CHARMED • by Chloe Banks

Naming a child is a big responsibility. A child — especially a royal one — has to live up to their name. A fact that appears to have eluded my parents. They could’ve gone for something exciting — Bravery or Dragon-Slayer — or at least something practical, like Wealthy. But no, they settled for Charming. Charming! What use is that? All it was good for was getting me beaten-up behind the carriage sheds on the first day of school.

They clearly didn’t consider my education when dunking me in the font. It didn’t occur to them that while Prince Malevolent was learning to duel and Lothario was climbing trellises with a rose between his teeth, I’d be stuck wandering the gymnasium with a book on my head, practising how to say, “I simply love what you’ve done with the drawing room.”

Best friend or not, Mal couldn’t resist having a dig every time he came in from target practice. “What you doing, Charming? Crafting thank-you letters? Practising your best handwriting?” And the worst thing was, he was usually right.

Three years of lessons in decor appreciation and underestimating a lady’s age, and success or failure came down to the day we were assigned our dissertations.

“Awesome!” Mal waved his paper in my face. “Twelve-week internship as Bringer of Bad News at Christenings. Bring it on!”

Across the table, Prince Irritating was equally smug. “A research paper on Enforced Party Games After Dinner for me. I’m totally starting with charades.”

Prince Steady-Income wrinkled his nose. “I’ve got managing a property portfolio. At least it’s not stocks and shares I suppose.” He turned to me. “What did you get?”

The short straw, of course. What else?

“I have to propose to a princess and charm her parents into agreeing to the match. Yawn or what?”

Mal slapped me on the back. “Cheer up, old man. Could be worse.”

It couldn’t have been worse. The last decent princess had been taken by Prince Casanova the previous year. That left me trekking out into the middle of nowhere to trace an obscure branch of royalty nobody had heard of for a century. Not only that, but I had to race against Handsome, who’d been given the same dissertation and was way better with maps.

When I eventually found the right castle, it didn’t look promising. Not only was Handsome’s horse already tied up outside, but there were brambles everywhere, ivy covering the front door and no phone signal. I suppose it should’ve made my job easier; show me a princess who wouldn’t swap that dump for a palace in Vegas and a yacht in Marbella. But by the time I’d found my way through empty corridors to the banqueting hall, I realised things weren’t so straightforward.

“What’s going on, Hands?”

Handsome was standing in the middle of the hall. People were sprawled around him, slumped over tables laden with dusty food.

“What have you done?” I started to pick my way towards him. “You might’ve got 90% in Maiden-Swooning, but you’re not meant to wipe out entire families.”

“It wasn’t me. They were like this when I got here.” He prodded at the nearest person. “You think they’re dead?”

Princes don’t do raising the dead — we leave that to the superheroes at the technical college. However, at that exact moment, my potential mother-in-law snored from her place at the top table. And it might have been sort of funny if I hadn’t made a faux pas in my Complimenting the Hostess exam. I couldn’t afford to drop any more marks. I really needed to nail this dissertation.

“Don’t suppose you’ve got any signal, so I can call our supervisor, have you?”

“Nope.” Hands shook his head. “And I’m out of battery anyway.”

“Then we’ll have to find a computer and Facebook him.” I gave Hands a nudge. “You take the south wing, I’ll take the north.”

Half an hour later, I still hadn’t come across a computer. Not even a laptop in the butler’s pantry. In fact, I hadn’t seen so much as a plug socket. I’d just about given up finding anything useful, and thought I’d better check Hands hadn’t managed to wake everyone up and get a proposal in before me, when I came across Aurora.

She smelled a bit musty, but was pretty in an emaciated kind of way. And I thought I should at least get a photo of us together — proof I’d been there, if nothing else. I did a serious one for my supervisor first, then a couple of funny ones to show Mal. I wasn’t doing anything dodgy — just pretending to be asleep beside her, kissing her on the cheek — that sort of thing.

It was the kiss that did it. Aurora sat bolt upright, head-butted me in the face, and started screaming. Before I knew it, the room was filled with people, all crying and hugging her. I thought I’d blown it, but by the time my nose stopped bleeding, everyone was treating me like a hero. I didn’t even have to use my winning smile. Three bloody years I spent working on that smile. Waste of a good education, if you ask me.

Looking back now, I feel a bit sorry for old Hands. It could so easily have been me who failed the dissertation. Still, the life of a kiss-o-gram seems to suit him, and I’m thinking of asking him to be Godfather for the boy, now Aurora’s vetoed Mal. Mind you, choosing a Godfather’s the easy bit. It’s the name that’s troubling me. What should I call him? I’ve toyed with Valiant and Dauntless, but Aurora’s not keen — worried the school will make him rescue damsels. You know what she’s got her heart set on? Obedient. Prince Obedient. Poor kid doesn’t stand a chance.

Chloe Banks lives in a quiet corner of England with her husband and a childish sense of excitement. When not trying to get words to behave themselves she spends her time tramping on the moor, eating pudding and avoiding celery. Her first novel, The Art of Letting Go, is represented by The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency and is currently trying to seduce a publisher. You can find Chloe on Twitter @ChloeTellsTales.

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