Experiment #149

The Ugly Princess Part 1

Once upon a time there was a princess so ugly that the king shut her away in a tower. Now it wasn’t so much the king’s fault or a lack of love on his part for he visited her everyday, it was the fact that nearly any one who looked on her felt nauseous.

Most stories like this begin with a slighted fairy who takes revenge on a fair daughter for the offenses of her parents (though the paternal grandmother said the cause was “that woman you married”) or end with the ugly duckling turning into a swan, but this isn’t one of those stories. The princess was born ugly and she stayed ugly, her face did not change, but that doesn’t mean she died in the tower alone and unloved, for as you’ve probably guessed—or maybe just hoped—there’s a lot more to life than beauty. Pain for one thing. Loss. Fear. Frustration. Hardship. And Love, there is love.

Now the princess may have had a crooked nose, a snaggle tooth, coarse hair the color of mud, and one eye that was larger than the other, to name a few of her better qualities, but what the princess lacked in beauty she made up for in raw determination. Though even this was tempered by a naïveté so deep she thought people were just playing a game when they ran away from her. Her parents did not have the heart to tell her the truth, and so she lived secluded in the tower, allowed to dwell in that naïveté.

Now the king and the queen both loved their daughter very much and although they had to be careful to eat before visiting her as to avoid nausea, they visited her every day. The king played chess and other strategy games with her while her mother taught her many skills like spinning wool, braiding thread, and to audit the castle’s books (a queen should know how her house is run). “You can’t just get by on looks, you gotta be useful,” her mother always said.

The queen herself had a plain face, but knew well the way to a man’s heart is not always through his eyes. She had worked her feminine wiles on many different fronts to help the king, then just a prince with a good appetite, ask her for her hand in marriage.

Each night the Queen would tuck her daughter into bed and tell her ancient stories of love and loss, of brave knights, evil witches, and ugly princesses. And each night the princess fell asleep watching the stars smile at her from the vast unknown depths of the sky.

But as is want to do in stories, the good times came to an end. The king and queen were involved in a rather unfortunate carriage accident while crossing the drawbridge. A heavy laden cart had slipped from the hand of a day laborer and rolled straight downhill to the drawbridge where it went out the front gate and collided with the king and queens carriage, knocking them into the moat. The king, a rather large man who’d never learned to swim used his last strength to push his wife out the carriage door to safety. The queen, for her part, made it to the surface. She had swallowed so much of the dirty moat water, however, that she contracted a disease that, within a month, killed her.

The princess, being only fifteen at the time and subject to some antiquated rules, was not allowed to take the throne. The Council of Nobles, men greedy for rule and the spoils of war, elected Sir Byron Trapsfield as the regent for the princess. Slowly and methodically Sir Trapsfield removed power from the throne and gave it to the Council of Nobles of which he was the chancellor. As you may have guessed, Sir Trapsfield had no need or love for an ugly princess beyond keeping him in power and left her to live out her days in the tower alone.

Two months after Sir Trapsfield took the regency, a junior member of the council of nobles, named Sir Galahad Trite, realized he could make a play for the throne if he could convince the princess to marry him. So one day he took a walk in the castle and happened to make his way to the very tower in which the princess lived. So he went up to see her.

“Hello, Honey Lips,” Galahad said as he flung open the door.

The princess looked up from her spinning wheel and Galahad caught sight of her for the first time. He promptly turned to his left and puked into a potted plant (which the king and queen had placed there for just such a purpose).

“Who are you?” The princess asked.

“My name,” began Galahad, but he could continue no further, for as he had just lost his lunch, his breakfast now dared a return journey and he turned again to the potted plant.

“Gracious,” the princess said, “Is this the infirmary? Why do all the sick people visit me?” She took him by the hand and led him to a bed where she laid him down and brought him a cup of water.

Within a few minutes his color had returned. The princess had returned to her spinning and now had her back to him. He stirred in the bed and coughed.

“Feeling better, Honey Lips?” The princess asked.

Galahad replied with a moan.

“What’s your name, brave knight?” The princess asked.

“Galahad,” he said weakly, “Sir Galahad Trite.”

“Of the Winnsfield Trites?”

“Yes.”

“My father spoke highly of you, though he thought your family valued words more than honor and the sword more than the plow.” Despite being naïve herself, the princess had grown a penchant for speaking her thoughts boldly. A bad habit, she picked up from the king, unfortunately though, growing up in isolation she had not yet developed the filters and tact which would make this an admirable quality on the throne.

But this was a time when monstrosities were hidden away, defects cast out and black sheep slaughtered. Galahad stood to his feet and decided to take his leave. He walked to the door without a word.

“Where are you going?” She asked.

Without turning toward her he said, “I believe my family has been ridiculed enough for one day.”

“I’m sorry, I-“ she began, but he had already left.

The princess worried throughout the night that he might never return, seeing as she had been so beastly toward him, but she had not counted on the depth of this young nobleman’s greed.

“You’re going back?” His steward asked. “She must not be as bad as they say.”

“She’s worse,” Galahad said. “I’d rather look at a horse’s rear or watch a pig give birth than look at her face, but there’s no benefit in that.”

“If you marry her you’d have to look at her every day.”

“Bah,” Galahad said. “A king can shut up his wife if he needs. She likes the tower.”

“A wife easily found, is not a wife easily lost,” the steward said.

“Quit your philosophy and bring me my shoes.”

Experiment #150

The Ugly Princess Part 2

Galahad visited the princess every day, and by the fifth trip he only threw up a little in his mouth. He was beginning to stomach her looks, but she was beginning to stomach him less.

At first she had been pleased to have someone, anyone to talk to, but even in her grand naïveté she began to agree with her father’s assessment.

His visits began to tire her as he tended to bring up his favorite topic at every possible opportunity, himself. The battles he had won and trysts he had been involved in had never been heard of before on the Earth. This was mostly because he made them up on the spot, but he cared so little for her that he did not even attempt to engage her, only impress her. In his defense the princess’s face had brought with its ugliness a deep inscrutability that baffled even her mother while she was alive.

