The Die Is (Not Yet) Cast
Muse, I wish to invoke you…
Forget it. That's how you start off an epic, with a dedication to the goddess of the arts, so that you have the blessing to sing about the lives of heroes.
That's how I'd like my story to start. But it's not how my story is going to start.
For starters, (please clap, my sense of humour is impeccable), I'm not in an epic (very few people are, anyway, Beowulf is the only one I can name whose story is still repeated). I go to Ever After High; I'm supposed to be part of some fairytale or folklore.
Secondly, as much as I like to say otherwise when I'm in public, I'm not protagonist-material.
Look, It's highly likely you don't know me. Why should you? I have no destiny to speak of. My lineage is royal, but alas, I'll never claim a throne.
Ego sum Ablative Charming.
Right, I know. One of the Charmings. One of the many princes and princesses with adjectives for first names and archetypes for personality.
My father's a Roman King, my stepmother his Queen. Within me, the blood of Aeneas flows. I am proudly, staunchly Roman, and will lay down my arms for rex et patria, understood?
I don't know my destiny. I had never gotten the chance to: Raven went before me and I never saw my own page of the storybook.
Here's the thing: curiosity is getting the best of me.
Here's another thing: I don't think I'll ever be the sort of prince to get the princess. I don't think I'll be the prince who ends up with a loyal animal companion or a crown on my head or a kingdom and its throne.
When you're a illegitimate child, many things are barred from you. A true title of princess, the throne, and as the folklore likes to insist: bitterness festers, and the narrative will paint you as a villain with it.
And when you're royalty, there's always this push to marry someone of the same or higher station.
I know my possibilities. I understand what sort of opportunities the world would chose to give someone like me. I'm not enough of an underdog to play at plucky protagonist. I'm not lucky enough to land as a lax love interest.
At best, I'll be disregarded -- a prince in a long line of others, seeking the hand of some princess only to be rejected harshly and fade into obscurity.
At worst, I'll be a sacrifice -- perhaps one of those princes that fail to find the secret passageway of the Dancing Princesses and be executed for his ineptitude.
Dear gods. Like one of Hannibal's elephants aface with a Roman pig, I am scared.
I am so, so scared.
The thing, as I said, is that curiosity is getting a hold of me and it is overriding fear. Raven rebelled; lots of my other peers did too. I can't really rebel if I don't know what I'm up against, and fear of an unknown enemy is sometimes more destructive than fear itself.
This is what I've decided:
I am going to find out what destiny I got, and I shall make the best of it.
I know, I know, the Storybook of Legends most people had signed was a fake. The real one got rescued from Wonderland, most of its magic erased. But my page was in there, and it must have had a plan for me.
It's not like the location of the Storybook is a big secret. Every fairytale knows that it's in the Grimms’ office. I've heard of ways of circumventing the security. But I am a direct sort of prince, so I wrote up a pretty little letter detailing my interest in the book and got access.
Thank you, Headmaster Giles, for the swift response. And Headmaster Milton, for the enthusiastic reply, something about “being eager to finally realise destiny”.
As I write, I have the Storybook of Legends in my hand. I haven't found my page yet, so I'll get back to this neat little diary when I do.
As practised as Legacy Day rehearsals, I held the book down in front of me.
“I am Ablative Charming, daughter of a prince charming.”
And so, the key to unlock the book appeared. It resembled an Emperor's Vexillum, complete with the eagle standard and a small SPQR flag. I unlocked it, and the pages flickered and flipped until they arrived at my page.
Images flashed - so many, both beautiful and horrifying. My name gleamed, and underneath it, was the title I'll claim in my destiny.
I speak at least three languages well, and still -- what words do I have to describe what I learnt?
I'll… I'll stay firm, and try my best.
Ego sum Ablative Charming. I am a Roman Princess Charming, and I once hexpected to take on a role as a Prince Charming, whether ill-fated or malevolent.
Ego sum Ablative Charming. I have a destiny.
Ego sum Ablative Charming, the next Emperor Lucius in the Arthurian Legends. The next Emperor Lucius in a series of Romances that have captured the attentions of authors across millennia. The next Emperor Lucius in a storytelling tradition that turned history to folklore.
Ego sum Ablative Charming.
Your favourite bastard Prince Charming just got promoted to the Emperor of Rome.
In my shock, I slammed down the book.
Holy Roman Empire.
This was surreal.
I don't know how well known the story of Emperor Lucius is, but it goes a little like this: Britian flourishes under King Arthur, and Rome, greedy for more wealth, demands tax and tributes. Arthur refuses, and goes to war. Lucius loses, he dies, and the might of King Arthur grows.
Emperor of Rome… that's an honour and an office I had never hoped to hold. But the story paints me a villain, and I lose. Ablative Charming loses, and dies, as fairytale villains do.
And I feel like, what magnanimity, I've already lost so much. My biological mother doesn't acknowledge me, my sister Absolute hardly talks to me.
With this destiny, I'm rising above my station and raising armies.
But at what cost?
Naturally, like any future Emperor with a concern for wealth and taxes, one must do their research. And I'll do it properly, as befitting of a Emperor of Rome, with proper legislation and senate approval and…
… di immortales, what am I thinking?
I had only just opened the Storybook of Legends to check my page! And I hadn't even returned it yet…
I can't be embracing this new destiny too quickly. I only know the basics, from a quick Wiki-faedia summary. I'm too hurried, and like my name, I'm getting too carried away…
Gods above, Ablative, why are you so prone to stress? Why are you, at the worst of times, just this scared teenage girl?
