Disclaimer: I never admit to owning anything, unless it is mine, which it is not, so I admit to nothing.
Author's Note: Yeah, so this'd be one of those vaguely resembling the fairy tale ones. Actually, this is more the idea I had while thinking about the fairy tale than it is the fairy tale itself. Sort of.
PS KLCtheBookWorm, I am very miffed about your review of Paper Ballerina. You may have been tempted but now I have a thought tumbling around my brain while muse looks at it with interest. *glarey glares of glares*
There once was a brave and noble king – well Consort actually – who had two beautiful daughters, the youngest of whom had begun to act a bit…strange. Well, stranger than usual. Not that her father thought that she acted strange usually, it was just that now that she was acting in a manner even an Othersider like himself considered strange, he had to agree that she was acting, well, strangely. Or something.
Anyhow, it had begun a few months ago after the Court Ball. DG had awakened her normal, post-ball self – tired and cranky from being beset by lords and ladies all night, she didn't want to marry the Prince of Ev so would everyone please stop talking about him! In fact, if one more person so much as mentioned his name she was going to pull an Az and cut out half of his tongue! You know, nothing out of the ordinary. The trouble started the next night, or sometime thereafter, when DG went to bed early, as she was wont to do in order to make up for the sleep stolen from her be the prancing brigade – it generally only took three nights to accomplish.
Only that morning she arrived at the breakfast table exhausted, bedraggled…and every bit the cheerful spitfire they all knew and adored. She'd even shown up to see the Prince of Ev off with the friendliest of smiles and waves, this after having vowed never so much as to look at him again. It was certainly very odd, but Ahamo wasn't one to complain, especially since it spared him two whole days of the Wicked Witch of the Wrong Side of the Bed. He thought nothing of it.
At least until it happened again.
The second time occurred after the State Dinner, at which she had been captured by her great-uncle, the doddering old Prince of the North. He'd kept her up late, boring the youngest princess almost to tears with stories of his glory days in the Munchkin Brigade. Royal Liaison he was…
That morning a very grumpy DG had been not saying a word, not one word, not to anyone about anything, not ever again…at least not until the next morning, when she bounced into the room, dark circles under her eyes and chirping merry. She even offered to join the old fellow for tea.
It was aftermath of the Embassy Cotillion that sewed the first seed of suspicion in the Consort's mind, however. The Gnome King's son spent the entire evening using his inferior height as an excuse for certain, ah, accidental hand placements. DG had looked fit to be tied, leaving as soon as politely possible in order to prevent a diplomatic incident and, quite frankly, bloodshed.
Yet, lo, the very next day, the youngest princess practically floated into the breakfast parlor, looking as if she hadn't had a wink of sleep and didn't mind it one bit.
And so it continued as the weeks went by, with the Prince of Mifkets, who trod upon and tore a dress DG actually liked, and with the Prince of the Kingdom of Dreams, who managed to set his bed curtains alight with his midnight reading, causing the entire Royal Family to be hauled from their own beds at a very unseasonable hour of the am. Then, of course, there was the prince from the Country of Gargoyles, who not only had an unfortunate resemblance to his country's namesake, but was all too eager to serenade by moonlight the famous Princess Dorothy Gale, much to her dismay. He was followed by the Crown Prince of the Rose Kingdom, whose bouquet offering gave DG an allergic reaction so severe even Cain couldn't recognize her. She spent a week itchy from head to toe and unable to get a wink of sleep because of it. And it was probably best not to mention the Prince of Boboland, who was all of two years old, not that that stopped his parents for suggesting him as a potential future husband…DG had been finding the boy perfectly adorable up until that point, and Azkadellia was probably never going to stop laughing.
Yet despite it all, no matter how little sleep the youngest princess seemed to be getting, she somehow managed to bounce back to her wonderfully cheerful self in what Ahamo had come to recognize as an aberrantly short amount of time. Much as he appreciated it, the mystery was driving the Consort mad with curiosity. At long last he enlisted the aid of the Tin Man. As far as he could tell the man never slept anyhow, so surely the mystery was as good as solved.
Except that it wasn't.
