This was something I came up with on the spot over a take-away Chinese meal one summer in Edinburgh, at the request of the person I was with, to amuse her. For some unknown reason, it popped into my head yesterday (28/4/06), and I decided to write it down. Enjoy!
Once Upon a Time, there was a King and Queen, who lived in a a big white castle and ruled over a peaceful valley and happy land. The King and Queen had three children, all daughters, and therefore all Princesses.
The oldest was called Rose, and she had straight dark hair. The next oldest was called Marion, and she had wavy blonde hair. The youngest was called Violet, and she had long red hair.
The King and Queen loved their daughters very much, but one day when they were all grown up, they realised that they couldn't afford to keep them in designer dresses and expensive jewelry any more. So, one day, when Rose was 21, Marion was 19, and Violet was 18, they made an announcement.
"We are going to invite rich young Princes and Dukes and Earls to compete for your hands in marriage," the King and Queen told the Princesses. "We have to do this because your spending sprees are eating up all our taxes. If we raise taxes to pay for your shopping as well as hospitals and schools for the poor, the peasants will complain, and may revolt, and then we wouldn't be Royal any more."
"But what if we don't like any of them?" asked Rose.
"We'll find some more people to vie for your hand," replied the King.
"But what if they aren't any good at anything?" asked Marion.
"Then we'll send them to the Royal College so they can learn to be good at something," replied the Queen.
"But what if we don't want to get married?" asked Violet.
"Then that's your hard luck," the King told her, "because we'll be bankrupt in a year if you don't!"
And so a few days later, a proclamation was sent forth to all the lands surrounding the Kingdom. It read:
"King Wilfred the Hairy and Queen Lisa the Short hereby announce that their three daughters, Princess Rose, Princess Marion, and Princess Violet, are to be married to the most suitable young men who take their fancy from any who turn up at the Castle in the Valley at midsummer. Only rich noblemen and royalty need apply."
And it had a copy of the three Princesses' official portrait at the bottom, to show the prospective husbands just how pretty they all were.
And so, that midsummer, a whole host of young Princes and Dukes and Earls and their retinues and pavillions and finery, arrived at the Castle in the Valley. The three Princesses were delighted that there should be so much competition for their favour, and excited at choosing between them all.
The King and Queen, on the other hand, were worried. "We only expected about a dozen," the King said to the Queen. "We're not a very big Kingdom, we're not prepared for all this lot!" He pointed to the rows of hopeful candidates lined up outside the castle gates. "Look at them - there's more than a hundred of them!"
And the Queen said, "We can't ask the girls to choose from so many. We're going to have to do something to reduce their numbers. Let's send away all the Earls."
But the King said, "No, we can't do that. Earls don't have to spend as much on finery and frippery as Dukes and Princes, they'll have more to spend on our daughters."
"But we can't send away the Dukes or the Princes," the Queen said, "they'll get offended and may declare war on us!"
"We don't want that," said the King, "we haven't got an army." He sat and thought for a while. "I know!" he said at last. "We'll hold a tournament - the best handful can go on to woo our daughters, and the ones who lose can go home without being offended."
And so the King announced the tournament, while the Queen went and told the Princesses about it. The Princesses were all upset that they wouldn't have the chance to talk to a hundred good-looking young men, only about a dozen, but they realised that it would probably be easier to choose one with only a few to choose from.
The next day, the King and Queen received a messenger from one of the hopeful Princes. "Your Majesties," he said, "My Lord has sent me to present his regrets and inform you that he is not a fighter, and he will surely not progress far in the tournament. He wishes to vie for the hand of one of your lovely daughters so badly, and asks if there could not be another way to thin out the candidates?"
The King and Queen thought for a while, and eventually the King told the man, "Any suitor who likewise claims not to be a fighter, can commentate on the tournament. If the commentary is entertaining and well done, he may progress to the final round, which will be a series of tasks set and judged by each of the Princesses."
"Very well, Your Majesties, that should suit My Lord adequately," said the messenger, and left to spread the good news to those among the suitors who considered themselves better poets or bards or lawyers than fighters (there were a lot of them).
And so a few days later, the tournament began. Because there were so many fighters, and so many commentators, it took several days to hold all the rounds. Several commentators distinguished themselves, including a pair of brothers from a nearby Duchy. There were a number of notable fighters as well, but the best of them all was one that none of the spectators or other suitors recognised. He rode a very fine pitch-black steed, and wore very fine but unadorned or ornamented plain armour, with no coat of arms. His helmet had a magnificent crest made from a long red horsetail on top, though, and that was how he came to be recognised.
No one could beat this strange knight with the horsetail crest - not with lance or sword, on horseback or on foot. No one ever saw his face either, for he left for a secluded pavillion well away from the others as soon as his latest fight was over, and wasn't seen again until a few minutes before his next one. That he was rich no-one doubted, for he had as fine a set of arms and armour, not to mention steed and pavillion, as the richest Princes competing against him.
