The Challenge

This is a story I wrote for school a couple weeks ago.

The.jpg

Part One

Prince Archie Blackwood paced up and down in front of his father’s throne.
“You’re making me dizzy,” King Samuel Blackwood said. “Please, state your problem and I can fix it.”
“Not in front of them,” Archie gestured at the court. “It’s a private family matter.”
“Of course,” King Samuel said. “Everyone may leave.” Once everyone had left he continued. “Now, Archie, what is the matter?”
“I need to choose a wife,” Archie started. “But none of them are the right kind of girl. Lady Violet, for example, is always focused on being pretty, as are many of them, and none of them seemed concerned with doing what is right. I want a wife who will be more than a trophy queen.”
“What do you want me to do?” the king asked.
“I don’t know,” Archie began pacing again, back and forth, back and forth.
“Hold a dinner banquet,” the king said. “You can-”
“That’s it!” Archie stopped pacing and held up his hand. “I have it! I will hold a dinner, but it will have a challenge!” he smiled. “The girls will have to walk between the castle gate and the castle itself, which is a mile long. I shall plant little tests along the way.”
The king blinked. “Very well,” he said. “Who will you invite?”
“Lady Violet Renaud, Lady Muriel Mumford, Princess Catherine Reed, and Princess Clementine Reed, the twins, Duchess Sylvia Forrest, Lady Claudia Windsor, and the Count Stoneshire’s daughter Lady Stella Stoneshire.” Archie let out a long breath. “Way too many complicated titles.”
The king frowned. “Duchess Sylvia Forrest? Isn’t she married?”
“No,” Archie shook her head. “That’s her mother. Duchess Sylvia Forrest the first died, as did Duke Forrest, and now their only daughter is the Duchess until she marries.”
“Very well then, tell your mother to send out the invitations,” the king said.
Archie nodded and ran out of the room.

Part Two

“Mother, mother! Cath!” Princess Clementine Reed nearly ran up the stairs, forgetting all of her training. “Prince Archie invited me to a dinner banquet!” Her green eyes sparkled and danced.
“Wonderful!” Duchess Reed smiled. “Whatever shall you wear?”
Princess Catherine Reed jumped up from her seat and grabbed the letters from her sister’s hand. “I have one too!” she said.
“Both of my daughters-” Duchess Reed grinned. “Let’s begin our preparations right away,” she said.
“Listen to this,” Cath said, reading from the invitation. “You will be required to walk the mile between the castle gates and the castle itself on your own, so be prepared and wear appropriate clothing.”
Duchess Reed frowned. “What time should you arrive?”
“Four thirty,” Cath said, reading the invitation over and over again, her blue eyes dancing as her sister’s had.
“I’m going to wear my blue gown!” Clementine said, twirling around.
“I’ll wear my red,” Cath said. She sat back down and fingered her long brown hair. “I suppose I will have to wear suitable walking shoes. Perhaps my silver?”
Duchess Reed tittered. “Walk a mile! Whatever is the prince thinking?”

Part Three

Duchess Sylvia Forrest received the mail just as she usually did, sitting in the parlor conversing with Lord Clarence Lockhart, her distant cousin who was helping her run the estate until she married. This time joining them was Lady Stella Stoneshire, the very important Count Stoneshire’s daughter.
Sylvia was flipping through her letters. “Business, you should read this, Lockhart, Aunt Josephine’s letter, Lady Stella would you care for more tea?” Sylvia looked over at Stella, who shook her head. “Very well. Business also, something for Maud, oh!” Sylvia dropped the mail on her lap, holding a cream, pressed envelope with the crown signa pressed in the wax.
“From the Queen!” Stella said, gasping.
Sylvia carefully broke the wax and opened the letter, pulling out a cream sheet of paper. She pushed her brown curls out of her eyes and read it silently, then smiled. “It’s an invitation to Prince Archie’s dinner banquet! It says that we have to walk between the castle gates and the castle itself, on our own.”
“I wonder if I have one waiting at home?” Stella said. “What else does it say?”
Sylvia read it over carefully. “Nothing much,” she said.
“Why a dinner banquet?” Clarence asked. He had already read over the business letter Sylvia had handed him.
“I suppose it’s because he’s looking for a wife,” Stella said. She picked up her gloves and adjusted the hem.
“And you’ll go?” Clarence asked her.
“If I have an invitation,” she said. Her brown eyes sparkled as she continued. “Just think, dinner with the prince! It’s sure to be magnificent.”
Clarence sighed. “I suppose you’ll want to go home now?” he said.
“Oh of course. I must check for an invitation and get ready.” Stella turned to Sylvia and embraced her. “Thank you for inviting me, Duchess Sylvia.”
“It was very fun,” Sylvia replied, returning the embrace. “With my parent’s death and running the estate it has been so long since we had tea together.”
“Yes,” Stella looked over at Clarence. “And it was nice to see you again too, Lord Lockhart.”
Clarence nodded. “Yes, yes. It was very good,” he said. “Would you like me to escort you out?”
“If you would,” Stella said.
Clarence took her arm and led her down the hall and outside.
Sylvia jumped up and hurried over to the window, looking down at the courtyard.
Stella was being helped into the carriage by Clarence, laughing at something he said as she tucked a blond curl behind her ear.
Sylvia smiled and turned away from the window.

