The Princess sat by the tower’s one window, chin in hand. Today was the day, it seemed–today she came of age. Which meant that today was the day her three years of imprisonment in the tower ended, to be replaced by something even worse: marriage.
It was not that the Princess was inherently opposed to marriage. She was sure it probably worked out quite well for some people, if they were suited to it and to each other. It was just that she was quite sure it was not for her, and definitely not with the Regent, who had locked her in the tower in the first place, precisely to ensure that he could wait until this day, then marry her and be crowned king.
After which, well, she wouldn’t expect much in the way of life expectancy, to judge from history. Which the Princess could, better than most, because although she was locked in the tower, she was permitted books, and over the course of three years she’d read every single one the quite extensive castle library had to offer.
The door opened. She stood, brushed down her dress, and faced the Regent. If nothing else, she had her dignity.
“Well, Princess,” said the Regent, smiling the same way he did everything, smarmily. He was, the Princess had come rather quickly to realize, more or less made of smarm. To wit: He didn’t so much walk across the small chamber toward her as ooze. “I trust you are excited for this day as much as I?”
She gave a small smile and inclined her head. “Indeed, my lord.”
He looked surprised. “Really? Well, that is good news. I’m glad you’ve come around and realized marrying me is the best thing for our nation.”
She laughed, a bright, crystal sound echoing in the dingy room. “No,” she said.
“No. I will not be marrying you today. Instead, I will be removing you from power, eliminating the cronies and mercenaries with which you have imposed your cruel reign on the kingdom’s people, and either banishing you or having you executed, I haven’t decided yet.”
It was the Regent’s turn to laugh, though if anything, his made the room even dingier. “Oh?” he said. “You and what army?”
The princess turned and looked out the window. He stepped forward to stand beside her, creating a study in contrast: him tall, thin, and pallid as a dead fish; her short and dark. Three years of imprisonment with effectively no opportunity to exercise and little to do besides eating and reading had left her quite fat, but it had also carried her past the gangly, clumsy, spotty phase of late adolescence and left her with clear, smooth black skin and a body that fit precisely, while all that study had done wonders for an already keen and curious intellect. She had matured, quite simply, into the most beautiful and wisest princess in the land, and she knew the Regent quite hated her for it. Not as much as he was about to hate her for what came next, though.
He followed her gaze, past the city spreading out below the castle, past the high walls and shining gates that girded it, to the wide and fruitful plains beyond. And there they were, filling those fields, stretching out into the distance until they faded to the horizon.
“How?” he asked.
“I escaped,” she said. “Every day. Multiple times, some days. And I went out, and I made friends, and I asked them to come help me on this day.”
“Escaped..?” he said weakly, paling from merely dead fish to vampire victim fish. “But… it’s impossible! There is no escape from this tower!”
“I had everything I needed right here,” she said, picking up a book. “Over and over again, I escaped into these stories, so full of wonderful people.” She gestured out the window. “And in some of those stories I found other books, and tales, and narrative forms you have never dreamt of, and I went to all of them I could, shared in their lives, and gave them of myself to make them live. And now, they are here at last.”
The two of them looked out the window at them all, brave knights and noble rebels, rogues with hearts of gold and friendly witches, people armed with sword and spear and whip and hammer, gun and blaster and disruptor, angry revolutionaries and disappointed idealists, elves and fairies and dwarves and trolls and goblins and aliens and ghosts and vampires and humans and werewolves, rockbiters and Gorons, all the serried ranks of the armies of Fantastica and Emelan and Terabithia and the Republic of Heaven, martial artists and martial artists with power over the elements and martial artists with magic and martial artists with alchemy and ninjas and samurai and princesses! Princesses with bows and magic bows and crossbows, princesses with wands and glowing staves and magical lacrosse sticks, a small young red-haired princess leading an army of wild animals and Fair Folk, and a tall dark-haired one leading an army of elves and dragons.
“But,” the Regent protested, “they’re only stories! They’re not real, they can’t come here!”
A skinny redheaded teenager incanted something and blew a massive hole in the city wall. The army came charging through, while from the skies above–well, they were as full as the sky, full of schoolchildren on brooms and angels with fiery swords and efreeti with fiery everything and fighter planes and bombers and starships and starfighters and battlestars and starfuries…
“You poor, pathetic, silly man,” the Princess said, the contempt in her voice tempered with just a trace of pity. “You’re an evil Regent who kept a wise and beautiful Princess locked in a tower for years so that you could marry her and cement your tyrannical rule over a once-peaceful and prosperous kingdom. This is a story. We’re no realer than they are, so if I can go to them, of course they can come to me! So you see, I rather think the answer to your original question is, well, this one.”
And then the army of everyone who never existed swept over the city, and in less time than it takes to read this sentence, it was done, because of course this is the kind of battle that moves faster for faster readers.
The regent was exiled, of course, the Princess having wisely decided that starting a new, better realm with a murder was probably not the best precedent. His exile was her first decree as Queen, and her second was to abolish the kingdom and establish an interim government to oversee the reconstruction and ease the transition into a less authoritarian form of government, and so there would never be a third decree because she wasn’t Queen anymore, and of course having been a Queen she couldn’t go back to being a Princess.
After that, as she mused to the new chairman of the interim council, “I suppose there’s not much left for me to do here. It’s time I was moving on for good.”
“Really?” he asked. “But we only just got you back!”
“Well, yes,” she said, “but there’s in infinity of stories out there and only all of eternity to see them all. I really must be getting started.” She paused. “I rather think I won’t need the books anymore–I’ve had a lot of practice, and I believe I’ve developed a knack for it. Farewell!”
And then, with a wheezing, groaning sound, the woman without a title stepped out of this story and into another.