Friday, December 29, 2006

MDS Ch. 3 - The plan hatched

In the hopes of fighting fear with knowledge and making the best of bad situations, it occurred to me to try to learn, from the princes and knights who seemed to be flooding my life, as much about this system as I could.

I must say, the more I considered the system, and the more I learned of it, the more foolish it seemed. For instance, if the prize for slaying a dragon was the princess’s hand in marriage, it was a prize that could go to one man and one man only. So under the system, it made sense only for a single man to attack a dragon. This was insane. Dragons are in nearly every way physically superior to men. In normal circumstances it would be logical to take them in groups of four or five. Men were needlessly dying for this system, not to mention the dragons.

The dragons are an interesting case, too, because their options are so limited. Unfortunately they need lots of food to live. If they take livestock, kingdoms get serious about hunting them down and their survival is unlikely. Hunting’s an option, but as a lifestyle it makes every day a struggle. The dragons have adapted to a lazier lifestyle, and see this as a reasonable system. They don’t hesitate to kill knights, because they know they’re there to kill them, and besides the knights who lose, who’s really getting hurt? And anyway, the animosity between humans and dragons, sparked by the seeming conspiracy of the monarchies to keep the politics secret from their people, makes it next to impossible for a dragon to get an honest job to pay for food. For the dragons, the choice is a lazy life of crime or a life of noble struggle.

It wasn’t unheard of, I found out, for one party or the other to actually give up and have their life spared, once they realized they were bested. Of course, there was the matter of the armor. Dragonhide armor, a not-so-charming young prince once informed me, was ‘one of the most amazing quasi-magical compounds known to man.’ Besides being virtually flameproof and insanely tough, dragonhide had one exceedingly bizarre quality that, among other things, protected it from theft. Only the one who slew the dragon from which it was made could wear it. On anyone else, it would turn brittle like shed snakeskin.

Dragonhide was a status symbol amongst knights, so they would sometimes try to kill a surrendered dragon for a piece of their hide. It just went to show you it wasn’t all about princesses.

“And it’s really a good thing,” I was telling Jarrod shortly after I found out, “Because I was starting to feel really guilty. Like people were dying for me and I was so ungrateful all I could think of was me. It’s all just really screwed up.”

"It really is," he replied.

We were quiet for a moment.

"Well, maybe I could rescue you."

I laughed. "Jarrod, have you ever seen a dragon?"

"Hey, I'm a good man in a fight."

"I'm flattered, but there's no way. Anyway, what makes you think I'm so hot on marrying you?"

Jarrod blushed.

"Maddy, I didn't mean-. I mean you didn't think I was saying-. I just, if it was me we wouldn't have to get married."

"Yes we would. My parents would see to it. That's the whole point. It's the system. I'm essentially promised to whomever can kill whichever giant lizard captures me. The only way I could get out is if... Well, maybe if I killed the dragon."

I laughed at the absurdity of the idea, but Jarrod seemed to take it seriously.

"Maddy, that's brilliant. Why not?" he asked.

"You're crazy," I said, "I could never -"

"I bet you could. One, you’ve got the element of surprise. The dragon would never expect an attack from within. Plus, shit, you've got immunity. A dragon can't hurt you without bringing down the wrath of a whole kingdom - without risk of tearing down the whole system. With enough planning, Maddy, you could do this. Free yourself from the whole thing."

"That's crazy, Jarrod. Maybe I'll just talk to my parents. Tell them how I feel."

"Fine," he replied, "You go talk to them and see where that gets you. I'm going to make a plan."

I left laughing, but also intrigued. Mainly I was just thinking dreamily about how dedicated Jarrod was to me, to come up with this whole silly plan.

The talk with my parents, as you’ve probably guessed, was like talking to a wall.

“But why don’t you want to get married?” my mother asked frantically.

“I’m not saying I don’t want to get married, I’m saying I don’t want to get married this way,” I tried to explain.

“Well what way do you want to do it, then? Have a bloody contest like the Eefratapi?” He paused. “Actually that wouldn’t be the worst idea. Bring a lot of money into the economy. Everybody loves a big tournament.”

“Don’t be stupid, Mylton,” my mother told him. She turned to me.

“This system worked for me. It worked for my mother. It’s worked for our family for generations. It works for the knights, and it even works for the dragons. I know it seems scary and frustrating to you, Maddy, but just try to think of it as the next chapter of your life. You’re going to marry a handsome young man and have a fine life.”

And that was the end of that. My parents were set in their ways, my suitors were many and varied and ridiculous, and my time was running out.

By and by as my stress level increased, I started to take Jarrod’s idea seriously. He, of course, had never directly mentioned it since that first time, but I knew, I knew he was working on it. He wanted to have it ready when I finally relented. I wanted to talk it out with someone else. My friends wouldn’t hear of it I was sure, and my parents were out of the question. That left Ariadne, the little brat.

“Madz, are you serious!? That’s crazy!”

“That’s exactly what I said when he suggested it. But honestly, he made some good points. It could really work.”

