The Contest

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: All Star Story Writers

Chapter 3 (v.1) - MATCHMAKING BEGINS

Submitted: October 13, 2016

Reads: 140

Comments: 2

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Submitted: October 13, 2016

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After a blazing row with my parents about my attitude, I woke feeling tired and cranky. I showered, dressed and reluctantly joined them in the shabby breakfast room.

Because we are a royal family, people mistakenly think we live a life of wealth and privilege, but nothing could be further from the truth.

It was while my grandparents were still King and Queen of Cyberia that the generous Government grant, given to the royal family for the running and upkeep of Cyberia palace, was unexpectedly withdrawn. Government Ministers argued that destitute people in poorer kingdoms were in greater need.

Being compassionate people, my grandparents did not argue or appeal, taking the view that, if people needed to be both homed and fed, then their need was greater than their own. Consequently, over time the palace has become run down and shabby, the old furniture threadbare, and the once elaborate décor faded and peeling from the walls.

In winter it is bitterly cold, biting winds blow through huge gaps in the rotting window frames, lifting the faded curtains high into the air, even roaring log fires provide little warmth in the large draughty rooms. Despite our fleecy onesies, fur-lined slippers and numerous hot water bottles, we continue to shiver until our teeth chatter, before retreating to the warmth of our old feather beds!

I was just a child when the first real changes to our lifestyle began to bite. Listening intently through a crack in the doorway, I overheard my parents talking together in serious hushed tones.

“Franklin, what are we going to do?” Mum had tearfully asked. “All the money raised from the sale of the crown jewels has run out. We can no longer afford to pay the staff and the palace is falling down around us.”

“Don’t worry Lucinda, we will just have to become more self-sufficient and productive. We can always sell our fleet of cars and open up the palace grounds to the public with a range of attractions, such as a mini zoo, a theme park, even a zip wire circuit in the woodland area,” he explained, his voice now rising with excitement. “And what about opening our own palace bistro and produce shop, the possibilities are endless. Trust me, it will be a goldmine.”

Sadly, it was never the goldmine that Pop had predicted. To survive we all had to pull together, to work hard, for long hours and for little reward, so, to this day, the palace remains a sad run down relic of its former glory.

Hugging a mug of hot, sweet tea, I slumped down in the nearest chair and stared moodily into space.

“You're quiet this morning, Emmy,” Pop observed.

“I’m fed up with this search to find a prince. That’s all you two seem to talk about these days. Besides, it’s just not the same as it was in your day.”

His dark eyes shone with indignant anger. “Well I know I may seem ancient to you Eemay, but things don't change that much. It's your attitude that’s the problem here. You're searching for perfection, and I’m afraid you will never find it.”

Mum’s slice of toast fell from her grasp. “So, am I to presume you settled for second best when you married me?”

Pop shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. “You're taking it the wrong way Lucinda,” he replied, desperately trying to backtrack.

“You know you mean the world to me, you always have, but Eemay is not being realistic. People are not perfect, we are not robots and the world would be a very boring place if we were.”

“But I don't want a boring robot, I want someone who appeals to me, who I can connect with and who has that special spark, surely that’s not too much to ask. To be honest, I think you're just annoyed because I rejected all those who you considered suitable. I'm really sorry if you feel let down but it’s my life and I don’t want to be forced into doing something I will regret.”

His thick dark eyebrows rose in surprise. How many times must we tell you, we would never force you into an unsuitable relationship, it’s just that I wanted you see my point of view.”

We continued to sit in silence, the atmosphere decidedly strained, with Pop bent over his cyPad and Mum clutching her coffee cup, with a ferocious scowl on her face.

“I have an idea,” Pop said, looking up, his face flushed with excitement. “Let’s host a speed dating event at the palace. I’ve just come across an advert, and it seems a really good way of finding out if you connect with someone.”

“Speed dating? Now I’ve heard it all,” I snapped. “Are you crazy?”

“Well, I think it’s a really good idea,” Mum argued. “We could issue an official palace statement, inviting single princes to come along to meet you on a set date and time and ….

“Mum, you don’t need to tell me, I know what speed dating is.”

“Well, what do you think?”

I sighed with frustration. “Do what you want, I’m past caring, but don’t forget I’ve got my High-level exams coming up and need to get down to some serious revision.”

Pop jumped to his feet. “Just leave it to us. I think we’re finally getting somewhere. I’ll get onto it straight away.”

This is typical of Pop. He is renowned for his impatience, impulsive behaviour, eccentricity and controlling nature. How Mum puts up with him is beyond me but, most of the time, they still act like lovesick teenagers, which actually makes me feel sick.

-------------------------------------

Mum had obviously been mulling things over. “I think we will need to limit the number of princes who are allowed to take part in this speed dating thingy,” she said, during lunch the following day.

“How do you mean?” asked Pop.

“Well, assuming we open the doors at seven o’clock, based on a ten minute interview per prince, it will take Eemay four hours to see twenty four princes. On that basis, I think we should limit the number of those taking part to the first twenty four participants on a first come first served basis.

