Friday, December 07, 2012

The Princess and the Li-On

Princess Hard Centre had a secret temper. It wasn't the same temper she had when Prick Toffee-Caramel lost her spinning wheel up a beanstalk, that was a fine and reasonable temper that anyone would've torn him apart for.

This was a secret temper.

Everybody knew about it, obviously, as a temper that you really keep to yourself isn't a temper, it's an ulcer.

But Princess Hard Centre believed it to be secret and it's impossible to find out the truth about anything when you're a princess. Try it. Ask anything.

For when a princess asks you, say, whether you think she’s clever, your first word had better not be “Well...” because there’s a fair chance it’ll be your last, too.

The good people of Chocolate Box Land and especially those who enjoyed being alive at Castle Cadbury had long ago learned to begin any answer with “Of course!” and a big smile. It wasn’t foolproof and it had caused some beheadings but all the heads on the castle railings were smiling and statistically speaking it was the safest reply.

It just wasn’t a useful one. “Tell me, my little Fondue Set, who is the fairest in the land as ranked by height, weight, academic achievement and fashion sense?”

“Of course!”

“Are you being funny?”

“Well -”


To be fair, the well-gets-you-beheaded rule had begun generations before when royals were much more powerful and consequently much more angry because they could be and you couldn’t stop them, so there. Princess Hard Centre was just the latest in a very long line and she was genuinely clever, she had figured out that the secret to a good answer is the right question. But that’s harder than it sounds.

For instance, it means really having to figure out the answer before you ask the question so that you could instead ask: “My little Fondue Set II, is it correct that Princess Boiled Sweet is the fairest in the land as ranked by height, weight, academic achievement and fashion sense?”

“Of course!”


The mistake there, of course, is that it might be correct that Princess Boiled Sweet is the fairest in the land as ranked by height, weight, academic achievement and fashion sense, but it isn’t right and I hate you. Princess Hard Centre knows much more than Boily ever did and everybody says they can’t see the spot on her nose so that clearly doesn’t count.

Late one night, as Princess Hard Centre lay down to sleep and Fondue Set III applied just a little bit of acne cream, the princess suddenly shook. “Hang on,” she said. “There’s a logical fallacy here, isn’t there?”

“Of course!”

“Unless I can get accurate charting and a reliable system of data tracking, I can’t work out who is the fairest in the land as ranked by height, weight, academic achievement and fashion sense. So I can ask if rotten Boily is best but then I have to ask if Milk Duds is best and then I have to ask about M and then I have to ask about the other M. There’s no end to it.”

“Of course!”

“You’re no use at all,” said Princess Hard Centre. “Give me that cream. And one more thing.”


Fondue Set III fell towards the floor. Servants never hit the ground, that would be unseemly, so they were always caught by the Palace Guards who had become terribly well trained and even more practiced at swooping in to catch falling bodies.

“Oh, where will I find a Fondue Set IV?” cried the Princess.

“Craigslist,” muttered a Palace Guard.


It was a disaster. The surviving guard who had already caught Fondue Set III exactly one half of one pixel off the ground now had to throw her body up in the air in order to catch the dead palace guard before he dropped to the floor too. For a single precious moment, it was a frozen tableaux. The one breathing, sweating, panicking guard held himself off the ground with all his weight on just his little pinky finger, scooping up the dead palace guard with his other hand exactly as Fondue Set III landed on his upturned feet.

The acrobatic guard stretched out a second finger and used the two to make teeny tiny steps back out of the room.

Princess Hard Centre didn’t notice.

She was thinking about Craigslist.

She was thinking about Google.

The next morning was a new day.

It was a new world.

Suddenly, Princess Hard Centre was floating around her castle. Instead of asking questions, she was answering them - and you’d better have a question.

“Um, how far is it from Castle Cadbury to the nearest Hershey Bar?”

“What’s the calorific content of chocolate? Are you sure?”


“If a man leaves Castle Cadbury at 92mph in order to leave a box of Milk Tray, how far is it to the Mars Bar?”