Ariadne thought a minute, picking up and studying my dolls as she thought.

“Well, what if he is right? What happens next?”

“Well, after I slay the dragon I win me. And that means I get to be my own person, and marry anybody I want.” I actually hadn’t thought about it, but when Ria called me on it I felt obligated to make something up in a hurry. Now that I had though, I liked my explanation. Whomever slays the dragon gets the girl, even if it is the girl. Makes perfect sense, I thought. Ria, apparently, thought differently.

“Do you really think Mom and Dad will see it that way?” she asked, raising an eyebrow and crossing her arms.

“Well, what choice will they have?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. She was certainly turning into a teenager early.

“They could get angry, Madz. They might do something really bad.”

I smiled. “Why should they get angry,” I asked, “They never said I couldn’t slay a dragon.”

Ariadne did not think this was as funny as I’d hoped.

“Be careful, big sis,” she said, and walked out.

Obnoxious and pretentious as she was, she was almost certainly right. Even if I pulled this off there was no guarantee it would work out the way I wanted it to. Nonetheless, I was leaning more and more towards it as an option, and the scare I needed to push me into it came the next night.

Horizon was having a little get-together at her kingdom. It was really an excuse to get to know Prince Ryan a little better, but she invited the three of us (Bri, Jenny, and I) to allay suspicion. She also invited Prince Steven, for which I currently hated her. Anyway, much to Horizon’s chagrin, the two princes were chatting politics at the castle while us girls played some croquet on the lawn.

“How do you think it’s going?” Rizzy asked.

“He’s totally into you,” I said, rightly enough.

“But you knew that,” said Bri, “It’s your parents that are the problem.”

“I can worry bout that later,” she said, “After all, I don’t have a big scaly ticking time bomb to worry ‘bout.”

At just that moment, as if summoned by her words, a huge red form streaked toward us. We all knew what it was. I screamed. Jenny ducked. Horizon voiced an expletive.

Bri ran at the dragon, screaming, “Take me, take me!”

And it did. Well eventually. First it stopped and surveyed the scene. Then it asked, in a deep throaty voice, “Princess Briana of Sesiquill?”

She nodded fearfully. It nodded back, then produced a tiny card from between two scales and gave it to me, of all people.

“See that this gets to her parents,” it said, then picked up Bri and took off. She looked positively ecstatic.

The rest of us were a bit shaken. The party was broken up immediately, the card was sent to Sesiquill with the fastest messenger in the kingdom, and we all went home to our respective parents.

I was horrified by the sheer size of it. Dragons were the sorts of creatures you could hear about your whole life, but never be prepared to see, up close and personal. The sheen of the scales, the deep gravelly voice, the unhumanity of it. On the one hand, Jarrod’s plan seemed more impossible than ever. On the other hand, it seemed essential. After three or four days in bed recovering from the shock of it, (time that would have been mandated by my parents even if I hadn’t needed it) I went to see Jarrod.

“So tell me about the plan.”

Friday, December 22, 2006

How Willy the Walrus Saved Christmas

Read this first. The sequel will certianly not be as good as the original.

It had been two uneventful years since Willy the Walrus had discovered the true meaning of Christmas, but Willy still loved Christmas and the Christmas spirit more than any other Walrus. One Christmas Eve, while he was leading the Walrus choir in a rendition of some Christmas Carols,
a man dressed all in black showed up.
"Hi man dressed all in black," said Willy, "Merry Christmas Eve."
"This the North Pole?" asked the man, who had a sniper rifle slung across his back.
"No, silly," said Willy, "This is eastern Siberia. The north pole is north of here."
"Thanks," said the man, and walked off.
"Willy!" said Wesley the Walrus, one of the basses in the walrus choir, "I think that man was an assassin. He was probably headed to the north pole to kill Santa. You have to go SAVE CHRISTMAS!"
And so he did. Willy walked for a long time following the tracks of the man in black, but people are just faster than walruses. He knew he'd never make it on his own. That was when he saw the eskimo from the last story.
"Eskimo! Will you help me get to the north pole and save Christmas?" asked Willy.
But the Eskimo still didn't speak Walrus or celebrate Christmas, so he lobbed his spear at Willy. Luckily, Willy dodged again. Willy noticed that Eskimo was not a politically correct term, and thought that perhaps that was why the Inuit man kept lobbing spears at him, so he tried another tactic.
"Inuit! Will you help me get to the north pole and save Christmas?" asked Willy.
At this, the man put down his spear and ran to Willy.
"Foolish Walrus!" he said, forgetting temporarily that he didn't speak the language, "Inuit refers to native peoples of Canada, northern Alaska, and Greenland! The native inhabitants of western Alaska, Russia, and Siberia are called Yupik and do not objeect to the term Eskimo, often using it to refer to ourselves!"
"I'm sorry, Eskimo," said Willy, "I didn't know."
"Well now you do."
"But can you help me get to the north pole and save Christmas?" asked Willy.
'But I don't celebrate Christmas, and I frequently hunt Walruses for food."
"Oh," said Willy, and moved on.
But the eskimo was moved by what was definitely not Christmas spirit but was nonetheless nice and decided to take Willy to the north pole on his dog sled.
At the North Pole, Willy thanked the Eskimo for the ride and got out. He was amazed by the beauty of Santa's workshop and the sight of so many happy elves.
"Happy Elves," he said, "Has a man in black come through here? I think he might be coming to kill Santa!"
"Oh no!" said the elves "He came through before you did!"
Willy wasted no time, moving as fast as he could to get to Santa. When he got there he saw the man in black take out the rifle and point it at Santa.
"NOOOOOOOO!" he yelled, but he couldn't make it there in time.
"Thank you Rufus," Santa said to the man as he put the rifle down, "This sniper rifle will make some little boy very happy. By delivering it to me in time, you've SAVED CHRISTMAS."
"Well, don't thank me," said Rufus, "This little Walrus told me how to get here."
"Well, little Walrus," said Santa, "You've SAVED CHRISTMAS too. Sort of."
And so Willy saved Christmas sort of. Or at least learned the true meaning of Christmas. Again. Or learned a valuable lesson about political correctness and the value of education, if nothing else. The End.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