“Do you honestly think this is necessary?” I asked in disbelief. “I doubt if there’ll be anywhere near that many who are even interested, let alone turn up on the night.”

Pop wagged a cautionary finger in the air. “Well, I think your mother has a point, you never know.”

By the time lunch was over, a date and time had been set and that evening an official palace statement had been placed in the Cyber Chronicle and posted on to the palace Pacebook page.

It was like lighting a firework, retreating to a safe distance, and watching it explode into a million sparks.

Within hours of the notice going public, the first of the tents was erected outside the palace gates, multiplying in rapid succession. Within twenty four hours there were at least a hundred. It was bedlam, and there was still two weeks to go!

In the end the police had to be called to disperse the campers, who were warned not to return until nine o'clock on the morning of the speed dating event

The area they had vacated resembled the aftermath of a pop festival, with debris scattered everywhere, so a big clean-up operation had to be carried out. Me and Mum, together with the few remaining palace staff, formed a team of sweepers and litter pickers, while Pop, who looked a fearsome sight, stuffed rubbish into black bin bags, tossing them angrily into a huge skip, cursing and roaring like a lion.

When the date finally arrived, by nine o'clock a long queue of hopeful participants had already formed, waiting patiently under a canopy of umbrellas in the driving rain.

I guessed those at the back of the queue were hopeful that some nearer the front might get fed up and drop out. I was amazed to find I had so many admirers willing to wait in such awful weather just to meet me, and although I wasn’t looking forward to it, it really boosted my ego to think I had attracted so many princes.

At seven o’clock sharp Pop was ready to take charge, while Zilla was busy organising coffee, tea and soft drinks. (Zilla is my Personal Assistant, Senior Housekeeper and Laundry Manager, like the rest of us she had to become multi-skilled when the need arose.)

Pop had obviously made a rare effort with his appearance, and looked decidedly odd. His unruly dark hair had been plastered down with hair gel, so much so, I barely recognised him. His tanned rugged features stood out against the crisp white collar of his shirt, but his smart black trousers were tucked into muddy wellies!

“Pop, do you realise you’ve still got your wellies on?”

“Oh, I was just going to change them,” he lied, rushing off.

Five minutes later he reappeared to allow the first twenty four princes into the palace. The remainder, clearly feeling let down and disappointed, shuffled away to loud and bitter complaints of “unfair treatment”, “discrimination” and “victimisation.”

The princes were escorted into the drawing room, which had been converted into a waiting area. Pop was in his element, dashing around, meeting and greeting each one and recording cymail addresses and cyPhone numbers.

For some reason, I suddenly became overwhelmed with self-doubt. If, by some remote chance, I did happen to like or connect with one of them, would he feel the same about me?

For starters, my hair is a completely unmanageable mane of dark brown frizzy curls, with a life of its own.

Take this morning, I spent twenty minutes blow drying it into a sleek sophisticated style, another half an hour carefully working my straightener’s through it, only to find that because of the damp weather, it had sprung back into its corkscrew frizz in milliseconds. I had thrown my hairbrush across the room in frustration, scraped back my determined frizz into a pony tail and fastened it with a bright red scrunchy, so that at least it looked tidy and presentable.

To be honest, my nose is also a bit on the big side. An unexpected violent sneeze (which I am prone to in the hay fever season) will send anyone unfortunate enough to be near me, diving for cover to avoid being showered in snot. But I do have quite nice eyes, like Pop’s, they are dark with long curly lashes, and I have also inherited my mother’s silky skin and petite build, for which I am grateful.

Oh, I forgot to mention my sticky-out ears and big feet, but no-one’s perfect are they?

I took in a deep breath, let’s just get this over with.

“Prince Frederick of Fontana,” Pop announced, opening the door and escorting him into the music room, where I was ready and waiting to greet them individually.

He bowed grandly, then held out his hand. “Good evening Princess Eemay, I am delighted to meet you.”

I shook his hand politely. “Thank you so much for coming and waiting in such terrible weather. Please, take a seat,” I offered, pointing to a nearby chair.

He was tall and dark with a smile that lit up his face showing a perfect set of sparkling, pearly white teeth, (cosmetically whitened I guessed). But he had either borrowed the suit he was wearing, or had grown considerably, because his trousers were way too short, revealing skinny ankles in white socks, poking out of a pair of old, scuffed black shoes (never a good look). In his favour though, I did notice he had lovely big dark brown eyes and his manners were faultless.

“Tell me why I should choose you as my prince?” I began.

He sat up straight, cleared his throat with a noisy rattle, and began. “I am single and searching for my perfect princess, who I believe is sitting right here in front of me.”

It was obvious he had been rehearsing, so I tried again.

“I’m really flattered, but it doesn't really tell me why I should choose you. Tell me more about yourself, your work, hobbies and interests?”

This seemed to make him quite nervous, and he began to shuffle in his seat. Beads of sweat trickled slowly down his forehead, which he proceeded to dab repeatedly with a grubby tissue.

“Well, I err, err enjoy playing football and support Excelsior Athletic Football Club. I like playing games on my play centre and cyTab, nights out with my friends, you know all the usual stuff.”

