What To Do When Meeting Your Princely Husband For The First Time:
1. Smile adorably, even if you’re being jerked out of a pit with coarse rope.
2. Don’t correct him, when he claims his chicken is a phoenix.
3. Don’t correct him about anything, really.
4. Smile adorably, even if he’s smiling at another princess.
Within the realm of Things That Could Be Wrong with your Princely Husband, Juan’s flaws were really quite minor. In fact, Leonora was even willing to call them Wholly Understandable, if not Entirely Overlookable or maybe even Completely Forgivable (terms she was well acquainted with, considering their flagrant use to describe her father’s peccadilloes). After all, Juan’s positive attributes more than outweighed his imperfections. For one thing, he wasn’t Majarlikan. For another, he only had one head, walked on two feet, and had nice, even teeth instead of poisonous fangs. Which was not to say that Lea had anything against her latest spurned suitor, who wasn’t Majarlikan, but had seven heads, no limbs and a rather dangerous smile. (Except that Lea did have a small issue with how inhuman her suitor looked, though she knew it wasn’t his fault he was born as a seven-headed snake.)
Despite the unassailable logic emblazoned in her mind, Lea still found herself uncomfortable with the given circumstance. It wasn’t because Diego, Juan’s older brother, was ignoring her (Lea had come to understand that a number of people were destined to have dubious taste if not imperfect eyesight). It wasn’t because Pedro, Juan’s oldest brother, was giving her some Flattering Attention (Lea couldn’t fault him for being appropriately dazzled by her beauty, charm and ample breasts). It wasn’t even because Juan was smiling at the Sampaguita-Smelling Princess in pretty much the same way he had smiled at her (because Juan was obviously just being polite).
The only flaw of Juan’s that bothered Lea, really, was the chicken.
When Juan had introduced the bird, he claimed it was the magical phoenix who had Turned Notable (Foolish) Personages to Stone, would Cure Kingly (Delusional) Fathers through Song and Provide Wise (Specific) Counsel when appropriate. It was a lot to expect from common poultry, but everyone else – from the Cloying Other Princess to Pedro and Diego – believed it to be the avian legend Juan claimed it to be.
Which she could learn to live with. Really. Except that the ‘phoenix’ kept looking at her in a dirty way, making Lea feel like she was a morsel it was considering devouring.
If Lea had not found Juan’s dimples so attractive, things would have been a lot simpler. She would have encouraged Pedro’s Flattering Attention. Pedro’s flaws would then be just limited to a brother who had dubious taste, and another brother who had an amusing predilection for domestic-fowl-in-the-guise-of-a-phoenix. Oh, and that Pedro was firstborn, because everyone knew that firstborn princes tended to become kings which meant their wives tended to become queens. Lea didn’t want to be a queen. She wanted to be a Proper Princess because Notable Queens were either stern, made of ice, feasted on hearts when forced to mother children they didn’t bear or died tragically young if they were perfectly nice while non-Notable Queens were just like her mother. Fearsome but ultimately, forgettable.
But Juan was truly the cutest of the three royals. And, despite everything, Lea still believed Juan was the better catch. After all, he was the youngest prince of three, and everyone knew fate and (heathen) gods favored and blessed Juan’s type.
Not that she believed that Majarlikan nonsense. But still.
It was while the royal menfolk were discussing their route back to the Kingdom of Berbania (a kingdom Lea had never heard of, but was assured was considered civilized according to the almanacs published by the Babaylan Hive Mind) when a disturbing notion occurred to Lea. What if Pedro’s Flattering Attention turned into an Awkward Display of Emotion? What if Juan, acting on kind-hearted brotherly instincts, did the honorable thing and backed out? What if the Saccharine Princess and Juan ended up together?
It was unacceptable. She could not, in good conscience, leave Juan to such a disastrous fate.
Without hesitation, Lea called up large tears in her eyes, and turned to give Pedro a pleading look she knew would get results.
“My ring!” she exclaimed. “I left it behind. Whatever shall I do without it?”
What to Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way:
1. Charm your companions to get things back on track.
2. If that doesn’t work, add tears.
3. Escalate into a Princessly Tantrum, if necessary.
4. Use Annoyed Silence and Chilly Gaze at your discretion.
How could Lea have known they would cut the rope and leave Juan behind (even if that was precisely what she had planned for Pedro)?
In fact, how could she have known that it would be Juan (curse his brave heart and excellent hearing) who would fall prey to her manipulative ploy? And how, in all of Berde, could she have known that Butterfly Breath Princess would not join her in her noble crusade to retrieve Juan?
