It was a typical March morning, the rain just this side of annoying, so that you had to take a step just a bit bigger than normal in order to avoid the fresh puddles. I knew I was relatively sober because I wasn’t wearing my clothes from the night before. My tights and doublet were showing some wear, but could still pass as in style but new ones would have to be bought soon, and I was already in deep to my bookie, not to mention the rent I owed on the castle. I hoped this new client would solve all my problems. Little did I know then all she’d do is add to them.The herald announced her with a surly indifference. It tends to happen when you haven’t paid them in a couple of months, but still. I should probably have him flogged. She, on the other hand, was anything but indifferent. She strode in with confidence, the swing of her hoopskirt was threatening the stitching of my codpiece. She curtsied slightly but without contempt but without true subservience, letting me know she considered us possibly equal pending the outcome of this meeting. It was some curtsy. I offered her a seat. She took it. I offered her a drink. She declined. One for two.
Her name was Juliannata Von Vappinshultz del Oro MacMullhaney y Scheppelshake, Queen of Shastatanna. “Call me Jules,” she said, her accent sounded harsher coming out of such a face. It was the kind of face that could launch a thousand ships (Literally, Shastanna had a large fleet). A vulgarian would call her beautiful despite her age, but I had a hunch she’d be beautiful at any age (except maybe eighty. No one looks good at eighty).
“Jules,” I said, taking her name out for spin.
“What shall I call you, Charming? Prince?” One perfect eyebrow raised.
“Chuck,” she said, pronouncing it “Chook”.
“Close enough. How can I help you Jules?” I pronounced it “Jules” because I know how to speak. She let out a sigh, resigning herself to her decision to come to me. I’m usually the solution of last resort (or maybe she was asthmatic, it runs in some of the more inbred royal lines).
“My daughter…” She drifted off. I figured I could play it one of two ways; I could rescue her or let her twist, playing the hardboiled tough guy, but I’m in the rescuing business (besides, she crossed her legs and exposed nearly a quarter inch of stocking covered ankle. I’m a sucker for ankle).
“Your daughter’s gone and got herself trapped in some tower and you want me to rescue her.” I gave her my most sympathetic smile (at least I thought it was, mirrors were still polished metal at this time, Venetians wouldn’t invent glass coated ones for a few hundred years). I needn’t have worried, she grabbed my lifeline with both hands and didn’t let go.
“Yes, she was captured by Duke Lothgar.” So far, par for the course in the Princess rescue business. “He plans to marry her during the Vernal Equinox, and then sacrifice her to the Demon Xathrgroth, thereby bringing about the end of the world.” That was certainly a twist.
“End of the World? Most men don’t usually want to kill their wives until a couple of years after their wedding.” She straightened in her chair and raised her eyebrow again. It was something, this eyebrow. It was the homophone eyebrow; same eyebrow, different meanings.
“I don’t think the end of the world is a joking matter, my Prince, let alone the life of my daughter.” Uh oh, I really stepped in it. She didn’t me Chuck.
“My apologies, Jules, but in my line of work, I get many concerned parents who, let us say exaggerate, their daughter’s predicament. I just want to make sure that when I swing through the balcony I don’t find a princess who’s run off with the stable boy.” She relaxed in her chair.
“I understand, and don’t worry, It’s not a stableboy. We only use eunuchs.” I suppressed a shudder. “No, Lothgar’s a real piece of work. He blames the world for his condition.”
“He’s a manotaur.”
“He has the body of a bull and the head of a man.”
“Oh, like a centaur.”
“No, a centaur has a chest and arms. He’s just got the head of a man. With horns. Also, he has a ring in his nose, but it’s a regular man nose.” I nodded my most sage like nod, as if it made sense.
“Well, I guess I won’t have to worry about a duel.”
“Oh, I forgot. His tail is an arm.”
“An arm…” Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. Two could play this game. She saw my call and raised.
“Yes. With a hand at the end… So he can hold a sword.” She relaxed and smirked. “He was also bitten by a werewolf,” she added, going all in.
“So he’s a weremanotaur?”
“Exactly. So, are you hired?” What could I say? I’m Prince Charming. I rescue princesses.
“Let’s discuss my fee.”