21. Beastly and the Beast

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Once upon a time in an enchanted kingdom, a handsome young prince lived in a beautiful castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, he was a self-centered little tyrant. But since he was nine years old nobody really cared, and his parents loved him to bits anyway.

One evening, the king and queen wanted to take a break from parenting and go some place where they could lock the door and not have their son knock to ask what they were doing in there for so long, and why the royal bed kept squeaking. So they booked a suite in a hotel in town and called the first minister.

"First minister," said the king, "the queen and I must leave on most important and urgent royal business, and in our absence, we need someone to take care of a task here that requires the utmost experience, endurance and strength of character."

The first minister's chest puffed out. "Leave it to me, Your Majesty. You can count on me."

The king beamed. "I thought you'd say that. Then we shall go, and shall leave you in charge of babysitting duty."

The first minister covered his face with his hands. "Why?" he asked God, himself, and the universe in general. "Why do I always fall for that?"

"Hahaa!" The prince stormed in, a broad grin on his face. "They got you! They got you again!"

"Good luck." The king patted his first minister on the back and handed him a ring of keys. "Here's the key to his room, and here the one to the armory, in case you need to defend yourself. And you..." He turned towards the prince. "Remember what we told you about stranger danger. Don't open the door to strangers, even if they look nice, with glittery fairy wings and sparkling wands. Under no circumstances let anyone into the castle."

Feeling that his father was being serious, the little prince nodded earnestly. "I won't, father, I promise."

"Good boy." The king squeezed his son's shoulder. "And try not to torture the first minister too much, all right?"

The little prince grinned. "That I don't promise."

A tortured groan came from the direction of the first minister. The king and prince ignored it, hugged, and then the two monarchs set off to their hotel eager to enjoy a night away from parental responsibilities and full of squeaking beds.

In the throne room, the prince turned towards the first minister.

"What shall we play? Oh, I know! We'll play Jack the Giant Killer! I'll be Jack, and you'll be the giant."

"Please! Please! Can't we play something else? Anything else?"

"How about Little Mermaid? I'd love to see if you have learned to breathe underwater since last time we tried."

With a sigh, the first minister resigned himself to his fate.

It was some time (and many bruises) later, when the little boy's innocent playing was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell. This in itself was rather surprising, since the main castle was surrounded by a moat, two walls, and multitudes of guards with instructions to let nobody through. But apparently, this didn't bother the nocturnal visitor.

The prince had gotten tired of playing Jack the Giant killer. With new entertainment promising, he hurried over to the door and looked through the peephole.

"Good Evening, ugly old hag. What do you want?"

"I am a poor, hungry, harmless old woman looking of shelter from the storm," came a waverying voice from outside. "Please, young Sir, let me in."

"Storm? There isn't any storm. It's a lovely night."

"What? Drat! I forgot!" The noise of finger snapping came from outside, and a moment later, the wind howled and rain started to pelt the roof. "Now there's a storm and I'm seeking shelter. Will you let me in already?"

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