After a few months of daily visits Galahad believed broaching the subject of marriage to be a good idea. He dressed in his best suite of clothes, and for the first time thought to bring her something she liked. When he could not think of anything she liked, he settled on having his steward pick some flowers from the field.

However, when Galahad made his grand entrance, the princess was not there to see it. Lord Trapsfield, for as a regent he thought it only his due that he have an upgrade in title (and lands to boot), had moved her to another castle once he had learned of Galahad’s repeated visits.

Galahad had to bribe all the servants in the castle to find out where the princess had gone, but save for her method of transport none had details on her whereabouts. Two weeks passed this way until a groomsman from the stable heard a recently arrived noble joke about overwhelming nausea with another noble. The noble who had just arrived had come from a castle on the outskirts of the kingdom, deep within the land of Lord Trapsfield.

It was a small lead, to say the least, but Galahad was not about to let the princess slip through his fingers when he had just learned to stomach her face. He had his steward prepare his horse and rode out first thing the next morning.

Upon arrival at the castle Galahad begged an audience with Lord Trapsfield. To his surprise and consternation the servant agreed and asked him to wait in the hall. Having seen Lord Trapsfield earlier that day, Galahad did not expect to find him there. Luckily, Galahad had thought ahead and given the name of Samuel Bettsworth, a cousin of his from a neighboring county. As he was left to wait alone, he pulled out his handkerchief tied it around his face and set off to find the princess.

For nearly an hour he searched fruitlessly finding nothing of value or interest. Until he came to the kitchen and the servant’s quarters. There he came upon a maid throwing up. With bated breath he said, “Where is she?” Between wretches, the maid pointed and Galahad shoved his way into the room.

“Go away” she said.

“But it’s me,” he said.

She looked at him with her piercing eyes.

Thinking he knew the problem he pulled the handkerchief from his face.

“It’s Galahad Trite,” he said.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

“Why, to rescue you, of course.”

“I’m fine. Go back to your castle.”

“But you’re a prisoner.”

“And what do you propose to do about it?”

“I was going to propose.”

Galahad couldn’t be sure, but she didn’t seem ecstatic or joyful.

“How would that help?” she asked.

Galahad looked away and then mumbled, “Love conquers all.”

“Does Trapsfield know you’re here?”

“Ummm… Uhhh… Maybe…”

The princess dropped her head in frustration and let out a sigh. “Ok, I guess we’ll just have to go through with it. We’ll both be in trouble anyway.”

“You’ll marry me?” he asked, brightening.

“No,” she said with a quick sharpness he wished she hadn’t jumped to so quickly. “But I will let you rescue me. What’s the plan?”

Galahad smiled and looked up and to the left. “Umm… Well… I hadn’t really gotten that far yet…”

The princess sighed again. “Ok, go find my maidservant. She’s a horrible woman, but she’ll do anything to get rid of me. Have her bring some peasants clothes for both of us.”

“Peasant’s clothes?” Galahad asked, disgust dripped from every syllable. “I will not wear-”

“You’ll do what I tell you. You got me into this mess, and, so help me, I’m going to get us out of it.”

The maidservant was more than happy to send her charge off and asked that Galahad hit her over the head with a block of wood to make it all the more believable. When Galahad refused the maidservant took the block of wood and hit herself over the head. Unfortunately, it took several blows before she rendered herself unconscious.

After that awkward debacle they filled their pockets with whatever valuables the princess had and the little bit of food left in the room.

They took two horses from the stable. The stable boy ran away when the princess tapped him on the shoulder. (He later recounted to Lord Trapsfield’s steward a tale of a hideous beast with fangs and a colossal build who’d overpowered him and taken the horses.)

Experiment #151

The Ugly Princess Part 3

Galahad and the princess then argued for some minutes over where to go next. The argument was not based so much on a difference of opinion as on the fact that Galahad hadn’t come up with a location even once the escape had begun.

Finally they decided upon going to his Uncle, Count Riverton, who had always been a friend of the princess’ father, but Galahad did not know how to get there from their current location and would have required a long circuitous route to get Galahad back to lands he knew well.

At this point the princess got on her horse. She would have rode off without him, to somewhere anywhere that wasn’t here and dangerous, but he managed to get on his horse before she had a chance to leave. And so it was that they rode out of the stables together to a land they had not yet decided on.

Lord Trapsfield, upon discovering the unconscious maid, sent riders out after them in all directions, including to Count Riverton, the uncle Galahad didn’t know how to get to. One benefit of not knowing where you are going is that it prevents anyone from beating you there.

Galahad and the princess rode for a long while. They avoided roads, towns and anywhere they thought they might be recognized. Somehow despite having every intention of getting lost they could not help but come upon a house or village smack dab in their way.

Finally too tired to continue and with darkness and rain both falling they found a small outcropping of rock large enough to give them both a little respite from the rain. Neither knew how to build a fire and even if they had everything was soaked. Galahad tied up the horses while the princess prepared a meal of waterlogged cheese and soaked bread.

They ate for a while in silence.

“What’s your name?” Galahad finally asked.

The princess blushed or what passed for a blush on her face. “Soliloquy,” she said, “but my parents called me Lilly.”

“That’s an odd name.”

“My father said I was his speech to the world. He was always prone to speaking his mind.”

Lilly expected another question about what this speech might be, but Galahad was not one to think deeply on any subject besides himself.

After a long while, the princess asked a question herself. “Galahad, today in the stable, why did that boy run away from me?”

“Well, Lilly, you’re uglier than a warthog eating a muskrat. The Whitsend Hag has nothing on you.” Galahad looked up with a smile, proud of his wit.

Lilly stared at him for a long moment. “Today was my birthday…” she said and dropped her face into her hands.