Part Four

Lady Violet Renaud was the first to arrive at the castle gates, at four. She stepped lightly from her carriage and waved the coachman on. “Oh this is so annoying,” she said, tossing her black hair behind her shoulders and beginning up the path. “When Prince Archie picks me he won’t do things like this,” she said saucily to no one. As she rounded the corner she came across a little boy stuck in the mud.
“Help!” he said, wriggling as hard as he could, but his foot wouldn’t come out. “Help me, lady!”
Violet frowned and looked down at her silver gown. “I don’t want to get my dress muddy,” she murmured.
“Please, help me pretty lady!” the boy said again.
Violet’s heart softened a little and she smiled. “I’m going to dinner with the prince,” she told the boy. “And I don’t want to get my dress dirty, but I will help you somehow.” She cast her gaze on the path and saw a long branch just off of it. “Stay here,” she told the boy.
The boy smiled. “Thank you!” he said.
Violet went over to the branch and, being very careful of her dress, slowly dragged it across the path to the boy. She swung it out over the mud, but it didn’t reach all the way across.
“I can’t reach it!” the boy said.
Violet frowned and looked at the pocket watch her mother had sent with her. “I’m sorry,” she said “But I’ll be late. How ‘bout this, once I get to the castle I’ll send someone back for you.”
“That will be fine!” the boy said, grinning.
Violet continued on her way down the path, and once she was out of sight the boy pulled himself from the mud and ran through the woods beside the path, following her, while a second boy crawled out of the woods and squished through the mud, standing in the middle of the pit and wedging his foot under a stump.
Lady Muriel Mumford was the second to arrive, at four ten. She was assisted out of the carriage by a young man, who then proceeded to follow her as she limped down the path.
Muriel rounded the first corner and came upon a young boy with his foot jammed in the mud.
“Oh help! Help me! I’m stuck!” the boy said, tugging at his foot.
Muriel frowned and slowly moved over to the mud. “I’m not sure what I can do,” she said. “I’m too sickly to be of much use.”
The boy tugged his foot again. “Please!” he said.
Muriel caught a whiff of the smelly mud and raised her smelling salts to her nose. “I’m already dizzy,” she murmured. “I know what I shall do! I shall tell someone of your predicament after the dinner and they shall find you,” she said, smiling and nodding. “Don’t worry, little boy.”
The boy smiled. “I shall see you then,” he said.
“Oh you won’t see me,” Muriel said. “I’ll be sitting down while they rescue you.” she continued on down the path, her ever-watchful servant following her.
The little boy pulled himself out of the mud and dashed after Muriel.
Third to arrive were the Princesses Catherine and Clementine Reed. Their matching brown curls were in waves down their backs, and their silver boots sparkled in the sun.
“Pick us up when we’re done!” Cath cried to the coachman and set off down the path.
Clem dusted her dress carefully, before following Cath.
“Help me!”
“Help me!”
Cath heard the cries first as she rounded the corner ahead of her twin and saw two boys stuck in the mud. “Oh!” she said.
“Are you stuck?” Clem asked, coming up behind Cath. “Please tell me you aren’t.”
“We are,” said the first boy. He smiled up at the girls. “But you’ll save us, won’t you? Please do!”
Cath nodded. “Of course,” she said, and walked up to the mud pit. “Can you reach my arm?” she asked, reaching out over the mud.
The boy reached out too, but his fingers barely brushed Cath’s.
“I’ll have to spoil my gown,” Cath said, looking down at her brilliant red dress. She sighed. “I’m sure Prince Archie will excuse me, after all, I only did it to help you.” She stepped into the mud and pulled the boy out.
Clem shook her head and backed away from the two as they stepped out. “Oh no,” she said “I couldn’t dirty my dress! I spent forever on it!” she said, smoothing the dark blue skirt.
Cath laughed. “Now for you,” she told the other boy.
“I can help him, miss,” the first boy said. He quickly pulled the second boy out and Cath helped them brush themselves off.
“Now go run home to your mother,” she said, eyeing her own skirt. “And don’t go in the mud again!”
“We won’t,” the second boy said, and they disappeared into the woods.
At the same moment, Duchess Sylvia Forrest pulled up to the castle gates in her carriage and stepped out onto the path.
“I’ll be back at seven,” Clarence said.
“Thank you for dropping me off!” Sylvia said, waving as he rode away. She began to walk briskly down the path, her green dress swishing around her ankles.
“Help! Can anyone hear me? Help!”
“What’s that?” Sylvia murmured. She hurried around the corner and stopped short. “Oh, you poor boy!”
“I’m stuck in the mud pit!” the boy said, tugging at his leg.
“I’ll help you. Hold still or you’ll make it worse.” Sylvia said. She stepped into the mud without a second thought.
“Thank you,” the boy said after she had pulled him out. “But now your pretty dress is dirty.”
“Oh well,” Sylvia said. “It does not matter much. Prince Archie will not mind, he knows my tendency to get dirty when I must.”
The boy nodded and ran into the woods.
Sylvia continued on down the path, fruitlessly brushing at her gown.
Just as Sylvia was saying goodbye to the boy, Lady Claudia Windsor waved goodbye to her coachman and began to walk down the path. She rounded the corner and stopped short at the sight of a boy stuck in the mud.
“Help!” the boy said.
“I can’t,” Claudia replied. “I’ll send someone to find you, I promise, but I can’t. My dress would get dirty,” she said. She was wearing a pale blue dress that sparkled when she turned.
The boy sighed as Claudia continued on, while Lady Stella Stoneshire stepped out of her own carriage and started down the path.
Farther down the path, Violet stopped to help an old woman up a steep bank onto the path, although the old woman didn’t make it all the way up before Violet let her go because her hair was uncurling.
Muriel shook her head as she passed the old woman, telling her that she was much to weakly to pull her up or push.
Cath was very much the same as Violet, although she helped the woman up the entire way, and Clem shook her head at the thought of getting sweaty.
Sylvia pulled the old woman up and bought a handkerchief from her to help with the mud, and then continued on, unaware that the old woman promptly slid right back down the bank.
Claudia pleaded much the same case that Clem did, and Stella attempted to help the old woman but wasn’t strong enough to pull her all the way up.
So it continued on down the road, each in her own time, each facing the same problems.

