A colorful bard appeared in the bar and called out to all the young strangers. “Please, everyone, could I have a moment of your time? I have a story to tell. It won’t take long.”
The people around the tavern sat in their seats and every sharp eye fell on the storyteller.
“Once upon a time, a princess was sad, for she was locked in a tower all alone. They said she was not what she seemed, a secret witch, and no one believed her own words that she wasn’t. But you can’t kill a king’s daughter, so they locked her away where no man would dare go, for upon this tower in a beautiful garden lived a dragon, an ogre, and a troll. They fed the princess, for this was their task, but they also had a darker fate. If anyone should come near the tower, they were to kill him, or her. The princess was to while her years away.”
The bard looked around. “Don’t have such long faces, for the tale isn’t done. If anything, we’re only getting started. As you might expect, word of a witch-princess gets around, and it just so happens one prince caught the word. Or the word caught him, for it would not let him go, and it bothered him day and night. He believed her, oh yes. Without seeing her eyes or hearing her voice, he was willing to save her, wed her, make his life hers.”
The storytelling bard glanced around once more. “Now don’t smile too soon, for this was no easy task. He had distance to travel, mountains to cross, rivers to forge, and at the end, a tall tower upon which sat three horrid monsters.”
Smiles vanished and foreheads creased, and everyone in the tavern leaned closer.
“This prince traveled—yes, he made it all the way to the princess’s prison, but she remained a world away. He cut into stone and slung ropes, and climbed in a graceful, princely way. Yet before he reached the top, upon a ledge sat the dragon, grinning evilly. Friends, close up those jaws, else your teeth will fall out and you won’t be able to whistle when the story’s done.
“Now, a dragon isn’t a simple foe, and lucky for the prince this was. A simple thing can’t well be reasoned with, but a dragon, that’s a different matter. Though they have a penchant for princesses, they’re also susceptible to gold, and though the beast wouldn’t betray his fellows, he would take a bribe equal to a king’s ransom and that’s what the prince did provide.
“So off the dragon flew, but don’t be at ease yet, for the prince had challenges to go. Next the brave man found a window and inside sat his prize. She was the loveliest princess you could ever imagine—I swear it and that’s a fact. Lads, picture your dream girl, and ladies, picture yourselves as royalty, and that’s exactly what the prince saw.
“She took his hands and thanked him for coming, but warned he shouldn’t have come. Even if she left the tower, none would believe her, like before. The prince promised to take care of that, as only a prince can do, and then he took her by the waist, and it was a merry dance they had. It was such a lovely moment that you might not notice the time slipping by. In fact, you might not notice anything, like the princess’s hands grabbing the prince’s throat.
“Some of you might think the prince was a fool, that he should’ve known her a witch for true. Yet he was far wiser than anyone who’d think that, and he called the blasted ogre on his bluff. The ogre whose shape had turned princess-like released his hands in surprise, and before he could change to a tougher form, the prince ran him through. He demanded to know where the princess was, and that the ogre tell him with his last precious moments. The ogre pointed up—so the princess was in the garden.
“I see your faces curling with dismay and you’re absolutely right to feel that way. At the top of the tower sat the true princess, and a true troll stood over her. Tall trees blocked the sun to keep the troll from turning to stone and he had a mighty club that helped him guard. He swore the prince wouldn’t touch his prize, not while the beast drew breath.”
The people in the tavern cringed and their bones creaked as if the troll towered over them.
“The prince was clever, don’t forget, so don’t break your backs with worry. He waited for nightfall, when the troll was asleep, and hacked his sword at every tree in the garden. Down they came, one by one, and when the sun returned to the sky, there wasn’t a tree to give the troll any shade, and at once he petrified.
“You smile fondly, and while yes, we’re almost done, there is one more twist to this tale. The prince and princess fell in love at that moment, and they kissed, and he carried her down. That was when she told him she was truly a witch, but she had never harmed anyone. The prince promised to keep her safe, as only a prince can, and they made their way to his home. They would be a little poorer than when the prince set out, but gold is a small price to pay for a tale and a woman of no finer kind, with whom it’s worth growing old.”
The old people in the tavern clapped their wrinkled hands and those who still had teeth whistled their approval.
The bard bowed. “Thank you for your time.” Then he left the tavern and vanished into the night, taking time and tale with him.