Galahad did not understand what was going on at first, but soon he began to feel a pang of regret. A deep disturbance he’d only ever felt before while missing out on something fun his older brothers had done or in not winning a trophy at a set of games. New to this as he was, he did awkwardly put his arm around her, pat her on the shoulder, and say, “There, there. There, there. There, there.”

The next morning they arose early, though to say that implies they got some sleep.

“Where shall we go?” Galahad asked.

The rain had stopped, but the world still glistened in the morning sun. Lilly wrung out her dress. She pulled the hair out of her face and said, “Why don’t you go ahead.”

Galahad looked at her and for a second, just a second, he didn’t see her ugliness. It wasn’t that he thought she was beautiful or found deep feelings for her that he never knew about, it was that just for a second the gnawing disgust that settled in his heart every time he looked at her face didn’t bother him.

“I can’t leave you here,” he said.

“Perhaps it would be for the best. You’ll always be in danger while you’re with me.”

“Then you’ll be in danger alone.”

“I can manage.”

He looked away, up to the hills that promised freedom, a warm bed, and dry clothes. Then he looked back at her. “Where shall we go?”

***

Now the uncle that Galahad had planned to go to, Count Riverton, was not just any relation of Galahad he had been the king’s master of horse. In wartime he answered only to the king, but in peace he was barely considered a nobleman outside his own land. In this time of peace, he rode out Lord Trapsfield’s carefully executed political purge with just a few words of warning while remaining loyal to the king. The political purge also cleared out quite a few rungs between himself and the positions of peace time power. He had always had a seat on the council, but his vote barely counted. In the reorganized structure his influence now reached to the council’s inner circle.

Count Riverton was not a Trite. He had married Galahad’s mother’s sister and thus hailed from a far more levelheaded and far less opportunistic faction of Galahad’s family.

As soon as Trapsfield’s messenger had come seeking the princess, Count Riverton had begun making plans and discretely sent out messengers of his own.

Experiment #152

The Ugly Princess Part 4

Galahad and Lilly rode for a few hours pretty much in a random direction. At midday they stopped near a large tree and finished the still soggy provisions they’d brought with them.

After the meal they sat for a while uncertain how to proceed. Galahad looked to the mountains on the horizon and cocked his head. He stood up and pointed toward them while mumbling to himself. Then he pointed toward the plain off to his right. He turned to Lilly with his arms spread wide and almost shouted, “I know where we are!”

As soon as he spoke an arrow pierced the wrist of his right hand, coming out the other side.

Four riders came into view. One more finely dresses than the others shouted, “Protect the princess.”

The archer, one of the four, shot a second arrow that tore into Galahad’s shoulder. Galahad slumped to the ground as Lilly screamed and ran towards him. She covered his body with hers as the riders circled them.

“Stop it!” she shouted. Then turned back to Galahad and his wounds.

The riders formed up, each taking a position at the four corners of a square with their horses facing inward.

The leader, the finely dressed rider, said, “You must come with us, my-” he faltered for at that moment the princess looked up and stared at him.

“What cause have you to shoot my protector?” She asked in a commanding voice. She turned her face toward each of the riders, one of which, a notoriously weak-stomached soldier, puked off the side of his horse.

The princess stood and focused on the the leader. “I said, what cause have you?”

The leader stuttered and stumbled over his words, but eventually got out, “My Lady, by order of Lord Trapsfield… He feared you had been kidnapped and sent riders out to all ends of the kingdom. We are here to protect you.”

“I do not believe such words would come from Lord Trapsfield.”

“If you believe it not then you doubt good Roddie’s bow,” he pointed to the archer, “or even the horse I’m sitting on. I know not what he may have wished but I know what orders came.”

“Are you friend or foe of the King?”

“I am his friend, may the maker rest his soul, as I am yours.”

“And Lord Trapsfield?”

“He is your regent, is he not? And therefore my liege.”

“What is your name, brave knight?”

“Sir Doyle.”

“I know you, or at least your reputation. You served my father well.

“And your companions?”

“My master of arm’s Guile Haversham, his apprentice young Julius, and our archer Roddie of the Scarlet.”

“Do you trust these men?”

“More than with my own life, my lady, I’d trust them with your life.”

“Will you take me to Count Riverton?”

Sir Doyle looked down at the ground before returning to her gaze. “Lord Trapsfield was very specific that you be brought to him immediately.”

“Is it he you serve or I?”

“We shall see,” Sir Doyle said. He looked at each of his men.

Galahad groaned.

“I shall take you, let no one else bare blame for this decision. If you men choose to come I would gladly take any punishment that might be doled out, but it may be beyond my ability to prevent you bearing it.”

“I come of my own accord and will not let you bear any punishment that’s duly mine,” Roddie said.

Guile, however, said, “If I ride with you there will be no one to distract. No one to ensure you have time to get there.”

“You are well named, Guile,” said Sir Doyle. “We part friends. And you, Julius?”

“I go with my master,” Julius replied.

“Let us be off then,” sir Doyle said.

“My protector must be set right first.”

Galahad let out another pitiful groan.

Sir Doyle wrinkled his lips. “If you insist, my lady.”

*

With quite a bit of whining from Galahad, Guile and Roddie removed the arrows. Then they made a sling for Galahad’s arm and set him on his horse. Then Guile and Julius took their leave and Sir Doyle, Roddie, Lilly, and a whimpering Galahad set off for Count Riverton’s castle.

Experiment #153

The Ugly Princess Part 5

Two long days of hard travel followed with Sir Doyle leading and Roddie alternately bringing up the rear and scouting ahead.

Galahad either whined or wept at every bounce of the horse for the motion made his wounds burn with pain. His pain seemed more pronounced or at least more vocalized when Roddie was away scouting and Sir Doyle was riding a bit ahead. Lilly suffered all of this with the grace of a true princess. And though Galahad’s cries for sympathy annoyed her, she did not hold them against him. Despite his many failings, she’d become fond of the young noble and knew that the wounds he suffered were because of her. And while he did try for sympathy at every turn he never tried to make her feel guilty, in fact if she tried to apologize he’d so strenuously object that she thought he’d reopen his wounds. And despite his obvious play for the crown she knew him well enough to tell that he cared for her in his own inept way. And although true love seemed out of the question on both sides, she did not doubt that she had found a life long friend.

