Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess in a magnificent castle. Her name was Ruby, named for the prettiest gem of them all. But before we can tell her story, we must first learn about the other cast of characters.
The merciful ruler: Ruby’s father King George XXII ruled his kingdom justly. The people of the kingdom loved him dearly, for he was good to them and helped them prosper. However, Ruby, who was in her mid-teens, had begun to grow jealous of her father and the love he garnered so easily.
The innocent sidekick: Sometimes animals talked to Ruby. At least that’s what she claimed. Either way, they kept her company whenever she felt particularly angst-ridden. The leader of her furry crew was Squealer the Teacup Pig. Have you seen one of these animals? They are seriously the cutest living thing alive! Ahem. Squealer was known throughout the animal kingdom for his ability to always say the right thing at the right moment.
The handsome warrior: Gregory was born an ordinary peasant. Like all ordinary peasant boys, he was in love with Princess Ruby. Unlike all ordinary peasant boys, he decided to do something about it. He knew Ruby wouldn’t notice him until he did something heroic, so he went to Night School for Knights. After graduation—and becoming Sir Gregory—he departed for Darkness Mountain where the hideous Black Dragon dwelled. Sir Gregory’s goal was to slay the dragon, bring back its head as proof (a gross and unnecessary gesture), and win the princess’s heart.
The evil witch: Ruby’s mother had died in childbirth, and King George XXII was a busy man, so primary caregiving responsibilities fell to the late Queen’s jealous sister Hazel. In an unexpected power move, Hazel drugged the king and forced him to marry her, making her Ruby’s stepmother. And just like all stepmothers are wont to be, Hazel was wicked. Oh so very wicked. Of course, Hazel married the king not to be Ruby’s mother—she despised the girl—but to become queen. Hazel planned to off the king and ascend to power, but in an even more unexpected turn of events, she learned that although she was technically queen, she was not next in line for the throne. Ruby was. Leave it to ancient loopholes and overly confusing royal traditions, but nevertheless, it saved the king’s life. Queen Hazel proceeded to take out her anger on her stepdaughter. But Queen Hazel’s true scheme, to turn Ruby into a helpless stork, had just begun.
We now join our main story, already in progress.
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, why doesn’t my dress fit me at all?” asked Ruby with a whiny edge to her voice. The mirror didn’t respond. I mean, of course it didn’t. It’s an inanimate object. Princess Ruby was just talking to herself, as per usual. She found it a good defense mechanism against the horrors of the real world. Talking to animals also helped. Especially Squealer. Who happened to be sitting in a teacup on Ruby’s armoire (a dresser, but for royalty).
“I think you look beautiful, Ruby!” chirped the pig.
“Thanks, Squealer. I wish I could marry you instead of some handsome warrior I don’t even know.”
“I love you, too, Ruby, but we wouldn’t want a future ruler to be some horrid humanoid swine, now would we?”
“No, I guess you’re right,” Ruby conceded with a sigh.
“Right. Now let’s get you looking pretty for the suitors.”
Out of the room’s open windows came hordes of critters: swallows, chimpanzees, butterflies, platypuses, swordfish, and the occasional bunny. Outside the castle these animals might be enemies, but inside Ruby’s room they were united by their common mission of making her look beautiful. The fish handled makeup, the insects painted and trimmed her nails, the rodents managed alterations, the monotremes took on the hair, the birds were experts in shoes, and the primates did the shaving. In a few minutes, the animal swarm had dissipated, leaving Ruby looking even prettier than she had before. After receiving a good luck wink from Squealer, she descended the grand stairs to the grand entrance, where she would await the line of potential suitors.
The first young man to enter through the castle’s portcullis was a gangly, acne-riddled, awkward specimen. But before he could open his mouth to explain his virtues, such as curing the bubonic plague, another man barged through the gates. This one was handsome.
It was Sir Gregory, who had just “returned from slaying the Black Dragon! And because I have proven myself a hero, I am worthy of marrying you, my highness.”
Ruby was aghast. First of all, the Black Dragon had not harmed anyone. The only thing it did that could be considered violent was killing mosquitoes, thereby lowering the incidence of West Nile virus in the kingdom. And even Ruby didn’t consider killing mosquitoes to be animal violence. Second, Sir Gregory had the gall to drag the still bleeding dragon head into the castle. A tear fell from one of Ruby’s brilliant blue eyes.
“A tear of joy!” proclaimed Sir Gregory. “Our love is as true as your tearful eye is blue.”
“Guards, please ask him to—”
“Marry me! Marry me, sweet princess!”
Ruby took in one last stare, then ran back up the staircase and into her room.
“Boy trouble?” asked Squealer.
“I have so many men doting on me, but they’re all horrific! This one today dragged in a dragon’s head to impress me, but it was just so sad,” cried Ruby.
“Tell me about it, girlfriend,” agreed her pig friend. “You just need a good cry. Go on. Cry. We’re here for you, sister.”
Ruby cried. She cried because of her boy problems. She cried because of the Black Dragon and the impending West Nile virus epidemic. She cried because of the mother she never knew. She cried because her stepmother Hazel was so mean. But mostly, she cried because she was a teenage girl.
That night at dinner, the royalty sat in their normal places: King George XXII at one of the heads of the gratuitously long table, Queen Hazel at the opposite end, and Princess Ruby in the middle, but trying to scoot closer to her father. Their conversation also proceeded as normal:
“How was school, honey?” asked the king.
“Father, I don’t go to school. I’m a princess, remember?” replied Ruby.
“Sure you are, sweetie.”
“No, I’m a real princess. You’re the king, so I’m a princess.”
“For the last time we’re not getting you a pony.”
“But I didn’t even ask for one!”
“Don’t you think you have enough dolls, sweetums?”
“Father, I am sixteen! I don’t play with dolls anymore.”
“Any special boys you want to tell us about?”
“I don’t like—Oh, yes, I guess there’s one. He came today during the daily suitor auditions. He was mean, but he was so handsome. I don’t know what to do.”
“What was his name?” asked the queen. The king and Ruby stared at her. They couldn’t remember the last time she had shown, or even feigned, interest in one of their conversations. “Well, what was it?”
“Sir Gregory. He’s a knight.”
“Ah. Would you like to meet him again?” Queen Hazel had plans of her own (remember the stork?), and they were becoming dangerously near to fruition.
“I guess,” replied Ruby. “As long as he doesn’t bring any more dead animals. Or their dismembered limbs. It’s icky and mean.”
“Very well. That can be arranged,” said Queen Hazel. There was a long pause as everyone took in this seeming cordiality between the females.
“Ruby, for the last time, you can’t have a puppy!” asserted the king.
Dinner ended. Like all meals, Ruby did not eat her vegetables. She despised them almost as much as she despised her stepmother. Every repast, she scraped the crudités from her plate into her napkin. After the meal, she would bring them up to her room and hide them from her parents. She often fed the leftovers to her animal friends. Tonight, after not eating a particularly large helping of peas, she hid them in her bed under the mattress.
“The bed bugs will eat well tonight,” Ruby thought to herself.
After bidding Squealer goodnight, Ruby closed her eyes to fall asleep. But she couldn’t. Sir Gregory was on her mind. What would she wear when she met him? What would she say? Would he hate her because she ran away today? These racing thoughts kept her up most of the night. That, and the peas made the bed quite uncomfortable.