Fighting For My Freedom In Another World
Not long after the… mishap, or prank, or whatever you would like to call what happened in the courtyard, me and the princess were already several kilometers away.
We were seated inside the tool that had helped bring us that far so fast: a carriage. A typical wooden carriage, without any special features of note. The two of us were sitting on opposite sides in a large passenger wagon which was pretty solidly covered up in every direction except the back, where there was a big opening towards the outside air, while the driver was out front spurring a pair of horses onwards.
After quickly showing me a map with our destination marked on it, the princess had tried to chat with me about all kinds of random things, but I had been unable to keep up and the whole thing had ended up with the princess just talking at me one-sidedly. Some of the topics I had heard her talk about so far included why the coelacanth was the coolest fish, and something about how to take care of magical trees.
I admittedly wasn’t fully paying attention, so I had no idea what chain of reasoning led to what she eventually ended up doing.
The princess took out a knife which she had hidden… somewhere in her clothes? I couldn’t see any obvious spots she could have hidden something like that in, but it must obviously have come from somewhere. In most fantasy stories boots would have been a popular choice for where to hide knives, but this particular princess was barefoot at the moment.
She used the knife to cut off half of her hair in a single smooth motion, then measured with her hands before cutting off more than half of what was left. For good measure she also messed up the rest of it a bit, leaving not even a semblance of her once very neat and tidy hairstyle behind.
“Did you just…”
“You said my face and hair would make me stand out, right? I figure that’s one problem solved.”
“Princess, how long did it take to grow that out in the first place?”
“Probably a few years, maybe four or five or so?”
“And you still cut it off that nonchalantly?”
“I wanted it to be shorter”, she shrugged, “By the way, all this ‘princess’ here, and ‘princess’ there, it feels kind of stuffy. You know, too formal. Just call me Alena, alright?”
So the princess’s name was Alena. Princess Alena… I liked it.
“I can’t just call a princess, of all people, by her first name just like that.
“I’ll give you special permission! If you do a favour for me first.”
“I… I’ll do anything you ask.”
“Great! I want you to hit me.”
I imagine this was the kind of situation where most people would normally have hesitated. I, however, did not. I was already feeling a bit… something. Confused? Annoyed? Whatever it was, I figured this was a good opportunity to let it out.
So I took a stance, mentally prepared myself, and... I hit her. I mean, she literally asked for it.
“That was… surprisingly anticlimactic. That barely even hurt… could you really even call that ‘hitting me’? Like, seriously. That was one of the worst punches I’ve ever seen. And I wanted you to hit me in the face, not my chest.”
“I-I don’t actually want to hurt you or anything.”
“That was kind of the point of asking you to hit me. Guess we’ll just have to give this another try. Take a good look at this pretty face of mine. Doesn’t it make you want to punch me?”
“It makes me want to hit on you more than it makes me want to hit you.”
“What about these then?”
The princess gestured down at her clothes.
“What do these clothes look like to you?”
“I mean, they’re a bit beat-up, but…”
“They look like the absolute last thing a princess would ever want to wear. Old, dirty, beat-up… looks more like someone stitched a couple of rags together than proper clothing.”
“And now look at my hair.”
“Looks like it was cut using a rusty knife, and somehow gives me the impression you haven’t combed for years even though I know your hair was really pretty just a few minutes ago.”
“And my face?”
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen since I came to this world.”
“See? That’s the problem. I need my face to look just as beat up and worn as the rest of me. And that’s why I need you to hit me hard in the face, right now, without any further delay.”
While her argument made sense on the surface, I still felt like there was a pretty critical flaw in it.
“Can’t you just use that illusion magic thing you used on me?”
“Nope! It only works on one target at a time, and at the moment the illusion I used on you is still there. At least it should be… If I use it on a person, both me and the person it’s used on can’t see the illusion, so there’s no real way for either of us to know. They usually last about five hours though, and I’m pretty sure it’s been one or two at most. Besides, I can’t use my illusions on myself. And I can only make illusions of things I’m really close to or familiar with, which at the moment pretty much just is myself. So there wouldn’t really be any point at all to disguising myself as myself.”
“Guess using them for a disguise wouldn’t work then…”
“Exactly! Now, hit me.”