That night, while Lilly changed Galahad’s bandages (For both Sir Doyle and Roddie would no longer have anything to do with that “whimpering fool”) Galahad said, “We’re going the wrong way.”

“Don’t be silly,” Lilly replied. “Sir Doyle knows the way.”

“If he does, he doesn’t seem to be following it.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“That Sir Doyle has far greater love for Lord Trapsfield than for you.”

“Don’t be jealous, Galahad. It doesn’t suite you.”

“Ask him then and see if he doesn’t turn us into prisoners.”

“No, now that we’ve found a friend I will not question his loyalty without cause.”

“But you’ll question mine?”

Galahad turned away from her.

Lilly finished binding his wounds. Then got up and went back to her resting place.

*

Though she did not doubt Sir Doyle’s loyalty, Galahad’s words gnawed at her, particularly her willingness to question him. Finally she resolved to ask Sir Doyle about their direction, surely there would be a reason for this road.

She came up next to Sir Doyle at a point where the forest had thickened and grown close to the road. “Sir Doyle,” she asked, “isn’t Count Riverton’s castle to the North? We seem to be going West.”

Sir Doyle turned to her then quickly looked away to avoid nausea.

“You have a keen eye, my lady. The roads between here and there are watched. We are striking out to the west to take a lesser known path. It’ll take a few extra days, but we should reach the castle in safety.”

“Halt!” Shouted a stern voice.

A blade went to Sir Doyle’s neck and a bag came over Lilly’s head. She heard Galahad shout before a sharp blow knocked her out.

***

Lilly awoke in a dank cell. Rats skittered about and fought over the dry bones of previous prisoners. A meal had been shoved in through a small space in the bottom of the door, but the rats had made quick work of whatever it had been.

She waited there for hours. At first she tried calling for the guards but after an hour of yelling even the strongest voice grows hoarse. Finally she started naming the rats just to give herself something to do.

When nothing happened and what little light the cell possessed waned she gathered up some moldy straw and made the best bed she could. Three weeks passed in this way including her birthday. Or so she thought it had passed, it was hard to tell day from night in this dungeon.

One night she was startled awake by a man picking her up and half throwing, half shoving her through the cell door. In the torchlit hallway she met another man who snapped chains on her hands and said, “Time to meet your maker, Princess.”

He laughed, but when she turned her face to him the laugh caught in his throat and he turned his head and puked. Rats immediately converged on the spot and the princess saw that the ten or so she’d named only made up a small portion of the rats in the dungeon.

“Now what’d you do that for?” The first man asked. He grabbed a torch and waived it at the squirming mass.

“Have you seen her face?” The second man asked. “She’s as awful as they say.”

The first man turned to look at her and when he saw her face he followed his fellow man and puked. This time on a squirming pile of rats.

Lilly looked away.

The rats were pouring out of every stone and crevice now. Very little of the floor could be seen for all the rats.

“Go on, let’s get her out of here before we all get eaten alive,” the first man said.

So it was that they rushed her out of the dungeon and so it was that Galahad, poor swordsman and healing invalid that he was, was able to ambush the group.

Galahad fell upon the man holding Lilly just as they exited the door to the dungeons. He then pushed the other man down the dungeon steps and bolted the door to prevent further escape.

“Galahad!” Lilly shouted and clumsily threw her shackled hands around him. Her tears turned from shame to joy.

“Shhhh!” Galahad said, then continued in a whisper, “We are far from safe. We must get out of here.”

“Yes, let us get to Count Riverton and the safety of his castle.”

“We’re already there.”

“What?” The joy and hope that had so recently mollified her ugliness drained from her face.

“Much has happened during your time in the dungeon.”

“What?”

“Suffice it to say that your list of friends seems to be and an ever-changing group.”

When she did not speak nor move to follow him he turned back to her. “Come, we must be out of here before he finds us.”

“Count Riverton?”

“No, Guile. Now try to keep up. We must get out of here.”

Lilly held up her shackles.

“Oh, right.”

Unfortunately the man in the dungeon seemed to be the one with the keys to Lilly’s shackles as they could not find them on the unconscious jailer still with them.

The scurrying noises they heard along with the lack of human noises made them loath to open the dungeon door. So under Lilly’s direction, Galahad removed the unconscious man’s coat and wrapped it around her manacles to silence their rustling. They headed down the corridor toward the courtyard and freedom.

They reached the courtyard without seeing another soul. “Ok,” Galahad said, “you just need to reach the river gate straight across. A boat is docked there. Get in and push off-”

“Wait, where are you going?”

“To make sure you can get away.”

Before she could say anything, he slipped away into the shadows.

She sent an annoyed look toward the shadows. “At least he’s got an idea of what to do this time,” she whispered to herself. Then she headed toward the river gate.

She met no resistance between the courtyard and the river gate. She scoffed at the lack of security until she almost tripped over a guard with an arrow in the grieve where his neck met his helmet.

Just then she heard Galahad cry out as if in pain. She turned back trying to think of how she might help him, but before she took a step, she heard men shouting and running toward the cry. She steeled her resolve and shuffled quickly through the river gate and out to where a boat lay tied up. She hopped in clumsily due to her shackles and untied the moorings as someone shouted “The Monster’s loose!” As she floated away down stream she knew in her heart they were referring to her.

Experiment #154

The Ugly Princess Part 6

Galahad had walked right up to one of the guards of the main gate and insulted his mother. The guard at first did nothing for Galahad seemed to be little of a threat. Also that particular guard had been an orphan and never knew his mother nor why he should take offense at her choice of footwear. After a few more accusations and suggestions as to the promiscuous nature of the guard’s mother, the guard tired of the discussion and smacked Galahad in the shin with the butt of his spear. The cry Lilly had heard followed shortly thereafter.

