His Royal and Serene Highness Prince Feodor le Dragula, Prince Royale of Serap, Hereditary Grand Duke of Palma-Pachek-Brag and Prince of Esex-Burco-Sexfield lay, arms folded behind his head, on the hard wooden shelf-bed gazing meditatively up at the assorted molds and fungi decorating the dim dungeon ceiling.
He was every bit as calm as he seemed. Princes errant absolutely expected to end up in a dungeon at least once per adventure. Of course this time around his captors were no less than four Elven Queens which meant he would be wise to remove himself and his Princess from their hands as expeditiously as possible. However clearly nothing could be done towards that end at this moment so he possessed his soul in patience and waited for the opportunity that was sure to come.
To describe its arrival as unexpected would be a considerable understatement. The air beside his bed rippled and glowed and formed itself into a pretty, redheaded girl in periwinkle blue peasant dress, complete with calico print neckerchief and apron, which rather clashed with the black cloak around her shoulders and peaked witches' hat upon her head. She held a glimmering silvery wand. Feodor frankly stared.
"Your Highness? I am your fairy godmother!" the apparition announced grandly.
He blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
She frowned and repeated, "I am your fairy godmother!" in a louder voice.
Feodor sat up, embracing his knees. "I heard you, I was requesting further information. Forgive me but you seem a little young for the role."
Her frown deepened, wrinkling her little freckled nose in a positively fetching way. "Your original fairy godmother, Beldame Folderol, died two months ago. I inherited the job from her."
"I see," the prince said politely. "I'm sorry for your loss."
"Thank you." The fairy godmother blinked some sudden tears out of her eyes and gave him a once-over, taking in the worn leathers and stubble on the chin. "You are Prince Feodor of Serap, aren't you?" She asked dubiously.
His eyes twinkled but he kept his face straight. "That's right." He was quite accustomed to meeting with a certain amount of disbelief. It wasn't just the comfortable, practical clothes and lack of magical grooming skills. Though a handsome man in his way Feodor's looks did not fit the traditional princely mold. His nose was short, and slightly snubbed. He lacked both chiseled cheekbones and cleft chin. His fair hair was more brown than golden and his eyes were a pale ice blue rather than the regulation cerulean , and revealed a rather alarming degree of intelligence and character.
"Right. Then we've got to get you out of here." Turning the godmother waved her wand at the cell door it glowed briefly but seemed otherwise unaffected. "I've changed it into paper," she announced. "Just tear your way though."
Prince Feodor swung his feet to the ground and sat considering the matter. "Why can't we leave the same way you arrived?"
"Because it doesn't work that way!" the fairy godmother said irritably. "Narrative causality requires you to fight your way out - I'd have thought you'd know that!"
"I was afraid of it," Feodor said calmly. In his experience magic NEVER made matters simpler. "Very well, can you provide me with a weapon?"
"I guess so." She looked around the cell. It was quite empty save for the smelly bucket in the corner. She aimed her wand at it. "Right. What would you like, a sword?"
"Actually I'm an axe man. Two handed and double headed please."
The godmother shrugged and made circular motions with the wand tip. The bucket glowed and transformed itself into a long handled double bladed battle axe of traditional dwarf design.
Prince Feodor hefted it then took an experimental swing. "Very nice. In fact excellent work."
"Thank you," the godmother said a little smugly. "Can we get going now?"
"Certainly. Do you have any idea where the kitchens are?"
"Because that's where Princess Suzette is and I can't leave without her."
The godmother frowned again, eyes darkening almost threateningly. "Nobody told me about any princess!"
"I'm sorry about that," Prince Feodor said politely. "But I'm afraid the rules require me to rescue her - as many times as necessary."
"Blast and damn! Well we're just going to have to look for her."
"That should be interesting," Prince Feodor agreed. And ripped the paper door from top to bottom.
The guardroom and upper halls were full of creatures made up of a horrible mix of human and animal parts. There were bull heads on human bodies, human torsos and arms with frogs heads and legs, man-sized and armed snakes, clawed bat things with human faces and legs, and so forth and so on, each more nightmarish than the last. They attacked Prince Feodor with gusto and he chopped them down without remorse, knowing full well a clean death was all that he, or anybody else, could do for the poor beasts.
He fought his way to the great hall and when he'd run out of opponents paused to think. His godmother was right behind him, her shoes red from the blood she'd been wading through. Her freckles stood out on her pallid face and she looked sick to her stomach.
Feodor reached out, took her by the chin and tilted her face upward away from the bodies and gore. "Don't look," he said kindly. She swallowed hard and he glanced aside to give her time to recover herself. "Strange that all this hasn't brought out our hostesses."
"I imagine they're asleep. Elves tend to be nocturnal you know and it was high noon when I came in here."
