Once upon a time… That's how it usually starts, isn't it? "Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess", or "once upon a time, there was a dashing prince in search of his princess", that sort of fairy tale beginning. But once upon a time hardly happens once upon a time – in fact, it happens all the time. Especially in the not-so-far-off-and-distant-yet-ridiculously-isolated land of Rosalia, in which fairy tales happen so often it's almost ridiculous.
Our story begins at Number 7 Dwarf Street, the last dark and gloomy castle on the right, to be exact. It was your average run-of-the-mill fairy tale impenetrable castle, with a front yard of molten lava, jagged and dangerous rocks strewn throughout, tangled vines with sharp thorns crawling up the time-worn stone walls and pillars. With a bit of remodeling – converting the moat to a koi pond, pruning the thorny vines, perhaps adding a few lawn gnomes to the yard, that sort of thing – it might have actually looked like a quaint little castle in the European countryside, but that just wouldn't have fit in with the décor of the rest of the neighborhood (it was a short-lived fantasy, and at any rate the family of dwarfs down the street would have been offended by the gnomes). Nothing was out of the ordinary about this extraordinary castle.
Yet despite everything, the overwhelming regularity of this castle was broken by its inhabitants – or rather, one of them. The would-be star resident of this abode, to be exact.
The lady of the house was the typical white-bread evil hag of Rosalia. Her nose was bulbous and warty, one eye bulged while the other squinted and twitched. A large hump had formed on her back from years and years of hunching over a boiling cauldron. One look in her wardrobe and one would have instantly known who and what she was by her multiple black robes and cloaks hung in a neat row (with the occasional form-fitting velvet gown used in seduction spells and for those moments when she just wanted to feel pretty). Evelyn von de Hagg was her name, and holding beautiful damsels and princesses captive was her game.
Unfortunately for her, that game had been postponed for the time being.
Frederic von Dammsel sat in the room where the damsel in distress would have usually sat in Number 7 Dwarf Street – the tallest room in the tallest tower, of course – fingering lazily through the Classifieds in the newest edition of The Once Upon A Times, Rosalia's only newspaper. There were many fantastical items up for sale; one warlock was selling his pointed hat for a hefty price claiming that it was constructed from Merlin's actual beard hairs; a dragon was selling his fallen scales as weatherproof shingles for housing. But that was of little interest to him; what did interest him was the Damsels in Distress section, offering Prince Charmings their opportunity to rescue a fair maiden of their own:
WANTED: Strong, dashing prince to save helpless princess. Must be able to fight dragons and make harrowing escapes from evil sorcerers… WANTED: Handsome Lord to awaken beautiful nature-lover from eternal slumber. Must enjoy animals and abnormally short persons…
Every damsel in Rosalia had her own ad in the Once Upon a Times, and these ads were answered daily. Frederic, however, did not have an ad, though according to his birth, he really should have.
Now, one might ask themselves, "Why would a boy want an ad in the Damsels in Distress? That section is for damsels!" This is true – and Frederic knew that all too well. But though he wasn't a damsel (his last name was von Dammsel; nearly similar in spelling, yet with a soft "a" like fawn or lawn), he was in distress; it was in his job description.
His employer since birth, Evelyn, was well-aware of the freakish nature of their job situation. "I've guarded all of the best princesses," she boasted bitterly almost daily, "but now I've got you. Frederic von Dammsel. A boy! What sort of prince is going to want to rescue another boy? The wrong kind of prince, I can tell you that! You'll be lucky if a prince even glances sideways at this castle, Frederic!"
And Frederic would solemnly agree, and go back to reading the newspaper, like he had done this morning. He had accepted his fate as a forever distressed non-damsel, doomed to sit in the highest room in the tallest tower for eternity, waiting for a savior that would never come.
He finished scouring the Classifieds for Damsels in Distress and closed the paper, placing it on his vanity. With a discontented sigh, he slumped over his elbows and placed his chin in his palms, staring into the large mirror over his vanity.
His features were feminine enough; his cheekbones were high and his face was slender; his lips were plump and his large blue eyes twinkled like stars. His hair, as silky and shiny and smooth and blonde as nature would allow, hung just above his shoulders in naturally layered locks – which he suddenly noticed needed brushing.
Frederic picked up the shimmering silver hairbrush on the vanity, the same one which all of the great princesses that Evelyn had once guarded had used in the past, and began brushing his own hair carefully. It didn't make him feel like any less of a man to brush his own hair; he liked to take care of his appearance, even if his appearance was feminine. Yet no matter how many times he brushed his hair, no matter how much he may have looked like a princess, it made no difference to him or anyone.
It was just as well to him; Frederic was just happy to have a place to stay. His only regret about being an unsavory object of saving was that, if free, he might be able to travel more, which had always been a dream of his…
"FEAR NOT, FAIR MAIDEN! I HAVE COME TO YOUR RESCUE!"
Frederic stopped brushing and cocked an eyebrow. Was he hearing things again?
Yet before long, Frederic heard the rustling of vines and leaves outside his high window. He heard violent grunting noises, as if someone were struggling to climb the vines, and they were getting closer and closer by the second…
Reflected in his mirror, Frederic saw a weary-looking young man leap heroically into his window, sword in hand, then fall un-heroically in a heap after unknowingly landing on a velvet chaise lounge. After a bit of painful groaning, the young man stood up gingerly, and looked in the direction of Frederic, who had paused halfway while brushing his hair, and who was staring blankly at the other man's reflection.
His hair, a chestnut brown, was perfectly tousled and majestic, framing his strong jaw and large, similarly-colored eyes. His princely grin was suave and pearly-white, pure-white as freshly laundered linens. He wore the princeliest regalia that Frederic had ever seen, almost to the point of being absurdly princely. Sword in hand, princely eyes softened by the sight of a beautiful maiden, he definitely looked the part of a prince in all of his shining glory.
Wait… beautiful maiden? Did that mean…
Frederic turned on his stool and stared in the prince's direction. No, it wasn't a dream. There was really a prince standing in his room, ready to save him from Evelyn von de Hagg's wicked clutches.
"My fair lady…" the prince breathed, and stepped over to Frederic. He knelt down on one knee, took Frederic's hand in his, and kissed it delicately with his soft princely lips. "I have traversed many miles through dangerous terrain, battled many dragons and many trolls, and fought through the thorny vines that have ravaged this calamitous castle, all in the name of saving you, my lady."
Oh good Lord, Frederic thought, staring in disbelief at this obviously deranged savior with furrowed brows.
"My name is Prince Ulrich von Royal, my beautiful damsel," the prince said, staring dreamily up at Frederic with dreamy eyes. "Please, tell me your name, before I whisk you away from this dreadful place."
Frederic held back laughter. This part of the job was something he did not miss, being a male version of the damsel in distress. He wouldn't mind being saved, but the part about falling in love with the savior and living happily ever after always seemed a bit absurd to him, considering the circumstances. This prince, like so many others before him, had probably come to the wrong castle; there were so many on Dwarf Street, he had probably gotten mixed up.
"Frederic," he replied flatly, in a very unmistakably male voice.
Prince Ulrich's eyes lost their soft sparkle, and now looked somewhat appalled. "You're… you're joking, right?"