The prince isn’t meant for this. He knows it. Everyone knows it.
The fact that the heir is so soft has never been a problem in times of peace, but this is not a time of peace.
The king has been poisoned, and the enemy’s armies are on the march.
Without clear leadership, the general, the knight-commander, the grandmistress of the eye, the seneschal, and various other advisors and administrators fall to squabbling over priorities.
The prince cannot lead them. His suggestions are worse than useless, so he spends his time doing the only thing a soft young man like him ever knows to do.
He reads. He reads with the same desperation that fuels a trapped beast as it chews its own leg off. He reads because he thinks he’ll find the answer in one of these books eventually. It might have even worked, if he’d paid enough attention to his tutors as a student, but he lacks the foundation to grasp the finer points of military tactics or the logistics of running an army or kingdom.
Still he prays for a miracle and searches for a shortcut to victory.
He becomes engrossed in the history of the kingdom he is expected to rule. One story in particular draws his attention, and soon he finds himself scouring the royal library for anything relating to the great Dominion that preceded this kingdom. The prince finds its last ruler particularly fascinating, pulling at his attention with an energy he cannot name.
Countess, General, Earthbound Goddess, Witch-Queen, Lich Queen—so many accounts differ in the titles they lavish upon her. What remains consistent, however, is their depiction of her as a peerless leader and tactician. In record after historical record he reads about how she crushed armies that dwarfed the forces she commanded.
What was her secret? The prince wonders.
Each new detail leads him through the library like a trail of breadcrumbs. He wheedles the royal scholars into giving up a key to the secret archives that, under normal circumstances, only they and the king are authorized to access. The prince could learn so very much from the secret archives, but his focus is narrow and obsessive.
“Triumphant hero,” “sacred bloodline.” Boring, boring, boring. But passages about her immortality, of how she was entombed under the castle, and of the seal that holds her?
Well, if the seal can be broken, the prince knows she has the power and knowledge to save the kingdom from its enemies, and the magic that binds her is far more interesting to learn about than anything the prince studied before. He pours himself into the secret texts.
Few notice the prince’s withdrawal from his responsibilities. Nobody misses his ill-informed decisions. The kingdom loses several territories on its eastern border while the prince genuinely commits himself to his education for the first time in his life.
The prince can’t claim to be certain as he descends into the catacombs. Certainty itself requires a degree of confidence the prince has never quite mustered. He doesn’t require it, however. He never did. Fear and flight—from himself or others—has always been motivation enough.
The hidden switch is not so hard to find now that he knows where to look. It opens a short passageway leading to a spiral staircase descending even deeper underground. A musty odor wafts upward, but he presses on, descending into the dark.
The stairs are narrow and steep, and the prince offers a prayer of gratitude for the slightness of his frame. He cannot imagine the general, or his father for that matter, squeezing themselves down here, step after plunging step.
The stairs terminate at the entrance to a large, round chamber, faintly illuminated by something glowing at the center. As the prince approaches, the glow intensifies until it becomes obvious that it comes from the blade of an enchanted sword thrust into a raised platform.
The prince vaguely recalls a text mentioning the sword of the Hero reacting to the bloodline of the Chosen, but that part of history didn’t interest him as much as the story of the one sealed away by the sword’s power.
He knows how to free her. That’s the important part. No exotic materials—or even particularly complex steps—required when it’s one’s own bloodline powering the crux of the binding.
A skeletal ribcage wraps around the blade, and by working the ritual dagger into a thin fracture, the prince frees a chip of bone from it. The next step requires the prince to take a deep, steadying breath first. There is no way for this to not hurt, but at least it should be over quickly.
He bares his chest to the blade in his hand, touches the cold steel tip to his skin, and braces himself. The dagger easily parts his flesh, slicing a neat horizontal line that immediately drools rivulets of red. The prince fails to stifle a pathetic whine of pain, but with his other hand he does not fail to slide the fragment of bone inside.
The fragment of her rib scrapes against its match inside him.
The pain is unbearably more than he expected.
He screams in desperate, futile agony.
Animal instinct tries to claw the bone chip back out, but his fingers can’t grasp it.
He screams himself hoarse.
Something in his mind feels like it’s pulling taut, stretching, tension ratcheting higher and higher until…
It snaps. The world shudders. He stumbles, then finds his footing in a chamber that is not at all the same one as he was in a moment ago, even if it is the same one.
“What have we here?” a voice within his head asks, with a curious lilt and a texture like silk and spiders. The prince is discomfited to acknowledge how pleasant he finds it. “Did you manage to resurrect me? How unexpected!”
“Yes,” he says aloud. “I want to bargain for your help.”
“Hmm? What sort of confused creature lets someone like me inside them and then tries to start bargaining? It’s a little late for that, I’m afraid.”
