Damsel in Distress
By Lauren Triola
One day my prince will come, and on that day…I’ll throttle him within an inch of his life! I’m the damsel in distress, damn it! I’m the curvaceous blonde who’s in trouble and needs rescuing! I’m trapped in a tower by a madman, the clock is ticking, and there’s a tear in my dress. He should have showed up hours ago! Where the hell is he?
◊ ◊ ◊
“See, the way I figure it, you got a hero complex. You don’t need to go saving her just because she wants you to. She’s the one who’s gotten herself kidnapped. It’s her own fault, you know, let her figure it out!”
Davey certainly did make a lot of sense, especially after two mugs of mead. Why should Randolf go save her? Just because he was the prince and she was the princess didn’t mean he was her keeper. She could take care of herself. Who made up these rules about saving the damsel in distress anyway? If she was distressed, she should really learn to control herself; calm down a bit, do some yoga. He can’t go off and save her butt every time she gets in a little scrape. What about his needs?
“Davey,” Randolf slurred, “you’re right. She got herself into it, she can get herself out. More mead, barmaid!”
◊ ◊ ◊
Within the wicked depths of the Forest of Darkness, inside his iniquitous Castle of Dread, the dark wizard Lord Evilman drummed his fingers on his armrest.
Where was Randolf? Evilman had told him where the princess was, had practically given him a map because god knows that moron would never have gotten here on his own. He had given Randolf until midnight to show or he’d kill her, slowly, painfully.
Evilman looked up at the clock.
Where was he?
◊ ◊ ◊
Queen Moreen stared out her chamber window, biting her thumbnail. The door opened behind her, and she turned to see her husband, King Straus, enter the room.
She rushed to him. “Any news?”
Straus sadly shook his head and Moreen gave a silent sob. She had been pacing her room off and on ever since hearing the news of her daughter’s kidnapping. She was weary with worry but quite glad about the two pounds she had lost.
“There’s still time,” Straus assured her.
Moreen nodded. “I know, I know. But…Randolf will save her, won’t he?”
Straus wrapped Moreen in his arms. “Of course he will. It’s his princely duty. She’ll be just fine.” As long as that drunk got off his ass and sobered up long enough to know what was going on, the King thought but, wisely, did not tell his wife.
◊ ◊ ◊
“I love you, man,” Randolf said thickly, trying very hard to figure out why there were five Davey’s floating in front of him.
“You gotta lay off the mead, man,” Davey said as he grappled with what turned out to be his own leg. “I think we’re trashed, Randy. Better go home.”
“I can’t go home,” Randolf shouted, having lost control of the volume of his voice. “They think I’m saving the prinis—prancess—prinkass—whatever, you know, what’s-her-name.”
“The bar’s ’bout ta close, though,” Davey said.
“Yeah, well, I know a place,” Randolf yelled in what he thought was a conspiratorial whisper.
◊ ◊ ◊
I’ll boil him in oil, chop off his head, and display his body parts throughout the kingdom. That’ll show Prince Stupid. I bet he’s getting wasted right now.
Other lovely thoughts such as those went through the princess’s head as she paced her cell in the tallest tower of Lord Evilman’s castle. Occasionally she would add a rather violent gesture. At this point, she wasn’t even concerned with whatever dark destiny Evilman had in store for her. His role in all this felt secondary, really, despite him being the one who’d kidnapped her. He had always been nothing more than a distant figure of legend she had ignored in school, and honestly, he went down easy when kicked.
It was Randolf’s fault in her mind. He had mouthed off, said Evilman was all talk—a nonsense speech he often gave at random, usually followed by several sustained minutes of belching. So no, she didn’t really blame Evilman, or even fear him.
As for Randolf…
Her pink and frilly gown flowed out behind her as she practiced coming down on Randolf with a blunt and rusty ax.
◊ ◊ ◊
Evilman paced his study, thinking. What if Randolf didn’t show? All the planning, the kidnapping, the rather nasty kick to the shins by a pair of pink and frilly shoes would all be for naught.
Then again, wouldn’t that mean he had won? But if there was no showdown between villain and hero, then he’s winning by default. That doesn’t prove Evilman’s superior to Randolf; that just proves Randolf was incompetent, which was hardly any news.
If Randolf didn’t show up, then what was the point? Why show his superiority to Randolf anyway? A shoe covered in horse manure was superior to Randolf. Why does Evilman need to challenge him? Why, because Randolf’s the prince? Big freaking deal! Why did Evilman even do this in the first place? What was there to be gained by kidnapping the princess?
Evilman rubbed his temples, a headache forming as panicky bubbles of anxiety boiled beneath his breastbone. Chewing his lip, Evilman strode toward the back wall of his study and pulled open a set of black curtains. Behind them was not a window but an oval mirror. It did not reflect Evilman’s ageless face. Instead, it showed a different man’s head: bald, strong-jawed, slightly transparent, and suspended among black swirling mist.
“Hi, Jeremy, nice to see you again. What’s on your mind?” the mirror asked in a calm, kind voice.
Evilman hugged himself, filled with guilt, rubbing his hands over his arms. “I’m having doubts about the plan.”
The mirror gave a kind smile. “Are you doubting the plan, or are you doubting yourself?”
“I don’t know. I’m so confused. People expect this kind of thing from me, because of my name, you know. But all I want to do is work in my garden and do interior decorating. What should I do, Mirror?”
“You shouldn’t search for answers from outside voices but from your own, inner voice. What is your inner voice telling you, Jeremy?”
“That I should take a bubble bath.”
“Good. Then that is what you should do. And if you ever doubt yourself again, I want you to say to yourself ‘I am Jeremy, and I am in control of my own life’.”
◊ ◊ ◊
“More mead, barmaid!” cried the prince as he entered the bar.
Randolf and Davey staggered over to a table and collapsed onto some chairs. About five, actually.
“See…this bar…stays open…later,” explained Randolf, trying very hard to recall the English language. “Mead more, barmaid!”
◊ ◊ ◊
“Randolf is a moron, a drunk, a cad, and he will never save the princess unless she’s being held prisoner in a wine cellar!”
“Come now, King Jonas,” said King Straus. “You’re talking about your son.”
“That’s how he knows,” remarked Jonas’s wife, Queen Rubella, as she adjusted her lipstick in a hand mirror.
Queen Moreen paused her pacing of the chamber. “But, Rubella—”
Moreen rolled her eyes. Oh, yes, now she remembered why they never invited Randolf’s family over for dinner anymore. If he hadn’t been the only prince within reasonable traveling distance… “My apologies, Queen Rubella. But as I was saying, it is your son’s duty as prince to respond to any and all damsel in distress situations involving his betrothed. It is his role. Are you saying he will ignore all that? Will he not fulfill his rightful responsibility and save my daughter?”