The situation was particularly vexing not because Lea was afraid for Juan’s life (because that would be silly; the ring alone had enough magic in it to pull Juan out of harm’s way). And it wasn’t impossibly maddening because Lea had concerns for her own safety, after Pedro and Diego had displayed their fratricidal tendencies (there were protocols for dealing with Helpless Proper Princesses, after all, which every prince – even the murderously inclined ones – adhered to). And certainly, she wasn’t frustratingly exasperated that things did not go exactly as she had planned (except she was kind of sore that things didn’t go as she had intended, if she were to be completely honest with herself, which she rarely was).
In Lea’s mind, what annoyed her to the extreme was the inconvenience of it all.
With the unexpected (and unwanted!) development, Lea’s dream wedding would have to be delayed to allow for Juan’s return, and who knew when that would be? If he didn’t catch up with them before they arrived at the Kingdom of Berbania, it would certainly have to be at least an odd number of years before Lea would be able to lay eyes on him again. Things like these rarely resolved themselves within a year. If her One God was particularly benevolent, she might see Juan in three. Seven, if fate and pagan gods were to be accounted for. And, heaven forbid, nine, if Juan displeased even just one Powerful Being Disguised as a Hermit.
Lea didn’t want to wait. She had done enough waiting in her lifetime already. First, the wait until she was old enough to quest for her Princely Husband. Second, the wait for the perfect creature to entrap her (the creature needed to be fearsome enough to attract Princely Husband Potentials, but cultured enough to have a Palace with Several Towers, Adequate Plumbing and Comfortable Dungeons). Third, the wait for the actual ‘rescue’, which was only made tolerable by the rather witty conversations she had had with the seven-headed serpent who had the good manners to capture her, and the good taste to then court her.
But from the way things were going, it seemed as if waiting was exactly what she would be doing.
Once again, Lea examined her diminishing options. She had already expended charm (she had given some silly praises, batted her eyelashes and flashed an ankle once or twice) for which she had gotten her some Flattering Attention but not much more. She had tried crying, beautifully at first, then petulantly, but her companions merely ignored her. She had also given in to a Princessly Tantrum, by stomping her feet and refusing them access to her beautiful countenance, which, again, was just ignored.
The only things left in her Princess arsenal were Annoyed Silence and Chilly Gaze, skills Lea had only the most basic, rudimentary knowledge of, despite years of observing her mother wield such refined anger. The attacks were mostly directed at her father, who was in the habit of doing things that were Wholly Understandable or Entirely Overlookable and insisted that all of them were Completely Forgivable. The results were mildly devastating. Innocent bystanders caught in the soundless blasts temporarily lost their hearing; castle grounds (or gardens or town markets or undercity bordellos) turned to ice; dry, dreary winters extended for months at a time. But eventually, Lea’s father would capitulate and provide his queen with the Appropriate Expensive Gift of Reconciling. Things usually thawed, somewhat, then.
There were still others things that Lea could do, if she allowed herself to look outside of her Princess box. She could shout. She was quite adept at throwing things, preferably those with considerable weight. She had a fairly good handle on how to use her jeweled artifacts to create a bit of Relatively Massive Destruction. But she was, first and foremost, a Proper Princess. A Proper Princess in Love, second. Never barbaric enough to create a scandal. Never barbaric enough to be Majarlikan.
In a beautiful twist of irony, Lea found herself pinning her hopes on the chickenish bird that had disappeared, in the chaos of their leave-taking. With a little bit of luck, the creature would actually be what Juan claimed it to be, and would guide him with Wise (Specific) Counsel, as Juan had insisted it could do, to expedite his path to freedom.
“What did you just say?” Powder Puff Princess asked.
“Nothing,” Lea had replied. Then, under her breath, she repeated her entreaty. “Go, phoenix!”
