Once, in a land far over the hills, was born a princess. She was cursed at birth, because her parents told the world the truth that they didn’t believe in love. “Love is a fairy story your parents told you when they wanted you to grow up to get married,” the queen told the people. “It’s just a lie to benefit society’s needs,” her husband agreed.
And so the spirits who lived in the temple of love and ate all the offerings left there by would-be lovers became angry. They decided that the best way to punish the parents was to punish the child. (Because that’s the way you would see the world, too, if you were a spirit.)
So the princess was born under a terrible curse.
No one was quite sure what the curse was, of course, oh no! But all the fortune tellers agreed it was there. And the soothsayers were adamant that the princess would be a danger to the whole land. And the augurs — oh, the augurs! They were most terrifying in their accounts of what would come to pass from the terrible curse on the princess.
The new parents felt they had no choice. For the safety of their subjects, they would have to send their daughter away.
But it wasn’t a problem, because they didn’t love her. They didn’t believe in love.
When the baby was three months old, her mother set her in a sturdy pouch, wrapped up tightly in a snug afghan. Since the baby was too little to feed herself, the queen prepared several bottles for her, and gave them to the mercenary to whom her husband had entrusted their child. “Give her some of this if she gets thirsty,” the queen told him.
“How will I tell if she’s thirsty?” the mercenary inquired. This was not his usual job, and he felt quite out of his depth already. Normally, if he was being given a job involving a royal baby, it involved assassination, not…whatever this was.
“Oh, she’ll probably start crying and squalling. Just pop the bottle in her mouth, and it’ll be fine,” the queen assured him, then returned serenely to her duties.
The mercenary was less than certain that this was a good idea, but he’d been well paid for it, so he set off none the less. He had a long way to travel, so he started out riding hard. But that made the baby start crying. He tried giving her the bottle, but it didn’t cause her to stop crying, not one jot!
Eventually, he gave up, and resumed riding, ignoring the crying baby in his bag. But when he stopped to relieve himself, he found a peasant girl staring at him. “What’s wrong?” he demanded, feeling ashamed that she might have seen something she really shouldn’t have. (Besides, she was a very pretty girl, and he never felt entirely comfortable around pretty girls unless he was rescuing them, murdering them, or paying them for their, ahem, services.)
“Why is your bag crying?” the girl replied, tilting her head to one side curiously. “It sounds as though you’ve got a baby in there.”
The mercenary sighed deeply, and explained the whole story. The girl was appalled at the way he was treating a baby — even if he was being paid to abandon it in far off lands! — and insisted on his letting her give it some tender affection. The mercenary acquiesced at first, letting her shush the princess’ cries, and change her smelly diaper.
But after a few minutes, the mercenary grew fidgety. He couldn’t leave the baby here with this peasant, as the girl was requesting. The royal couple would find out. They always found out. He’d heard this type of story before: the man who’s to abandon a child feels guilty and tries to get out of it, leaving it with a peasant, then it grows up and comes home and there’s a tragedy or a slaughter, and it’s all the fault of the man who didn’t do his duty.
He couldn’t let that happen!
If he was to be to blame for a tragedy or a slaughter, then they were darned well going to be of his own doing, not someone else’s decades later!
The mercenary confronted the peasant girl and told her that he absolutely refused to leave the baby with her indefinitely. He was going to do what he had been paid to do, and that was final!
To his surprise, the girl didn’t argue. She merely insisted that he should bring her along to care for the little princess.
Well, there was nothing in his contract to say that he couldn’t get help from a pretty peasant girl, so why not? The mercenary agreed to her demands, helped the girl up onto his horse, and set off riding again.
He had to ride at a slower pace because of the peasant girl, but the journey was surprisingly pleasant. (The girl was so pretty!) The peasant girl was enjoying the trip, too, as she had never been away from home before. (Were all mercenaries so handsome? Was this how she would feel if she were married and had a baby of her own?) The only one unhappy was the princess, but long before they reached their destination, the adults had all but forgotten her.
When they finally arrived, the mercenary and the peasant girl were eager to dump off the baby so they could ride off to their happily ever after together. (And that’s just what they did!) They hurriedly handed the princess over to her new guardian, then rode off without a single glance at the infant they had brought so far.
The princess’ new home was a tall tower, run by a troll. (Technically, a trollup, as she was a lady troll of considerable beauty…for a troll. Most humans find her repulsive, because they’re regarding her as if she were a human, instead of a troll. To troll men, she’s downright irresistible.) Each floor of the tower had a set of rooms sealed off with a special sign worn dangling from the trollup’s collar. On each floor of the tower, a different banished royal scion lived in lonely luxury.
The princess was raised within the tower, learning words from the trollup and from the hole in her floor where she could see the old man below her (he was once a handsome young prince), and the hole in her ceiling, where she could hear the voice of the middle aged woman above her (she was once a queen in a nearby land, whose husband wanted a younger bride). Since her parents had been told about her curse from the moment she was born, they had never given her a name, as they didn’t want to grow attached to a child they couldn’t raise, and so when the princess was a few years old, she decided to call herself Princess Spiderweb, because it was better than Princess No-Name, which was what the trollup called her.
