The Best Prince: From The Lost Fairy Tales

by Adrienne Foster Potter

Copyright@April 2001 All rights reserved

Many years ago, before the Grimm Brothers were famous for their fairy tales, a cruel duke seized their home for non-payment of rent.  With it he seized some of the original fairy tales they collected that had been rejected by publishers.  He stored them away in a vault and they were lost for two centuries.  Recently they have come to light, through means that no one can explain...

Once there was a prince who thought he was better than everyone else.  Prince Georgio knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was better than all the people in the kingdom.  He knew beyond question that he was better than the prince in the kingdom to the right, even though that prince could beat him at badminton.  He was proud of the fact that he was superior to the princess in the kingdom on the left .  He was better not only because he was superior to everyone but because she was a girl and he felt he was especially better than girls.

It was true that he was good-looking.  He was also very smart and excelled in French, Math, Chemistry, Science, and History.  And he could shoot the bow and arrow as straight as a waterfall and almost never missed.  English was his sore spot.  Princess Francina, in the kingdom on the left, excelled in  English.  She could write stories that made his look like rubbish.  And she could play the piano and the flute so that the listener was delightfully stunned, whereas his playing left the listener stunned in a different sort of way.  But it didn't matter.  He was still the best.  He was born that way, he thought.  Prince Kerrigan, in the kingdom on the right, was better at badminton, tennis, and riding.  He could jump his horse over the tallest walls in the kingdom and he never fell. He was also good at shooting the bow and arrow, but not as good as Georgio, the best prince thought to himself.

On the other hand, Prince Georgio had fallen off a horse and broken his arm at age 5 and was now frightened of them.  But it didn't matter.  He knew he was still the best.  He just was.  It couldn't be questioned or doubted.  What was, was.   Period.

One day the three kingdoms united for a big holiday and Georgio, Francina, and Kerrigan were thrown together, as royal children often are.  They were not allowed to mingle with the common folk, as if they would catch some dreadful disease or something.  Never mind that they could catch the same dreadful disease from their royal counterparts.  This was a special holiday celebrating the deliverance of the three kingdoms from the wicked king of the south, who was always trying to conquer someone.  The three kings had united to battle the south king, and because when all three kingdoms were together they were twice as large as the south kingdom, they had won the war.

To celebrate, a gigantic holiday with food and dancing was arranged, and a shooting contest was scheduled.  The prize for the winner was so special that it was secret.  On the day of the contest it lay on a table near the seat of King Leo and Queen Lizzy, who were Georgio's parents, and the other two Kings and Queens who were the parents of Francina and Kerrigan.  The coveted prize was covered with a black blanket which bore the royal golden seal, and a guard stood on either side of it to make sure no one peeked.  What could it be?  The crowd buzzed in excitement as people conjectured.  Was it gold?  Silver?  Jewels?  The deed to a kingdom?

The suspense was almost better than the contest.  One hundred and two archers came to try for the secret prize and the competition was intense.  Georgio and Kerrigan were allowed to compete in their finest archery suits, with bows of molten gold and arrows of the straightest, smoothest maple.  The targets were first set at ten yards, where 27 contestants were eliminated.  Then they were moved back to twenty yards, where another 25 were eliminated.  Georgio and Kerrigan shot straight and true.  The targets were moved to thirty yards and another 25 were eliminated.  Then they were moved out to forty yards and fifteen more disappointed people fell out of the contest, but Georgio and Kerrigan were still in the running.

Kerrigan's father slapped King Leo on the back.  What a victory!  Their sons were the finest archers in the land.  What chips off the old blocks they were!  The kings and queens enjoyed themselves immensely.  The targets were moved to fifty yards and finally there were only five left in the contest: Prince Georgio, Prince Kerrigan, a tall peasant man named Spencer, a stocky woodsman named McDuff, and a short, thin, dirty man with skinny legs who wore a hood over his head.  He called himself Squeakers, which made the people laugh.  They whispered that he was small as a mouse and was named after one too.

Spencer and McDuff (who swore oaths under his breath) were eliminated and the crowd of peasants now stood in awe of Squeakers.  The little peasant in the dirty shirt and shoes with holes was holding his own against the two mighty princes!  The targets were moved to sixty yards and the crowd went wild as the three archers readied themselves.  Kerrigan shot straight and true.   Georgio did the same.  Squeakers stood, held his breath, took aim, and shot again, straightly, truly.  The crowd erupted in a frenzy of shouts, squeals, and hugs of whoever happened to be adjacent, to the enjoyment of some and the dismay of others.

Seventy yards.  Kerrigan wiped his brow in the afternoon heat.  He called out for water.  He took a long drink, spread his legs, took aim, shot straight, and missed.  He had misjudged the breeze.  A groan breathed out from the royal stand.  Next, Georgio took his stance, stretched his bow, aimed, and shot true and straight.  A cheer broke out from the monarchy and all their knights and servants and handmaidens and ladies in waiting.

Up stepped Squeaky, squinting his eyes through the hood.  He stood 6 inches beneath Georgio and his arms seemed thin, yet they were gently muscled.  Georgio whispered something in his ear, though no one heard what, and Squeaky shot back a reply that made Georgio cringe, though we don't quite know what it was, being that, not wanting our nose shot off by a passing arrow, we are nowhere near the archers.

