This is a short story I posted to Patreon last month, loosely inspired by a Reddit prompt.
All my life, I’d waited for that fairy tale moment — when we’re in the tower, when we finally kiss, when we live happily ever after. You always hear the story from the princess’ side:
“Oh, sweet prince! Come save me! We’ll kiss and get married and be happy until we die!”
Did you read that in a high-pitched, dramatic voice? Of course you did. You watched Disney movies as a kid, I’m sure.
But those movies are so one-sided. You almost never see things from the prince’s point of view. You never see how they plan to save their princess, the lengths they go to in order to get the girl quickly, or the fact that saving their princess makes them really super fricking happy. These things are just as important as saving the princess, as that first kiss, as that happily ever after.
I’d known Princess Natalia since we were kids. While I took my fencing lessons, she’d stand and watch in awe of my swift movements. When we were ten years old, she asked me to teach her how to fence, and although it was against the rules, I taught her. She was a princess, afterall, and a very pretty one at that. We may have only been ten years old, but we weren’t immune to the natural connection we had.
Over the years, I’d come to Natalia after my lessons — archery, fencing, horseback riding, whatever — eager to teach her everything that I knew. Most princesses were helpless and annoying, and I wanted Natalia to be different. I didn’t want her to be a cliche. As I taught her everything I knew, I fell in love with her. But as she learned everything I knew, she fell in love with the power this knowledge gave her.
She was not your average princess.
Natalia wasn’t just strong — she was smart, irritatingly so, and used her wit against me when I let my guard down around her. I was constantly one step behind her when we sparred, because she wasn’t just using her training any more; she was thinking ahead and using my weaknesses against me. It made for a fair fight, but losing to a girl over and over because she could get into my head was embarrassing.
Instead of turning into this strong, awesome chick, she kind of turned into a bossy, outspoken brat. Some people would say these things aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but I hated that she was my equal. When no one was looking, she would give lessons to the younger girls, teaching them to read and fight and to be fearless; but when I confronted her about it, she rolled her eyes and said she was just doing for them what I had done for her. By my sixteenth birthday, our closeness had become apparent to those around us, and our parents spoke of betrothal and children.
By then, I had fallen out of short-lived love with her. In fact, I was getting to the point where I wanted nothing to do with her.
So it was actually really convenient when she disappeared the night of her eighteenth birthday, gone from her bed with no sign of a struggle and her horse still in the barn.
Of course, everyone immediately turned to me:
“But Prince Jamison, you’re her prince!”
“Prince Jamison, you must save her!”
“Be brave for your girl, Prince Jamison!”
What I really wanted to do was leave her locked in whatever tower she’d been taken to, free to terrorize the poor unknowing soul who took her. I wanted to be rid of her. I wanted for her to stay a damsel in distress, and for me to go on to claim the throne if all four of my brothers and their kids died before I did.
I was glad to be rid of her, but it seemed that I was the only one.
The arrangements were made for me before I even had a chance to object. Over dinner, my mother and father explained that I would be taking Three of Our Best Men and The Good Horses and going on The Most Important Quest of My Life. They’d heard of a young woman, captured and taken to a tower, who kicked the crap out of anyone who came into her room, and everyone knew exactly who it was. All I had to do was get to her.
So I set out on The Most Important Quest of My Life, with The Good Horses and Three of Our Best Men. I felt like I was making my way to the gallows, or off the edge of the world’s largest and most annoying plank.
Nothing good could come of this.
On the first day, we made camp before it was even close to nightfall. The men — whose names I hadn’t really bothered to learn — objected, but I was stalling. Going to bed early and sleeping as late as physically possible was one sure way to drag this quest out as long as I could. If I was going on a quest that I never really wanted to take in the first place, I was going to make a vacation out of it. In a week, we’d barely made the distance that we could have covered in about four days, and it was starting to wear on the men.
“We’re not getting paid to stop at every festival that comes along, Your Highness.”
“We really should go find your princess, Your Highness.”
“Don’t you think sixteen hours of sleep is enough, Your Highness?”
Tired of their constant prodding, I agreed to pick up the pace. However, two nights later, a festival caught my attention. It was understated compared any of the others we’d passed — makeshift tents where there should have been professional stalls, bonfires to light the way when there should have been torches. Quickly, I rode down the hill, interested to see what sort of people would put on a festival with such low standards.
I held my hand up to stop the group at the bottom of the hill, hopped off my horse, and sauntered over to the closest tent. Inside, there was a young girl, about thirteen, standing on a table. She was dressed in boy’s clothes — pants and all — and was telling a story to a group of similarly dressed girls who couldn’t have been more than eight or nine.
“She hit him right in the nose!” the girl dramatically acted out punching herself in the nose, and the younger girls cheered. “‘Stand back! Don’t come any closer!’ she yelled, and the men circling her thought she was joking. But before they could even blink, she caught the tip of her arrow on fire, shot it at a bale of hay next to one of their horses, and ran for her life!”
The little girls cheered again, and the older girl stood proudly on the table, brandishing a wooden sword. She spoke so confidently, she almost reminded me of —
“Princess Natalia!” one of the small girls shouted. “I want to be just like her when I grow up!”
