Rated R, for ridiculous, with sprinklings of boardgames, box wine, and profanity.
By Kyle Kirrin
And lo, the Princess said: “Motherfucker, I am content.”
“But Princess!” said the Knight, from the base of the Princess’ tower. His armor-clad ass was parked atop a huge black stallion, which the Princess found not only pompous, but entirely predictable. “You misunderstand; I’m here to save you from — ”
“Hold up,” said the Princess. “Exactly what part of girl-lives-in-her-own-goddamned-tower implies a need for rescue?”
“Well, I — ”
“Do you have any idea how many women would kill for a tower off in the wilderness? I am fucking blessed.”
“Princess,” said the Knight, “that’s all well and good, but this isn’t your place. You belong — ”
“Perpetually pregnant in a castle that smells like chlamydia? Pass.”
“M’lady, please. I only want what’s best for you.”
“Oh God,” said the Dragon, which in both size and shape resembled a hairless cat with wings. “Here we go again.”
“Do not. Fucking, M’lady me,” said the Princess. “And why is that a Knight I’ve never met gets to decide what’s best for me?”
“M’lady,” said the Knight, “you aren’t seeing the whole picture here: I’ve spent the last three weeks traversing this kingdom of yours for the sole purpose of freeing you from the diabolical clutches of the Fire Dragon.”
“Wow, I’m right here,” said the Dragon, who was kicking sand around his litterbox.
“Just shove off, would you?” said the Princess. “We’re busy here.”
“M’lady!” said the Knight. “How dare you dishonor me so after everything I’ve done for you! The King will have your head for this!”
“I never asked you to do anything,” said the Princess. “This is literally the first conversation we’ve ever had.”
“Just give him a Heart Quest and be done with it,” said the Dragon.
“Why do I have to give him a quest?” said the Princess. “Why does every cantankerous fuck who’s capable of a fifteen-minute trail ride seem to think they’re entitled to a Heart Quest?”
“In hindsight,” said the Dragon, “your father really ought to have built this tower a little farther out.”
“You get a Quest, you get a Quest!” The Princess threw both hands into the air and waved them about. “Everybody gets a Quest! When exactly did I become the fucking Oprah of Heart Quests?”
“Who’s Oprah?” said the Dragon.
“Future stuff, never mind.”
“You are spending entirely too much time with the Time Wizard,” said the Dragon.
“Puns aren’t funny” said the Princess. “You’re not funny.”
“Hello?” said the Knight. “Is anyone listening to me? I feel that I am being treated badly and I don’t understand why.”
“That’s hurtful,” said the Dragon. “And I wasn’t trying to be funny. You’d know if I was trying to be funny — I’m hilarious.”
“M’lady? M’lady!” called the Knight.
“Fine,” said the Princess. “Here’s your Heart Quest. You ready?”
The Knight removed his helmet and smiled up at her. “I’m relieved to see you’ve found your gratitude, Princess. And know that whatever trial you have in mind, no matter how grand, how impossibly difficult it might seem, no matter how many men have died trying to win your heart — ”
“I want you to make every dog in the Kingdom fucking hate you,” said the Princess.
“Consider it d — wait, what?” said the Knight.
“You are a monstrous little thing,” said the Dragon. “And I’m here for it.”
“Yeah, you heard me,” said the Princess. “Bite ‘em, kick ‘em — whatever you gotta do. Now off you go.”
“But . . .” said the Knight. “I . . .”
“Problem?” said the Princess.
The Knight shrugged. “I just . . . I thought my Heart Quest would be more heroic. I really love dogs. I have three of them.”
“Sounds like the perfect place to start,” said the Princess. “Happy travels.” She slammed the window shut. “How long do you think we have before my next would-be savior shows up?”
The Dragon shrugged. “An hour, two at the most.”
“I don’t really feel up to painting. How about a quick game of Settlers of Catan?”
“This game kinda sucks with two people,” said the Dragon.
“You’re just pissed that you’re losing again,” said the Princess.
“That’s not it at all,” said the Dragon, who was a terrible liar.
“Maybe you should consider an avenue of play that doesn’t exclusively rely upon establishing a sheep monopoly.”
“I’m a fucking Dragon, Princess; we love sheep — we can’t help it.”