What To Do While Waiting:
3. Sew while praying (or pray while sewing).
4. Reminisce in a prayerful way, while sewing.
The wedding took so much of her time that the first year was over before Lea even had time to agonize over it. The Sometimes Flower-Smelling Princess Turned Diego’s Wife was such a logistical nitwit that the princes’ formidable mother, the Queen, and Lea, had to organize an intervention, before the wedding became an Embarrassing Event That Nobody Talked About Without Laughing. The only valuable things that the Sometimes Honeycomb-Smelling Princess was able to bring to the table were the exotic scents that she had crafted by herself. Barring the fact that Lea and the Queen were mortified that she had a skill that was not part of the list of Proper Pursuits for Proper Princesses, the fragrances were really quite lovely. Despite the Queen’s efforts to keep the scents’ origins a secret, however, several rumors had spread in the Kingdom of Berbania about Diego’s Wife’s plebian hobby, which Lea may (or may not) have had a hand in. After all, though a Suitable Cooling Period had been observed (and Lea was magnanimous enough to regard the Leaving Juan Behind Debacle as Wholly Understandable), it was, still, not quite Completely Forgivable.
The second year was spent with Lea submerged in the castle tasks of royal female personages, while steadily avoiding Pedro. She prayed a lot, flirted whenever permissible, and sewed. And sewed. And sewed. She embroidered table runners and pillow slips; she started several ambitious tapestry projects; she sewed her name on the edges of curtains, when no one was looking (it was a silly joke at best, since only she was privy to the shallow implications of ownership).
Lea was cautiously optimistic during the third year. She brushed her hair every night with twisting strokes to retain their luster and their large curls; with wild abandon she scrubbed herself with the papaya soap she had finagled from her future mother-in-law; she coerced Diego’s Wife into sharing the secret of how to create her wonderful scents (which, later on, Lea would glean might have been Diego’s Wife’s secret weapon against Lea, had things progressed normally with Juan; Lea added ‘delusional’ to the list of the woman’s questionable attributes).
But Juan did not return.
In the fourth year, Lea decided to explore the palace environs, sometimes with Pedro (who turned out to be quite charming, when he wasn’t in his I-Will-Inherit-The-Kingdom mode), most of the time alone. She became well acquainted with the Garden of Santan Bushes, Some Orchids, and a Lot of Bougainvilleas, and its animal denizens, including a frog whom she could have sworn had once called out her name. She had rediscovered the Forgotten Attics with Percolating Dust and Other Allergens, where she had almost been tempted to play with a little-used weaving contraption. On a lark, during the relentless summer, she had gone walking in the Forest of Secrets, Good Lumber and Occasional Fire Hazard, and saw a cross-dressing wolf, which was odd considering wolves tended to be more careful about their look, but not as odd as exceptionally large chickens who pretend to be phoenixes.
All of these Little Adventures were, at their core, mediocre distractions, and by the end of the year, Lea was, again, mind-numbingly bored.
The fifth year was a year of limbo for Lea. Yes, it was an odd-numbered year, which meant there was a possibility that Juan would return, but no one really pays attention to the number five. For one thing, Notable Personages tended to have one or three or seven children. For another, there were seven days of the week. Which had nothing to do with when Juan was returning, as Pedro had pointed out, but she took this as an omen against five anyway.
A conservative at heart, Lea still went through her expanded ablutions. She could not deny that she felt a little bit vindicated when Juan, in fact, didn’t return, and she told Pedro so.
In the sixth year, Lea turned inward and nostalgic. She had begun to see the memories of her past in a different light. Certainly, her older sisters’ pranks were vicious and mean-spirited, but all the gowns that she had lost, all the grossly untrue rumors that had been spread about her and the beloved pet that she still mourned could not erase the fact that she had had a lot of fun with them, usually when they had another sibling as their favored victim. More than once during the sixth year Lea considered returning to her home, but True Love (and the prospect of admitting defeat to her parents) kept her rooted in the Kingdom of Berbania. Well, to be completely honest with herself, which foolish Pedro had said she ought to do now and then, another reason why she had stayed was that she had actually begun to like the Kingdom and its eccentricities. She had begun to find amusement with the neurotic king, the stern queen, the entrepreneurial Diego’s Wife (who continued to be fodder for the rumor mill, even without Lea’s help), the shortsighted Diego, and of course, the I-Will-Inherit-The-Kingdom prince himself, Pedro. But all of that would not have been enough to anchor her, had she really lost hope for Juan’s return.
As such, it was with a tinge of desperation flavored with fanatical optimism that Lea began the seventh year believing, without a shadow of a doubt, that Juan would finally come home that year.
It was time to move on to the next phase of her life. It was time for Something Good to finally happen. It was time for her Happy Ever After to come true.
“But what would you do after that?” Pedro asked. “What would you do after you married Juan?”
“Happy things, of course,” Lea replied. “Many, many happy things.”
What To Do When Your Princely Husband Returns:
1. Smile adorably.
2. Arrange a homecoming party.
3. Don’t mention the chicken.
4. Don’t ask him what took him so long.
The notion of a party was a stroke of genius.
