#16. The Reluctant Prince

Once upon a time there live a handsome prince in a prosperous kingdom. The prince lived a happy life and everything he did brought great pride to his parents except one thing: he refused to marry.

They pleaded, threatened, begged to no avail. It wasn’t that he hated all women. He was unerringly courteous to them, loved his mother and got along quite well with his female cousins. The prince was determined to be a bachelor for life, having seen women of the nobility at their worst. He refused to fall into the trap, as he called it, like so many of his friends. It always began with the wife nagging for attention, and soon those babies came along. Between them and the kingdom, he couldn’t possibly have a moment for himself. Why, a man could go insane living like that! His parents of course, dismissed these worries and reminded him that as heir to the throne, he had a duty to produce at least one more. The very thought of it made him shudder.

At last he relented on one condition: All prospective brides would have to pass a simple test. And so every hopeful princess who arrived dined with the prince and his parents and then spent the night in a room with mattresses piled so high on the bed that she needed a ladder to reach the top. Once there, she couldn’t sleep very well for fear of falling off, but she thought she understood the real reason for the mattresses and so in the morning when the prince asked, “How did you sleep?” she always replied, “Oh, terribly. I tossed and turned the whole night. I’m sure there was a rock underneath one of the mattresses, for my back is quite black and blue, I’m sure, from sleeping on something so hard.” To this the prince smiled in what he hoped was a regretful manner and said, “I’m sorry to hear it, highness, but even more sorry to tell you that if you are so easily discomforted, and I’m sure there was nothing beneath the mattresses but good solid oak, I cannot put you under the rigors of ruling a kingdom.”

And so in this way he managed to avoid marriage for another year. One day another princess appeared. Though her manners were faultless and her smiles frequent, she seemed to have a slight air of defiance. She spoke with genuine respect to his parents, but for the prince had nothing but thinly veiled sarcastic remarks. It was as if she was trying to offend him, the prince noted with a little approval. Sarcasm was always appreciated.

The next morning, he asked as usual, “How did you sleep?”

“Oh fairly well, after I removed all the mattresses but one. I hope you weren’t trying the princess and the pea trick on me. what idiot could possibly feel a pea through a foot thick mattress?”

She was noticably shocked when he just smiled and asked, “And which mattress did you choose?”

“The creamy white one. It matched the room nicely.”

“Really. I would have chosen the very light green. I like green.”

“But white has more a contrast. And light green doesn’t go nearly as well with the wood as white.”

“Congratulations, highness, you are the first idiot not to fall for the princess and the pea gimmick. Shall go to my parents and tell the the good news? They’ll be massively relieved.”

“I do have one condition. I have a brother you see. And he’s recently gone through a rather traumatic experience. First he was turned into a frog and then he had a narrow escape from marriage to this bimbo with a thing for guys who used to be frogs. And he was always shy and suspicious of women to begin with but now he’s completely forsworn their company, myself and family excluded. I want you to help him and convince him to marry. We’ve got the same problem as your parents. And if you can be persuaded, then so can he.”

“I suppose I could give him some advice,” the prince conceded.

“Splendid. Let’s find your parents, shall we?”

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