Any fairytale worth its salt begins with "once upon a time." This is an uncontested fact, as if it were not so good fairytales wouldn't start with aforementioned phrase. However, a disturbing trend is beginning to fluctuate among young writers of using the opening paragraph to parody the tired and true O.U.T. As it would be ridiculously pretentious to set the bar even lower by parodying the parody, this particular fairytale will follow the bell cow of ages before it, so to speak.
Hence, once upon a time, in a land far, far away, Princess Eve opened her wardrobe. This is significant as it's not the first choice of action people tend to take when they hear abrupt cries of agony and the clanging of sword on shield outside their doorstep unless there's a magical world on the other side to hide in. There wasn't. But Eve had been waiting far too long for her rescuer to show unbidden concern for her captors and it was crucial she looked her best for the Big Meeting.
She shuffled through said wardrobe, which did not have a magical world on the other side and was actually more of an armoire, now that she thought about it. The baby blue dress was a classic, but she felt it was far too subdued with a wide bottom that left a little too much to the imagination. In contrast the ensemble next to it, a silken blue top that cheerfully exposed her naval and shoulders to any would-be prince charming, certainly didn't give a wholesome first impression. Besides, she hadn't built up the base tan for it, what with being locked in a castle for ages. Choking down her own disgust she quickly passed over a straw yellow skirt that was apparently supposed to match the blue top with poofy shoulders and giant white collar.
In the end she settled on her generic yet form fitting red dress that showed enough cleavage to take a man's attention away from an admittedly modest bust. Prince Charmings very rarely noticed cleavage or busts and likely wouldn't know what to do with them if they were so presented, but princesses are a different story. Princesses are, more often than not, women.
Eve would be lying if she said she wasn't quivering with anticipation. She'd be the third to admit that she wasn't the easiest woman to marry off after her mother and father, mostly due to an excruciating combination of male suitors falling horribly short of her standards and extended infatuations with hunky noblemen that found her large feet and up speak unforgivable. Upon her eighteenth birthday, an unprecedented six years after optimal marrying age and fifteen years longer than any parent can tolerate a spoiled child, it was decided that Eve would be sent away to await her fairytale wedding in the dungeon-esque solitude of an evil baron's castle.
When she arrived she noted, with unmasked detest, that it wasn't so much a castle as a keep with a baron who was really just misunderstood with guards who let her roam about if she promised not to flee. She hoped her future fiancé would better fit proper criteria.
There came two loud knocks at the door that gave Eve a start, followed by the baron entering her room. The atmosphere became considerably colder in the princesses' perspective. He had grown fond of her over the months and treated her with unceremonious kindness, not unlike a friend. This was, of course, inexcusable behavior for a purportedly evil nobleman and she endured only for the sake of convenience.
As the baron approached, beaming, Eve noticed traces of blood on the nobleman's clothing. She sighed. Fairytales rarely mention blood when the hero crosses swords with a literal army of castle guards. Clearly her savior needed more training, but this could be overlooked. At least for the time being.
"He's almost here!" The baron cooed excitedly. "Two corridors down, in fact, but he still needs to plow through Burgins and that one short, stout fellow . . ."
"Mm," said a bemused princess.
"I'm so happy for you!" he continued. "After all this time we've finally found you a suitable . . .
suitor. We'll have you strolling down the aisle in no time at-"
"Is he handsome?" Eve interrupted.
"-Beg pardon? Oh! Well, I could not tell. He was wearing a helmet, you see, that obscured his face. But his voice is as dulcet as the melodious thrums of a loot. Even his battle cry sounds like the voice of cherubs."
"How's his body?" she pressed vehemently.
"I'm . . . rather uncomfortable being given jurisdiction over such things. I suppose rather lean, if one were to glance past the armor. But with muscle, certainly. Verily, it would take a strong arm to do what he does with a sword."
"Mm," Eve repeated. Much like the king and queen, the baron did not understand the importance of aesthetics. They dedicated far too much importance to tribulations such as honor, moral code, and a strict policy against wife beating.
"I'm . . . pretty sure I saw a strain of blonde hair as he disemboweled McSweeny," The baron said hopefully, desperately even. He felt akin to a merchant trying to sell off a crippled mule to a hesitant consumer, a metaphor anyone in any era could understand.
Eve brightened slightly, like a candle ember amidst suffocating darkness. "Really?"
"Oh, yes! Groomed and well-kempt."
". . . Are you going to feign comatose and await true love's first kiss?"
"No. I've decided it more prudent to leap from the window to his mighty steed below."
"Ah. Contemporary. I like it."