That it had come from the exasperated Diego’s Wife (after Lea had repeatedly bemoaned the fact that there was absolutely no place in the Kingdom of Berbania that was dramatic enough for her long-awaited reunion with Juan) was purely incidental. Lea would have thought of it too, had she not been so distracted with orchestrating that Pivotal (Senses-Shattering) Moment, because any other moment simply would not do. Juan had been gone for seven years. To definitively claim her role as Juan’s Wife, she would have to ensure that their first meeting in seven years made a lasting impact.
All the other places she had previously scouted just weren’t good enough. The Garden of Santan Bushes, Some Orchids, and a Lot of Bougainvilleas had too many ants, too little shade, and a very outspoken frog. The Forest of Secrets, Good Lumber and Occasional Fire Hazard was humid and had bad lighting, while the Forgotten Attics with Percolating Dust and Other Allergens made Lea sneeze.
But a party – which was really Lea’s idea, had she put any effort into thinking about it –was absolutely perfect.
And so it was that it took another three weeks after Juan’s return, before Lea officially saw Juan again. But of course, she had her ways of finding out his whereabouts and activities. Those ways were known as Diego’s Wife and Pedro. And despite their initial resistance to her charming persistence, they eventually learned to provide detailed reports on Juan’s comings and goings. It was through these reports that Lea found out that the useless chicken (who, obviously, hadn’t been able to provide such wise counsel as to guide Juan back home sooner) was still Juan’s companion.
Which wasn’t too big an issue, really. Lea had grown since the last time she had seen that dirty-eyed bird. She was quite certain that she would be able to handle any situation with the so-called phoenix with princessly grace.
And, in the right outfit, with the right lighting, the right make-up (the right shoes, the right hair, the right angle, the right accessories), Lea might even be able to convince Juan to roast it.
On the night of the homecoming party, Lea arrived strategically late, to ensure that Everyone Who’s Anyone (which obviously included Juan) would be present when she made her entrance. Wearing a dress of shimmering sunshine that emphasized her ample bosom, accessorized by a smattering of precious stones that glittered like stars against her dark curly hair, Lea knew she was a Sight To Behold. This was her moment. This was her time to dazzle and shine and claim her right as Juan’s Wife. No more waiting. It was time for her big entrance.
With one small foot about to step into the crowded ballroom, Lea found herself stopped.
Pedro was holding on to her elbow. From the side, Diego’s Wife materialized in a fog of roses.
“There’s someone demanding to see Juan at the castle gates,” Pedro said.
“A Majarlikan woman,” Diego’s Wife said. “Smells as if she has been on the road for quite some time.”
Lea held on to her smile. Their concern was rather sweet, if rather uncalled-for.
“Let her come,” Lea said. “She’s Majarlikan. What do I have to be concerned about?”
What To Do When A Majarlikan Woman Ruins Your Moment:
1. Smile adorably.
2. Smile adorably.
3. Don’t let go of the smile.
4. Smile adorably.
The woman was glorious.
It was the first thought that came to Lea, when the Majarlikan appeared; a thought she hastily edited out of her mind, because Majarlikans shouldn’t be glorious. They were barbaric, dangerous, uncultured heathens. The opposite of anything glorious.
After the initial shock, Lea was able to more objectively assess her nemesis. She had long, black hair (almost shadow-like, really, only it was straight and shiny); she had brown skin the color of smoothened narra (though it was unblemished, it was too dark to be considered fashionable); she had eyes the color of wet earth (and really, who would want to have mud-colored eyes?).
Lea kept smiling.
She was somewhat aware that the Majarlikan Woman had caused a ruckus of some kind. There were some loud blasts, some fighting, a destroyed balcony in the west corner. Lea wasn’t really impressed. She was capable of similar Relatively Massive Destruction feats but had held herself back because Lea was a Proper Princess, while this woman obviously had no similar restraint.
The Majarlikan Woman was now articulating the wrongs that had been done to her, starting from how she had met Juan (a convoluted tale of lakes and sisters and clothes being stolen) to his profession of love (Seriously, how could it have been love, when he had no idea whose clothes he had stolen?) to the tests he had undertaken to win her hand (At this point, Lea blanked out, so uninterested was she in these so-called ‘impossible’ quests that Juan had undertaken), their perilous escape from a Suitor-Averse King (Please, almost anyone with a little bit of magic could escape a horse-riding king), how Juan had accidentally abandoned her to return to the Kingdom of Berbania (Well, perhaps it had been intentional on his part; after all, who would want to be married to a shrew?). Pausing, the Majarlikan Woman made a half-cough, half-rooster crow, and immediately, The Bird that Should Be Roasted appeared in a flurry of colorful feathers.
