Reposting this after my site died. Sorry for lost comments. What I think I had here before was that I had posted a #vss to Twitter and was told that I ought to expand it into a short story, so I did. Okay then.
It had been an epic tale. Battles, journeys, knights and thieves. Several evil witches, two good witches, and one witch that was pretending to be evil but was secretly good, or perhaps the other way around, she was a touch forgetful. Three monsters (only one of which was fuzzy), a fire-breathing dragon, and the incident with the sheep that was very kindly left out of the final manuscript. All in all, the Prince and the Princess were exhausted, and very much looking forward to a nice rest.
“Couldn’t we go on a vacation?” asked the Princess. “My bed in that tower was terribly uncomfortable and I could do with a chiropractor and a masseuse. I hear there’s a wonderful spa in the Kingdom of the Unicorns.”
The Prince shrugged. “We’ll have to ask, well, you know.” He cast his eyes sideways at the little man in the pinstriped suit and the carefully groomed mustache and the clipboard, oh, the hateful clipboard.
“I do not like that man,” said the Princess. “Where did he even come from?”
“I honestly don’t know,” said the Prince. “I was distracted by the dragon and then, he was just there.”
“He watched us kiss!”
“Darling, you’re going to have to let that go.”
“He was staring!”
“Do you often look around at your surroundings when I’m kissing you?”
“He’s a creepy little man and I don’t like him.”
“When else are you paying more attention to your surroundings than to us?”
“Oh, that reminds me, dear, that crack in the castle ceiling is getting bigger. We really ought to have that repaired.”
The little man scanned his clipboard. “No, Princess, I’m afraid not. To reach the Kingdom of the Unicorns, you must pass through the Forbidden Lands, and that might be construed as an adventure, under the terms of The Epic Fairy Tale Act of 1662.”
“But the Forbidden Lands have been safe and sanitized for decades,” protested the Princess. “There’s a children’s amusement park there!”
“Be that as it may, it is not permitted to pass through zones deemed as dangerous once you are living Happily Ever After. I understand that a rezoning is planned in 27 years. Perhaps after that you may visit your spa.”
“There is a day spa in the Realm of the Reasonably Priced Goods and Services. We may be able to arrange a trip for you there, as long as we can find a route with no chance of Excitement or Peril along the way.”
The Princess pouted and stormed off.
The little man stoically wrote something down on his clipboard.
The Prince went down to the local tavern. The little man took away his flagon of mead.
“It’s bad for your liver and kidneys,” said the little man cheerfully. “You’re to live a long, healthy life. Why don’t you try some lemon water.”
The Prince mumbled something obscene and physically impossible. But he was momentarily cheered up by the gaggle of busty wenches who surrounded him, wanting to hear his stories. They asked about the witches quite a lot. They clung to his arms when he talked about the monsters, but that only made him realize that he had been lax in visiting the castle gym. Sometimes they asked about the Princess, in sickly sweet tones.
But they always, always, asked about the dragon.
Oh, the dragon.
“And don’t spend too long looking at those busty wenches,” murmured the little man. “Your father had a weak heart, you want to keep yourself calm.”
“Excuse me,” snapped the Prince, “I am trying to tell tales of my Princely exploits here.”
Oh, oh, the dragon. The little man had at least been helpful there, perhaps the only time that he had been helpful. The Epic Fairy Tale Act of 1662 specified that a Prince was supposed to slay a dragon and rescue a Princess and live Happily Ever After. He had been quite happy to rescue a Princess, and reasonably pleased with the particular Princess he had been assigned; perhaps she did lack a couple of the notable features that the wenches possessed, but she was rather nice and had a sweet face and baked a lovely rhubarb pie. And he was willing to fight his way past the dragon to reach said Princess. But slay it? Slay such a beautiful, thrilling creature? It felt like a crime against nature. He had pleaded, begged the little man, who had stood there looking mildly bewildered, but had eventually relented and helped him.
“There is a loophole,” he had said. “I generally do not care to invoke such things, but it seems that this is very important to you.” He had then flipped through his clipboard papers, scribbled something down, and a mock battle and a sleeping draught later, all was well.