“The whole point of creating a monopoly is to enable yourself to trade from a position of power. And if you’re in a position of power while in direct competition with exactly one other person, they’re never going to trade with you, because it’s always going to benefit you more. Just saying.”
“Leave me and my dreams alone.”
“M’lady?” said a voice outside. “M’lady?”
The Princess dropped her head into her hands. “Please tell me you’ve got a Quest in mind. I am so fucking tired of this.”
“Uhhh,” said the Dragon. “Drink the ocean? Swallow the stars?”
“Too figurative,” said the Princess. “He’ll just come back in the morning with a loose interpretation and a scroll full of shitty poems. It’s fine, I’ll figure something out.” She crossed the room and threw open the window. “Yeah, what you want?”
“I’ve completed your Heart Quest,” said the Knight, who — of course — was sitting atop a huge black stallion. “And I’ve come to slay the Dragon.”
“Oh,” said the Princess. “Ohhhhh. Could you do me a favor and remind me which Heart Quest it was that I sent you on?”
The Knight cleared his throat. “You bade me bare my asshole to the leaders of the Thirty-one Realms. And — ”
The Princess snorted. “Sorry, please continue.”
“And the High Warlock of Gul. And the Merpeople of the Shallows. And the Merpeople of the Deeps. And the Cannibal Kings of the Savagelands.”
“And was your asshole well received?” said the Princess.
“It was not,” said the Knight.
“Very well,” said the Princess. “I shall confer with the Dragon as to the terms of your duel.” She closed the window. “So, he actually did it. What do we do now? Nobody’s ever finished a Heart Quest.”
“I could just roast him right quick,” said the Dragon. “It’s not a problem.”
“I dunno,” said the Princess. “I feel a little guilty about the whole asshole thing; I never thought he’d actually do it. And I can’t believe nobody murdered him! I mean, fuck, asshole is considered a delicacy in the Savagelands.”
“Truly rotten luck,” said the Dragon.
“Alright, alright, I’ve got an idea.” The Princess threw the window open again. “I have conferred with the mighty Dragon, and he has accepted you as a worthy challenger.”
The Knight dismounted and unsheathed his sword.
“There’s only one problem,” said the Princess. “The Dragon refuses to leave my side until he’s been defeated in combat. To keep me from fleeing the tower during the duel and what not.”
“So I’ll ascend the tower and slay the Dragon where it stands,” said the Knight.
“Yeaaaaaaah,” said the Princess. “About that.”
“What is it now?” said the Knight.
“Well, this tower’s cursed as fuck-all. The only way in is to climb its walls using, uh . . .” She looked around, but found nothing of use, and eventually, her gaze settled on her reflection in the window. “My . . . hair.”
“No way he falls for that shit,” said the Dragon. “That is patently ridiculous. Even if you somehow managed to not get pulled out the window, your hair would rip right out of your scalp as soon as he started to climb.”
“Not a problem,” said the Knight. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”
The Dragon groaned and rolled his eyes.
The Princess tossed her head as if to lower her hair out the windowsill, but the Time Wizard had recently given her a pretty sick pixie cut, so there wasn’t much to climb. “This is what we’re working with. I’m open to suggestions.”
“Princess,” said the Knight, “I’m a man of twenty-five winters; I’ve only got a few years left. I’ll be dead before your hair reaches your waist.”
The Princess shrugged. “That sounds like a you problem.”
“I’m just going to throw you a rope,” said the Knight.
“Very well, brave Knight,” said the Princess. “I just hope the Witch’s curse isn’t too severe.”
“Did she . . . specify what the curse would entail?” said the Knight.
“I can’t recall exactly,” said the Princess. “All I remember is the witch cackling every time she used the word decocked.”
The Knight sheathed his sword and mounted his stallion. “Very well. I shall return . . . eventually.”
“Right on,” said the Princess.
“Yo, Princess,” said a voice from far below.
“That’s a new one,” said the Dragon.
“Bleh,” said the Princess. She pulled her paint respirator down around her neck and took a step back from the wall. A mural of the New York skyline at dusk rose before her, its skyscrapers bright and stylized, lit up in blurry yellows and golds, as if at night. The panorama spanned the entirety of the tower’s interior, and only the Chrysler building stood unfinished.
