Once, in a faroff land, there was a moderately-attractive princess named Jacinta. Jacinta had very lovely, thick hair, large eyes, a very pointy little nose that made her look something like a curious bird, and practically blemishless skin, except for when she was very stressed, at which point she would frequently get cold sores and mild acne.
On the day when this story begins, she had just such a skin problem.
It all started with her father. "Daughter," he said to her one morning. She always hated that. Jacinta knew that the moment her father started referring to her with endearments instead of by her given name, it meant he had to have a Serious Talk, and Serious Talks were never good. "Daughter, you're eighteen years old. It's time for you to think about marriage."
The truth was, Jacinta thought about marriage all the time. She had a little scrapbook full of pictures of wedding dresses that she had drawn, and pressed flowers from bouquets from her friends' and cousins' weddings. But she had a feeling that when her father said she should be thinking about marriage, he meant something different from what she imagined in her head.
But she agreed, if hesitantly, because she knew that she was in for a lecture whether or not she agreed, so it was always easier to agree with him when he got into a lecture-giving mood. Her father, of course, was a king, and being king often meant he was under a lot of stress, what with people coming to him to decide disputes, or complaining about taxes when the harvests weren't good. So she understood that sometimes the pressure of the job got to him, and she liked trying to make their relationship as worry-free as possible. So she agreed that it was probably time for her to start thinking about marriage.
But then he asked her if she had considered whom she would like to marry. And that was where it got a little tricky. Because for Jacinta, there was only one man who would do.
That man was Andrew the Pig-boy. He was called Andrew the Pig-boy because that was his job, taking care of the pigs. Jacinta loved going out early in the morning when he would bring the pigs their morning slops, and chatting with him about everything from the weather to economic issues. Andrew couldn't read, of course, being a pig-boy, but he always seemed to know everything there was to know about current events and political concerns and even poetry. Jacinta often wondered just why he was a pig-boy, except that his father had been a pig-boy, and his grandfather had been a pig-boy, and his great-grandfather had worked day and night to raise himself up to the rank of pig-boy from his job as mere chicken-boy. And he enjoyed his work.
"I often find," Andrew told Jacinta, one misty grey morning,"that pigs are highly preferable to humans."
So when her father asked her to tell him whom she might like to marry, she wasn't about to lie about it. She told him the truth-- of course, she told him the truth rather awkwardly, with a little squeak in her voice, because it was the first time she'd told anyone just how much she liked Andrew. Including Andrew. She was a little mortified that he might hear about it.
As it was, her father was mortified to hear about it. "A swineherd!" he objected loudly. "Darling, no daughter of mine will marry a mere commoner! You should marry a duke, or at very least a knight, or perhaps a prince from a neighboring kingdom. Not a swineherd!"
"But I like the swineherd, Daddy," Jacinta replied. And she might have extolled his virtues for several minutes in a sort of far-off, dreamy voice, but her father wasn't listening.
"Light of my heart," said the King. "You must marry a nobleman."
"But I don't want to marry a nobleman!" Jacinta explained. "Daddy, have you met any noblemen lately? They're all entitled brats with no work ethic who can't be bothered with children and have no respect for women. Andrew loves children. He has two little sisters and in between pig duties, he helps his stepmother take care of them. And he actually looks at my face when he's talking to me, and not at my bosom!"
"But who will protect you and rule the kingdom when I'm gone?" the King asked his daughter. "Sweetheart, a swineherd isn't a proper husband."
Now Jacinta was getting frustrated. "I don't need protection! I can take care of myself! And why can't I rule the kingdom?" she demanded. "I know all about the problems of running a kingdom. I know about how the mudbrick makers are demanding higher wages and I know about how we need to increase our northern defenses to keep out the Viking raiders! I'm much cleverer than any old nobleman!"
But the King remained unconvinced. After all, Queens aren't supposed to do the ruling. Queens are supposed to host dinner parties and make sure the King's dress shirt matches his dress socks. Queens are supposed to marry Kings, who then do the ruling for them. But he also loved his daughter very much, and he was worried about what she said about noblemen. He didn't want her to marry someone who wouldn't love her just as much as he did, and care for her in the ways she wanted to be cared for. He just didn't like the idea of her having to do harder work than picking out her husband's socks.
