The old wooden door creaked open in the darkness. There was darkness everywhere, except for the faint moonlight entering the room through the door. A broad, slouching figure entered the room, walking silently at a snails pace.
"You know why I am here," the voice of an old woman croaked.
"Yes, of course we know," Frederic's mother replied. "We have what you want."
"I can see that."
Frederic cast his eyes downward bashfully. His hair hung in twin braids to the starched white collar of a downy pink dress that stretched to his knobby knees, beneath which were two feet shoved into black patent leather shoes and socks with lace that tickled the ankles. He didn't understand why he was wearing a dress, nor did he put much thought into it; Frederic was an obedient child, who did whatever his parents told him without question.
A gnarled hand grabbed Frederic's chin and pulled him face-to-face with an odd creature crouching to his eye level he had never seen before. It was the face of a typical white-bread evil hag of Rosalia. Her nose was bulbous and warty, one eye bulged while the other squinted and twitched. She was frightening with her single-toothed smirk, but Frederic wouldn't scream. He couldn't. Frederic refused to speak, despite having just turned three years old that very day.
"Ah, she's a pretty one," the woman cooed. "Yes… she's a very pretty one… yes, she'll do just fine."
The woman let go of Frederic's face and stretched upward again, disappearing into the darkness above him. "Say goodbye to your family, young one. You'll never see them again."
Frederic turned his head. He didn't see his parents' faces, just high shadows where they should have been. Neither parent stooped down to kiss him, or hug him, and he didn't expect them to; parental love was a foreign concept to him. The only thing he saw in full detail was his sister Katrina standing beyond them. She was dressed in what were normally his clothes, so big on her that they swallowed her tiny body, and her long blonde locks had been cropped short and hidden under Frederic's favorite newsboy cap, adding to the boyish disguise his mother and father had hastily put together for her.
As their eyes met, Katrina reached out her tiny hand to Frederic and let out a soft discontented coo. Frederic, unsure of what to do, stared at the hand for a long moment; he hadn't had much experience with touching in the past. Finally, he reached out and gently took a hold of Katrina's small, soft, dainty hand in his.
It was the first and last memory of affection he would ever retain.
"Come on, come on, I don't have all day." The hag reached down and took Frederic's free hand, and dragged him away into the moonlight, releasing his grip on Katrina. Frederic could only watch helplessly as he was torn away from her, and she disappeared into darkness for eternity…
…Frederic was in a dungeon of a massive castle. A black cauldron with glowing green ooze bubbled and boiled in the distance. The hag gazed down at Frederic with hungry eyes, a sinister smile on her wrinkled mouth.
"Yes… yes, you're very pretty," she cooed, "the prettiest one I've ever seen, I dare say. What's your name, you pretty little thing?"
Frederic stared at the hag vacantly. He felt his name on the tip of his tongue, and even though he had never spoken before in his life, he knew his name would come as clear as a bell now…
The sound of his own voice startled him awake. Frederic's eyes burst open, and he squinted as the midday light assaulted his pupils. A soft moan escaped his throat, and he craned his neck forward, away from the glass.
Three long, boring, dreadful hours. That was how long he had been in Prince Ulrich's "magnificent carriage", which, Frederic had come to find out, wasn't really as magnificent as it appeared to be. The cabin was cramped, uncomfortable, and not air-conditioned; Frederic was thankful to not be cursed with terrible B.O., since he had spent the last three hours sweating through layer after layer of pink fabric he was trapped in.
"What's that, my lady?"
Frederic looked up. Sitting across from him was Prince Ulrich von Royal, the culprit behind his unwilling kidnapping. He looked entirely perfect, as if he hadn't sweated a drop in the hot cabin. Frederic marveled at him; how did he do it? How did he manage to stay in such perfect form while he was being roasted? Had his brain already boiled to the point of immunity to heat? It would certainly explain a few things…
"Nothing," Frederic lied, and looked away; no point in bringing up his personal anguish to a kidnapper. "I just…had a bad dream, is all."
"Oh," he replied, and grinned. "No worries, my lady; once we arrive at the castle and are married, your bad dreams will be a thing of the past. I will personally protect you from any nightmares that dare enter your peaceful slumbering."
Frederic rolled his eyes. There was no possible way… well, that was a lie, it waspossible; Evelyn herself had employed it on him a few times before (one second he was riding a gondola boat in Venice, the next Evelyn was standing across from him reminding him to feed the dragons come the morning). But it wasn't possible to a non-magical resident of Rosalia like Prince Ulrich. It was all sugar-sweet lies meant to endear Frederic to him before their big day, and as much as Frederic hated to admit it, it was sort of working, considering the regular severity of his nightmares…
Ulrich was humming idly to himself and smiling out the window when Frederic made his last remark, but his eyes quickly switched from the window to him. He gave Frederic a perplexed look, as if it should have been perfectly obvious to him. It wasn't.
"Well, of course," he replied, and sat up. "Every prince marries his damsel."
"I know that! But–"
Of course. How could Frederic have forgotten? He had always thought of that as the most ridiculous element of the Prince-and-His-Damsel relationship; that was possibly the only reason he would have liked to stay in Evelyn's castle. Throughout all of this insanity involving Prince Ulrich, and Evelyn, and the gum-smacker at the Remote Yet Convenient Motel, and the army of forest animals, Frederic had forgotten…
"And when we share true love's first kiss at the altar, your spell will be broken. I'm sure of – Oh! Look! We're here!"