“Just — ” started the Dragon.
“Yeah yeah, I know, path of least resistance,” said the Princess. She set her spray can on the sill and threw open the window. “Heart Quest incoming in three, two — is that a donkey?”
“Mini donkey, yeah,” said the Knight. “His name’s Steve.”
The Princess cocked her head. “He’s . . . cute.”
“Yeah, he’s a dick though,” said the Knight. “Anyway, Heart Quest? Then I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Oh, right,” said the Princess. “Of course. Why don’t you . . .” she rubbed her temples with both hands. “I want you to travel the, um.” She sighed. “Sorry, I’m blanking up here. It’s been a long day.”
“It’s cool,” said the Knight. “No rush.” He sat down in the grass, ruffled through a knapsack, produced a carrot, then alternated bites with his mount.
“D’aww,” said the Dragon, who was hovering above the Princess’ shoulder.
“You’re supposed to be guarding my heart,” said the Princess, “not cooing over strangers.”
“Right, sorry,” said the Dragon. “Slipped right out. Won’t happen again.”
“Sure it won’t. Fucking softy.”
“That’s a pretty badass Dragon,” said the Knight.
“Flattery will get you nowhere, Sir Knight,” said the Dragon, though his tail was wagging vigorously.
“Can you give us a moment?” said the Princess.
“Sure thing,” said the Knight.
The Princess closed the window. “Help me out here, Dragon — I’m feeling a little flustered with the sudden departure from the status quo. We need a Quest.”
“Maybe something to do with bees?” said the Dragon. “Sit on the bees? Eat all the bees?”
“That’s not very concrete,” said the Princess. “All the bees in the kingdom, or in the land? You know, I’ve never really thought about it, but does the land include the kingdom, or is it the other way around? My father has to have a Venn diagram around here somewhere.”
“Focus, Princess,” said the Dragon. “And what does it matter? The whole point is to get him gone, right?”
“Well, yeah,” said the Princess. “Obviously. I just don’t want to phone in his Quest is all, otherwise people might start getting suspicious.”
But in truth, the Princess desperately lonely — just not in the way her suitors assumed. She opened the window. “Here’s your Heart Quest, dear Knight: I want you to eat all the bees in both the kingdom and the land.”
The Knight rose, removed his straw cap, and bowed. He was handsome, with dark skin and a full set of teeth. “Eat the bees, got it. Thanks — have a good one.” He mounted the mini donkey and steered it back toward the pines that surrounded the tower, flailing his legs around as the creature tried — and failed — to bite him.
“What the hell do you mean, thanks?” said the Princess.
“Princess!” said the Dragon.
“I asked for a Heart Quest,” said the Knight. “And you gave me one, so, thanks? I don’t really understand what’s happening here, to be honest.”
“But that’s a terrible thing to ask someone to do!” said the Princess.
“Yeah,” said the Knight. “I mean I agree, but I’m not going to complete the Quest, so I don’t really care what it requires.”
“You aren’t?” said the Princess.
“Nah,” said the Knight. “Sorry, I should have been more upfront about that. The short of it is that my Ma’s kinda garbage, and she’s been trying to guilt me into getting her a grandkid before she dies, so I figured that going on a Heart Quest would — ”
“Buy you a couple months of peace,” said the Princess, nodding.
The Knight gave her a sad smile. “Exactly. I figured you’d understand, given . . .” he gestured at the tower. “This.”
The Princess bit her bottom lip. “Hey, do you maybe — ”
The Dragon fluttered in front of her. “What is it that you think you’re doing?”
“What?” said the Princess. “It’s a three-player game at minimum — you wanna be sheep god or nah?”
The Knight, still twisted in the saddle, stared up at her. “You were saying?”
“Would you like to come up for a bit?” said the Princess. “I could help you figure out the perfect Heart Quest, if you’d like. Something that would buy you as much time as you need.”
“Well,” said the Knight. “I don’t want to impose, but if you don’t mind . . .”
“Door’s in the back,” said the Princess.
“Fuck, I did not think this through,” said the Princess.
“Obviously,” said the Dragon. “You are covered in paint, and you are not pulling it off.”