Lea kept smiling.
“If not for this chicken, I would never have known about his betrayal,” the Majarlikan Woman said, her voice loud. “I demand that the wrong done to me be made right.”
Silly Majarlikan Woman. Didn’t she know that the more she shouted, the less likely her wishes would come true? A Proper Princess does not demand. A Proper Princess does not shout. A Proper Princess waits, patiently, for her Princely Husband to return. A Proper Princess was so much better than any Majarlikan that it would be in this woman’s interest to read up on the Proper Pursuits for Proper Princesses.
Lea stopped smiling. It suddenly occurred to her that the ballroom was overflowing with Ominous Silence, which would have been fine, if Notable Personages weren’t all giving her a Look that Spoke Volumes, which also would have been fine because Lea was used to being looked at, and smiled at, which was what everyone was doing, quite adorably she would have added, if Juan hadn’t caught her attention and disrupted the troubling cascade of her thoughts.
Juan was flashing his dimples at her, the same set of dimples that had set her heart a-flutter all those years ago. And it occurred to her that Juan was probably following some Princely List of Protocols, which probably included smiling as a way to convey the refined but no less complicated emotions of the cultured: Love at First Sight; Self-Righteous Bravery; Humble Intelligence; Please Help Me, Power in Disguise and I-Will-Break-Your-Heart-but-Don’t-Cause-a-Scandal.
Lea forced a return smile.
And suddenly, the King and Queen were upon her, and so was Pedro, who looked like he intended to try and kill his brother all over again, and the rose mist that was Diego’s Wife, and, surprisingly enough, Diego himself, although he looked like he was just dragged into the crowd that surrounded her.
Their words tumbled into each other as all of them tried to speak to give their opinion. From what Lea understood, this was what they were saying:
She had to Set Juan Free. She didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to. The Kingdom would be destroyed. The Kingdom would survive. They’d survive. She’d survive. He wasn’t all that, anyway. Let him go. Fight for him. Marry Pedro. Be a Queen. Leave her alone.
Lea closed her eyes. Of course she knew what a Proper Princess would do. A Proper Princess would be all Noble and Smiling Sunshine, despite the fact that the future wasn’t as clear anymore. A Proper Princess would save the Kingdom from unnecessary destruction by doing the Right Thing, even if that Right Thing involved becoming Queen.
For a moment, she considered what the world would be like, if that chicken were really a phoenix, if that woman hadn’t been Majarlikan, if she had stayed with her monstrous, witty suitor, if she had worshipped fate and pagan gods. And then the moment passed.
When Lea opened her eyes, she was smiling again. And then, she nodded.
Everyone around her understood. They parted to give her a straight path toward the Majarlikan Woman and Juan, who had found his way to the Majarlikan’s side. He was on bended knee, obviously apologizing, but without the Appropriate Expensive Gift of Reconciling, Lea knew it would take a long time before he was forgiven. She made a mental note to advise him on such matters after a Suitable Cooling Period was observed.
For now, she had a Dramatic Line or three to deliver. Lines that would best articulate her loss, her heartache, her nobility, her bravery. Lines that would describe how she was doing this for the Kingdom of Berbania.
At the last moment, she changed her mind. Slightly.
“You and Juan obviously have a lot to talk about. Perhaps a more private chamber would be more appropriate for you two to sort it out?” And then Lea instructed the guards to escort the two of them to the Forgotten Attics with Percolating Dust and Other Allergens.
She hoped they sneezed their way to their Happy Ever After.
Kate Osias swears by the efficacy of cheap chocolate paired with carbonated drinks to solve stress-related problems. She is a two-time Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature winner, a GIG Book Contest winner, a Canvas Story Writing Contest winner, and has earned a citation in the international Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.
Her work has been published in various volumes of the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology series, Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009, the Philippines Graphic, A Time for Dragons, Bewildering Stories, Philippine Genre Stories, and Serendipity. She co-edited the sixth volume of Philippine Speculative Fiction and is currently working as co-editor for the seventh installment of the series with her husband and co-writer, Alex Osias. Kate is a proud founding member of the LitCritters, a writing and literary discussion group.