Queen Rubella finished applying a fresh coat of lipstick and popped her lips, eyes on her reflection. “Not a chance in hell, dearie.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Does he really expect me to sit and wait for him? I’ve gotten into trouble, that’s my job, now where is he to do his? Don’t those bimbos from the fairy tales ever get annoyed with their princes swaggering in at the last minute? Can’t he ever come before she’s just about to die? Or how about preventing the whole thing altogether? Why can’t the damsel ever save herself? And then maybe get a job as an interior decorator…
Stuck in a tower? Seriously? She never thought she’d be one of those princesses. Yet here she was. The cliché to end all clichés. All that was missing was a Prince Charming.
Too bad she didn’t know one.
Randolf was a betrothal of convenience, though at the moment it didn’t feel particularly convenient. She was a princess and so it was her role to be married to a prince. It didn’t matter that she cared less about him than for the bugs she fed her pet tarantula (she had demanded an exotic pet for her eighth birthday, like a unicorn or tiger or something—her father had misunderstood). And she had far better things to do than eat apples, prick her finger, sell her voice, or go to balls in vermin-assisted coaches like what all the other princesses were doing. Not that there was anything wrong with those life choices, of course. Princesses could do whatever they wanted, whether it involved wielding swords or singing songs. She just wasn’t the sort to do either. All she wanted was to have a night in, maybe artfully arrange the rushes or invent the valance, all without having to find a true love or some such ridiculous thing. Where was the harm in that? She didn’t need, nor want, the adventure or near-death experiences.
Also, did she smell potpourri?
◊ ◊ ◊
Lord Evilman looked toward the clock then took a deep breath. “This is it. You told Randolf that if he didn’t come you would kill the princess. If you don’t carry out that threat then no one will ever believe you again. They’ll think you’ve gone soft. You can do this. I am Jeremy, and I am in control of my own life.”
“That’s the ticket,” the mirror said with an encouraging smile.
Evilman hesitated only a moment before heading toward the stairs to his tallest tower. Torches lined the dark winding staircase, the flames flickering as he passed. And flickering again when he briefly turned back. And then once more after he gave himself a pep talk and determinedly strode to the highest room, with only occasional pauses to hyperventilate.
He was outside the princess’s door now. He could hear her pacing the stone floor. Fumbling only slightly, he pulled out the key and unlocked the door.
◊ ◊ ◊
Queen Moreen stared, mouth slightly open, as Queen Rubella continued to reapply her lipstick. Despite the fact that red looked especially good on her and matched the highlights in her perfectly coiffed bouffant, Moreen very much wanted to jab it into Rubella’s eye socket.
“Excuse me, but did you just say there was ‘no chance in hell’ Prince Randolf—your son and leader of your army—will save my daughter from certain death?” Moreen asked.
Rubella rolled her eyes. “Oh, the army thing is just an honorary position. Jonas’s father did the same thing when he was a boy. I mean, come on, can you honestly see either one of them wielding a sword without chopping off their head or, god forbid, something important?”
“I’m right here,” Jonas said through clenched teeth.
Rubella adjusted her eyeliner. “Yes, so you are.”
“Let me get this straight,” Moreen said, resuming her pacing (if she kept at it, she might go down a whole size). “Your son, who promised to love and protect our daughter even in the face of the darkest evil, who swore in front of the Fairy Godmothers themselves that he would fight an actual fire-breathing dragon if need be to save her, is not going to rescue her from Lord Evilman, the most dreaded sorcerer this side of the Great Mountains? And he’s forgoing his duty because…?”
“Because he lied his ass off so he could get the free wine at the reception. And if your precious Fairy Godmothers hadn’t been three sheets to the wind themselves, they would have noticed.”
Moreen clenched her fists, itching to cram Rubella’s hand mirror the same place as her lipstick. “Come now, can’t we drop the royal titles? We’re going to be in-laws pretty soon.”
King Jonas snorted, slouching in his chair. “Pretty soon your daughter’s going to be the key ingredient in one of Lord Evilman’s potions. We just told you, Randolf will never save Princess What’s-Her-Face.”
Moreen turned her glare to Jonas. “My daughter is not Princess What’s-Her-Face! Her name is—”
“It doesn’t matter. Randolf won’t save her unless her name’s Guinness.”
“So my daughter is going to die?” Moreen cried.
“Nonsense,” King Straus piped up. “Evil guys are always kidnapping damsels, but killing them is always an empty threat.”
“We don’t know that. The prince always saves the princess.”
“Oh, right.” Straus tapped a finger to his lip in thought. “Then yes, yes she is going to die.”
◊ ◊ ◊
“More mead, barmaid!”
Ginny had had just about enough of the two drunks in the corner of the tavern. They’d come in sloshed and now they were thoroughly plastered. Despite her frustration, she shuffled off behind the bar to retrieve their requested refreshment then served them with a smile.
Five minutes later, she did the same.
And another five after that. And another.
“Maid more, barmead!”
This time, Ginny slammed the two flagons onto the table.
“Here’s your damn mead! When you finish it, get out! We’re closing!” Ginny turned to leave but a hand clutched her arm.
“Wha’ did you say?” slurred the more nicely dressed of the two boozehounds.
“I said this is your last round, get out!”
“Tha’s not wha’ you said before,” the second one said.
Ginny sighed. “It’s the gist. And I mean it, too. If you don’t leave in five minutes, I’ll get the bartender to toss you out.” Ginny wrenched her arm free of the rummy’s grasp. “And don’t touch me again, you pig!”
“Hey!” The nicer dressed one got shakily to his feet. “You can’ talk dat way to me! Do you know who I am?”
“No, so if you forgot, I can’t help you.”
“I’m the prince!”
Ginny paused. She looked him up and down. “Prince Randolf, eh? Who cares?”
“Who cares? You should! I could make things very diff’cult for you—”
“You already are making things difficult for me! Those taxes you’ve proposed to institute after you marry the princess and become king are just ridiculous. I can barely get by with the current ones, and now you want to take more?”
“I’m the prince—”
“Yes, we’ve established that. But just because you’re the prince doesn’t mean I have to like you. I’m not gonna curtsey to the Ass Who Would Be King. Now, get out!”
“Then I’ll get the bartender to kick you out!”
“I’d like to see him try!”
◊ ◊ ◊
As Randolf and Davey struggled, both nursing black eyes and strained wrists, to pull themselves off the ground, Davey slurred, “Maybe we should’ve left when she told us to.”
