CHAPTER TWO - IN WHICH THE CRUSADE BEGINS
If it takes a pronunciation guide and more than three tries to say a name correctly, then it's a stupid name.
Names have power. I don't care if your character can make a tulip bulb turn into a redwood, be sensible when naming them. A girl called Edelwiess will be laughed at, regardless of looks. A boy named Dandelion is going to get beaten up, no matter how buff he is.
Long ago and far away, there lived a princess. Not just any princess, however. This one was special.
Princess Lanterna Tirremilleasu had hair the colour of the sun and moon, eyes like the colour of a storm-tossed sea, and a slender, willow-like build. Everyone, from visiting princes to the servants who were attending her, was in awe of her amazing loveliness. Helen of Troy had nothing on her.
As Princess Lanterna joined several vague outlines (presumably the servants and visiting princes) in admiring herself, no one noticed a more substantial brunette woman stumble out of nowhere. Registering that this was not her office and actually looked a lot like the muzzily-described scene in the latest literary abomination, Susanna let out a "Meeple" sound and sat down hard.
Trying to make any sense of this, failing miserably, and deciding that she needed her brain in working order, Susanna looked around for some kind of distraction. She found it when she spotted Princess Lanterna, and joined the rest of the scenery in staring at her, or, more specifically, staring at the way she spontaneously turned into a willow tree and then back into a girl with yellow-and-white striped hair.
Stifling a snicker, she pulled out a notebook and started to jot down critique points. If she was stuck in this hallucination, then she might as well do something productive, and Susanna was feeling very vindictive all of a sudden. "Here we see the dangers of being over-descriptive. Oh, and Real-Life history has no place being directly referenced in a fantasy world, unless it's a sci-fi time-/dimension-travel story."
Although Princess Lanterna was schooled in the fine arts, as a proper princess should be, she was also an excellent fighter, despite the fact that she had never had so much as a self-defense lesson, and the fact that she was not permitted near the castle training courts.
In homage to her sheer perfection, Princess Lanterna wanted for nothing, and was permitted great freedom in her actions. When her aging parents insisted that she get married, however, Princess Lanterna decided that she had had enough of being oppressed.
Just because the King and Queen wanted a line of succession before they died shouldn't mean that she needed to marry. The fact that the Queen was past child-bearing age didn't mean that they couldn't have another child and marry them off while the new baby was still in their cradle!
Princess Lanterna ignored the Queen's honeyed tomes as her mother tried to make her 'be reasonable'.
Susanna stared in shock, and then started laughing as five large books, covered in honey, fell out of mid-air and started bouncing up and down, clamoring for attention. "I wonder if I can get this idiot for despoiling books, as well. She's certainly getting charged with just about everything else."
Later, Princess Lanterna sat back, dismissing her ladies maid. "Go away, Fidelity. Edelwiess, you stay and finish my hair."
Princess Lanterna would never know why Fidelity, the only one to back her up on her stance about getting married, always giggled when someone addressed her other maid by name, or why Edelwiess growled at them when they did. Her second maid was a pretty girl, so it was only fair that she be named for a pretty flower.
Susanna snickered quietly, reminding herself to share this with Desdemona, as proof that as far as names went, hers could have been a lot worse. "Well, that explains the aversion to Marriage. Who is cheating on whom, I wonder. A bit of transition would be nice, too."
Princess Lanterna would forever maintain her stance on not wanting to get married, so she decided to run away.
Princess Lanterna knew that she had neither survival skills nor any idea of the kingdom's geographical layout. She also knew that she was easily recognized (who could miss someone as beautiful as her?) and that requests for aid would mean a swift and one-way trip back to the palace. Really, you'd think that peasants would be more concerned with her pampered happiness than their own self-preservations and wish to avoid accusations of treason.
But none of that mattered.
The heroines in her romance novels pulled this sort of thing off all the time, and Princess Lanterna Tirremilleasu was much prettier than they were.
The next morning, Princess Lanterna was up before the sun, despite the fact that she had never risen before three hours after dawn since she was an infant who needed night-time feedings.
She was brimming with joy and self-confidence, so of course there was no need for provisions like food or water or money. Who needed things like a map or a change of clothes, anyway? Besides, a large bag to carry all those things would distract people from admiring the princess herself.
Easily evading the guards, who had only trained for years to spot even the faintest hint of an intruder, Princess Lanterna made her way out of the castle. Despite the fact that her bright-orange dress stood out like a beacon against the green fields that surrounded the castle, the sentries on look-out didn't notice a thing as she made her escape.
Look out, world; Princess Lanterna Tirremilleasu has left the castle!