MDS Ch. 2 - Awaiting the Other Shoe

Thanks to my parents, I spent the next few weeks in constant dread. Every time I went outside or got near a window, I found myself cringing or searching the sky for dragons. My sister caught on eventually, and she started orchestrating escalatingly complex schemes to freak me out. By six weeks after my birthday, my mood could only be described as high-strung.

When I wasn’t freaking out about the whole dragon angle, I was getting considerably more spooked by the whole husband angle. Mother had begun trying to set me up with various promising princes and knights, and it was awful. We had nothing whatsoever to talk about. I remember one time, I was invited to spend the night in a nearby castle to get better acquainted with the kingdom’s sole heir, Prince Steven.

I arrived that night, scared to death. Normally I would talk my apprehensions out with Jarrod, but for some reason I felt like this was a topic I didn’t want to share with him. My mother had assured me we would be a “superb match,” but I didn’t share her enthusiasm. For one thing, he was two years my senior. For another at the few functions we had attended he had either ignored or teased me so I didn’t know what to expect. I gathered that this was not entirely parent orchestrated – that he had expressed an interest in seeing me.

I arrived in the castle and, after an awkward chat with some servants and about 15 minutes of waiting, he arrived, down the stairs in a horrifyingly regal outfit. I myself was dressed modestly, forbidden to dress down anymore and frightened to dress up anymore.

“Madison,” he said, “How long has it been?”

I wracked my brain. “Three years?”

“Too long. I meant to attend your little celebration a few weeks ago, but there were affairs of state.” He flicked his hand at the air, as if dispelling any affairs of state that might still be hanging around. “Anyway, consider this an apology. I’ve arranged for a fantastic dinner. Are you hungry?”

I had been, but now I was mostly just horrified and amused by Steven’s incredible pretentiousness.

“Starving,” I lied and flashed him a smile. That was probably a mistake.

Over dinner, my fears of us having nothing to talk about were assuaged. I had mistakenly imagined I would be given the opportunity to talk. Steven, however, was perfectly happy to do all the talking himself. Eventually I tuned him out. I noticed a sudden break in his monologue and returned to reality to find him staring into my eyes.

Not having been following the monologue I wasn’t sure what I could say to break the creepy spell, but luckily Steven solved the problem for me.

“Tim was right. You have become very beautiful.”

I wanted to laugh. His cheesiness, his pretension, it was ridiculous – as if by getting his servants to set up the right environment and learning the right script, he could simply sweep me off my feet. Tim! Prince Timothy had been at my party. I could see it now, the guys sitting around the fire, shooting the breeze. “So how was that party, Tim?” “It was OK, some hot chicks there.” “It’s the same old princesses right?” “Yeah, but some of them are growing up and filling out. You should have seen the birthday girl, herself.”

I shook my head. I had dressed up so much that day. He must have been disappointed to see me walk in looking like this. But evidently he decided to go through with it anyway.

“Thanks,” I said, “You’re very kind.”

I had an epiphany at that moment. All the awkward and scared would go away, I realized, as long as I kept the humor of the whole thing in my mind. From then on I treated all my “dates” as a big joke. I didn’t laugh outwardly, but I laughed inwardly and delighted in telling Bri, Horizon, and Jenny all about it afterwards.

Bri, predictably enough, was condescending.

“Madison,” she said once, “When are you going to start taking yourself seriously as a future monarch? You should be really looking for a husband, instead of finding ways to make fun of every boy who expresses an interest. I’d die for as many offers as you get.”

Bri considered me to be prettier than her and she wouldn’t let it go. She was very worried about the slim offerings and was currently trying to get herself captured by a dragon. However, her kingdom was not exceptionally wealthy; in fact there were rumors that there was hardly any money in their treasury at all. Evidently the local dragons had heard the rumors. I knew that the differences in the size of our treasury were also of more interest to the princes than the discrepancy in our appearances.