“Not happening. Wouldn’t it be easier to find some dirt or something?”
Somehow the look on the princess’s face made it appear as if she hadn’t realised that was an option until I said it just now.
“I-I guess you’re right. That’s also a very real and plausible option I could consider considering maybe taking doing into consideration, that unfortunately does not require your assistance and isn’t something I’ve ever seen bring two people closer in any of the books I’ve read... So with that settled, congratulations, you now have official permission to call me Alena. That does raise a completely different question. What should I call you? I could just call you Maria, but I’m guessing that was probably just the witches' name, so...”
“Actually, Maria is… was my name in my previous life too. Can’t say my last name was anything quite as weird as ‘Darkfire’ though.”
“I doubt there are many who could compete for that title. So you will call me Alena, and I will call you Maria. That work out for you?”
“I have no objections.”
“Great! In that case, I’m kind of tired…”
The princess stifled a yawn. I’d like to point out that she was the one that peacefully slept through the entire previous night while I was the one who rightfully should have been more tired out of the two of us.
“We won’t be there for a while anyway, so I’m going to take a nap. Make sure you wake me up when we arrive, Maria.”
Not a strange request on it’s own. What did make it much weirder was that the princess — that Alena — moved over to the side I was sitting on instead. At first I thought she was going to sit down next to me, but she sat down right in my lap instead, then closed her eyes.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make out of it. Should I have complained? Something told me she would probably have moved if I had.
But somehow I couldn’t actually bring myself to do that.
While she still had her eyes closed, the princess continued speaking, seemingly not in the mood for her nap just yet.
“By the way, for what it’s worth I’m glad you passed that test yesterday. It might help me solve a whole lot of personal problems if things work out well.”
She didn’t seem to deem my question worthy of a response, and leaned back against me. I saw it as an ample opportunity to ask a question of my own.
“Speaking of yesterday, what happened with that trial after we left? I hope you didn’t just leave everyone hanging…”
“I used one of my illusions to tell everyone it was canceled. They can speak just as well as any real person. Sure, I can’t actually know how people react to them because it’s kind of a one-way street as far as communication goes, but it works well enough for just telling people stuff."
“I wonder what suddenly being told everything was cancelled must have felt like for everyone who had gathered to watch… Well, I’m obviously glad it ended up not happening though.”
"As was I, actually. There were these princes there, and my father wants me… wants me to eventually consider marrying one of them. I think I was mostly just there as a figurehead for them to look at, more than to actually do anything."
I suppose it would make sense for a princess to be forced to marry other royalty. By the sound of it I guessed Alena herself wouldn’t have much of a choice in this case.
“I would argue you did a whole lot more than just being there to have people stare at you.”
“The good part about being the princess is that there are very few people who can do anything about it if you choose not to follow orders. But it wasn’t all bad. I mean, I did meet one person I thought seemed kind of cool.”
“A prince caught your fancy?”
“No way. I mean, that’s the whole problem. All the people my dad asks me to consider are princes, and I don’t want to marry any prince, no matter how handsome or whatever he may be. If it was another princess I was supposed to marry, maybe I would have considered it… But my father knows as much, and he hasn’t introduced me to a single female prospective partner, so I figure that’s all I need to know to know what he thinks.“
“Sounds like a rough situation. Any idea what you’ll do about it?”
“In fact I do, Maria. I met this girl yesterday I thought could end up being kind of cool if I was lucky, so... “
“Guess I’ll wish you good luck with that girl then.”
“I… If you somehow don’t get it, explaining would be way too embarrassing, so I’m just going to take that nap for real now. As long as we don’t run into any trouble on the way, I’m going to lecture you on magic after I wake up.”
This time the princess… Alena, closed her eyes, and didn’t speak any further.
For now, things were peaceful.
There had been that minor incident with how I almost died again after coming to this world, but even if I had promised to help with this stuff I barely even knew what it was all about yet, if things worked out afterwards… Was this a chance for me to be truly free?
If it wasn’t already, I would make it happen. This time, for sure. I had been granted a new chance, and that was enough to be content. I was… even kind of happy, maybe? Very unsure about what would happen next, but for now I was at least free from the shackles of my past life for the moment, however fleeting it may be.
However, as I already had learned long ago…
...happiness was often followed by its own flavour of misery.