Prince Herbert had been traveling for months, as he was on a quest to find the love of his life. Not that he complained about the journey: he knew this was what he was supposed to do since he was born. Every single day of his 21 years he’d been getting ready for the most important mission of his life. Since the beginning of times, it had been the norm for princes like him, after all.
As his journey progressed, Herbert had found out another bright side about being on his own: silence. He grew up in a huge castle packed with knights and servants, and the occasions to enjoy a moment on his own were very rare. His father, King Edward, was a very vocal man himself: he was a real giant, and even though his steps didn’t resonate so often in the halls anymore, his voice still sounded loud and clear.
And just as Herbert sat on his bench in that inn, immerse in meditation as he prepared to enjoy his dinner, tranquillity ended forever for him. The inn door slammed open, and a noisy character made his entrance: it was prince Kevin. He was famous across all the reigns of that land thanks to his attitude so unfit for a prince his age. A lot of stories wanted him to have been on several quests for a princess, but he either was defeated or just refused to settle with one.
“My dad would have killed me after the second one for sure.” Herbert thought as he limped his spoon in his soup.
At that moment, a pair of black leather boots entered his field of view. Herbert raised his head until his eyes met prince Kevin’s grinning face. “Mind if I join you?” Asked the newcomer.
Herbert minded, indeed, but did his best to hide it and waved towards the empty chair in front of him.
“Thanks, man! You’re on the quest, aren’t you? I’m quite good at spotting fellow spirits.”
Kevin kept his gaze fixed on Herbert, so much that he felt obliged to talk. “Yes, I’m on the quest. I’ll save the princess and then have her become my wife.”
“Of course,” said prince Kevin, amused. “We’re all after something!”
“And what are you after?” Herbert placed down the spoon and looked at the man for the very first time.
“Silly question, man. I’m after the same thing as you: love of my life.” Kevin’s gaze moved around, on the people in the inn, and Herbert took advantage of it to study his face. He looked young, too young for a prince who had already tried and failed many times. What was his real story?
“And you already know who’s gonna be the lucky one?” Kevin’s voice took Herbert by surprise.
“Yes, he said after a deep breath. “There is a girl in a cave a few weeks away from here.”
“A cave guarded by a dragon?”
Herbert looked at Kevin, raising an eyebrow. “Yes.”
“So typical. It’s either in a cave with a dragon or in a high tower in the middle of nowhere.” The smile didn’t fade from Kevin’s voice as he shamelessly mocked the Quest.
Herbert took a sip of beer, amused. One thing was sure: prince Kevin didn’t seem to bother about his reputation as a prince. He seemed unable to take even a millennial institution like the Quest seriously.
“Well, I’ll come with you.” He said after a deep sip from his beer.
Kevin definitely didn’t take any quest seriously.
“What? ” Herbert dropped his spoon again. “There’s only one princess in that cave.”
“Then she’ll have to choose. Let’s add some spice to it, shall we?”
Herbert slumped against the back of the chair and shook his head. He wasn’t sure this was how it was supposed to work, but said nothing: he was too tired to discuss with Kevin, and he didn’t see him as a real threat to his mission. There was no way a real princess was going to pick Kevin against him, he thought.
On the other hand, the idea of fighting a dragon on his own frightened him more than he dared to admit. And he felt something in Kevin, something he couldn’t put his finger on. He guessed it was just curious about that peculiar character.
And so, on the following day, they began to ride together towards the cave. The trip went smoothly, giving the two princes the chance to get to know each other. One day, prince Herbert found the courage to ask a question he’d been pondering for a while: whether it was true that prince Kevin had tried the quest many times, and failed as many. Herbert felt a bit ashamed in asking this so directly, but Kevin was smiling when he replied.
“Yeah, it’s true,” he said.
“Were you really defeated over and over again?”
“No.” the prince was still smiling.
Herbert frowned and rolled his eyes, frustrated by Kevin’s inability to act like a normal prince. “And why do you do this over and over again then?” He asked.
“Because once you settle, it’s over.” Kevin swept his surrounding with his right arm. “The excitement of the quest, the adrenaline, the expectation for something more. It all ends as soon as you win the heart of the princess.”
Herbert scoffed, but deep inside he began to question his own resolution for the first time in his life. He realized he’d been enjoying that trip very much and was quite sorry it was almost over.
Kevin went on talking: “Some people can’t wait to complete their journey. I’m more for the excitement of the trip itself.”
“But…isn’t the completion of the journey called growing up?”
Kevin smiled. “Then I’ll be forever young.” He fell silent and closed his eyes, smiling at the stars.
Herbert looked at him, and couldn’t help but think that he was the most complex and interesting person he’d ever met. How his handsome face looked peaceful and fulfilled, while deep down inside he was thriving for action, and unwilling to stop. There was a fire inside him, and Herbert hoped it never went out.
“Does it mean I can keep the princess?”
Kevin let out a deep sigh. “Yes, you can keep the princess.” After that, they both fell asleep.
The following day, they found the entrance of the cave: the two princes entered, and in the first hall they found the princess, so beautiful and helpless in her long pink gown. On her side, a huge dragon, so threatening with his big claws and his red and black scales. The dragon turned towards them, ready to roast them in a single breath.
But the flame never came: it was just a smoky cough from the dragon mouth and nostrils. Kevin fought hard against a burst of laughter, while Herbert was too shocked to talk or to know what to do.
The princess raised her eyes to the ceiling. “I think I told you countless times, Frank, you should go easier on that mint. It freshens your breath too much.”
The dragon turned towards her, eyes low on the ground. “But it tastes so damn good!”
Herbert broke in. “Beware, beast. I, Prince Herbert, son of Edward, am here to rescue the princess from your filthy cave and lead her in my castle, as my legitimate bride.”
As he quickly spoke those words, he heard his voice faltering. Why now? What was he so doubtful about? He won, and nobody needed to know he actually didn’t even have to fight. Why did he feel so empty?
He looked at Kevin, who was smiling at the princess and telling her something he didn’t quite understand: how confident he looked in his studded leather armor, with his red cape falling on his left shoulder. He envied his courage to choose to live the life he wanted despite the hostility from his parents.
The princess interrupted his thoughts. “And so, my savior. Tell me about yourself.”
“I’m prince Herbert, from the land of the yellow crops. I traveled for months to fulfill my destiny and find the love of my life, no matter the cost.”
“Not very original, but so damn sexy.” The princess winked at the dragon. “And tell me, Prince Herbert. Did you find it?”
Herbert waited a little bit before replying. It was the most important answer he was ever going to face in his life, and it left him speechless. He shifted his gaze between Kevin, the dragon, and the princess. Suddenly, he knew the answer. He felt his body relaxing, and he was able to speak again.
“Yes, I found it. I found him.” He looked into prince Kevin’s eyes, who didn’t look away.
“Just a word, or a sign,” said Herbert, “and we’ll roam these land together ’til the end of our days.”
Kevin smiled and held out his hand. Herbert took it, without looking away from Kevin, and they exited the cave together, towards the sun who was supposed to shine on them for the rest of their lives.
The princess looked at the dragon and saw it was fighting against tears. “What’s up, dude?”
“They’re so cute!”
“They are, indeed” the princess smiled, looking towards the entrance of the cave as a single sunray touched her pale face. She shook herself and winked at the dragon. “All this love made me hungry. What about roasted boar for tonight?”