Awkward silence crept in, as is its wont to do. The baron looked bedraggled, a very un-aristocratic state of being and arguably not a word at all. Like any man of virtue, he harbored the slimmest, faintest desire to be praised for his good deeds. Indeed, when one houses, clothes, and feeds a princess for nigh on eight months and sacrifices the better part of his garrison and troop for her one expects something in the way of thanks. Thus did he stand there, twiddling his thumbs, devising some manner of kudos or parting words to subtly make known his selfish intents of congratulations. He settled for fatherly advice.
"So . . . you'll write?" said the baron.
"Oh. Yes. Of course." Eve promised in what was clearly a half-hearted lie.
"Make sure he doesn't mistreat you."
"No need for things to move too quickly. Start everything out slow, only go as fast as you need to. And make sure he asks for permission."
"And don't forget you're not just a baby making machine. You're more to him than an heir-factory. Have him take you out once in a while . . . festivals, tournaments . . . mass?"
"And never, ever forget to-"
As with all ineffable gems of wisdom, this one was interrupted at a crucial interval. Specifically, the baron was rendered mute by the bedroom door bursting open with more gusto than any rusty, pre-industrial door had any right to. A bold figure, clad from foot to brow in scintillating steel and baring a sword wrought from justice and heroism but mostly iron, stepped impressively out of the fray. He had no identifying tabard nor coat of arms that marked him as servant nor brother to any royal family, meaning he was either of peasant stock who overcame societal boundaries to rescue the maiden fair or a total badass who didn't do follow the man's rules. In any case, Eve's inner-child, which very much accounted for a majority sum of the princess' psyche, squealed with giddy glee.
"Ah!" Said the baron cheerfully. "Speak of the devil. I was just telling-"
The knight said, "Ha ha!" which doesn't translate so well on paper, but was audibly a daring swashbuckler jeer full to the brim with presumed wit. It was a rather weak gesture by itself, which is possibly why he chose to accompany it with a flourishing sword strike across the Baron's chest. Being of the inherently well-choreographed action hero stock, he chose to follow this up with swift kick to the gut that sent the nobleman rolling backwards. The princess nodded approvingly.
"Oh brave knight!" Eve crooned. She had been rehearsing this bit for ages so it was paramount that she got it right. "Come closer hither, pray, that I may gaze into the face of heroism and bestow my favor onto thou brow."
The knight removed his helmet.
He had beautiful locks of golden hair and a powerful jawbone and hazel eyes . . .
. . . and ruby lips and long eyelashes and breasts, Eve noted with some degree of dissatisfaction, that did not require an unabashed display of cleavage to compensate.
"You're . . . a woman," Eve needlessly stated the obvious, as was the only proper course of action in such a situation.
"Too true, guvner!" the knight said cheerfully. "Lady Sophia, at your service. You'll excuse me if I politely refuse your favor? My brow tends to get a bit ticklish when princesses plant their lips on it and I don't think the mister back home would approve of it."
Eve said, ". . ."
"Right, then!" Sophia chirped. "Shall we be off!"
"Um . . ." the princess shook her head, partially as a way to decline the offer and partially to clear her addled brain, "I don't think you have the right princess."
"Really? You're princess Eve, right?"
"Kept in quasi-solitude?"
"Well, yes . . ."
"By the misunderstood baron?"
"In a castle that's clearly a keep?"
"All correct, yes."
"Alright," Sophia beamed. "Then let's go!"
"But you don't understand!" Eve stomped her foot. "You can't be my rescuer! You're too . . . there aren't . . . you're a . . . I was expecting someone a little more chivalrous!"
"I'm plenty chivalrous," the knight argued. "I stabbed the bad guys, spared the unarmed, and am well on my way to rescuing a pretty damsel in distress. Short of smiting infidels I did everything by the book. Now if you would . . ."
"You misunderstand! There are certain . . . requirements to this sort of thing! Dramatic entrances. Dazzling swordsmanship. Mighty stallions-"
"I've got a mare out back."
"-Romantic first kisses!"
Sophia frowned as realization struck. "Ah. You were expecting a man. Some gussied up pretty boy to burst in, sword blazing, smiting anyone who gets in his way until he meets you, his fair beau, where he frees you from oppression and plants a lover's kiss on your lips, sealing fate and fulfilling destiny."
"Yes! I'm glad you understand! The perfect man."
"That's completely ridiculous!" Sophia shouted. "You expect some total stranger to risk his life for you just so you can have a fairytale happily-ever-after? I mean, yeah, when you get really close to a guy you'd expect him to come to your aid whenever you're in trouble. That's just the sacrificing nature of a relationship. But it's a two way street, honey, you've gotta be willing to do the same for him."
"What do you mean?" Eve demanded guardedly.
