I just remembered when I was like 14 I was at the movies here in Sydney and a trailer for the movie ‘Milk’ came on, and some old man up the back groaned “Ah come on m8, that’s a bit poofy (translation: faggy)”, followed by some other guy shouting back “It’s a fucken gay movie, ya dopey cunt”, and that’s probably the most Australian version of “Harold, they’re lesbians“ I’ll ever see.
Imagine Prince Charming has an older sister: Princess Charming. And when Prince Charming sets off on his quest to rescue a faraway princess locked away in a tower by an evil warlock, his parents make him bring his sister with him.
“She knows more about the forests than you, son. You’ll need her to help navigate.”
“She’s fought warlocks before. You’ll never defeat him without her.”
While Prince Charming oozes, well, charm, and good looks, Princess Charming’s strengths lie in other areas. She’s practical and daring, and more skilled with a broadsword than anyone else in Fairytale Kingdom.
Despite Princess Charming’s achievements and age, it is her younger brother, Prince Charming, who is expected to rule the kingdom after their father. He is also expected to marry a respectable princess and have plenty of male heirs.
Prince Charming isn’t interested in marriage or children, but bearing the weight of their society’s expectations, he plans to go along with the whole charade anyway. He just hopes that when he sees the princess, he’ll feel that sensation in his heart the married villagers all talk about.
“When you’ve been touched by true love, your heart knows,” they say, “your heart always knows.”
Their journey through the kingdom’s dark forest is not without obstacles. Very early on, they’re ambushed by bandits, drawn in by their fine garments and armour.
Princess Charming is ready to take them all down – not so much with the blade of her sword for such a minor offence, but certainly with her fists. Before the bandits can make their move, Prince Charming steps forward, the palms of his hands exposed. And it’s his quick tongue and wit that keep them on their path.
“You can fight us if you so wish, but I can assure you my sister is faster, stronger and more powerful than all of you, so it really won’t be a fair fight. Perhaps you don’t believe me, and you’re welcome to take that risk. Alternatively, you can walk away peacefully, and I’ll even throw in some gold coins from my purse in gratitude for your cooperation.”
Just like that, the fight is over.
“I could have taken them with my eyes closed,” Princess Charming tells her brother. “You needn’t have wasted your gold.”
They clear the rest of the forest’s obstacles with ease, Princess Charming leading the way. When they reach the tower, they are both stunned by its size. Its stretches up so high, it disappears into the clouds. Prince Charming rubs the back of his neck uneasily. He’s not keen on heights. Neither is Princess Charming.
“I’ll go up,” she says bravely. “You stay here and prepare yourself. You’ll be meeting your future wife and queen soon.”
The stones that make up the tower are jagged and unevenly placed. Princess Charming uses this to her advantage – pulling herself up by the corners and getting a foothold in the gaps.
“Don’t look down,” her brother calls out unhelpfully beneath her.
The air gets colder as she climbs and her limbs shakier. She’s not tired or out of strength, just scared. One wrong move and she’ll fall. How far, she doesn’t know. But far enough to never wake up. She grabs hold of a stone and it loosens under her grip, falling away to the ground.
“Watch out,” she yells to her brother, glancing down as she quickly finds grip elsewhere. Her stomach lurches at the sight. She can’t see Prince Charming, only a fuzzy whiteness.
She’s made it above the clouds.
It takes some time before Princess Charming can talk herself into continuing the climb. But she does, finally making it to the only entry – a tall arched window. She pulls herself up onto the sill, kicks at the window, shattering the glass, and swings in, landing on all fours.
“I could have opened that, you know.”
Princess Charming looks up, blinking furiously as her eyes get used to the darkness inside the tower. When the room finally comes into view, her eyes land on a woman leaning against a doorframe. She wears a long purple robe buttoned from neck to floor. Behind her is a spiral staircase.
“This is new,” the woman says as Princess Charming carefully gets to her feet, avoiding the sharp pieces of glass around her.