So the King made a decree. "I decree," he said, because that is how you start a decree, "that any brave soul of Noble Birth who can complete the three tasks I set will win my daughter's hand and half my kingdom."
He was very careful how he worded it, and made sure to specify Noble Birth so that Andrew the pig-boy couldn't compete. Which annoyed Jacinta a little bit, and she was worried that some highborn jerk was going to complete her father's tasks, but fortunately it didn't work out that way. In fact, even though knights and Earls and Dukes and even some foreign princes tried to compete for her hand, none of them succeeded. Most of them ran away screaming. One of them even ran away screaming with his pants on fire. Of course, as much as this relieved Jacinta, it distressed the King, who was starting to think his daughter was right about noblemen.
But then, one day, a very little knight with a very brilliant red plume on his helmet showed up.
"Sire!" he said. "I wish to accept your challenge."
The King was immediately taken aback. This new knight couldn't possibly have been taller than five-foot-two without the armor, and his voice was rather squeaky and annoying.
"Aren't you a little short?" the King asked the knight, hoping the knight would decide he might not be tall enough to complete the tasks.
"Sire," said the knight. "I do not recall your proclamation specifying a height requirement."
He was right, there. The King had said "any brave soul of Noble Birth," not "any tall soul of Noble Birth." So he had to let the knight compete. But all the while, he was having terrible thoughts of short, squeaky grandchildren. So he tried to scare the knight away.
"I must warn you," he said, "these tasks hath daunted the greatest knights in the land. Milton the valorous hid under his bed. Timothy the Unblenching wet his breeches. And Bob the Intrepid ran all the way to New Jersey, and I don't even know what New Jersey is!"
That, of course, is because this was a very long time ago, before Europeans had managed to find out New Jersey existed. Or even named it New Jersey.
The short, squeaky knight seemed to be getting annoyed with all the warnings, though. "Sire, I beseech thee!" he said. "Let me try my hand!"
"Very well," said the King. And he let his mind rest, because this was the part where the knight would get scared away. "My daughter wants a husband who does not shirk from labor. Your first task will be to shovel this MANURE!"
He pointed the knight to a giant manure pile, stinking like cow butt and buzzing with flies.
But the knight didn't even flinch. "No sooner said than done!" he answered, squeakily, and went to work, flying through the manure with a shovel so quickly that many of the castle maidens stopped what they were doing to watch.
Soon, the knight was finished shoveling manure, and the King had to present him with the next task. But the King knew this one would scare him away for certain.
"Next," the King said, "my daughter says her husband should love children. So your second task is to care for this baby."
The King had borrowed a baby from one of the ladies-in-waiting, and it was very obvious just from looking at him that he had never handled a baby before. When Jacinta had been a baby, she had had a nurse to look after her, and if someone royal was holding her, it was always her mother, not the King! Kings didn't hold babies. The baby could tell that the King didn't know how to hold her, and she started screaming.
So the knight sidled in and took the baby from the King, and sang to her, and tickled her belly and gave her kisses until the baby gave the knight a big smile and began to snore. "Good baby!" said the knight, and handed the baby off to her mother, who had been very worried that someone would drop the baby. The baby, still sleeping, blew a spit bubble.
Now the King was getting worried, because the knight had gotten through the first two tasks, but the third task-- the third task was nigh impossible, unless this man was a perfect husband for his daughter. He satisfied himself with the knowledge that Jacinta wouldn't want a short, squeaky-voiced husband.
"Finally," said the King, "my daughter's husband must respect women. So your last task will be to make my daughter smile."
The knight chuckled, and the chuckle made a funny, echoing sound what with the knight's helmet reverberating. "Well, that's easy!" the knight exclaimed, and removed his helmet.
"Hello, Daddy!" said Jacinta, grinning broadly as she rested the helmet in her arms, her forehead glistening with sweat from being enclosed in what amounted to a metal hat for the past few hours. "I finished your tasks. Now can I please marry Andrew and get my half of the kingdom?"
This entry was written for therealljidol Week 23: Underdog