“Where’s that goddamned Wizard? This place is a total disaster.”
“She’s gonna be royally pissed if you summon her just to — ”
The Princess grabbed a clock off the mantle and smashed it against the floor.
“That was an antique,” said the Wizard, who was suddenly in the room wearing high-waisted blue jeans, a scandalously tiny blouse, and a pair of pink, heart-shaped eyeglasses.
“Everything’s an antique to you,” said the Princess.
The Wizard cocked her head. “Well played.”
“Anyway,” said the Princess, “I wouldn’t have called if it weren’t an emergency. Would you mind . . .”
The Wizard lowered her eyeglasses onto the tip of her nose. “Seriously? Again?”
The Dragon flapped over to the Wizard and perched on her shoulder. “I told her not to summon you for something so trivial, but she never listens to me.”
“I do too!” said the Princess.
“And she said I’m not funny,” said the Dragon.
“The fuck, Dragon?” said the Princess.
“I know, sweetheart,” said the Wizard. She scratched the Dragon behind his right ear. “You are entirely unappreciated. But I brought you something to cheer you up.” She pulled a crinkly bag out of a back pocket and handed it to the Princess. “It’s called ca — dragon nip. Don’t give him too much at once; it’s pretty strong.”
There was a knock at the door. “Princess?” called the Knight. “Door’s locked.”
“Is that a boy?” said the Wizard. “Oh, oh oh oh — I get it.” She winked. “Emergency indeed.”
“It’s not like that,” said the Princess. “We just needed another player for —”
“Uh huh, sure,” said the Wizard. “Do you need me to wipe the mural too? And your hideous clothes?”
“Clothes yes, mural no,” said the Princess. “I’m not finished with it yet.”
“You should do Tokyo next,” said the Wizard. “I imagine that would keep you busy for a while. I’ll bring some phots next time.” She snapped her fingers, and the room lurched back in time four months, when it was most recently clean. As did the Princess’ paint-splattered, once-white dress.
“This really isn’t what it looks like,” said the Princess.
“Yeah yeah,” said the Wizard, “whatever, I’m not judging. And a fling might be exactly what you need. Get it out of your system, you know? Gotta be lonely up in here.”
“Why does everyone think that my system needs — ”
The Wizard vanished.
“So you brought the donkey,” said the Princess. “Inside.”
“I was worried he’d be cold,” said the Knight, who was alternating between staring open-mouthed at the graffiti skyline and squinting into the rulebook.
“D’aww — sorry, sorry,” said the Dragon. The three of them were sitting at the table — the Dragon looking only slightly ridiculous in his high chair — with the boardgame between them.
“Well, does Sir Steve need anything?” said the Princess.
“Nah,” said the Knight, “he’s no trouble. He’ll probably shit on the floor at some point, but he’ll clean it up if we give him enough time.”
“The mark of a noble beast,” said the Dragon.
“Yeah, sure. So what’s the deal with the painting?” said the Knight.
“They’re the towers of the future,” said the Princess. “People pay to live in them, get away from the street noise, look down on people and so on.”
“They’re beautiful,” said the Knight. “I’ve never seen anything like them.”
The Princess smiled — genuinely — for the first time in much too long. “Thank you.”
The Dragon cleared his throat.
“Okay,” said the Knight, “I think I’m ready to play. Who’s first?”
“Dragons go first,” said the Dragon.
“Of course they do,” said the Princess.
The Dragon grabbed a blue settlement piece in a paw and set it down on a hexagon. Then picked it back up. Then set it down on a different hexagon. Then picked it back up again.
“Any day now,” said the Princess.
“You’re making me anxious,” said the Dragon. “Just let me think for a minute.”
“What’s there to think about?” said the Princess. “We both know you’re going to pick the spot with the most sheep.”
“I feel like I might need to reread the manual,” said the Knight. “I don’t remember sheep being all that important.”
“They’re not,” said the Princess.
“Maybe not to you,” said the Dragon. “How am I supposed to choose between two spots that offer an identical amount of sheep?”
“Get comfortable, sir Knight,” said the Princess. “It’s gonna be a while.”
“Well,” said the Knight. “Since we’re on the topic, I’m not really a Knight.”