"Good. Maybe we'll get a head start then." He looked back at her with a sudden smile. "I'm counting on you to deal with them if they catch up with us, godmother."
"I will." she gripped her wand and some color leaked back into her cheeks.
"Now then, the kitchens should be this way..."
Prince Feodor's knowledge of standard castle layout served him well. The cavernous kitchen with its three gigantic hearths was exactly where it belonged, at the end of a short passage beyond the buttery and pantry. It also appeared to be empty. "Suzette?"
"Feodor!" a conventionally beautiful princess with a small gilt coronet on her tousled blond curls crept out from under the big table and stood shaking out the skirts of her entirely impractical and improbably spotless white silk gown. "Was all that screaming and clanging you?"
"Who else?" He glanced at the small redheaded girl behind him. "Godmother, this is Her Royal Highness the Princess Suzette Ishbel Aurelie of Grenfell. Su, this is my fairy godmother."
"Your what?" Princess Suzette's round blue eyes got even rounder.
"His fairy godmother," that young lady repeated coldly. "I inherited the job from my teacher. My name is Krystina Rose, of the Benoic Roses, Witch of Berry Ban."
"How do you do?" said the Princess, remembering her manners. "Of course I've heard of your family. You provide all of the best witches in this part of the world, don't you? Feodor is very lucky to have a Rose for his fairy godmother."
The Princess' diplomacy worked. Krystina smiled, mollified.
Feodor turned his head towards the open door to the passage. It was still quiet out there, but for how long? "I think we'd better be going, ladies."
Princess Suzette caught up with Feodor under the arch of the postern gate and grabbed his sleeve, bringing him to an abrupt halt. "What about Buttercup?"
"Good question," he said. "Godmother, do you know what happened to our horses?"
"No idea," she answered shortly. "You'd better hope they were left, it's that or become fodder for the Elven horses."
Suzette's face crumpled. Feodor put a firm finger on the tip of her nose. "No tears, Su, we don't have the time."
She sniffed, swallowed and mopped her eyes with her flowing sleeve. "You'll tell me when?"
"Of course." He turned to his godmother. "I think the best plan is to backtrack to our camp. With luck our mounts and equipment might still be there." He smiled crookedly. "I presume this fine axe you made for me won't last forever?"
"It'll change back at midnight, that's the rules."
"Of course," he sighed. Magic never made things easier.
The trail left by their captors proved easy to follow. Sharp hooves had cut and churned the verdant turf spread like a velvet carpet beneath flowering rowan and silver barked birch and beech trees. Princess Suzette looked around her in wonder. "It's all so different by day!"
"It is indeed," her Prince agreed grimly.
"It's meant to lure people in," said Krystina.
"That would explain it," said the Prince with a sidelong glance at Suzette.
She flushed. "All right, I know. It's all my fault and I'm sorry."
Feodor sighed and put an arm around her shoulders. "Not all your fault, Su. I could have said no." Turning to Krystina walking one his other side he explained: "Our road forked at the ridge hubwards from here. One led up towards the snowline the other down into this valley. Su, naturally enough, preferred the valley and I didn't know any better than to agree."
Suzette smiled up at him and then across him at Krystina. "Feodor's being sweet. I quivered my chin at him and threatened to cry. I was just so sick of snow and cold!"
The Prince's eyebrows arched slightly. "And since when am I susceptible to quivering chins and tears?"
The Princess laughed out loud. "Since always! All the nicest men are, aren't they Mistress Rose?"
"And even some who aren't so nice," the young witch agreed.
"Oh dear. And I thought I had hardened myself against such wiles," Feodor sighed histrionically.
"No man ever does," Princess Suzette said smugly.
"Which is lucky for us women," said Krystina.
The campsite was encircled by a ring of cut brambles and thorny wild rose. A tall, dappled blue (1) destrier threw back his head in a high whinny of recognition at the sight of them, then hopped the low barrier to nuzzle Feodor while a pretty, pale gold palfrey greeted Suzette no less joyfully.
"Well that lets me off one bout of tears anyway," he remarked to Krystina, pushing his horse's head aside. "Yes, Steel, yes I am glad to see you! Now let me talk to my godmother."
"I see you took some precautions," she answered.
He smiled crookedly. "I'm not a complete idiot, though I might as well have been for all the good they did." The stallion butted his master, nearly knocking him off his feet. "Stop that, Steel!" Holding the animal off with a hand on its neck he continued; "We'd best stay here tonight I think. Unless you know of a place more defensible?"
Krystina looked at the sun, low over the widdershin mountains, and agreed. "I don't know the valley at all I'm afraid, nobody ever comes here."
"I can see why," Feodor said dryly.
1. 'Blue' means dark gray in terms of coat colors for horses.