IMAGINE THIS: A Modern Fairy Tale

What would happen if you mashed an arranged marriage of the royal variety into a fairy tale? Why, you’d get a tough choice: “Beauty of Butterface?”

Fathers! What can you do with them? Nothing. That’s what. You just go along with their mad whims and hope to all the gods the universe holds that they don’t screw up your entire life. At least, that’s what happens when your father is king and you’re his only son and heir.

It’s not like the old days, when magic ruled and every royal family had a fairy godmother to help them out. I know the legends; I’ve heard Dad’s stories. To hear him tell it, my mother’s fairy godmother was instrumental in their lives, but that’s probably just another of Dad’s tall tales. I’ve certainly never seen a fairy, but if I had, you can bet I’d’ve wrangled a wish for some way to make Dad ease off on the life-altering expectations.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no pushover. I pull off the occasional small rebellion. Sometimes even manage to logic my way around a few of his crazier ideas. But when it comes right down to it, I obey or the castle guard will see to it that I’m grounded for life. And in my case, grounded means a private cell in a dank, dark dungeon that smells of mold and rat droppings. Possibly with chains—just to make sure I get the point.

Yeah. I know who’s boss…and someday, if I don’t screw things up, it’ll be me!

Dad’s latest obsession is securing a line of succession, and since I’m his only son, that means I have to marry a princess and produce an heir. Pronto!

Great. The most important decision of my life and Dad wants me to make it in the next five seconds.

No pressure, son. Just make a choice. You’ll only have to spend the rest of your life with her. Not to mention have sex with her on a regular basis so I can have a grandchild. Nope. No pressure at all. Just get on with it!

Thanks, Dad. Can’t wait.

* * *

“Philip, my boy! How are you this morning?” Dad beamed at me from his seat at the breakfast table. Sunlight streamed through spotless windows and sparkled off gleaming cutlery and polished serving dishes. A sideboard groaned under the weight of every possible delicacy a king could desire first thing in the morning. Platters of eggs (scrambled, fried, deviled, and poached), rashers of crisp bacon, salvers of thinly sliced beef and savory fish, stacks of buttered toast, waffles, pancakes, bowls of colorful berries, and, of course, my least favorite food, steaming, gluey porridge.

You’d think we were expecting an army to join us for our morning meal.

Dad looked unusually chipper this morning, which put me on edge. “What’s up, Dad?” I asked, eyeing his perfectly tailored suit complete with purple sash of state slashed across his rotund torso. Dad can manage a dignified appearance if he has to, but most of the time he looks like a short, round, balding Santa relaxing in the off-season. Thank all that’s holy, I take after my maternal grandfather, tall, slim, with a full head of wavy chestnut hair. “You’re awfully well-dressed for so early in the morning.”

I waved the butler, Jennings, away and stepped to the sideboard. Dad was old-school. He preferred to sit in state while Jennings offered him dishes and then served the items Dad chose. Always seemed like a waste of time to me. Why sit there and wait when I was perfectly capable of scooping up my own scrambled eggs?

When my plate was enticingly loaded with fried eggs, bacon, toast and marmalade, and several slices of honeydew melon, I joined Dad at the table.

“Great news, Philip,” Dad said, wiping a bit of yolk from his chin. “I’m finalizing a treaty with Lindesland this morning. A very advantageous one. I’m sending you to Stefan’s kingdom. You’re to marry his daughter, and when the two of us are gone, our kingdoms will be merged. You and, eh, uhm, what’s her name will rule a new and vastly larger realm. Isn’t that exciting?”

The blood drained from my face. My appetite fled, and a knot of molten lead formed in my belly. “You’ve chosen my wife? Without even asking me?”

Confused disappointment dimmed Dad’s smile. He looked like I’d just refused the best gift in the world. Bewilderment glazed his eyes. He frowned momentarily before his gaze cleared and his smiled brightened.

“Not at all,” he cried, slapping his palm on the table. “I’ve forgotten the best part. Stefan has two daughters. Identical twins! You’ll have your choice of brides.”

I groaned and buried my face in my hands. Why did I have to be born a prince?

Want to read the whole story? It’s available in Refractions, Vol 4!

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