“Wow, I am shocked,” said the Princess. “Dragon, are you shocked?”
“So shocked,” said the Dragon. “Immeasurably shocked.”
“You both knew I was lying?” said the Knight.
“You ride a miniature donkey,” said the Princess. “C’mon man. Just cause we’re pretty doesn’t mean we’re stupid.”
“Aww,” said the Dragon. “You implied that I’m pretty.”
“And I already regret it,” said the Princess.
“That’s fair,” said the Knight. “But if you knew I wasn’t a Knight, then why’d you invite me up? Only Knights get Heart Quests. . .so. . .”
“Settlers sucks with two players,” said the Dragon.
“Oh,” said the Knight. His eyes dropped to the boardgame. “I see.”
“Dragon!” said the Princess.
“What?” said the Dragon. “You told the Time Wizard — did you just kick me under the table?”
The Knight gave the Princess a small smile. “It’s alright — I never expected to get a Quest at all, really.” He shrugged. “I guess I’m just trying to say that I appreciate your help, regardless of why you offered.”
“Okay,” said the Dragon, “I’m going to go with. . .no, never mind. Sorry sorry, one sec.”
“Was the rest of it true?” said the Princess. “About why you wanted the Quest?”
“Yeah,” said the Knight. “My family’s in the rat catching business, so I won’t be able to put kids off for long.” He clasped his fingers together atop the table, his many scars standing bright against his skin. “But a few months shouldn’t hurt. I figure Ma will let up for a bit if it seems like I’m courting someone.”
“Sorry, I don’t follow,” said the Princess. “Why is it that you need kids?”
“Tight spaces require small hands,” said the Knight, softly.
“That’s pretty gross,” said the Dragon.
“Dragon, manners,” said the Princess. “Somebody’s gotta catch the rats.”
“What about you?” said the Knight. “How’d you end up locked away in a tower?”
The Princess’ cheeks warmed. “Oh, this — it’s not like that. This tower. . .it was a birthday present. Sounds a little ridiculous compared to, well, your situation. Sorry.”
“Oh, it’s fine,” said the Knight. “If someone gave me a tower, I’d live in it too. But I’m guessing there’s more to it than that.”
“Yeah,” said the Princess. “I didn’t want to get married, but that’s just what you do when you’re the daughter of the King. It’s pretty much your whole purpose in life. So the tower was a compromise. I get to avoid all the courting bullshit, and when somebody in the kingdom — the land? — gets too ambitious, my father sends them here to seek my hand. And I get rid of them for a while with a Heart Quest.”
The Knight nodded. “An elegant solution.”
“You two done chatting?” said the Dragon. “It’s your move, Princess.”
“. . . How did we let this happen,” said the Princess. “I am so ashamed.”
“One thing just led to another, and. . .” said the Knight. “I feel physically ill.”
“Ugh,” said the Princess. “This is the worst day of my life.”
“I’m so glad my Ma isn’t here to see this,” said the Knight.
“You may call me. . .Sheep Master,” said the Dragon.
“How did we let him block all the trading ports?” said the Princess. “We’re totally cut off from everything.”
“I have no idea,” said the Knight. “It doesn’t seem like this should be possible.”
The Dragon clucked his tongue, and a little jet of flame licked out from his nostrils. “The game would be a lot closer if the two of you had spent less time flirting and more time strategizing.”
“We weren’t — ” said the Princess.
“We were just talking,” said the Knight.
“What the fuck happened here?” interrupted the Wizard, who was now in the room again.
The Knight tipped back in his chair and crashed to the floor. “Steve, save yourself!”
The donkey quirked its ears, then went back to sleep.
“Really?” said the Wizard. “That’s your first thought, dude? Wizard sails through the ocean of time only to magically poof into the center of the room and your gut instinct tells you that I’ve come for your undersized donkey? Do you believe the future to be donkey-less? It is not.”
“It just kinda popped out,” said the Knight, who was climbing back into his chair. “I’m not proud of it.”
“I think it’s sweet,” said the Dragon.
“Of course you do,” said the Princess, “cause you’re a fucking sucker.”
“Also,” said the Wizard, “why is there a donkey in here? Is that a pile of shit on the floor? And how is this game not over — am I seeing this correctly? Wow, you two suck at Settlers. You are like, preposterously terrible.”