“Me too!” the smallest girl stood up on the bench and climbed up onto the table and tugged on the sleeve of the older girl. “Callie, will you teach me to be like Princess Natalia?”
The older girl, Callie, beamed down at the girl and patted her head.
“Of course I will!” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “We may be girls, and we may be small, but we are not weak! If a princess can be strong and fierce and punch a man on the nose when he tries to attack her, then why can’t we?”
All of the girls cheered once more and climbed up onto the table, yelling and hugging one another. Callie looked around at them proudly, promising each one that she would do what she could to teach them how to be strong.
I stared in disbelief at the group of girls in front of me, completely oblivious to the fact that I — a prince — was standing just feet away from their ridiculous discussion. Just as I was about to clear my throat and tell them that their dreams would never amount to anything more than that, one of my men tapped me on the shoulder.
“Prince Jamison?” he said quietly, gesturing toward the entrance of the tent. Two guards I didn’t recognize were standing just outside, grim expressions on their faces.
Looking back once more at the girls, I shook my head and followed them out of the tent.
“What is it?” I asked, eyeing the opening of the tent as I walked closer to the guards.
“It’s Princess Natalia,” my man, Markus is his name I think, said to me, putting the reins of my horse in my hands.
“What about her?” I asked, trying with phenomenal effort to convey just how bored I was with talking about Natalia. “Did she beat up another guard?”
Markus hung his head and my heart skipped a beat.
“Is she okay?” I asked, surprising myself.
“She escaped her tower,” Markus said, looking up at me with a crease in his forehead. “She was nearly a mile out when she was ambushed by hunters. There were just so many of them…”
“Is she okay?” I repeated, raising my voice. In all the years I’d known Natalia, she had never lost a fight. But she’d never been up against more than two or three men while sparring, either. “Where is she?”
“They’ve taken her back to the tower,” Markus answered, passing a scroll to me. It was a letter from my father, explaining the attack. “This is all we know. It’s not good. Your Highness, we must save her.”
I nodded, turning my back for a second to collect myself. Going to rescue Natalia from a tower when I knew she was perfectly fine was one thing; actually having to rescue her from a terrible fate made my bones ache with dread. I was like something had opened up inside of me, and I was overwhelmed with the sudden realization that I was setting out to do the one thing I had never thought I would have to do — I had to save Natalia.
All of the time I’d spent dismissing her, resenting her, came back to me and I was wracked with guilt. She’d always sworn she would never need anyone to save her, that she could save herself. But in that moment, I knew that I was the only hope she had if she wanted to survive. And I was terrified.
When I turned, I was surprised to see Callie standing in front of my, eye wide with fright.
“Will Princess Natalia be okay?” she asked, the courage and energy I’d seen moments before completely absent from her demeanor. She looked smaller, standing timidly in front of me with her head bowed instead of shouting proudly from the table. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, Your Highness. I was just on my way to get some water and I heard you talking and I couldn’t help myself.”
The girl looked absolutely distraught, and I suddenly felt bad for wanting to tell her off earlier.
“She’ll be fine,” I said, bending down to the girl to meet her eye level. “Callie, right?”
The girl nodded and I continued.
“She’s the toughest girl I know. You’ve heard the stories.”
“But they’re only stories,” Callie knotted her hands together. “They’re just things we tell each other to get us through the long days of lessons and cleaning and sewing. They don’t mean anything.”
“They’re not just stories,” I said firmly, shaking my head. “She’s been training since she was younger than you. She’s brave, she’s fierce, and she’s loud. She’s the strongest person I know. And I know a lot of very strong men. Just because she’s a princess, it doesn’t mean she has to be weak.”
As the words left my mouth, I finally understood why Natalia had been so hell bent on learning everything she could, and on teaching the other girls what I’d taught her. She wasn’t doing it to one-up me. She was doing it to one-up tradition; to one-up herself.
“So she really is a brave princess?” the light came back into Callie’s eyes and she looked up at me, standing a little taller. “She really punched a guard in the nose and scared his horses off?”
“I wasn’t there for that, but it definitely sounds like something she could do,” I said, a half smile spreading on my face. “And some day, if you train hard enough and stay brave, I’m sure you’ll be just like her someday.”
Callie hugged me, but quickly released her grip and backed away with her head down.
“Sorry, Your Highness,” she muttered. “Didn’t mean to hug you.”
I stood and brushed some dirt from my knee.
“Don’t apologize if you don’t mean it,” I told her, and she looked up at me with a confused expression. “That was one of the first things I taught Princess Natalia. Apologizing out of habit when you don’t really mean it shows weakness. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. You don’t owe that to anyone.”
“Well, then… not sorry,” she said, turning to head back to the tent.
“Be brave, Callie,” I said as she walked away. She turned for a moment and smiled before scurrying back into the tent to, I’m sure, tell her friends about the conversation we just had.
I turned back to my horse, and all three of my men were staring at me with curious grins on their faces.
“What?” I asked, hopping onto my horse, suddenly embarrassed that they’d heard my conversation with Callie.
“Nothing, Your Highness,” Markus said, climbing onto his horse and coming up next to me. “Shall we go?”
I nodded, adjusting my seat on my horse.
“Come on,” I said, squaring my shoulders and sneaking one last glance at the tent behind us. “Let’s go save Princess Natalia.”