Frederic followed the Prince's line of sight out the window, but saw nothing but the path and some large oaks. "What do you mean?"
Prince Ulrich beamed at Frederic. "Welcome to my castle."
"Hm?" Frederic looked at Prince Ulrich quizzically. What was he talking about?
Prince Ulrich pointed up, at the carriage's glass sky roof. "Go up and look for yourself," he suggested.
Frederic stared at him for a moment, but finally complied. Standing up awkwardly on his heels, Frederic pulled the glass back as it disappeared into the roof, and poked his upper body through the narrow opening. It was then that Frederic learned what Prince Ulrich was so excited about.
Anyone would have been excited about coming home to a castle like the one he saw. It was massive, with great pointed brick-red turrets growing up like stalagmites from the green fields surrounding it. The turrets were all surrounded by a high wall constructed from shimmering white stone that glinted in the late-morning light. The carriage was approaching an old wooden drawbridge that was just beginning to descend amidst the clatter-clatter-clatter of chains achingly moving.
"Woah…" Of all places for Prince Ulrich to live, such a grand palace as this was far from what Frederic had expected of him. Sure, he had expected something grand, but this… it was almost too magnificent for words.
Now Frederic understood why Prince Ulrich had been reading a high-end magazine like Prince's Quarterly.
The carriage hit a bump big enough to shake the whole compartment. Stemming from a combination of Frederic's shoddy equilibrium due to no food in the past couple of days and his inexperience standing in heels, Frederic's knees buckled as he lost his balance. He fell forward, into the cabin, and into a strikingly more awkward dilemma than any he had been in these past few days.
The impact startled him; expecting to fall into the cushions of the seat facing him, Frederic instead fell into Prince Ulrich, who made a soft "oof" sound upon collision. It wasn't a painful collision by any means; Prince Ulrich was surprisingly soft due partly to the padding in his princely clothes.
But though falling on top of Frederic's love-crazed captor wasn't painful physically, it was painful mentally. The first thing he did – big mistake – was look up at Prince Ulrich. Frederic craned his neck up with full intent of apologizing, and only apologizing, when their equally stunned eyes met.
Frederic could see every shade of brown in Prince Ulrich's eyes this close, from the honey-golden flecks that mingled with the warm auburns to the chestnuts and near-blacks that faded outward from his great dark pupils. In the Prince's pupils, Frederic could see his own reflection, and for some reason now, it was clearer than he had ever seen it in any mirror. He felt Ulrich's warm body against his own, especially through his right palm inadvertently placed on the man's chest. He tried to stop himself, he really tried, but Frederic couldn't help but blush in his awkward predicament.
It was painful, to see how pure the Prince's eyes were. He had lived a charmed life, such a charmed and happy life; it was obvious in the gleam in his eyes. He had never known any sorrow, or fear, or heartbreak, just a big beautiful castle and splendor galore. And soon, Frederic would have to rain down upon his life the biggest storm of heartbreak and grief Prince Ulrich would ever know. It was heartbreaking enough to almost force him to feel sorry for the boy.
Almost. It would be easier if he didn't know that Prince Ulrich was the one who had put himself in this dilemma in the first place.
"Um…sorry," he said meekly, his cheeks growing hot.
"Er…" Prince Ulrich's cheeks were equally pink, almost camouflaging him into the pink interior of the carriage, "n-no, my lady, it was entirely not your fault. Though… though I am glad to have saved you from a painful fall."
Frederic laughed uneasily. "Uh…yeah. Thanks for that," he replied just above a whisper.
"But, uh, you know, Princess? I... don't really mind if you plan on falling on me in the future."
"Y...Yeah..? Uh...okay, I'll...keep that in mind next time..."
He stopped himself short, and re-evaluated his position. Oh God... was he honestly…flirting? It was completely unintended, of course; it was just…awkward small talk. Yes, that was it; awkward small talk between two young men, one of whom happened to…be on top of the other…and in a dress…that the other had had made for…Oh God…
The carriage doors flung open, and a chorus of horns sounded a regal entrance tune. "NOW PRESENTING, PRINCE ULRICH VON ROYAL THE THIRD AND HIS PRINCESS!" A crowd outside cheered loudly, startling both the Prince and Frederic, who went completely rigid once they had turned their heads to peek out the cabin doors.
A red carpet had been stretched, as far as Frederic could tell, from the towering steps of the main castle doors, right to the foot of their carriage. Each side of the carpet was flanked by important-looking men in important-looking uniforms carrying important-looking swords (anyone with a sword, Frederic thought, is always important enough to respect and not to get crossways with), which were evenly spaced and tight-fitted like a row of flamboyantly-colored dominoes. Beyond these human dominoes were hordes of peasants, in their trademark burlap-bag-crafted outfits, applauding and shouting joyous words of encouragement ("Atta boy, Ulrich!"; "Hooray for Our Prince!"; "Great catch, Prince Ulrich! She's a looker!") loud enough to turn a man deaf.
Not one of them seemed to mind, strangely enough, that their new so-called "princess" was now straddling their prince before them.
Oh great, Frederic thought. Now the real fun begins…
But Frederic made a silent pact with himself in that moment. He had to end this before things got way out of hand – well, anymore than they already had. At least before the marriage, he thought;that would definitely constitute things getting out of hand...