“The game hasn’t ended because Dragon won’t end it,” said the Princess. “All he has to do to win is build another settlement but he’s just wasting time collecting sheep.”
“He is prolonging our suffering,” said the Knight. “Needlessly.”
“I play by my own rules,” said the Dragon.
“There is a literal rulebook on the table,” said the Princess.
“Can we get back to the Wizard thing?” said the Knight. “She’s a Wizard? There are Wizards? Do I get a wish?”
“Those are genies,” said the Wizard. “But you can ask me a question about the future, if you’d like.” She turned to the Princess. “Just wanted to drop off those drinks you asked for.” She set a wrapped package on the table.
“I didn’t ask for any — ” said the Princess.
“So, Mr. Knight,” said the Wizard. “You got a question for me? Better make it count.”
“This is a lot of pressure,” said the Knight.
“My my, how the tables have turned,” said the Dragon.
“Ten nine eight seven six five four — ” said the Wizard.
“When does the world end?” said the Knight.
“Ohh,” said the Princess. “Quality question.”
“Isn’t that a little fatalist?” said the Dragon.
“All the cool kids are fatalist in the future,” said the Wizard. “Fatalism is totally in. And the world ends in 2018, far as I can tell.”
“Far as you can tell?” said the Knight.
“Yeah,” said the Wizard. “It’s pretty strange: no matter how much time I spend in that era, the year never quite manages to end — something’s seriously messed up in the continuum. Anyway.” She patted the package. “You kids have fun. Night!” She vanished.
The Princess opened the package. “Wow. It truly never stops.”
“Is that from the future?” said the Knight.
“Yeah,” said the Princess. “It’s a box of wine.”
“A box of wine?” said the Knight. “The future must be a truly confounding place.”
“It’s like, a wineskin, but inside a box that holds it,” said the Princess.
“So what’s the point of the box?” said the Knight.
“No idea,” said the Princess. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
“So,” said the Knight, “the Wizard’s trying to get us drunk. Am I wrong to assume she intends — ”
“Nope, you’ve got it,” said the Princess. “Her too.”
“Oof,” said the Knight. “That’s unfortunate. Well, maybe. . .”
“Yeah?” said the Princess.
“Never mind,” said the Knight. “Not the best idea. Does the Wizard ever bring you anything more substantial? Medicine, gadgetry, weapons?”
“Spray paint aside, it’s pretty much just board games and refreshments,” said the Princess. “I imagine there are rules for what she’s allowed to bring back, but who knows — maybe she’s just holding out on us.” The Princess looked over her shoulder. The sun was setting, and her heart dropped just a little. She didn’t want the Knight to leave, so she twisted the nozzle out of the box. “What do you think?”
“Well,” said the Knight. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious. Particularly about the role of the box.”
“Are the stars spinning?” said the Princess. She and the Knight were lying side by side on the floor, their shoulders just barely touching as they gazed up through one of the tower’s skylights. “I think they’re spinning. Or is it just me?”
The Knight squinted. “Definitely spinning. Clockwise. No, counterclockwise. No, both. I feel exceptionally nauseous.”
“Boxed wine will do that to you,” said the Princess.
“Villainous box,” said the Knight. “Hey, look: the little stars inside your towers are spinning, too.”
“Ohhh, pretty,” said the Princess, “but I think it’s the room that’s spinning.”
“How’d you come up with them, anyway?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, I didn’t make them up; those are actual towers that people live in, like, seven-hundred years from now.”
“Ohhh,” said the Knight. “I keep forgetting about the Time Wizard thing. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around.”
“Right. She brings me pictures — pictures are like, super realistic drawings, basically — and I spray paint the towers from those.”
“Why though? I mean, if you already have the. . .pictures.”
The Princess shrugged. “It makes me feel better, I guess. Knowing that there are people out there that want what I want, even if it’ll take a while for society to catch up. The paintings are a reminder that not everyone who lives in a tower is batshit-crazy for refusing to come down just to complete some stranger’s life.”
The Knight nodded sagely. “Shit’s deep.”
“I also just like painting, so. Hey, can you see the Dragon from where you’re lying?”
