‘Happily Ever After’
Malene felt a feather-soft tickle on her nose and opened her eyes.
“Phinn! She’s awake!”
She laid on a kitchen counter in a witch’s cottage, made evident by the shelves of stoppered jars, the dried herbs hung on the walls, and the witch sitting by the fire.
A golden-haired man holding a shining seraphim’s feather bowed. After a blink or two, Malene recognized him, fuzzily, as her recent captor. “My lady,” he crooned, “I have carried you across a vast forest to find the feather that would tickle you awake.”
“I carried you mostly,” said a troll at the door. He was too big to fit inside, so only his head was stuck through. Coocoo D’Etat preened herself on his head.
Malene, satisfied at having been awakened in suitable fashion, rounded out the adventure by falling in love. “My hero,” she gasped, touching her rescuer’s cheek with the back of her hand while trying to remember his name. “How can I ever thank you?”
The feather floated to the floor as the man gathered her into his arms. “I ask only for a kiss, my love.”
The princess melted into his arms and they kissed. It was a fantastic kiss, pulled off with nary a tooth bump and minimal halitosis, the kind of kiss that kicks off a proper happily ever after.
“Be sure to invite me to the wedding,” said the witch.
“The what?” asked Malene’s true love with his mouth still full of kiss.
“The wedding,” repeated Phinn helpfully.
“The wedding!” squealed Malene.
“Now now…” The lover boy backed up a step, his palms outward. “Marriage is… it is such a big leap from the first kiss, is it not?”
“Not in these stories,” said the witch.
“Oh, we shall have a huge royal wedding, much bigger than my sister’s, and the train on my dress will be a mile long,” cried Malene.
“However,” mused the witch, “you do need two royals to have a royal wedding.”
“Indeed,” said the man. “Though I am courageous and fierce and the best kisser on the continent, I am not of royal blood, and so our love must always be the forbidden kind… which is anyway my favorite.”
Malene wept. “But I want a royal wedding.”
“A queen can promote a rogue to a royal,” suggested the witch.
“A pauper to a prince,” said Phinn.
“A bandit to a baron,” said Coocoo in bird language.
“A degenerate to a duke?” said Malene, sniffing away tears.
“A loser to…”
“That’s enough,” said the man.
“Then again,” mused the witch, “you are just petty royalty. If only you were, say, Queen of the Eventides.”
“Then I could marry whomever I please!” cried Malene. “So all we must do is defeat the Storm Queen.”
“Unlikely,” said the witch.
“We have a troll, and my lover’s blade,” said Malene.
“You’ll need a powerful mage,” mused the witch, gazing into her new mirror. “And a dragon or two.”
Malene shrugged. “Then I shall have a dragon or two.”
“Can’t just pick up a dragon from the market,” said Phinn.
“A mage, though, is very near,” said the witch.
“Wait.” Malene pointed at the witch. “Is that my mirror?”
“A price had to be paid for the feather,” said Malene’s nervous fiancé.
The witch twirled the mirror in her hand. “He didn’t know the mirror’s purpose, I assume.”
Malene leaped to her feet – then stumbled from the painful poking-pin sensation of her limbs waking. “You will return it.”
“No,” said the witch. “But I will return this.” She rapped her knuckles on the mirror’s back, and out of the glass swirled a dark shadow that collected itself into the shape of Malene.
The rescuer clamped his fist around the hilt of his sword, but Malene stopped him with one raised finger. The shadowy mirror-Malene’s finger raised, too. Their fingertips touched.
“Once upon a time,” said the witch, “a king and a queen had a baby.”
The two Malenes pressed their palms together, and their hands became one.
“The princess was beautiful, but if she didn’t get her way, she became a tantruming horror. And this princess, having been born with some… not insignificant magical ability, made an obvious mess when angry. And obvious Mageborn children go straight to the Storm Queen’s army.”
The shadow and Malene moved closer until they stood nose-to-nose.
“I would tell most parents to deal with their own brats, but the king and queen were quite generous. So I trapped their daughter’s shadow in this mirror, and ever after, she behaved like a useless, spoiled princess. But now…”
The two princesses enveloped one another, the shadow hidden completely away. “Now,” said Malene, “it is time to be queen.”
“I don’t think it’ll work,” said Phinn.
Malene spun to face the troll and the swordsman, and in a flash of long-dormant magic transformed into the shadow once trapped within the mirror. “I will have a dragon!” she announced. “I will have a dragon in every color! And I will be Queen of the Eventides, and we will live happily ever after, and that is final!”
As quickly as it had appeared, the shadow faded, and the lovely princess remained. With a flouncing of skirts and a charming smile, Malene squeezed through the door past Phinn.
The adventurers stumbled from the cottage in shock. “So, Blackfeather,” said Phinn, “We’ll be going the other way, right?”
“That’s it! Blackfeather!” cried Malene from the garden. “I had completely forgotten his name.” And with that, she skipped away down the forest path.
“Look at her, Phinneas,” sighed Blackfeather. “Such pluck. Such moxie!”
“So we’re going with her, then,” said Phinn. “Toward dragons.”
The witch scooped up the feather from the floor. “Have fun storming the Storm Queen,” she called, then slammed the door behind them.