Once upon a time there was a princess trapped at the bottom of the sea.
The King promised her hand in marriage, tons of gold, and a small kingdom to whoever could save her from her watery prison. Since she was a renowned beauty, lots of people wanted to marry her, although beauty and wealth was kind of the same thing in those days. Aspiring politicians were also interested. Basically there were tons of dudes lined up to save this girl.
Our story begins with a prince from a faraway land. He ate weird food and wore funny clothing, but you know, foreigners. He came to the King's court to announce his intention to rescue the lost princess. Pretty much everyone made fun of him, because they never saw people from so far away before. They called him rude names and made fun of his skin color and stuff, but the prince didn't care, because he didn't really understand the local language. He figured they were impressed by his height or something, I don't really know, I just made that up.
Anyway, the King wished him luck, and then he was on his way. He never came back, and no one really missed him, except probably people in his kingdom, like his mom and dad and the kingdom that lost its handsome heir. He was well known for his skill in fencing and philosophy, and everyone was expecting him to make a wonderful and fair king. But that doesn't matter to this story.
Next was the butcher's boy, golden haired with a too-large chin. He wasn't classically handsome, but he thought he was, and his confidence made all the difference. The girls loved him and his bow shaped lips, but he wasn't really interested in settling down. He liked to drink and party and he never helped his father run his business. It's likely the butcher forced his son to try to make something of himself, because otherwise I don't see him as the save-a-princess-and-settle-down-with-a-kingdom type. But you know, he was a good boy. He looked after his grandparents and he gave away his father's money freely, which is the most you could ask from a middle class youth in those days.
The King's court cheered for him, because everyone loves the golden boy, even if he's not from noble blood. Some people are elevated by their good looks and marriages to royalty. But unfortunately for the butcher's son, it wasn't meant to be; he never returned, and everyone eventually assumed the worst.
The court didn't really care too much. He became the subject of gossip and some superficial regret. If his father was affected, he didn't show it. He never mentioned his son again, and was happy to assume that the boy had made good somewhere. His grandmother missed him, though, because her bones would ache reminders. Oh, and there was a ginger girl too, named B, who missed him very much.
There were other men. Some were wealthy and old and mustachioed. Some of the boys were very young, and it's likely that a few of them were girls dressed as boys, because girls used to do that to improve their lot in life. They all died. There were men carrying magical amulets, like tinboxes or eggs from faraway countries, charmed to allow them to breathe underwater or kill witches. Those men died too.
As the King warred and increased his lands, more men heard of the promise, and they all met their watery ends. When princes died, there was a bit of trouble about it and paperwork had to be done and compensation made, but the poor men had no one to speak for them, and so their deaths went unmarked.
In public, the court would shake their heads and murmur about what a shame it was, how many lives had been lost trying to restore the princess to her throne. In private they would laugh and gossip about the latest suitors, size them up, and wonder how long it would take before so-and-so tripped on his sword and impaled himself.
As for the princess, well, they were even less generous there. They remembered her scandalous dresses and her penchant for taxidermy. Most people had originally assumed that the princess had run away or killed herself, and it wasn't until the men who went looking for her started disappearing that they gave any credence to the story about the princess being trapped. And trapped by what? Who would want such a weird girl? They speculated that she'd done something to deserve her fate under the water. It would be like her to land herself in trouble.
The princess had a sister.
Of course, no one remembered her, not then or now. She dressed in drab clothes and never had anything interesting to say. When people did notice her, they found themselves wishing she were bolder. Why can't you be more like your sister? they would ask her.
Her father eventually arranged a suitably boring marriage for her and gave her a steady allowance to pursue her interests, so long as she never bothered him with them. It's not that he didn't love her. It's just that he was busy. He first started conquering because he thought that if he were the King of all the lands, then someone would return his daughter to him. But conquering takes on a life of its own, and soon he found himself swallowed up in it.
He noticed his younger daughter growing more and more quiet as the years went by, he did, but he couldn't find it in himself to ask her what was wrong. When people mocked her in his presence, he would feebly explain that she took after her quiet mother, although no one remembered the Queen to be so socially awkward.
But something was wrong with the younger princess. You see, every night she dreamed of her sister. She saw the missing princess at the bottom of the sea, her brown hair floating in the deep blue. All around her was a garden of dead men, bloated and unseeing. There, floating to the left, was the butcher's boy, his golden hair coming off in clumps, and to his right was the lost prince, pride of his kingdom, his eyes chewed out, with only bloody stumps for hands. And there was the princess, eyes wide open and smiling, looking happier than she'd ever looked before.
NOTE: Kind of a casual effort.