“But they’re all so ridiculous. I’m 16. I don’t want to get married!”

“Except to a stable boy,” mumbled Jenny.

“At least I can talk to him. At least he sees something in me besides a bag of gold with breasts!”

“These princes aren’t all so bad,” said Horizon, “There’s at least one makes me wish I was in this game.” Horizon’s case was a little different than ours. In her kingdom, the hand of the princess was won in a tournament of strength that would be held on her 17th birthday. If a dragon kidnapped her, it didn’t necessarily mean anything for her marital status. And if she flirted with a prince, it was just that- flirting.

“You’ve got your eye on somebody Rizzy?” I asked.


“Oh, who is it?” I asked.

“Not that it matters, but do dish,” said Bri.

“Actually, I’ve been doing some reading, and political unions aren’t unheard of in Eefratap,” said Jenny. “There’s historical precedent.”

Horizon raised her eyebrows at this. We all looked at her expectantly.

“Prince Ryan, from Huggria. His family was at our castle for some kind of trade agreement or something and we, uh, well…”

“Snuck off for a bit?” scoffed Bri.

“You could say that,” she said, giggling. And that was all we could get out of her. That was how it was – I had my Jarrod, though Rizzy and Bri thought me silly, Rizzy had her Ryan, Bri frantically tried to attract a royal eye, and Jenny just didn’t seem to care. If asked, she’d simply say “Oh, I’m sure someone will find a man for me somehow.” It was almost sad, how resigned she was about the whole thing. On the other hand, she wasn’t having a heart attack every time her sister made a growling noise.

Things with Jarrod had been slowly returning to something like normal. At my birthday party he had decided to become my suitor as well as my friend, but once he realized that it was distancing us, he toned it down. It was good, I needed a Jarrod I could talk to and count on. Eventually he found out about the suitors. One day my mother insisted I entertain a young man (I can’t even remember who) and the man was rather insistent we go riding. (He’d heard I was fond of it and was trying to cater to my interests. This is ironic because I’m really not too crazy about riding. I did it a lot because it gave me an excuse to see Jarrod.)

Anyway, we did go riding together and Jarrod was there, being all servanty and it was awkward. That night I went to see him.

“Oh,” he said when I walked in, “Hi Madison. I was just cleaning up and getting ready to head home.”

“Oh,” I said.

There was a pregnant pause.

“So who was your friend today?”

“Just somebody,” I said. “My mother basically set it up.”

“Of course.”

“She’s actually done it several times now. I’ve been meaning to tell you about it.”

“You sweet on one of those princes?” he asked, as if he didn’t much care.

“No, Jarrod, I’m not sweet on them,” I said hotly. “I have to see them and be courted by them. It’s not something I’d choose.”

“So why keep it from me?” he snapped back.

“I don’t know, because I figured you’d be like this?”

“Good job,” he said dryly, “You’re like a prophet or something. I’m going home.”

In spite of myself I started to sob.

“Jarrod!” I cried as he stepped through the doorframe. “Don’t do this. I need you to be here for me now. I hate all this boy stuff. Don’t be part of it, please. I couldn’t handle that.”

He came back over and held me in his arms. It was the hug of a friend, but it was something more and we both knew it. I told him everything, the suitors, the dragon, the whole bit and from then on he was a close friend again. I was sort of jogging my brain for a way Jarrod and I could be together, but it seemed impossible. Looking back, I guess I liked him as an idea more than as an actual potential. I could compare the princes I dated and the knights I had occasion to meet to Jarrod, and then feel justified in disparaging them.

A few weeks after my party I received an invitation to the wedding of Princess Opal and the knight who’d rescued her. We all went and had a grand time, but watching the two of them unnerved me. There was excitement and happiness, but nothing of love. They both seemed to be playing a part. Horizon and I caught up with Opal in the washroom. She was crying.

“What’s wrong, honey?” asked Rizzy.

“I just… I don’t even know him. He killed that dragon and rescued me and it was exciting and then he asked for my hand and of course I said yes and it seemed like it would all work out, but… What if he’s stupid, or he doesn’t want kids, or he wants too many kids! What if - ”

“There, there,” we said, and convinced her she was just getting cold feet and being an apprehensive bride, but I was shaken. I had been holding onto the dragon method as a hope – that the knights would be altogether a better batch then the princes, but Opal had called this into question. After all, why should they be? Why should the ability to kill things make one a good husband? I was beginning to realize that there was no answer to a question like that.