Part Five

Archie started as the first of his dinner guests approached the castle door and knocked. He peeked out of the dining room and was a bit dismayed to see that Lady Violet Renaud’s dress was spotless.
“Hello Prince Archie!” she trilled.
“Hello,” Archie said, nodding to her. “How was your walk?”
“Lovely,” she batted her eyelids. “Except I meant to tell you, there was a few people down the road who need help. I tried to help, but unless I quite dirtied my gown it was fruitless.”
Archie smiled a little. “I shall send a manservant down to help them. Please be seated,” he said, just as another knock came at the door. He hurried to the dining room entry and peered out.
Lady Muriel Mumford was there, being carried by a servant.
“Oh!” he said. “Are you okay?”
Muriel shook her head and raised her smelling salts to her nose. “No,” she said weakly. “I’m so sick lately.”
Archie sighed. “Very well,” he said. “Can you stand?”
“Oh yes,” she said, nearly jumping out of the servant’s arms and steadying herself with a chair.
“Go and be seated,” Archie told her. “Lady Violet is in there already. I will be there once the rest of my guests arrive.”
“Thank you,” she said and walked into the dining room.
He highly doubted that she was sickly.
The door opened again, this time for the twins Princess Catherine Reed and Princess Clementine Reed. He was pleased to see that Cath’s dress was properly dirtied, but not so pleased with Clem’s attire.
“I’m sorry about the mess, your majesty,” Cath said, curtsying. “But there was a very strange amount of people in trouble along the road.
“No matter,” Archie said. “My sister can help you freshen up if you wish. I do love your red gown.”
Cath smiled and followed his sister out of the room.
“Princess Clementine,” Archie said. “You may go right into the dining room. Lady Violet and Lady Muriel are already seated.”
Clem smiled prettily and sashayed out of the room, her midnight-blue gown swishing.
Again the door opened, for Duchess Sylvia Forrest.
“Duchess!” Archie cried upon seeing her attire, for it was even worse than Cath’s. “Are you okay?”
“Quite well, never better. The walk was fine,” she said. “But you must do something about the odd people who seem to be stuck all over the path.” she smiled. “I hope you do not mind the stains on my dress. I couldn’t help but help them,” she said, pulling a twig out of her hair.
Archie smiled, remembering the times when he was young and Sylvia would entice him to climb trees. “I don’t mind in the least,” he said. “Now, you can go with my sister to freshen up and then take a seat in the dining room. I am still waiting for Lady Claudia and Lady Stella.”
Sylvia nodded.
A maid hurried over to mop up the mud, and to Archie’s surprise, Sylvia helped her.
“Oh no, you’ll only dirty your dress further. The maid can do it.” Archie said, taking her elbow and pushing her from the room. She had far succeeded his test.
Lady Claudia Windsor walked into the door next, and as her dress was also quite spottles, Archie hurried her into the dining room just as Lady Stella Stoneshire came into the castle.
“Prince Archie!” Stella exclaimed and dropped into a deep curtsey.
Archie was pleased to see that Stella’s gown was dirty, maybe not as much so as Sylvia’s or as Cath’s, but still dirty. He smiled and sent her after his sister, then proceed to enter the dining hall.
“Prince Archie,” Violet said upon his entering. “Why on earth are there so many boys getting stuck in the mud? I was just discussing the walk with the other girls, and they all saw the same problems I did,” she said.
Archie smiled. “All will be revealed,” he said.
Just then Cath, Sylvia, and Stella entered and took their seats, so Archie rose and called attention, although everyone was already looking at him.
