With a flourish, the princess flung open her bedroom door and let in a fellow who offended the prince’s eyes. The wizard was thin and sallow, dark-haired and scruffy. Staring proudly several feet above the base intruder’s head, valiant Thad simply refused to meet the man’s inquiring gaze.
Shelley’s eyes went to the fuzzy lump the wizard held in his arms.
“What happened, Ken?” she cried.
“I think he fell and hurt his leg,” the wizard answered. “Must have gotten out on the stairs again. I found him on the ground. Luckily, it just seems his leg is a little sprained. He’ll be all right.”
“Oh, Sweetie!” the princess crooned, taking the lump gently from Ken’s arms. “I want you to tear those dirty stairs down. Look what’s happened. They even allowed this idiot to sneak up on me in my own room!”
The wizard continued to brazenly regard the prince.
“Yeah, who is this guy?” Ken wanted to know.
Thad stiffened even further with insult.
“Knave! I am the Crown Prince of Donley, heir to the throne of that mighty kingdom! Furthermore, I am the Princess Shelley of Lorelay’s rightful betrothed!” the prince intoned with the utmost grandeur he could muster.
“Oh, you’re that guy,” said the wizard, nodding. “Well, Shelley’s decided not to be betrothed to you. We fell in love, you see. She’s given up all that royalty nonsense to lead a real life with me.”
“She spoke of this,” Thad admitted. “But I know she is bewitched by you. By heaven, my love and truth will set her free!”
“Shelley’s not bewitched,” Ken tried to explain. “She’s made her mind up on this. There’s nothing you can do.”
The prince drew himself up even more stiffly.
“Do not imagine I have never bested an evil wizard before this day,” Thad declared. “Though I daresay your aspect is not as fearsome as the one-eyed gypsy described it to me.”
“Yes, I daresay,” the wizard said calmly. “Well, maybe you’ve bested an evil wizard. Or maybe you haven’t. But I’m not an evil wizard, Prince of Donley. I do a little magic show, travel around a bit. Shelley and I met at the market.”
Over the gasps of the prince, the princess added scornfully, “And I went after him! Take that, you cad!”
Ken leaned over to Shelley and whispered something that Thad couldn’t make out. When the princess nodded and smiled at the wizard, the prince’s hand went to his sword hilt.
“What bewitchments did you dare just utter before my very eyes?” Thad demanded.
While Shelley snorted her disgust with the prince, Ken just looked at him.
“I told her she looked beautiful, if you must know,” the wizard stated. “And that I couldn’t wait to get rid of you so her and I could be alone.”
It was too much to bear! Thad nearly shook himself apart with fury.
“You depraved mongrel—”
“Now now,” Ken said smoothly, taking the prince’s arm firmly and leading him to the balcony exit. “I think you’ve upset Shelley enough. Time to go, guy. Hey, wait.” He pulled up and gave Thad an inquiring look. “You said a one-eyed gypsy told you where I was?”
“Over in the next town,” said the prince. “He said the evil wizard Ken could be found in a dilapidated tower at the foot of Festering Hill.”
“Hmmm,” the wizard pondered. “Did this gypsy also have a purple hood and a raspy voice?”
“Of course! Don’t they all?”
Ken and Shelley shared a knowing glance.
“Marten!” they said together.
The wizard turned back to Thad.
“My old manager. He’s bitter I’ve started doing well without him. Even snagged myself a princess! Anyway, let’s go, Prince!”
The prince struck Ken’s hand away from him suddenly.
“I have also endured the fiendish attack of a devilish beast at this very place,” Thad said, “and I will not be deterred now!”
“What did you say?” Shelley cut in. “At this place? A…beast?” She looked down at the creature cradled in her arms and then back at the prince. “Are you talking about Sweetie?”
“Uh-oh, Prince,” the wizard said.
Thad, finally realizing what Shelley was comforting in her lap, pointed at the animal.
“Careful, princess! That must be the very demon dog that attacked me!”
The princess’ entire face now did a slow burn.
“You hurt my Sweetie? You kicked him off the stairs?” she simmered.
This angry inquiry was punctuated by a yip from the injured beast.
“Toss the beast my way!” the prince yelled bravely. “I will finish him!”
As Shelley screamed with rage, Thad drew his sword. The crisis point of this adventure had finally arrived. He would slay the beast and the wizard even over the princess’ objections.
Before the prince knew it, his trusty sword was snatched from his grasp by Ken, who then lashed out with a tremendous kick to Thad’s chest. Thrown back, the prince hit the balcony railing, flipped over it, and plummeted.
When he felt his back break on the ground, he blacked out. Fevered visions assaulted the prince as he lay dazed; he saw his beloved Shelley laughing at him while being clutched in Ken’s arms, the wizard gazing triumphantly at Thad. As the prince moaned, he determined there was nothing to be done. The wizard was too powerful for him to conquer, being able to call upon cute devil dogs and the like. There was no shame in Thad’s defeat on this day; he had tried his best, after all. He could return to Donley, head held high, and just see what lovely maiden father would offer him as a second choice of bride.
Gradually, the prince returned to consciousness as a trickle of water was striking his face. Then, he heard a voice.
“I feel for you, guy,” the wizard was saying sympathetically. “You’re mad as a hatter, which maybe you can’t help. But even crazy princes can’t bother my Shelley and expect to get away with it.”
“And hurt Sweetie!” the princess cried out from overhead.
“Yeah, you messed with my Shelley’s Sweetie and there’s a price to be paid for that.”
Thad’s blurred vision finally focused enough to make out the face of Ken looking down at him through what appeared to be a golden stream.
“Your horse ran away,” the wizard went on. “I’ll call for a doctor and a carriage to take you home. No hard feelings, guy.”
Prince Thad’s last sight before passing out again was of the furry rear of Sweetie the devil dog limping away from him, shaking the remaining drops from its leg.