Ted sat at his desk, the ledger before him. He picked up his favourite ball point pen (blue, medium tip), clicking the little button on the end and holding it poised for a moment over the paper before setting it down again and pulling his box of pencils towards him. He was content. There were few things more satisfying, he thought, than the beginning of the day; a tidy desk, a cup of coffee and a whole day's work ahead of him.
Princess Arabella put the book down with a sigh, clasping it to her chest and staring up at the richly embroidered canopy of her four poster bed, lost once more in day dreams. A sharp knock at her chamber door snapped her out of her reverie. A frown creased her brow.
"Who knocks upon my chamber door?" she called, her sweet voice ringing out as clearly as a church bell on a spring morning.
"It is I," croaked the harsh voice of the ugly, wicked old hag who had imprisoned her in the highest room of the tallest tower of the Castle of Sinister Death.
Arabella picked up her book again and returned her attention to the story, half-heartedly crying out: "No, I shan't speak to you, you ugly, wicked old hag; release me, release me."
"I shall never release you!" came the ugly, wicked old hag's gleeful voice. "You are mine, pretty, and here you shall remain. Come to the door and you shall have some gruel."
"I shan't. I shan't," returned Arabella, turning a page. She waited the requisite amount of time before standing up and crossing the room, her exquisite nose still buried in her book. Ted was sharpening his pencils. As she reached the door, it was flung open to reveal the ugly, wicked old hag on the other side, a bowl of steaming gruel clutched in her gnarled and knotted hands. Arabella took it from her, glared defiantly at the hag just as long as protocol demanded, and then bumped the chamber door shut with her hip. The bolts on the other side of the door slid into place.
"Oh oh oh do not keep me in this hateful place," Arabella said without enthusiasm, reluctantly putting down her book to bang on the door with one fist. She considered bursting into tears for effect, but decided against it, placing the bowl of gruel on her dressing table and trying to find her place in her book again. The ugly, wicked old hag's maniacal laughter echoed in the stairwell beyond the door as she descended the long, winding staircase.
Arabella tossed her hair as gold as wheat over a perfect shoulder, white as snow, and lay down once more on her bed, biting on a blood-red lip as she returned to the gripping story in her hands.
Ted's wife had packed his lunch that morning, and he looked forward with some relish to the lettuce-and-tomato sandwich she had wrapped in cling film and placed in his briefcase before kissing him goodbye. But Ted was not the sort to allow pleasant memories and the prospect of crunchy lettuce to distract him from his duties. No, he was a man of principle – an accountant through and through, a dedicated sailor of the perilous waters of credit and debit columns. His pencils sharpened, his swivel chair at exactly the right height, Ted was ready to begin his day.
Just as the story was beginning to get exciting, the silence was pierced by another voice, this time from outside the window. Arabella swore quietly, looking up from her book. She could barely make out what the voice was saying, so high up was she in the highest room of the tallest tower of the Castle of Sinister Death, but she had heard the words often enough to be able to fill in the blanks with a fair degree of accuracy.
"Sweetest Arabella, oh mumble mumble, your hair as gold as mumble, your skin as mumble mumble snow and mumble as red as blood! Fear not, oh fairest she, oh dearest mumble! I have arrived to free you from your mumble plight!"
The princess mouthed the last few words along with the speaker and rolled her eyes. She had nothing against rescuers who wished to free her from her mumble plight, of course, but she did find their speeches to be rather tedious. And she was growing a little tired of being addressed as "dearest mumble". The hero she sought was a different sort of hero altogether. She gazed longingly at her book, wondering whether she could get away with pretending not to have heard, then marked her place with the unicorn hair bookmark given to her by her mother before the tragic and untimely death of both her parents in a horrific and mysterious accident. She took a moment to compose her features, assuming her usual look of delighted and ladylike surprise, then crossed to the window and leaned on the sill, bestowing a grateful look upon the young man at the foot of the tower.
His dark hair shone in the sun, almost as much as the slender crown upon his noble head. He was tall and lean, and his handsome face was upturned. One hand held the reins of his white charger. It was a prince – of course. Arabella did her best not to be disappointed. What else could he have been? As a grown-up girl of almost seventeen, she was far too sensible to believe in such fantastic figures as accountants or bus drivers. Nevertheless, she shot an involuntary glance towards the book on her bed, one of a pile of fantasy novels she kept hidden behind a loose stone in the wall of her chamber. She turned back to the window, a brilliant smile lighting up her beautiful face.
"Good sir, I thank you," she called down to him. "I am an orphan, and I have been held captive here by an ugly, wicked old hag ever since the tragic and untimely death of both my parents in a horrific and mysterious accident, and she has sworn never to release me."
"Sweetest and most beautiful lady – " the princess stifled a yawn, " – let down your hair that I may ascend to your tower, slay the ugly, wicked old hag and set you free from your dreadful imprisonment."
For what felt like the umpteenth time, Arabella let down her hair as gold as wheat and let the flaxen locks tumble towards the ground where the eager prince stood, ready to free her from her dreadful imprisonment. Just for a moment, she thought about what it must be like to live in a world of pencils and lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches, and to be not-swept-off-her-feet by an accountant. But she pushed the thought aside. She was too old to believe in such stories. After all, she thought, tilting her head resignedly as the familiar tugging at her scalp began, it was only fantasy.