The Princes and the Peace

aka The King Fingering

A Herculean fairy tale based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, "The Princess and the Pea"

by Ceryndip

Niobi paced the floor in the darkened room. The storm raged outside. The wind roared and the rain pelted the shutters. Niobi clenched and unclenched her hands as she paced.

"How could I have let him go," she said to no one. She was alone in the room. "He's not good at outdoor activities. Whatever made me think this hunting trip was a good idea. Of course, what choice did he give me? He thought it would be good for him. Experience something every common man enjoys, he said. A hunting trip! Now The King of Attica has gone and gotten himself lost. Fool man!"

A soft knock at the door.

"Come."

A timid guard opened the door. "Your pardon, your Highness, but you desired to know when the search party returned."

"Is the King unharmed?"

"They didn't find him, your Highness."

"What did they find?"

"Bodies. Bodies of the guards accompanying him or most of them anyway. It looked like they put up quite a fight. It was on a bridge and it is feared that some of the men were washed away in the river."

"But no sign of my husband?"

"No, I'm sorry." he stared at the floor, "The search parties will go back out at first light."

"Thank you. Not a word of this to our guests. Do you understand? Tell everyone. Not a word."

The young man nodded and backed out of the room.

What were they going to do? It was time to renew the peace treaty with the neighboring kingdom. King Aristias had arrived early yesterday and was not pleased to discover that Orestes was away. Niobi had made excuses, but didn't know how much longer she could keep the act up. The treaty had to be signed.

Another knock at the door, this time one of her servants.

"You must come. You have to see this. Two of them."

"Pallene, you're babbling. What are you talking about?"

"Come!" The girl grabbed Niobi's arm and pulled her through the door. They practically ran to the servant's entrance of the castle.

Outside, a farmer waited with his wagon under the cover of the entrance. He bowed deeply, when he realized it was his Queen the girl had fetched. Niobi nodded to him and looked with confusion at Pallene. The girl pointed at the wagon.

Niobi gingerly stepped over the rain puddles and peered over the side. In the wagon wrapped in woolen blankets were Orestes...and Orestes? Her eyes widened. Iolaus?

Both men were unconscious, one of them had a bloody bandage wrapped around his head. She couldn't tell which was which. Niobi reached over the side and began to lift the blanket when the farmer stopped her.

"No, your Highness. You don't want to do that." He seemed embarrassed as he explained, "We found them on the riverbank. Looked like they'd washed up there. One of them was bleeding." He indicated the bandaged head. "They were both bruised pretty badly and they were soaked. We had to get them dried off, so, we took off their clothes and wrapped them in those blankets." He handed her a bag with their clothes in it.

"I thought I should bring them here."

Niobi nodded thoughtfully, "But which is which?"

The farmer shrugged, "Don't know. Guess you'll have to wait till they wake up."

Niobi ordered servants to take both men to the royal chambers. They didn't move immediately but stood there looking curiously at Niobi.

She threw up her arms, "I don't know. Put them both in the King's bed and we'll sort them out later."

Niobi stood at the foot of Orestes' bed looking from one man to the other for some sign of identity. Their wounds had been cleaned, soiled bandages changed and both men were wearing Orestes' clothes. One of these men was her husband and the other, the love of her heart and she had no clue how to tell them apart.

The door opened and Hector quietly slipped in and joined her by the bed.

"It never ceases to amaze me when I see them together." He shook his head.

"Hector, how can I tell King Aristias that I don't know which one is my husband? He has to leave in the morning. The treaty must be signed before he goes."

"Why does he have to know, which one? The law states that he must sign in the presence of the King. It does not say that the King must be conscious. The question is will he be in the presence of Orestes or Iolaus. And does it really matter? We can't tell them apart, how can he?"

It mattered to Niobi. She, of all people, should be able to tell the difference. It was a matter of feminine pride. She sent Hector off to bed and sat considering her predicament.

There must be a way...Niobi sat bolt upright as she realized the obvious solution. She quietly stole down to the kitchen where she carefully selected two peas from the bin. She returned to the royal chamber and stealthily placed a pea under the man on each side of the bed.

It was so obvious. Iolaus was used to sleeping on the hard ground. A few pebbles, or in this case, a single pea shouldn't bother him at all. Orestes, on the other hand, was not used to such hardship. The pea should tell all.

Niobi retired to her own bed in the adjoining chamber to await the results of her experiment. She fell asleep telling herself, "It has to work."

Niobi was up before dawn. Slipping a robe over her nightdress, she quietly approached the man on the right side of the bed. She brushed a stray lock of golden hair from the bandage on his head and pulled back the covers. She rolled him over and found no evidence of the pea. She pulled the covers back up and tucked them around him again.

"Hmmmm, let's hope you're Iolaus."

She moved to the man on the left side of the bed and repeated the procedure. This time she was rewarded with a lovely set of bruises exactly over the spot where the pea resided under the sheet.

"Hello, my King."

Niobi sighed in relief and smiled to herself as she pulled the covers up. She called servants and had them move Iolaus to her bed. She sent for Hector.

Niobi quickly changed, finishing just as Hector let himself in. He was surprised to find only one man in the bed.

"Did Iolaus awaken?"

"No, I had him moved."

"But how did you...?"

Niobi smiled sweetly, eyes full of mischief, "A woman knows."

She sent a servant to bring King Aristias and another to fetch the treaty.

King Aristias was surprised to find King Orestes in bed.

"I was told Orestes was available for the treaty signing."

"He is," Niobi replied smoothly, "I assure you, the treaty will be perfectly legal. The law says that for the treaty to be valid, you must sign in the presence of the King. It is true that Orestes is not well, but you are still in his presence."

"This is most unusual but I have no desire to go to war with Attica and I have no more time to wait. I have been away from my own home long enough."

Aristias signed and with a last harried look at the man in the bed, he bowed to Niobi and left.

Niobi sighed and handed the treaty to an aide.

"Another crises averted." She and Hector traded knowing looks.

"Well done, your Highness." Hector nodded to her and excused himself, as well, leaving Niobi alone with her husband.

A soft moaning came from Niobi's chamber. She hurried in to find Iolaus' eyes fluttering open.

"Where...?"

"Shhhh. You're safe."

"Niobi?"

"Yes."

"How did I get here?"

"A farmer brought you. He found you and Orestes washed up on a riverbank."

Iolaus thought back, "Oh yeah, the river. Is Orestes OK?"

"He'll be fine. What happened? Where did you come from?"

"I ran into Orestes and his hunting party and decided to join them. We were crossing the bridge when we were attacked by...I don't know who they were. A bunch of guys who didn't want Orestes renewing a peace treaty or something. We were overwhelmed. I grabbed Orestes and we went over the side of the bridge. The current was too strong. I remember going under. I must've hit my head. The next thing I know I'm waking up in this soft bed with your pretty face looking down at me."

She smiled suddenly self-conscious. Why did his mere presence turn her inside out? She changed the subject.

"How did you sleep?"

Iolaus stretched sinking into the mattress. "Wonderfully. Best night's sleep I've had in weeks."

"Niobi!" Orestes called.

"Yes, Orestes?" Niobi rose and went to the door.

"Why is there a pea in my bed? Of all the ridiculous things to find in a bed. Do you know it ruined my entire night's sleep. I simply could not get comfortable. Have you seen these bruises?

Niobi smiled and sat in a chair where she could see both beds. Such different men, yet somehow the same under it all. Each in his own way, they were both princes among men.

End
Written by Ceryndip May 1997.

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