Princess Irenie Tor breathed in the wonderful scent of fresh black ink upon the dry parchment paper. This was it, this was what she was meant to do with her life, she could feel it.
She eyed her most recent letter quite carefully, analyzing it for any potential mistakes. The princess didn't want a single error to be made in what would be her metaphorical olive branch. Unfortunately, the people she was writing to also lived deep inside the mountain and did not have a favourable opinion of Irenie or her subjects.
'People' might have been a bit of a strong word for the fairfolk who lived in the mountain. They called themselves 'goblins'.
When her father was a young king, he had settled many lands. Her grandfather, as a youth, had conquered those lands. Even Irenie's great-grandmother Irenie the IV brought magic into the royal bloodline.
But for Irenie...there wasn't as much to do. She wanted to prove her greatness to the kingdom's subjects. However, there was simply no challenge present for her to do that.
Except the goblins.
For hundreds of years they had been a nuisance to her kingdom. One particular stunt during the Princess' ninth year they had tried to kidnap her and take over the kingdom.
However, as terrifying as it had seemed at the time, Irenie and all the other people had to concede how incredibly silly goblins were.
They were frightening looking creatures who came in varying sizes and colours, with sparse clothing made from cotton or animal skins and often lumpy faces. Even with their incredible strength and durability, the goblin's had only taken the castle for a mere ten minutes before Irenie's friend Curdie had them crawling for their caves.
It was well known amongst the miners like Curdie and his father that the goblins had two very fallible weaknesses.
The first was that although their bodies were incredibly strong, their feet were terribly sensitive. One good stamp to their one-toenailed-foot would cripple them instantly.
The second weakness, perhaps the silliest of the two, was that singing and music was torture to the goblin ear.
It was not swords or crossbows that had sent these nefarious creatures running, but the miner boy, Curdie, with his own choir of knights. It was the reason Curdie received a knighthood from the king.
Although goblins had accidentally flooded the castle in the attempt to take it, everyone thought the attack more humorous than harmful. At worst it was annoying to have to set the castle furniture out the next day to dry.
There was perhaps only one goblin the princess had ever feared and eight years ago he had been the one to –nearly– successfully kidnap her highness.
Prince Froglip. His Royal Repulsiveness. He had fallen from a waterfall in the battle and Irenie used to pray that when the goblin prince hit the earth, he opened up a great hole and just kept falling. He probably survived although she never saw hair nor hide of the terrible prince after that day.
This current matter was a very ambitious project for a princess of her age and potentially very rewarding... If only she had the support of anyone else in the kingdom.
"I don't know if this is a very wise idea, Irenie," a rich, unhappy voice whispered from over her shoulder.
The ethereally tall woman wandered around her table and then through it, eyeing the letter in the princess' hands with a disappointed frown. Being a ghost she was not encumbered by doors, 'Keep Out' signs, or social graces of any kind.
"I am not going to take any more questions."
Irenie waved her hand and used her own magic to open a window for fresh air.
"Irenie, be reasonable. I didn't teach you magic so you could befriend those creatures," the elderly woman said in a tight but loving voice. "I taught you so you could defend yourself against them."
Finding it difficult to escape her ghostly grandmother, Irenie paced away from her instead.
"They aren't as terrible as everyone says." The princess spun out on her tip-toes, the letter clutched firmly to her breast. However, a clank of something metal dropped just outside her door.
"You cannot change my mind... Father."
Irenie swung her bedroom door open and just as she had suspected two guards -now in shambles- were trying to flee the entrance.
The princess had heard their clumsy steel-toed feet traipse all the way up from the grand hall.
"Father," Irenie called out flatly, ignoring the guards who stood at attention, glancing nervously at one another with trails of sweat beading down their cheeks.
"Irenie! Why, look at you, my beautiful daughter." The king, Irenie's father, popped out from behind the two guards. They had clearly been wrangled into snooping by the king.
"Really? Is that all you have to say?" she asked without amusement.
The king straightened himself and with the flick of his wrist, he dismissed the two guards.
He was a modestly dressed man, besides his crown of gold. Her father had strawberry blond hair like Irenie's, although his beard bore streaks of grey the king. Probably caused by the princess, or so he liked to say.