“Many of you are wondering why so many people were in trouble along the road, first a boy stuck in the mud, then an old woman, then a little girl stuck up in a  tree, and finally another boy needing help to pick an apple for his dinner.” Archie paused.
Around the table, the girls gasped and exchanged confused looks.
“I must now tell you that this was a ploy of mine, and I am not at all mad if you came with a dirty dress. In fact, I am pleased. For you see, I hired the old woman, the little girl, and seven little boys. Just now the little boys reported to me. I hired them to see who, if any, of you, would be able to rule the kingdom someday.”
Understanding dawned on Violet’s face, and she lowered her eyes.
Muriel sniffed at her salts and looked very bored.
“Princess Catherine, Duchess Sylvia, and Lady Stella all did wonderfully on my little test, and so I now know who my future bride will be.”
Claudia sighed and collapsed in her chair, while Clem’s eyes flashed.
Poor Muriel still seemed oblivious to what the test meant, and leaned forward eagerly, still hoping to be chosen.
Archie took a deep breath and met Cath, Sylvia, and Stella’s eyes. Cath, who he had always liked, but as more of a friend, Sylvia, who was his childhood playmate, and Stella, the sweet young girl he barely knew. “Duchess Sylvia Forrest, will you marry me?”
Sylvia gasped. “What?” she whispered. “I- I mean of course! Oh, Ar- Prince Archie!”
Cath collapsed in her seat, squeezing Clem’s hand, and, strangely, Stella grinned.
“Oh I’m so happy for you Sylvia!” she said excitedly.
Sylvia stood as if in a daze, staring at Archie. “Archie?” she whispered. “Me? But- but how?”
Archie grinned and walked over to her and took her hand. “Because, my dear Sylvia,” he said, relishing the use of her first name for the first time since they were young. “I know you best. Besides, you completed the challenge.”
“But I’m not the prettiest, or the smartest, or,”
“I think you’re pretty,” Archie said. “Brown hair and brown eyes are a wonderful combination. Besides, you don’t have to be the prettiest to rule a kingdom, which is exactly what I was trying to prove on that walk.”
Violet stood from her seat and walked over to the pair. “I’m very happy for you,” she told Sylvia. “As much as I wish I could have been chosen, I see that you will make a wonderful Queen and I hope you will let me become your friend.”
“Of course!” Sylvia said, still in a daze. “I must tell Lockhart at once,” she said. “And my house, the land, oh what will I do with it?”
“You won’t need it,” Archie said. “You’ll live here.”
“I know, but I couldn’t bear to sell my family home.”
“Give it to one of your family,” Cath said. “That’s how Father got our house.” She smiled at Archie. “You know, I don’t quite think I would have been happy with you. I’m very glad you chose Duchess Sylvia.”
“She’s a Princess now,” Archie said. “Come, girls, let’s celebrate. I invited a few of my male friends, Lord Lockhart is one, if you want to talk to him, Sylvia. They can come in now.” Archie nodded to a servant who left to fetch the boys.
“Lord Lockhart?” Stella asked. She giggled a little. “You know,” she said to Sylvia. “I can marry anyone I choose now.”
Sylvia smiled. “I think I’ll gift the estate to Lord Lockhart when he gets married,” she told Archie.
Archie looked between her and Stella. “Wonderful idea,” he said. “Would you like to get married in two weeks?”
“Two weeks!” Sylvia shook her head. “Impossible! I need a dress, and to plan, and I have to talk to your mother and move my belongings, and- and-”
Archie shook his head. “Women,” he muttered. “Two months then.”
Sylvia smiled. “Two months,” she said, as Clarence came up to congratulate them.
“To Prince Archie Blackwood and Duchess- soon to be Princess- Sylvia Forrest!” Violet said, raising her glass in a toast.
Clem smiled and clinked her glass with Cath’s. “To the Prince and Princess, who will make a wonderful King and Queen someday!”

