcing one of the king’s most powerful spells to rebound at him, taking out both the king and the queen together.
The princess did all she could to save her mother, but the king’s spell had been too powerful, and both her parents were gone forever.
Now an orphan, Princess Marmalade removed the icy barrier from the door to the royal chambers, ordered the guards to release Lazyboy from prison, and informed all the king’s courtiers and advisors of his death and her own imminent ascension to the throne. Once Lazyboy had been brought before her, she told her what had happened to her parents—leaving out the conversation about his own royal heritage, of course—and asked him what he wanted to do now that he had saved his own kingdom from invasion by the evil usurper.
Lazyboy blushed a little, and avoided looking at her face. “If…well…I…I think I’d like to stay here…if that’s all right…” he answered uncomfortably. “It seems like a very nice country, and…well…I…um…I…I don’t need a reason, do I?!” he snapped, suddenly defensive.
“Maybe not,” the princess laughed.
The funeral for the king and queen was held the next day, and Princess Marmalade was crowned queen one week later. A year after that, she and Lazyboy were married.
She never did tell him that he was the true heir to the throne…but she did eventually tell their children.
Sorry the ending was a bit rushed. I ran out of time. This ended up being way longer than I intended. (Nearly 12k words!)