“And do you work, or are you still at college?” I pressed.

He blushed a deep red. “I, I, had to drop out of Uni, all got a bit too much.”

The last thing I wanted was to embarrass him, so I tried again.

“So, tell me about your other interests?”

“I enjoy going to the gym now and then.”

“And what about your work as a prince, tell me about the charities you support and your royal duties?”

“Well, um, I haven’t done any charity work or royal duties yet.”

I had heard and seen enough. “Would you like a drink Prince Frederick, there’s water, fruit juice, tea or coffee?” I offered, walking over to the table, deliberately trying to waste time.

“Oh, well yes, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. White coffee with two sugars.” he replied, visibly relieved.

As I picked up a cup the shrill tone of the alarm suddenly pierced the awkward silence.

“I’m really sorry but your time is up. Thank you very much for coming this evening, I will let you know by cymail, by the end of next week.”

Next through the door was Prince Bodybuilder from Gymnasia (well that’s what I named him).

“Hi Babe, or should that be Princess?” he asked. He was wearing a tight vest (to showcase his rippling muscles), and shiny tracksuit bottoms.

As if participating in a body building competition, he proceeded to flex his bulging biceps, in a variety of poses.

“Please, take a seat,” I offered, when he had finally finished his routine.

“Tell me why I should choose you as my prince?”

“I think we would look amazing together. What with your beauty and my physique, we’re a perfect match, don’t you think?”

It was obvious he spent most of his time at the gym, and as a joke, I asked what his hobbies and interests were.

“It takes a lot of self-discipline and hours of weight training to look this good,” he answered, twirling around so that I could appreciate his muscles from a different angle.

Luckily, the alarm sounded to indicate his time was up.

Next, there was the black belt ‘karate prince’ out to impress me with an energetic work-out of kicks, thrusts and loud grunts, followed by the ‘gothic prince’ dressed entirely in black with a deathly pale face that reminded me of a vampire.

Then there was the ‘pierced prince’, I counted ten, (no make that eleven), piercings and that was just his face … three rings through each ear, one over his eyebrow and one through his lower lip. A stud glinted at the side of his nose while another bobbed up and down on his tongue. I have to say I am not normally put off by piercings or tattoos, but it was the ring through his nostril that did it, which reminded me of a prize bull!

There were numerous ‘geeky princes’, all big glasses and bucked teeth, a pop star prince who was tone deaf, and a gymnast prince who cartwheeled in, before crashing in a heap on the floor.

Glancing at my watch, the final prince (although I doubted if any of them were genuine princes), sauntered in and sat down opposite me.

“Give me one reason why I should choose you as my prince?” I asked for the umpteenth time, sipping a glass of water and trying to muster up a flicker of interest.

He was definitely not my type. His dark, beady eyes darted, his face was covered in angry red spots and he whiffed of stale sweat.

“Well I think we would be ideally suited because . . . . ”

Once again my mind drifted, when I suddenly realised he had stopped speaking.

“Oh, I'm really sorry, would you mind repeating that?”

He moved closer to me, invading my space. “I believe we have a lot in common, and I know I would be a great asset to you and your family,” he repeated, with slow exaggerated precision, wafting stale cigarette breath in my face.

“How do you know we have a lot in common?” I spluttered, backing sharply away.

“Well we are both similar in age, and I expect, like me, you enjoy socialising with friends and, and . . . . I'm positive we would get on famously.”

No way, I thought.

“Thank you for your interest Prince err err,” I stammered, having completely forgotten his title.

“Prince Felix Breeze,” he reminded me. “But isn’t there anything else you want to ask me?”

“No, no . . . I think you have told me everything I need to know.”

He just sat there with a stunned expression on his face, flicking back strands of greasy hair with chewed fingers.

“Goodnight Prince Fag-ash Breath,” I heard myself saying.

With my cheeks burning with embarrassment, I quickly corrected myself. “Sorry, I mean Prince Felix Breeze. Thank you very much for coming along this evening.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Pop poked his head around the door with a hopeful expression on his face. “Any good darling?”

“I’m absolutely positive they were all impostors, just pretending to be princes. How stupid of me to be flattered, to believe I was so popular. It’s obvious, because we’re ‘the royal family’, they all assumed we must be wealthy. I’m sure they would have soon dropped out if they had known the truth.”

Pop sat down beside me in full patronising mode, patting my hand gently with a forced ‘I-do-understand-but...’ look on his face.

“Don’t you think you’re being just a bit too picky, surely one of them must have impressed you?”

“Pop, I’m not a little girl any more, I know my own mind, so please stop patronising me. Besides, they weren’t real princes!”

He stood up, towering over me, his strong features tight and hard. “Eemay, there is no need to take that attitude, I am only trying to help.”

Tears stung my eyes. “I could do without all this pressure right now, especially with my exams coming up.”

“OK Eemay, I don’t want to get into an argument with you. Let’s just put it down to yet another failure,” he said, striding from the room.

 


© Copyright 2020 Sue Harris. All rights reserved.

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