Randolf, too drunk for this, rolled over several times in the dirt before remembering how legs worked. “I thought I could take him, but he was bigger than expected.”
Davey dragged himself upright with the help of someone’s horse. Or at least he thought it was a horse. “So, where to now?”
Randolf shrugged then noticed a building across the street. “Hey, look, a bar! I could use a drink.”
◊ ◊ ◊
It’s almost midnight, and hark! What’s that galloping away over yonder? Could it be? Yes! It’s the last of my fucks!
The princess stared out the tower window. Evilman could throw his worst spells at her right now and she wouldn’t care, not with the wrath boiling beneath her skin. And she would boil Randolf if she could. At this point, she didn’t even care where he was. She wasn’t going to wait for him anymore. She was done playing this part. He wasn’t coming and she didn’t feel the least bit sad or disappointed.
She was in control of her own life for once, gods damn it.
Let Evilman come for her. She could face him. It couldn’t be worse than the awkward conversations she’d endured during dinners with Randolf’s parents. Now those were painful.
How bad could it be? What was the worst Evilman could do? And where did he get those curtains? That lace was just lovely…
A lock clicked behind her. The princess turned to see the door creak open.
◊ ◊ ◊
Evilman strode determinedly into the darkened room atop his tallest tower, conjuring a circle of fire to line the walls as he moved and shifting the lighting to a vivid green (for mood). The princess, arms crossed, stood in the middle of the room and watched as he stalked toward her.
“It is time for your end, my dear,” Evilman said, throwing out his arms in a grandly sinister gesture and putting on the dramatic voice that he’d learned at theater camp. “Your prince is not coming to save you. You will tremble with fear at what death I have in store for you.”
The princess continued to stare at Evilman. “No.”
There was a pause as Evilman tried to process what just happened. “No?”
“No,” the princess repeated.
“No to what?”
“To everything. I’m not going to tremble with fear, I’m not going to wait for my prince to come, and I’m not going to die.”
Evilman, arms still held out in what was quickly becoming a not-so-grand gesture, blinked. “Uh…”
Maybe he needed more fire. Igniting the very ceiling with black-gold flames, he put on the maniacal grin he’d practiced in the mirror all morning and growled, “But you will.”
The princess yawned and pulled her dress away from the flames. “Nope.”
Spiders? People were scared of spiders, right? Or bats…? Thinking fast, Evilman conjured an army of spider-bat hybrids that crawled across the floor, carpeting it in a writhing black mass of eight-legged, winged beasts, all crawling straight toward the princess.
“Prepare for your doom!”
The princess, instead of cowering in fear, picked up one of the spider-bats and scratched it behind the ear. It purred.
“Ah, geez, don’t pet the monsters,” Evilman sighed, running a hand down his face. “I mean, DOOM—”
“Look, I see what you’re doing here, but none of this is actually lethal, so if all you’ve got are fancy parlor tricks, then I’m going to head out. I’ve got a prince to maim.”
“But nothing, pal.”
I am Jeremy, and I am in control of my own life. “I will kill you…?” Evilman said, but even to him it sounded like a question.
Evilman glared at the princess then burst into tears.
◊ ◊ ◊
The clock struck half an hour to midnight. Queen Moreen was showing the utmost restraint by not beating Rubella and Jonas to death with their own arms.
“We are running out of time!” she screamed, stomping her foot. “Where the hell is your son?”
“Moreen, please!” King Straus said, shifting awkwardly in his chair. “Don’t yell at our guests.”
“How can you stand by and let our daughter be murdered by a madman?” Moreen demanded of her husband.
“I don’t want Evilman to kill our daughter, but that doesn’t mean we should be rude.”
Moreen stormed across the room and grabbed him by his shoulders. “If you don’t want her to die then do something!”
“Come now, you know perfectly well that as king it’s my obligation to be ineffectual. It’s Prince Randolf’s job—”
“How many times do we have to tell you?” King Jonas said, picking lint off his velvet doublet. “Randolf isn’t going to save her. I bet he’s drunk right now, probably at some bar with that friend of his, Davey.”
Moreen jabbed her finger at Jonas. “See! Randolf has broken his vow and refuses to play his part. It is up to us now to fix this. Bring me a horse!” Moreen shouted to the servant bringing more wine to Jonas and Rubella. “I’ll save her myself.”
“Whoa, whoa.” Straus stood up, brow furrowed. “The queen and the princess in the hands of Lord Evilman? That certainly won’t end well. No, no, that just won’t do.” Straus straightened his purple robes and cleared his throat. “I will save my daughter.”
“Thank you,” Moreen sighed.
“And when I come back, I’ll hunt Randolf down and shove my foot up his—”
“Excuse me,” Rubella snapped. “My son might be a useless, drunken idiot, but he is not yours to punish.”
“Let King Straus kill him, I don’t care,” Jonas said, waving his hand vaguely as if pushing the issue aside and increasing his slouch.
Rubella’s jaw dropped. “Jonas! Don’t you care about our son?”
“Weren’t you just saying he’s a useless, drunken idiot?”
“Yes, but he’s my son and I’m supposed to forgive him for those things.”
Jonas suddenly leapt up from his chair, pointing violently at Rubella. “That’s why I didn’t want to marry you! You always overlook things like that. If you ran the kingdom, you would have handed it over to the barbarians after they sent you that severed head as a gift!”
“It’s the thought that counts!” Rubella cried, jumping to her feet too. “And that’s why I didn’t want to marry you! You’re completely insensitive and haven’t a care for anyone besides yourself! If you hadn’t knocked me up then our parents would never had made us marry and I would be better off!”
“So would I!”
Moreen shifted uncomfortably. “Do you think we should leave?” she whispered to Straus.
“No, no, this is good stuff,” Straus whispered back. “No wonder Randolf’s so screwed up.”
◊ ◊ ◊
The princess awkwardly patted the somewhat greasy hair of Lord Evilman as he cried into her shoulder. Of all the scenarios she had considered during her waiting, this one had never occurred.
“Don’t cry,” she said. “It’s all right.”
“No, it’s not! I can’t do anything right!” Evilman howled in despair and continued to cry on the princess’s shoulder.
“No, that’s—that’s not true. The fire was quite, um, impressive… You’re very, uh, terrifying—”
“I don’t want to be terrifying! I never wanted that, but I’ve never been able to do what I’ve wanted. I always have to be ‘the bad guy’.”
“You don’t have to be the bad guy,” the princess said.
“Yes, I do. My parents made me. They never listened. They never loved me. And all I wanted was to be loved!” Evilman wailed again and sobbed even louder.