Friday, December 08, 2006

MDS Ch. 1 - A birthday party

(Posted two in a row, so please scroll down and read the intro first)

I suppose it has to come out sooner or later, but my least favorite part of telling this story is revealing that I used to be a princess. I won’t say the name of my kingdom here because I know how much of an embarrassment I am to them, but it was a small but prosperous kingdom in the lower Gribt, a successful agricultural nation. My mother, Queen Kathleen, was (and perhaps still is – I have not been back there so I can’t say) a strong, intense woman. She basically governed the kingdom, with the help of father’s advisors, while my father was out. He, King Mylton, was a lover of all kinds of sport. Falconry, Archery, Tournaments, Hunting, all kinds of entertainment. It kept him away from his other favorite thing – war, so his kingdom encouraged him.
Mylton always wanted a son to share the fun with (needless to say these were not proper activities for girls), so, though he tried not to show it, he was disappointed when I was born, and heartbroken when Ariadne was born two years later. He took out his frustrations by sporting even more, so life for us was mostly life with our mother.
From her we learned to be young ladies – to read and write, to play something (I picked up the lute. Don’t even ask me to play, you’ll wish you hadn’t), to knit- need I go on? Looking back, it was hardly a life. But at the time, I thought I had it pretty good. Though I was discouraged from mingling with the common folk, we did go into town occasionally go into town to spend our allowance on silly things in the shops. We got a stipend of gold a week, theoretically to learn how to handle money responsibly. This, I later learned, was ridiculous. No one in my family handled money responsibly. They were royalty.
But to my sweet 16. The guest list was exactly what I’d expect – not a name on it that didn’t began with Princess or Prince. It was mostly Princess, Mother had not yet began to introduce me to young men yet, and most princes did not bother themselves with girls’ parties. I knew dimly that this was all about to change, that at sixteen I would be a woman and marriageable, but I didn’t give it much thought. I was excited to see my “friends” and to be the center of attention. Extra fools would be hired to entertain, a fine feast would be served, we would ride horses and play games! I was as giddy as a schoolgirl.
There is one incident I must relate before we come to the day of the party that this chapter is ostensibly about. My mother, more as part of my ladyship training then out of respect for me, was making me come along to attend to every detail of planning the party. So she had me help come up with the guest list. We went through Princess this and Princess that until we came up with a good list, but there was one name missing: Jarrod.
Jarrod was, perhaps, my only real friend. He was the stable boy who took care of my pony, Precious. We had known each other since we were perhaps 9 and 11, respectively, exchanging friendly smiles and meaningless conversation as he helped me onto Precious or showed me how to brush her, to saddle and unsaddle her. One rainy day, while bored, I had snuck down to the stables to see Jarrod and spent most of the day with him, talking and playing. My parents were (or rather my mother was) sick with worry, and Mother forbade me to see him again. However, my father was in a jolly mood. (Jolly was one of his two moods. You’ll hear about the other one later.) He’d always liked Jarrod, the son of his favorite horse groomer, and said that I needed a friend around the kingdom and that I should be allowed to see him, as long as it was seen to that we both remembered our places. Mother, having been vetoed, rolled her eyes but went along.
I liked Jarrod, even fancied, as young girls do, that I loved him, because he was my link to the real world. He met real people and saw real places. He had adventures. He would bring me things I could never buy in the shops, because I was only allowed to visit the fanciest shops and, warned of my approach by trumpets, they put out for me a special store of fancy things.
So I told my mother I wanted Jerrod formally invited to my 16th birthday party.
“Dearest,” she said, “We have a separate list for which servants will be working at the party. You can put that boy on that list.”
“NO!” I shouted, “I want him to be a guest! He’s a dear, close friend.”
“Maddy, dearest,” she said, patronizingly as always, “Think about this from his perspective. Will he really want to be a guest at a party full of his betters? Think what would happen if, taken by one of your beautiful friends and emboldened by his position as invited guest, he tried to make an advance on her. Your boy could lose his head for that. And think what people will say! And of course no one at the party will talk to him.”
She was right of course, and, being able to come up with no better course of action, I cried. I ran to Jarrod and told him all about it between sobs.
“Maddy,” he said, putting his hands on my shoulders and looking in my eyes, “Of course she’s right. But don’t feel so bad. I wouldn’t ever want to be royalty, one of those princes or knights, having to marry whoever was the richest, trapped in a castle like you. For me, this is a good life. And like Her Majesty said, I can still come to your party. Make sure you spend at least a little while at the stables. I’ve got a present for you.”
“What is it!?” I exclaimed, forgetting my former anguish.
“I’m not telling.”
“Give it to me now!”
“Then how will I ever get you to come see me at the stables?”
In this way he distracted me and made it all better. Jarrod had a knack for that. In any event, I did not find out anything about my present and, little by little, the day finally approached.