“Go on home, ya drunk,” the guard said.

A shout concerning the “missing monster” followed. Galahad used the opportunity to grab the spear from the guard. A short skirmish ensued where Galahad was beaten and beaten badly by the four gate guards.

A search was made throughout the grounds but no sign of Lilly was found.

*

Lilly had only floated down stream for a few minutes before a group of men led by Sir Doyle grabbed the boat and brought it to shore.

“Sir Doyle, I’m so glad to see you,” Lilly said as he helped her step out of the boat.

“You won’t be in a minute,” he said as his arm guided her to a man waiting on horseback: Lord Trapsfield.

***

When Galahad was brought before his uncle it was for his disorderly conduct with the guards. The unconscious jailer could not identify his attacker and the other jailer could not be found.

“I should have expected this from a Trite,” Count Riverton said.

Galahad, still purple and blue from his beating, said, “Exactly, four against one and wounded and they still couldn’t take me.”

Count Riverton sighed. He turned to his steward, “Confine the boy to his quarters until he’s learned his place.”

***

Lord Trapsfield dismounted, but before he could speak, Lilly raised her regal voice, “Sir Doyle, you swore loyalty to me. Why have you brought this miscreant before me.”

“Call him what you will, he’s your last best hope of saving your kingdom,” Sir Doyle said.

Lord Trapsfield ignored the princess’ earlier slight and smiled like a man holding all the cards. “I know we have not always seen eye-to-eye on the running of the kingdom—”

“My kingdom,” Lilly interjected. “You are my regent.”

“And you are not yet queen, Soliloquy.”

“And you won’t be if Riverton has his way,” Sir Doyle said.

“What does Riverton have against me?” She asked.

“‘She’s not an heir, she’s a monster,’” Lord Trapsfield said, then added, “His words, not mine.”

“I think your…errr…” Sir Doyle began, “Well…your face is just an excuse to seize power.”

The princess said nothing.

Sir Doyle wanted to say something more but could not figure out what. Lord Trapsfield was happy to let everyone else stew in their misery.

Finally the princess spoke. “Well, Lord Trapsfield, Sir Doyle says your my only hope. What do you propose we do?”

Lord Trapsfield smiled. “It’s simple. We’re going to crown you queen.”

“And why would you allow that?”

“Because having a queen indebted to you is always a nice thing to have.”

“Why would a queen be indebted to a regent who faithfully performed his duty?”

“Because the regent has a lot of options, and since outright rule is out of the question for now, it matters little which side he makes into the winning side.”

“I see,” she said. “Let me make one thing perfectly clear. Indebtedness is not servitude nor is it a commitment to thy cause or to thy arms. But make no mistake, serve me well and you will have no greater champion, no greater supporter than this queen and her house. Should you turn on me as a mercenary or threaten such an act again to better your position know that you will find no more dogged hunter nor more callous executioner than I and my house. And when my jaws finally close on your neck you will regret the day you tried to take advantage of your queen.”

Even Lord Trapsfield was silenced by this speech, but he recovered quickly, smiled, gave a little bow, and said, “My lady.”

Shortly thereafter the three of them along with the twenty knights Lord Trapsfield had brought as a body guard repaired to their camp. Lord Trapsfield called off preparations for a siege of Count Riverton’s castle and ordered riders to be sent out to the men and nobles he had begun gathering to tell them to meet him at the capital city in three days time for a coronation.

After Lord Trapsfield had left them to attend to his preparations, Lilly asked Sir Doyle, “What happened while I was in prison?”

“Well as you probably guessed it was count Riverton’s men who ambushed us on the road, but not without help. Guile tipped them off. Though initially I would have been glad of that, Count Riverton was not the man I had thought he was. They took you straight away to the Castle, but they lingered with Galahad and I. Roddie had been out hunting during the ambush and they hoped to catch him before returning. He eventually ambushed them and killed two of their number on his own. Galahad saw an opportunity and kicked the horse I was on so that it bolted. The ranks had formed up before Roddie could get to him though and Galahad couldn’t be rescued. That bit actually turned out for the better because when they realized they had Riverton’s nephew they tried to set him free until Galahad told them he’d not allow himself to be free until he’s paid for his sins and he made them all aware they’d have to take him to his uncle.

“At the time Roddie and I still thought Lord Trapsfield had been our attacker for the men carried no symbol or coat of arms. It was not until we followed the band to Riverton’s castle that we discovered the truth.

“At some point after arriving Galahad made contact with us. He’d discovered his Uncle’s intentions to rule the kingdom and that you were held in the dungeon. Julius in the mean time and in an act I would have skinned him for a few weeks ago told Lord Trapsfield what was going on. Think what you want of him, Trapsfield immediately rode out with twenty Knights to find you and set you free. As he rode he made plans for a siege and called all of the nobles to war. He only expected about half to show and some would be on Riverton’s side, but he hopes that your coronation will knock some sense into them. In fact it’s the only plan to save both of you. Count Riverton has begun to talk loudly against Trapsfield claiming Trapsfield has been helping himself to the royal coffers and exiling the princess to the tower.”

“But that’s true!”

“Yes, truth is the most persuasive argument. His means aren’t wrong it’s what he plans to do once he has power that’s the most reprehensible.”

“What’s that?”

“Let’s just say you won’t live to see it.”

“My father always considered him loyal.”

“In his mind he still is.”

She did not respond but looked off into the distance at the rising sun. Sir Doyle put his hand on her shoulder as a father would comfort a daughter.

“Get some sleep,” he said. “We shall not be ready for a few hours and we must ride hard if we are to make your coronation.”

She turned to him with fire in her eyes. “I’ve had enough of sleep,” she said. “Assemble the war council and take me to Lord Trapsfield. I have much to discuss with him.”

