Prologue

There is a story...

You might know how it goes. There's a beautiful young princess in terrible danger; a wise old man who knows what to do about it; a young man as eager as he is inexperienced, who must rescue the princess and save the world. There's an evil dark lord, and a morally ambiguous, but nevertheless charming, stranger. There are sword fights and dramatic escapes and important moral lessons. There is a happy ending.

There are a thousand such stories.

There's a beautiful young girl whose father dies, and those who take over his role do a terrible job with parenting. There's a young man whose name and character don't matter; he'll be judged on his ability to look good in a royal uniform and the size of his sword. He gallops in on a white horse; the sunlight reflects off his gleaming white teeth as he smiles, and his gleaming silver sword as he fights; and he sweeps the young girl off her feet and into the sunset.

It plays out in a thousand different ways, in a thousand different worlds.

On the subject of ever after, these stories are always vague. They are silent about the nightmares of children who grow up with a dragon's head over the fireplace, the guilt over killing your own stepmother (no matter how vain she was), the abandonment issues, the marital problems arising from rushing into things without getting to know each other first.

And sometimes, the young man insists on having a name. Sometimes, the princess refuses to sit by and wait to be rescued. Sometimes, the happily ever after is not all that happy, but that's okay, because it turns out that contrary to popular belief, life does in fact go on after the wedding.

This is such a story.


It was a stormy night, the kind of night that seems tailor made for destiny and story beginnings. Thunder and lightning took impatient turns and spent the rest of the time telling the other to hurry up. Behind the clouds racing across the sky, a full moon watched the show, shining silver light onto the wind-whipped trees.

A dark figure strode through the howling wind, face obscured by its hood. It wore a black cloak, one of the good ones. This cloak did not get tangled around legs or caught on bushes. It was a cloak made for billowing ominously, which was what it was currently doing. The figure and its cloak were so dark that they seemed to lighten the shadows as they passed.

At length, the man—for it was definitely a man, judging by the broadness of the shoulders and that stride which seemed to claim territory every time one of the booted feet hit the ground—came to a stop under the eaves of the forest. The road ended here.

Before him stood a house, a small cottage with a thatched roof. It had the slightly careless look of a house whose occupants had better things to do than wash the windows every day, the kind of house where children's fun was more important than clean floors.

The man stood motionless for a while, watching the storm rage around the house. He seemed to be listening for something. At length, he spoke a single word, his deep voice betraying a smile.

"Soon."

He turned and left, his cloak sweeping up the shadows as he strode back the way he'd come.

In the house behind him, one of the windows lit up.