Disclaimer: I don't own anything because everything belongs to the fabulously wonderful Sherwood Smith.




"Go away. I want to sleep."



"Are you asleep?"

Alaraec Russav Branaric Renselaeus – Crown Prince of Remalna – sat up in bed with a groan. The six year-old boy rubbed his eyes wearily, his curly fair head tousled from sleep. His gray eyes were exasperated. "I was. What is it, Elly?" he asked impatiently.

"I can't sleep," Elestra Ranisia Nimiar Renselaeus complained petulantly.

Alaraec groaned again. "You woke me up and don't let me sleep because you can't sleep. Thanks a lot, Elly."

"You're welcome," was the prompt reply.

"I can't sleep," Elestra repeated with the innocent stubbornness of young children. "Play with me, Alaraec!"

Alaraec groaned a third time. Experience had taught him that once his sister was fixed on something, she would stick to it like a burr to cloth until the end of the world. It was easier to go along with her. "You're such a brat, Elestra!" he groused, swinging his legs off the bed and standing stiffly.

"Am not!" cried his sister indignantly.

"Am too," retorted the older brother.

"Am not!"

"Am too!"

"Am not!"

"Am to - "

A glowglobe flickered into life. "Alaraec and Elestra, what are you doing up at this time of night?" Meliara Astiar Renselaeus demanded, yawning profusely.

Instantly her two children burst into their own versions of the tale – " – he called me a bad word, Mama – " – " – she woke me up in the middle of the night – " – and together as one – "I wanna be an only child, Mama!"

"Enough! Quiet!" Meliara's voice was half-exasperated, half-amused. She put her hands on her hips. "Vidanric!" she called impatiently. "We have need of you right now!"

A sleepy Vidanric Renselaeus came into the room. "Now, now, children," he murmured with a slight smile. "Sleep awaits you – " – "I was asleep!" – " – so kindly toddle back into bed. Tomorrow you'll both have to get up at the crack of dawn."

"But papa, I can't fall asleep!" complained Elestra again, as Meliara towed her and her brother into bed. "Tell me a story!" Alaraec, interested despite himself, added his assent.

"Which story would you like?" asked Vidanric with an amused smile.

"A true story!" chirped Elestra. "With a happy ending!"

"Well," Meliara searched desperately for words. "Once upon a time…" The Queen – so proficient with ambassadors and common folk and the like – was perhaps, for the very first time, at a lost for words. "Well…" She shot Vidanric a glance that conveyed much.

Vidanric, understanding that he would be in grave danger of being confined to a guest bedroom for awhile unless he helped out his wife, quickly complied. "There lived an incredibly beautiful countess." Meliara glanced sharply at her husband, who only smiled blandly. "Who promised her father that she would rescue her country from an evil king."

Meliara glared at her husband. "But the evil king sent an obnoxious marquis to defeat the brave countess."

"What does ob-nox-eous mean?" Elestra asked.

"It means devilishly good-looking," answered Vidanric quickly before Meliara could reply. "Now, when the marquis – who was actually against the evil king – captured the countess, he immediately fell in love with her. But how could he win her heart – when she hated him? He pined day and night for his beautiful countess."

"Oooh," Elestra murmured, her eyes wide with sympathy. "The poor courtier. His heart must have been broken!"

"But," Meliara took up the story before her husband could spin it too wackily out of focus, "the Countess was unaware of his feelings and thought only of escaping. When she did escape, she defeated many of the king's evil minions alone with her sword."

"But there was a deadly trap set for the Countess, and the marquis hurried to find the Countess before the evil King did. When the marquis found the Countess, he managed to convince her of his good intentions and together they defeated the evil king."

Alaraec made a face. "Is that it?"

"Certainly not! The marquis managed to convince the countess to come to the palace with him, hoping to be able to win her heart. However, an evil magician put a spell on the countess, so that she mistrusted and feared the marquis. The evil magician wove a devious spell around the countess so that all her feelings for the marquis were channeled toward the magican himself."

"Magicians aren't evil though!" Elestra protested. "Mama knows magic!"

"Huh!" Alaraec scoffed. "Shows how much you know!"

"Now, now, you two," Meliara intervened hurriedly. "The magician was brought up by the evil king, who hurt him and forced his own greedy ideas into his mind. So he was evil only because of his terrible childhood. Satisfied?" Both children nodded solemnly.

"Anyway, the evil magician was aided by another snobby countess – "

"Not snobby!" protested Meliara. "More overly sophisticated."

"What does soph-is-tic-ated mean?" Alaraec asked.

"Is that like Uncle Branaric?" Elestra asked. The King of Remalna's court mask broke and he fought to hide his wide grin. Meliara glowered at him.

"Alright, the countess was snobby," Meliara conceded with a frown.

"The two of them worked tirelessly to destroy both the marquis and the snobby countess, all the while the magician was playing with the countess's heart. The magician had magic, wealth, beauty – the marquis had nothing that could compare to great magic."

"But," Meliara's voice was soft and gentle now. Her blue eyes were fixed on Vidanric. "Despite the enchantment on her, the countess found that she was in love with the marquis."

"When the magician found out, his anger that a girl should prefer anyone over him was great. He worked a great spell on the entire court and threatened to kill everyone unless the countess consented to be his bride."

"The marquis was furious at the threat," Meliara continued with great gusto. "He ripped out his blade and advanced angrily on the magician, ready to engage in a duel-to-the-death." Alaraec listened with rapt attention. "Go on!" he urged.

Elestra, however, had gone wide-eyed with fright. "A magical group of friends of the countess arrived just in time," Vidanric added with a smile. "They banished the magician far, far away, the marquis married the countess, and they became king and queen, ruling wisely and living happily ever after. The end. The story's over."

"That was so beautiful," Elestra remarked with a smile. "But I feel sorry for the evil magician, don't you, Mama?"

"Feel sorry for him?" Meliara was stunned at the idea.

"Yes. Because it wasn't exactly his fault that he was the way he was, was it? It was the fault of that evil king! I know!" Elestra brightened. "I'll find the magician and I'll explain to him that he was wrong! I'll make him good again, and then I'll marry him and live happily ever after too!"

"Goodnight, you two," Vidanric called, grabbing his astonished and appalled wife and hurrying her out of the room."

"Goodnight!" the two children chirped.

"Elestra marrying Flauvic!?!" Meliara burst out in horror. "Hill Folk forbid!"

"It is a scary thought," admitted Vidanric. "What a wonderful story that was, though."

Meliara raised a brow. "Really. Incredibly beautiful countess? Who am I, Tamara Chamadis?"

"I think you're more beautiful that Tamara," Vidanric answered cheerfully.

"Devilishly handsome marquis?"

"Well, angelic sounded too…crude…"

Meliara laughed. "Vidanric!" Then her expression turned serious. "It did make a good story. My childhood and the revolution weren't all that much of a fairytale though."

"But it's over now," Vidanric replied gently. "And you've got your happily ever after now." He took Meliara into his arms and kissed her gently on the mouth.

"True," agreed Meliara with a laugh. "I suppose you're my handsome prince, then."

"Of course," responded Vidanric smoothly.

The two kissed tenderly, never wanting to part –

"That's so wo-man-tic!"

"That's so gross!"



Meliara and Vidanric separated and turned as one. "Bed!"