Nice Gentlemen

[Oneshot competition] Listen, who said princesses /wanted/ some prince to come rescue them? They didn't ask for this. ------> This is definitely not a medieval-style criticism of today's "nice guys" trope :)

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1. In which a nice gentleman can't understand the meaning of "no."

    It wasn’t that Enna had anything against princes. It was just that she had something against this prince. Prince Odo. Or Prince Loiter-Sack, as she had taken to calling him in her head as she trumped up a seemingly endless hill with all his armor slung across her back. 

    “There, Lycus! Do you see it?” he drew his sword and uselessly pointed it towards the tower that loomed across the field. 

    Enna deepened her voice. “I see it, sir,” she confirmed. 

    “My princess awaits! Let us continue on.”

    Glaring at his back, Enna spat on the ground. Easy for him to say. All he was carrying was that ridiculous jeweled sword. Not that she should be complaining; after all, this was exactly what she had signed up for. Serving a prince - well, there was no better ticket out of Nevenshire. One day, when her travels with him took her to a better city, a place where she could see herself starting anew, she would just leave him. Simple as that. 

    Prince Odo had never even looked closely at her to realize that she was, in fact, female, with her hair pinned up under a cap and some dirt smudges ever present on her chin like the ghost of stubble. He wouldn’t be able to pick her out in a crowd, much less find her if she ran off. 

    It wasn’t much, but it was a plan. 

    But right now, she was forced to accompany him on this fool’s errand to save some mystical princess locked in a tower. How many young boys had been told of princesses waiting in castles for rescue? And how many were actually true? 

    Prince Odo was just that gullible. Or maybe desperate. At the first mention of locks of chestnut hair and caramel skin, he had hopped on his horse, grabbed the first servant he could find - Enna - and dashed off into the unknown. 

    The unknown being a half a day’s journey and a gently sloping hill. But, well. That was what bards were for right? Embellishment? Why they had left the horses at the bottom of the hill was all Enna was currently concerned about. 

    Her muscles ached by the time they reached the base of the coarse stone tower, situated nicely in the middle of absolute nowhere. How did the princess get food? Where did she go to the bathroom? This was smelling like a scam. Or, hopefully, a prank on the irritating Prince Odo. Enna grinned with renewed energy.  

    “Put my armor on,” Odo commanded her, standing like a scarecrow with arms straight out. 

    With a silent sigh, Enna dropped the leather sack from her back, hearing the metal clash together within. She hoped it had scratched that ridiculous crest in the middle. It took longer than Enna was comfortable with to lace all of the pieces onto Odo’s body. She didn’t like being so close to him. He was losing a bit of his boyish figure, and had not ever been introduced to the crushed berries and herbs that some men used to mask their bodily odors. It was regretful. 

    When he was fully plated and her back was thankfully light, Odo gestured for her to go in first. Enna resisted rolling her eyes. “Sir, do you not think it best for you to be the first to enter?” she asked him in her most polite voice. “Perhaps the spell will know who it was who entered first.” 

    The “spell.” Ha, the enchantment that supposedly kept the “princess” from leaving the tower. It was all horse shit, if you asked Enna. 

    Prince Odo nodded sagely. “A valid point. This princess will be mine, and no one else’s.”

    Uh huh, Enna thought to herself as Odo eased the large oak door open and stepped inside. Really, she hadn’t wanted to go first because she was unarmed. Though she might not believe in a gorgeous princess in the middle of nowhere waiting for Prince Charming, she did believe in the more realistic danger of territorial nomads taking residence in this random tower. 

    Enna was not about to die for Prince Odo. 

    As it turned out, this was a good move, seeing as there was a large dragon guarding the twisting staircase. Ever the fearsome warrior, Odo raised his sword and yelled, “Ah! Back, monster!” 

    The dragon looked at him. It exhaled a little puff of smoke. Mostly, it just looked tired. Prince Odo, however, was not taking this lightly. “You,” he said to Enna, not taking his eyes off the dragon to look at her, “distract it. I’ll sneak around back and stab it in the neck.”