"I mean, if a giant rat in the forest was gnawing away at your boyfriend, would you do something about it or just stand there like a twit?"
The princess mulled over what she considered the obvious answer at length and decided it wasn't the one the agitated woman with a pointy sword wanted to hear.
"I appreciate your aid noble . . . knight," began Eve, "but I prithee, would you not desire a handsome man of courage and strength to rescue you were you in my stead?"
"Sweetie, I'd want a man that trusted me to soldier through the bad on my own. Sure, when the going gets tough I wouldn't mind a little help. Who wouldn't? But you can't rely on some sexy Samson to catch you whenever you fall. Try being independent."
Eve turned her nose up haughtily, a motion that contradicted its intent in an age when plucking one's nose hair was vastly unheard of. "Were I to wed a man, he'd be one of courage and reliance, a savior who'd rush to my side when situations grew dark."
"And if I were a man I wouldn't go for the chick whose perquisites for dating required me to put my life on the line," Sophia commented dryly. "You're standards are way too high, princess. Just go for a cute guy that'll look out for you. In the meantime, get your stuff together and let's go. Daylight is waning, but I think I can get you back to the king and queen before nightfall if we hurry up."
The princess folded her arms crossly, "I've already made it abundantly clear that I have no desire to return with you."
Sophia glared at her incredulously, "What, seriously? Look, we've been over this. I'm no hunk, forgive me, but if you stay here they'll just lock you up again."
"A risk I am willing to take!" Eve said defiantly or stubbornly, depending largely on reader opinion of her.
"Don't be daft, you bastard!" Shrieked the knight in a moment of failing chivalry. "The baron will be pretty pissed if- . . . when he wakes up. You'll be subjected to imprisonment, torture . . . maybe even death."
Eve chuckled condescendingly, which was a rather foolish action if one were to consider Sophia's philosophy toward violence. "Certainly you jest, knave. I am a princess, paragon of royalty and goodness. No lowly baron would ever consider putting a blade to my throat. No, I'll merely await my savior- my masculine savior, here."
While most internal conflicts revolve around central themes like good versus evil or law versus chaos, the knight's was over a woman's right to make her own decisions versus doing what Sophia damn well tells you to do. In the end she chose the former, but not without a fight.
"I came all this way . . ." she protested tentatively.
"I do apologize, but I am adamant in my resolution."
"I cleaved my way through Lord knows how many guards."
"But most of them were stocky and of questionable competence, so . . ."
"Right, right," Sophia grunted sarcastically, "'I need a man to do everything in my life for me.' 'If I don't get my way I'll just make everyone around me as miserable as I am.' 'Forsooth 'n shit.' I get it."
Eve nodded solemnly, "I'm glad you understand."
"Do you . . . do you want me to help you clean up?" Sophia asked in a I-really-don't-want-to-stick-around-and-help-you-clean-up tone of voice. Along with practicing swordsmanship and chivalry, twelfth century knights were expected to master highly specified tones of voices.
"There is no need. I'll summon the butler to attend to it."
"A butler, eh?" Sophia sneered. "Who would have thunk it?"
"Nothing, nothing," said the knight hurriedly.
There was another awkward silence, the kind that usually follows someone putting life and limb on the line for you only to be told they neither need nor want your help and if you would kindly be on your way they would put everything right again for the next, hopefully more masculine, patsy to play the wild goose chase instead. It's not something the average Joe had to go through, thankfully.
"I'll . . . just be on my way, then?" Sophia began sauntering backward.
"That would be prudent," the princess nodded solemnly.
"It was, err . . . nice meeting you," Sophia passed through the door portal.
Eve smiled pleasantly, "Thanks for stopping by."
"My regards to your future husband." Sophia was halfway down the corridor.
"That means the world to me, thank you." Eve said to no one in particular as she bent down to check on her captor's vital signs.
"Bloody stupid noble git with her head halfway up the clouds and halfway up her ass, oughta run her through for making me ride all this way out here for 'nutin, damn ingrate," said Sophia quite particularly to herself as she saddled up Reddy.
"Poor, misguided woman," sighed Eve to herself and a half dead baron. "I do hope she finds herself a nice young woman who has the same bizarre interests as she does."
There was some riding off into the sunset and a little calling of the butler and medics to take care of things. Half-lessons were half-learned, with Sophia strongly reconsidering her chosen profession and Eve believing whole-heartedly in the innate goodness of mankind (that is to say, no, she didn't learn anything at all and likely wasn't entirely present during the duration). Both would live to the end of their days with clear memory of the other, no matter the efforts they made to the contrary. Which is sort of like a happily ever after, if you don't think about it.