Not having a hare to cook for our morning meal, and in truth I never really expected there to be one, I didn’t bother building a fire. We shared cold pickles and Hysteria ate the last of her oats. The sun was high in the sky and even though we were eating our meager meal amid large drifts of snow, as long as we stayed in the sun, it was pleasant enough. As you can imagine, my mind was reeling at the possibility that my orphan boy was not only a girl and an elf, but quite possibly a seventy-nine year old half-orphan princess. My mind was so awash in the news that I scarcely paid any attention to the pickles I was eating. It was a real shame, because I enjoy a good pickle. My poor old mother made some of the best pickles ever. Did you know that pickles don’t have to come from cucumbers? You can pickle just about anything.
“What are you doing now?” asked the half-orphan princess.
“I’m attempting to ponder pickles.”
“That figures,” said she.
“But I find myself unable to.”
“Because of you, my very own little liar.”
“Stop calling me a liar. I didn’t lie. Everything I’ve told you is the truth… except for the part about being a boy and being called Galfrid and being an orphan.”
“And now you claim to be a princess.”
“I am a princess,” she argued. “My father is Jholhard of the wood elves.”
“Come,” I said, wiping the pickle juice off my fingers. “Let’s get going and you can tell me your woeful tale as we ride.”
We remounted my noble steed, which is to say Hysteria, and started off once again down the road. The mood was subdued. At least the mood was subdued between myself and the half-orphan princess. Hysteria seemed quite jovial, and threatened to break into a trot on several occasions. I can only assume that she was happy to have had oats for elevenses. I am sure she didn’t realize that we had no more.
“It is just like in your story of the Queen of Aerithraine when she was trapped in Fall City,” Jholeira said at last.
“Being a princess. It’s like being in jail.”
“You were locked away?”
“Well, not really. I had the run of the entire wood. It’s just that I didn’t realize just how small a world that wood really was until I left.”
“Now we come to the first plot element,” said I. “Why did you leave?”
“I ran away,” she said. “I ran away because my father was going to force me to marry.”
“Well that’s hardly worth running away over,” said I. “I mean, fathers all across the world are busy arranging marriages for their daughters. What was wrong with the fellow? Wasn’t he tall enough? Was he bald? Did he have a wooden eye? It was a wooden eye, wasn’t it?”
“He didn’t have a wooden eye.”
“If he didn’t have a wooden eye, then what was wrong with him?” I wondered. “Maybe you are just being too picky.”
“There was nothing wrong with him. I just didn’t want to marry him. I didn’t want to marry anyone.”
“That seems a bit obstinate to me,” said I.
“Don’t berate me about it now,” she sulked. “I have paid dearly for running away. I was captured by slavers and taken halfway to Lyrria. I only escaped them when bandits attacked them. The bandits took me captive and carried me away to their camp in the mountains. I was taken from the bandit camp when trolls attacked it. The trolls took me into the woods. Then I was stolen away from the trolls by ogres, who put me in a cage and took me to their horrible city. There things got even worse when I was captured from the ogres by a band of wererats.”
“Hold on.” I counted them off on my fingers. “Slavers, bandits, trolls, ogres, and wererats… If this were my story, then next would come… harpies.”
“Oh, well, that doesn’t sound so bad. Pixies are little.”
“Evil pixies from hell.”
“Ah. But at least you got away from them.”
“I managed to escape.”
“Because they’re little, right?”
“Um, yes. But then I was captured by pirates.”
“Pirates in the middle of North Lyrria? By the Ogre Mountains? Far away from the ocean?”
“They were on holiday.”
“Pirates on holiday?”
“All right. And how did you get away from them?” I asked.
“One of the pirates, a woman named Prudence released me. I think she was jealous that the pirate captain might fancy me instead of her.”
“Prudence? Prudence the pirate?”
“And you say she was jealous?”
I ran through the details in my mind. Slavers, bandits, trolls, ogres, and wererats. Then came the pixies, but I would change them to harpies. Finally there was Prudence the pirate. Prudence who was jealous. Possessive! Possessive Prudence the pirate. Or Prudence the possessive pirate. Yes, I quite like the sound of that. Prudence the Possessive Pirate—that had to be a half-crown story if ever I heard one. I could take a title like that, work it into something, take it to every pub and inn in Illustria, and make a fortune. Of course I would send the half-orphan elf girl a percentage. On the other hand, she said she was a princess. Princesses are rich. She probably doesn’t need the paltry amount made from the sale of a story. She might be insulted if I tried to pay her.
“Now I’ve had more than enough,” said she.
“You don’t want any money?”
“No. I’ve had more than enough adventure and I want to go home,” she replied. “Are you carrying on some other conversation in your head about how you are going to take my story to every pub and inn in Illustria, and make a fortune, and not pay me anything for it?”
“Of course not,” I replied. “You want to go home. And besides, I am a firm believer in maintaining all the appropriate copyrights.”