◊ ◊ ◊
“Horses! Get the horses!”
“We have to save my daughter!”
“Magenta doesn’t go with everything, Rubella!”
The servants rushed about the castle courtyard, trying to make sense of the shouting, deciphering what was an order and what was an insult.
Waiting for his horse, King Straus strode toward the guards standing at the gate. “Gather the men! We ride to Evilman’s castle immediately.”
Queen Moreen nodded behind him. “Bring our daughter home, men.”
“How can you call our dinner conversations communicating?” Queen Rubella demanded of King Jonas as they trailed behind. “All you ever say to me is ‘Pass the mead’! No wonder Randolf is a drunk!”
“Where the hell is the damn messenger?” Jonas said, staring anywhere but at his wife. “I refuse to listen to this defamation another minute without my lawyer.”
“Yes, god forbid you hear something that hurts your feelings—oh wait, you don’t have any!”
Moreen side-eyed Rubella and Jonas. She leaned in close to the captain of the guard. “If they accidentally get hit by a stray arrow, I won’t be upset.”
◊ ◊ ◊
The princess’s shoulder was now thoroughly soaked.
“And then when I joined the ballet,” Evilman said, sniffing, “the other kids made fun of me!” Another wave of tears started to fall. “I never got to make my own choices after that. My dad told me I had to act like a man, and my mom said I should become a sorcerer, but all I ever wanted to do was interior decorating!”
“Interior decorating?” the princess said.
“Yes,” sobbed Evilman. “Why, are you going to make fun of me, too?”
“No, I love interior decorating.”
Suddenly, the crying stopped. Evilman looked up at her and wiped away his tears on his black velvet sleeve. He sniffed and said, “Princess, would you like to look at fabric swatches with me?”
◊ ◊ ◊
“More mead, barmaid!”
Randolf tried to steady himself in his chair. By the time the mead arrived, he had established that it was in fact the room that was spinning, not him.
“This isn’t the nicest bar,” he commented.
“It’s too dark,” Davey said.
Randolf pulled Davey’s head off the table.
“That’s better,” Davey said.
Randolf let go and Davey fell forward once more.
Something hazy entered the spinning vortex off to Randolf’s right. “Are you boys feeling well?”
“WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?” Randolf demanded.
“Uh…I asked if you were well…?”
“Oh, yes, we’re fine,” Randolf slurred toward the spinning haziness. “Why’d you ask?”
“Well,” said the haziness, “it’s just that you’re covered in dirt and you called me a barmaid.”
Randolf tried very hard to focus on the haze speaking to him, but too many people swam before him. It took awhile before Randolf realized they were all the same person.
“What’s wrong with calling you barmaid? You did bring us our mead.”
“Yes,” said the haze-person slowly, “and that is my job, it’s just that I’m a man.”
Randolf squinted hard but the haze-person spun too rapidly to focus. “Oh.”
“Good for you,” Davey told the floor.
The haze shifted its round thing into an arch. “Who are you guys, anyway?”
Randolf puffed out his chest importantly. “I’m Prince Randolf, and this is my associate, Davey.”
“He accompanies me on important excursions and offers counsel.”
“So, your drinking buddy.”
The speaking haze swirled slightly to the left. “Aren’t you supposed to be saving the princess? News of her kidnapping is all over the kingdom.”
Randolf leaned back in his chair, affronted, but almost fell backwards. Gripping the table, he glared at the swirling haze, which had just grown a beard. “I’m the prince! You can’t tell me what to do!”
“Sorry.” The haze put up the largest hands in the universe. “It’s just that it’s your job, and I think you should do what is expected of you. I always do my job, even if I don’t like it.”
“What, you think you’re better than me?”
“No, I’m just giving my opinion.”
“Damn straight!” Randolf shouted and passed out onto the table.
◊ ◊ ◊
The castle courtyard bustled with activity as horses were prepared to ride and soldiers were prepared to fight.
“You have to hurry!” Queen Moreen said. “It may already be too late.”
“Don’t worry, my dear, we’re almost ready,” King Straus assured her as he settled onto his horse. Moments later, the rest of the rescue party had mounted their steeds. Straus signaled his men to follow him, waved good-bye to his wife, kicked his horse into a canter, and rode off. The rescue party waved good-bye to Moreen, kicked their horses, and sped after Straus.
“Bring her home safe!” cried Moreen, feeling somewhat empty at not being able to go as well.
“Oh, shut up, Moreen,” Queen Rubella snapped.
Moreen’s back went ramrod straight. She turned coldly to where Rubella was slouching against a pillar, awaiting the return of the messenger with news from her lawyers. “Queen Moreen.”
Rubella returned Moreen’s look. “What happened to ‘can’t we drop the royal titles’?” she sneered.
“I’ve changed my mind about that,” Moreen said. “And about you. You are no longer welcome here. And I don’t just mean this castle—the whole kingdom! Collect your husband and son and leave!”
“Oh, we were just about to!” snapped Rubella. “By the way, you aren’t welcome in my kingdom either!”
Rubella stormed off, King Jonas following behind saying, “Technically it’s my kingdom,” to which Rubella replied, “We’ll see what the lawyers have to say.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Evilman had led the princess to the deepest, darkest recesses of his castle, aka his sewing room. It was actually rather bright and airy ever since he’d put in that skylight to the Eternal-Sun realm, and it had the best light for needlepoint.
Evilman dug through one of his fabric trunks and held up a heavily used bolt of material for the princess to see. “Am I crazy or does paisley go with everything?”
“Jeremy, if you’re crazy, then I’m completely insane.”
Evilman and the princess giggled.
“Oh, Princess, I just bought a new fabric I want to show you, be right back.”
Evilman scurried off to his study, humming.
He opened an antique wooden trunk by the fireplace and pulled out a bolt of deep purple velvet. He was about to go back to his sewing room when a voice said, “So, did you do it?”
Evilman jumped. “Wha—oh, Mirror, hi. I almost forgot about you.”
The mirror smiled slightly, like he was being kind and understanding, but it came off more as a wince.
“Well, Jeremy, did you go through with it?”
Evilman shifted awkwardly, hugging the bolt of velvet closer. “Oh…well…no. But that doesn’t matter anymore. The diabolical madman who kidnaps and kills princesses isn’t me, and I know that now. The princess and I are friends, and a friend is all I ever really wanted. I’m so happy now, Mirror, and I’d like to thank you for all your help.”
The mirror frowned and sighed. “Jeremy, Jeremy, did you let her talk you out of it?”
