The King was concerned. His only son and heir would soon come of age and there was no sign of a suitable young woman to whom he could be married.
I’m an old man, sighed the King. I want to see my son settled down. I want to dandle his children on my knee. I want to go to my grave safe in the knowledge that the bloodline will continue – Is that so very wrong?
The King arranged a ball and invited all the ruling families from the neighbouring kingdoms and from those beyond the Forbidden Forest. He summoned the Prince to the throne room.
“I’ll make a deal with you, son,” he gestured for the boy to sit on the throne. “That chair, this castle and the entire kingdom – all these will be my gift to you on your wedding day. I will step down. I will abdicate provided you find your bride tonight and announce your engagement before the stroke of twelve.”
The Prince thought about it. The throne was comfortable, yes, but it also made him feel important. He could feel the potential for change surging within him.
“Very well, sire,” he rubbed his hands over the arm rests. “Tonight I shall propose marriage to whomever I like best.”
“Splendid!” the King clapped his hands together. “Now get off my seat and go and make yourself useful. It’s not yours yet!”
That night, the castle ballroom was packed with representatives from all the royal families. The Prince saw there were many beautiful young women in sumptuous gowns, dripping with diamonds. He danced with them in turn but at the end of each dance he delivered them back to their crestfallen parents and sent a sad look to his father, who was presiding over the proceedings with an eager eye.
One princess was too chatty. Another was too sullen. Another had bad breath. Another smelled of cheese. Another trod on his toes. Another had teeth missing.
“You must not be so fastidious,” the King scolded him. He pointed at the grand clock at the top of the staircase. “It is almost midnight. Our deal will be nullified if you don’t pick someone soon.”
The Prince returned to the dance floor. He had danced with every eligible young woman. He looked along the line of their anxious faces, as they primped and titivated in the hope that he would give them a second chance.
With his attention fixed on this inspection, he failed to notice a servant who was carrying tall glasses of sparkling wine on a tray. The Prince knocked him to the ground. Such was the commotion of the breaking glass and clattering tray that the musicians came to an abrupt halt.
The entire assembly held its breath. An assault on the royal person could only result in execution, even if the Prince was unharmed.
The Prince looked down at the bright blue eyes of the servant, staring back at him wide with horror. They were the sapphire blue of the folk of the Forbidden Forest. It felt as though those eyes were piercing his very heart.
He extended his hand and helped the young man to his feet.
As the hands of the grand clock clicked into a perpendicular position, the Prince turned to his father. Between the striking of the midnight bells, he called out loud enough for all to hear.
“I have found the one I wish to marry. Now, get off my seat and go and make yourself useful.”