“We should get out of here quickly, though,” the little man had warned, “it was really designed for an elephant, so it isn’t going to last very long.”
Oh, oh, oh, the dragon. The busty wenches though it was terribly romantic that he talked about the dragon in such complimentary terms. They appreciated a man who could appreciate savage beauty.
“I’m afraid it’s out of the question,” said the little man evenly.
“It is not,” retorted the Princess. “We’ve worked it all out. We can detour through the Land of Egg-White Omelettes, then have an armed guard take us safely through the Kingdom of Cougars and Also Some Large Cats, which is classified as a cautioned zone only. Then it’s just through the Forest of Trees which is of course no problem, and a long enough journey in an uncomfortable enough carriage to outweigh any possible Excitement.”
The Prince nodded eagerly.
“Be that as it may,” said the little man tightly, “visiting the place in which you were rescued would clearly qualify as an Adventure, and you know that isn’t permitted. Besides,” he eyed the Prince, “allow me to remind you of a certain danger in that area that you chose not to eradicate.”
“Ix-nay on the agon-dray,” whispered the Prince, but the Princess was not listening.
“The Nostalgia Clause in The Epic Fairy Tale Act of 1662 states that-”
“Where did you get that clipboard?” interrupted the little man.
“Ahem.” The Princess ignored him. “States that a Prince or Princess may return to the scene of the final battle in order to quietly contemplate the safety and pleasure of their current state of living Happily Ever After, as long as there is no chance of Ironic Peril when doing so.”
“In fact, there is-”
“Excuse me,” broke in the Prince, “but I’m sure it would be frowned upon if the Council of Red Tape were to find out that its subordinates were involved in such shenanigans as using obscure loopholes when carrying out epic tales.”
The Princess looked puzzled. The Prince looked smug. The little man looked furious.
“Very well,” he said, his mustache twitching. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to the tavern. I am in desperate need of a refreshing… lemon water.”
The journey was satisfactorily dull and unpleasant. The carriage was full of flowers and the little man kept sneezing.
“Why are there so many flowers?” asked the Princess.
“People like flowers,” said the Prince, and handed them out to villagers along the way. Not all of them, of course. He wasn’t sure what sort of flowers a dragon would like, and there was nobody to ask, unless he could steal the little man’s clipboard and look it up. A horse who looked a little bit like a dragon seemed to have found the purple ones very tasty.
The fortress tower stood empty when they arrived, although partially on fire, and was guarded only by a few knights in rusted armour, only one of whom was on fire. The Princess headed over to ask them about the spa facilities in the area.
“All right,” said the little man from behind a soggy handkerchief, “go out there and contemplate your safety and then get right back here and leave while you still have it.”
The Princess was not pleased. According to the knights, the best spa in the area had been lost to an unexpected fire, and the second best one lacked cinnamon-scented massage oil and was possibly about to be lost to an unexpected fire, seeing as it was currently on fire. She turned and saw a horrifying sight.
It was the Prince.
He was standing in a nearby field, holding out a rather large bouquet of flowers to a rather larger dragon.
“Ahem,” said the Princess.
“Oh! Darling! It’s not what it looks like.”
“Weren’t you supposed to slay that dragon?”
“Oh, yes, but you see, there was a-”
“Weren’t you. Supposed to. Slay that dragon.”
“A loophole!” he squeaked. “Really! The little man told me so!”
“You got out of slaying a dragon and I can’t go one one lousy spa vacation? Where’s that little man. I’m going to throttle him.”
“Oh, very good, darling,” said the Prince, now ecstatic that the dragon had set his bouquet on fire, which was surely an expression of dragonly affection.
Their loving reunion was marred only by the faint sound of a lady’s boot kicking a small, grievously injured man out of some sort of traveling vehicle, then by the slightly louder sound of a royalty-type gentleman being burned to a crisp by a large non-specific fire-breathing creature.
The Princess opened a spa in the Forbidden Lands and lived Happily Ever After.
The little man bought himself a rundown castle, took out a large fire insurance policy, invited the dragon for a visit, and lived Happily Ever After.
The Prince also lived Happily Ever After, but it must be said, Ever After didn’t last very long.