Experiment #155

The Ugly Princess Part 7

Galahad did not lay idle in his Uncle’s house but soon annoyed his guards enough and played so much on his aunt’s maternal instincts that he was given free reign of the house. Then he worked tirelessly to frustrate and sabotage his Uncle’s plans. He had been excellent at this even before he’d met Lilly and so it seemed that his spoiled mean streak had simply continued rather than come out with purpose. Even Galahad’s meddling, though, could not stop the force of nature that was his Uncle.

Count Riverton had decided that the kingdom needed a king and that he was the right man for the job. So Galahad’s best tactic was to delay his Uncle as much as possible. He did such a good job that Count Riverton took nearly a week to mobilize his forces and very nearly locked his nephew in the tower, whatever his wife might say. He also forbade Galahad from coming with him despite Galahad’s humble, incessant pleading. So it was that three hours after the Count set out, Galahad did too (over the Countesses objections of course). But he did not ride toward his Uncle’s army.

***

Meanwhile Lilly and her nobles prepared for a coronation and a war. Despite Lord Trapsfield’s best efforts he could no longer call them *his* nobles. Lilly had flowered into a queen in all but name and the power Trapsfield had wielded was leaking out of his grasp. Trapsfield would have quite hoped for the reverse, but as that seemed unlikely without treason and treachery, crimes that would be pinned on him immediately whatever his involvement may have been, he settled in to his advisory role under a cloud of melancholy.

Though Lilly and her subjects made haste back to her father’s castle where the coronation would be held, it is difficult to mobilize a nation quickly when horseback is your fastest means of communication, plus the logistics of moving men and cargo across the country is difficult when you are inexperienced and your most able advisor on the subject is too sullen to bother to help. As they approached the castle on their road weary horses, the welcoming party was not, as they had hoped: welcoming, but rather an advance guard of Count Riverton’s soldiers. It was not large enough to defeat them in battle, but was more than enough to defend the well fortified castle itself, though not the bustling town that surrounded it.

Lilly gathered her advisors. Sir Trapsfield and six other nobles convened in her tent and at Lilly’s insistence, Sir Doyle and Roddie were also included. The nobles spent the first few hours arguing among themselves about the merits of a siege and how long it might take. Eventually, Lilly weary of this back and forth asked if there were other ideas. Sir Doyle spoke up, “Why not hold the coronation here in the field?”

“And how will it look if the queen cannot enter her castle?” Lord Trapsfield asked.

“How will it look if Riverton’s soldiers hold the castle against their queen?” Sir Doyle asked.

“That is a razor’s edge of advantage,” said one of the nobles, “If anything goes wrong she will look the fool and all will be lost.”

“You’re right, my Lord,” Roddie said. “It’s not enough.” Sir Doyle gave him a dour look, but Roddie pressed on, “we throw a party and invite the whole town.”

“And what will that do?” One of the nobles asked. “A bunch of peasants getting drunk and rabble rousing.”

“Begging your pardon, Sir, but if you were a peasant, who would you be more loyal to, soldiers you don’t know or a queen who just gave you a good meal? We’re simple folk, just trying to make a living, feed us well and we’ll fight for you till the end.”

Lord Trapsfield shook his head and blew out his breath in disgust. “And what good, pray tell, would a bunch of untrained peasants be on the battlefield?”

“Sacrificial lambs,” one of the nobles said with a laugh.

Roddie swallowed his indignation and said in a calm voice, “Not much, I’ll grant you, but no one knows the ins and outs of the castle more than they who support it. No one knows the weak points better than the merchants and servants who keep it running. Their trust is something you cannot win with the sword.”

Lord Trapsfield not to be outdone asked, “And where would we get the food for this feast?”

“I think I can help with that, Lord Trapsfield,” said a voice from the entrance. The tent flap swept open and Galahad entered. He stepped toward the princess and bowed low.

The princess motioned him to stand up. She was happier to see him than she would have guessed.

“I bring terrible news and worse news,” Galahad said.

“Well aren’t we glad you arrived,” one of the nobles retorted.

“Let him speak,” the princess said.

“First the bad news,” Galahad said. “Count Riverton has arrived with only half of his men and they already outnumber us two to one.”

“What’s the terrible news?” One of the nobles asked.

“I know their cooks and servants quite well,” Galahad said.

“This is the terrible news?” Another noble asked.

Galahad smiled. “I never said it was terrible news for us.”

Experiment #156

The Ugly Princess Part 8

With Galahad’s help Sir Doyle, Roddie, and a couple of bowmen, hit the Count’s baggage train and secured as much food and wine as possible for the feast. The operation went off without a hitch and Galahad’s involvement was never suspected.

Two days later, after Count Riverton’s men had time to get hungry and two counter raids were effectively repulsed, the princess sent out messengers to every nearby town and principality inviting them to a feast. Over the strenuous objection of Lord Trapsfield and her nobles, Lilly even invited Riverton’s soldiers and nobles. In fact Trapsfield went on and on about security concerns until Lilly silenced him with one queenly death glare.

Galahad was the natural party planner (having enjoyed so many more parties than the rest) and given limited time and means he shined with his resourcefulness and resilience. He knew this could make or break Lilly’s career as Queen and he made certain her kingdom would not fail because of a poor coronation.

The day before the feast he ran around putting out fires, like when Lilly wanted to greet each guest before the meal, Galahad finally convinced her to do it after the meal and a short round of jousts had been completed when nausea would be at its lowest, or like when he threw a bucket of water on one of Lord Trapsfield’s men who had ventured too close to the cooking fire. By sundown everything was set and Galahad met Lilly for dinner in her tent.

“Thank you for all your work, Galahad,” she said. “I am in your debt.”

“It isn’t over yet,” Galahad said with a wink. He looked at her across the table and smiled. He no longer felt any disgust when looking at her face. “What will you do when the coronation’s over?”

“Be queen, I guess,” she said.

“No, I mean, how will you rule?”

