Prince Geoff turned around to face the direction of the rumbling sound. A large, greeny-brown...thing was stomping down the passage, shaking the ground with every step. It was big, round, and ugly, and dangling upside down from one massive hand -- trying to keep her skirts up with -- was Erien. Her face was a purplish color, and her red hair had come mostly out of its braid. She gave him an upside down glare.
"Good news!" she said. "I've found your troll. And it talks!"

Prince Geoffrey was the twelfth prince of Aran, a comfortably sized country made up mostly of nice gentle hills and friendly little forests full of birds. They had had the occasional problem with dragons and giants and such, of course, but those were generally taken care of with minimal fuss by young future kings or every once and a while an especially bright peasant. There hadn't been any of these (dragons or giants, that is, not future kings or bright peasants) for some time, however, and Aran was usually a very quiet place. Or it was, at least, before Geoff's cousin Erien arrived.
Geoff was a quiet sort of person himself, and he fit well into the quiet sort of castle life that you find in a quiet sort of country like Aran. He didn't have to do much, because of being prince number twelve, except sometimes wave and look princely. And that wasn't often. And the rest of the time he just did what he wanted, which was often staying in the royal library all afternoon, or sitting on the stable door talking to his horse Carrot (she was a kind of orangy color). No one minded, out of the people who remembered the twelfth prince's name, so he entertained himself like that until he was twelve, which everyone thought was a great joke (especially since his birthday was the twelfth of November). He took it all in stride until spring, when Erien arrived.
She was thirteen, but only as tall as him (average) and had freckles all over her nose. Her hair was red; bright red, and tied into a braid, and her green silk dress had a number of deep wrinkles in it as a result of sitting in a carriage for sixteen days. She climbed out of it without waiting for her guard to assist her, shook out her skirt, shoved a number of whispy red tendrils out of her face, put her hands on her hips, cocked her head to one side, and said (to Geoff's father the king) "Hullo, Uncle Jimmy." Geoff blinked (his father's name was King James XXI, no one had ever in his hearing called him Jimmy) but the king simply smiled gently and said "Hello, Erien" and then began going down the row of introductions. It started with Queen Prudence ("Hullo Auntie Pru" "Hello, Erien dear") and the baby, Princess Roselynd ("Hullo Rosie" "Guggle ooh!") and then went through the twelve princes. James XXII ("Hullo Jim"), Phillip ("Hullo Phil"), and then onto Bryant, George, Nathaniel, Robert, Pierre, Andre, Matthew, Michael, and Adam (she managed to shorten most of their names, and when she couldn't she went into descriptive adjectives, i.e., "Hullo Tallman" to Pierre). When they eventually got to Geoffrey, he managed to speak before her.
"Hello, Erien. I'm Geoff."
"Hullo Geoff."
And then everyone could leave except for King James, Queen Prudence, Geoff, and Rosie (she would have left, but she couldn't walk yet). Erien looked around her with one eyebrow quirked, and then looked at the king.
"Father told me I'm to be on my best behavior, Uncle Jimmy, and at home that means not breaking things and wearing dresses all the time. What do you lot make of it?"
The queen started at that bit about dresses (What else would she wear for heaven's sake?) but she was warming to Erien's honest, forthright gaze.
"Of course we would rather you not break things, Erien dear, but sometimes you simply can't help it."
"Oh I see. All right then." And that, she seemed to think, was that.
"Well then," the king said, "Geoff, why don't you show your cousin her rooms?" Geoff opened his mouth partway, but Erien inturrupted.
"Rooms? More than one? What on earth am I supposed to do with more than one?"
"Why.." began the queen.
"It's..." fumbled the king.
"Goo!" crowed Rosie.
"You don't have to do much with it," Geoff explained. "Just sleep and such."
"You need more than one room to sleep in?"
"Well..." started the queen.
"You see..." stammered the king.
Rosie blew a spit bubble and giggled.
"You change clothes in a different room, and take baths in another one, and sit around in one more."
"Oh." She considered for a bit. Then she shook her head. "You do strange things here, but I'm game. Take me to my more-than-one-room, Cousin Geoff."
She waved at the king and queen (and Rosie) over her shoulder and skipped after Geoff down a corridor with two turns, across a collonade, up a flight of stairs, across another corridor, and into a suite of comfortable rooms decorated with lacy curtains and pink rosettes.
"Ugh," said Erien, "I hate pink."
"So do I," Geoff told her, "but it's all the girls around here seem to wear."
"Double ugh." Erien made a face.
Geoff grinned. "Exactly what I think." He scrunched his eyebrows together. "I like your dress much better," he announced. "Even the wrinkles are nicer."
Erien curtsied. "Why, thank you, your highness."
Geoff liked his cousin.
"Mother thinks all girls like pink," he explained.
She sighed. "Can't be helped then. Say, does being on my best behavior mean I can't climb trees?"
"Climb trees? In a dress?"
"No, troll-skull, in breeches!"
"Girls don't wear breeches."
"Huh, guess I'm not a girl then."
"You are too a girl!"
"Well I wear breeches, so girls do too wear them."
He didn't have an answer for that. "I suppose not," he said finally. "I've never found out." (He meant whether or not being on your best behavior meant no tree climbing, not if wearing breeches made a girl a boy. He was actually rather smart, for a handsome, kind, good-natured prince).
She brightened. "Well, we shall find out at once! Go away so I can change." He was about to, when alarm bells sounded through the castle, and a lot of people began shouting and running everywhere at once.
Erien poked her head out in the hall way. "What on earth is happening?"
"It's a disaster, or something," he told her. "Last time it was a flood."
"It's not raining."
"Must not be a flood, then. Maybe dinner's burnt."
"At home dinner's always burnt. Why shout over it?"
"It's more likely to be a fire or someone stuck in a tree. Father says that when his father was Crown Prince it was once for a quest, but that was a while ago."
Erien perked up at the word quest. "A quest? Let's go see, then!"