“What? No, Mirror, that’s not it at all—”
“Jeremy, you always do this, you never stay your ground. You have to stand up for yourself and not let anyone get in your way.”
“But, Mirror, I don’t want to kill the princess. And it’s not because I’ve lost my nerve, but because I’ve realized I don’t need to live up to my parents’ dream of me being an evil overlord. I need to live my life the way I want to. And the princess helped me see that.”
The mirror shook his head. “You’re letting her control you. She’s become like your mother, always telling you what to do, and you’re letting her.”
“No, I’m not!” cried Evilman. “She’s my friend—”
“Jeremy, listen, I’m only worried about you—”
“No! She’s my friend, and that’s that! I don’t have to listen to you anymore! And don’t expect to be paid for saying those—those things!”
Evilman stormed out the room, clutching his purple velvet.
The mirror stared after him, unnerved. “I can’t believe, after all these years, after all I’ve done for him…he’s not going to pay me. All my hard work, helping him through his pain, and nothing, not a cent! Glass cleaner isn’t free, you know!”
◊ ◊ ◊
The horses galloped through the village, kicking up dirt along the main road. King Straus kept his lead and tried to push his horse harder. Up ahead, the door of a thatched building opened, and two limp figures were thrown into the king’s path. He reared his horse and shouted for his men to halt.
Straus turned to the man standing in the doorway. “What are you doing? Don’t you realize those men could have been trampled?”
“Yes,” the man in the doorway replied, looking disappointed, and retreated back inside.
Confused, Straus stared down at the two prone figures. His eyes widened.
One of the bodies stirred slightly and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, “I don’t wanna go to school today, Mom.”
“Randolf, you imbecile, I wish I hadn’t slowed down!”
“Wha-wha—” Randolf tried to focus on Straus. “Daddy?”
“I’m not your father! The wedding’s been called off!”
“Wha—?” Randolf blinked slowly, head tilted like a dog baffled by where his ball went. “Bu-but why?”
“Because you didn’t do your duty!”
The other figure on the ground giggled, muttering, “Doodie.”
“So?” Randolf slurred. “I can safe da prisness anuhder day.”
“No, you can’t!” King Straus roared. “Because I’m going to save her, and then I’m going to throw you out of my kingdom for good!” With that, Straus signaled to his men and galloped onward with even greater speed than before.
After the dust settled, Randolf and Davey got shakily to their feet.
“Well, that was rude,” Randolf remarked.
“How did we get out here?” Davey asked, looking around.
“We can worry about that later, Davey man, ’cause we got a job to do.”
“I’m gonna save the prin’is before they can. That’ll show King Rod-Up-His-Butt. C’mon, Davey.”
◊ ◊ ◊
With King Straus now on his way toward a no doubt dangerous showdown with Lord Evilman, Queen Moreen had resumed pacing her room with worry for her family and periodical admiration of her slimmer figure in the mirror as she passed. Close to tears with thoughts of her precious daughter and dear husband, she was about to try modeling an old dress she hadn’t fit in for years when the door opened.
Moreen glanced over to see who it was then turned stiffly back to her mirror. “Knock, please.”
Rubella sighed. “I just need someone to talk to.”
“I thought you were talking to your lawyers.”
“They haven’t arrived yet.” Rubella crossed her arms, wrinkling her nose at the décor. “Is that a pink ottoman? Yikes. Anyway, I’ve been thinking—”
“Amazing,” Moreen muttered, gaze firmly on the mirror as she tried not to glance at Rubella’s reflection in the corner.
“—is divorce the right thing to do? I mean, I don’t care for Jonas, and I’d love to be rid of him, but what kind of effect will it have on Randolf?”
“Randolf’s a grown boy, he can take care of himself.”
Rubella raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really. What about right now?”
“I said he can take care of himself, not others.”
Rubella sighed more harshly, almost a growl. “Come on, Moreen! You’ve stuck with Straus despite that awful beard he grew, so you know how it is. Seriously, what should I do?”
“Seriously? Well, seriously, I think you should leave my kingdom, and then I seriously don’t care what you do afterwards.”
Rubella’s eyes flashed with anger. “Fine!”
Rubella stormed out of the chamber and slammed the door behind her. Moreen breathed heavily, trying to calm down so as not to order Rubella’s execution. After a moment, she began her pacing, worrying, and modeling again.
◊ ◊ ◊
“‘Cuse me, you know where da rinses is?”
“Get out of my yard.”
The inn door slammed rather painfully into Randolf’s face. He fell over backwards and stayed there for a moment, wondering how he got there. Eventually, he staggered to his feet and leaned heavily against Davey, who leaned heavily against the wall of the inn to which they had stumbled.
“No one knows where the prince is,” Randolf mumbled.
“You’re the prince, man,” Davey slurred.
“Oh, thanks Davey, now let’s go to the bar.”
“No, Randy, we weren’t looking for you, we were looking for the princess.”
“No, you’re the male princess, we’re looking for the one with boobs.”
“Oh. Let’s see if anyone at this inn’s seen her.”
◊ ◊ ◊
This is so much fun! With all the evil-lord-you-will-tremble-before-me-and-despair stuff, I never imagined that Jeremy could be such a nice guy. I’m glad Randolf didn’t save me. I just hope that jackass doesn’t show up now—who knows what drunken, idiotic thing he might do.
The princess shuddered at the thought but went back to humming happily and sifting through Lord Evilman’s exquisite fabric collection.
◊ ◊ ◊
Evilman was still a little huffy when he reentered his sewing room with the purple velvet. He sat down on a chintz pouf, clutching the bolt of fabric to him, staring at the opposite wall.
The princess glanced up and frowned. “Jeremy, are you all right?”
“Yes,” he replied in an unnaturally high voice, his gaze not even shifting toward her.
The princess furrowed her brow. “Jeremy, please, you can trust me. What’s the matter?”
Evilman chewed his lip. “My mirror wants me to kill you.”
“Yes, it says I’m not standing up for myself and I’m allowing you to control me.”
“It told me that you’ve become like my mother—”
“Yes, my magic mirror.”
“Oooooh,” the princess said. “Magic mirror. That makes more sense.” She scratched her head. “At least, I think. So, your mirror says that you should kill me to prove that you are independent and in control of your own life.”
Evilman nodded sadly, like a reprimanded child. “Yes, exactly.”
“But you don’t want to kill me.”
“Of course not!” He finally turned to look at her, eyes wide. “You’re my best friend.”
“Awww.” She grinned, flattered. “But anyway, so you don’t want to kill me, but he—it—whatever—wants you to in order to prove independence. Well, it sounds to me like doing what you don’t want to do just because someone told you to isn’t very independent at all.”
