Warning: some readers may not find this tale tasteful.
Once upon a time there was a prince, and, as princes are apt to do, he wanted to marry a princess, a real princess. He looked for a bride all over the world, but nowhere could he find one who was acceptable. Oh, there appeared to be enough princesses; however, it seems that in fairy tales there can be princesses and real princesses, and no one had yet set forth the criteria separating the two types and put those criteria into a dictionary or even into wikipedia.
So, the prince found there was something wrong with each princess he met. Beauty was never an issue because all fairy-tale princesses are beautiful or can obtain charms to make them appear so, but there were always other problems. Some princesses would not allow him into their private chambers where he could observe his intended when she was not performing for the public, and those he dismissed immediately, for he had learned to rely on observation and scientific method. Others were much too eager to get him into their boudoirs, leading him to believe they performed privately for every young prince who came along, and those he dismissed also, even if the performance was commendable. One used very foul terms in her speech, and, while he accepted such words as appropriate for certain times and places, she used them in describing his shortcomings, and that he did not appreciate. In some cases, the princess was so lacking in intelligence he knew she could never remember which country her prince would rule or even which prince was her prince, and, although he had to admit she could be forgiven not distinguishing among many of his fellow princes because few of them had any outstanding traits, he wanted to be special to his princess. He found a few princesses who thought they were too intelligent to accept the explanations given by wizards and soothsayers of the kingdom, and he knew they would never work out at court without that pretense. He was very tempted by one princess, who appeared perfect in almost every way, including having an outstanding boudoir presentation; however, he knew his princely duties would never allow him the time needed to learn about gravitational lensing, string theory, and black-hole physics so that he could converse with her outside the private chamber. Sadly, he returned home to his father's kingdom, Eastwick, without a princess for a bride.
All the king's advisors and other important persons at court were eager to give the prince wise counsel on finding a true princess, and, finally, in desperation, the prince decided to try the advice of one of the court wizards who maintained that he could be sure of finding a true princess worthy of him by use of an enchanted pea. The prince knew a tale had been told about his ten-times-great grandfather and his ten-times-great grandmother and the bruising of her derriere by a pea under one or more mattresses; however, the beautiful, but helpless, princess described in these tales was jarringly different from the equally beautiful, but hardy, ten-times-great grandmother featured in the family tales that had been passed down through the generations. In that story, this same young woman had gone to war alongside her kingly husband and had hacked her way to him when he was surrounded by a dozen foes and, standing back to back with him, had fought off those foes until friendly knights reached them to save their royal personages. Still, maybe, the wizard's story had a grain of truth, and the pea might even be supposed to stamp 'true princess' on the backside of the appropriate woman. He resolved to try it after making a few changes.
The next few times he shared a mattress with a princess, he carefully placed the enchanted pea between the mattress and the sheet, not under the mattress as the wizard had suggested, because any woman whose buttock could be bruised or branded by a pea under the mattress would surely be too delicate for his tastes. All the princesses griped about the pea until they found it, removed it, and tossed it away for the prince to search for and recover later, but the experiment brought him no success because these princesses, as had all the previous ones, failed one or more of his simple tests. One lesson he learned was that he should have the pea sewn into the sheet so that it could not be so easily removed.
The prince was about to give up in his search for a true princess and settle for someone less than ideal when he heard a tale of a princess in a far-off kingdom. This princess was being courted by many suitors, but every one had failed to please her and was dismissed, and he thought that, perhaps, she could be a true princess with standards as high as his own. So, taking along his enchanted pea for sewing into the princess's sheet if he was invited into her boudoir, he journeyed to the far-off kingdom, which was really a queendom because the king had died recently when he was thrown from his stallion in a state parade and had left his young widow as ruler. Although the queen was stepmother to the princess, she was not an evil stepmother, as fairy-tale stepmothers often are, and she loved her princess stepdaughter, although she, like everyone else at court, had been victim of the princess's sharp tongue that was often set free by an accompanying short temper.