When Princess Spiderweb was beginning to feel very old (really, she was only sixteen), she began to worry about the old man below her. He hadn’t gotten up that morning, and wouldn’t answer when she called him. She called and she called, but there was no answer, and she couldn’t see him through the hole. When the trollup came to bring her food, Princess Spiderweb queried her about the old man’s absence.
Sadly, the trollup told her the old man was dead.
Princess Spiderweb didn’t understand what that meant.
Once the trollup was gone, Princess Spiderweb called up to the woman above her. “What does ‘dead’ mean?”
“So the old man’s shuffled off this mortal coil at last, has he?” the woman replied. “I’m not surprised. He’s been here longer than any of us.”
“What’s a mortal coil? Why did he shuffle off it? Wasn’t he worried about falling out of the tower?” It seemed to be a very long way down, and Princess Spiderweb wasn’t eager to experience falling that far. It was painful enough just falling out of bed!
“It means he’s gone, and he’ll never return,” the woman sighed. “It happens to us all eventually.”
“Did he go home to his parents?”
“Good heavens, no!” the woman above exclaimed. “As old as he was?! His parents were dead long before he was!”
“Then where did he go?”
“This is why it’s cruel to bring a child so young to this place,” the woman sighed. Then she explained what death was, and how all people must come to it, sooner or later.
Princess Spiderweb was horrified. She had assumed that she would always be here, and that was why it was all right for her to spend so many years in this tower doing nothing, because she had all the years there ever were before her. But if her time was limited? Why was she wasting it in such a dull place?
“I’m going to leave here,” Princess Spiderweb announced to the woman above. “Do you want to come with me?”
“You’re not going anywhere, sweetie. Face it, we’re all trapped here for the rest of our lives. No one can overpower the trollup. Besides, she’s got a pet dragon, and it’d eat you alive.”
“I’m not afraid of the trollup,” Princess Spiderweb informed her. The trollup was more of a mother to her than her own mother, after all. “Are you going to come with me, or do you want to stay here until you die, too?”
The woman was silent for some time. “I don’t see how you can escape, but…I guess I’d rather die trying to get out than just waiting in here to die alone and miserable.”
“Then wait by your door. I’ll come let you out soon,” Princess Spiderweb assured her, then set to planning.
Of course, Princess Spiderweb had never planned an escape before, so she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. She had an idea, but it sounded too easy. She returned to the hole and requested that the woman above tell her some stories about escaping from towers and trolls and dragons.
Uncertainly, the woman started telling her fairy tales about enchanted princesses hidden away in tall towers, and the handsome princes who came to rescue them. The woman got quite into her storytelling after a while, and Princess Spiderweb enjoyed listening to her, but she began to worry.
“I don’t have time to wait for a prince to come find me,” Princess Spiderweb announced, when the stories had ended, “and I don’t have a crown to offer him, and I can’t imagine any reason he’d want to marry me even if I did.”
“I can see a very good reason,” the woman above informed her. “You’re a very pretty girl.”
“What’s that got to do with it?” Princess Spiderweb replied, annoyed. “You said the princes marry the princesses and then inherit their fathers’ crowns, but I don’t have a father or a crown, so the prince wouldn’t want to marry me even if I waited for one to show up.”
“That’s not quite right, dear,” the woman sighed.
“It doesn’t matter,” Princess Spiderweb insisted. “I’ve got a plan, and I’m sure it’ll be fine. You just wait until feeding time tomorrow.”
She resumed her planning then, wanting to be sure that every little detail was perfect.
Then morning came, and the trollup arrived with the food. Princess Spiderweb called her over to the bed, saying that she was too ill to rise on her own.
Now, the trollup was really a very nice trollup — that was why she was always being entrusted with royalty — and she was quite fond of poor Princess Spiderweb, as no one had ever come to her at such a young age before. So the trollup went over to the bed all unsuspecting, and didn’t at all see it coming when Princess Spiderweb beaned her with a board she had pulled off the bottom of the bed.
It didn’t actually hurt the trollup much (trolls have very hard heads), but it left her dazed and bewildered.
Princess Spiderweb grabbed the seal and ran for the door, shutting and sealing it behind her. Then she ran up the stairs — as soon as she figured out what stairs were and how to use them, as she had never seen any before — and opened the door for the middle aged former queen. She was different than Princess Spiderweb had expected: instead of resembling the trollup (the only female Princess Spiderweb had ever seen), she seemed much more similar to Princess Spiderweb’s reflection in the daily pitcher of water, only less wavery, and a bit paler.
Together, the two hurried down the stairs, and Princess Spiderweb opened every single door, but most of the other inmates didn’t leave. They were princes and princesses, after all, and didn’t really have any way to care for themselves on their own; they thought it was better to stay where they were under the care of the trollup and hope their friends and families would come for them.
