Prince Charming and the Lady Syncere
There was very little Syncere liked. She hated her name, her era, and the fact that someday her own story might begin with that hated cliché “Once upon a time.” She was after all a princess and her time was filled with every element needed to make a traditional fairy tale, except she wanted nothing to do with it. She even hated how all princesses and maidens of means eventually had to employ the help of fae folk to develop nearly insurmountable challenges for the princes to overcome. Like all women, she had no choice but to find a suitable spell for the princes to test themselves against.
“Remember, “ she heard her mother say more times then she could count, “it is the chase and challenges that engage the men, not the capture. Pick the right challenge and you could win Prince Charming himself.”
As if Charming would be satisfied with the one chase. Last she heard he had been gone for three years passing up several fairly nice women because it was too easy to get them. Worse, his adventures had inspired married kings to set off on these quests. These took on the chase, hoping to hold onto their fading youth and for the most part they found that youth in the guise of a princess to replace the one they started out with.
“What about you and father?” She asked of her mother once while discussing the tradition with her parents. “How would you feel if father went off and took a new wife?”
“There’s nothing wrong with the one I have,” father answered affectionately with a suggestive leer at her mother. Syncere deliberately ignored the display.
“What if my suitor is a monster? Or an imbecile? Or worse, what if he is harsh and abusive? Are you saying I have to marry any shmuck who dispels my curse despite what sort of person he is?”
“Well, if you devise a clever enough curse you will be able to test his worthiness. Really dear, we women have the advantage.”
And so, after many like discussions, Syncere’s parents demonstrated their faith in the system by sending their only daughter to faerie land. She had to become a damsel in distress that the princes needed to rescue.
Had Syncere been slightly less apathetic, she would have been impressed by the faerie realm. It was a whole different culture for her to study. The thought excited her but for a moment before she pushed it aside to deal with more ensuing matters. She was to have her day in the Royal Faerie Court, before Titania and Oberon themselves. They presided over the faerie court with grand illustriousness, just as Syncere expected them to, and there were many interesting personages attending them.
“My Lady Syncere, daughter of his majesty King Math and the lovely Queen Llyrr, we greet you. Have you given thought to what you would ask of us?” Titania asked while Syncere curtsied before her.
“Yes, your majesty, I have.”
“Then what curse shall we place on you?”
“I wish to be ugly.” The court started at the request and the murmuring did not stop for several long moments. “Please, hide all traces of beauty in my face and body.”
“Why would you want that my lady? Perhaps you’d prefer something less difficult for the princes of your kind? Methinks that is too abstract even for men of fae.” Titania smiled and several in the court laughed, even Oberon.
“Actually, I don’t want to be found. I mean, I don’t want to be any man’s prize. I’d be much happier left alone with a stack of books and shelter to read them under.”
“You have no desire to be a bride?” The question was unexpected. She had never given that matter much thought.
“No, not really. Have you seen what options I have to chose from your majesty?” Oberon guffawed, and Titania covered her mouth with her hand. The laughter and mutterings of the court increased significantly. “Many of these princes wouldn’t know what to do with a woman once they had ‘won’ her.”
“Enough,” Oberon stated, smiling widely. “Give her what she wants Titania. You must admit it is unique and it is by far the best curse one of her kind has ever thought of.”
“Indeed. I shall grant you ugliness and shelter where you can read your books. But, as is the case of all curses, there must be a way of dispelling it. Your curse shall be lifted when your prince is as sincere as your name suggests. He will see you for what you truly are, princess, he will love you in spite of it, and that is the one you will marry.” It was Syncere’s turn to laugh.
“Thank you your majesties! I think the curse will not reverse. There is nothing but shallowness in all the land, no man can see through this!” Titania stood and waved her hand.
“It is done.” The faerie court disappeared from sight and all was dark.
True to her word, Titania provided shelter. The castle stood there surrounded by a thick forest and it was ancient, older by far then any of the castles in all the Nine Kingdoms. The forest provided all the food she needed, fruit trees and small woodland animals abounded. She started on the task of gathering food enough to last her throughout the coming winter, not really suffering from the loss of servants who used to do such things for her.
The ancient castle had an extensive library that she could take delight in and that filled the long hours of the day. There was only one thing she could complain about concerning her new home. The many mirrors it contained proved her to be the ugliest woman in all the Nine Kingdoms, and when she first looked on herself she wept for an entire day. After that she never looked in a mirror again.
Time passed, one season turned into another. Then one fall day a visitor walked through her forest. Syncere was sitting by a window reading about differential equations and was startled to find a hooded figure making his way to her castle.
“Who are you?” She croaked from an open window and her eyes went wide after hearing her ugly voice for the first time since the enchantment.
“My Lady Syncere, do not fear. I bring tidings from Oberon and Titania.”
“Oh. Well then that’s fine, come on up.” She motioned to him from the window, watching him disappear for a moment. He reappeared on the other side of the room. “You are fae,” she stated simply, not too startled by his means of transport.
“Yes my lady, I am Ruadan, at your service.” He smiled and bowed before her. She returned the smile then frowned quickly as she remembered how ugly her face would appear to him.
“What news do you bring from the faerie court?”
“A greeting, from their majesties. I guess I must also confess, I was interested in meeting you as well. Many from court are still talking about your strange choice of curses.”