Upon arrival in the kingdom's capital, the prince dismissed his footman and presented him a royal credit card, telling him to enjoy a holiday in the city because he, the prince, would be cared for in the castle, and, after requesting and obtaining an audience with the queen, he went to the castle to meet her. At their meeting, he bowed low and presented himself to the queen, who appeared not much older than he, "You Highness, I'm Prince Frederick of Eastwick, here to court your daughter, Princess Wilma."
"Prince Frederick, I'm Queen Dorianna, or just Dory as most people call me. This young man," she said as she pointed to a boy of about twelve standing by, "is Prince Mellinore, or Mel, Wilma's brother. Mel is the most-intelligent person in the castle and my best advisor and can tell you anything you need to know. Take care of him, Mel. If you will excuse me, Frederick, I've got to get back to the conference chamber to try to prevent war between Bulmaria and Grosslandia, kingdoms ruled by . . . . Well, never mind." The queen swept away, leaving the prince alone with the younger prince.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Prince Mellinore."
"Just call me Mel. Dory's wrong about my being the smartest. She is, and what she didn't complete her sentence to say was that Bulmaria's and Grosslandia's kings are dunces. May I call you Freddie?"
The prince came from a kingdom that operated much more formally and considered use of a diminutive name as taking things a bit far; however, home was home, and here was here, and, after a moment's thought, he replied that it was acceptable.
"Okay, I'll level with you," said Prince Mel. "You'll get nowhere with Wilma. Well, she may invite you to her boudoir for a presentation, as she calls it, but, even so, that's all there will be because she has fallen head over heels and ass over appetite for Prince Harold, who is engaged to Princess Cornelia because their fathers insisted on it for state reasons. Hal's sharp, but Corny's not overly so, being the daughter of the king of Bulmaria. So, you might get a night with Wilma, but she'll tell you to hit the road afterward. Knowing that, do you want to request an audience with her, requesting an audience being as simple as my taking you to her rooms and introducing you? It's up to you and her after that."
"If that's so, I'll wait to meet Princess Wilma formally in the presence of the queen," Prince Frederick responded.
"She'll have dinner tonight with me and Dory and possibly an advisor or two or, maybe, a servant or two, if the advisors aren't there. You're invited to dinner and can meet her there, but it won't be formal. Just wear trousers or shorts and a comfortable shirt. Tomorrow night, there will be a state dinner that will be formal if Dory can get the turkeys from Grosslandia and Bulmaria to come to terms, and you'll probably be invited to that. Although Dory can think circles around both of them, they are hard-headed goats; still, she and I agreed on a plan that may work."
Mel spent the afternoon showing Prince Frederick around the castle and the grounds, stopping often to speak to workers and introducing his companion as Freddie Eastwick. Prince Frederick discovered that Mel studied with tutors, but only in the mornings because he didn't want to get too far ahead of his age group and enter university too early. When Frederick was shown to his quarters for his stay in the castle, Mel offered to get an attendant for him if he was unable to prepare his own bath and take care of dressing by himself; however, he assured the younger prince that he was capable of caring for himself even though he had never drawn a bath and always had a footman in attendance.
Frederick managed on his own and, after enjoying the shower, which he finally got to work properly, he dressed in trousers and open-collared shirt. Mel, wearing shorts and a shirt he could pull over his head, came by to take him to dinner, where they joined the queen, Princess Wilma and one elderly footman standing by the queen, and he was sure it was not lack of knowledge of proper protocol that prompted Mel to introduce him to Joseph, the footman, before he introduced him to his sister Wilma.
"Joseph, if you won't leave as everyone else did when I dismissed all the servants, sit and eat with us. I won't order you to leave, but that is an order to sit," Queen Dorianna told the footman, who obeyed by sitting at the table with the royal family. "I'm glad you are here because you are one of my most-trusted advisors."
"Thank you, Your Majesty."
"I'll report on the conference, and there may be bad news for you Prince Frederick," the queen started.