It's true, I'm scared. I won't admit it to anywhere but here, in this diary, but I'm scared.
I have hexpectations to live up to: I have to be good enough to best some of the greatest of knights, I can't just fight and command but I'd also have to rule. And I have disappointments to shoulder: will father be honoured by this role, or will he cast his eyes aside past me, for my end is failure? Absolute too -- I know those born to die don't get talked to that much, for it’s sad to get too close only for them to go. Is she only to ignore me even more?
The Storybook of Legends laid beside me, tauntingly. My new destiny, it was all too real, all too believable.
First step, I returned the book, as diplomatically as I had requested it. It was the best way to clear my head after this ordeal.
Know your enemies. Know your battles.
That’s hexactly why I'm in the Lifairy right now.
Towers of books are stacked up like columns, and I've dug myself out a little alcove. Thankfully, Arthurian lore and history is one of the best documented.
Beginning was hard. I started with some children's picture books and comics, and borrowed out the Lifairy's digital copy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to watch on a MirrorPad. Then I tried reading actual things, but books are lengthy and I wasn't hoping to spend the night, so it was more like skimming and skipping to the sections where Lucius appeared.
When most people filed out, I remained. When dusk fell, I remained, and read endlessly.
And I will admit it here, in the pages of my diary, but…
Reading is very, very difficult through tears and sobs.
I wake up.
And my face is tear-stained, and my arms are dead from either carrying too many heavy books, or the awkward position I fell asleep in.
I put aside the copy of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court that I had been reading last. Or rather, looking at the pictures. It was open to a rather elaborate illustration of Merlin's tower being struck by lightning. Emperor Lucius wasn't in the book, but still. Know thy enemy.
It occurs to me that I will have to tell someone about my discovery. My academic advisor, for one. My friends. And most importantly, I'll have to take new classes.
But also, my parents.
Will father be disappointed in me? What about my stepmother?
How would they react, for why should a bastard child become an Emperor of Rome?
Gods above, I have no time to mourn or ponder. I am a prince of action! I have to be practical! I'll start writing letters and emails and decrees and-- gods, why is there so much to do? Why is destiny so… overwhelming?
I pack up my things, and try to hastily put all the books back, and head over to the room of my advisor.
“Dr King Charming! Sir! Sir!”
I banged on the door with both fists, the same way mourners at Roman funerals beat their chests.
“Sir! Please! This is urgent!”
When the door swung open, it was not Dr Charming, PhD. Before me, stood what I will spend the last years of my life fighting.
“Oh. Hello there, Professor Knight.”
He had his chainmail on, but most of his armour off. The aged man towered above me, like the burning peaks of Ilium.
“He's out for the day. Do you need to talk to another advisor?” Professor Knight was the standard advisor for heroes who didn't have to rule. Nearly all the Arthurian Knights had him.
“I…” words were hard, “I took a look at my page in the Storybook of Legends. I saw what was inside.”
“Interesting! Any news?”
“Can I come in?”
The two teachers of Heroic and Wooing classes also shared an office. I was familiar with it, and if I ever got the chance, I could spend hours staring at the walls and glass cabinets filled with trophies and accolades.
Right next to me was decades and decades of jousting championship records. This room was a dedication to the accomplishments of men that I hoped I could be the same calibre as. All those letters I had sent to Grimm, pleading for those hero classes, pleading that I could be the best and most benevolent prince. All those villain classes I had avoided taking, by the power of my words alone…
I'll miss this place. I'll miss the princes that I hoped were my people.
He pushed out a chair and pulled out a bowl of peppermints.
“I'll be fighting with knights,” I said.
“Fantastic! As you hoped, right?”
“I'll be fighting against knights,” my gaze was set at the edge of the table and at my hands. “I'm in the Legends of King Arthur. I'm the next Emperor Lucius.”
He fell silent, so I pushed on.
“Professor Knight, I had my heart so set on being a hero. And now that I know I'm meant to be a villain? Still, I can't complain, this destiny is grander that I ever dreamed of…”
“Good thing then, that you landed in a story that has some sort of nuance.”
I stared at him blankly.
Professor Knight is old. He's lived through so much, it's a surprise he hasn't retired yet. “I've seen many battles, Miss Charming. I may have fought on the side deemed heroes, but in the midst of war and brutality, it's very difficult to discern who's truly good.”
He's right. The Round Table was filled of religious extremism, of entitlement and sexism.
“A hero is true to himself. A hero is self-defined,” he said. “Take a good look at the labels people give you, and you have the power to choose which opinions you want to affect you.”
When I leave the office (after spending a good fifteen minutes saying goodbye to my favourite trophies present), everything seems clear.
New classes will have to be rearranged, but Professor Knight insists I have no need to switch advisors. I'll have to break the news to everyone else. Most importantly, I have to accept this news wholly myself.
Ego sum Ablative Charming. Imperator, Princeps. The one meant to govern the Senate and Population of Rome. I'll get to set taxes, and stuff.
I push the leaves of my laurel crown above my eagle eyes. The leaves of the laurel… did they not adorn the heads of champions and those who are victorious?
Ego sum Ablative Charming, future general, commander of legionnaires.
I'll be brave. I'll be glorious. I'll tax some Brits.
Ego sum Ablative Charming, Emperor of Rome.
Now that's a name to put in the epics.