“He’s still passed out on top of Steve. Look at him — his eyes are open. He’s full-blown catatonic.”
The Princess snorted. “That’s funny.”
“Why is that funny?” said the Knight.
The Princess laughed, harder now. “I have no idea.” She snorted again. “But I think it’s funny.”
“I can’t believe you gave the Dragon the whole bag of nip.”
“We were never getting out of that game otherwise,” said the Princess.
“Wasn’t the worst thing,” said the Knight.
“We could’ve died,” said the Princess.
“That seems a tad dramatic,” said the Knight.
“I saved your life,” said the Princess.
“I will be forever grateful,” said the Knight. “Is there any boxwine left?”
The Princess sighed. “Nope. Nary a drop of box to be found.”
“Ha,” said the Knight. “Nary. See, nary’s a funny word.”
“Is it?” said the Princess.
“Yeah,” said the Knight. “You know how a word starts sounding weird if you say it too many times? Nary’s like that, but you only gotta say it once.”
“Nary. Narrrrry.” The Princess laughed again, high and clear.
The Knight looked to the window, where dawn was just starting to break, and the smile slipped from his face. “It’s almost morning. I should probably get going.”
The Princess rolled onto her side to face him, and he did the same. “You could crash on the couch, if you want.”
“I appreciate it,” said the Knight, “but I’ve gotta get back to work. Rats aren’t going to catch themselves.”
The Princess nodded. “Shame, that.”
The Knight rose and crossed the room, then carefully lifted the Dragon off the donkey’s back. “I believe this belongs to you.” He handed the Dragon over.
“Thanks,” said the Princess, as she cradled the Dragon to her chest.
“C’mon Steve,” said the Knight, and the donkey yawned and clambered to its feet. “Good boy. Afraid we’ve got a bit of walking to do.”
“I really enjoyed this,” said the Princess. “Tonight, I mean.”
“Me too,” said the Knight. “Thanks for having us.”
“Anytime,” said the Princess.
“We should. . .well, goodnight,” said the Knight. He opened the door and Steve trotted through it.
“Goodnight,” said the Princess.
The Knight stepped down into the stairwell and shut the door behind him.
The Princess grabbed the doorknob, swallowed the lump in her throat, then let her hand fall her to side.
A few minutes later, the Dragon finally stirred. “What Quest did you give him?”
“Motherfucker,” said the Princess.
“Yo, Sir Rat Catcher,” said the Princess, who was sitting on the windowsill, one leg dangling over the side.
The Knight, who’d just exited the tower, looked up and smiled.
“I never gave you a Heart Quest.”
The Knight laughed. “I completely spaced on that.”
“Me too!” said the Princess. “We must have been having too much fun.”
“Way too much fun,” said the Knight. He hesitated, and his gaze dropped to the back of Steve’s head. “But hey, look.”
“Yeah?” said the Princess.
“I don’t want to assume anything here, but I gotta say something really quick, okay?”
The Princess frowned. “Alright. I’m listening.”
“I don’t want to make this weird, but Princess . . . I think you’re awesome. And I’d love to see you again.”
The Princess teared up at that. She already knew where this was going — it always, always went this way — but it still hurt her heart all the same. She’d dared to think this Knight was different. Stupid, so very stupid.
The Knight cleared his throat. “But I just got out of a really serious relationship and I’m under a ton of pressure to settle down, and — oh no, Princess, please don’t cry, it’s not you, you’re wonderful, it’s — ”
“No!” blurted the Princess. She wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands. Her sorrows had vanished at the Knight’s unexpected words, and a hysterical joy was building in her chest. “No, it’s perfect. This is so perfect.”
“What is?” said the Knight.
“That you’re emotionally unavailable,” said the Princess, who was grinning so hard her cheeks were cramping.
“That’s a very strange thing to say to someone. I can’t tell if I’m insulted. Should I feel insulted?”
“No, I mean: Sir Knight, what I’m trying to say is that I’m emotionally unavailable, too. And there are so many cities I haven’t painted and I’m big on alone time and — ”
The Knight beamed up at her. “Seriously? You’re good with this?”
“I am so fucking good with this,” said the Princess. “You have no idea how good with this I am.”
“So,” said the Knight. “Friends, then?”