At the bottom of the stairs, the middle aged queen was out of breath, and could only stand there panting and wheezing. “Find us a horse or two,” the queen finally gasped, “and see if you can slay the dragon!”
Princess Spiderweb nodded, and ran off. Outside the tower, she found two beasts. One was watching placidly while the other one snarled and growled and made all sorts of terrifying noises.
Clearly, the noisy one had to be the dragon, and the other one must have been a horse; it appeared very capable of carrying a person, or even a lot of people.
So Princess Spiderweb set about saving the horse from the dragon. She grabbed a nearby pointy object out of a bale of hay, and started stabbing at the dragon with it. The dragon stopped growling as soon as she jabbed its furry side, and ran off, whining and yelping.
Satisfied, Princess Spiderweb held up her hand towards the horse’s huge head. It lowered its head and sniffed at her hand briefly, then nuzzled her face with its massive nose. “Good boy,” Princess Spiderweb said, sure that was what you were supposed to say to a horse. “Wait there for me!”
She ran inside and told the queen what she had done. The queen seemed unsure that the princess could have defeated a dragon so easily, but followed her outside anyway.
But for some reason the queen fainted when she saw the horse!
Princess Spiderweb thought that was the silliest thing for anyone to do on seeing a horse. But she didn’t see that they had time to wait for the queen to regain consciousness — the trollup was sure to escape that room soon, after all — so she hefted the queen’s unconscious body onto her shoulders, and lugged her up the horse’s arm, then draped her across its spine, just behind the wings.
“Now, get us somewhere safe!” Princess Spiderweb told the horse. It didn’t move, though. “Um, giddyap?” she added. That had been in one of the stories the old man used to tell her about his fantastic horse.
The horse snorted fire from its nostrils — the princess had no idea horses could do that! — then launched its body into the air. Princess Spiderweb held tightly to the horse’s scaley mane with one hand, and gripped the unconscious queen with the other.
Soon the horse landed miles and miles away from the tower, and the princess gladly got down again, bringing the queen with her. As soon as they were off, the horse flew away again.
“Not often we see dragons in these parts,” a man commented, as Princess Spiderweb watched the horse fly away.
Turning to view the man, Princess Spiderweb saw four or five dragons cowering behind him. “They don’t seem too uncommon to me,” she replied.
“Where’d you find it?” the man inquired. “How’d you tame it?”
“I don’t understand,” Princess Spiderweb admitted. She hadn’t done anything to his dragons…
“The dragon,” the man repeated, pointing at the distant spot that was the horse flying away.
“You mean my horse?” Princess Spiderweb replied, deeply confused.
“Horse? Girl, are you funnin’ with me, or are you insane?”
“How rude you are!” Princess Spiderweb exclaimed. “To insult a princess you’ve only just met!”
That just made the man laugh at her, and go inside a small wooden building nearby, all his dragons running after him. When the queen at last opened her eyes, she seemed confused and frightened still, and insisted on going inside. Princess Spiderweb followed her, and found that it was full of grimy, dirty people, similar to the man with the dragons. Most of them were eating or having mead, and the food smelled quite wonderful.
The queen was already sitting with a man who was much cleaner than the other men. “It’s such a relief to see you all right, your majesty!” the man was saying as Princess Spiderweb approached them. “His majesty was a fool not to appreciate your beauty and generosity!”
“How is he faring, though?” the queen inquired.
“His second wife had him put to death, and she rules over the land with an iron fist and a bevy of handsome courtiers,” the clean man sighed sorrowfully.
The queen burst into tears, and for some time not a word could be gotten out of her. She only stopped crying when the clean man — who was a merchant, though Princess Spiderweb wasn’t sure what that meant — bought her some very nice wine –whatever that was — and some very nice roast quail.
But there wasn’t enough for three, so Princess Spiderweb didn’t get any, and soon wandered outside again, just in time to see her horse return, wearing a saddle. (Princess Spiderweb didn’t realize it — and never would — but the trollup had put it there, and told him that Princess Spiderweb was his responsiblity now, and to be sure that nothing bad happened to her, but also that her curse not afflict anyone else. Not that the trollup was at all sure what Princess Spiderweb’s curse was. But it must have been just terribly horrible, if her own parents had sent her away as a baby!)
Princess Spiderweb went inside again, and told the queen that the horse had returned. The queen said she wanted to stay with her friend the merchant, so Princess Spiderweb went outside again, and got up on the saddle her horse was wearing.
“Let’s go see the whole world!” she exclaimed. “Giddyap!”
The horse leapt into the air, and carried off Princess Spiderweb towards many wonderful adventures.
I’ve decided to continue the story of Princess Spiderweb in future Missing Letter Monday installations, so I won’t address her curse right now.
The idea here was inspired by the song “The Princess Who Saved Herself” which I heard at Rifftrax Live, but it sorta derailed and went other places. Not necessarily bad places…but weird ones…and it may get weirder in future installments. (Not that I have any idea what’ll happen in the future installments!)