"Might as well call me Freddie, Your Majesty. Prince Mel has already introduced me to everyone around the castle as Freddie Eastwick."
"I told you it's Dory, even though Joseph won't address me informally even when we are alone. Anyhow, Grosslandia and Bulmaria agreed to sign a peace treaty, and it will be guaranteed by the marriage of Princess Cornelia of Bulmaria and Prince Valmarie of Grosslandia. And to appease King Mark of Domciwel for the loss of Corny, his son's intended, I had to promise that Wilma would marry Hal. I'm sure that won't displease you too much, Wilma, but Freder, Freddie, was here to court you."
"Thank you, Dory," Wilma said. "I know you didn't arrange all these engagements just for me because the marriages are instruments of diplomacy, but you're a good friend as well as a good queen, and I'm pleased to have you as a mother even though you're barely older than I. Hal and I do love each other, and, although he has been the victim of my temper a few times, he understands me and fights back as no one else does. And Freddie, Mel has already told me you came to court me, and I'm sorry you came in vain."
The queen knew Wilma was correct in saying that the happiness of members of the royal families was not as important as the fate of the kingdoms, but, remembering her brief days of courting and her own thwarted romance when she was required to marry Wilma's and Mel's much-older father, she was glad that she could make at least one prince and one princess happy in the process of preventing a war. She had never loved the king who had been her husband, but she knew he was a good man and had liked him well enough and had enjoyed a good life with him and loved his children. Now he was gone, and she was still young enough to find a man to love were it not for having a country to run, at least until Mel was old enough to rule. She thought of the few men who had courted her and the even-fewer she had been allowed to invite to her boudoir back in those days of being a care-free princess, and she was a bit sad. Since she had become ruler upon the king's death, there had been a few men, a very few, who had visited her boudoir by special invitation but none who had shown the courage or had the desire to court a queen, and, thinking of all the men she had known, she tried to decide what qualities she liked in a man. A man much like the visiting prince, with his intelligence, politeness, and good looks, but without his uptightness, would be a good start. Perhaps he just needed a good reason to loosen up.
Joseph interrupted her musing with, "No one could have done as well as you in this peace conference, Your Majesty. War looked inevitable merely because two rulers were stupid, arrogant, and stubborn, but, with your diplomatic skills, you managed to avoid that war."
Wilma offered, "When Val inherits the kingdom -- both kingdoms since Corny is an only child? -- on the old king's death or both their deaths, he won't be any more intelligent than his father or Corny's father, but, at least, he is amiable. Most people can get along with him." Wilma thought to herself that most princesses in this part of the world knew most princes here rather intimately, which could be handy when monarchs began negotiating with each other, if they possessed the intelligence to make use of their mates' knowledge, and she knew that, when she ruled alongside Hal, as she certainly intended to do, she wouldn't hesitate to give him an advantage over the other rulers by sharing with him a few boudoir secrets that she had learned about the personality traits of the others.
After the meal, the royal family cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher in the family kitchen, something that would have been completely alien to Frederick's family, who would have starved had servants not attended, served, and taken care of them. As they were preparing to leave the kitchen for the drawing room, Frederick found the enchanted pea in a pocket and looked at it.
"Worthless," he muttered and tossed it at a wastebasket, where it bounced off the rim and rolled along the floor back toward him, and he moved to pick it up.
The queen turned her head to look at him and, on her next step, placed a foot on the pea and stumbled, about to fall. Frederick caught her in his arms as she fell, and he started to give an apology for touching her royal body; however, with one look at each other, they began kissing, and each hugged the other tighter. Standing by, Mel and Wilma both applauded, and Joseph managed not to look overly shocked at what was proceeding.
"What did you say?" Dory asked, not letting go of him even when she could catch her breath.
Frederick, now Freddie, had to breath deeply a few times before he could reply, "I was saying the pea I threw away was worthless because it was supposed to find a princess for me and didn't; however, I know now that it wasn't worthless because it wasn't really a princess I was seeking. I was looking for a queen."