    Enna felt an immediate surge of fear that this would be the one feat he would actually end up pulling off.  “No,” she blurted, with a hastily added, “sir. I have…” she dug in her bag. “Sleeping powder. It will knock the dragon out for hours - enough time to get the princess and leave.”

    Prince Odo frowned. “Why not kill it?” 

    Thinking quickly, Enna explained. “Dragons are magical creatures. What if killing it angers the forces that hold the princess?”

    The tiny cogs in Odo’s brain turned. “Alright.” He held his hand out for the powder. Once the little bag was in his palm, he instructed her, “Distract it.”

    And then he snuck off into the darkness. The dragon watched him go, unconcerned. And then, he turned his massive green head back to Enna. “Um…” she began. She tried waving her arms. “Rawr?” 

    Its eyes stayed on her. Well, isn’t that all she was aiming for? Enna took a step closer, and the dragon tilted its head down a little to keep its large eyes on her. She estimated that she was roughly the size of its head. Enna took another step. For some reason, the dragon didn’t frighten her. She felt like they had something unspoken in common. Resignation, maybe. 

    When Enna was only a few yards away, the dragon lowered its head, pushing its snout forward to sniff her. It let out another puff of smoke, making Enna cough. The dragon studied this new noise. Tentatively, Enna reached out. Her hand was inches away from its glossy scales when a loud, “Yah!” broke the silence. 

    Prince Odo jumped onto the dragon’s long neck and dumped powder all over its face. The dragon blinked once snorted  a little, then dropped its head to the floor. Its eyelids closed and stayed that way. 

    “I did it!” Odo exclaimed. “I defeated the dragon!” 

    “Well done, sir.”

    Prince Odo was too busy celebrating to catch the sarcasm in her voice. “Come,” he ordered. “Onward to the princess!”

    With a barely audible sigh, Enna climbed over the dragon’s sleeping form and headed for the staircase. On the first landing only a brief climb later, Prince Odo paused, panting. “Here, take my armor. There are no more challenges ahead.”

    Enna had no idea how he had jumped to that conclusion, but she didn’t argue. While it meant she would have to carry several extra pounds up these godforsaken stairs, it was worth it just for the slight possibility that Odo might round a corner and get impaled or something. 

    After packing his armor back in the sack, Enna slung it over her shoulder and trudged up the stairs. Her thighs burned, her back ached. The staircase seemed to go on forever. Incredibly, Odo seemed to be right - they ran into no more challenges. When they reached the top of the tower, there was a rustic door set into the wall. 

    Prince Odo was panting by this point. Enna was too, but she had a reason. She dropped the bag of armor onto the floor and sighed in relief. 

    “How do I look?” Prince Odo asked, not looking at her. He never looked at her. 

    “Like a prince, sir,” Enna replied. It wasn’t logically untrue. 

    Prince Odo nodded and raised his hand to push the door open. No knock? Enna thought. Okay then. They entered the room. 

    Somehow, the room was bigger on the inside than logic dictated it could be, based on the outer dimensions of the tower. And, to Enna’s surprise, it was outfitted like a place where a princess might live. Perhaps there was truth to the stories after all. 

    Enna could doubt it no longer when a woman stepped out from an adjoining room, wavy chestnut locks cascading over her shoulders, caramel skin clear and shining. Her dress was in perfect condition, accenting her figure in a way that put the stories to shame. Enna couldn’t take her eyes off her. 

    “Can I help you?”  the princess asked mildly. 

    “Princess, you are even more beautiful than the bards tell,” Prince Odo proclaimed, stepping forward to meet her in the center of the room.

    The princess blinked. “Thanks. Can I help you?” she asked again. 

    “I’m here to rescue you,” Prince Odo told her, taking one of her hands in his and raising it to his lips. Enna wanted to throw up. 