“Are you the princess?” Princess Charming asks.
“I’m here to rescue the princess on behalf of my brother, Prince Charming of Fairytale Kingdom.”
“Pity.” The woman’s eyes rake over Princess Charming. “You’ll have to face the witch first.”
“Witch? You mean the warlock?”
The woman laughs. Her eyes are bright. “Is that what they’re saying? Male egos are so fragile, aren’t they? They can’t even admit they’ve been defeated by a woman.”
“Take me to the witch, then,” Princess Charming says. “I will not be defeated.”
The woman smiles. “I should hope not. You certainly have an advantage over the previous contenders.”
“And what is that?” Princess Charming asks.
“You’re the princess’s type.”
Princess Charming doesn’t understand the implication. “How will that help me with the witch?”
“I might let you win,” the woman says. Her hands drop into the long pockets of her robe.
“You– ” Princess Charming closes a fist around the sword at her hip as understanding dawns. “You’re the witch.”
“I am,” the woman – the witch – admits. “But you won’t be needing that. I fight with words, not swords.”
Princess Charming draws her sword anyway, brandishing it between them. “It is my brother who favours talk. I am not so patient.”
“You would cut down a defenceless woman in her own home?”
“You’re not defenceless. You’re a witch.”
The witch scowls then, but her hands remain in her pockets. “And for that, I should be punished?” She asks.
“No, of course not. You should be punished for trapping the princess here against her will.”
The witch’s smile returns. “The princess’s will is my own.”
“You’ve put a spell on her,” Princess Charming accuses.
“No,” the witch says, “but you have.”
“You say you fight with words and yet your words are nonsense.”
“Because I don’t intend to win this battle.”
Princess Charming readjusts the grip on her sword. “Why not?”
“As I said,” the witch says, as if it’s obvious, “you’re the princess’s type.”
“Why not let the princess speak for herself?” Princess Charming asks. She eyes the spiral staircase behind the witch. If she can just get past–
“I am,” the witch answers.
Princess Charming almost accuses her of speaking nonsense again, but then she understands.
“You’re the princess.”
“And the witch?”
The princess – the witch – the witch princess – steps into the room. “I have no interest in being bothered by men. That’s why this tower has no door. You’d think the message would be clear.”
Princess Charming lowers her sword but doesn’t sheathe it. “What about your family?”
“My parents cast me out as soon as my powers revealed themselves. They aren’t likely to visit.”
“If you’re letting me win,” Princess Charming says slowly, “does that mean you’ll come with me, to marry my brother?”
“Your brother isn’t my type,” the witch princess says, shaking her head. There’s amusement in her eyes.
“Then what is it you want?”
The witch princess draws her hands from her pockets, revealing a single red rose in one. “You,” she says simply.
“Me?” Princess Charming repeats, staring at the rose. Her face heats up and she scrambles for something to say. “The kingdom will never allow it.”
“I’m not asking the kingdom,” says the witch princess as she walks further forward, pieces of glass shattering underfoot.
Princess Charming means to take a step back but her feet are frozen. She glances at the window behind her. “My brother’s waiting at the bottom of the tower.”
“Let him wait a bit longer.”
When Princess Charming turns her head back around, the witch princess is looking down. Princess Charming follows her gaze to find the shattered glass replaced with a litter of roses. The stems are all smooth without thorns. “Pretty,” she comments without thinking.
“I know,” the witch princess says when they both look back up.
She’s so close, Princess Charming feels warm breath on her lips. There’s a tingle running up the back of her spine, like the feeling right before a close fight, except this is nothing like a fight.
“Yes,” Princess Charming whispers.
The witch princess tilts her head. “Yes what?”
“You can have me. I don’t care what the kingdom thinks.”
The witch princess smiles, bright and beautiful. “You win,” she says and leans in. Princess Charming’s sword clatters to the ground.