“Madz! Wake up! You’re 16!”
It was Ariadne, my little sister. Ria didn’t think much of sleeping and sruggled to do as little as possible. I was pleasantly surprised to roll over and see that it was actually light out.
“And you waited til I’d been 16 for a whole 4 hours to tell me?” I asked jokingly. “You’re slipping, Ria.”
“Think of it as my present to you.” She smiled one of those sickeningly adorable little kid smiles.
“If this is all I’m getting, I think I should get to sleep another two hours.”
“Two hours!?!” Ria whined, “But your party’s in, like, like –“
“14 hours?” I finished for her.
“Yeah, and we have so much to do!”
“You mean we have so much to watch servants do. Come back in another 4 hours, Ria.”
Ria folded her arms dramatically and sat down on my bed. A minute later she tried a different tactic.
“I bet if Jarrod were waking you up you’d get up.”
I rolled my eyes. “I bet if Jarrod were anywhere near my bedroom he’d be beheaded, especially now that I’m 16.”
Ria just smiled.
“You’re 16!” she replied, as if this were completely revolutionary news.
Now it was my turn to smile, at my adorable little sister, who, I reasoned, was very likely not going to let me sleep. As the day wore on, I went through all the necessary and proper hostess steps. I did a final check of the RSVP list and a roll call of the servant list. I tasted the food. I inspected the decorations. I saved one errand for last, however, and I knew it. So when I finally said, “Well, mother, is there anything else we need to do?” it was she who would have to bring it up, to tell me to do it.
Well,” she finally said, “Just nip down to the stables and make sure everything is in order for your guests there.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied smugly, and made to run off.
“Madison!” She stopped me in my tracks.
“What must you check at the stables?”
I rolled my eyes and rattled off the list.
“See that they’re clean and presentable, see that the horses are rested and ready to be saddled, see that the staff know what to expect and how to handle any situations.”
I racked my brain searching for that last detail.
“See that stalls are prepared for visitors’ horses?” I tried.
“Don’t waste too much time with that boy.
Of course. I, perhaps predictably, rolled my eyes again and took off. Hearing my mother’s call of “A lady never runs” I slowed to a dainty saunter.
I was wearing my favorite dress, a gorgeous yellow thing with little flowers and a neckline I considered to be just on the border of good taste. My hair was done up, but with a substantial amount of wavy blonde hair still coming down across my back and shoulders (like most of the princesses of the day, I had quite a bit of hair). Though I never considered myself beautiful, I was feeling quite pleased with my appearance on that special day. It wasn’t just that I was dressing up for the party, or even for Jarred (though I did enjoy thinking of him, and his possible reactions, as I prepared). Mainly, I was dressing up for myself. I was 16, an adult, and I wanted to feel like an adult.
I did get some reaction out of Jarrod when I stepped lightly into the stables. He looked me up and down, smiled, and said something like:
“Wow, you clean up nice, kid.”
“I could say the same thing about you,” I replied coyly, and it was true. Jarrod had washed his normally disheveled hair and put some kind of grease in it. He was wearing surprisingly clean and neat clothes, though his hide vest still had its ever-present stains. In fact…
“New shirt?” I asked.
“No big deal. The old one was getting ratty,” he replied, but I knew the truth. He had bought a new shirt for me, for the party. Granted it was a small enough thing, but I fancied at the time it meant much more.
"So…” I began. I was nervous, which was silly. Jarrod was a childhood friend – we had known each other for years and frequently (though not as much of late) spent time alone together. But today, dolled up as I was and feeling all of a sudden like an adult, and he in his new shirt, things felt different.
“So?” he asked.
“So, I’m supposed to make sure everything’s ready here. For the party.”
“Well,” he gestured at the room in general “I ain’t stoppin’ ya.”
I looked around and, of course, everything looked great. My specific mental checklist had long since slipped my mind, of course.
“It all looks good,” I said distractedly.
“Then I guess you’re done here.”
I refocused and looked at Jarrod, smiling.
“But I’m done everywhere else, too. I came here last. Can I have my present now?"
“You’ll get it at your party.”
“But right now we’re alone.”
Jarrod raised an eyebrow.
“What did you think I was getting you?” he asked rhetorically.
I said nothing, defenseless against his completely deserved implied jab.
“Game of cards?” he asked, producing a well-worn deck from his trouser pocket.
“I can’t sit down in here in this dress,” I said. “Let’s go inside.”
The card game came and went uneventfully, and finally the party began. I happily greeted my friends, and those girls who were not friends but courtesy demanded I invite. And so it came to be that I was sitting with my three closest friends, listening to a particularly bad bard sing a ballad about a girl who sold vegetables. It was less than compelling so we resorted to our standard form of self-entertainment – gossip.
“So Maddy,” asked Bri, a tough-looking brunette who had already been 16 for 6 months, “Did Opal RSVP? I noticed she isn’t here.”
Before I could answer, Horizon , a dark-skinned girl from one of the southern tribal kingdoms, cut in.
“I heard that Opal been kidnapped by one of them dragons!”
We all gasped except for Bri. We all knew that it was something that happened to princesses but, young as we all were, we didn’t really know the specifics. Bri, however, knew everything.
“I’d heard that too, Rizzy,” she said, “That’s why I asked Maddy. I wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said.
“You know how I meant it.”
We laughed.
“I got a note back from Opal’s mother. It was really very vague.”
“I hope she’s O.K.,” mumbled Jenny. Jenny was “the quiet one” in our little foursome. She was small and quite striking with her ringlets of red hair.
“Oh, she be fine,” said Rizzy, “You know that dragon stuff all politics these days. Don’t nobody ever get eaten.”
“I heard of a princess in Winnaemek who got eaten,” said Bri.
“Ain’t no such thing,” snapped Horizon.
I knew I had to act quickly defuse the situation.
“This bard is so lame,” I said to the girls, “Fancy a quick ride before dinner?”