    “That is presumptuous. Who said I wanted to be rescued?” 

    Prince Odo gave her a look of utmost confusion. “Is it not every princess’s dream to be rescued by a prince? You are being held captive here - I want only to free you and start a life together, my love.”

    The princess’s brows shot towards her hairline as she pulled her hand away. “‘My love’?” she echoed. 

    “Yes,” Prince Odo said, reaching out to grasp her arms. “Let us share a kiss and break the spell.” He closed his eyes and leaned forward. 

    The princess took several hurried steps back. “No, thank you.”

    “No?” the prince asked as if the word simply didn’t make sense. 

    Enna had to hold in her laughter. 

    “I do not wish to kiss you,” the princess declared, her chin held high. “Nor do I wish to run off and start a life with you.”

    Prince Odo looked taken aback. “Why not?” he demanded. “I came all this way. I fought a dragon for you!” 

    The princess’s brows furrowed, darkening her delicate features. “I did not ask you to. And you had better not have hurt my dragon.”

    “Your dragon!” Prince Odo threw his hands up. “Do you want out of this prison or not?” 

    “Not with you.”

    The prince turned in anger, pacing the floor. “I do not understand. I am nice. I am kind. I am friendly. You princesses - you are all the same! You do not want some nice gentleman to rescue you, you would rather run off with some outlaw, some bandit!” The princess stared at him, rendered mute by his gross indignation. “It’s not fair,” he continued. “I would be a loyal husband. I would be caring and thoughtful, but all you want is someone to treat you poorly.”

    The princess sighed, but said nothing. 

    “Why am I not enough?” Prince Odo demanded, clearly not reading the sign that she was not interested. “You owe me an answer.”

    Laughing, the princess replied, “I owe you nothing.”

    The prince was getting angrier by the second. “I will give you one more chance. You will likely never get an opportunity like this again. The next man who comes along might not be so nice as I, or maybe you will   rot here alone.” He held out a hand. “Come with me, Princess, and I will be glad to forget that this ever happened.” 

    The princess turned around and strode to her four post bed, sitting on the edge and crossing her arms. “I would rather rot, I think.”

    Enna let out a brief burst of laughter before she could help herself. Prince Odo shot her a glare, and the princess turned to her like this was the first time she was noticing her. It wasn’t surprising; Odo was enough to occupy anyone’s attention, no matter how unfortunate. She ducked her head. 

    “Unbelievable,” the prince proclaimed. “There are few nice gentlemen in this world, and this is how you treat one offering you kindness? At first I thought you were too pretty to be locked up here alone, but now I see that you are merely an average woman.”

    The princess smiled. “Then I will relish being an ‘average woman,’ especially if it gets you to leave my chambers.”

    Prince Odo turned on a heel, snapping his fingers at Enna. “Lycas, come. We are leaving.”

    He strode out the door without waiting for her. 

    Enna, however, didn’t immediately follow. She looked towards the princess on the bed, whose eyes were on her hands. “I apologize,” Enna ventured.

    The princess looked up with a kind smile. “It is not your fault. He is certainly not the first to try to rescue me. Most of them are like that.”

    “Is that why you have stayed?” Enna asked. 

    “Yes,” the princess replied. “To leave with my rescuer would bind me to them, and I do not wish to be bound to the likes of him.”

    Enna nodded. That was fair. “Does it not get lonely up here all alone?”

    With a sad look out the window, the princess replied, “Sometimes. But I have my dragon, at least.” She paused. “There are times I want to leave. But then I decide it is better to stay here then to become someone’s prize.”

    “Lycas!” came the shout from outside. Enna ignored it. 

    “How do you get food and water?” she asked. 

    The princess looked over at her, surprised by the question. “It is part of the spell. I am provided with everything I need.” She didn’t seem happy about it. 

    “Have you been here since you were a child?” 

    “As long as I can remember.” 

    “Alone?” 

    The princess nodded. 

    “LYCAS!” Prince Odo called. 