“In the way I see most fit.”

Galahad shook his head and tried to put the question together differently. “You once called yourself your father’s soliloquy to the world, what does that mean?”

“I didn’t think you were listening,” she said.

Galahad squirmed in his chair. “I’m always listening,” he said, then added, “to you.”

She looked at him then turned her eyes up to the ceiling. “I’m told when I was first-born my father took me in his arms and said, ‘she’s perfect.’ That’s probably what every father says, but I now know that it wasn’t some blind fatherly love that prompted it. Rather it was an eyes wide open love that saw me honestly and truly and chose to love me anyway. I think he wanted to say that I mattered more than my face.”

“You’ll never be a beauty queen,” Galahad said and laughed until he realized Lilly wasn’t laughing. He coughed and said, “Uhhhh, sorry.”

“Is everything ready?” She asked after a silence.

“Yes,” he said, “it will be the most beautiful coronation the kingdom has seen.”

“For the ugliest queen,” Lilly said. She could be truly ugly when she chose to be.

Galahad wanted to stop her, to turn the conversation toward happier things, but he could do no more than give a frustrated sigh.

“I think I’ll get some sleep,” she said.

A thousand jokes about beauty rest flowed through Galahad’s mind, but he held his tongue.

“Goodnight and Goodbye, Princess Soliloquy,” he said, “for tomorrow you rise a Queen, but whatever tomorrow might bring, I am and always will be your servant.” He bowed low, but did not wait for a reply and promptly marched out of the tent.

Experiment #157

The Ugly Princess Part 9

The next morning dawned cold and crisp. Nearly everyone from the Town surrounding the castle came as well as many others from across the kingdom. At the appointed time they were all seated in front of a small platform with three steps leading up to it on one side. All seven of Lilly’s nobles sat on the platform in front of another chair. The chair contained a pillow upon which sat the elegant yet simple crown.

The crown had one jewel, an emerald set in the center spire. It was quite plain. Almost ugly when any given part was taken by itself, but together the workmanship was the finest anyone in the kingdom had ever seen. Luckily Lord Trapsfield had sent a highly trusted messenger to retrieve the crown as soon as coronation was a possibility or they wouldn’t have had a crown to use.

The trumpets blew and Lilly appeared at the rear of the crowd with Galahad, Sir Doyle, Roddie, and some fifty knights in her train. She was dressed regally, but simply and wore a veil so that she would not upset the stomachs of her people unnecessarily. Perhaps a third of the crowd showed up only to see for themselves how ugly their princess was, the feast and ceremony were just bonuses.

Seven trumpeters announced the princess. She walked up the aisle and ascended the platform. Sir Doyle, Galahad, and Roddie followed taking up positions behind the seated nobles. The fifty knights splayed themselves out in a fan to each side of the platform.

Lord Trapsfield removed the pillow from the chair. Lilly sat down. Lord Trapsfield then embarked on a speech so long and boring that several attendees considered assassinating him just to get him to stop. Finally when he had finished clarifying his preeminence. He turned to Lilly. All seven nobleman took hold of the crown and placed it on her head.

“All hail, Queen Soliloquy,” shouted Lord Trapsfield.

“All hail!” The assembly shouted and dropped to their knees.

The crowd went silent as Lilly prepared to speak. None of the peasants wanted to miss it if she lifted the veil.

“Greetings,” she said. “Many of you knew my father. He was a great man who loved his people. He ruled with an iron hand and an open heart. He expected much of you, but gave much too. Though few of you have seen me, I think you know me through him.”

“And why is it they haven’t seen you?”   boomed a voice from the rear of the crowd. Everyone turned to see Count Riverton dressed regally and walking up the aisle, ceremonial sword drawn. “Is it not because you are so hideous that your own parents exiled you to the tower?”

“Are you hear to swear fealty, Count?” Lilly asked in a dangerous tone.

The Count reached the area between the kneeling crowd and the podium before he answered. “In short, No” he said, “and neither should these people.” Count Riverton’s soldier marched up behind the crowd. A second contingent showed itself behind the podium.

“Your quarrel is with me. Do not bring harm to any assembled here,” Lilly said.

“Why would I harm my subjects?”

“You are not the ruler here. By birth and by right I am lawfully your queen. Stand down.”

“I shall never serve a monster such as thee.” He raised his sword. And ran toward the platform. At this signal some of the knights fanned out behind the platform drew swords and turned on their brethren. Count Riverton’s soldiers, weapons raised, surrounded the crowds. The nobles behind Lilly along with Sir Doyle drew their swords and attacked the traitor knights who had caught their brethren unawares. Roddie dispatched the three gold-tipped ceremonial arrows he’d brought which were supposed to be shot into the air, signifying the rise of the new queen. He took down a foe with each.

Meanwhile Count Riverton still charged the queen with his sword raised. She stood transfixed, frozen with both fear and incredulity. Before she could awake from her stupor, the count was on the platform and Sir Doyle had jumped between them, stopping the blade with his own.

Galahad grabbed Lilly and pulled her from the platform. “We must get you to safety,” he said.

“No,” she cried, “I will not leave my subjects to be massacred by this self styled King.” She tore herself away from him and ran back to the platform.

Count Riverton bested Sir Doyle and left him a gift of a rather serious wound in the thigh.

Riverton smacked Lilly with the back of his gauntlet. She screamed and fell back. “I’ll make you prettier yet!” he shouted and raised his sword to hack at her but before it could come down, Galahad rose up and stood between them. The blade crashed upon his shoulder instead of Lilly’s.

The Count snarled with rage and threw his nephew to the side, his sword red with his nephew’s blood.

“Foul Beast, you made me kill my own nephew,” He said. “Your ugliness has poisoned even him.”

He then took to thwacking at the princess with his sword. She dodged easily as rage telegraphed his moves.

Galahad’s left arm was useless, in fact he couldn’t really feel the whole left side of his body. He looked to Sir Doyle. Sir Doyle had risen again, but was now in a fight for his life against one of the traitorous knights.

