Let’s begin here…
Port Fressa, Lauchtenland, 2000
Once Upon A Time…
… Prince John believed in fairy tales.
“Tell the fairy tale, Mum,” he’d say on the nights his mum, the queen of Lauchtenland, tucked him and little brother Gus into bed, imagining the story’s thick white feather, almost wishing it would appear before his eyes.
The Swan’s Feather was as old as the House of Blue itself. When it began no one really knew, but for centuries the tale echoed in the halls of Hadsby Castle and Perrigwynn Palace.
On this particular night, Mum hurried ten-year-old John and eight-year-old Gus toward the gold and blue couch, the big skirt of her sparkling dress swishing. She’d told them frightfully grand men and women from around the world awaited her in the Great Hall.
“Quickly boys, I don’t have long.” Mum sat with a sighing smile.
“Tell The Swan’s Feather, Mum.” Though John was the oldest, if he didn’t speak up, he’d not get his way.
“I hate that one.” Gus leaned around Mum, making a face. “Tell the one about the knight who kills the dragon.”
“We heard that one last time.” Tonight, John was determined to win. After all, he was the crown prince and future king. If he couldn’t rule his little brother, then who could he rule?
So the brotherly debate began over which fairy tale was the best and Mum, being a queen, settled it with swift diplomacy.
“We heard your story last time, Gus.” She kissed her youngest prince on the head. “Tonight it’s John’s turn to choose.”
John sneered at his brother then sat back. Mum was busy tonight and if they argued, there would be no story.
Being a queen was serious business and to be good at “queening”—as Dad liked to say—required a good deal of work.
“We’re lucky men,” he’d say. “Mum loves us and her country with such devotion.”
However, Gus, being Gus, made a final appeal. “The Swan’s Feather is about a girl. Blech.” His protest came with a spew of biscuit crumbs.
“What’s wrong with girls?” Mum said. “I’m a girl.”
“No you’re not. You’re Mum and mums don’t count.”
“Be quiet,” John said. “Mum can’t be late to her dinner.”
As for The Swan’s Feather being about a girl? Well, that’s exactly why John loved it.
“Here we go.” Mum hugged both boys close. “The story of The Swan’s Feather. Once upon a time, there was a young prince.” Her voice was soft, almost a whisper, but full of an excitement John felt in his bones.
“That’s me,” he said, sitting up, gazing into his mother’s beautiful face. “The prince.”
“And me.” Gus.
“Yes, it’s both of you, but no more interruptions or it’s straight to bed.” John buttoned his lip and settled back. “Where were we? Oh yes, well, our young prince was destined to fall in love. He had no choice you see, for there was a writ, a law, that required all princes bound to be king—”
“I’m not going to be king.” Gus again, declaring the obvious, and sounding disappointed. “But I can kill a dragon.”
“Do you know what it means to be quiet?” John reached around his mother for a swing at Gus, but she caught his arm and held it in her lap.
“My little darlings, you must listen before you speak. Don’t rob me of the pleasure of tucking you in before this dinner. Now, the young crown prince was all but commanded to find a wife or risk the right of the throne and lose the kingdom. But the prince wanted love as well as a wife. ‘Love,’ his father told him, ‘is not a requirement, dear boy, but a luxury. Find a suitable bride is all we ask. Do your duty.’”
“But he wanted love, Mum.” For some odd reason, John felt the pain of the fairy-tale prince every time. Why must he have a writ? Why must he marry without love? Even for the kingdom, it didn’t seem right or fair.
“No talking.” Gus, and who asked him?
“Alas,” Mum went on, “in all the land, the crown prince found no fair maiden for his heart to love. He searched the high country, the low country, and along the mountain ridges and down by the seashore. Still, love could not be found.”
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