On the last day of the tournament, there were only eight knights including the horsetail-crested one left. They all lined up in front of the Royal Box and saluted the King and Queen and Princess Rose and Princess Marion (but not Princess Violet, for she had not been watching the tournament), and waited for their instructions.
"Today is the final round of the tournament to decide who will go on to to compete for my daughters' hands in marriage," announced the King. "The three best of you will go on to compete against the three best commentators in three tasks, one set by each of my daughters. They will decide who among you is fit to marry them, based on how well you do in their tasks."
And at that, the strange knight with the horsetail crest finally spoke. "Well, I'd better withdraw now, then, for I can hardly compete in a test I devise myself, can I? It wouldn't be fair." And the knight took her helmet off, revealing the horsetail crest to be, in fact, Princess Violet's hair, still attatched to Princess Violet!
"Violet! What are doing competing?" demanded the King.
"Having fun!" she replied. "I wanted to see the type of person you're trying to marry us off to!"
"Well now you've seen, you can get back up here where you belong! And that armour's coming out of your allowance!"
"Daddyyyy!" Princess Violet protested. But at a glare from the King, she rode back to her secluded pavilion and dismounted, took the armour off, put on a dress, and went back to the Royal Box to watch the last round of the tournament.
The knights competed in the tournament, and the commentators commentated on it, and by the end of the day the King and Queen and the Princesses had chosen the final six who would compete for the Princesses hands in marriage in tests the Princesses would devise themselves. The next day, the King and Queen summoned the final six to the throne room so they could be told the rules of the final round of tests.
"Each of my daughters will give you all a task, in order of age. Each task will be designed so that only one of you should be able to complete it. The one who completes a task will be the one to marry the Princess who set it," the King told them. "I now defer to my eldest daughter, Princess Rose, who will set the first task."
Princess Rose stood up and told the assembled Princes and Dukes (no Earls had made it to the final round), "I will marry the one who brings me the biggest diamond they can find in thirty days!"
The Princes and Dukes immediately bowed and left, and they got on their horses and they rode away as fast as they could. They went to diamond mines, they went to jeweller's shops in big cities, they went to auctions, they went everywhere in search of a bigger diamond than the others might find.
In thirty days they all came back to the Castle in the Valley. They all had a diamond with them, some bigger than the others. But the biggest diamond was presented to Princess Rose by a Prince from a kingdom on the other side of a hill at the edge of the kingdom. It was absolutely huge, and she grinned happily. The wedding was arranged immediately, and they got married at the weekend, then went to live in the kingdom over the hill.
On the Monday after Princess Rose's wedding, the remaining finalists were again summoned to the throne room, so that Princess Marion could give them the second task.
"I will marry the one who can build the most accurate matchstick model of this castle," she told them.
So the Princes and the Dukes bowed and left and went to sawmills and glue factories to get matchsticks and glue, and they hired surveyors and architects to draw the best scale plans of the castle for them, and they got to work, and two weeks later they had all finished their matchstick models of the castle. Princess Marion inspected them all and eventually decided that the most accurate model was a carefully constructed and beautifully painted one, created by a Duke from a far away land who had his own publishing company. The wedding was arranged for the weekend again, and as soon as it was over, Princess Marion and her new husband left for the far away land and the publishing company.
On the Monday after Princess Marion's wedding, the last four Princes and the one remaining Duke were once again summoned to the throne room, for Princess Violet to give them her task.
"I will marry the one who brings me a pure white camel to ride," she told them.
"But there's no such thing as a pure white camel!" protested a Prince.
"Well try and find one anyway, because that's what I want to ride!" Princess Violet replied.
And so the Princes and the Duke bowed and left and got on their horses and rode off to zoos and hot countries and everywhere in search of a pure white camel.
The King turned to his daughter and said to her, "You know, that was mean. Just because you don't want to get married, you didn't have to set them an impossible task."
"Yes I did. If it's impossible, they can't succeed. And if they can't succeed, I don't have to get married. Besides, I don't need to get married now, you've only got me to support now that my sisters have moved out."
"That's not the point. You really should send messengers after them telling them not to bother, you'll think of something else."
"No! Daddy, you said I could choose the task, and I have done. I will marry the one who finds me a pure white camel to ride."
"Alright - but I'm going to send messengers out after them to say that if they haven't completed the task in a year and a day, they're to come back for another task from you."
And so the messengers went out telling the Princes and the Duke that they had a year and a day to complete the task of finding a pure white camel. It took six months for the first of the Princes to come back. He had with him a pure white camel. He brought it into the Castle in the Valley, and the King and Queen and Princess Violet all came out to inspect it.