With difficulty, but speed reminiscent of a younger man, Galahad pulled a dagger out of his left boot and rose to his feet. As he came close to the count and Lilly he called out, “Lift your veil.” She looked at him then threw up her veil.

Count Riverton had never seen her face in person before. A wave of nausea overwhelmed him and caused him to lose his lunch over the side of the platform. As he wretched Galahad shoved his dagger between the grieves of Riverton’s armor.

Count Riverton turned and spluttered at this betrayal. He attempted to speak, but no words came out before he flopped to the ground. Galahad held the briefest of smiles before he too flopped to the ground. Lilly ran to him. He whispered something to her, but before she could respond to him she jumped back to avoid the arc of an angry sword.

Experiment #158

The Ugly Princess Part 10

She looked up to see Guile standing above her, disgust etched in every line of his face. He hacked at her again with the sword. She fumbled backward out of its way.

“Your parents should have drowned you the day you were born,” he said. “Such hours should not be suffered to live.”

The princess inched back on her hands and knees trying to find a weapon or tool or plan of escape.

“I would have followed your father into hell itself, if he’d been reasonable and banished you. All these years of blight and infighting could have been side-stepped, but the old goat couldn’t do that to his own daughter. Well today I’ll see his line banished from the earth.” He raised his sword for one last time. She had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Anger and malice and greed burned in his eyes. But as his sword hung in the air for just a moment, her searching fingers found Count Riverton’s discarded sword. She swung its blade toward him and heaven. Guile saw the sword too late and though he tried to swerve out of its biting grasp, he could not counter his own motion and fell upon the upraised sword.

Sir Doyle and Roddie arrived in time to pull Guile off of the Queen. “Are you alright, my lady,” Sir Doyle asked as he helped her to her feet. She held on to the count’s sword.

“We must get you out of here,” Roddie said.

“No,” she said, “I live or I die right here.”

She took stock of herself and the situation. The fighting was hot and heavy in the perimeter of the assembly but was relatively calm at the moment near the platform. As Galahad might have put it, everyone had a dance partner.

“Roddie, I require a trumpeter,” she said.

“I think I see one cowering amongst the tables and chairs,” he replied and went off to find the poor lad.

Sir Doyle and Lilly were both engaged in sword fights by the time Roddie returned. Roddie grabbed Lilly’s opponent from behind while Sir Doyle knocked out his opponent with a blow to the head from the hilt of his sword.

The trumpeter stood shaking in his leggings when the queen turned on him. In reflex he turned to the side and puked.

“Play!” she shouted, “play as loud as you can!”

When he continued to look in horror at her face she replaced the veil to prevent any further distractions.

The trumpeter raised his instrument to his lips and played a not so loud and long that it could be heard over the din of battle. Combatants stopped and looked toward the source of the noise.

“What is your name?” She asked quietly.

“Errrrr… Ummmm… H-H-Henry,” he said.

“Well done, Henry,” she said, then turned towards the combatants.

She held aloft the Count’s sword.

“We all have something in common,” she shouted. “We all came here looking for a fight.

“I came to carry on my father’s legacy in the best way I can. Some of you came to help me do that. Some of you came to stop me. But either way we both love this kingdom, we would fight and bleed for her hallowed lands.

“Count Riverton is dead. It is not what I wanted, but he gave me no choice. I wish no further harm to come to anyone on my account.

“I would be a sorry queen if I hoped to slay my subjects in order to rule them. Please lay down your arms. I vow to pardon any and all who would swear their fealty to myself and my house.”

The crowd was silent. It seemed almost everyone looked to someone else for an answer. Then a grubby peasant was pushed forward.

“Begging your pardon, errrr… Ma’am, but we’ve hear that you’re, well…a beast…a hideous monster from-from the pit of hell. They say that to look at you is the same as looking at the devil himself.”

Lilly looked from one face to the next.

“It’s true,” she said. “I am hideous.”

An unsettled quiet fell across the crowd.

Lilly forced her voice to be steady, calm, and matter of fact.

“I’m sure you’ve heard the rumor that my mother’s maidservant fainted and died when I left my mother’s womb. That story is true, but only because she hit her head on the corner of the hearth when she fell.

“If I had been born in another house, regal or otherwise, I probably would not have reached my first birthday. I am ugly, ugly enough to cause vomiting on command.

“I will not be the queen suitors seek from across the great seas. I will not be the queen every young prince would give half his kingdom for. I will not be a queen whom stories are told about for generations. But I will seek to be fair and honest. To treat you as you want to be treated and to help our kingdom prosper and grow. In short, I will be your queen. But before I can ask you to do that, I want you to see me, to see my face.” With that she lifted the veil for all to see.

There was no great applause after this, no standing ovation for this heartfelt speech, and only a few people threw up, though a tinge of nausea passed through most of the crowd.

The soldier who had spoken turned to look at his comrades then back at Lilly. He walked forward toward the foot of the platform and just before he reached it stopped and unsheathed his sword. He stood there for a moment as if at a crossroads. Then he kneeled and offered his sword up in both hands.

“I swear fealty to you, my queen,” he said.

A second man followed the first, then one of Riverton’s commanders. More and more followed until the field was empty except for kneeling soldiers.

***

Not everyone knelt that day nor did everyone who did so do it honestly. There were many long days ahead of rebellion and insurrection as pockets still held out against the queen so ugly she must be demonic. But she handled all of these with both grace and cunning and, once convinced of her virtues, no one could think of questioning them again.

But before the victory was chalked down nearly five hundred were lost including Galahad. The wound the count had given him had been torn open by his attack on the count and he lost far too much blood to be saved, even if their medical techniques had been more advanced. She held onto the final words he spoke to her and in troubled times, with the stresses of ruling pressing in on her she would sit back and smile with her hair lip for Galahad had looked at her with honest eyes and an iron stomach and had said, “You are beautiful.”