Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, there lived an adventurous girl. She looked as though she were carved from a sturdy oak, with unruly hair as black as a raven’s feathers, but with eyes like delicately polished sapphire. Her name was Tiffany.
She lived in a castle that was centuries old, and could - with its robust, red bricks and yellow sandstone decorations - last a great deal of centuries more.
Sometimes, it seemed that the walls had ears, the empty suits of armour that lined the walls had eyes, and the wind that whistled through the battlements in storms and bad weather whispered the stories of the gigantic building and its inhabitants.
That, or it was the servants whispering in the hallways.
Though, as adventurous as Tiffany was, she was rarely allowed to venture outside of the castle walls. The capital of the kingdom, Capturia, and the world beyond it, she had only seen on rare occasions. It was a shame, she thought, but there were still plenty of adventures to be had on the castle grounds.
The castle itself was large enough to wander around for days without ever even finding the door. But not for Tiffany. She knew the castle and the woods behind it, which she explored in secret, like the back of her hand. Every last path she recognized. The sandstone lions that resided on either side of her balcony doors had heard every secret she’d ever had and the children pictured in the paintings and tapestries along the walls felt like her best friends.
Right now, Tiffany was thirteen years old, and was growing up to be a clever young woman. As such, her parents allowed her to wander around the castle less and less, and had her study more and more, so she could be the well educated diplomat she would have to be one day. After all, Tiffany was the princess of Capturia and an only child as well. That status brought certain responsibilities with it.
For instance, she was engaged to the prince of a nearby kingdom so that her father - and later in life the princess herself - would have an easier time negotiating with the kingdom of Supricia. But Tiffany did not particularly look forward to having to marry Prince Eugene. Well… he was a decent enough boy. He wasn’t ugly and he wasn’t cruel, but where Tiffany wanted to embark on an adventure, Eugene would rather stay inside, where it was safe and clean. She didn’t hate him. In fact, she liked him and enjoyed his company. But she didn’t love him.
‘You’ll learn to love him, sweetheart,’ the queen had told Tiffany many times over, as if it was an absolute certainty. And Tiffany tried many times over, but so far, it hadn’t been a success.
But negotiations… Negotiations were the worst for the young princess. Day in, day out, she would be forced to listen to old men talking over each other. But while they, for better or for worse, changed the world, all Tiffany was allowed to do was smile, nod and say ‘yes sir’. And while Tiffany sat with her hand raised, patiently waiting for her turn to tell the aristocrats about her magnificent ideas, Eugene was simply given a turn while he had nothing to add to the subject at hand.
Which is why Tiffany tended to daydream at every meeting her father dragged her to, that someone on a beautifully brushed white horse would sweep her away and rescue her from imminent death by boredom. But unfortunately, for all the beautiful white horses Eugene had, standing around in their stables, bored out of their equine minds, she knew he would never sweep her off her feet and embark on an adventure with her. Of course, the king and queen of Capturia didn’t mind Eugene being like that at all. If anything, they were quite happy that the prince motivated the princess to stay inside more, where she would be safe.
And yet, while her birthright came with many responsibilities and other vexations, that didn’t mean it didn’t have its perks. Take her dog - Snowball - for example, whom she got for her seventh birthday and always slept at her feet, keeping them warm in the cold winters. And the twenty-headed staff to help her out at every turn. And not to forget he fifty-headed guard who made sure the king, the queen, the princess and everyone in their service could do their jobs safely. And while Tiffany hated the meetings her father took her to with a fiery passion, the trips to and from them were the closest she would get to real adventure. At least that way, she would see some of the world.
And then there was her very own bodyguard; a scatterbrained knight named Lance. The bearded, redheaded knight was twice her height and age, was built like a house and hailed from the same kingdom as Eugene, even though the two couldn’t have been more different. After all, Lance let Tiffany do all sorts of fun stuff while her parents weren’t looking. Like letting her jump the hedges between the meadows near the castle with her horse, or let her climb to the tops of the apple trees where the juiciest fruits hung, waiting to be picked or let her sneak to the kitchen in the middle of the night to eat leftover pastries. It was thanks to all this that Tiffany saw Lance as the big brother she never had.
This only made it more worrisome for Tiffany when a carrier pigeon perched at the castle with a message for Lance. Apparently, a family of golden dragons had settled in a mountain range in his home country, and he had been enlisted to help escort the enormous creatures back to their regular habitat. It was absolutely necessary that he helped, Tiffany knew, but the idea that she would have to go on without him for an extended period of time didn’t sit well with the princess.
“For how long will you be gone?”