The Six Princes
Author's note: I got inspired by thinking about princes who don't act like they're supposed to. There are plenty... Show full author's note »
SixOnce there were six princes. There was Adrian, Hammedatha, Ganymede, Addison, Jocelyn, and Dara. And the king and the queen did not know what to do with them. Since they were small, they were nothing but trouble for the whole castle. Maids would come screaming down the royal halls being chased by a small, giggling figure holding a snake or a rat. Somehow twigs and rocks found their way into the soups and pies made for the royal feasts. And night after night, the chief adviser to the king (a rather nasty fellow) would find a tarantula or a scorpion in his bed, and his screams would wake up the whole castle.
Everyone begged the king to do something about the uncontainable princes, but nothing he did could stop them.
By the time they were grown, they caused even more trouble. No more silly, harmless (well, mostly harmless) pranks, however. Now they were stirring up problems of a different kind. Although they mostly obeyed their father, the king, there was one matter in which they did not follow through. It was the matter of marriage. The princes simply did not want to wed and give up their carefree lives. Either that, or they wanted to marry the wrong women.
First, there was tall Adrian. Being the eldest, he was expected to take up his father's place as king someday. He was also expected to marry first. But all Adrian wanted to do was lounge about in his room or wander the castle gardens reading fantasy and, of all things, romance books. He was soft-eyed, peaceful, and loving; wonderful husband material, but he had no wish to exchange an idle life of dreaming about other people's romances for a demanding one of being a husband and father. He told the king this in his calm voice, and then retreated to his room to read some more, as if the matter were settled.
Hammedatha was even worse. People called him the "Wild Prince". He ran around in nothing but a dirty loincloth, let his hair grow as it would, and was rarely seen at the castle, for he lived most of his life in the nearby woods. He never bathed, never brushed his long hair, never slept anywhere except under the stars, never ate anything except what he found in the forest. The queen had utterly given up on him, and the king was at his wit's end trying to keep him restrained. But it was like trying to keep the wind in one place or trying to stop water from flowing down-hill. And what woman in her right mind would wed such a man?
Ganymede was much more cooperative than his two older brothers, in that he wished to marry. But when his father, beside himself with happiness, asked his son whom he wished to have, he promptly replied, "Alana, one of our scullery maids." There were princesses and ladies aplenty who would gladly take Ganymede for a husband, with his dark mahogany hair, handsome face, brilliant smile, and gentle nature. But of all the women in the land, he had chosen a lowly scullery maid, and, also being rather stubborn, refused to take any other.
Addison was also rarely seen at the castle, though more than Hammedatha. Addison loved horses more than any woman in the world, excepting his mother. He owned at least fifteen and knew them all by name. He would go out for long rides and stay away for weeks. He slept in the stables and so, smelled like manure. He made sure that the birthdays of all his horses were observed and was scolded soundly more than once for carrying off a special chocolate pudding or salad meant for the king and his nobles to his equines. He also tended to be rather brash. When the queen first proposed marriage to the young prince, he leaped upon his favorite mare, Snowball, and rode away, bareback, and was not seen again for another month.
Jocelyn was the other one who didn't mind marrying, but, like Ganymede, he fell in love with the wrong girl. Once at a special festival, a fairy was present, and the second-to-youngest prince fell head-over-heels in love with her. The fairy was not aware of this, and left without a trace, driving the prince almost mad. Of course, once the king discovered this, he was furious. Humans couldn't marry fairies; fairies were too powerful. But Jocelyn really didn't care. His nature was to be drawn to extraordinary things. He would often go hunting for unicorns and dragons in the nearby woods and mountains, and now, for a certain fairy.
Dara's problem, however, could not be avoided. Once the energetic and lively young prince came of marrying age, he suddenly fell ill with a terrible disease with no known cure. In this condition, he was "no longer available", as the chief adviser put it. He stayed in his bed all day and never left it, most of the time unconscious, having terrible nightmares and hallucinations and hearing things. There was a special maid to feed him and give him drink. And the Prince Dara grew paler and paler as the days, weeks, months, and years flew by, with the king practically tearing out his hair and wishing he had a daughter.
Finally he could take it no longer, and marched up to Adrian one day. He found him in the library poring over his favorite book, The Arbinite Dagger.
"Adrian," said he. "My first-born. No more fooling around. You shall wed a princess by next month or your right as heir to the throne will be forfeit and will pass on to your brother," (cringe) "Hammedatha." The king was really gambling on this. He hoped the pressure of the possibility of Adrian's insane brother taking over would make him agree to save the kingdom from certain destruction, should that happen. There was the slight chance that Adrian would care less, and the wild Hammedatha would be crowned. And no one wanted that. Least of all the king.
"No, Father. I'd really much rather just dream and read books for the rest of my life," replied Adrian calmly.
The king smirked, but secretly he was horrified.
"But you have duties and responsibilities. And if you don't take your rightful place, then Hammedatha will!" The king had a look of deep worry on his lined face.
Adrian looked his father straight in the eyes.
"It's my life. No."
"If you don't, then . . . " the king floundered. ". . . then I'll send you to fight in the Northern Wars!"
Adrian, who was leaning back over his book, snapped his head up to look at the king in horror. The Northern Wars against the elves had been raging for years and had turned very bloody. For peace-loving Adrian, it would be a nightmare.
"No, Father, no! Not the Northern Wars!" he cried out desperately.
"Then choose a girl and wed her! You'll still be able to dream and read, you know. Of course, not as much as you used to," the king added.
Adrian looked as though he were about to explode. "Fine!"
And that settled it.