A knot of worry and doubt ties itself in the prince’s stomach. “Wait, hold on, let me at least explain—”
The uncomfortable impression of someone rifling through his memories gives the prince some idea of what the royal library must have felt while he scoured it for anything useful to help him.
“Oh, I see,” the voice murmurs in his head. “You really are out of your depth, aren’t you, my dear prince?”
He doesn’t know what to say, but he feels his face heat with embarrassment. He doesn’t know why a soft, useless prince like him thought he could do anything himself.
“Don’t be so down on yourself, my dear. You did the right thing by finding me,” she tells him with a reassuring tone of voice. “I will save your kingdom from ruin. In fact, I’ll give you everything you planned to bargain for and even more that you never knew to ask.”
Rumors about the prince’s strange behavior of late included all manner of speculation about what obsession might have pulled him from his duties. When at last he makes an appearance once again, bearing a shining sword of unknown provenance, it sparks yet more stories.
The voice in the back of his head reminds him that rumors can be useful, if seeded carefully and guided to serve their interests. It is fortunate that stories still linger of a time when hope was lost until a hero vanquished evil with a glowing sword just like this one.
Is it possible for some strength hidden in that bloodline to reawaken in this moment of need? Well, it is useful for people to believe so, certainly. The voice in his head coaches the prince in how to act the part of legendary hero. He learns to speak with an authoritative air and carry himself with confident poise.
The members of the king’s inner circle also notice a difference in how he participates in their meetings. No longer appearing lost and confused, the prince listens attentively, a hawkish gleam in his eyes. With the help of the companion riding along inside him, his mouth knows the right questions to ask. She listens for him, absorbing their answers more thoroughly than he ever did before.
Of course, they aren’t ready to accept any commands from him yet. He needs to win them over first, and she’s ready to tell him how.
Some well-placed observations here. Uncontroversial recommendations there. Flattery for the knight-commander. A gift of fine brandy and an evening of camaraderie for the general.
The grandmistress necessarily requires a defter touch, but she responds well to demonstrations of cunning—as well as to the sharing of secrets extracted from an inebriated rival of hers.
She is convinced to look the other way when the elderly seneschal has a fatal accident.
“Some people are easier replaced than persuaded,” the voice explains to the prince.
The prince doesn’t argue. Even if he ever doubted her, by now he readily accepts her judgment. Doing whatever she tells him to do gets a little easier each time. It’s hard to argue with her results, after all.
Upon winning all the key people over, she starts making stronger moves. If any doubt remains in their minds, it quickly evaporates when her decisions result in several key victories over the enemy.
When she decides she wants to indulge herself in more selfish ways, the prince’s gratitude softens any resistance he might have offered. It’s just clothes to make her comfortable in their shared body, after all. Besides, what dignity or respect does the prince have that she didn’t earn for him?
Nevertheless, he was unprepared for how embarrassing it feels to be seen in the castle wearing such a scandalously revealing dress as the one she decided on. He knows he must project the confident face she coached him on, but he cannot hide the flush in his cheeks.
And that is not all he struggles to hide. The lords and ladies of the court—and servants of every gender—fail to resist the temptation to let their gazes linger on his body. Their palpable attention feels like the gentle graze of fingertips on every bit of exposed skin.
His body can’t help but react, and he doesn’t fail to notice the way their eyes pause on the visible tent between his legs.
“Dear prince, you very much seem to be enjoying this attention,” she says.
With her living in his head, he can’t even pretend he dislikes her teasing. She knows it, too. “As the prince, you could bring any of them to your bedchambers, you know.”
He shivers with a strange, almost giddy feeling. It’s unfamiliar, but not at all unpleasant, and he finds himself giving this suggestion real consideration. “Would they accept?”
“Look at us,” she responds, drawing his attention toward a convenient full-length mirror. (There aren’t that many in the castle. Did he impulsively choose a route that would take him here?)
The dress clings to his frame in absolutely shameful (decadent), scandalous (intoxicating) ways.
Does he really have such nice hips? The dress suggests curves he never knew he could have. The high slits reveal his long legs, and the plunging neckline invites the imagination. The voice speaks, seeming now to come from his reflection, the sweet sound of the companion who never leaves him urging him on, her lips moving within that mirror image. “Drink us in,” she says. “We are—”
“Beautiful,” he finishes for her. He gives in to temptation and touches his mouth to the glass.
The glass is cold to the touch, but it warms quickly as he presses his whole body against the surface. Lips to lips, he kisses himself as though he were kissing her. Hand to hand, they come as close as they can to touching. He loses himself in frotting with the reflection…
Until a messenger hesitantly interrupts. “My prince? Y-your attendance is requested by the, uh, general, and—”
The prince flushes harder than ever, backing away from the mirror hurriedly. “O-of course. I’ll be right there,” he stammers, embarrassment a match for the messenger’s.
“Would you like me to handle this for you?” his companion asks. “You seem a touch flustered to handle that crowd.”