Evilman paused for a moment in thought. “You’re right!” He put down the purple velvet, stood up, and opened the door. “Princess, follow me, please. I have some business to attend to.”
◊ ◊ ◊
King Straus looked around the Forest of Darkness for some recognizable landmark.
“I’ve never been this far into the forest before,” he said. “Have any of you?”
The men in the search party shook their heads.
“Well,” Straus said slowly, trying to think. “If I remember correctly…” He trailed off, not entirely sure what he was saying. He’d been told long ago about how the forest was laid out, but since he never used it, just like with algebra, the knowledge had long slipped away.
“Damn, why didn’t I bring a map?” he muttered. Then he said, more loudly, “Let us press onward, men! Evilman’s in here somewhere.” Or at least, he really, really hoped so. Wasn’t there a magic tree or something…?
◊ ◊ ◊
Queen Moreen wandered the halls morosely, hoping to fit into a size six she had seen at a boutique in the village. She fretted about her daughter, prayed for her husband to find her, and considered fun and painful ways to torture Prince Randolf.
A sudden outburst of voices in the courtyard distracted her from her musings. Moreen ran outside to see what the fuss was all about.
King Jonas was fuming, yelling at no one in particular. “WHERE ARE THE DAMN LAWYERS?”
“Stop shouting!” Queen Rubella snapped, her carefully arranged hair coming loose.
“Quit telling me what to do, woman!”
“Don’t talk to me like that!”
“Don’t talk to me at all!”
“Jonas! Rubella!” Moreen cried. “Calm yourselves!”
Jonas rounded on her. “This is none of your business!”
Moreen crossed her arms. Oh, she was so done with them. “I thought I told you two to get out.”
“We’re waiting for our lawyers,” Rubella said, chin high in the air.
“Wait for them in your own kingdom. I’ve had enough of you two sniping at each other.”
Rubella breathed slowly and loudly through her nose, nostrils flaring like an angry bull’s, while Jonas turned from red to purple and looked as if he were about to have an aneurysm.
“It’s your fault!” he suddenly screamed.
“What?” Moreen asked, taken aback.
“You!” He jabbed his finger at her “You and your husband made us get a divorce. It’s your fault!”
“Oh, please.” Moreen waved her hand in exasperation. “Don’t try to blame this on us. You two have obviously had marital problems for a long time—”
“I’m suing!” Jonas shouted, pointing at Moreen ever more emphatically.
“Yes, suing you and your husband. And your daughter!”
Moreen gaped. “My daughter? What does she have to do with any of this?”
“If she hadn’t gotten herself kidnapped then none of this would have happened, and we would never have broken up!”
“Don’t you dare blame my daughter! She isn’t responsible for any of this—”
“Suing!” Jonas yelled again.
Rubella rolled her eyes. “Good luck with that. The princess is probably dead anyway.”
Now Moreen turned on Rubella. “My daughter is not dead!”
“You don’t know that,” Rubella said, smirking.
Moreen shook so hard she thought she might explode. “That’s it! I’ve had enough of this waiting and tension and you! I’ll save my daughter myself! Bring me a horse!”
◊ ◊ ◊
Randolf and Davey collapsed laughing at their joke and completely forgot that they had actually knocked on someone’s door.
The door opened. “Hello—oh god, it’s you two.”
“Hi, I’m Prince Dandalf and this is Ravey—”
“Get off my lawn before I shove a fire poker up your ass.”
Randolf tried and failed to focus properly on the person before him.
Davey, however, pointed, slack jawed. “Beermead!”
Ginny knocked her head against the doorjamb in annoyance. “That’s not even a word! How many bars did you go to after the bartender threw you out?”
“Hey,” Randolf slurred, realization dawning finally, “you’re that lady—”
“And you’re Drunktard and Associate.”
Davey grinned, eyes unfocused. “I’m an associate,” he said proudly.
“Ginny, is everything all right? Who’s at the door?” asked someone from within the cottage. A large and handsome man appeared in the doorway, staring down at Randolf and Davey, who shrunk away in recognition.
“It’s big guy,” Randolf squeaked.
“Oh, did I forget to mention?” Ginny said, faking realization. “The bartender is also my husband, Daniel. We own that bar, which you will never ever be allowed back into. Unless you want to get thrown out on your asses again,” Ginny added in gleeful remembrance.
“They don’t need to be at the bar for me to knock them on their asses again,” Daniel said, rolling up his sleeves.
Davey held up his hands. “Hey, hey, man, we didn’t know you two lived here. We’re jus’ lookin’ fer the princess—”
“About time,” Ginny muttered.
“But we don’t know how to get to Evilman’s castle.”
“Hmm…” Ginny put a finger to her lip in thought. “Well, since helping you will get you away from me, I could give you directions. I’ve passed by there on a delivery before. The dark elves sure love their spritzer. It’s all right, Daniel, you can go back in.”
Daniel the bartender walked away, eyeing Randolf and Davey.
Ginny eyed Randolf and Davey too, but then she got down to business. “I’ll tell you a shortcut so you might possibly get there in time. Now, you head straight into the creepy Forest of Darkness on the Black Path and take a turn by the evil-looking dead tree…”
After Ginny had sent the two drunktards on their way, she headed back inside. Daniel sat in a chair, reading a book.
“So, do you think they’ll save her?” he asked.
“I doubt it,” Ginny said. “But I told them the shortcut so they may have a chance, if they don’t pass out before they get there.”
Daniel raised an eyebrow. “The shortcut?”
“Did you tell them about the troll?”
Ginny thought back a moment. “No…”
“But you know how angry he gets when people trespass on his bridge… Murderously angry.”
“You’re right,” Ginny said slowly. “I forgot to tell them about that… Well, I’m gonna go take a bath.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Queen Moreen tucked a map to Lord Evilman’s castle into her pocket then swung herself onto her horse.
King Jonas stormed out of the castle and ran toward her. “I’m not finished with you!”
Moreen tossed her hair out of her face. “You want to sue me, fine. But I’m saving my daughter first.”
“Fine, go! But then I’m suing.”
“Fine. Then I’m suing you!”
“Fine—no. Wait!” Jonas grabbed hold of Moreen’s bridle before she could gallop off. “You can’t sue me.”
“Yes, I can,” Moreen said. “Your son failed to come through with his end of the deal, so I have the right to sue him. But since his money is your money, I’ll just sue you.”
Jonas mouthed noiselessly at her for a moment. “Very well,” he said finally, slowly, as if it pained him. “I’ll save her.”
Moreen burst out laughing. “You’re not going to save her.”