Cheerfully adding 'Unrealistic far beyond fictional artistic licence' to the list of things that Susanna intended to point out in detail while writing a rejection letter, the young editor reflected that her enjoyment of ripping this to metaphorical shreds was probably a bad thing.
The descriptions of Princess Lanterna's first few hours of traveling took less than a full page before becoming beyond unrealistic, as the princess was supposedly attacked by a drop-bear in an open field less than six miles after leaving the castle.
That served no purpose other than to send the (thankfully un-noticed) young editor into gales of hysterical laughter, as anyone with sense knows that 'Killer Koala Bears', much like Banksia Men and riding kangaroos to school, are nothing more than fiction, and a joke at the expense of any tourist gullible enough to actually fall for it.
The events were also becoming very repetitive; walk a few yards, beat up a bandit that had been lurking in wait, although where he had been hiding on a barren-for-a-five-mile-diameter stretch of road was anyone's guess.
Go into a rainforest that hadn't been there two sentences ago, fight a cheetah, despite the fact that cheetahs mainly inhabited the grassy plains of Africa, rather than a muggy rainforest that was somehow devoid of any other wildlife.
Princess Lanterna Tirremilleasu stopped when she saw a small boy sitting on a rock, crying. While the problems of others were beneath her notice, her boundless compassion compelled her to ask the boy what was wrong. He sniffled, which made Princess Lanterna cringe, but she didn't offer him her handkerchief, not wanting him to get it dirty. "The other children say that I'm a weed because my parents named me Dandelion."
Dandelions were very pretty flowers, no matter how much the palace gardeners complained about their presence, and the boy was really quite sturdily built. How could he be a weed? "Well, it doesn't matter. I think it's a very nice name. My name is Lanterna Tirremilleasu, and I say for them to stop teasing you."
Princess Lanterna had a gift for inspiring speeches, and made a point of telling people so at every opportunity that presented itself, and even at a few that didn't. She had no idea why people always rolled their eyes when they thought she wasn't looking, because the boy looked much happier when she told him her name.
Marking it as her good deed for the day, since that meant she wouldn't have to stop to help anyone else, Princess Lanterna continued on, absently noticing a woman trip as she walked over to the boy.
Susanna had been hurrying to catch up with the Princess, when the last sentence nearly yanked her off her feet, pulling her in Dandelion's direction. Well, being forcefully side-tracked to talk didn't mean it had to be a long conversation. "You look a bit cheered up, now."
The boy had a very nice smile, really. "Oh, I'm much better now. Dandelion might be a silly name, but hers is sillier, so I can't call my name the worst in the world any more."
Susanna smiled. She really did love the logic of children, at times. "You know, I think the name suits you. Dandelions are very strong plants, very stubborn and very hard to get rid of. Just tell people that if they try to tease you."
Dandelion hugged her and ran off, possibly to do just that. Susanna smiled again and turned back to the story, trying to work out how much more she had to endure.
Much to Susanna's relief, she seemed to be approaching the end of the submitted draft. Now all she had to do was find a way to end this and get out. Perhaps confronting the silly girl would have some effect, but Susanna appeared to be invisible to the story characters unless she directly interacted with them. The problem with that idea was that Susanna could only interact with the characters when the words left enough room for her to wriggle her way in, like when a youth (described as a 'hot guy', a term that Susanna was sure hadn't existed back in that time period unless you were in England after 1605, and talking about Bonfire Night) had been blindsided by Princess Lanterna Tirremilleasu's beauty and crashed into a random woman.
Busy seething at the author's choice of description, Susanna had been paying even less attention to her surroundings than the young man headed toward her, and had been knocked straight onto her bum.
Scanning ahead in the document and considering the possibilities, Susanna looked for a good point to intervene. Ooh, now here was an opportunity, and Susanna would even get to wear pretty clothes while doing it! The young editor laughed to herself; she doubted that this was quite what the would-be author had in mind for this particular conflict.
Further up the road, there stood a tall young woman holding a long staff. Her other arm cradled a large book, and a small carry bag sat by her feet.
Susanna blinked as her A5 notebook morphed into an A4, leather-bound text, and then turned to examine the carved mahogany staff that had suddenly appeared in her hand, but shrugged it off. You didn't lose a love of Dress-Up just because you grew older, and if you asked Susanna if she liked wearing clothes from a different era, she wouldn't deny it. Actually, the chance to wear a dress straight out of a 12th Century fashion book was probably the best part of this ordeal so far.
Princess Lanterna reached where the woman stood. "You, there! How far is it to the next town? You will guide me there."
