18. The Blue Bird

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Long, long ago, there lived a little princess in a happy kingdom ruled by a happy king—only then, she grew up and started to be interested in boys, and suddenly the king wasn't quite so happy anymore.

"There, there, do you see this?" marching into his wife's room, the king waved a poster under her nose. It showed a smiling, muscular youth waving a sword in front of a dragon's nose. "Ha! She used to be a proper little girl! She used to have posters of pixies and gnomes and dancing puppets in her room. Now it's all Prince Charming this and Jack the Giantkiller that, and she's always listening to that awful music by that Pimpled Piper from Hamelin!"

"I believe it's 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin', dear."

"Who cares? He has pimples!"

"Yes, dear."

"This can't be born! We must put a stop to it!"

"What?" the Queen raised an eyebrow. "To her growing up?"

"No! To all this boy nonsense. There'll be plenty of time for a happily ever after later. Like, for example, when she's thirty-five. Or maybe forty."

"Yes, dear."

"She will start behaving reasonably again. And she will do it right now! I'll see to it!"

And the king marched from the room.

Yet in spite of his most strenuous efforts, the king was unable to expunge the male species from the princess's mind. More posters appeared on the walls, more piper music drifted through the halls of the palace, and whenever other princesses came to visit, there was one main topic of conversation: how to find their prince charming.

There was only one fact that kept the king relatively calm and sane: there wasn't a prince charming to be found within a hundred miles. What the neighboring kingdoms had to offer was more along the lines of Prince Revolting, Prince Disgusting and prince I-Need-a-Bath-and-a-Haircut. So the king felt his daughter was safe, for now.

But then disaster struck!

The Prince Charming League of Fairyland chose a castle only three miles away from the king's palace for their annual convention. When his heralds brought him the news, the king nearly collapsed on the spot.

"Bring me the list of attendees!" he roared. "Now!"

Soon his servants returned with the list, and the king studied it with mounting horror. Prince Charming would be there, as would Prince Charming, Prince Charming and Prince Very Charming. And it got worse! Prince Incredibly Charming had decided to make the long journey all the way from his distant kingdom to meet up with his old friend Prince So Charming You Won't Believe It, and Prince Very Charming had buried the hatchet with his former nemesis, Prince Charming Enough To Die For, who would also be coming.

"Oh God!" In desperation, the king covered his hand. "I'm lost. The only thing I can hope now is that she doesn't find out."

"Find out what, Daddy?" came his daughter's voice from right behind him. "Oh dear, what do we have here? That looks interesting..."

"No! Give that back! That's nothing that would interest you! It's just boring—"

"Yeeeeeees!"

"—paperwork."

"Yes, yes, yes, yes!" Waving the paper in the air like a victory flag, the princess danced through the throne room. "The convention is coming! The Convention is coming! Oh, Daddy, this is wonderful! That's the best present ever! Thank you sooooo much!"

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