“I thought were going riding in the evening,” said Jenny.
“Well, everybody is, but I thought we could sneak off just the four of us for a quick trot.”
“And so you can see your boy-toy?” asked Rizzy.
You’ve probably figured out by now that I had quite the schoolgirl crush on Jarrod, and that I, in typical teenage fashion, blurted it out to every girl I knew. They all thought I was a little crazy.
“How about we go talk to some of those yummy princes instead?” asked Bri, gesturing at a nearby table, “They must like you if they came to your party, and they look pretty hot. Plus they actually have, you know, prospects.”
“And they’re probably dreadfully dull! I’d rather go to the stables.”
“Maddy, when you gonna get real, girl?” asked Rizzy, “You and that stable boy ain’t gonna happen. Yo momma won’t let it.”
I was upset, but I let them talk me into talking to the princes. They were even duller than I’d expected. And then of course there was dinner, so it wasn’t until nearly sun down that I, with my entire party, made it to the stables.
Of course, surrounded by my friends and my mother, Jarrod didn’t act like anything more than a servant. But after the ride, as he offered his hand to help me off of Precious, he winked at me, and when I took it, he pressed into my hand something small and metal. I kept it closed in my hand. While we walked back to the main castle, and it wasn’t until I went into the washroom that I had a chance to examine my gift.
I don’t remember any of the lavish and extravagant gifts I got that night, but I’ll never forget the pewter pendant Jarrod pressed into my hand. It was the shape of a jumping horse and it was on a silver chain. I replaced the diamond necklace I was wearing with the horse-pendant, and didn’t take it off for some time after that.
That night, or perhaps even the next morning, technically, after all the guests had gone home, I was startled to see my father the king, with my mother by his side.
“Madison,” said King Mylton, obviously uncomfortable, “We need to have a talk.”
“O.K.,” I said, “Let’s talk.”
Father cleared his throat and looked at Mother uncertainly.
“Perhaps, we should sit down,” he said.
We sat.
“Maddy,” he began, “You’re getting older. Your body has been changing, you’ve been handling more challenging responsibilities- in short, you’re becoming a young woman. A couple of things are going to happen, and they might be scary.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. My mother had given me this talk three years ago. Was Father so oblivious that he didn’t even know?
“For one thing, boys, if they haven’t already, will start to take an interest in you. Be discerning. If they’re wealthy and have a lot to offer, those are the boys you should try to attract. Save everything you have to give, of course, but if you’re going to give it, give it to a wealthy boy.”
“Mylton!” said my mother.
“What your father is trying to say is that you need to start thinking about marriage, and that it’s just possible it will come in the form of a proposal. If that happens, we will support whomever you decide to be with, of course.”
“As long as he’s not a pauper or something,” Father cut in.
“Why did you say it’s just possible it’ll be a proposal?” I asked anxiously, “What else is there?”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
“A dragon, dear,” said my mother.
“A dragon!?” I asked incredulously.
“Tell her the story, dear,” said my mother.
“You see,” my father jumped in, “A long time ago, when the dragons first migrated to human lands, they captured and ate people at random. It was a terrible scary time and many people and dragons died. So sooner or later the dragons realized that by capturing one important person and asking for a ransom, they could get gold which they could use to buy all kinds of extravagant meat, which tasted much better than humans – lamb, lobster, whatever they desired. Princesses came to be the desired kidnappee – rich but largely defenseless, and always beloved by their kingdom.
So it went for a long while that dragons captured a princess whenever they needed gold and exhorted some poor King. Until one day, a great man named Sir John decided to put a stop to it. He trained and trained and researched all there was to know about dragons at the great library, and became a dragon-slayer. And the next time a dragon kidnapped a princess, Sir John killed the dragon, claimed it’s gold for the kingdom and returned the girl home safely. Of course the King rushed to get the two married, and that’s how the whole thing began.”
I stared at him, open-mouthed.
“What whole thing?”
“Well, the system. You see the way it works today is that some time after a princess’s 16th birthday, a local dragon kidnaps her and leaves a calling card of some kind with his or her location. Then knights from around the kingdom try to rescue her. The dragon allows three rescue attempts before he (or she) eats the girl.”
I was about to cry.
“Oh, but you see if three knights fail, the girl’s father always pays the ransom, which is usually quite modest. The girl never gets eaten. Modern dragons don’t even like the taste of humans. They’d much rather have the cash.”
“Sometimes the more preservation-minded and wealthy knights just front the ransom themselves instead of actually slaying the dragon,” my mother pointed out, “But the end result is the same. Everyone gets a chance to win. The knights get a chance at a beautiful wife and a chunk of a kingdom, you get a strong, brave husband, we get you married off, and the dragon gets some cash if he survives the whole thing.”
“Wait, what if you have to pay the ransom? Then do I get to find a husband the normal way?”
"Well maybe,” said my father, “But not always. Your mother was captured three times before I finally managed to rescue her.”
“He paid the dragon off,” she said.
“I did not!”
I was mortified, astonished, and depressed. How had I not known about this system. I mean, I always heard when a princess got carried off but it was always a tense, dangerous situation.
“Why doesn’t everyone know? Is it a big secret?”
“It’s better for everyone this way,” said the king. “The dragons and knights all seem tougher to the common people. Makes life seem a little more exciting.”
I was unconvinced. And still terrified. Not to mention tired from an exhausting day.
“I’m going to bed,” I said, and left without waiting for a response. As I lay waiting for sleep to come I turned Jarrod’s pendant around in my hand.
‘He’ll rescue me,’ I thought, ‘If it ever comes to that.’

