by Rebekah Postupak
“It is time to make the announcement.”
“Are you certain this is the best way to save our son?”
The king’s wet, burning eyes met hers. “This is the only way.”
The news roared through the kingdom like dragonfire. Three impossible tasks; the prince himself as reward. What girl could refuse such a challenge? Many failed, however, as dreams outflanked wisdom; and many more died in the trying.
I’d be smarter.
Bring the prince thirty drops of blood drawn from both sea and land.
It didn’t take past breakfast to deduce this was (unsurprisingly) less quest, more riddle. Some girls went about picking fights with mermaids shipboard, collecting blood in diamond vials. Others fished for mini-kraken and dragged them on shore before hacking them to pieces. Me, I’d lived on the coast too long to get this one wrong. Pearls were meant, of course, so I strung thirty of them on a silver chain and dropped them off at the front gate.
Bring the prince a strand of hair from a Cloud Walker.
This one was easy too, and I almost spit my pomegranate juice on the envelope when I read it. Cloud Walkers don’t have proper hair, of course. They are made of mixed vapor and moss, and no one’s ever gotten close enough to talk to one. Still, it wasn’t any great secret they lived in the air between the Twin Mountains, and I reasoned Cloud Walkers were surely as decent as anyone else if approached politely. I flung a vine across the chasm to make a sort of bridge through the clouds, and explained things. Sure enough, they were eager to pluck a delicate bit of fuzzy wetness from their heads for a good cause
Bring the prince the heart of the land, split in two.
Ah. Now this task almost needed brain work; everyone said the prince was the heart of the land.
Good thing I was smarter.
“I’m here with the land/heart thing,” I said to the gatekeeper. He motioned me in, and I trotted behind a servant up a back turret.
The prince lay there, pale and still. Dying, it appeared; a fact quite left out of the original announcement. I wasn’t one to shrink at surprises, however, so I shuffled on up and handed him the glass of water.
“What’s this?” he whispered.
“Look in,” I said, and when he did, his own watery reflection stared trembling back. Then I poured half the water into a second glass.
“Look again,” I said, and now two shaky reflections appeared.
This counted, apparently, and the king, queen, and court officials flooded into the room, cheering.
“Such a clever girl,” said the queen, wiping her nose, “and there’s no one we’d rather have for our son.”
“You have saved us all,” the king said, eyes brimming over.
“Brave, clever maiden,” said the queen.
“I’m eternally grateful,” whispered the prince, licking his dragon lips and opening his maw.
Seems smarter is relative.
495 words. Written for the weekly flash fiction contest Finish That Thought, with a max word count of 500, incorporating the required opening sentence and the optional judge’s challenge elements of an envelope, bridge, glass of water, and beaded necklace. Did I mention the judge was Betsy Streeter? By the way, I totally missed the deadline by a mile. But some stories are so ill-behaved they insist on being written anyway. And who am I to argue?! -Hope you can join the party over there next week, though you yourself may wish to submit by deadline. Just for kicks.