    Enna looked to the door. The princess’s voice was quiet when she said, “You should go, Lycas. I would not see you hurt for spending a few minutes with me.”

    Scowling, Enna admitted, “My name is not Lycas. I do not want to pretend any longer.” She removed her cap, sending her black hair tumbling down to her shoulders. The princess’s brow raised. 

    “I thought…” she began, then broke into a smile as if all her suspicions were confirmed. “I thought.”

    Enna smiled back. “I could go with him, if you want. But if you wanted some company for a while… he could lug his armor back alone.”

    The princess’s grin widened. “I would love some company.” She stood, crossing the room to where Enna shifted on her sore feet. The princess grabbed a soft cloth from a bowl of warm water and swept it across Enna’s face, clearing the dirt and sweat. “You must be exhausted. Let me draw you a bath.” 

    “Thank you, your highness.” Your highness. Something she never called Prince Odo.

    The princess laughed, washcloth falling to a side table, but her hand remaining on Enna’s cheek. “None of that. Call me Asteria.”

    “Asteria,” Enna tested. 

    Hearing her name made Asteria’s eyes light up. “At the risk of sounding like - what did he say? A nice gentleman - you’re very pretty.” Enna laughed, and Asteria continued, “What is your name?” 

    “Enna,” she replied. 

    “Enna,” Asteria echoed. “A pretty name for a pretty person.” She brushed a lock of hair behind Enna’s ear. “I said no to all those men for more reasons than their temperament,” she admitted. Enna felt something flutter in her stomach. “If…” 

    Whatever Asteria was about to say, Enna desperately needed to know. “What?” 

    “If you are to stay here,” she began. “I feel it is important for you to know. I do not wish to play games, and having you leave for it now is far more favorable than having you leave later.”

    “Tell me,” Enna said. 

    A little frown graced Asteria’s perfect lips. “I did not want to kiss any of those men as much as I want to kiss you.”

    Enna felt her face heating, but in a good way. “A kiss to break the spell, or a kiss-“

    “Because I wish to.” Asteria’s hazel eyes were fixed on Enna. “Would you like to leave now? I will not stop you. Nor will I do anything if you do not agree.” 

    Swallowing, Enna replied with all of the bravery she had, “I would like to kiss you.” Astoria opened her mouth to ask something, but Enna clarified, “Because I want to. The spell is secondary.” Her voice was bolder than she expected. “And then we can leave, but only if you want.”

    Asteria’s lips spread into a smile, and then she was kissing Enna, and then there was a shocked gasp from the doorway. Prince Odo stared at them with eyes as wide as throwing discs. “Wha-“

    Enna wasn’t sure whether he was more shocked at her being a girl or that they were kissing. Maybe it was too much for his brain to comprehend. He blinked once more, then stormed off, kicking the bag of armor on his way. Enna looked back to Asteria as she began to laugh. 

    “Thank you,” she said, beaming as she pulled Enna into a hug. “Thank you, thank you.”

    Enna hugged her back just as tightly, smiling into her soft hair. “You’re welcome. Would you like to leave the tower now?” 

    Asteria pulled back to look at her. “Maybe eventually. But right now, I have never been happier to be where I am.” She took Enna by the hand. “Come, you must have tons and tons of stories. Tell me them as I draw you a bath.” 

    Following her into the other room, Enna perched on the edge of an enchanted basin as Asteria filled it with warm water. “Once upon a time,” she began, “there was a beautiful princess trapped in a tower-“

    “Stop,” Asteria laughed. “I already know that one.”

    “Once upon a time,” Enna said again, “there was a girl who dressed as a boy to fool a prince for two whole years.”

    Asteria smiled. “Much better. Please, go on.”

    “Only to thwart his plans of stealing away a beautiful princess trapped in a tower.”

    Laughing again, Asteria’s face lit up with pure happiness. “What a good thing you were here.”

    Enna grinned. “What a good thing,” she agreed.    What a good thing.

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