"Give it good wash!" Princess Violet ordered. "I don't want to ride a smelly camel!"
And so some grooms came and took the camel away and gave it a good wash, and when they sluiced away all the foam from the soap and shampoo, it wasn't a pure white camel any more, just an ordinary yellow camel.
"Get out and don't come back, you deceiver!" ordered the King, and the disgraced Prince left.
One month later, another Prince returned with a pure white camel. Again, it was brought into the Castle in the Valley for the King and Queen and Princess Violet to inspect it.
"Wash it!" she ordered. And the grooms came and washed the camel, and when they sluiced all the foam from the soap and shampoo away, it was still mostly a pure white camel - but where it was still white, the hair was all matted and stuck together, and where it wasn't, it was yellow.
"It's been painted!" Princess Violet declared. "The first one was dyed, this one's been painted! Get out and don't come back!"
The disgraced Prince left, and it was another month before the third Prince returned. He, too, had a pure white camel with him that was brought into the Castle in the Valley for the King and Queen and Princess Violet to inspect.
"Wash it!" Princess Violet ordered, and the grooms came again and took the camel away and washed it. And when they had sluiced away all the foam from the soap and shampoo, it was still a pure white camel. Except...
"Why are it's feet blue?" asked Princess Violet. "Blue isn't a natural colour for a camel."
"I really couldn't say," replied the Prince.
The court vet was sent for. He examined the camel, and was baffled by the blue feet. He didn't know why the feet were blue, and told everyone so.
"There must be a reason why its' feet are blue," said the King. "Send for the court scientists!"
And so the court scientists came and examined the camel with the blue feet, and ran tests on it, and they eventually decided that they also didn't know why the camel had blue feet.
"There must be a reason why it has blue feet," said the Queen. "Send for the court sorceror!"
And so the court sorceror came and examined the camel with the blue feet to try and find out why its' feet were blue. And he found that it was because another sorceror had cast a spell on the camel to make it appear white, but the spell hadn't worked properly on the feet, so feet had been painted. The court sorceror broke the spell on the camel, and it turned back into an ordinary yellow camel again.
"Deceiver! Get out and don't come back!" ordered the Queen. And so the final Prince left in shame.
And now they waited - King Wilfred the Hairy and Queen Lisa the Short, Princess Violet, all their servants and retainers, all the grooms, all the court scientists, the court vet, the court sorceror, all the guards, all the common folk - they all waited for the last remaining suitor, the Duke, to return with or without a camel.
"When he comes back, you'll have to marry him, as all the others cheated in the task and were disqualified," the King told his daughter.
"Not unless he has a pure white camel with him that I can ride," she told him.
"But what if he doesn't have a pure white camel?"
"Then I'll think of another task for him to complete," she said. "And you can invite some of the runners-up from the tournament to compete against him in the task."
"Very well," said the King, and went back to waiting.
And winter came, and so did Christmas, and both Christmas and winter went with no sign of the Duke's return. And spring came and spring went, and there was still no sign of the Duke. Summer came and it became apparent that the Duke would have to hurry if he were to be back in a year and a day from when the task was set.
Then, on midsummer's day, the Duke returned. He was driving a cart, over which there was a big tarpaulin. He drove it right up to the gates of the Castle in the valley and into the courtyard, and everyone came down to see what was in the cart.
When Princess Violet was watching, the Duke removed the tarpaulin to reveal underneath it, a pure white camel, standing stock still.
"Oh, it's beautiful!" she excalimed. "But why isn't it moving?"
"Well, Your Highness," said the Duke, "the challenge was to bring you a pure white camel that you could ride. I knew I would never be able to find a real pure white camel, so I made one. I bought a stuffed one from a taxidermist, and spent ever such a long time carefully pulling all its' hair out and replacing it with hair from Polar bears and Arctic foxes. Then I put wheels on its' feet, and took the chain and gears off my bicycle and fitted them to the camel where you can't see them, and now you have a pure white camel you can ride!"
"That's cheating!" the King said.
"No it isn't," said the Queen, "he did exactly as he was asked."
"Get it down," said Princess Violet, "I want to try and ride it."
So the Duke took a ramp from the back of the cart and laid it so that the pure white camel could be rolled down it to the ground, and that is exactly what he did with it. And Princess Violet mounted up, and the Duke showed her how to get at the hidden pedals, and how to steer by pulling the ears, and then Princess Violet rode the pure white camel twice round the courtyard.
"You did it!" she exclaimed. "I shall marry you, for were the only one to complete the task!"
The wedding was arranged immediately for that weekend, and Princess Violet married the Duke, and they both went off to live in his Duchy, taking the pure white camel to with them, and they both lived Happily Ever After.
© Brian Wakeling