“Please,” the prince responds, slipping to the back of his own mind so that she can step forward and command the body.
She wears it well. The heat fades from their cheeks as she winks at the messenger, tugging at her dress to tidy up their appearance. Something in how she carries herself seems to inspire greater deference in their subjects even in this dress. It suits her completely.
That evening, after their duties are done, she remains in control of their body. He doesn’t ask for her to relinquish that control, either. She knows what they both want, and she has experience getting it.
When they eventually arrive in their private chambers, it is in the company of two servants whose wandering eyes begged for the invitation. One is a shy and soft young man who reminds the prince of himself not so long ago. The other, an older woman with envy-inspiring curves.
Prior to this, the prince hardly knew what to do with a woman in the bedroom, and he had never given men a second thought, but the things he watches—and feels—his body do with these two people sets his imagination aflame.
He never knew it was possible to make someone beg for pain as earnestly as they make this boy, nor that it could be such sweet music to their ears. He learns how pleasurable pain can be to receive as well.
He learns some of the things a skillful tongue and nimble fingers can do for someone. He learns what it feels like to be grabbed at lustfully, to be penetrated and ravaged by someone giving in to their basest urges.
He decides he needs this far more often.
They acquire more lovely dresses. The prince learns to paint their lips in pretty shades to suit their tastes. The prince, eagerly agreeing to his companion’s every desire, invites her to slowly sculpt their shared body to suit her desires. Her influence is strong, and the pleasures she introduces him to are so very addictive, after all, such that it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish her desires from his anyway.
And every day he learns so much from her.
Rumors fly about the prince’s strange, shifting moods—how he can be sweet and yielding or fierce and assertive from one moment to the next—almost as much as they do about the changes in his appearance. People wonder if they should start addressing him as their princess.
The royal heir has many more mirrors installed. After all, why shouldn’t they take every opportunity to admire a body that so pleases them both? Besides, every mirror gives one of them the opportunity to tease the other with lascivious flirting from across the glass.
Many evenings—when only the one wearing their reflection can catch their eye—they choose the company of themselves over anyone else they might bring to bed.
Desperate mirror kisses and hungry stares accompany the movement of hands that know exactly how to satisfy them.
The ongoing war becomes an irksome distraction from indulging in each other. So much planning. So many meetings. It’s time for them to end it personally.
With glowing sword and terrifying sorcery, they join the front lines of the war and bring death to their enemy. Again and again, every battle is a slaughter, and they show no mercy.
Stories spread of a noble Warrior Prince who wields the power of the gods or perhaps a terrifying Storm Princess who sweeps through the battlefield like an unstoppable force of nature.
They reclaim the kingdom’s lost territory and push still farther, laying siege to the enemy in a relentless march, until—
The king, apparently recovered at long last, sends a message commanding the armies to return home.
They return to a hero’s welcome, a parade celebrating both their return and the war’s end.
They are told that the king is eager to see his son again, and so they dutifully make their way to the throne room, where the venerable old man sits, surrounded by his inner circle.
“The prince has arrived,” someone announces, an uncertain quaver in his voice, as the princess saunters toward the throne.
They flaunt themselves in the sway of their hips and the way the fabric of this particular dress strains at the bust.
The sword, famed weapon of legend, shines on their back.
They kneel, as they are expected to. Some members of the court look away—out of a misplaced sense of propriety, perhaps?—due to the way the neckline dips to reveal ample cleavage that had definitely not been present when the king was first poisoned so long ago.
“You are not my son,” the king pronounces after a long moment of private deliberation.
The princess raises their head, a sharp grin splitting their face. “What gave it away? Was it the tits?”
The king scowls, saying nothing.
“It was the tits. We thought so.”
The princess rises smoothly to their feet, the very picture of grace and poise, even while the look they give the king is practically treasonous in its defiance.
“I know that sword,” he says at last. “I did not want to believe it, but I visited the secret sepulcher and found the seal broken.” He stands, as broad-shouldered and imposing as ever. “I know who you are, witch,” he bellows, “and I demand you return my son to me or suffer the consequences!”
The princess’s perfect composure does not waver. “Your son is gone forever, old man,” they respond, voice changing slightly, softening its hard edge.
The king doesn’t know them well enough to catch the shift, but the inner circle trades glances with each other.
“To the dungeon with you then,” the king says, giving a firm nod to the knight-commander.
Nobody moves. The king turns to look at each member of his former inner circle and finds no allies among them.
“This is treason!” he shouts.
“No,” the princess says, drawing the sword of their storied ancestor. “The kingdom has been mine for a long while now.”
With a step forward and a quick thrust, the blade spills a king’s blood.
“This? This is just tying up loose ends.”
They take the crown and the throne, and the whole room kneels in acknowledgment of the Witch Queen’s ascension.
Very soon, the kingdom will have so much more to celebrate.