"I see you've been writing." The king eyed her letter distastefully.
"I have, and I intend to set the lot out this evening."
"Would you like to enter?" Irenie asked with a slight eye-roll as her father stooped in the archway of her door.
At least he was still respecting her space, even if he and the rest of the castle had shown little regard for her privacy.
"Is Curdie not here?" The King commented as his eyes flicked around the princess' room, taking in the minor details: a basket full of crumpled papers and a different one full of letters waiting beside the door for Irenie.
"No," she said. "He is meeting me in the courtyard so we can deliver the letters together."
"Strange. I thought I heard you talking to someone."
Irenie stiffened, her pale fingernails biting down into the paper underneath them. "I was talking to myself."
No one besides Curdie knew about her grandmother or her magic and Irenie wanted it to stay that way.
Irenie walked quickly to her basket and the door, looking at the king who stood in her room, almost like he were in a daze.
"They might not want to bargain. They might even kidnap you like last time–"
Irenie nodded, already having heard this part of their argument. "I have Curdie to protect me."
That being said, the princess was a little sore that this was the only assurance she could give since she was a 'princess' and had no right being able to protect herself.
"And they might not even respond at all, Irenie," her father said grimly, just as she was heading out the door.
Irenie stopped and stood their silently. "It's something I have to do, Father."
The king sighed, but he had no more things to say now. All he could do now was warn her.
"Irenie... if this doesn't work –as I'm inclined to believe it won't– then you must promise me that you will stop with all this goblin business," the king boomed, finding it hard to lay out restrictions for his darling daughter. "You will have no help from me or my advisors. Besides protecting you from harm, the guards will be of no use either."
Irenie's face went blank as she struggled to take her first steps out the door, dragging them a little as she trudged. "Alright."
She took five more steps, her face going redder with each one, and then whipped around to expose the twelve or so guards also eavesdropping on their conversation just outside the door.
The princess pointed at them and then the king who clapped a hand over the upper half of his face.
"And for the record, Father, the guards are useless most of the time anyway."
Despite receiving what must have been clear instructions to 'stay hidden', her father's men had all clumsily congregated in front of the door hoping to be missed by the princess upon her exit.
Irenie got ten more steps in before hearing a croak from one of the bespawlers. "Do you think she meant us, John?"
Irenie let out a sharp screech from behind her clenched teeth like a kettle and stomped the rest of her way to the courtyard.
She found Curdie there, a smug grin on his face.
"Having a bit of an altercation with the guards, Irenie?"
She flung her arms up, nearly losing the basket. "I would have been much happier with an altercation."
Curdie's lips snapped shut as the princess threw the back gate to the castle open. There was a little path to follow around the mountain side where the castle stood.
The kingdom of Argante sat on an enormous mountain covered in silvery dark-green moss. It's sloping hills rolled into a lush green valley where the country's farmers often worked and the royal castle sat high above on one of the cliffs facing them.
"Anything you'd like to discuss before you throw half a month's work off the side of a cliff?" Curdie enquired from her right side.
"No." Irenie plucked one of the letters from her basket, the red wax seal gleaming in the sunlight.
Although helping the goblins was a very high priority of hers, she also wanted to prove to her father -and every slackjawed soldier and conniving courtier- that she was right.
She would just have to be patient and accept that even though she knew better, not everyone would be as happy to travel down this path with her.
"Thank you for coming with me," the princess said softly. "I know you don't like the idea of working with the goblins either."
Curdie puffed up his chest and smiled gallantly. Becoming a knight really did suit him. "Well, I wouldn't be a very good friend or knight if I let you do it alone."
Irenie smiled and her cheek dimpled as he sauntered forward to scout ahead.
"Here," Irenie said, handing her letter off to her friend and placing another at the base of a chestnut tree. "I hope I can make a fair impression upon them, what if goblins don't even like parties?"
"Don't fret about banquets and balls yet, Irenie," Curdie said and place a letter in one of the higher tree branches before they were on the move again.
"I know, I know... I just worry," Irenie laughed to herself.
"Look at the bright side," Curdie said as they moved onto the next spot and continued what would be the start of an elaborate reverse-scavenger hunt.
"They might not find the letters at all."