“Ask me something sensible. ”



“My dear Fondue Set VIII, ask me something useful right now.”

“Of course! What’s the speed of light?”

“It’s 186,282.4 miles per second in a vacuum, approximately,” beamed the Princess.

She did a lot of beaming now. All knowledge was hers. Nothing was filtered by wells and of-courses. She was more informed than any royal in the history of Chocolate Box Land. “And that damn well includes Boily and Prick Toffee Caramel and I don’t care that they’re getting married. It won’t last. I give it 20.8 years, based on current census averages.”

All morning, every morning, Princess Hard Centre was a mine of information and everybody loved it, they absolutely said so.

But come the afternoon...

If it had been a hard day of serious and useful questions with brilliant answers, the darkness could even begin around 3pm.

If Princess Hard Centre took it carefully, then maybe she’d make it to 6pm.

Once she’d even gone to 10pm but that was then the same night that Fondue Set VII failed to plug the Princess’s iPhone in to be charged. She never made that mistake again.

For Princess Hard Centre’s beaming, her entire demeanour, her very life became tied to the battery power on her beloved iPhone. She loved no one like she did her iPhone and her iPhone didn’t love her back because it was just a phone but that was okay, it would learn to, she was quite sure.

Its lovely screen made her face glow. And the way that Siri was connected to Wolfram Alpha’s research database made her heart sing. It was very handy for eBay too, and she’d hired the last seven Fondue Sets through

But come the low battery, come the darkness.

Servants who previously pretended that the hadn’t seen how the Princess got all this wondrous information were now openly peering over her shoulder to see what percentage battery life was left. From 100% down to maybe 80%, everything’s fine.

From 80% down to 60%, well, chop

It always seemed to Princess Hard Centre that, try as she might, she couldn’t make the battery last as long from 60% down to 40% as she could 100 to 80 or 80 to 60. She considered turning it off.

But as she stroked the iPhone, she knew she could never leave it alone. And so she’d ask it less and less as the day went on, she’d hold it and cherish it and nurse it and hope that the battery would last.

It never did.

Slowly, so very slowly, as the battery would die, so Princess Hard Centre would begin to stoop and to slow down herself.

“Well,” said Fondue Set XXV. “That’s a fine thing to be seeing.”

The Princess just looked at her. Spent. Unable to raise a blade.

Dependency on iPhone is a recognised medical condition, she’d asked it that and it had said “Of course!”, but it didn’t help.

Until one day...

One bleak and lonely day when the union of Fondue Sets had said enough was enough, we’re all for job creation but we want our members to survive just a little bit, the Princess was left alone.

A storm began to rage outside.

Good, she thought. That’s the only bright spot in my day.

Between the lashing wind and the crazed rain, though, she could still hear the sound of laughter from Boily and Prick’s wedding party and Princess Hard Centre wept.

A tear fell on her iPhone’s Retina display.

It was a royal tear.

It was a Princess’s tear.

And the iPhone’s multitouch display registered it.

With its last spark of battery power, it brightened up its screen – and at that very moment, as if conjured by the phone itself, the castle door opened.

The roar of the storm rose. Rain smashed in. And there were flashing lights and strong language from the start.

Prince Dark Chocolate stood in the doorway.

His princely tunic was torn, ravaged by battles unseen until the prequel, and his chest rose and fell with the breath of a strong man with a stronger heart. He gave one manly shake of his head and a single drop of rain ran down his face, ran down his chest, ran down across his hairy, strong, masculine chest. The Princess’s gaze followed it down, down, far further down than you should be thinking about right now.

Life stood still.

Time stood still.

Prince Dark Chocolate’s lips parted with a breath and a faint smile, a faint but knowing and so very commanding smile.

The Princess’s heart skipped a beat to catch up with where her eyes had looked, where her mind had gone and where her other organs were none of your business. “Yes?” she said.

“Delivery for a Princess Illegible Squiggle?” he said. “Sign here.”

And so Princess Hard Centre finally took delivery of her Mophie Power Juice extra battery with lithium ion pack for her iPhone. It was a good day.

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