It sat looking up at us with an air of surprised disappointment: blue eyes wide, slightly parted lips, tousled blonde curls.
“Oh,” said the princess.
“Oh?” I repeated.
One of the ladies-in-waiting sniggered. The princess glared at her.
“You asked for Lothar’s head, your Highness,” I said.
“Well, yes,” said the princess. “I suppose I did.”
“And here it is.”
“It certainly is,” said the princess.
The lady-in-waiting sniggered again.
“Miranda!” hissed the princess. “Shut up!”
“So,” I cleared my throat.
“It’s just that…,” the princess trailed off.
“It’s just that what, your highness?” I said a little too loudly.
“I was kidding,” said the princess.
“You were kidding?”
“Well,” she said. “We’d just smoked that doobie, remember? And I was a little high.”
“It took over a year, your Highness,” I said, “just to cross the Mountains of the Moon.”
“Was it really very hard?” she asked.
“And when we got to the other side my men deserted me for harpies and succubi, my horse died of thirst in the Great Salt Flats, I had to eat my dogs, and I was ensorceled by a witch of the Hungry Forest into thinking I was a rutting boar. I spent three months rooting for mushrooms in the hot sun and the freezing rain.”
“It’s just that…,” began the princess and I interrupted her.
“Three months,” I said. “Naked. In the sun and the rain.”
“When you asked what you needed to do,” began the princess. “When you asked how you could win my hand, you seemed so sweet and vulnerable.”
I said nothing.
“Well, I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but really,” she said. “I am a princess.”
“But you said…”
“I chose something impossible,” she said. “Something really, really hard that no one in their right mind would attempt. I was trying to let you down easy. I was trying to say no without saying no.”
“But it was not impossible,” I brushed a lock of golden hair out of Lothar’s eyes.
“I see that now,” she continued. “But I was trying to be ironic.”
“Yes,” said the princess and put her hand on mine. “Irony is when you say something for rhetorical effect which you don’t actually mean.”
“I know what irony means,” I said.
“I’m not sure you do,” the princess sighed.
I blinked away some tears.
“I just felt so awkward and sad,” said the princess. “We were having so much fun and then you went and asked about marriage and instead of two people simply enjoying each other’s company it was suddenly all about me being royalty and you a commoner.”
“I’m a knight, your highness,” I said.
“But that’s not the point,” she removed her hand from mine.
“What is the point?”
“The point is I’m very sorry if I misled you about my intentions.”
I felt my throat tightening.
She reached out and brushed my cheek with the back of her hand. The ladies-in-waiting all pretended to look away.
“It really is a very beautiful head,” said the princess.