“Yes, I will,” Jonas said stiffly. “If I save her and complete Randolf’s end of the deal, then you can’t sue.”
“Yes I can, because I’ll get there first.”
“No, I will.”
“You idiot, why do you want to save the bimbo?” Rubella asked Jonas.
“My daughter is not a bimbo!” Furious, Moreen broke free from Jonas’ grip and galloped into the distance.
“Rubella!” Jonas whipped around to glare at his wife. “She’s going to sue me!”
Rubella rolled her eyes. “And I should care?”
Jonas gritted his teeth. “If she takes all my money, there won’t be much left for you.”
Rubella went as white as snow. “Bring the horses! We have to save the princess!”
◊ ◊ ◊
Evilman led the princess out of the sewing room and through the entrance hall, which acted as the main thoroughfare to the many rooms on the ground floor. He opened one of the doors lining the hall and entered another room—his study.
He showed her to the back wall, where the black curtains still lay open, and nervously cleared his throat. “Princess, this is the mirror. Mirror, this is the princess.”
The face in the mirror put on a small but kind smile. “Nice to meet you, Princess.”
“Likewise,” she said, staring in awe. “I’ve never seen a magic mirror before.”
“And I’ve never seen a princess before.” His smile grew strained. “So, Jeremy, have you calmed down?”
“Yes, I have.”
“And have you thought about…what we discussed earlier?”
“Yes, I have,” Evilman said, nodding. “You’re fired.”
“I’m sorry,” Evilman said, twisting his hands. “You’ve been a great help through a dark time, but you’re right, I need to think for myself and not let anyone control me. I’m afraid I have to let you go. You can remain here until you’ve found a new place to stay—”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing.” The mirror was no longer smiling. “Jeremy, you need me. There are still so many things you need help with—”
“I know, Mirror, but I need to be on my own to think for myself. I’m grateful for your help, though, I want you to remember that.”
“What about her?” The mirror jutted his chin toward the princess. “Are you her getting rid of her?”
“No, she’s my friend—”
“I’m your friend. I’m trying to help you. You’re letting her control—”
“No, I’m finally doing what I want to do, I’m finally who I want to be—”
“I’m sorry, Mirror. It’s over.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Randolf tripped over a tree root. Or what he thought was a tree root. “Man, it’s dark in here.”
“Yeah,” Davey said, or the black shadow stumbling along beside him that he was pretty sure was Davey. “I wonder if that’s why they call it the Forest of Darkness.”
Randolf thought about this for a moment and then forgot what he was trying to think about.
“Hey, is that the bridge she mentioned?” Davey asked, pointing a wavering finger at something dark and evil up ahead.
“Yeah, I think that’s it.”
The two of them lumbered up to the bridge, knocking into each other and overturning stones as they tripped their way along the path. After a minute of falling, crawling, and standing up again out of shear spite toward King Straus and confused ideas about gravity, they finally made it. Randolf stepped onto the first plank of the bridge.
Suddenly, a dark figure leapt out of nowhere and in a deep, threatening voice said, “None shall—whoa! Did you two buy out a whole bar?” The dark figure waved a hand in front of his nose. “Gods damn.”
Davey flailed wildly and ineffectually in place. “What the hell is that?”
“I dunno,” Randolf said quietly. He turned to the figure. “What the hell are you?”
“I’m a troll, duh,” he said, his voice becoming higher as if realizing a deep, scary one meant nothing to people as plastered as the two before him. In the dark of the forest, the troll’s green mottled skin and tall mohawk could only vaguely be seen. “And this is my bridge. None shall pass without paying a toll.”
“Yeah, well I’m da rinse and I gotta save the one with boobs.”
The troll eyed them weirdly. “Uhhhhhhhh, sure.”
“He means the him with boobs,” Davey said in “clarification.”
The troll just kept staring at them. “Riiiiiiight. So, how much did you two drink?”
Randolf and Davey gazed into space for a moment, which then became five minutes.
The troll shook his head. “Wow, you guys are gone. But, anyway, I still have to ask for a toll. Money doesn’t come out of my nose, you know.”
“Where does it come from?” Davey asked reflectively.
The troll blinked at him. “So—do you two have money or not?”
“I spent the last of it at that bar that kept moving,” Randolf said, feeling in his pockets futilely.
“Do you have anything of value?” the troll asked.
“Does this count?” Davey pulled a flask out of his pocket.
The troll rolled his eyes. “Human drinks are worthless. Too weak. I make my own brew. I bet it’d kill you.”
“Oh, yeah. One drop would probably do it, especially in your current state.”
Davey grinned woozily. “I’ll take that bet.”
The troll smiled too, but it was all teeth. “All right. If you can drink it and survive, I’ll let you cross my bridge.”
“Deal!” He held out his hand. “My name’s Davey by the way.”
The troll shook Davey’s hand. “I’m Rodney.”
“That’s my name!” Randolf shouted indignantly.
“No, man, you’re Randolf,” Davey informed him.
“I thought he said Rodney.”
“That’s his name.”
Rodney covered his face with his hand, embarrassed to be even near this conversation.
“Wait!” Randolf cried suddenly, making Rodney jump. “I have to get to Evilman’s castle. Is Davey’s death gonna take long?”
“It shouldn’t,” Rodney said. “But in case he lives, I can show you a portal that leads right into Evilman’s linen closet. But if you want to use my portal, you’ll both have to drink.”
“Deal,” Randolf said, putting his hand out like Davey had, but he overbalanced and fell into the creek under the bridge.
Rodney just shook his head.
◊ ◊ ◊
“You can’t do this to me!”
“Mirror, stop shouting!”
“No, Jeremy, you have to listen!”
“Look, Mirror,” the princess said, trying to reason with him—it—whatever. “Jeremy needs some time to think for himself. Like he said, you helped him a lot and he appreciates that but—”
“Look!” the mirror cried. “She’s doing it already!”
“Doing what?” Evilman asked.
“Talking for you. I told you, you’re letting her control you. You always do this. It’s a pattern of behavior I was trying to wean you off of—”
“But then I began to let you control me,” Evilman said. “I was no better off. Now, however, I have broken free from that. The princess and I are equals, we’re friends, we listen to each other—”
“No, no, you are depending on her, using her as crutch, you have to get rid of her!”
“I’m not going to kill her—”
“But that was your plan!”
“She made you—”
“No!” Evilman stomped his foot on the floor, holding his hands out to stop the mirror from talking. “I created the plan because I thought that was what I had to do. But I changed the plan because I knew that’s what I had to do. I’m not an evil dark lord. I’m a snazzy interior decorator!”