The Consort had been sure that anything that could manage to cheer DG up after her rather infuriating encounter with the Prince of Noland – who didn't seem to understand how to take no for an answer – it must impossible for even the least observant of investigators to miss. But when Cain was called into his study he had nothing to report. If curiosity was a cat, then Ahamo's was a full bag of kittens that had grown up and insisted on yowling at the door, but he consoled himself that his daughter could be every bit as tricky as her old man. All would be revealed in time.
Or so he told himself as the Ahamo set himself to watching his daughter when the next ball rolled around. It took some political adroitness on his part to keep an eye on her throughout the night, the Consort was, after all, expected to do a certain amount of diplomatic shilly-shallying at these sorts of events. Still, he managed to keep DG in sight as she spent the night dutifully dancing with the Prince of Rinkitink until the wee hours of the morning, whereupon she withdrew, wincing, to lean on the Tin Man while she massaged her poor bruised feet.
Predictably, she was all glowers the next day as she iced the much abused toes. And she was still the antithesis to cheerful when she hobbled her way to bed that night, but spy though he did, the Consort caught nary a glimpse of why the still bruised princess was such a ray of sunshine come the morning.
And damned if glaring at Cain for answers wasn't as useless as all the rest, the Tin Man was as inscrutable as always, shrugging his shoulders as if the princess wasn't Up To Something right under their very noses.
Well, that was just fine by Ahamo, he decided, if DG wanted to play the old smoke and mirrors game with him, he'd remind her just who the old carnie in this family was.
The next opportunity came at the anniversary celebration of the Queen's coronation, a perfectly dull event filled with the sort of pomp and grand ceremony that generally left DG comatose with boredom. Better yet, the Crown Princess had been seated next to the Prince of Merryland, a middle aged gentleman who had a tendency to get drunk and alternate between enumerating on great fox hunts passed and bemoaning the fate which led him to being a younger son with five very healthy brothers before him. DG, prior to the Great Mystery, was basically scheduled to be in the doldrums for days.
Except, as he knew by now, that she wouldn't be.
But that was okay, because the Consort had a plan; a plan that was only slightly discommoded by the princess not being in her room, where she had supposedly retired for the night. This was, in fact, somewhat to be expected. Hence the plan…which was a tad more upset by the fact that Cain wasn't in his room, either. But that was reasonable, he supposed as he sent for the best tracker available, he had, after all, asked the Tin Man to find out what DG was up to…
Perfectly reasonable, he reminded himself upon finally tracking down his quarry some hours later, in the midst of what looked to be the remains of a darned good, though less formal, coronation party. Looking about forest clearing, the Otherside born Consort was feeling decidedly envious, not to mention nostalgic. A few hardy souls were still dancing an energetic jig in the firelight to the music of a lone fiddle. Ahamo felt an almost irresistible urge to join in…
…but first things first.
Unknowingly following the example of the son of the man in question, Ahamo chose to wake the Tin Man currently cozied up with his daughter by booting him in the feet.
Reaching up to shove his hat brim back, Cain peered up at the Consort enquiringly.
"Didn't I ask you to find out what my daughter was up to?" Ahamo growled.
"And?" the Consort ground out.
"Seems some tin man promised her that if she made nice with the dignitaries and behaved herself during the pompous dos, he'd make it up to her," replied the unrepentant Tin Man.
"Mmm," DG purred, joining the conversation with a contented little stretch, "and he promised not to slaughter any suitors as long as she kept them at arm's length and let him torture her dad as much as possible."
"Oh really?" her dad stressed, assiduously not acknowledging the amused twinkle in the usually stern blue eyes.
"Yes, really, now go away Dad, you're ruining date night," the youngest princess groused.
"Ruining date ni-…oh forget it," Ahamo huffed in exasperation, leaving them to it. He was still a little miffed at the Tin Man, but really, what was he going to do? Yell at Cain for making his daughter happy? Sighing as he plunked himself down the fire, the Consort realized he was actually missing his little mystery. But he knew the story: he'd asked an old soldier to find out what had kept the princess dancing all night, the old soldier had succeeded, thus he won the hand of the princess of his choice.
Even it that old soldier had blasted cheated.