And now you can see my lovely notes to myself (and the prompt, this was a Language Arts project):

Lady Violet Renaud:
black hair, green eyes, silver dress 4

Lady Muriel Mumford
blond hair, blue eyes, yellow dress 4:10

Princess Catherine Reed
brown hair, blue eyes, red dress 4:30

Princess Clementine Reed
brown hair, green eyes, dark blue dress 4:30

Duchess Sylvia Forrest
brown hair, brown eyes, green dress 4:50

Lady Claudia Windsor
blond hair, blue eyes, purple dress 5:00

Lady Stella Stoneshire
blond hair, brown eyes, pale blue dress 5:20

“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.”
Plot Idea: A prince searches for the best choice of a wife by setting up a secret challenge. He invites a few eligible princesses to his house for a dinner banquet but tells them they must walk by themselves the mile from the castle gates to the castle. The prince places tests along the way, such as a little boy stuck in the mud that would make the princess risk helping others and getting dirty, sweaty, and so on. Which princess will care more about helping others and choosing the right than arriving with perfect beauty?


2 thoughts on “The Challenge

  1. This is a really cool story. I love the idea of a test for the ladies, and how Prince Arthur connected it to looking for a caring person who would have the interest of her people at mind when she became queen.
    One piece of advice – the story did get a little repetitive, so it might be good to reduce the amount of ladies who are taking the test. You don’t need to agree with this suggestion, but if you were to reduce it down to 3, you could have 2 fail, and the 3rd one succeed, and it would fit into the traditional fairytale trope with the number 3 – and then have exactly 3 tasks for the ladies to do. The closer you connect it to the fairytale tropes, the more you could subverting the traditional tale of the prince needing to conquer 3 trials to win the princess.
    You did a good job of consistent characterization throughout the story, which was awesome. Muriel was entertaining 😛
    I will be watching out for more of your work 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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