The woman showed no visible reaction. "Politeness costs nothing, you know, though lack of it can sometimes cost everything. I've had a supremely miserable day so far, how was yours? I'm afraid I don't know how far it is to the next town, and even if I did, I try not to make a habit of wandering off with rude strangers."
Princess Lanterna thought herself very tolerant for not ordering the woman executed for her insolence, conveniently forgetting that there was no-one there to perform the execution. "How dare you talk to me like that! Do you know who I am? Who do you think you are?"
The newcomer looked distinctly unimpressed with Princess Lanterna's regal address. If anything, she looked ready to crack the princess over the head with the staff she gripped. "My name is Susanna, believe me when I say that it is not a pleasure. And you would be…?"
Princess Lanterna was furious. How dare this woman not know about the sheer perfection that was her! It was inexcusable! A travesty! And the newcomer didn't even comment on her new dress! She gave the brunette woman her best Royal Glare ™. "I am Crown Princess Lanterna Tirremilleasu, and meeting me is always the highlight of a person's life, even one as fashion-challenged as you!"
Susanna lifted a calm eyebrow, pointedly looking between her boots and sensible, if brightly jewel-toned, green dress, which did, admittedly, bring out her eyes, and Princess Lanterna's gem-encrusted ball gown and slippers, which had started to become rather heavy and cumbersome about five minutes after she left the castle. "Whatever you say, Princess Lanterna Terranull… Tiramisu…Tria…"
Giving up the attempt at pronouncing Princess Lanterna's bizarre name, Susanna sighed. "OK, you know what? If it takes three tries to pronounce it correctly, then it's a stupid name. Frankly, your name sounds like a flashlight, coupled with a dying camel demanding cake."
Princess Lanterna stared as the woman had the sheer nerve to smirk! Lanterna, in direct contrast, had moved from furious to livid incoherency. Although this person was obviously a foreigner, that was still no reason not to fall to their knees and worship the ground that she walked on.
Susanna looked a bit too happy as she continued talking, cheerfully disregarding the princess's rising fury. "I'm here to inform you that you and your writer are being charged with the following: bad description – congratulations on that; it's rare for someone to pull off both over- and under-describing things. Anyway, moving on... using modern terms in a medieval setting; being unrealistic far beyond the allowances of fictional creative license; lack of transition and the insertion of real-life history into a fantasy world. You are further charged with the despoiling of innocent books and the Violation of The Writer's Rules, specifically in regards to naming of characters."
It was understandable that Princess Lanterna Tirremilleasu could only stare blankly at Susanna. It was a very strange proclamation, and the big words probably didn't aid in comprehension. Susanna continued before the princess could snap out of it. "It is therefore my very great pleasure to pronounce your story, and by extension, you, as a failure. Good-bye."
The woman vanished in a flash and a faint whirr-ing sound, which grew steadily louder as the sky began to come apart in long, thin strips. Had Princess Lanterna Tirremilleasu any knowledge of the modern, real-life world, she might have made a comparison to a piece of paper being gleefully fed into a paper-shredder.
However, the badly-named royal character had no such knowledge, and was left to wonder as the rips grew steadily closer. She vanished in a 'pop' and a shower of neon-pink glitter as the world ended.
Back at Oddbins, Susanna finished feeding the a blank piece of paper into the paper-shredder as on-the-spot-therapy, and sat down to finish a rejection letter. Being sucked into a badly-written story apparently took up more time than reading through it the normal way, and it was only ten minutes before she could escape for the day.
Atlanta, a close friend and the most frequent listening ear for Susanna's rants, waved as she left the office. "I'll see you tomorrow. Oh, and good luck with the draw, too."
Susanna paused in the act of putting on a coat. Admittedly, she had been busier than usual the past day or so, but shouldn't she have heard something about this, if it was important? "What draw?"
Atlanta's brow furrowed. "You don't know? We're supposed to be getting a batch of Newbies tomorrow, and the boss wants to pair them up with more experienced editors for a bit. Something about showing them the ropes and calming influences."
Susanna shot Atlanta a Look, seeing the faint hint of a smirk at the not-so-veiled implied reference to a few of Susanna's initial reactions, the stuff of office legend. Firmly reminding herself that homicidal rampages were frowned on in the workplace, so she couldn't give in to the temptation of killing her boss, Susanna shrugged on her cloak and left.
First getting sucked into badly-written stories, and now this! A partner/rookie was the last thing she needed! On the bright side, if the wannabe writers did end up driving Susanna insane, she would no longer be going down alone. She started to walk home, feeling slightly more cheerful. Every cloud did have a silver lining.
Susanna just wished that she didn't get struck by lightning every time she went looking for it.