The mirror scrunched his nose, like he was in physical pain, despite being a mirror and not able to feel anything. “You can be whatever you want to be, but without therapy you will fall back into your old patterns. You need me to stay and help you through this.”
Evilman shook his head, face sad. “I was using you as a crutch, Mirror. I thank you for your help, but I need to break free. The princess and I are going into business together—”
“She will control you—”
“Excuse me!” the princess said, hand on hip. “I’m not going to control him. We are friends, and we will be equal business partners—”
“Just kill her!”
The princess threw her head back and gaped. “Kill me? KILL ME? What kind of a sadistic bastard are you?”
The mirror curled his upper lip. “One who cares for his clients.”
“More likely a financially sound one. That’s all it is, isn’t it? You just don’t want to lose your job, your money, this house!”
The mirror mouthed wordlessly at the princess for a moment before sputtering, “No-no-no, that’s-that’s not it at all.”
Evilman narrowed his gaze. “Mirror,” he said slowly, “are you only trying to stay for the money?”
“No! You know that’s not true. Look! She’s already trying to influence you—”
“That’s it, I’ve had enough!”
In one swift movement, Evilman ripped the mirror off the wall. He walked determinedly to the nearest window, opened it (“You can’t throw me out!”), and quite unceremoniously threw the mirror outside.
The mirror soared through the air then landed in the surrounding forest, shouting at Evilman.
“You can’t do this to me! I’ll be back, you’ll see! I’ll—”
◊ ◊ ◊
King Straus pulled his horse off the mirror it had just stepped on. Large cracks stretched across its surface, starting at a gaping hole the size and shape of a horse’s hoof. It was completely destroyed.
“I hope that wasn’t important. Oh, well,” Straus said, and urged his horse on. “We’re almost there, men. Let’s go save my daughter.”
◊ ◊ ◊
The princess stared at Evilman, impressed. “I can’t believe you just did that.”
“I know, neither can—” He broke off as a loud noise sounded from outside the study. “What was that?”
They left the room and glanced around the entrance hall.
“Where did that racket come from?” the princess asked.
“I don’t know…”
Suddenly, a door burst open and from amid a shower of fluffy purple towels and silk sheets, Prince Randolf strode into the hall, Davey at his side. Randolf stopped before Evilman and the princess, standing tall and proud, like a true prince, legs apart and fists on hips. He held his head high, face serious and noble, and said triumphantly, “I’m not wearing any pants.”
The princess and Evilman looked down as one then stared back at Randolf’s face.
“No, you’re not,” the princess said slowly. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” Randolf said, so noble, so proud.
Evilman eyed him with a mix of caution, confusion, and a little bit of worry at what possibly happened to remove the poor prince’s trousers. “How do you not know—”
A bang echoed through the castle and the front doors burst open with great force. A dozen men, led by King Straus, charged down the hall.
“Evilman!” Straus thundered. “Give me back my daughter! You will not win today!”
“Daddy, please!” the princess huffed. “Be nice.”
Straus took a step back in confusion, as if he’d been hit in the face. “‘Be nice’? What do you mean—” Suddenly he noticed Randolf. “You’re not wearing any pants.”
“I know,” Randolf said, still in the same position, still so noble.
Straus furrowed his brow. “I left you nearly incapacitated in the village. How did you get here before me?”
“‘Cause trolls are awesome when they’re drunk,” Davey explained, wagging an emphatic finger.
Before Straus could even start on that response, the back door flew open and in walked a bickering trio.
“Moreen?” Straus cried, astounded. “Why are you here?”
“To prevent this moron from suing us,” Queen Moreen replied, jerking a thumb over her shoulder at King Jonas. She turned to look at her husband, but on the way, her gaze paused. “You’re…without pants.”
“Yes, I am,” Randolf said, oh so noble.
Queen Rubella’s eyes bulged, her eyeliner smudged from galloping through the forest. “Where are they?” she demanded.
“The troll took them,” Davey slurred. “He didn’t think it was fair that we didn’t die.”
Everyone just blinked at that.
Moreen opened her mouth several times to comment, but eventually she shook her head—he wasn’t her problem anymore (good luck marrying him off, Rubella)—and turned back to the situation at hand.
“Evilman!” she shouted, making him jump. “Release my daughter this instant!”
The princess crossed her arms. “Will you please stop making demands of him, he just went through a terrible experience and lost a good friend,” she snapped.
There was silence followed by a chorus of “What?” asked by everyone in the room, except for the sloshed Davey and practically frozen yet noble Randolf.
“Honey, you’re not making any sense,” Moreen said. “We’ve come to rescue you and take you home.”
“I don’t want to go home,” the princess said. “Didn’t you bother to think about my feelings? Or were you just going to take me away against my will?”
Another pause followed by another room full of “What?”
“But he’s trying to kill you!” Straus cried.
“No, I’m not,” Evilman piped up. “We’re going into business together as interior decorators.”
Once again, the chorus: “What?”
“That’s right,” the princess said, head held high. “I’m staying here. I have a potentially lucrative career on my hands and an excellent and willing partner.”
“But-but-but—he’s evil,” Straus said, voice and expression turning uncertain.
The princess rolled her eyes. “No, he’s not.”
“Dad, I thank you for this whole rescue attempt thing—you too, Mom—but I’m quite happy here.”
“Oh,” Straus said, somewhat deflated. “Well, then…I guess…we’ll be going.”
“Yes,” Moreen agreed vaguely, eyes wandering in confusion.
“You can stop by whenever you’d like,” Evilman said with a bright smile. “You’re always welcome. You can even stay the night.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Straus said as vaguely as his wife while they moved awkwardly toward the door.
“Does that mean they can’t sue?” Jonas murmured to Rubella.
But Rubella ignored him. “Come along, Randolf,” she commanded. “We have to get you home and into some pants for god’s sake.”
“Coming mother,” Randolf said, the noblest, and followed her, head held so high and proud.
“Now, Randolf, I have some good news,” Rubella began as she, Jonas, Randolf, and Davey walked down the hall and out of the castle. “Your father and I are getting a divorce…”
Moreen and Straus followed them out, the rescue party in their wake, looking disappointed there had been no need for a bloodbath.
When the last person had left, closing the door behind him, the princess turned to Evilman. She scrunched her nose in apology. “I’m so sorry about all of that.”
Evilman waved it off, chuckling slightly. “Oh, it’s all right! They did think I was going to mercilessly kill you just to reaffirm my evilness.”
“Well, they still shouldn’t have been so rude.”
“It’s no problem, Princess…um, by the way…what’s your name?”