The (Not) Fairy Tale
Chapter 2: Prince(ss) Winter
Getting to the castle took much less time than Ash had anticipated. He noticed that he hadn't come across any other saviors-to-be, but chalked it up to the perilous journey. Who knew; maybe the young men were attacked by wild beasts in the mountains, got lost in the forest, sunk into the mire, or drowned in the lake.
Upon arrival, Ash had panicked over not having a weapon. Then he realized that the dragon was missing, and wondered if he came to the right castle. The invitation had not specified which castle, nor were there signs that read, "Royal damsel in distress."
By chance, he found a talking parrot perched on a tree branch outside the castle walls. Why the place had a parrot, no one knew, but the fact remained that there was a parrot.
"Excuse me, do you know if there is a dragon somewhere around here? I need to slay it to save the princess," said Ash.
"Dragon bored. Dragon left," squawked the parrot. It flapped its wings as if reenacting the incident. "Dragon bored. Dragon left."
"Oh. I see." Well, that made things easier. He didn't have to worry about not having a weapon or engaging in bloody violence. "What about the princess? Is she still inside the castle?"
"Princess? Princess, princess?" The parrot hopped from leg to leg.
"Er, never mind. Thank you."
Leaving the parrot behind, Ash bravely entered the castle. To be honest, the castle's defenses were self-defeating. Tree branches reached over its walls, the moat was dried up, and even if the moat wasn't dried up, the drawbridge had been lowered.
Wondering about the mental facilities of the princess who couldn't escape a poorly fortified castle, Ash ascended a long, spiral staircase. He wasn't a clairvoyant. He was simply following the footprints on the dusty ground (although they seemed too large to belong to a woman). Suspecting that another noble soul had beaten him to the princess, Ash rushed up the stairs, almost knocking down the door as he burst into the room.
The person inside turned around, startled. He wore a dark vest over a white silk shirt and cravat. Even seated, he possessed a regal bearing. He also looked very pretty.
The pretty boy stared back.
"Um, you are the princess?" asked Ash.
The boy scowled, blue eyes flashing as he retorted, "Do I look like a princess?"
"No, but you do have hair spun from gold, eyes deeper than the sky, and skin as white as snow." When the boy's reaction fell somewhere between flattered and freaked out, Ash explained, "I'm looking for a princess like that."
Losing interest, the boy picked up the book that had fallen from his lap. "You must be referring to my twin sister. The castle you want to be at is in the north."
"You mean I'm at the wrong castle?"
"Didn't I just say that?" The boy muttered something along the lines of "idiot" and "terrible taste in humor," then buried his nose in the heavy tome.
Ash stood awkwardly in the center of the room. He noticed, for the first time, the staggering towers of books on the ground. "Are you the only one in this castle?"
When the boy continued with his silence, Ash tapped him on the shoulder.
The boy jumped and dropped the book again.
"What is it?" he snapped.
"Are you the –"
"I heard you the first time. And yes, I'm the only one here. Rather, I was before you showed up." The boy threw a withering look that Ash didn't understand but felt was completely unwarranted.
"I'm just asking," Ash shot back. "Why are you here alone?"
"It's a long story."
"I have time." Ash sat cross-legged on the ground, mindful of the books.
"I don't remember inviting you into my castle, much less into my dark and bitter past. Besides, why should I tell a stranger about my life?"
"My name is Ash. What's yours?"
The displeasure on the boy's face faltered, as he answered in confusion, "Winter."
"Funny name. Well, you are very cold," commented Ash. Before the boy – Winter – could retort, he said, "Now we're not strangers. Tell me about your dark and bitter past."
Winter heaved a long sigh. "You're very stubborn, you know that? Very well. I am the crown prince of a small kingdom very far away. On the day that my sister and I were born, my parents invited the Three Good Fairies in our land to bestow upon us gifts. The first two fairies blessed my sister and me with beauty and intelligence. Before the third fairy could offer her blessing, the Wicked Fairy that my father didn't invite – and for good reason – stormed in with all the vengeance of a snubbed socialite. Her 'gift' was that on our sixteenth birthday, we would be imprisoned in separate castles for the rest of our life. You can imagine how horrified my parents were. Fortunately, the last Good Fairy had yet to proclaim her gift. Although she couldn't undo the Wicked Fairy's curse, she mitigated it so that my sister and I would be rescued by our one true love."
Ash stood up and dusted his pants. "Interesting story. So how long have you been in this castle?"
"So…that would make you eighteen?"
"Should I be astounded that you can do simple arithmetic?"
"You don't look eighteen."
"And you don't look like my one true love," Winter said acidly.
"Because I'm not." Ash shrugged. "I'm looking for your sister. What's her name?"
Ash paused. He should have known.
"Well, it was nice meeting you, Winter. Take care."
At the door, Ash turned to see Winter's shoulders sag. When Winter noticed that he hadn't left, he sat a little straighter and put on a frown.
"Just so you know, the dragon's gone and the castle's defenseless. You don't need to wait for your one true love in order to leave this place," said Ash. He narrowly missed the disbelief flitting across Winter's face as he hurried down the stairs.
Ash was halfway across the drawbridge when a series of thumping chased him.
"Wait! I'm going with you," declared Winter.
"What about your one true love?"
Winter rolled his eyes. "No one except you would venture into this area. It's not even on a map."
"Yes, it is." Ash took out the map magically furnished by the Fairy Godfather. "See, the castle's right here."
Winter frowned at the map for a moment, then burst out laughing. "That's my sister's castle. You read the map upside down!"
"How was I supposed to know?" cried Ash. He knew he should have gone north! Then a horrible thought struck him. If he went the wrong way, then that means he's even farther behind his step brothers in rescuing the princess.
Winter looked around. "How did you get here? Don't tell me you walked."
"I have a Mustang," Ash said proudly.
"Right there." Ash pointed to the white contraption with wheels.
Winter quirked a brow. "You realize that a Mustang is a horse, right?"
"I know. That thing there is also called a Mustang."
"Huh. What exactly is it? I've never encountered it in my readings."
Ash scratched his head. "I think it's a type of…cart? Carp? Anyway, it's like a mechanical horse."
"How fascinating." Winter circled the Mustang as if it were a live animal. After deeming it safe, he sauntered into the front seat.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" he asked impatiently. "We have to save my sister."
"We?" repeated Ash.
"Yes, we. Aren't you destined to be her one true love?"
"I suppose. But what about you?"
"She's my sister. I have to help her. Now that I'm out, I need to take revenge on the Wicked Fairy for wasting two years of my life." Winter pointed to him imperiously. "And you need a guide, because you obviously can't read a map by yourself."
Unsure what to make of this new companion that he unwittingly acquired, Ash decided that Winter would wander off eventually. Besides, it was nice to have someone to talk to.
(1) Winter's curse: reference to Sleeping Beauty