“A thousand times yes,” said the Princess. “I feel like my fucking heart’s about to explode.”
“Well, then that just leaves the Quest,” said the Knight.
The Princess licked her lips. She felt like she could float right up out of the tower. “Sir Knight, from this point forward and into the indefinite future, I require you to attend me every Friday at sunset for a night of boardgames and boxwine.”
“And maybe Tuesdays too?” said the Knight. “If you aren’t too busy?”
“Fuck yeah,” said the Princess.
About the Author
Kyle Kirrin lives on a ranch 9,000 feet above sea level in Creede, Co, where he tends to the needs of a motley crew of overly skittish animals. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Metaphorosis, Syntax and Salt, and elsewhere. He’s also a former slush reader with an Apex Magazine-sized hole in his heart.
About the Narrators
Cherae graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in FIYAH and Uncanny.
Peter Adrian Behravesh is an Iranian-American musician, writer, editor, audio producer, and narrator. For these endeavors, he has won the Miller and British Fantasy Awards, and has been nominated for the Hugo, Ignyte, and Aurora Awards. His interactive novel is forthcoming from Choice of Games, and his essay, “Pearls from a Dark Cloud: Monsters in Persian Myth,” is forthcoming in the OUP Handbook of Monsters in Classical Myth. When he isn’t crafting, crooning, or consuming stories, Peter can usually be found hurtling down a mountain, sipping English Breakfast, and sharpening his Farsi. You can read his sporadic ramblings at peteradrianbehravesh.com, or on Twitter @pabehravesh.
Mur Lafferty is the co-editor and sometime-host of Escape Pod.
She is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She is the host and creator of the podcasts I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers. Her books have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and Scribe Awards. In the past decade she has been the co-founder/co-editor of PseudoPod, founding editor of Mothership Zeta, and the editor or co-editor of Escape Pod (where she is currently).
She is fond of Escape Artists, in other words.
Mur won the 2013 Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly the John W. Campbell Award), and the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Fancast for Ditch Diggers. She’s been nominated for numerous other awards and is always doing new things, so check her website for the latest.
Matt Dovey is very tall, very English, and most likely drinking a cup of tea right now. He has a scar on his arm from a ritual performed unto the Watchers Just Beyond, imploring them for the boon of great knowledge, but all he got were the lyrics to Dashboard Confessional’s album The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most stuck in his head forever. He now lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife & three children, and despite being a writer he still hasn’t found the right words to express the delight he finds in this wonderful arrangement.
His surname rhymes with “Dopey” but any other similarities to the dwarf are purely coincidental. He’s an associate editor at PodCastle, a member of Codex and Villa Diodati, and has fiction out and forthcoming all over the place, including all four Escape Artists podcasts, Analog, and Diabolical Plots. You can keep up with it all at mattdovey.com, or find him timewasting on Twitter as @mattdoveywriter.
Alasdair Stuart is a professional enthusiast, pop culture analyst, and writer. He is a Hugo Finalist in multiple categories including Best Fan Writer, and a British Fantasy Society Best Non-fiction finalist for his weekly pop culture newsletter The Full Lid.
His nonfiction can be found at numerous genre and pop culture venues, including regular columns at the Hugo Award-winning Ditch Diggers and Fox Spirit Books. His game writing includes ENie-nominated work on the Doctor Who RPG and After The War from Genesis of Legend.
He co-owns Escape Artists and hosts their horror podcast, PseudoPod, along with the Hugo Award nominated science fiction podcast, Escape Pod. He is a frequent guest and presenter on podcasts, with voice acting credits including winning the 2020 Audioverse Award for his work on the The Magnus Archives.
His second collection of expanded essays from PseudoPod, The PseudoPod Tapes Volume 2: Approach with Caution, is available from Fox Spirit Books.
Jen Albert is an editor, writer, and former entomologist. She works full-time as an editor at ECW Press, an independent publishing house based in Toronto, where she enjoys working on books of all kinds, including speculative fiction, popular science, and LGBTQ fiction and non-fiction. She became co-editor of her favorite fantasy fiction podcast in 2016; she now wonders if she still allowed to call it her favorite. Along with her co-editors, Jen has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the British Fantasy Award for her work on PodCastle.