Squeaky spread his legs, steadied himself, took aim, and released the string.  Again the arrow hit its mark. The target was moved to seventy-five yards.  Georgio was perspiring by now, since princes don't sweat.  Squeaky, being a peasant, was sweating.  But he was also watching, seeing the direction that the breeze moved the leaves and feeling the strength of it.

The 'best' prince took aim, released the string, and let his arrow fly.  Hark!  He missed!  Another groan erupted from the royal reviewing stand.  He wiped his brow, called for water, took a long drink, and then began to inspect his arrows, as if certain they were defective. 

Squeaky stepped up with his shabby but strong bow as Georgio tipped up his nose and looked down at his inferior.  Squeaky ignored him, carefully took aim, fired, and missed too!  The breeze had changed, something Squeaky had not anticipated.  Ahah! thought the best prince.  Another chance!

He took up his bow, paused a long moment, and hit the target dead center!   The royals roared in delight.  Squeaky took his turn and neatly landed his arrow precisely next to Georgio's.  He was seen to turn to the prince and say some little thing that made the royal neck muscles tense.

The target was set back another five yards and after a short break the two contestants, one in the elegant, fresh attire of royalty, the other in the shabby dress of a woodsman, stood ready for another try.  Georgio took aim, was distracted by a passing hawk, and missed.  He threw down his bow and broke one of his arrows over his knee in a tantrum.  Unbothered, Squeaky took his stance, aimed, and fired straight and true in the exact center of the target!

Such a roar as blasted from the crowd of  peasants, which had grown larger as the day wore on and word spread of the unique contest!   The crowds broke onto the field and surged towards Squeaky, lifting him up into the air, and in the process his hood fell off.  Oh dear! This was no he! Golden tresses fell out into the sunshine.  This was Francina! 

Instantly the crowd lowered her respectfully to the ground and all knelt before her.  They apologized profusely for handling the royal princess like baggage, but Francina told them not to be silly, that she was in disguise and they couldn't possibly have known who she was.  You see, Francina had none of the royal airs that were inbred in Georgio.  She had always felt in her heart that basically all people were equal, after all, didn't they all burp and fart?  (She had heard the Kings do it in their private meetings many a time, and then chuckle about it with a "Ho, ho, quite a royal pronouncement there, ay?" and an "I say chap, that was a majestic thunder!") 

King Leo was stunned, Queen Lizzie was appalled, Kerrigan's parents were aghast, and Francina's mother fainted dead away as her husband held out his arms for the inevitable.  Francina, dressed as a dirty commoner!  What was the new generation coming to?!  And where had she gotten the bow and arrows?!  And who taught her how to shoot?! And where did those awful clothes come from?!  In due time Francina was produced before the reviewing stand for cross-examination and the story came out; how she had bought the bow from a poor woodsman who showed her the basics of shooting, how she had traded clothes with his son and befriended his daughter, how she had climbed down her trellis in the early morning hours and romped in the woods, honing her archery skills.  Had not there been deer, and rabbit, and goose, and elk-a-plenty left on the cook's doorstep for daily consumption?  The cook simply assumed the royal hunters had unburdened themselves.

Georgio was deeply humiliated.  The Best, bested by a girl!  Kerrigan was vastly amused.  He had always known Francina was smart ever since she beat him at Chess years ago, but now her trickiness was unveiled.  And why had she gone to all this trouble?  Because, having eavesdropped while hidden in the closet of the royal conference chamber, she knew what was under that black blanket!--Something she had yearned for a very long time hence, but mother had never relented, fearing for her daughter's safety.  

The King's lawyer was adamant about the royal decree being fulfilled, and Francina was lead to the table with the prize.  The royal black cloth was lifted, and there on a pedestal for all to see, was a golden key --the key to the royal stables.  Not all of the stables, just the most important one where was housed a royal colt, now nearly grown.  He was a gorgeous black stallion, intelligent and high spirited, and Francina had gone to King Leo's stables every time they visited to check on the wonderful beast.  Her mother had been revived and when she saw the look of rapture on Francina's face as she fondled the golden key she at last relented and agreed to let her daughter take riding lessons.  You see, her dear sister had suffered a riding accident many years ago and had permanently injured her back, or rather, had permanently discovered that she had an excellent excuse for avoiding any activity she found tedious or tiresome.

So Francina learned to ride, and often she rode to the cottage in the woods where she had obtained her bow, and visited with the woodsman's daughter, who became her most loyal friend.  Georgio had thought long and hard about the events of that day and had lowered his self-opinion just enough to take in those around him, and when he did, he made a startling discovery! It was: When you are no better than anyone else, you are relieved of anyone else being better than you!  All things being equal, life is all the more merry! 

What Georgio had never realized until now was that deep, deep, down, he felt inferior to Kerrigan and Francina, and the archbishop's talented son, and the royal clerk's muscular son, and a few others who had been endowed with various gifts of nature.  So he had pretended he was superior, and had then begun to believe it, all so he wouldn't have to face the painful inadequacy he felt.  Now life was better.  He spent many days riding the green fields with Francina and Kerrigan, and they were delighted with his new-found humility, for you see, they already knew what Georgio took a long time learning; that humility is not lowering yourself beneath others.  Rather, it is facing the fact that you are no better than they, and therefore, they are no better than you!  Francina, who was somewhat religious, had a royal plaque placed above the stable door that said, "All are alike unto God," to serve as a reminder to everyone.

The End

Addendum: Crumpled note from publisher found with manuscript: "We're very sorry but we can't accept your manuscript at this time due to the fact that the King does not want news of his daughter's prowess with the bow published."

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