Madison Dragonslayer Introduction

My name is Madison Dragonslayer. No, it’s not a family name; it’s a chosen one. I slay dragons. I wear dragonhide armor and ride through the country looking for damsels in distress to save. Yes, I’m in it to save the princesses and, no, before you ask, I’m not a lesbian.
I slay dragons, I slaughter those majestic beasts, for a far nobler purpose then those pompous, moronic knights who share my profession could ever dream of, and every dragon I get to before them is a victory for womankind – even if most of womankind’s too dumb to get it.
But you, dear reader, are probably wondering a lot of things. I’m hardly starting at the beginning. Instead, I thought to let you meet me the way most people do; first by gawking at a tall, blonde 19-year-old girl in dragonhide armor, and then by asking stupid questions.
“Is that real dragonhide?” “Why do you slay dragons if you’re a woman?” “Are you a lesbian?”
I used to punch them and carry on, but a friend of mine once told me that the only way to really make a difference is to make sure everyone knows why I do what I do. So know I sit them down and tell them a story, the very story I’m writing now for all of you. Some of the women who’ve dedicated themselves to spreading word of my works have asked that I scribe something and I figured, I might as well put a skill to use.
You might have noticed that I didn’t say an attractive tall blonde, or a stunning or gorgeous tall blonde up there. I’m sorry to disappoint male readers, but I am not. I’m plain, maybe cute on good days. There have been many men who once claimed me beautiful to get at my money, and a few who think me beautiful because I live dangerously and wear tight armor (dragonhide clings to the skin, there’s nothing I can do about it), but the day I find a man who thinks me beautiful for me… Well that day isn’t coming.
But anyway, it was likely not for my ranting that you picked up this tome. It was most probably to hear my story, so it is with my story that I’ll proceed. The story begins, appropriately enough, with my sweet 16.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The State of the Blog

I have been maintaining this blog for more than three years. In that time, I have not finished the story I began in my first post. Also, looking back, I don't see a huge trend of improvement in my writing, and I think the reason is that I've blown this thing off way too much. I can have a blog that I just write in sporadically whenever I feel like it, but if I do I can't realistically expect anyone, even my close friends and relatives, to read it. So from now on (and many of you will recall this is far from the first time I've made this promise) I will take on a regular update schedule. I will begin by posting every Friday.
Now like I said I've tried this before and failed, but here's why I think I'm going to succeed:
A) I've learned from NaNoWriMo. I love it and admire those who do it, but it doesn't work for me. A month of concentrated novelling is not for me. I have so far failed twice. But frequently updating a story on a regular basis has worked for me in the past.
B) I still have those unfinished novels. I will start posting them in pieces on weeks when I don't find time for original writing. So even if I have a week so busy I have no time to write anything, I have at least a few months of backlog. If this goes well, I will try to move up to twice a week. (One step at a time, people.)
[A quick note on the above: My latest NaNoWriMo is about Madison Dragonslayer, who is also a character in the Mortimer story. However, in the process of writing MD I have rewritten some of her history and she may well end up being a very different character than the one Mortimer met. I'm not yet sure how to deal with this. I may "decanonize" "Mortimer meets a Maiden" or "retcon" it (two things I've always wanted to do) or I may just ask you all to accept that the stories won't line up neatly.]
Finally, I have something to ask of you, my loyal readers:
Please comment. Whenever you possibly can, let me know you're reading and give me intelligent feedback, or just say how you feel about the characters and what's happening to them.
Just for fun, since this is your post for this Friday, timetables on the stories:
TNT: I foresee between 100 and 120 chapters at the story's end. I actually know and have known for some time what happens and how this one ends, though there are plenty of loose ends floating around in the middle.
Mortimer: I don't even think of Mortimer as a story in bits, an eventual novel. I see it more like a comic ot TV Show. There are serial elements but mainly it's the continuing adventures of Mortimer and each installment should be at least a little bit a story in and of itself. As such, it has no timetable.
NaNoWriMo 1: This story is not on this computer. But I'm 90% sure it's on a computer somewhere or in an e-mail box and somehow I'll dig it up. I can't really remember the final word count, but there's a good chunk of it already and I think I won't have too much trouble writing more. It's a silly sci-fi story in the style of Hitchhiker's Guide.
NaNoWriMo 2 (MD): Part I of the three part story is done, and this one I'll be working on as I post it. So I see this as closer to completion than anything else.