The Kingdom of America was once a land of much chaos, for the Great King Jones was nearing the end of his mortal coil and his eldest son, Prince Alfred, had yet to marry and produce an heir according to the inheritance laws of the land. The various kingdoms that surrounded America were threatening to invade and usurp the throne, and so there was much pressure on the royal family to find Prince Alfred a bride.
However, through their various efforts, it soon became apparent that Prince Alfred had little interest in marriage. His mother had persuaded him to host monthly balls in which possible marriage candidates could attend, but the young women often found the prince indifferent and apathetic to their presence. His interest seemed to lie more in boasting about the palace's newest features and teasing his servant, Arthur, rather than in finding a wife. The prince's parents were very distraught at his behavior and grew more and more desperate as the days went by and the king grew sicker. All the while, the surrounding kingdoms were waiting in the wings to strike.
And so it is that our story takes place during those desperate days, on the night of one the kingdom's many balls, once upon a time…
"And, you see, this is our newest catapult! It can shoot, like, five times the weight of stupid Prince Francis' catapult," Alfred boasted as he led his female visitors through the castle's weapon room. His manservant, Arthur, followed closely behind and rolled his eyes at Alfred's bragging.
"I ought to show you the moat as well. It's ten times deeper than the Kingdom of Germany's!" Alfred exclaimed and the young ladies glanced at one another, wondering how long they might have to put up with this in order to secure some one-on-one time with the prince while Alfred prattled on.
Finally, Arthur couldn't take it anymore. "They don't want to see the moat, you idiot," he snapped, and the women turned around in shock. How could such a lowly man dare insult the prince? But, to their surprise, Alfred burst out laughing.
"You're right. They don't care about moats at all!" Alfred said, turning on his heel to face the would-be queens. His eyes had a mischievous glint. "They should just go home," he announced grandly. The women; however, weren't sure if they'd heard correctly.
"G-go home? But, the ball isn't over!" One particularly brave young woman protested.
But Alfred shook his head. "I'm the prince, and I think it's over. Goodbye." He swept out of the room without another word while Arthur rushed forward to keep up with him.
"Sorry about this, ladies! Maybe next time!" Arthur apologized as he sped out the door. The men disappeared, leaving in their wake a dozen bewildered women.
"What a peculiar man," one of the attendees said, and the rest had to agree.
Alfred had already made it to the grand staircase by the time Arthur entered the hall. Arthur considered not following him, as he looked so cross, but when the prince realized Arthur wasn't behind him he stopped at the top of the stairs and shot his servant an expectant look.
"I'm tired of these dances," Alfred complained as Arthur made his way up the stairs, his footsteps echoing loudly in the cavernous stairwell. "These women just want to be princesses. All they want is the money, the clothes… they don't care for anything more." Alfred shook his head sadly and said with a sigh, "I wish Matthew was next in line." Arthur caught up with Alfred and the pair began walking down the hall.
Matthew was the younger brother of Prince Alfred and nearly his exact opposite in temperament and interests. The brothers had been very close until the king and queen started grooming Alfred as their heir. Nowadays the brothers rarely caught glimpses of one another in between Alfred's lessons.
"You know, he could be… if you gave up the throne," Arthur reminded him.
"I could never. I've put in too much work," Alfred replied. "But, who knows? I still haven't married and I'll need to so I can inherit the throne… and then I have to have a kid." Alfred closed his eyes, as if the thought of having a child was just too much to bear.
The pair entered the prince's bedroom where Alfred immediately flopped onto the bed. Alfred's room was just as resplendent and extravagantly decorated as the other rooms in the castle, with red and blue tapestries hanging everywhere and a great white carpet so soft, Arthur couldn't tell what kind of animal had produced it.
The manservant sat down on a chair at the prince's desk, and laughed inwardly at how untidy it had become since the maids had cleaned it that very morning. Loose papers and dog-eared books were stacked high on every available surface. He absentmindedly thumbed through an open book and then turned his attention back to the prince.
"I'm sure you'll find the right woman, Alfred. But you haven't been looking hard enough… and you act like such a brat when you do look. You have to treat women nicely, and talk about things they enjoy," Arthur advised the prince, but in truth, he had no clue how to talk to women. He had very little experience himself.
Alfred said nothing in response, so Arthur continued, attempting a cheery voice, "But don't beat yourself up about it too much. There's always next month's ball."
Alfred rolled over onto his back and bit his lip nervously, then looked up at Arthur from where he lay on the bed. "Look, I haven't been honest with you, Artie," the prince said, which made Arthur raise an eyebrow, as Alfred only called him "Artie" when he knew he had done something bad. "You see… there won't be another ball."
"What? Why not?"
Alfred's eyes travelled from Arthur's to the tapestries hanging above his bed. "Because next month, you and I won't be in the castle," he explained.
Arthur's expression was one of worry. "If we're not in the castle, where will we be?"
"On a trip…" Alfred replied, his voice trailing off as he nervously played with his cowlick.
"A trip? Where?" Arthur's tone was angrier now, as he was growing irritated with Alfred's roundabout way of confessing. Alfred finally looked back at Arthur.
"Well, for the whole of next month, my parents are going to have me visit each of the neighboring kingdoms to meet their princesses. After the month is over, I'm supposed to pick one, propose, and get married..."
Arthur looked at Alfred with widened, alarmed eyes. "A month? A month to find you a bride?"
Alfred grinned sheepishly. "Well, actually we were supposed to have two months. But I put it off until now."
"Y-you put it off?"
"Well, we were holding our annual jousting tournament! I didn't want to miss it!" Alfred exclaimed as he propped himself up on the bed. "Besides, a month is more than enough time. There's only, like, seven or eight princesses… one of them should be sort of alright."
"'Sort of alright'? That's how you're going to describe your future wife?" Arthur mockingly replied. He pressed his palm against his forehead as a gnawing headache from the stress overtook him. "When are we going to leave?"
Alfred silently walked over to his vast closet and opened it with a kick. Inside were ten neatly stacked suitcases.
"We leave tonight. Surprise!"
And so the men set forth that night to the first of the eight kingdoms. Their carriage would take them through rambling forests and wet snow to the land of Hungary, where the first princess awaited. But, little did they know, it was not Prince Alfred she was waiting for…