“Well, it has worked. You are the first visitor I’ve had for about a year now.”
“That may change. It’s been rumored that Prince Charming has heard of you and your secluded forest. We believe he may try to come here.”
“Charming? He is still looking? Well I doubt he will find anything here.” Ruadan smiled at her, and then took a seat.
“Perhaps, perhaps not. I tend to agree with you, my lady. Not that there isn’t anything to find here, but I am of your mind when it comes to judging Charming’s character. I think your curse will be too much for him.” The fae stayed a bit longer, asking her about her studies, curious about what she filled her thoughts with while alone in the castle.
She finds that she enjoys the company and is somewhat sad when he had to take his leave from her. His visit also reminds her of the world she was missing from. Her parents’ world, Prince Charming’s world, the world that went on despite her absence. A wave of loneliness overcame her, but her resolve did not leave. She was no man’s prize. Prince Charming would not have her, and she would remain in her secluded forest for all her days.
Time passed again, and each day she could look forward to another visit from Ruadan. They were becoming friends. At times he would come with new books to read with her, other times they just spoke about simple things that interested them, such as the song of birds or the travels of the four winds. At times she found herself watching him when he was not looking. Ruadan was not Charming; he had not the charisma, the looks, or the wit. What Ruadan had over Charming was inexplicable, at least for the moment.
One visit, he brought news of the questing prince. “I heard from another of my people that he accidentally woke a sleeping princess. A procession of dwarves were quite alarmed when Charming appeared in their path and they dropped the glass coffin they were carrying. The maid inside coughed up a bit of apple and awoke to find Prince Charming there. Bewildered, she asked, ‘Are you my prince?’ and he actually said no to her. He claimed that there was a better challenge for one as great as he. The poor girl. She simply picked up the bit of apple and swallowed it back down.”
“God’s Teeth! That’s awful. I suppose she is still asleep waiting for her prince to come. He really is stuffed with himself. What better challenge could there possibly be?”
“A curse that is fabled throughout the Nine Kingdoms, my lady. A curse rumored to be unbreakable. A curse said to hide the most candid, wise, sincere and beautiful of maidens. It is said that she lives in a secluded forest and that the thorn bushes are impossible to pass through by day and a monstrous beast watches her by night.”
Syncere rolled her eyes.
“Fools. All of them. That girl will not be appreciated for any of those qualities, save beauty. The world is replete with fools and depthless men.”
“You are the one Charming wants. For by you he can show the world he is better then all others.”
“But there are no thorn bushes! There is no beast!”
“It was an extra curse granted by Titania.”
“No. NO! I do not want to be found by Charming! Why does he have to come here? I do not want to be found by anyone! I want no suitors! I hate them. I hate them all!” Ruadan was silent while she wept. Had she looked at him she would have found him red faced, his eyes would have appeared vivid with indignation.
“You hate them all? “ He said at last, quiet and calm. “All potential suitors?”
“Absolutely! I have no use for any of them!”
“Your parents should have named you Pride or Disdain. There is something far uglier then physical appearance here, my lady. Remember that.” She looked at him then, confused by the vehemence in his voice. “Charming will be here by nightfall.” He disappeared.
She was still confused by Ruadan’s words that night when Prince Charming finally approached. He had the scars to prove the existence of a briar patch surrounding her castle. His sword was bloodied from the beast he encountered in the woods. Only then did she remember the howl of anguish she heard earlier. Was it the death shriek of the monstrous beast Ruadan talked of? A wave of grief overcame her for the beast that was surely dead. “I did not want anything to die because of me!” She called out to the walls of the castle.
“My lady?” It was not Ruadan’s voice she heard. As she feared, Prince Charming had found her, and he entered her private chambers to claim his princess.
Then he saw her. “But... you’re ugly!” She jumped at his words even though she knew this; she knew that she appeared ugly.
“Yes,” she replied with sudden tears. It was as if Ruadan was speaking to her again, only now she understood what he meant. “Uglier than you know. I am Scorn. I am Pride. I am Disdain. Yes, I am Ugly.” Her croaking voice sounded right to her ears.
“Well... uh... I’m Charming. Prince Charming, and there has been a mistake.” The prince shifted uneasily. “Be well, I will leave you in peace.”
Charming left her in anything but peace. Her thoughts raced. Charming had spurned her. Ruadan had reproved her. She wanted to go home to her parents... No, she wanted Ruadan to come back and talk to her with gentle words and clever insights about the world they lived in. But he did not come back, not for several days. It was an endless time for her. When he did return, he was different, stiff, as if he had done himself an injury.
“I see Charming is still looking for his bride.”
“Yes, the curse was too much for him to see through.”
“I figured that would happen.”
“I needed a curse to ward off Charming but needed nothing but the truth to ward off you.”
“My words were harsh, Syn. Don’t mind them.”
“Your words were truth. I am too proud and I should be called Disdain. I am now truly ugly, without and within.”
“No. You are more beautiful now then the day you appeared before my parent’s court. You have learned humility and now your curse has been dispelled.”
“Because someone loves you.”
To her surprise, he kissed her and his touch was thrilling. She was to be his bride and there was nothing she wanted more. How ever did she think to remain in that secluded castle forever?
Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories on behalf of the author